Sunday, 27 May 2007 08:12

Legacy of Friendship

Written by Hart
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A Whateley Academy Tale

Legacy of Friendship

by Hart

Mon, Oct 16, 2006

James glanced at the mirror set over his room mate’s desk as he noticed the faint blush of false dawn dapple the windowsill beneath the blinds covering the windows.

With a nervous glance to the twisted pile of covers concealing the other boy, he rose and drew the black T-shirt he had chosen last night over his head, twisting as it got caught up in his shoulder length hair. Carefully folding it and placing it over the back of his chair, he used the excuse of reseating the earbud from his iPod in his ear once more to stymie the urge to look.

A long stretch of time passed as he focused on the music, eyes tightly closed. Eventually, though, he opened them once more and moved to stand in front of the mirror, forcing his gaze to meet it.

Still the same. Always, the same.

James hated that reflection. People looked at him and all they saw was a handsome young boy, no more than 10 or 11 years old. No one would ever take him seriously or consider him a threat. While he was, in fact, no threat at all, it sometimes felt like it would be nice to be considered one, at least.

He watched as the hands in the mirror moved to run through the hair of the reflected boy. The hair faded from dark brown all the way to a dark blonde at the tips, still looking like a fading bleach. He stifled a giggle as the fingers of the hand on the left stuck two fingers through the massed locks in rabbit ears, catching the faint light in the room with a sparkle.

That sparkle quickly faded the smile on the reflection’s lips and removed it from the blurred hazel of the eyes. Releasing his grip upon his hair with an unfelt tug, he brought the fingers to his lips. With a light coat of saliva, the crystal evident on the first three fingertips of his left hand was only more obvious. He did not think there any more flakes than there had been but he reviewed them anyway, nodding to himself as he switched from his left hand to the first two fingers of the right hand. They seemed precisely the same, like always.

Despite staying in the sun as much as possible, his skin was still as pale as any of the other geeks in Hacking Theory or those who shared his nocturnal classes. With a shrug, he returned to his assessment, fingers drifting over the patch of crystal covering the end of his left collarbone, near the shoulder. It was the largest patch he had ever developed, almost a square inch of whorls and loops. Fortunately, his clothing normally covered all of the patches save for those on his fingertips and within his eyes.

He ran his fingers down his torso, still the same slender, underdeveloped frame of a child, hairless but not undefined. Everything seemed… symmetric, perfectly in proportion. Everything save the patch of crystal just above the waistband of the jeans he wore, at least. That patch was far smaller, only a scattered flake or two.

For a moment, his fingers traced along the waist of the jeans, considering, but he grimaced and looked away from both the reflection and his body, shaking his head as he turned to return to his chair. The small patches under the knee and high on the inner thigh of his right leg would be identical to the last time he forced himself to check, at the by-now almost ritualistic exams with Medical. Everything was always the same.

James started as he heard a sound from the other side of the room. A brief glance back caught the small sparkle from the small of his back out of the corner of his eye and reassured him that his room mate was only stirring in his sleep. With a sigh of relief, he looked back across the room for a moment, grinning at himself.

Discarding his narcissistic pursuits, he looked around at his side of the room, considering things for a spell. The two laptops were nestled into their docking ports beneath the paired flat-screen monitors, all of his homework folders in a tidy, squared off pile on one side of the desk matched by an identical set of folders containing those handouts he had not already scanned onto electronic media while at work. Speaking of work…

James left off his idle survey for a moment to check the front flap of his backpack, ensuring once more that the laminated badge was in there. He had finally received it after two weeks with the slip of paper with Hartford’s elegant handwriting. Some of the night patrols had given him a bit of trouble on that when he had tried to get them to let him into work but the badge should simplify matters immensely.

Reaching over, he opened both computers to bring them back from hibernation, the screens above showing his currently favored scheme of dancing fractals with the hidden login prompts. Timing his movements precisely with each hand, head shifting slowly to alter his perspective, he placed the equally hidden mouse indicator over the appropriate pattern on each, grinning as the images dissipated into more standard screens. His hands tapped lightly in syncopated rhythm as he looked back over his shoulder. After giving it enough time to finish booting into the system, he performed the matching keystrokes to activate the simple program designed to run through a complete security sweep involving several programs before connecting up to the cottage…. and school… systems along the wires leading from the back of the docking hubs to the wall sockets.

He did not turn back after doing his ritual, heading over to his closet instead. That would have been so much simpler if he could just reach out, feel his way into computers and maybe even the Web by instinct and mutant power but… instead he got the ability to tear the soul out of someone, whether slowly and almost painlessly to feed himself or as fast and total as the sinking of his teeth into their carotid artery. Okay, it was not quite that final as that but only because he was even a failure at that. He could not manage to hang onto any spirit.

That only got him thinking back to Thursday. Jinn seemed… alright with things and that was good. He could not believe that she was actually a spirit, even now sometimes. He idly wondered how many other people were actually just spirits with no flesh at all. He shivered, in no way due to low body temperature. Spirits were… dangerous. Despite everything that had happened, that could happen, he could not help reaching out and, without a body to protect them, unhosted spirits were frighteningly easy to capture. He certainly did not needing anyone else knowing his secret.

Shaking off such thoughts, he opened up the desk drawer to withdraw a comic book in its sealed plastic bag. He flopped in the oversized (for him) swiveling executive-style chair that served him far better than the bed he had banished to the far corners of Mr. Dunn’s storage rooms in the cottage basement.

James drew his legs up into the seat, as he primly removed the comic and put the bag precisely in the middle of his desk. His attention did not waver from the penciled and inked confines of Lady Lightning’s world for the precise amount of time necessary for the computers to finish their process and become ready for use. He had to read quickly but this was a well-familiar tale, as were all of the ones he owned or had, in fact, ever read.

Grabbing the bag as he set himself into a slow spin, he carefully replaced the comic as he brought himself to a stop, slipping it back into its original spot within the drawer. This, too, had the air of ritual. Biting his lip to keep from giggling at himself, he pulled himself towards the desk, reaching out to each computer with all the aplomb of a master pianist or hacker.

He let his thoughts wander over the results of last week’s power evaluation tests or, rather, the lack of results. He was already scheduled for another test, of course, and that meant another trip to Counseling.

His left hand skipped a beat and had to go back and delete the mistaken character while his right continued to cycle through the messages on his open email account and the skill account. Hrm, this was new. Administration. Two week ban on students leaving the Dunwich area save for documented family emergency. He mused on that for a moment as he bypassed a note from Greasy, flicking a glance at the left monitor to check out the news sites he was pulling up but nothing drew at him.

Almost unnoticed as the first hapless students in the “red-eye” classes began to drag out of bed, their voices faintly complaining in the hall, he began to sing along with the music as one of his favorite singers came up in the queue.

‘I miss you… miss you so bad…
I don’t for-get you… oh, it’s so sad.
‘I hope you can hear me…
 I remember it clearly…
 the day, you… slipped away’

James’ voice was high and sweet, still as unbroken as it was four years ago, pouring itself into the words as he swayed in his chair. He wanted to spin but he had computing to do, as well. His eyes were half-shuttered as he continued his incessant devouring of information. The distraction amidst news and email and a beautiful song did not mask another stirring and muffled moan from beneath the covers on the room’s bed, however. Stopping his singing with a strangled squeak, he tensed and quickly brought his legs down to the ground as he watched the bed nervously.

This was only another false alarm, thankfully. After watching for over a minute, he satisfied himself as to this and turned back to work. He was not brave enough to turn back to his singing, of course.

His fingers danced on the keys and touch-pads as he listened to the second and third songs from the same artist before the iPod went on to the next. He really needed to randomize the sequence of songs and artists again. Even the largest music collection could repeat when it was played all the time.

Noticing the time, he quickly calculated that if he moved quickly, he would be able to get an hour of work before class. Arching his back and stretching against the leather-clad seat, he hopped out of the chair and moved over to his closet. It took him no time at all to toss a shirt onto the chair back from where he stood.

The five, now four, white long-sleeved shirts were enswathed in a sea of black. Slacks and denim jeans to one side of them, cotton T-shirts and blazer jackets to the other and a hanging device with a row each of ties and belts to complete the required Whateley uniform and his own personal version. His gaze flickered to the other closet before he recalled himself, stretching to the highest shelf he could to grab a folded over and bundled pair of socks.

Bending down, he pulled on the thin dress socks, squirming at the silky feel of them, and stepped into a pair of the shoes at the bottom. He turned to the side as he swung the door shut, spinning and just missing getting nudged by the edge. However, he was a bit too enthusiastic and he started as he heard the sharp knock of wood meeting wood, flinching again when that sound was answered by the sound of his room mate grumbling. Moving hastily, he swept the shirt off the back of his chair and over his head with indecorous haste, flushing slightly. As he buttoned up the shirt, the hidden boy returned to sleep.

Once more safely attired, he moved back before the mirror with a wistful expression. Rising up onto the balls of his bare feet, he stretched, imagining he might even break five feet with the added length. With a rueful smile, he turned away from his narcissism. He had a job to get to.

Another grimace crossed his features as he thought to himself, And spirits to avoid running into. The next one might not be as forgiving as Jinn was last Thursday, after all.

James worked quickly now, disconnecting both laptops and meticulously placing them and the folders within the backpack. He no longer had to bring his books along, at least. Converting them into an electronic format had been one of his first projects, unsurprisingly. With that accomplished, he hefted the bag and slipped quietly out of the dorm.

Running once he was out of Emerson, he made it to Shuster Hall shortly before 6:30. Nodding to Debbie as she opened the door for both of them, he moved quickly, through, and into the main room as he called back softly, “I will be working in cubicle 6, ma’am, I can get some more of 1992 inputted before class. Just let me know if you need anything?”

Taking her pre-coffee mumble for assent, he went to the cubicle in question. It tended to be one of his favorites as he knew he could connect one of the laptops up to the cable network through Mrs. Linford’s unused port in the adjacent cubicle. She was rarely actually in the office and had never plugged the desktop computer there into the network. Wireless was available, of course, but it was erratic in some places on campus. Even with the frequent outages at Emerson, it still felt more stable and it was certainly more secure to use cable.

With a quick glance towards where Ms. Hartford’s desk rested, he quickly amended, Not that I really need security. I am not doing anything against the rules, not really. Biting his lip to stifle a laugh, he retrieved five folders as he finished connecting the scanner to one of the laptops.

He was not even halfway through the first two files before he was called away to get some more coffee for the office machine. He noticed Amelia Hartford just settling into her desk as he left the office and hurried his steps. She was always a bit irritable if she did not get her coffee soon after arrival and he had no idea if Elaine had sent him for coffee because they were running low or if they had none altogether.

Making a note to remember to check on those rare occasions he stopped in when the office opened in the morning, he retrieved the box of pre packaged instant coffee with filter as well as a small bag of the unground beans that Ms. Hartford and Mrs. Linford preferred before he jogged back. Smiling briefly at Mark as the guard opened the door for him, he stopped in at the fourth cubicle, “Ms. Claire, I got the coffee. Did you need me to make any?”

The auburn haired woman shook her head and motioned along the almost hallway down the side of the cubicle area, “No, but be a dear and get a cup of coffee for Amelia. She can be insufferable otherwise.” She lowered her voice at the last, giving the statement a conspiratorial air matched by the grin and wink she shared with the boy.

James nodded, looking away and wondering. Ms. Hartford did not really seem that bad but he kept hearing that kind of thing. Stretching to retrieve her mug from the rack above the paired machines, he set it on the table. Kneeling after retrieving the coffeepot, he poured slowly while fishing around in the small refrigerator. Moving someone’s sealed cup of yogurt out of the way, he found the container of cream packets and grabbed two as he finished pouring precisely as the hot liquid came to the top of the handle.

Nudging the door shut with one foot, he grabbed the cup around the body, leaving the handle free and headed back to the front of the office. past Mrs. Carson’s door. He nodded a tense greeting to Valerie and Mrs. Linford as they passed him to head for the coffee, stepping into the black woman’s small ‘office’ to avoid passing close by them.

He quickly turned the corner and arrived at the desk, taking a moment to look at the occupant before he stepped closer. For the moment, she looked completely different than normal. Light blonde hair cascaded around the pale features and over the shoulders of the entirely typical blazer. Her square reading glasses, made of flat black nylon today, were settled on her desk rather than focusing the glare of what he knew to be hazel eyes much like his own. At least, much like his own had been. Even the stylized A lapel pin was on her blotter next to her Palm Pilot.

She looked weary, almost exhausted. She had seemed that way, off and on, for almost a month now. She looked up and all of that vanished as soon as she focused on James.

Hartford snapped, “Yes, what do you want?”

The boy quietly raised the mug and moved forward to place it and the two packets of cream on the desk, “I just brought your coffee, ma’am. Did you need anything else?”

She had already begun replacing what he thought of as her armor, stodgy glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, lapel pin replaced and her hands behind her head, constricting the mass of blonde locks into a severe bun once more as she answered, “No, that will be all.”

Bobbing his head in a nod, James moved away with a sigh of relief at the faint but perceptible softening in her voice when she received the coffee. She did not even demand the cream as soon as he began to put it down as she sometimes did if he did not make it available quickly.

Returning to his desk and selecting the next two out-of-date files brought a surprise, however. Laying one of them to the side, he focused in on the documents he found beneath the blacked out medical evaluations. Apparently, the “no pets” policy had loopholes or at least it did back in 1992, before Hartford.

As he scanned other pages and entered the information into the database on one computer, the other was half hidden beneath the two page counselor assessment. Mystery, the student in question, had kept breaking policy by sneaking in pets. The Administrator’s Assistant at the time did not seem any more lenient than Ms. Hartford, however. The red scrawl of ‘Denied’ on the second page bore mute testimony to the possibility that his own method was more likely to keep he and Whiskers together.

Flipping through the pages to find the disciplinary reports mentioned, the ones for breaking the pet guidelines, brought him to his second surprise. Apparently, Mystery had transferred out of Twain and into Poe! Looking over the document, he noticed some difficulties being first raised and then rescinded by the Housing Board as he considered the fact of the transfer.

Why would someone want to transfer into Poe? They were all a little... odd over there. James guessed maybe getting out from an all-male environment had some appeal. He let his thoughts drift along with the music as he mused on the implications. Continuing to input the file as he skimmed over the text was not difficult but it provided a ready source of distraction, enabling him to ignore the growing amounts of people as Administration woke up for a new work week.

James’ mind kept drifting to those documents, however. He gave a nervous glance over his shoulder. The cubicle wall blocked him from seeing more of Ms. Hartford than the hand tapping on the corner of her desk. Working quickly, he routed another copy of the documents in question over to the idle laptop before disconnecting it from the campus network. He might not need them for the details but they might turn out useful.

Poe. He was wondering if he might be able to transfer to Melville when a flashed alarm on the laptop reminded him it was time to wrap up and start heading for class. Slipping the long black strip of plastic into the half done file to mark his place, he meticulously renewed the prior organization of the papers before sliding it between the completed and untouched files on the desk.

He moved quickly once that was completed, laptop detached from the peripherals, Ethernet cables rewound into their spoolers and the entire assembly restored to the backpack’s interior. Hefting it to his shoulder, he paused for a moment, watching Hartford’s fingers tap irritably on the desktop before he came out of the cubicle. He could ask her another time.

Turning away, he did not notice Amelia Hartford frowning in consideration as he slipped into his habitual slumped-over posture, coming around the corner to approach Mrs. Carstairs’ desk. He laid the files into the trays, the marked file on top of the uncompleted stack. She seemed to be out so he did not need to stay to update her.

Time to get to Miss Devlin’s class.


He made it to his English class without any near brushes and in time enough to avoid the rush. He was in his seat and setting up his laptop before Gwen arrived. That is, Sweetheart. She was walking with her typical associates, the same ones that she had been slowly gathering around her since the first day of class.

Memory flickered back to that day and the puzzled look that first drew her to his notice. That is, the look that drew her into focus following his tentative, joking response to the teacher. She was very attractive, the bangs of her dark brown hair hanging over to highlight the startling violet of her eyes and a face that brought up a side recall, his father stating, ‘Like a young Elizabeth Taylor’ The look unnerved him and he had sat back down quickly, especially when it turned into an almost welcoming smile. He had worried for a few days if she could somehow sense something about him but that concern had died eventually with her continuing friendly overtures.

He looked up and smiled as she sat down, calling past the other students filtering in, “Sweetheart... I have that disk you asked for. The notes, handouts and presentations from the first two weeks.”

The smile he earned for his efforts before she turned away to say something to the person on the other side of her was fascinating. She always had a ready smile every day, a kind word or question. He was so thrilled at this continued friendliness that he failed to notice the way that smile started to become a smirk as she turned and he had never noticed how that smile never… ever… reached her eyes. The class rolled by agreeably following that. Jade was glancing at him pointedly as she headed for the door after the second bell. Even the uncomfortable tension as they both avoided approaching or meeting each other’s eyes as they left failed to breach his contentment.

Still, he felt uneasy as the little Asian girl pulled away from him in the crowd. He could not put his finger on it but something was wrong. Still, that was so common around here, he had given up trying to decipher it or really act on it. It was just worrisome that it seemed to be happening around Jade so often.

He turned the opposite direction so as to not run into Jinn, hurrying his steps so that he would be able to make it to Mrs. Bell’s class the long way. The halls grew crowded long before he made it to the class, of course, but he knew that it would be better once he arrived. The back of the classroom still held a few open seats and, unsurprisingly, two of them were adjacent to his own desk.

There was still the occasional new arrival to the class as students arrived late to the school or found their initial math assignment either too difficult or too easy but it had become a notable event now, a month and a half into the year. James did not think there would be anyone to disturb his solitude, especially after the last arrival actually passed out two weeks ago.

Leaning forward, he listened to a pair of girls talking quietly while Mrs. Bell went over the previous night’s homework. The oriental girl and the pixieish blonde liked to chatter and it was nice to listen in sometimes as they talked about their morning Flight class, the difficulties dealing with a stubborn mount and equally stubborn twin older brothers or the random events of Whateley (and teenage female) life. He perked up as they shifted topic to something a bit more interesting.

The small blonde was asking, “You never did explain why you don’t further enhance Storm Bolt, though.”

“I can only work my magic through natural events, remember? Well, it takes a lot of power to change Storm Bolt. That is why he is named that, after all. A lightning storm provided the power when I gave him his wings.”

“But you mentioned you were researching cooperative magic to change it further.”

“He, dang it. He. Cooperative magic might raise enough power but it also makes an unreliable process even more unstable. I am just glad that it’s a simpler matter to unknot such a skein than it is to throw it.”

“How is that?”

“I’ve tried to change him a few times but like I said… unreliable. I’ve had to remove the effects a couple of times when it had weird side effects or just did not seem to work.”

It is unreliable but… what if she could do the same thing to me? It would be so nice to be… but she might not react well to the explanation. Still, perhaps something like that would be able to sneak by my Exemplar trait.

He shook himself from his distraction as Theresa continued, “I can see that. Did I tell you the latest thing the tweebs attempted?”

“Tweebs?”

“Twin dweebs, I was watching Kim Possible with Duplex the other day. They were tinkering around with their rocket belts, trying to add more features. Mother was yelling at them for eighty minutes last night after they tried them out without letting me or that range instructor Mahren check them out.”

“Mahren, the one with… ahh, Catherine or Katie or something? Why would your parents want him to check it out?”

“That is something my advisor suggested. He’s more instinctive but he is quite adept at determining the function of a device. I think that as far as explanation and troubleshooting, we’re near the same level, however.”

“Really? I didn’t even know he was a mutant.”

“I’m not surprised, he does not discuss it much. He pretty much limits himself to assessing the devises students bring to the range. He was the one that caught the power system flaw in my brothers’ paralysis blasters. Those two… they are fortunate in being Devisors as well as Gadgeteers but if my own Esper trait was not so focused on troubleshooting and modification, they would have blown themselves up at least a hundred times over. No common sense whatsoever or perhaps their abilities just share that blind spot. You’d think I was their older sister, as many times as I have to rescue them.”

“They’re lucky to have you, really. I’m surprised they didn’t hurt themselves last year, before you got here.”

“Oh, Mother made them promise to send all equipment home for me to error check before they could use it on pain of being pulled out of school and enrolled with me this year. I surmise they thought it was bad enough to have their little sister watch out for them, they did not want to make it worse by being sixteen year old freshmen. At least they are on the third floor with the other sophomores and away from me.”

“No doubt.”

“I made them wait for their jet packs until I could get here and we could be the Stratosphere Siblings, not the Stratosphere Twins. They’re still irritated at having to wait for the Flight I class so they keep refusing to make me one of the upgraded belts instead of that pack.”

The oriental girl snickered and fell silent as the class finished going over the homework and turned to the next chapter. The boy ducked his head and brought up the page, still musing about the two friends and the possibilities Light Ling’s abilities might offer.


Tue, Oct 17, 2006

James stretched a bit, lying upon the leaves with Whiskers pressed against his collarbone. He whispered to her as he floated along with the continuous warmth that contact brought, like sun-soaked waves upon the beach.

“I…. I am still scared. They keep pressing, wanting more… the truth.”

The kitten stood, her gentle purring growing louder as she moved to butt her head against his chin. After a moment, she hopped halfway up, head rising into the boy’s sight as she crested the horizon of his jaw.

“Yes, I know Dr. Hayes and Dr. Hewley just want to help but… what would they do if they knew about you? Without you, I would… I…” He faltered once more at the thought of no longer having her with him, the thought of no longer having her abilities shielding him from sleep or… change.

She raised one paw and stretched to lay it delicately upon his lower lip as if to keep him quiet. After that brief touch, the boy lifting his head to track her actions, she went back to rubbing against him.

Reaching a hand up to stroke her head, he murmured after a while, “Yeah, I know… sorry. So, what do you think of Light Ling? Think she might be able to help us?”

Not surprisingly, Whiskers did not answer his question with anything more than continuing with her head-rubbing. The warmth flowing between them was so welcome and his mind again drifted back to that sunset so long ago, his tenth birthday, when he and Whiskers had first become one, never changing and never truly apart. Well, almost never apart. There was that time just after the accident but Dr. Lake had reunited them quickly enough.

The warmth was perhaps no longer as intense as it was in his memories but very little was. Even the feel of the silky fur beneath his fingers as he cradled her to sit up was deadened. He reached behind himself to pat the tree absently as he whispered to the tortoiseshell kitten in his lap, “Time to head back for the night, Whiskers.”

The warmth as he ‘drew’ upon the tree was a familiar, unsettling sensation, serving as it did to remind him of how easy it would be to do that to someone who would realize what had happened when he could no longer keep hold of their spirit. He took a moment to settle his nerves before once more heading into the crowded campus. Looking down, he caught the feline as he rolled forward and up to his feet, placing her upon his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot as he murmured, “I need you to come with me tonight. I wanted to ask the spirit if she would not mind meeting me before breakfast tomorrow. Think the library will be fine?”

He dimly felt a tugging on his head so he reached up to bat her away from his ear. This, too, was a familiar sensation if not as frequent as the feeling of ‘drawing’ a spirit to himself. “Stop that, silly. Now... hold on. We need to catch her before she gets into Poe.”

Ducking his head to be sure she had taken grip with her sharp little claws, he brushed her upturned ear with his lips before he began to jog towards Poe. He garnered a few odd looks but not all that many. He was certainly not the weirdest thing to be seen around this campus.

Approaching the cottage, he did not see his quarry but he recognized a couple of other faces, another Oriental girl and someone who seemed familiar. It did not take more than a moment to place her escort as Hank, the boy from his first day on campus, but he had no clue who the girl was other than recalling her in the company of Jade one time. He nodded to them but quickly looked away. Maybe she would be along soon.

A number of Poe residents approaching home before curfew curtailed their wanderings gave him glances ranging from quizzical to mildly hostile. He did not stay long in the face of such dislike.

The boy bobbed his head in mute apology to the girl glaring at him most fiercely, the kitten on his shoulder giving a slight motion that almost seemed to echo her transport’s. He called out softly as he moved away to circle Poe and head along the path back to his own cottage, “Sorry.”

The two Kimbettes behind him shared a glance and Hank commented as he opened the door, “Know who the kid was?”

Chou shrugged, “I have no clue. Looked like he was looking for someone, though.”

James was gone, beginning to trot, before the girl replied. Whiskers eventually tired of the jostling on her perch and climbed down the T-shirt. Noticing her absence as he glanced over to check, he brought up his arm to support her against his chest as they passed around the central campus.

As usual, he was skirting curfew time, moving through the trees and shrubs laid alongside the path. Beginning the climb up Emerson Hill, he murmured, “Time to go... you be good now, alright?”

The tortoiseshell slapped at his hand lightly and then detached herself to leap sinuously to the ground with a chirrup barely audible over the music James was listening to. Leaning down, he ran his fingers through her fur one last time, eyes closed, feeling the warmth within him once more before it settled into their normal, comfortable connection.

As the kitten headed away within the concealing shadows of the trees, the young man waved farewell before turning to enter the cottage. He ducked his head to avoid Mr. Dunne’s gaze as the dorm “mother” locked the door precisely at curfew time. “Mr. Bourne, dancing upon the razor’s edge once again, I see.”

James bobbed his head in acknowledgement and muttered a soft apology as he headed for the stairs.

Once more safely ensconced in his desk chair, he spared a brief glance for the mound of blankets on the bed. Already here, already asleep. He quickly pulled the laptops from their cushioned slots within the backpack and went through the process of connection and synchronization.

He was surprised to find a note from another Whateley student as he went through his email. He pondered the significance of the address as he directed a brief query to the system, fingers stilling on both keyboards as the identity on the user account came back.

Sweetheart.

He began typing once more as he puzzled over why Gwen would be contacting him. Finally, he opened up the scanned message and read it through.

From: MELVILLE203A (Sweetheart)
To: BOURNEJ (Timeless)
Subject: Admin?

Hello there, Timeless. I needed to ask some administrative questions
and when I noticed you had been added as a student aide on the staff
page, it just seemed so perfect. I hope you do not mind.
Nothing major, I was just really missing my dog, Buster. Would you
mind terribly looking to see if there is some form I could fill out to get
permission to bring him here? Any help on it would be so wonderful. I
mean, I really like animals, don’t you? It would be so nice if he could
join me here.

Thanks,

Gwen

James read it through another time, nibbling absently at his lip as he thought it over. He finally shrugged to himself and brought up the files he had copied yesterday morning. Once they were finished decrypting, he attached them to a reply.

From: BOURNEJ (Timeless)
To: MELVILLE203A (Sweetheart)
Subject: Re: Admin?
Attached: Form_PetExemption.pdf

Hi, Gwen. This is the form you will need to fill out for that. You might
try to have a teacher send it in to Admin for you or your counselor,
though. Not many exemptions seem to be granted but if you can
make a case that it would help your acclimatization here at Whateley,
you might be able to… oh, get your roommate to cosign the form, a
number of such applications have been denied on those grounds.

He quickly composed a reply and sent it off. Afterward, he attempted to return to his typical distractions but the novelty of the situation kept tugging his thoughts back to that email.


Wed, Oct 18, 2006

He ended up at the library this morning after a night obeying the curfew. Except for Spanish, of course, but that was to be expected. At least it should keep Mr. Dunne satisfied with his willingness to work within the school and cottage requirements.

He was still ruminating on that as he settled into “his” corner of the library. As early as it was, the stacks and tables were abandoned with only Miss Henderson about. She was here around six each morning and did not mind letting people in earlier than the eight AM opening as long as they did not interfere or disturb her preparations. Sometimes, he almost thought she liked having someone around and utilizing the books for their intended purpose.

He was idly clicking through his school texts as he drifted along with the music and the rising sunlight he sensed more than saw through the slim window overlooking his table. The tickling on the edge of his senses, not quite sight or hearing and certainly not touch or any other normal sense, was as certain as sight for just when the sun crested the horizon.

Smiling, he looked up from his displays to watch the window until the sun finally broke through the trees and intervening structures to glimmer upon the glass. It was not as nice as sitting on a roof to watch the sun crest but this was far less likely to bring the security patrol around to check on him. Finally, the magic of the moment passed and he got back to his work. He had finished yesterday’s homework during the night after playing with Whiskers and going back to Emerson but he was writing a report on Whateley Legacies for Mrs. Devlin. It was amazing what the many senior classes since the Academy’s founding in 1966 had accomplished. The comparison he had worked in between the monuments and the familial connections of a full generation of mutants would almost certainly earn him another A+.

He stretched languidly as he contemplated the thought. Thus far, he was managing to keep a 4.0 average but for the first time, he actually had to work to maintain that grade. The teachers were exploring each subject in depth and at a rapid pace. He pitied all of the non-Exemplars and, by this time, it was becoming obvious who had been enhanced mentally by their change and who had not.

He bit down absently on his lip as he stifled a snicker. He at least had a definite advantage. He was not the smartest anymore but he had a lot more time to do his research and studies than any of the others. With that and focusing on at least two subjects at once for most of the time, the work went quickly and allowed time for other diversions.

Such as the diversion he was researching right now. He was looking through online reviews and guides for GEO. It sometimes seemed that it was all the other guys in Hacking Theory talked about. The descriptions themselves looked fascinating but it also mentioned how indepth both account registration and gameplay were, how the interface seemed to adapt itself to the player. Less than a month after release and there were already a number of conspiracy theories concerning the game. One man thought it was a plot by the Palm to resurrect itself and control the most ‘Net-adept portion of humanity. (There were two problems with that. One, the Palms were gone and had not been even rumoured to be active, destroyed by Amelia Hartford amongst others. Two, no one except that guy thought that MMO gamers were the most adept hackers.) A lot of people assumed that it was a sociological experiment by a new AI, trying to understand humanity. Two opposing sides thought it was subliminal enhanced propaganda, pure and simple. Extremist mutants thought Humanity First! or the Goodkinds were using it to stir up hatred against humans, the side of Light populated by normal people and the Dark Lands filled with examples of GSD and costumed mutants, both heroes and villains. Mutant-hating norms suggested that the game world was filled with psychosomatic triggers to induce latent mutant genes, placed to corrupt their children. One of the more reasonable was that some intelligence agency, the CIA being the most favored, was using it for personality profiling in order to identify dangerous individuals. The assorted accusations of brainwashing fell flat when compared to all of the more interesting ideas.

He idly debated purchasing a copy but the talk about registration concerned him too much. Well, that and the fact that he would have to wait for the game to arrive by mail; there was no download version available. Shrugging the impulse off, he brought up his current distraction of that flavor as he glanced at the bank statement on the other laptop. Satisfied that he was still solvent, he closed the connection and wiped the traces concerning that account from his system before calling up his email accounts once more.

The morning passed as quickly as it always did. Catching up with the rare personal email and the accompanying spam was tedious more than difficult but it helped to pass the time as he debated possible expenditures. He had only managed to use up $130,000 or so in the four months since the last refresh and his birthday was coming up fairly rapidly. He wanted to use up at least half of his allowance this time and he could not think of any more equipment that he could really utilize.

James noted the time as he closed out the program and began to replace the computers in their case after yet another routine check of the power remaining on each. It was steady at 29.4%, just as it was steady at 30.0% the last time he checked ten minutes ago and just as he had known it would be. He finished up restoring his pack to its original arrangement and hefted it as he fished out a long silver chain from beneath his shirt.

The boy took the elevator within the library down to the tunnels, fumbling the green stone back underneath his shirt after his access was confirmed. An absent hand dropped down to the machine at his waist to turn up Avril Lavigne as he headed for a classroom. The night classes had already ceased but he knew that Senor Schmidt also had some morning classes. It was not like the daylight was any trouble since his preferred demesne was in the subterranean tunnels, after all.

The lights were off as he arrived and he called out hesitantly, just to check, “Ahhh… S… Mr. Schmidt? Are you here? It is…”

A melodious baritone flowed from the room, cozening, enticing, the kind of voice you might imagine from a grand opera singer or perhaps an infamous Casanova, “… Mr. Bourne, Spanish. Yes, your wards are quite distinctive. Come in.”

The lights flared in the room at the words, somewhat reddish and dim, but enough to reveal the lanky form of the teacher reclining in the swivel chair at the other end of the room. He seemed to be staring up at the ceiling but that was no certainty, given his abilities. James was tentative to advance further but he marshaled his nerve and did so anyway, moving by unconscious instinct towards his normal corner seat as he called out, “Sir, would it be possible to…”

Again, the figure cut him off by the simple expedient of standing in a smooth, rapid motion and again speaking in that voice, “…to speak with me concerning the last lesson? Come up HERE, boy, I will not bite… I may be a vampire but I have given my word “

James smiled sheepishly and shifted course as he shook his head in demur, “Sorry, sir, I was just heading for my seat for class. Habit. I had actually wanted to ask you if I might sit in on other classes if I had time. I…  you explain things well and language is fun…” His voice lowered as he muttered a few things ducking his head against his chest as he reached the front of the class.

Schmidt was quite able to hear the murmurs, however, and smiled fondly as he answered them, “I suppose having you sit in upon classes is better than having a young man bored and wandering the campus.” He showed no discomfiture at not having guessed right as to the child’s presence. His shrewd observation along with a widely known, deft hand at finessing surface thoughts from recalcitrant minds might not prove equal to the mental shields of the student before him but it was solely a game.

James looked up, eyes catching the gleam of the light as he smiled, bobbing his head, “Thank you, sir.” He looked about to speak more but turned as the first early student arrived for the next class. Turning back, he shrugged a bit and started for the door, waving a bit, “That is, thank you, sir, I will not get in the way. I need to get to English though.”

He could hear that voice behind him greeting his student, already shifting to a different language, “Guten morgen…” James tossed his head a bit as he began to run, wondering what mixture of vampire traits that voice belonged to or if it was instead a natural gift.


It had been a long day and it was only going to get longer.

James looked around warily as he trotted away from Administration. Unfortunately, instead of heading towards the relative ease and enjoyment of his Hacking Theory class, he was headed to Medical. They had found outside assistance but said assistance would not be available for a normal afternoon or night appointment so the continuing evaluations interrupted his classes again.

He held tightly to the feeling of Whisker’s presence, drawing an unsteady breath before broaching the doors into the Medical Wing. Once more, things held as constant as everything else in his life and Clark was there to escort him to Hewley. For once, the lab tech seemed to be in a good mood as he called out at the boy’s appearance, “Bo… Timeless, everything is ready. We should be able to get you out of here in 60, 90 minutes this time.”

James followed the eternally disheveled man after a brief nod of acknowledgement. Soon, they were once more within the familiar confines of Examination Lab 5. Neither of the staff magicians who were present for the prior three interviews were here, but he did notice someone he had never seen before, someone whose dour manner sent an uneasy shiver through the young man.

Dr. Hewley turned and spoke at the announcing hiss of the hermetic door, “Good, everyone is here now so we can start after onnne brief requirement… Continuation of classification interview 86, Thursday, the 18th of October, 2006, subject Timeless.”

The boy stifled a smile as Hewley missed the day of the week once again but the unknown man was already speaking, his deep baritone again sending tremors of worry through the subject, “Doctor, it is a Wednesday.”

The elder man had already replaced his activating remote within the pockets of his lab coat as he said in a puzzled manner, “You are certain? I thought I had that for once.” He shook his head ruefully but soon shrugged it off as he smiled towards the stiffly standing focus of their attentions.

The other man was not smiling, merely focusing an intent gaze upon James as he hesitantly nodded back, asking, “Ahh… Dr. Hewley, this is the man you thought would help?”

Hewley smiled and nodded in agreement, “Oh yes, I had a thought and he should be able to help in the matter. But I will allow him to introduce himself.” He motioned towards the man.

“My code name is Starpath. I am here because of the confirmed ultraviolet interaction and also because I have access to a number of scanning techniques that are not typical. Your Doctor here hopes that we will either be able to circumvent your shields or at least further determine their extent.”

Hewley spoke up again, “Exactly. You may have noticed the lack of magicians today. I thought perhaps the mana interaction might interfere with any readings or amplify your shields. There is some hint of that, if you recall.”

James nodded briefly, still glancing nervously to the stranger every so often. “Of course, sir.” He could not help but hold tighter to the connection with Whiskers. Would they finally discover that link? He really did not want them to realize he had lied to them or that he was an Avatar.

Starpath motioned towards a cleared out area in the middle of the lab, “If you would stand there, Timeless, we may begin.” He looked to the Doctor at that for confirmation.

Hewley agreed, stepping back behind some screens that had been erected in front of the normally ignored stations. Clark and another tech were working upon two of them and looked up through the hazy blue material as James moved into the indicated spot.

A brief electric crackle indicated something was happening but as the boy looked around to follow the sound, he could not discern anything out of the ordinary. Starpath’s voice captured his roving attention, “Young man, please remain still. Can you feel or sense anything?”

James thought for a moment and then slowly shook his head, “No, sir, I… is there something ultraviolet? I… think… I can feel that, maybe. It feels a bit like when I sit under my lamps or the UV bombardment from the other day.”

Starpath nodded stiffly, “Yes, there is.” His attention shifted to Hewley, one end of his thick brow lifting in inquiry, “I trust you will inform me if anything unexpected shows up?”

Hewley offered one of his seldom frowns as he replied, “Of course. Please, continue. We are receiving nothing from the high bands except for what seems to be a light scatter. How accurate is your cascade?”

The dour man shook his head, “Very finely focused. The scatter must be some aspect of the boy’s shielding. I…” He looked to the other man and merely nodded once more, cutting off whatever he was going to say.

James felt… something… that is, something beyond the continuing unease and spoke up, “You ceased the UV range projection, sir?”

Starpath nodded and continued on through a long series of testing interspersed with brief periods of consultation before finally coming to an apparent interlude. Hewley motioned the boy over and he moved towards the technicians and others unsteadily, asking hesitantly after a nervous glance towards the guest tester, “Sir, I am getting a bit dizzy. You know, like that second time? Could we have a brief break?”

Hewley blinked and nodded, “Drained from that? Interesting. Go ahead and rest over there while we discuss this. Starpath, could you come around and plot your sensing frequencies on this chart here? It would…”

The boy ignored the rest of their talk and headed for the slightly shaded corner with the small grove of potted plants. It seemed out of place in this bastion of technology but prior sessions had revealed to Hewley how his patient took comfort in their presence.

James slumped onto the floor against one of the containers, absently reaching up to stroke the plant. His thoughts were muddled, too tired to care about the others’ reaction to his petting, the warmth of the ‘drawing’ sinking into him. He pondered what they were going to do next, what they had in store for him. He was shivering with nervous intensity as a sudden spike of the internal warmth was matched by a beeping from the console.

Jerking away from the plant, he began to call out even as a sudden cascade of visions dissolved his grasp upon reality, “What is that beeping?! What is…

…staring at Jade… no, it was Jinn, he knows it. They are sitting at a table in the library, the heavy, dusty odor of tomes surrounds them. She draws her hands from beneath the table and extends them as he reaches out to grasp a revealed pink shirt that unfolds smoothly to reveal a familiar icon as she says, “Why didn’t you…”

“…tell me, when is your birthday?” The smell of fresh strawberries and cream enfolds him, draws him into the sleepy embrace of the bubbles and warm water that support him.

“The winter solstice, actually. But is that the only reason you invited me here?” He marvels at the red reflection of the light upon his fingernails as he reaches out to…

…a tall, black-haired woman stands before a pyre with a mason jar half-full of a cobalt-blue liquid in one hand. Ashes and the heavy tang of scorched metal, almost hiding the distinctive smell of burnt plastic, rise from a jumbled pile. He tries to cough, to cast aside the stifling smell but he is trapped within the recall as the winds begin to swirl, circling around the…

…young woman. No, two of them, side by side and back to back. They seem to be dancing, practicing, one with a blade and sheath in her hands, the other with nothing but focused concentration in her amber eyes and hands flashing in strikes and blocks. The scene seems out of focus, the sense of something surrounding them. Suddenly, there is the flash of a clawed hand twisting away from the stroke of a blood-sheened white jade sword, the thick iron scent as someone else comes into focus…

…a filthy man, a man he recalls seeing around campus bursts from some bushes and hurls himself on ground marked with blackened desolate footprints, “MISTRESS! IÄ KELLITH! I am your humble servant! Mistress of Flesh! Daughter of the Eternal Void! Please look upon my sacrifice with favour!”

He sees the forest, the light, the smell of fresh rain. The stench of an unwashed male body chokes at him, too real, too vivid as the light catches a polished sacrificial dagger, the silver shining in the orange light of the outdoor lamps. In the other, he holds aloft a frighteningly familiar kitten, the tiny ball of fur biting and clawing ineffectually at the bum’s calloused hand.

“By this blood, I do…”

…”NOOOO!”

The others were already turning to look and watch as James crumpled to the ground with a wail of denial.

Several of the technicians began to move around the console only to be cut short by the stern tones of Dr. Hewley as he moved more sedately around, motioning to his guest, “Continue monitoring and allow the boy some space. Your presence would only agitate …Timeless further and we have no one available for shielding.”

The two continued their discussion as they approached the crumpled child, keeping their voices low but not so low that the dazed subject could not make them out, “Gravitational effects or high range cosmic seemed to create that static detectable beyond the shields. Would their duration have continued beyond your direct observation to cause that final alert?”

“No, Doctor, not the cosmic but gravitational phenomena tend to be of longer duration, filling the area instead of interacting as simple waves. It is certainly possible that system interacted with the child’s own powers. But you noticed how it cut off cleanly on the monitors?”

“Yes, I believe the shields shifted to compensate for that. Fascinating, really, I do wonder if it is conscious or unconscious… but… look, he seems to be awake.”

The older man crouched a bit, voice softening as he spoke to the dazed boy curled up against the plant, “Timeless, do you understand me? I need you to respond if you can.”

The boy’s voice was hoarse, unsteady, as he replied, “I… yes, Doctor. I… I got lost… in thought…” James turned his head away as he shifted gracelessly, pressing himself against the container into a near-sitting position.

The Slavic features of Starpath twisted into a frown and he shared a look with Hewley as he asked slowly, “…yes. Of course. Are you alright?”

He looked like he wished to pry further but the other man shook his head minutely and took up the thread of conversation, “Yes, do you think you can continue, perhaps stand up or do we need to call for assistance?”

James looked around, still pressing against the side of the pot, “No, no, I… I think I need to continue another day… I mean, if that is alright?”

Hewley straightened and nodded, offering kindly, “Of course, it is. We will need to explore some of this further and if you could record your assessment, it would be helpful but we certainly do not want to continue on if you are not able.”

Again, the guest began to speak but was held up by a brief motion of Hewley’s hand as the boy bobbed his head, “Thank you so much, I… is it alright if I go see Mrs. Chulkris again? I… I am still very dizzy.”

Hewley nodded and motioned again as he stepped back, “Please do, Timeless. We will finish here until such time as we can continue at a later time. Okay?”

James pushed himself off of the stone container and rose to his feet, head bowed and voice still unsteady, “Th… thank you. I will go now.” He headed for the door. Starpath finally broke out, his faint Russian accent thickened with disdain, once the door swung shut behind the stumbling child, “Doctor, why did you not confront that child upon his lies?!”

Richard Hewley shook his head as he took a long look at the tester, “Because that is not the purpose of these evaluations. It is better to know he is lying and enjoy his grudging cooperation than to confront him, possibly coerce the truth in that one instance… and never have the opportunity to test him again without secrecy and rancor involved. He knows more of what is going on than he is willing to tell us, it has been obvious since the first evaluation, but neither does he know everything. His surprise and eagerness for explanation show that he is as confused by some aspects of his power as we are… and that is why both we and he need to explore further.”

Starpath nodded slowly as he took in that assessment but ended with a warning, “I can understand that perspective but… whatever happened for that alert, it happened right here.” He pointed down at the horticultural haven. “And it had very little to do with my own powers.”

Hewley sighed and nodded his head in agreement, head turning to look towards the door where the subject of their concern had so recently departed, “I know and it is worrying, Va… Starpath. But let us get these records down and I will take you to the Berlin Airport.”

Meanwhile, James had taken the opportunity offered by the unescorted departure from Medical to enter the boy’s bathroom and hide within a bathroom stall, shivering uncontrollably as he kept replaying the visions within his mind. They were so… so real. He could still see everything, hear everything… he could even SMELL everything and that seemed impossible.

“How… they were so disjointed, it did not make any sense. I could smell that fire, the rain… how?! But Whiskers… that /can/ not happen, I can not lose her…” He whispered to himself while he pressed himself to the tile wall of the restroom.

A brief hesitation and he reached up to cup his face in his hands, only slightly surprised to find the dampness of tears upon his cheeks. He drew a deep breath to calm himself but it caught in his throat as he heard the door swing open again, two Oriental voices conversing quietly. If he was not so shaky, it would almost be funny. As it was, however, he stilled himself trying to remain as silent as possible until the two left.

“Destiny’s Wave? You’re sure?”

“Yep, I heard that old bag in Administration say it.”

“He was already pretty certain about it but I know he will appreciate the confirmation.”

“Do you know if he has made a move on it yet?”

“I think so… it has been almost two weeks since Zhong Lau okayed it.”

“Still, we haven’t heard of anything going down. Have we?”

“No, I think he has tried, however, or is going to soon. He’s been keeping himself tightly shielded.”

"So do you think he's got a shot at pulling it off this Poe chick?"

"I dunno... I mean, he thinks this sword is that amazing and she has it, right? Plus, I hear she is training with Fitz.”

"Given what I been hearing from the frosh class, he can probably get it if he doesn't bone up somewhere. Keeping it might be another story.”

"Oh, someone else has been talking about it? Who?"

"Na, man, they may be a bunch of freaks in Poe but some of her friends got POWER. Not like it'd be a bright idea to piss 'em all off. Never mind the girl who stomped all over Montana's head and he's no pushover."

"Oh yeah, that Chaka girl, the one the Tigers have been sniffing around about."

"Yeah. That one. If he gets the sword, he's going to have a buncha girls with weird powers, a brick and that Ayla freak coming after him, probably all at once. Magic sword or no, being outnumbered eight to one isn't intelligent. He'll expect us to cover his ass if they come down on him.”

“He better not. If he is counting on that, he is screwed. The Dragon said flat out that he would cut him loose if he got caught.”

“You think he's brilliant enough not to parade the sword around like he's King nimrod? Please. He'll openly go after her, probably with a ski mask to conceal his identity."

"Ha! Who WAS that masked martial artist?! You're right, though, he would definitely want to show it off."

"If he was smart, and I'm not suggesting it to him, he'd do an open challenge with the sword as part of the stakes. If he wins, he keeps it. When he loses, he sucks it up honorably. This skulk and creep shit he thinks he's doing's a stupid joke.”

As the other boy made noises of agreement, the momentary rush of water from the sink followed by the sound of the door indicated the pair had departed.

James breathed easier as he realized he was alone once more. It was always better or at least always safer when he was alone. He took a moment to compose himself. As often as he hid himself away to relax, he also managed to hide himself and eavesdrop on private conversations.

After he regained his composure, he slipped out of the bathroom stall and moved to the sink to wash his face. Ignoring his reflection (more appropriately, his reflections, considering the lighting in here) in the mirror, he drew a deep breath as the water sluiced his panic away and allowed him to face the school once more.

He skirted the others in the hallway as he headed for the section of the building that the Magical Arts classes were held in.

James noticed a pair of girls talking quietly as he approached the Principles of Magic classroom. The older one with the nose and long, wavy hair was not familiar but the other... not a boy on campus was likely to forget the appearance of Fey, not after those posters.

The pair looked up as he approached, watching him with a shared puzzled expression as if they sensed something as he spoke, “Sorry to disturb you but… is Mrs. Chulkris here yet?”

The brunette shook her head, “No, not yet. What is the problem?”

The boy was still a bit unsteady as he bit at his lower lip, finally saying, “I needed a favor again but, if you would not mind?” He looked from one to the other.

Fey looked a bit puzzled and thin a faint recollection seemed to surface, by her expression, “I remember… you came in to speak with Earth Mother during class two weeks ago. What kind of favor?”

James looked sheepish as she examined him with a faintly disturbed expression, stepping back as he stated quietly, “I need to get to class but if… you could… ahhh, do your thing?”

Hexette still seemed puzzled as she asked, “What do you mean?” She turned to look quizzically at the other girl, as if seeking clarification from her, as well.

The boy bit at his lower lip again as he hesitantly replied, raising his hand to waggle his fingers, “..Magic? I… I had testing and there were no Wizards this time and I kind of need the energy. Mrs. Chulkris had no problem, really. Just… try to do something, whatever.”

Fey appeared to understand finally, an expression of relief flickering over her beautiful (but thus far ignored) features, “Oh, that is it. Well… okay. She did attempt a mental probe last time, Hexette. He seems to absorb magic rather than have it affect him.”

The older girl twitched her eagle-like nose, James ducking his head at the perceived sign of disgust. He quickly murmured, “Sorry” even as she said, “Oh, right. I guess so.”

He could almost see the shift or perhaps it was more like hearing something just on the edge of perception as both girls straightened. Fey seemed much more relaxed, the only visible sign of her gathering power the narrowing of her eyes as she looked upon the young man still focused on her classmate. Hexette, however, was reciting a low chant as she motioned gracefully.

The two young women could perceive a bit more. Fey’s elven features twitched as she felt a faint sense of… recognition? She fought to trace that feeling, worrying at the source like a puppy with a new toy. There was a faint resistance as she drew the mana from about her and she could feel it pulling lightly towards her target. As she reached further away, she could still feel a light drain from within the emerging pattern of her mystic probe but the mana itself seemed unaffected.

Hexette, on the other hand, was not as naturally adept. She came from a long line of witches but her magical powers were learned rather than instinctive. As she recited her levitation spell and focused it upon the boy, she could sense that same resistance and adapted to it with her experience. It felt similar to an area with low natural mana, somehow.

The chant and the concentration came to an end in close culmination and both directed their spells towards James only to see or otherwise sense them blocked completely and then pulled strongly from their grasp, whirled around and then within whatever was shielding him.

Fey was once more struck with a sense of recognition, of familiarity, as she watched the boy’s shields become active. The patterns and junctures she saw became visible to her companion as well, by virtue of a faint scarlet aura that brightened and became limned with a warm golden glow as the last of the energy within the spells faded from their other senses.

James seemed to have been expecting the aura or was at least accustomed to it as he simply nodded to each in turn, cocking his head curiously at the expression on the younger girl’s face, “That was quick, Mrs. Chulkris took a lot more time. Thank you both.”

The girl in question, finally under the focus of the boy’s attention, did not acknowledge it as she stepped forward and raised her hand to reach towards him or perhaps just stroke the shining, crystalline walls and towers as the aura began to slowly fade from visibility.

He quickly stepped back as she reached out, ducking his head in mute apology when he did not move quite fast enough to keep her from wincing as her fingertips almost brushed his clothing.

Hexette looked at the other magician as the boy stammered a quick apology and trotted away, her voice puzzled as she asked, “What was that, Fey? Are you alright?”

She still seemed troubled, lost in her thoughts, as she answered, “It was… familiar. He draws the mana from about him, enough that I would prefer to not be too close, but that was different, something else entirely. But it…” Fey let her words fade off as she shook her head, looking down the hall in the direction he escaped.

The brunette smiles and reached out to pat the beautiful young redhead on the back in a friendly fashion, “Yes, the mana did seem poor, no wonder I was a bit uneasy. Good, that look on your face was a bit worrying. As long as you are alright, though.”

The two were interrupted as one of their classmates leaned out the door and said, “Shoot not the messenger, m’ladies, but if you two could get your rears in here, Earth Mother just arrived.”

Fey remained standing there, however, as another shiver of recognition passed through her. Aunghadhail had not spoken during the encounter but she was fairly certain that sense of recognition was shared, not something she herself felt and certainly not something either she or her surprisingly silent ‘mentor’ had expected to ever feel.


James shivered uneasily as he turned the corner. The expression on Fey’s face as she almost touched him, the uneasy glances from the other girl, both merely reinforced the feeling he always seemed to carry within him. The feeling he almost always felt ever since he first came to Whateley.


Thu, Oct 19, 2006

The boy skirted a bush, shaking his head as he noticed a somewhat familiar man hiding in wait. He almost pitied the scruffy looking man, out here before the break of dawn, but rushing could be such a pain-in-the-neck that it restrained that impulse. He shrugged and did not bother trying to recall which organization this one represented. He had better things to do such as getting to Administration.

Swiping his card in the reader to unlock the doors, he went about his rituals of preparation in the gloom-filled area. It might not take long to prepare the coffee, setup his computers and check on the supplies but it allowed him to refocus after his morning ritual. The meditation and sunlamps allowed him to pay more attention the rest of the day and satisfied Mr. Dunne that he was adhering to curfew as much as his schedule permitted.

Leaving the first droplets of coffee to burble their way into the pot, he seated himself before his computers and began to enter more paperwork. His mind kept drifting to the request that Sweetheart had asked of him yesterday in English.

It was a simple matter and entirely straightforward to send paperwork to another student but she had asked him to actually manipulate the data… that was an entirely different matter. He could not help looking towards Hartford’s empty desk with a shiver. Corrupting the integrity of her files was not something to get on her good side.

He made no decision on the matter as he went through the present day worklog. It was still troubling him enough to bring him to a halt as he came across something from Hartford’s Out folder. Apparently, a team registered as the Masterminds had signed something noted as a simulation track request. This was the first he had ever seen of something like that and he noted that it was signed by Hartford personally, not merely coming from her desk. The warning concerning the ‘active track’ and its strenuous sim schedule, the waiver of liability, it sounded exactly like what Sweetheart had wanted for some team called ‘Outcast Corner’.

The thought of helping Gwen out like that was really neat. She was being so nice, a real friend. He kept toying with the idea of duplicating the ‘active track’, searching out the Outcast Corner SDN and forging a request. The idea kept prodding him as he finished up the relatively small stack of forms from Hartford’s desk and went on to the general files.

The rhythmic progression of data entry soothed him, allowing him to relax into the flow while he recalled all of the memories of watching and hearing this same sort of thing from his father before the accident. It was not as visceral, not as… intimate as the ‘drawing’ but there were no qualms involved with it either.

Calmed after the reflection, James focused in on the paperwork once more. It was always interesting to see what sorts of requests were sent in for confirmation or entry into school records. The class transfers held a wide variety of codenames and almost as wide a variety of classes. Classes such as Introduction to Criminology, Advanced Design Concepts and Genetics II were held alongside Gymnastics, Survival and Remedial Math, sometimes in the same schedule even.

Hard to believe this is a high school and not a college with some of these options. Biochemistry is a standard science selection, you have a choice of seven languages and programming languages to apply to a foreign language requirement and there is an Independent Studies elective? This is going to be an interesting four years.

The codename requests held a lot more drama, usually. There was a number of requests from a sophomore in Melville interspersed with a few responses and counters from another girl in Hawthorne. Apparently, the sophomore had been blocked from taking her preferred codename by a senior possessing it last year. By the time he graduated, a new girl entered into Hawthorne and claimed it, again leaving the sophomore out in the cold. But that is what you get for wanting a codename like ‘Frostbite.’

Then there were just the odd ones. There were the requests for homework reprieve due to Diedrick’s Syndrome that turned up regularly despite the inevitable denial. They likely had a stamp somewhere just for those. Or you might prefer the change of name forms for recognized clubs and sim teams that held some… awkward names. The most amusing of those were sometimes approved just to validate the maxim of ‘Be careful what you wish for’ It was not as if the name was of any importance however, the school assigned an internal code to each such entity and used that for most purposes. They might call themselves the Masterminds, the Evil Geniuses, Future Villains or whatever, the system did not care, they were Team D5-021. Finally, the assorted exemption forms were always bizarre. Exemptions for pets, exemptions for class credit, exemptions for non-standard privileges or equipment. Nearly everyone on campus had one or more of those on their record. James had only been here a couple of months and already had three of them, for his curfew allowance, his sunlamps and his night class with Schmidt.

The other workers in Administration were beginning to arrive by the time we finished working through the last of those forms. He took a break before starting on the forms sent from other departments for entry to get the other coffee machine going with Ms. Hartford and Mrs. Linford’s preference and bring Debbie and Elaine a cup of the instant coffee. “Morning, ma’am, I am entering the week’s paperwork over in cubicle 6.”

Debbie waved thankfully before going to her cubicle to hide and nurse ‘the lifegiving elixir’, as she referred to it. Ms. Claire chuckled and gently teased the young boy, “James, twice in one week?”

He smiled and ducked his head as he finished securing the earbud he had just removed, “…yeah. All of the supplies are filled, the coffee for Ms. Hartford is brewing and I will be certain to bring it over when she gets here.”

The woman smiled and nodded, her hand drawing back after she stifled her instinct to pat him on the shoulder. Neither of them would appreciate that. “Good, good. Very nice work, be sure to bring me your paperwork sometime tomorrow so we can make certain you get paid on time.”

James shrugged that off as he went back to the paperwork. He did not work here for the paychecks every two weeks. It would be a lot simpler to check on if they would put him on the same monthly pay schedule as all of the others in Admin but student workers always had the same arrangement as far as pay went: paperwork by Friday close of business followed by a Thursday morning check or deposit every other week.

Settling back in to work, he retrieved the first ‘form’, a piece of paper with Gunnery Sergeant Bardue’s scrawl on it, in smudged pencil as normal. ‘GCSS: Team D5-027, add sessions 10-21 1230 active, 10-23 1630 reactive, 10-25 1700 active…’ He stopped reading the note and updating the sim schedule as the SDN reference on the other laptop registered. In a fit of coincidence, Team E5-027 was the ‘Outcast Corner’ team that Sweetheart had brought up. The simulation center personnel had only requested a week worth of extra sessions for them but… there was that request from Hartford’s desk.

Gwen had been really insistent that she needed as much time as possible. He could manipulate that, of course, but what if…? Before the courage or impulse deserted him, he pulled up the Mastermind request in his queue, swapping team codes between that document and the one he was working on. No harm, no foul. Outcast Corner would get the extra sessions Bardue requested for them and a bit more, the Masterminds would get some ‘active’ missions for awhile and more sessions overall, something like the request form they had filled out mentioned. No one was likely to complain or think someone was playing with their simulation time.

He took a pencil from his laptop case and modified Bardue’s form before searching through the completed forms for the other request. With a nervous glance towards Hartford’s desk, he pressed his thumb into the team code firmly, rubbing to smudge the ink and trying not to tear the paper.

He looked from one smudged form to the other, nodding in satisfaction. There would be no doubt that it was merely a combination of poor hardcopy and data entry error. Smiling wistfully at the thought of how pleased his daddy would have been at his thoroughness and caution, he replaced the documents in their original order and sent his outgoing queue to the server to update.

The lamps along the paths would be off, people would be heading for breakfast and the servers that Hartford guarded so zealously were now compromised to serve Sweetheart’s purpose.

Not a bad morning, even with the heavy clouds threatening rain overhead.


He glanced up as he noticed the lamps flashing on, smiling at the reminder of time passing by… smiling, that is, until the scattered reflection of the orange light from the rain-soaked grass sent a shiver of memory through him.

Stumbling, James looked around and drew a breath, shaking his head as if to throw off the memory of that recent vision. He felt nothing from his link to the kitten but he was finding it hard to stay calm, nonetheless. In order to put that ill feeling to ease, he began trotting towards Poe Cottage.

The trees along the path sent another uncertain frisson through him but he denied the growing worry any expression save for the quickening of his steps. Students were headed back home, the flow thinning as he crested the hill beneath Melville and took the diverging spur towards his target.

He noticed a familiar sheaf of hair skimming the path towards the cottage and took a moment to recall her actual code name. Calling her Ryoko might night turn out well. “…ahhh… Tennyo? Tennyo!?”

The floating young woman turned at the call and looked a bit puzzled as she noted the unfamiliar person, asking quizzically in her grating voice, “Yes, I am Tennyo…. I know you?”

James ducked his head, shaking it as he approached, “No, I was just looking for someone. Sara Waite? I needed…”

As soon as the boy said the name, Tennyo frowned and floated towards him, growling, “What do you want with her, kid?”

He hunched and backed up, ducking his head, “I just needed to speak with her about something, really.”

Tennyo continued to glare for a moment but relented. This boy was harmless, even reminding her of Jade a bit. “You missed her, she was headed towards Crystal Hall for lunch. You better just want to ask her something because if I find out you are doing another Peeper on her after this morning…”

James quickly shook his head in denial, looking up with a stricken face, “No, that was horrible, I would… I promise… I just need to find her.”

She nodded and waved towards the center of campus. She resolved to remember the boy anyway, just in case. Meanwhile, with a growing unease, he was already running back towards the hill.

He kept thinking back to the vision, comparing the recalled details to what he could actually see. He knew he had at least a little time, the sun was still providing a bit too much light to match what he could remember. Still, he was still feeling something indefinite from Whiskers and she was not close enough for James to locate.

The boy continued to search until he noticed a pair of lightposts set between the path and the trees and knew he had found it. Quickly recovering from the stumble caused by the shock of recognition, he turned and ran into the forest.

“...HURT THE KITTY!”

He heard the screech as he neared the place he had seen in the vision. His heart rose into his throat as be broke through the underbrush, racing as fast as he could.

The same bum, the man he had seen grabbing Whiskers and the man he had seen around the campus earlier, was there, standing close to Sara with a gleaming silver knife in one hand, saying, “Hey, this is my sacrifice...”

This was real now, not another vision. The seared patch of grass beneath her feet as she reached for the kitten to consume her. He… he would have to stop her somehow. He knew what he had to do but he was quaking inside. This was too soon.

“GIVE IT HERE!” Sara pried the tortoiseshell kitten away, pulling it up over her head, out of the way of the kneeling itinerant, “Now, what’s this all abou...”

Even as she prepared to feed, James launched himself at her and wrapped his arms around her torso as they both tumbled to the ground. He might not be large or heavy but then neither was the demon princess. He tensed and closed his eyes tightly even as a quickly banished blush appeared on his cheeks as he felt the swell of her breast against his chin. He was shaking his head in denial but he felt the release of Whiskers deep within and he tried to impart a sense of urgency over the thin bond between them, wanting her to run, get out of here.

"Ah, look, kid,” Sara raised one eyebrow, “could you either get off me or keep squirming, please?"

The seconds stretched out but James could feel nothing from her, no reaction to his touch, no surge of ‘drawing’, no feeling from her at all. Worse, he was quite able to feel the cat. His eyes snapped open, glancing around, searching for her, "She was trying to get away, da... damn you! Look at her, she... is... ahh... grooming herself?"

Sure enough, a short distance away, the ball of fur sat licking her paw, meowing and purring contentedly.

The cat-napper was busy groveling, face down in the mud, “Oh mighty Kellith! I am distressed in the extreme to have interrupted you and your concubine’s secret rendezvous!”

James scrambled to his feet at the bedraggled man’s words, backing away at a rapid pace from both of them. Rubbing the back of his neck, he insisted in an embarrassed tone, “No concubinage, nope-nope.”

"That your cat?" Sara groaned as she picked herself up, moving in an altogether unnatural (and disturbing) manner. She seemed almost boneless.

"I... you were going to kill her," he snatched the kitten into his arms, "Uhhh... yes. I... what happened?"

She seemed mildly irritated as she corrected the boy, "Actually, this guy was about to sacrifice her to me, I WAS in the process of saving her."

James glanced from her to the derelict as the man just groveled there. He fought against the sudden rage, tearing his eyes away, “But... I saw her. You were holding her and everyone knows you... that you suck... you eat souls."

Sara sighed as, once again, her reputation worked against her, “Well, sure I do, but I'm not a fanatic. You. No more sacrificing kitties, let the others know that. I'm busy right now, so get lost. If you're lucky, we'll talk tomorrow. Understood?"

The kid looked down at Whiskers as she rubbed her head against his chest, sounding confused, “Why… I guess I should apologize.” He begrudged making that admission but it was due.

"I guess you should. I like cats," Sara smiled, bending over to look at the cat in his arms.

James began slowly, still obviously confused, “I… You... err.... sorry, then." He pulled the kitten tighter to his chest, obviously resisting the impulse to run away.

She turned to look over her shoulder, “You still here, David? Yes, David, I know your name already. Get lost. Now, before I decide to change your appointment." After he ran howling into the night, she turned back to the boy, smiling once more, “Where you headed? Not good to be wandering out here alone."

He looked at her, amazed. Not only was she immune to the ‘drawing’ but she did not feel uncomfortable at all? "Em... I... I don’t get bothered much. People don’t like being near me." He glanced pointedly down to the bare foot of ground between the two of them, maybe less. The kitten squirmed out of his arms, scaling his shirt like a net, needle-like claws dimpling the black fabric.

As the demon girl reached out, hand turned down towards the ground, Whiskers hopped from James’ shirt onto the offered perch before he could stop her. He watched with an uneasy feeling as he watched the kitten climb her arm, leaving claw marks like purple footsteps behind, purple footsteps that sealed over and disappeared in moments. “Well, if it has to do with your power, then I’m not feeling it,” Sara smiled warmly, “I’m a regenerator, you see...”

James raised his hands but hesitated. She might not feel uneasy and it was amply demonstrated that he could not affect her by touch but… As the kitten looked over her shoulder and twitched her tail as if to ask what was wrong, he said quietly, “I… I guess. But… we have to go.”

She replied easily as he fought over the decision to either retrieve Whiskers or stay away from Sara, “Why don’t I take you then? It’s dark already and I could use some company.”

He would have preferred to say no but his companion had no apparent qualms. Indeed, she seemed content to climb higher, settling on Sara’s shoulder as he shrugged, “I… guess. She…” He trailed off with a toss of his head. He waved absently to one side, towards the boy’s cottages, after a moment, “I’m in Emerson.”

Sara stroked the kitten under the chin as they walked. The kitten purred happily at all the attention, "You're a brave kid to come all this way out here for your cat."

He hated when people did that: assuming he was a kid all the time. He shrugged again, his reply terse, "I am not a kid. You’re classified PSI as well as Regen?"

"Among other things."

"Oh... okay." That was likely why she was immune to his effects. He knew a strong enough mental shield could block out the ill feelings of his presence, it made sense one could prevent the effects of the ‘draw’, as well.

Sara seemed mildly curious as she pursued the matter, "Why do you ask?"

He looked away as he sought to evade the question, "...no reason. Come on, Whiskers, we’re almost there."

She continued to pursue matters, though, not seeming to be dissuaded by his avoidance, "So, what's your power, then, if it makes you so unpopular?"

James tensed, replying in a wary tone, "It... it just makes people uncomfortable to be around me, it doesn’t do anything."

Sara responded with a smirk, "If it makes people uncomfortable, it has to do something. Take me for example, usually people either find me really sexy or they can feel my soul tugging on their aura. Admittedly, it's weak but it's there. Disintegrating puppies doesn't make me popular, you know."

He looked back at her at Whisker’s meow. The kitten continued to ‘talk’ as she rubbed her cheek against the pale skin of the Goth girl, threading her way sinuously along her neck to her other shoulder. “Really? Interesting…” He trailed off and began to look around for someone to curb the situation, some means of escape from this discussion after nodding to Whiskers, letting her know it was time to return, time to leave.

She did not respond, leaving him to his thoughts. She did, however, hold out her hand for the kitten. Licking her neck once, she hopped down onto the extended arm, using it as a springboard to launch herself back onto James’ shirt.

Reaching up as Whiskers climbed his shirt to his shoulder once more, James flushed slightly as he stated, looking down to avoid her eyes, “Thank you. Sorry about… ahh… tackling you.” He ran his fingers over the kitten’s fur to calm himself.

She looked him over for a moment before commenting, “Hmmm, you don’t have an aura, do you? Most interesting. Oh, don’t worry, I’m almost getting used to strange people jumping on me. Perhaps sometime we can have a longer chat.”

James shrugged lightly, "Uhhh... yeah. Well, we are here." The tone of the reply belied the statement, however. He ducked his head, settling the backpack on his shoulder with a shrug that brought frost-tipped hair forward to conceal his face as he quickened his step for the shelter of the cottage, "...nice to meet you."

Turning away from her, he stopped, blinking. Sara stood smiling in front of him where, a moment ago, she had been far behind, "Of course, if you'd like to talk now..."

James stepped back reflexively, eyes widening before he caught himself. He did not quite manage to reach shelter and it was so close. "No, no thank you." He shook his head quickly and moved to skirt her while keeping his eyes on her.

"Why so skittish? If I wanted your soul, I could have taken it back in the bushes, you know. Why hide from me?"

James met her eyes in the beginning of a glare, the lights from the doorway glittering in his eyes, "Just... just leave me alone. And her, too." He was a bit hesitant about that but he managed to keep that from his voice. Jinn might know her, might even trust her but that does not mean it is safe for him. It does not mean SHE is safe, for him.

"I'm afraid I can't do that. You’re a boy who jumps out and runs me over for a mere cat, you knew who I was and what I could do from the start. Now, for some reason, you're lying to me, a complete turn around from your otherwise moral behaviour. Do you know how bad you are at lying, little boy?"

James had begun to look away but his glare returned full force at that taunting, "She is NOT a "mere cat", you… you… " He ducked his head and continued in a tight, rapid voice, "This has nothing to do with you. I already apologized for that but you did have her in your hands and it is not lying, just telling someone horrible it was nice to meet them, it is called POLITENESS. Please... just... go 'way."

"I have been accused of many things, but this is the first time I've even been condemned for saving a cat. You're just like everyone else here, aren't you? All too ready believe the worst of someone by simple reputation. How does it feel to be on the other side of the social equation, Warlocke?"

James shrugged a bit but can not long maintain the glare, looking away again, "I... had hoped you would not remember. Despite what you say, your reputation is not simple. You admit that you have to... to do that. Everyone saw it." He brought a hand up to support the kitten as she stretched and pressed her head against his throat as he murmured a few words under his breath.

She cocked her head to one side, like a cat looking down at a mouse, "All I wish to know is, what power could be so vile that it places you on my level? And yes, I eat souls every morning, midday and evening. Tell me, what did you and your cat eat today? Cats have a fondness for meat, you know, particularly live prey. Why do you think she has claws and fangs, what makes you both so different from me?"

James tensed for a moment before asking, "I... would you like to talk about such things? If you did not have to, if you could just never bring it up... would you talk about having to kill those poor things like that?"

"Yes. Deny that and I deny what I am. Lie to yourself about what you are and you are a simple hypocrite, just like everyone else."

James sighed faintly and began to move again, "There is a difference between denying what you are and not shoving it in people's faces. Jinn probably told you already, anyway. You wanted to know what we ate today? She nibbled on some celery and some baked fish from the cafeteria and I..." He trailed off for a moment but did continue, "I stopped eating when I was 8... about 7 years ago. I am just a little less blatant than you. Leave us alone now?"

Sara stared at the boy a moment, then chuckled under her breath, "After all that... that's your problem? That's your big, bad secret? How amusing. No, Jinn told me absolutely nothing. And in the end, you're the same as me, just more dishonest."

James paused but continued on rather than respond. He apparently lacked the will to defend himself on the accusation.

She called after him as he entered the cottage with his tail metaphorically between his legs, "Come on, kid. Yell at me. Hit me. Tell me I'm wrong. Don't lose your fire now or you'll die here one day. I don't mind being yelled at and you are very right, I am a horrible person. But you might want to ask yourself why you were still standing here, it's not like I was stopping you from leaving, was I?"


Sat, Oct 21, 2006

James saw Greasy on the edge of one of the bleachers with a bit of space still available. As he got closer, he noticed a number of small cuts and scuffs on the other boy’s face, asking worriedly as he carefully climbed into the bleachers, “What happened?”

Greasy shrugged and looked away, “Nothing, really…”

The smaller boy nodded slowly as he slid carefully into place in the available seat. Drawing his legs in beneath the bleacher and wrapping his arms around himself, he looked around before asking hesitantly, “You… just remember… I mean.” He faltered but tried again after a moment, “Sorry, just… be careful? I would hate to see who ends up next to me in Hacking Theory. With my luck, that Goth girl, the vampire? She would be transferred back in and sit in your place.”

Peeper is going to get Adam hurt badly one of these days, even more than this. It is too easy for something bad to happen, just look at Team Kimba. The fight with the Alphas, that shopping trip to Boston, even the vampire ended up in the hospital somehow… Adam is a lot more vulnerable…

“…’Locke? Hey, wake up, kid. They are beginning. I was not sure you would make it, actually.” The other boy nodded towards the mats on the floor as three people stepped onto it and met at the center.

He rocked on the end of the bleacher absently, swinging his feet as they watched the robed junior and the oriental martial artist square off and bow to each other. “Another day, another duel… you know what this one is about, Adam?”

The zit-ridden young man in question winced and moved away as he felt a bit of a twinge. Giving James a dirty look, he nodded as he pointed towards a group of similarly robed students standing behind the senior, “Yeah. The Dragon was picking on one of the Jedi freshman. Apparently, he did not notice Swordmaster coming, though…”

Giving an apologetic smile, the boy stopped swinging his feet and slipped off the bleachers to clear a bit more space as someone else sitting down turned to glare at him before scooting away. “Sorry… oh lord, there are Jedi here? That… well, kind of makes sense. Swordmaster?”

Greasy made sure that James was not coming his way before nodding, “Yes, he is really good. He helps Fitzgibbons sometimes, I hear.”

James looked impressed at that, “Really? He teaches the Shaolin, right?”

The fight began… and ended, almost as quickly… while the two boys talked. The Dragon leaped forward with a kiai as soon as Tolman said to begin, leading with a kick that never even came close. Whirling, the older student detached something from a belt almost hidden in the folds of his robe and swept a telescoping staff in a graceful motion that brought his opponent crashing to the mat and the staff down to slap the mat with a crack, leaving a light bruise upon the throat that could have been crushed instead. The Dragon looked amazed and frozen. Apparently, he had not expected his own burst of speed to be more than matched

“Yeah, that’s the one. Chung is a Twainie so I figured I should show up but he is a twit. Seen any good movies lately?”

“Yeah, ever heard of “Boondock Saints”? You have got to watch it sometime. I mean, come on. Billy Connolly, aequitas, veritas, in nomine patri et fili et spiritu sancti. And serial crushers.” The last is said with an overblown Bronx accent and a grin.

As his opponent seemed too startled or unwilling to rise and continue, Swordmaster stepped back and bowed to Tolman as she announced that the match was over. The staff retracted as rapidly as it had appeared and vanished as he turned to join his silent companions to depart en masse.

“No, I… whoa. What the…” The conversation faltered as they both looked up at Amanda Tolman’s voice and the normal after-match chatter started. “How… dang, he IS good. Chung is pretty fast but that… see the way he looked on the ground?”

James smothered a laugh and lowered his voice, “Oh godd… he looks like a fish out of water. Gulp, gulp. I was not watching, I thought it would take awhile…. What did he do?”

“Dunno, neither was I. Still, looks like Chung thought because Swordmaster almost lives in the Workshop, he was just another Gadgeteer or something. I TOLD you, he is an idiot.”

“He was smart enough to go for unarmed and non-powered weapons only, at least.  But tell me about the Jedis?”

“They are semi-officially the ‘Jedi Academy’. Kind of what you would expect. Normally younger kids, most of ‘em have begun wearing those robes since Swordmaster was tapped last year when… I think her name was Tina. No biggie, she graduated, anyways. But they are mostly Exemplars, Psis, Teeks, a decent number of Package Psychics, as well. They keep trying to figure out a good lightsaber but it never happens.”

“Really? I am surprised some Devisor has not done that before now.”

“You ask me, none of them WANT to develop it. Better that none of the wannabe Jedi Knights lose an arm or something.”

“That is probably why… good lord, and think what would happen to all the doors around campus, too … would you… wait with me, until it gets less crowded?” James looked up at Greasy hesitantly.

The boy nodded with a brief smile, “’Course… but movies? I have not heard of that one. Burn me a copy of that and I will get you one of… oh, I will find something you have not seen, maybe a couple to be sure.”

The smaller child responded with a smile, as well, “…thanks. I mean, for…” He trailed off again before rallying, “That sounds alright. Did you finish the program for Babage?”

“Nah, I developed the submodules and just have to code the root. Want to get together Tuesday after class and bug check?”

“Okay, I will shoot mine over to you later.”

“What? You already finished it?”

“Yes, I did it when I was working Friday morning, Thursday night. It is amazing what you can do if you do not waste half your night sleeping.”

“Oh, shut up, I would be able to do the same if I did not sleep, bum.”

“Do not forget the flawless memory.”

“Right… and the flawless black eye if you keep talking. My memory is good enough.”

James grinned, leaving the area near the benches as he noticed that enough people were unbunched to allow he and Adam to slip out, “Right. It is good enough, it is smart enough and, gosh darn it, people like it.” He fell silent as they approached more people though, looking down and tensing as he knew he would have to begin moving close to them. Some either moved away or ignored him altogether but enough looked around at the feeling of his presence and scowled when they noticed his stiff, guilty manner that it only reinforced the tendency.

Finally, however, he and Greasy broke through, turning away from those heading to afternoon classes to join with the flow back towards the cottages, conversation rallied by the older-seeming boy, “So, have you thought about GEO yet?”

The younger boy wrinkled his nose, “No, it… I do not think I have the time for it.” James looked away from Adam and quickly continued to explain his obvious lie, “I mean, it just seems kind of silly, I guess. It looks cool, of course, but I would have to give up something to have enough time. Text is good enough for me right now.”

His companion shrugged off the obvious evasion, “Whatever. What are you doing now though? I was about to head back and poke around online today. Unless…” It was Greasy’s turn to fall silent. He, too, had commitments to his time if not of quite the same nature.

James saw ‘that look’ come over him and his hand twitched at his side, held there by the briefest of margins. He wished Adam would get away from that Peeper creep but it was still understandable. Sometimes, the desire to be wanted was just too strong. After an uncomfortable pause, he said quietly, “I have another meeting with Dr. Hayes, actually. Then I thought I would get some more hours in Administration. If…. You…” He stumbled to a halt. How can you tell someone you are there for them if they need to talk while lying to them?

Adam nodded curtly and turned towards the next path to head back to Twain, “Gotcha. Talk to you later.” The larger boy began to wave but was pulled into a deserted side passage by a slender, well-toned arm as his prior companion blithely continued on his way.


James made his way into the office as soon as Valerie waved him in. He slumped into his typical chair, tensing as he greeted the waiting woman quietly, “Afternoon, Dr. Hayes. You... you got the results from the evaluation already?”

She nodded briefly, tapping at a folder lying closed upon her desk, “Yes, I did, James. Was there anything in specific you were concerned about, wanted to discuss today?”

He considered a moment as she opened up the folder and refreshed her memory of the contents, finally saying quietly, “Ahhh… not really, I guess. The evaluation did not show much new or anything.”

Hayes let the statement stand for a bit longer before flipping the file closed and looking up. She frowned slightly as she noted the typical hunched, defensive posture of the boy, his legs drawn up into the chair and held loosely by one arm, “James… look at me, it is alright. We have talked about this before, remember?”

James did not react for a moment but slowly brought his gaze up to meet hers, swallowing nervously, “Ahhh… yes, sorry.”

Of course, the therapist insists on that again. She is like a terrier upon a rat, pushing and probing, demanding… at times, she seems so much like mother… her disappointment, three sons and the single daughter she had hoped for, lost after all the desperate attempts and schemes…

She broke into the recall, noting the absent expression, “James… where were you?”

His eyes slid from hers as he said hesitantly, “I… I was just remembering how… it used to be. I just got… lost in it.”

The doctor nodded slowly as she gauged his manner, shaking her head as she noted his obvious evasion, “You said ‘How it used to be.’ In what way do you mean, the way people reacted to you like we discussed the last couple of times?”

The boy bobbed his head in agreement, saying quickly, “Ahhh… yeah. How it did not seem to be quite as… obvious… irritating? Nothing really new, though. Sorry.”

She was watching him carefully as he explained, finally speaking up when he stumbled to a halt, “Walk through this again with me, James. You say that it did not seem as obvious or irritating. How could you tell that?”

“Well… people seem to notice and look around more now and they can usually tell it was me. And if they touch me, even almost touch me, a lot of them seem sick and that never happened before. Just last week…”

She held up a hand to slow his rapid explanations, saying soothingly, “Shhh, slowly. We have plenty of time, remember? Now I want you to remember how you reacted to that kind of thing before and how you react now, alright? Now tell me, what is the difference?”

“I… I am not really certain.”

“James, we both know better than that. Please, go ahead. This will help, I promise.”

The boy ducked his head and whispered after a period of thought, “I guess… I react a bit more, especially when they touch me. I know how much it hurts them and I know it is me, that I am doing something to them and that they know it.”

The therapist said slowly, gently, “Are you certain of any of that, however? Do you know it hurts or just assume so? Perhaps they feel something and when they look around, there is a little boy looking guilty. How would you react if you felt something odd and noticed someone nearby looking guilty?”

“I guess the same but you do not see their expressions or how they look straight towards me.”

“I know, James, but you have to consider that you do not really know what they are feeling and you should not consider yourself to be a bad person. Even if your fears are true, you are not doing it intentionally and you may come to control it in time.”

“…how much time? More time than I have already spent begging for that?”

“Perhaps you should spend more time being candid with Dr. Hewley and less time hoping for some miracle.”

“I have not just been hoping, I have looked but… I…”

“Go ahead.”

“…I just worry that it will not work. I am an Exemplar, just… I… am not changing much.”

She noted his tone of voice and the other telltale signs he displayed when he was concealing something as she paused long enough to scratch some notes on her notepad before continuing, “Yes, six years is a long time for a block of that nature but it will almost certainly loosen.”

The boy drew a deep breath and tightened his arm around his legs. He shivered a bit as if he was silently sobbing. The silence drew on as he refused to speak, refused to even look up.

The woman behind the desk drew a long breath and asked with obvious weariness, “Enough. James… do you want to be helped?”

The boy looked confused at the manner in which the long pause was broken, asking hesitantly, “Of… of course, Doctor. Why… why would I keep coming?”

Hayes shook her head and continued on in a steady, quiet tone, “It does not appear so to me, unfortunately. In order for me to help you… and I do believe I can help you… you have to be able to trust me. More importantly, you have to be able to talk to me.”

He swallowed and almost met her eyes before ducking his head again, “I… we do talk?” His tone suggested a question rather than a statement and he darted a worried glance at the therapist.

She met his eyes, her features drawn but set in a kind expression, “Yes, we talk… but not about what is worrying you. I can understand why you might be scared but… if you do not let me, I can not help you.”

James flexed his hands nervously, wanting to look away but unable to manage that feat, “But… what if you can’t help me?”

Hayes’ professional demeanor concealed both the relief and concern the admission brought, stating gently, “James, you do want help. Whateley as a whole and the counselors specifically, I; we are here to provide that help. We have a lot of experience and we will do everything possible to ensure that you receive all of the help and exactly the help you need. You just have to learn to trust us.”


Mon, Oct 23, 2006

Sweetheart smiled back at him as he entered the room, “I am so glad you made it… finished lunch early?”

James shrugged lightly, changing the subject, “What… oh, I had meant to give you this in class but when you asked me to meet you.” He shrugged again and extended a cased disk by his fingertips, murmuring, “I thought you might like this. The recordings she has played so far, my class notes…  the textbook for the class.”

She smiled thinly and took it, shaking her head lightly as the boy let it fall to the table and stepped back, “Timeless… relax. I just thought it would be nice to talk more privately. Friends should talk, right?”

He looked up and smiled hesitantly, nodding, “Yeah, okay. Anything in particular or just talking?”

She shrugged and turned to watch him closely, “Oh, whatever might come up. Thank you for the English disk, I know it will come in useful. I will not even need my book in class, anymore. Actually… you did that yourself?”

He smiled slowly as he agreed, “Yes, I hate carrying around all those books so I just took my scanner and my textbooks and…”

She cut him off as he began a technical explanation, “Oh, don’t bother, I am no good at all with those computers. But you obviously are, it is amazing. No wonder they have you working in Administration.”

“I think it was just because I am not physically suited to much else.”

“Oh, don’t be so modest. The way you got me that exemption form for me so quickly, the way you arranged the… Outcast Corner’s sim schedule. You are really good.”

He looked a bit uneasy at the reminder and said quietly, “Just… it will be a little while but the GCSS will likely clean up their schedule as soon as they notice the discrepancy so you might not have much time to observe them.”

“Whatever time we have will be more than we would have had.”

“… yeah. Did you want to maybe set your sim team up against them?”

“Oh, definitely not yet. After we take some time to get a handle on them, maybe but they are sophomores. There is no sense rushing in recklessly.”

“Okay, just let me know. So… how have your classes been so far?”

“Not too bad but I /have/ been having some problems with my History class.”

“Really? Oh… I took Civics, I do not really have anything setup for History if…”

“Like I said, that is so sweet. No, not like that, more with someone in my History class. Do you think…”

He cocked his head curiously as she trailed off, asking after realizing she was done speaking, “Think what?”

She smiled gently and continued, “I was just wondering, do you think you might be able to help me with something? Just like you helped me with Outcast Corner?”

James frowned, slowly shaking his head, “I do not think it would be wise to manipulate the sim sched…”

Gwen interrupted, still smiling, “Oh, no, not like that, silly, though I am glad you would be able to do that for me. I just need to know about one of the boys in my History class… do you think you might be able to get me his file, just a peek?”

The staff files on students were a common target for the ambitious, both students and outsiders. It was rumoured that they were not as complete as some might prefer, the best bits either hidden in some Security notepad or confidential counselor recording, not to mention the assessments that the research personnel had a habit of ‘forgetting’ to update until after they published their findings in some journal. Even so, trying to get to those files were one of the best ways to get locked out of the system or expelled entirely, if you got caught.

All of this flashed through his head as he realized what she was asking and he began shaking his head, “I work in Administration but I still do not have free access to current files. Ms. Hartford has set up screens and safeguards to prevent this kind of thing.”

“I know that you would be able to get something, though. Look at how you managed to set up the sim schedule. I am sure that you could sneak by Hartford’s precautions. Please… I think he is thinking about getting back at me because one of his little toys malfunctioned and o… Someone I know reminded him of how rude it was to have something dangerous like that around where anyone might get hurt. I just need to know what to expect.”

The boy still looked hesitant but not quite as certain as he had a moment ago as he asked, “That is all? Why not just report him to Security and ask them to keep a watch on him, perhaps register an official feud?”

“Oh, Timeless… He is just a devisor, Security might underestimate him or think it was just some accident when he gets back at me. Plus, would you really want to get someone else in trouble with Security if I turn out to be worried over nothing? That would go on his permanent record.”

He nodded slowly. He looked troubled but at least receptive to the idea. “Ahhh… I guess I can at least look into it. Who was the boy?”

“I did not say? That was silly of me. His codename is Ringo.”

“Ringo… o… okay. It might take awhile but I will see.”

“Thank you so much! I know you will help make sure he will not do anything.”

The smile she returned was enough to set his nerves on edge. It was too satisfied, too… calculating and he noticed the look in her eyes for the first time. The coldness he saw there repulsed him and he ducked his head, looking away as he murmured, “Ahh… is… I need to go now, though. Talk later?”

“…oh, yeah. I will see you in class.” She rose from the table and was heading for the door before she finished talking. She had asked James for what she wanted, apparently there was no need to stay there any longer.

He stayed there, looking down at his hands for a few minutes before rising heavily and slipping out of the conference room they had borrowed for the little meeting. Slipping out of Laird Hall, he headed away from Crystal Hall as he pulled desperately on that sense of Whiskers within himself. He would not ordinarily try to find her this late in the lunch period but… he needed to feel her right now.

Slipping into the trees, he slumped to the ground against one of the old growth trees. Closing his eyes, he looked up with a deep breath of relief as the kitten appeared, gamboling through the fallen leaves with tortoiseshell paws barely visible. He reached out to catch her as she jumped, cradling her against his chest and bowing over her.

The warmth flowed between them as he whispered. He did not have to speak, she understood him far better than words would ever make possible but it helped. “She… I do not know what to do, Whiskers She… she looked so cold, did this boy even do anything? What… what about those Outcast Corner guys? I… I thought she was my friend, she seemed so nice…”

The kitten merely purred softly, rumbling against his thin chest as she reached a paw up to bat at his chin, unnoticed. He brought her up and rubbed his cheek against her side as he murmured, “I know, she… I was just hoping and she seemed like she wanted to be friends. But…. What if she was just using me the whole time?”

At times like this, he almost wanted to just release Whiskers. Sometimes, all of the sleepless hours he had to think seemed more of a curse than a blessing. He could not even escape these thoughts in the lesser oblivions of hunger or rest. All he could do was sink into his memories. His only reprieve was as unlikely to change as the way he looked. He drew another deep breath and almost imagined he could smell, feel her fur as he finally opened his eyes once more.

“Yes, I know what I have to do but… I wish it was all different.”


Sat, Oct 28, 2006

“I am so sorry but… I can not do it.”

Gwen looked up and partially stifled an expression of equal parts surprise and then irritation, “…oh. Hello there, Timeless. Join us for lunch?”  She assumed her typical smile but none of the others at the table moved to provide any room to follow through on the invitation.

James stood there with his arms wrapped around himself, not quite meeting her eyes as he shook his head. The lack of a lunch tray only emphasized the demur. “Ah… no. I can not stay long. Just… what you asked.. Monday? I… could not…” He trailed off, shrugging a shoulder.

The brunette looked to the blonde sitting across the table, frowning as she noted the smirk on her friend’s face at the boy’s lies. Turning back, she coaxed gently, “Hey, it is alright. Really, it is alright. Go ahead and tell us what happened?”

He looked up, frightened, as his crystal-hazed eyes noted all three girls and four boys at the table and he murmured, “Us? What do you mean?”

The tall, brown-haired young man next to her began to speak but Gwen cut him off, laying a hand gently on his arm, “I just mean that these are all my friends. I would not keep anything from my friends, would you?”

He looked around the group once more, shifting from foot to foot as he noticed some of the expressions, “Ahh… I guess not., I just kind of thought you would not tell anyone about… what you asked. Could… could we go talk again?”

Gwen just shook her head as the young man removed Sweetheart’s hand and said softly, “Right here is alright… Timeless, right? I am Shadowolf. Go ahead, nobody pays attention to anything someone else is talking about in here, even if they could hear it.”

James looked down once more at that, finally murmuring, “I just… could.. not get through the security.”

The blonde sitting across the table did not quite manage to stifle a laugh at the boy’s words. Sweetheart glared back at her before continuing on briskly, “… really? I know you are nervous but I have to ask. Did you even try or were you just scared of getting caught by old Hard-Ass?” She allowed a faintly mocking tone to colour her tone, drawing her arms up and folding them across her chest.

The boy’s hands flexed at his side, clenching a bit as he answered, “Neither actually. I just… You… Ringo is a junior and he is not in your second period History class.”

The blonde spoke up at that over the snickers of the girl with the short red hair, “Catch that, Sweetheart? Your second period History…”

Gwen said sharply, “Be quiet, Bombshell… and you can stop laughing now, Swoop.” She turned back to look at the boy narrowly. She knew better than to bother reaching for the boy, whether physically or psionicly, but she could not let him get away with that, “Oh, REALLY, Bourne? More than one can play at that game.”

He drew a deep breath and was shaking as he stated, slowly and clearly, “It is not a game. You lied to me, I thought you were my friend? Friends do not lie to friends.”

At this, the other boys at the table could restrain themselves no longer, drawing Sweetheart’s glare as well as they laughed and said in mocking tones, “Aww, friends do not lie to friends. You heard him” “Tell him why you wanted it, Sweetheart, go on and tell him.” “Yeeeah, be his friend and your daughters can be friends and their daughters… a nice, happy, sweet legacy.”

The boy grew more nervous, almost able to feel the attention pulling towards the Young Turks’ claimed table at the commotion. He looked up and asked Gwen pleadingly, “Please, Gwen, just…

Sweetheart sneered and turned back towards the boy, her words biting, “That is Sweetheart, to you. I could never be friends with a freak like you... What kind of legacy would I be leaving if I did, after all?”

James’ face paled slightly and he visibly flinched away from the table, turning with head low to drift away from the now-snickering freshman and the cold smirk on Gwen’s lips.

FIN.

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