Saturday, 30 October 2004 14:15

Welcome to Poe

Written by
Rate this item
(4 votes)

A Whateley Academy Tale

Welcome to Poe

by Babs Yerunkle, Bek D. Corvin, ScramblerJ, Starwolf, and Maggie Finson

Sunday  September 3rd
Dunwhich, New Hampshire and Whateley Academy outside of Dunwich

The three teenagers getting off the train noted each other immediately.  Everyone else, not many, who had gotten off either had people waiting for them, or headed toward the parking lot once they had their luggage.  Leaving the kids staring at the now mostly empty platform and each other.

"You guys going to Whateley?" the slender black girl questioned the others with a smile.

"Yes," the cute boy responded with a tentative smile of his own.  "I'm Hank Declan, by the way."

"I'm Toni Chandler," the girl answered cheerfully, then turned to the other occupant of the platform, a slender, pretty girl with flame red hair cut in a nape length bob whose violet eyes appeared almost huge in her delicate face.  "Are you here for Whateley, too?"

"Yes," the other returned her smile almost hesitantly.  "I guess you can call me Fey." 

"So...any idea of what we're supposed to do?  Do we wait for someone to come get us, or do we call the school?" Toni asked brightly.

"I'm not sure.  How about this - you go ask at the counter, while I watch our stuff," Hank answered with an expressive shrug.

"A man with a plan.  I like that!  C'mon, Fey!"  Toni strolled into the depot building, not really paying attention as to whether the other girl was following or not.  She walked up to the ticket window and gave the desk bell a whack.

A rather sour looking middle-aged man came from out of the back and glowered at her.  "Let me guess - you're here for the Whateley Academy, right?"

"Right!" Toni chirped back at him, refusing to be intimidated in the least.

"The school should be sending a van for you pretty soon.  There are a couple of kids already here, waitin' on 'em.  You can wait in there."  He pointed at a wooden door with a pane of frosted glass in it.  "They got a special waitin' room, just for you Whateley kids, with refreshments an' everything.  You can leave your bags and stuff on the hand-truck out on the landing."

"Thank You!" Toni sang back at him.  She hurried back to Hank with the news.  Fey trailed behind, like a dinghy tied to a speedboat.

As they loaded the bags and trunks on the hand truck together, Fey and Toni both noticed that Hank barely struggled with the heavy trunks.  'I know what his power must be,' the redhead thought while watching the guy move things with which grown men had strained.

The 'special waiting room' consisted of three ratty plastic covered couches, and couple of even rattier looking plastic covered chairs, a coffee table with magazines that the local dentist had probably thrown out, a pay phone, and some vending machines for hot drinks, soft drinks, candy and snacks.  The sole provision for keeping school age kids from dying of boredom was a very old pinball machine, which two boys were busily monopolizing.  They were dressed for travelling.  Hank found a not too dirty seat and gingerly seated himself while wondering what the pinball wizards had that was sending them to Whateley, too.

One of the other couches was occupied by a lovely Hispanic girl with a strip of scarlet down the center of her dark hair.  She looked up from the hardback book she had been leafing through without real interest and gave the newcomers a dazzling if quick smile.  Her ice blue eyes were filled with lively interest in both her surroundings and fellow travelers as she greeted them with a velvety voice in a the accents of the west coast.  "Hi.  You're for here the Whateley School?"

Toni, of course, was the first to respond with an infectious grin of her own and an  enthusiastic nod of her dark head.  "Yeah.  Any idea of when the bus for the school is due?"

"Well, when I got my travel arrangements, they said that they were expecting me at 4, so I don't think that they'll be here much sooner than that."  The girl shrugged.

Glancing at the wall clock, Fey noted that it was 3:15.  Wondering what to do with herself for forty-five minutes, she decided to trace the lines in the place and try to determine which was to what, or who.  Toni let out a sigh and waved around the room, "Okay crew, grab a seat and settle in, we're gonna be here for a while."

"Ooops!  My bad!  Hank Declan.  And that's Fey."  Toni smiled expectantly at the young Latina while gesturing to Fey.

"My name is Elena Neva Natividad Amicella Lucita Obregon," the blue eyed girl replied with another of those brief, almost blinding smiles.

"You got extra luggage, just for that name?" Toni questioned with a chuckle.

The other girl smiled faintly, but amusement danced in her eyes.  "You can call me Rip."

"Rip?"

"Short for Riptide!"  With a wide grin on her face, 'Rip' cupped her hands in front of her, and a mist formed.  The mist quickly condensed into water, formed a tiny wave in Rip's hands, and then dispersed into mist again.

"Hiisst!" Hank hissed at Rip.  "I don't think it's a good idea for us to go flaunting our powers, at least not until we're sure of what the score is around here."

"Aaahhh...what's the use of having special powers, if you can't have any fun with 'em?"  Rip looked at the three of them.  "What can you guys do?"

"Well...let's see what I can do without upsetting the locals..."  Toni's face grew thoughtful.  Her attention appeared to center on a row of shabby hardback books on the table with the magazines.  There was a gap in the row.  "Did you get this book from that table?"

"Yeah.  Why?"

Toni took the book and hefted it to get an idea of its weight and balance.  "Let me shelve it for you."  With a brisk snap of the wrist, Toni threw the book at the table.  The book flew unerringly to the gap and fit exactly in.  Okay, the spine stuck out a bit, but what do you want?  Toni plopped down on the couch, kicked her feet up, folded her hand behind her head and grinned in a 'That's right, I'm BAD!' pose.

"COOL!  How did you DO that?"  Rip looked from between the now replaced book and Toni.

Toni gave Rip a thumbnail sketch of her Chi abilities, which was information Fey hadn't heard yet, either.  The Latina leaned toward Toni with a halfway eager expression on her pretty face.  "Y'mean you can do all that 'Matrix' stuff, with running along walls, dodging bullets and hanging in mid-air when you're about to kick the shit out of someone?"

"Uhm, run along walls- Yes; dodge bullets- I dunno; hang in mid-air- Get Real!  I can't stop bullets in mid-air, either."  Toni shrugged.

"Oh well, y'can't have everything."  Rip turned to the other two.  "How about you two?"

Hank looked around.  "I don't see anything that I can do without blowing our cover."

Rip and Toni looked at Fey, who blushed under the scrutiny.  "Me neither, at least not without causing more excitement than this poor old building could take.  And probably emptying it out while I did it," she mumbled.

Another train stopped at 3:30, and disgorged five more students.  Long-distance buses also stopped, dropping off a few students.  As 4 o'clock rolled around, there were about twenty or so Freshman age kids milling about the waiting room.  Most of them looked normal enough; well, except for the chubby kid who wouldn't take that weird looking knit cap off, or the gangly boy who was at least 6'6" tall and all of ninety pounds, or the girl with weird blue-gray hair that grew up in spiky clumps that sort of crested back along her head.  Most of them had obviously never been away from home for very long, and they were either very subdued, or they were enjoying being loose for the first time.  Somebody had a boom-box, and Toni, Rip and a curvy black girl named Vanessa were dancing along with the bubblegum pop.

Toni tried to get Fey to join in, but she was far too engrossed in some activity only she was able to follow as the extra people filled the waiting room.

At 4:00 on the dot, a tall Asian woman came in.  She walked over to the boom-box and shut off the music.  "Okay, listen up!  I am Mrs. Shugendo, I'm the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy.  There are two shuttles here to take you to the school.  I'm going to call off your names alphabetically.  When I call out your name, let me know who you are, and then go out to the vans.  Now, I know that you have a lot of questions - but, unless it's an _Emergency_, save it for when we get to the school."

As their names were called, the kids gathered whatever they were carrying and filed out to the waiting busses.  It wasn't exactly done quietly, or even close to as organized as it sounds, but eventually all of them were seated and the vehicles got underway.

The scenery was fantastic, and a few of the teens actually paid attention to it through the windows they were seated by, or at least near.  They passed through a smallish town that the drivers informed them was Dunwich and the closest thing to real civilization there was in Whateley Academy's immediate area, but most were unimpressed with the tourist trap the almost sleepy little town appeared to be.

They passed the entrances to several summer camps, and other roads winding through the Presidential Mountains of New Hampshire before turning into one such road that was better maintained than most they had seen. 

Shortly following that, the busses passed through a large stone gate in an equally imposing stone wall.  A few noticed the bronze plaque announcing that this was Whateley Academy, but all knew they had almost arrived at their destination.

The busses passed a number of colonial style red brick buildings, several which had decidedly un-colonial architecture added on, before pulling to a stop in front of a three story building made of the ever present red brick.

Getting off the busses went without mishap, except for the boy dressed in Gangsta style.  He let out a sudden yelp of pain, then glowered at the slight redhead as if he would broil her with nothing more than his eyes.  Fey grinned at him for a moment, then gathered her luggage and entered the building without giving him another glance.        

A small sign beside the entryway told her this was Poe Cottage, and once inside there was a bust of the old time writer/poet holding a place of honor where all who entered would pass by it.

After getting their luggage inside the entryway, Mrs. Shugendo called them into a large common room.  When the kids had arranged themselves on the sofa and chairs, Shugendo called three seventeen-year-old kids wearing school uniforms and a middle aged woman over to her.  Then she addressed them all.

"Well!  Welcome to Whateley Academy!  Now, you'll get the formal Welcoming speech from the Headmistress along with all the other Freshmen, but this little talk is just for YOU.  Now, the reason that you were all told to come here a day ahead of the other Freshmen, and the reason that you're being put up in this dormitory is that you all have something in common that sets you apart from the other students, even beyond your individual mutations.  You are what is currently called 'Alternative Lifestyle' types.  You are Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, or so aggressively Bisexual that it is an issue for you.  We don't condemn you for this; you didn't really have a choice in it, any more than you chose to be mutants.  We realize that it's hard going through adolescence.  We realize that it's even harder when you're a mutant.  You have enough to put up with already, you don't need the extra aggravation of being branded a -quote- sexual deviant -unquote-.

"Unfortunately, homophobic bias is so deeply ingrained in the American, Canadian and British school systems, and to a lesser extent in the European schools, that letting you go around openly declaring that you're Gay or Lesbian or Bi or Transgendered is just asking for trouble. So, we have Poe Cottage, a place where you don't have to worry about the kids down the hall finding out, because they already know about you, and you already know about them.

"Now, while we are very proud of the fact that you were brave and honest enough to admit your... persuasion during on your admittance forms, I'm afraid that we're going to have to ask you to curb that honesty. I'm afraid that it's a matter of your continued safety. There are students here who have been victimized quite cruelly. And, unfortunately those who have been hurt that way tend to be the cruelest of all, when they find someone that they can pass that pain onto. And in our society, homosexuals and 'fellow travelers' are still considered fair game for that sort of thing. Given the abilities that students at Whateley have, a 'Gay Bashing' could turn deadly, even Apocalyptic. It is, simply said, easier for all involved, if it simply doesn't become an issue. If your sense of pride demands that you come out of the closet, then you have a right to. But please, have consideration for the other people here at Poe, and don't reveal the overall status here.

"The reason that you were brought here a day before the more... mainstream Freshmen, is twofold- to give you a day to get used to the campus before the others get here, and so that you will sort of be part of the background when they get here. This will give you a certain... credibility that should allow you to make connections more easily Yes? You have a question?" She pointed at the tanned blonde girl Fey had noticed sitting next to Toni on the van.

"Ma'am, you've just pointed out that everyone here is queer or something like that. So, how is that gonna affect how we're paired up when it comes time to choose roomies? I mean, the brochure kept mentioning roommates like it was a given. So, like, are you gonna put us in Boy/Girl- which would make my mother, like, shit, fart and die!- or are is it gonna be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl, which would be, really, like the same thing, but for real?"

Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat nervously. "It will be Boy/Boy- Girl/Girl. To have it otherwise would advertise that there was something unusual going on at Poe Cottage to everyone who looked at the roster. However, I must remind you that Carnal Relations involving students, whether between opposite sexes or the same sex, is Strictly Forbidden at Whateley, and any homosexual student caught breaking that rule will be punished as severely as any heterosexual student doing so!" In other words, she knew that they didn't have a snowball's chance in Hell of really stopping them, but she had to say the words, for form's sake.

Hank raised a hand. "What are the rules about using your powers openly, like flying for instance?"

"That question, along with many others, will be handled by the Headmistress at her Freshman's Orientation speech in two days. In the mean time, just try to keep a low profile. If nothing else, it will keep you from tripping into some of the more senior students."

Shugendo then introduced the middle-aged woman as Mrs. Horton, the 'house mother' for Poe. Mrs. Horton said the expected pleasantries, and then explained the layout of the cottage: there were three floors, the bedrooms were built for two, there was a bathroom for each sex at each end of the hallway, there was a community room and a library for studying. There was also kitchen, but meal were to be served at the campus dining room. Food left in the kitchen was more or less open game, but there were 'studio coolers' in each room. There was a laundry room, and the students was responsible for their own laundry. "In other words, it's your own fault if you stink", she finished up. Mrs. Horton looked like many suburban matrons that Toni had met. And yet, there was something about her impeccably maintained person that suggested that she was completely unfazed by the prospect of keeping an eye on a group of super-powered teenagers.

Mrs. Shugendo took over again. "So, if your heads are quite ready to explode from information overload, let's get you broken down into groups that we can actually work with. These three-" she indicated the three uniformed teenagers, "are Steve Rossiter, Belle Forbes, and Rosalyn Dekkard. They'll be your Student Guides for today. You can also go to them for help after today, but you do so at your own risk. They'll show you around, answer your questions, and get you sorted out as to your sleeping arrangements. And so, I'll leave you with these words- Don't destroy anything."

Steve Rossiter was a buff looking seventeen year old blonde guy who looked like he could audition for the lead in a Captain America movie. Belle Forbes was a svelte seventeen year old girl with sapphire blue eyes and ravens wing black hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her face was long and angular, with a long straight nose. She might have been harsh looking, if not for a touch of wry humor about the mouth.  Rosalyn Dekkard was also seventeen, and had the lush curves of a homecoming queen. Her eyes were emerald green, and her hair was also ravens wing black, but it hung loose in waves past her shoulders down to her waist. Her triangular face also held humor, but it was more of the amusement of a pantheress regarding a flock of tender young lambs.

In turn, they started reading off names from clipboards. Belle Forbes called Fey's name, sending a thrill of something down her back.  She also called out Hank's, Toni's, and names of the girl with odd spiky gray hair, and a girl with short spiky black hair and dark green eyes, who dressed like a punker. She also called a girl who Toni hadn't seen waiting at the depot. The last girl didn't look like a teenager, she looked to be about 12 or so. She looked Asian, with long straight dark hair, large dark eyes, and a cute upturned nose. The girl with the odd gray hair called herself Billie, the girl with the punker look was called Ayla, and the kid was called Jade. And, Toni did a near double take when Fey answered to Nikki.

The two other groups finished pairing off.  Fey and Toni both noticed that all the boys had gone with Steve Rossiter (and were looking up at him like he was a centerfold), and all the girls were clustered worshipfully around Roslyn Dekkard. The division complete, the guides started to shoo their charges off in different directions. Fey saw Rip give Toni a 'call me later' hand signal, but didn't think much of it.  The pair had seemed to hit it off very well from the start, so their wishing to continue the budding friendship came as no real surprise.

Rosalyn took the girls upstairs, Steve took the boys off in one direction, and Belle took her charges off towards the main building. "Very well, Fresh-things," Belle sang, "Here's what's going to happen. We're going to have to discuss some rather personal things, and we don't want the others listening in, and vice-vicious. So, Rosalyn will show the Dykes in training around the 0cottage, Steve will show his little nancy-boys around the grounds, and I will show you changelings the school buildings."

Changelings...  Each of the gathered teens gave each other a very careful looking over as the meaning of that word sank in. 

"You mean we're all...?"  The Asian girl called Jade questioned without finishing.

"Ah the light dawns at last."  Belle chuckled with real humor as she nodded.  "Yes each of you is going over to the other side in the ages old battle of the sexes.

The punker gritted her teeth and grated, "OR, were drafted by the wrong side!"

"That's all in how you look at things." Belle shrugged, then waved her charges along.  "Come along, we have a lot to cover in not much time. Don't dawdle, please!"

While Belle guided them in the direction of the Administration building, she assured the punker girl. "Yes, yes, I'm sure that it was all very traumatic. Now keep up, keep up! We ARE on a schedule!"

As they walked, Toni looked over at Hank. "You are getting more feminine?"

<Heh> "Wrong Way." Hank blushed.

"Y'mean- you're really a girl?"

Hank reddened even more. "Well... I was born a girl, but right now, I'm what the doctor called a 'bilateral hermaphrodite'. I sort of have both sets of equipment. But the doctor also says that my female equipment is shutting down."

"Hey, Dewwwwd! Not to worry! You got the recipe for Studmuffin, and all the makin's!"

"You're doing it right, then, Hank."  Fey agreed with a tentative smile that grew into a near dazzling show of even white teeth, then giggled.  "And you're sooo cute when you blush!"

He blushed again, and Fey kicked herself mentally for acting like that.  Sheesh!  I'm teasing him like I was the girl and he was the boy I'm interested in getting to know better!  Gonna have to watch that kind of stuff.  I have enough to worry about without throwing in a Boyfriend to complicate things here.

Hank actually grinned back at her, with an endearingly shy look on his face that had Fey worried that he might be getting ideas along the same lines as she had just caught herself thinking along.

The path outside was a winding brick walkway, overhung by stately trees and bracketed every so often by a pair of antique gaslights.  They followed the path up a small hill until they came to the top, where another cottage stood, dark and unihabited.

"Melville," their guide said, scornfully, gesturing at the empty building.  "Don't worry, we'll be treated to their presence starting tomorrow morning.  They fancy themselves to be rather our social superiors.  *Everyone's* social superiors, if it comes down to it."

From the top of the hill they could now see clearly down into a hollow that held the majority of the campus buildings.  The dominant architectural style seemed to be a sort of classical brick, with ivy climbing up the sides in many places.  But there were oddities here and there.  A wing of one large building was dominated by a glass geodesic dome.  And there was a round brick smokestack, or perhaps a tower, attached to another building.  Except that the smokestack was capped by a white metal dome.  Ignoring all that, though, their guide pointed to two different hills on the far side of the campus.  Each of those was crowned by its own large cottage.

"Dickinson and Emerson," their guide explained.  "Which will also be filling tomorrow."  She gave a theatrical sigh.  "I suppose the quiet was nice while it lasted.

"There are more cottages behind those, and another out behind us.  Basically, it's like three big arms.  The girls-only arm, the boys-only arm, and this one."  She grinned at them.  "And face it - you can't get much more co-ed than our little group, can you?"

That comment elicited a number of groans, giggles, and growls from the small group.

They continued along the pathway until reaching a wider, flagstone paved square in front of the imposing, if strange looking building.  There were stone and metal benches scattered all around the square, and a small fountain occupied the center.  Fey felt her skin crawling as they passed one of the benches and avoided it.

Looking up, she saw Belle watching her with a speculative expression, then the older girl simply smiled reassuringly at her and tilted her head towards the main building while mouthing.  "We'll talk later."

"Damn!"  Fey thought, that girl didn't miss much at all, did she?  The others in the group hadn't seemed to notice, though, which was some comfort anyway.

Belle took them up to an old bronze statue in the center of the field.  It was some old guy with a beard and long hair, hands resting on a cane, gazing off into the distance.

This is the statue of Noah Whateley, the man who founded this school back in 1878. They only put this thing up because a school is supposed to have a statue of its revered founder. Actually, the school that he founded was mediocre at best- the highest that any graduate of the original school ever reached was a Congressman for Vermont. Anyway, after about eighty years of producing complete non-entities, the original Whateley Academy shut down and was foreclosed on by the bank. Then it was bought by a group of mutant superheroes in 1966, because they wanted a remote place to train emergent mutants in how to use their powers. They kept the name, mostly so that the school would appear to have a long and presumably illustrious history."

Belle took a long breath and regarded her charges. "Very well, now that we have that tiresome bit of trivia out of the way, let's get down to it, shall we? First, we'll tour the Administration and School buildings, so that what we have and do here won't be a complete shock to you. Also, this will give the girls a chance to get their luggage upstairs and choose their rooms, without tripping over us. After a decent interval of viewing the torture chambers, we will return to Poe, and you will lug all of your stuff up the stairs and pick your cells. When all of that's settled, we'll thrust out again, this time to tour the grounds, athletic fields, and the Combat Training Areas."

Combat Training Areas? The entire group stiffened.

Belle grinned as she savored a direct hit. "Yes, Combat Training Areas. you haven't been kidnapped by a Mutant Terrorist Cell, or drafted into the military. Whateley's policy is that the students are left completely to their own devices to make up their minds as to things like politics and philosophy. HOWEVER, given the nature of many mutants powers, the bellicose nature of humanity in general and the viciousness of Anti-Mutant militants in particular, it is quite likely that (whether you want to or not) you will be faced with situations where you will have to fight. And it would be a criminal waste of all this expensive education if we let you graduate, just to let you die a week later because you couldn't defend yourself.

"And here we come to one of the reasons that we split up as we did. Young ladies, Gentleman, we are a group apart. Even more than being a mutant or being *ahem!* of 'Alternate Sexuality', we have yet another distinction. Whether as a matter of deep-felt conviction or as a matter of our mutant forcing it on us, we are all changing into members of the sex opposite from that which we were born in. Others, even the Gays and Lesbians, may sympthatize, but they don't really understand. So, while we're here, we're going to have to rely on each other much more heavily than the other students do. I have to admit to you all that having Six transgendered students is a trifle unusual, especially at the beginning of the year. Normally, we only have one or two TGs at the beginning of the year, maybe with one or two showing up later in the year. Still, the rule is that the TGs room together and help each other out. With Six, we have the makings of a nice little team. At least, that's what we're going to try for.

"So, while we're here, out of earshot, I'd like each of you to introduce yourself, tell the others about your background, how you feel about your change, what you want to make of that change, and- Whateley's version of 'what's your major?'- what your mutant power is. Let me start off.

"My name is Kendall Forbes, and I was born in the outskirts of Bristol, Yew Kay. My family was a perfectly respectable Professional class one. And in keeping with sacred tradition, my parents packed me off to a 'decent Boys' School' the first chance they got. What they didn't realize was that I wanted to be packed off to a decent Girls' School. At any rate, I was in my Second Form, I started seeing wispy things floating around. I started having nightmares about a ghoul that I called 'Gnashitty Rippit', a foul thing with a wide befanged mouth and grasping betaloned hands. Then one night, I woke up in my bed, and Lo And Behold!, there was Gnashitty Rippit, floating over my bed, licking his chops. The demmed thing chased me all over the school before it cornered me. Then I screamed at it to go away. And strike me down, if it didn't! It turned out that not only did I have complete control over Gnashitty, but I had actually created him, out of that wispy stuff floating around. That 'stuff' is called 'Ectoplasm', and I have the power to gather it up, mold it into whatever form that I want, and set it to doing things.

"I, being a sane, stable, responsible young man of Twelve Summers,  immediately started one of the most horrific hauntings in the history of England. Severed heads floating down the halls, blood dripping down the walls, gawd-awful screams in the dead of night, horrible things turning up in the Masters' beds- Lord it was wonderful! They wound up sending the Gray Wizard, one of Britain's foremost superheroes (AND a bit of All Right, if I must say so!) in to investigate. It took him a solid week to figure out that it was me! I'll give him this, he was a sharp one- the only reason that it took him that long was that his scryings indicated that a Girl was behind it all. Y'see, I'd discovered that I could also use the old Ecto to disguise myself-" Belle swept a hand down in front of her, and suddenly turned into Marilyn Monroe, dressed as she was in that scene in 'The Seven Year Itch' where the gust from the grating blows her skirt up. 'Marilyn' cooed at us, and swept that hand back up, and Belle was grinning at us.

"At any rate, the Wizard took me aside, explained that I was going about it all the wrong way, and set me up with an interview with an agent from Whateley. He even explained it all to the Mums and Dads, which went a LONG way towards me not getting my backside shellacked. When they sent me to the doctor, to see if anything else unexpected was growing in me- you know, forked tail, cloven hooves, unspeakable writhing mass, that sort of thing- the doctor discovered that I was showing the first signs of puberty. A Girl's puberty. It seems that by disguising myself as a girl, I was affecting my body so that it was conforming to the image that I was projecting. The doctor told me    that if I kept disguising myself as a girl, that it could affect the progress of my puberty.                     

"So, naturally, I started disguising myself Twenty-four/Seven. They had no choice to enroll me here at Hogwar- I mean, Whateley as a girl at Poe." Belle finished with a grin.

"Now, just to wrap up, as I said before, I can gather up or generate Ectoplasm- though just gathering the stuff up is a lot easier- and I can mold it into various things and animate them." To demonstrate, she cupped her hands in front of her. A pale gray mist gathered in her hands and congealed into a white dove. The dove cooed and then spread its wings to take flight. It flew for a few moments, then dispersed back into a gray mist, which faded.

"Now, it's your turn." She looked at Hank. "Well, you're the odd man out- and in this group, that's saying something!- why don't we start with you?"

All the others in the group turned to look at Hank, who blushed at bit. Then he stood up straight and squared his shoulders. "Okay, my name is Hank Declan. It used to be Hannah Declan, but that doesn't really fit anymore. I'm an Army Brat, I was born at the Military Hospital at Fort Dix, and I've lived at four different postings. That I can remember. I'm the oldest child-"

"Oh, don't tell me it's the old 'my father always wanted a son' gag!" The punk girl Ayla interrupted.

"Ahhh, No, Dad was always happy with a daughter. He never saw anything wrong with a girl going out and roughhousing with the boys- especially not with some of the female Non-Coms that he's served with! As a matter of fact, I didn't have any real problems with being a girl! It's just, when my body started changing, and my testicles dropped, it just seemed so... right! Y'know, it was like, of course! That's the way that it's supposed to be!"

"How did your parents take it?" Belle prompted.

"Well, they were weirded out, all right. All their ideas of what the rest of my life was gonna be like kind of went out the window. The one that was really weirded out was my little brother. And he really went nuts when it turned out that I could lift five tons without even straining, let alone when I found out that I could fly!"

Billie, the chick with the weird gray hair asked, "You can fly?"

"Yeah. It came in real handy when my little brother went to one of the Sergeants at Bragg who had a hate on for mutants a foot wide a mile long, and told him that a mutant was holding his parents hostage."

"Your own little brother did that to you?" Toni asked incredulously.

"Well, it was a lot more involved than that. A lot of melodrama went down before that happened. Anyway, Lennox came at me with an entire squad armed with assault rifles and LAWS rockets. I managed to get away, and there was a lot of noise, with Lennox screaming that there was a dangerous mutant terrorist at large, and my Dad screaming back at him that that 'mutant terrorist' was his daughter, and Lennox screaming back at my Dad that he was under some kind of weird mutant mind control, and Jay -that's my brother- backing him up."

"Dear, that's two 'Ands' too many." Belle gently corrected.

"Anyway, after a week of dodging Army helicopters, a Ranger team caught up with me and convinced me that Dad had convinced the Colonel that Lennox had his head up his ass, and they brought me in. While they weren't going to press any charges- I sort of had to wreck a couple of patrol jeeps and a tank getting out of the Camp- it wasn't a very good idea for me to stay at Bragg. Y'see, while Lennox didn't exactly follow procedure, he was using proper initiative in a High Risk situation, so he was still on base and he still has his stripes. Then some people from the Academy showed up, and did some weird tests and stuff, and they talked my Dad into signing the papers so's I could come here."

"Still too many 'Ands', Hank. Remember, Grammar always. You said that you could lift five tonnes and fly. What exactly are your powers?"

"Well, they said that I was a 'High Level Functioning Non-Ranged Psychokinetic' or something like that. I sort of generate this telekinetic field. I can lift stuff with it, includin' myself, and it can stop bullets and things with it. Oh, and they said that I was a 'Level 3 Exemplar', whatever that means."

"Well, you see, Hank," Belle explained, "There are some terms like 'Energizer', 'Warper', 'Shifter', 'Deviser', 'Wizard' and of course, 'Exemplar' that describe the basic function of what a mutant does. The more powerful or extreme the traits are, the higher the level. This is not necessarily a good thing. You see, the further you stray from the baseline human mean, the higher the likelihood that you will develop gross physical deformities is, and the higher the chance that your mutation will turn lethal."

"Gross physical deformities?"

"Lethal?"

Belle nodded and said.  "I hate to be the one to break it to you children, but being a mutant isn't all fun and games. The more powerful the mutant ability that you have is, the greater chance that something's going to go wrong with your body. Last year, five students died during training. Some of them burned out, some of them had seizures during practice. One guy just upped and died in class. Nobody noticed anything until everyone got up at the end of class and he didn't. The girl who sat next to him had a panic attack that laid her up for a week."

Thier guide waved that morbid topic aside. "Now, where were we? Oh yes- Exemplars. An Exemplar is a mutant who has the power to slowly shape their body according to an ideal that they've formed somewhere in their subconscious. They make their bodies stronger, faster, tougher and usually cuter. Hank, when they say that you're a Level 3 Exemplar, that means that your power pushes your strength, agility and so on to a level that is just above the maximum that a normal, unaugmented human can achieve. Anything more, Hank?"

Hank shook his head. "Very well. Next--- let's see--- YOU." She pointed at Toni.

Toni turned to face the group and bounced on the balls of her feet a bit. "Hi! I'm Toni - that's Toni with an 'I'- Chandler. I'm fourteen- I'll be fifteen in February- and I'm from Pleasant Oaks. That's a suburb of Baltimore. I come from a big family, and I don't have any really traumatic 'trigger' stories or anything. I was practicing at my Aikido dojo, and I was facing off against Danny Mancell, who's a 14 karat jerk, and he was giving me shit about being a wimp and stuff. Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki-" Toni gave them all a thumbnail description of Ki and what it does "Anyway, I was trying to focus my Ki like Mister Colliard- he's my Aikido sensei- told me to, and suddenly *Bang!* I feel this force flowing through my body, and I hit Danny with it, and he goes flying across the Dojo and smacks into the wall on the far side."

 "Too many 'Ands', Dear."

"Sorry. Anyway, at first, I just think that I'm really hot shit with Aikido. But then my eyes changed from plain old Brown to this-" she pointed at her Amber colored eyes, "and they got the clue that something might be up. So, they took me to a doctor, who referred us to another doctor, who referred us to the Academy, and well..."

"So, basically, your shtick is Super-Martial Arts."

"Well, sorta, but there's a lot more to it than that. I can see how Ki flows in other people and how it flows through the Earth and the stuff around it-"

"Wait a minute! The Earth doesn't have Ki!"

"Of course it does. Or at least it has a sort of magnetic field that's somehow related to Ki. And beside marital arts moves, I can use it to increase my strength and speed and toughness even beyond what being an Exemplar makes me, I can use it to increase my running speed and how far I can jump, and--- well, let's just say that if you saw it in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I can probably do it.

"And it's all tied in with this Ki you're telling us about?  What exactly is that, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Ki? Well, that's kinda hard to explain. Ki is this real big deal in Asian mysticism. It's supposed to mean 'breath', or 'strength', or 'life' or a whole bunch'a things. I think that the best word that covers it in English might be 'Vigor'. It's sort of this energy that runs up and down your body in currents, like water or electricity. My doctor says that it's bio-electrical, but my Aikido Sensei, Mister Colliard says it's a lot more involved than that. It's sorta like a life force that runs through everything that lives. In China and like that, they've been studying how to concentrate that life force into really tight areas, to do stuff like make their arms stronger, or to resist getting stabbed, or to heal their bodies. Only, with most people, they gotta train real hard for years, just to do the tiniest thing. Me? I just do it, like it was second nature."

Belle nodded then turned to Fey.  "Your turn, hon."

Fey drew in a breath, then started out softly.  "Well, my name is Nikki Reilly, That's short for Nichole now, but it used to be Nicholas.  I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and was a pretty normal kid up until recently.  My mom is a mid-level executive for The Edwards Cable conglom and makes pretty good money, though we aren't exactly what anyone would call rich.  My dad left when I was ten, moved to Cleveland and took my little brother Andy with him.  He works for a company that does R&D for the government, so is pretty well off, too.  Between what Mom makes at her job, and the money Dad sends her, we were doing pretty well."

"Could you speak just a bit louder, dear?" Belle questioned with an encouraging smile.  "You have a beautiful voice and shouldn't be ashamed of it at all. Plus, your grammar is pretty good so far, by the way.

"Ok."  Fey answered in firmer tones and with more volume.  "So my powers are related to Ley lines, the energies of the earth gather into these lines and intersect at various places, sending out secondary lines.  Every thing on Earth has these lines in one form or another and I can see them as different colors.  One day I just kind of reached out to feel one and got a near electrical shock when I did.  I discovered that I was able to tap into these lines for power, energy, whatever you want to call it, and use that energy to kind of weave the lines I wanted to affect into different things."

"Wow!"  Toni grinned.  "You can see those lines like I see Ki!"

"Yes I can."  Fey continued with more confidence.  "I can also tap into anything natural and use it for power, like flowing water, rain, wind, they're all lines I can see and use.  As I learned all this stuff about what I could do, I started to change. Physically."

"I never was what anyone would call 'Jock Material', but I was at least pretty average as a guy.  Once the changes started, I got thinner, a little shorter, and started filling out like a girl.  My face went from kind of squarish to the oval it is now, my brown hair turned into this Flame red, then got thicker, softer, and lot's fuller.  All my features more or less rearranged themselves to what you see here within a few months."

"Wow, that was kind of fast." 

"It caused problems for me at school like you wouldn't believe, or maybe you guys would."  Fey gave another weak grin.  "I became a target for bullies, and had promised my Mom that I wouldn't use my powers to get back at them.  Until some guy literally ripped my shirt off in the hall one day."

"What did you do then?"  Jade asked with a serious expression that was also filled with curiosity.  "Zap him?"

"Not exactly."  Fey blushed.  "I really let loose.  But was so angry, and humiliated, that I didn't really exert any control over the magic.  When I don't control it very carefully the energy kind of takes on a life of its own, the doctors and wizard I got examined by call these pieces of loose energy hobgoblins.  These hobgoblins take off when they get created and spread mischief and mayhem that is usually pretty harmless, but annoying."

"So you ended up turning a batch of these hobgoblins loose in your school?"  Belle asked with a grin.

"Uh huh."  Fey actually giggled.  "They came out as psychedelic colored squirrels, believe it or not.  Two of them crawled up the bully's pants and started discussing whether they wanted to eat the nuts they found there or take them home for later."

"Kewl!"  Toni was laughing at the picture that brought to mind, and the others were starting to obviously enjoy the story as well.

"The others just kind of scampered off in different directions."  Fey went on.  "One shorted out all the equipment in the metal shop, another had the appliances in the kitchen animated and doing really weird stuff.  The chief cook ran off when that happened and I don't know if she's gone back yet.  Another ran into the air conditioning system and that blew up, sort of.  At least there was funny colored smoke coming out of the vents when it quit.  All the busses parked by the school ended up with flat tires, and several of the hobgoblins took over the office and started singing an old Alice Cooper song into the PA."     

"You mean you shut down the whole school?"  Hank questioned with wide eyes.

"I guess I did."  Fey answered with a shrug.  "Anyway, I got thrown out of school, but was allowed to finish my school work at home, so did manage to get through my freshman year.  My doctors and the wizard contacted Whateley about me, and here I am.

"I am also classed as a wizard, but in a rare sub-class they call Faerie, like the mythological elves of Britain and Europe.  I'm a level one exemplar, so am not physically strong or anything, but my powers make up for that most of the time, or will once I learn to control them properly."

"Oh, I am, obviously, turning into a girl."  The redhead finished with a little moue of resignation.  But it's my power doing it, not any exemplar effect.  I'm told that I should be completely, functionally female by the time I'm about seventeen.  But as the power changes me I keep getting more and more inhuman in appearance."

"You look just fine to me, dear."  Belle soothed.  "You are going to be an exotic beauty, that's pretty clear, and the outward physical changes are just about finished up, aren't they?"

"Except for the part about my body maturing into that of a woman instead of a teenaged girl."  Fey agreed.  "Another thing.  I wear all these silk, satin, and linen things because I'm allergic to synthetic materials.  I break out in a nasty, bumpy rash and turn bright red if I wear any of those and it itches like crazy. As if that isn't bad enough, for some reason connected to my power, plain iron gives me mild burns, like a sunburn.  Steel and other alloys don't seem to bother me, but don't expect me to sit on any wrought iron furniture or handle cast iron skillets.

"Well, that sure explains why you call yourself Fey, doesn't it?"  Toni quietly put in, almost subdued for a change. 

"You say you weave the lines you see into other things?"  Belle was showing interest.  "Then make those into something else, like a natural spell caster.  You don't have to use books, diagrams, or anything like a prop to do this, right?"

"That pretty well covers it."  Fey agreed.

"Is there anything else?" The older girl questioned.

"Yes."  With a sigh, Fey nodded her head.  "I can hear things.  Everything, actually, unless I shut it out.  That almost drove me nuts, hearing the walls, trees, and even grass talking, singing, or just droning on and on.  But I can pick and chose what I listen to now, thanks to the wizard teaching me how.  I also seem to be able to communicate with animals on a very limited basis.  It's more empathic than telepathic, but I get their general moods and feelings, while I'm able to send them mine."

"Now that's interesting."  Belle smiled.  "I'd say you have lots of potential there Fey.  But you're going to need to work hard to be able to use it right.  Fortunately, we have teachers here at Whateley who can work with you on that kind of thing."

"That's why I'm here."  Fey agreed.  

Belle smiled at her and turned towards Ayla.  "And now for a few words from are cranky punker girl," Belle said as she locked eyes on Ayla.  

Fixing the older girl with a look that promised she would pay for that little remark.  No matter how true it might be Ayla started her own story.

Belle just stuck her tongue out at her.

"Well my story isn't as action packed as Hanks or Nikki's story.  But here we go anyway," She started out with.  Her voice cracked a little as she spoke.  Ayla wasn't used to spilling her guts out to others besides her sister.  Hell, she had even given Beth and Daisy the watered down version of her life story.   But for some reasons she felt the need to tell them everything.

Well almost everything.  Some things just needed to be left alone!

"I was born Trevor James Goodkind.."

"Your not related to THE GOODKINDS are you?" Toni tossed in.

Sighing, Ayla put her left hand behind her head and nodded that she was.  Nikki and Toni gave out a low whistle.

"Go on dear," Belle said after a moment of silence.   Her tone was no longer teasing.  In fact there was a trace of fear in it.

Closing her eyes at the thought of what her family name did to people she decided to go on with her tale.

"Well as you might guess I'm what you call a she-male, but I was born just as male as most of you," She said and heard Hank chuckle.

"Okay, like MOST of us!" She added in a playful voice as she rolled her eyes.  She noticed that Toni was sharing her eye rolling at Hank's chuckle.

"Any way about a month and a half ago my powers suddenly appeared.   I was heading down the stairs for breakfast and was about to walk by one of the maids when suddenly I got the feeling that I was completely naked..."

She stopped when she noticed everyone looking at her funny.   Then she recalled she hadn't told them what her power was.   Turning on her power she shifted into her ghost form, taking on a faint blue tint as she became transparent.  Ayla often wondered why she took on that strange blue cast when she went into her ghost form.  Her sister's doctor and Janet both seemed confused about that one.   Nikki's eyes somehow grew to three times their normal size when she looked at her.  Then the red head narrowed her eyes and Ayla felt a slight tickle in the back of her head.  For a second she saw those weird green and red lines around everything.  It was enough for her to loose her hold on her power and shift back into being solid.

"As you can see I can become transparent at will," She added and saw Hank smile and chuckle even more.

"You walked right out of your clothes!" Toni said in a loud shriek of a voice as she pointed at Ayla and then fell into a fit of giggles.

Ayla's face burned bright red.

"Let her finish," Belle said in a firm tone, but it was clear she wanted to join in on the laughing. 

"Bingo!" Ayla said with a smirk on her face as she looked at Toni wipe the tears from her eyes.

"Any way the maid screamed and started shouting in Spanish as she started to fall down the steps.  I reached out to grab her but ended up phasing right through her before I became solid again behind her.  We both ended up crashing down the stairs.   Me naked as a jay-bird,"

"Well once the world stopped crashing down around me the maid took off in a run as fast as her heels would carry her, while I tried to figure out how I ended up naked.   I looked up at the top of the stairs and saw my older brother David holding my clothes and looking at me with a pale look on his face," She said and felt tears starting to build in her eyes.

"Then his face turned all dark and he shouted freak and ran down the stairs and passed me.   I scrambled to get up the stairs and dressed again before he came back.   When he did, David brought my mother with him.   He explained what he saw and I watched, as she grew as pale as he had.  When I moved to hold her, she backed away and screamed not to touch her.   Then she ordered me to my room,"

"Wow," Hank said in a stunned voice.

"Oh, it gets better," Ayla, snapped her voice getting dark as she tried to hold her tears in, but it was a loosing battle.

"A few hours later my father comes home but he wasn't alone.  He brought a doctor from one of the labs he runs.  That bastard jabbed me with a needle and I woke up on one of his damn tables a few hours later.   Dr. Hammond spent the next day studying me like I was some damn test animal!" She shouted.  At the mentioning of Dr. Hammond's name she saw Belle's face darken.  It was clear the upper classmen knew about the famous mutant research doctor.

"Thankfully my other brother Paul made the mistake of calling my sister Gracie.  She must have gotten a hold of mom and dad because the next thing I knew I was back at the mansion watching two maids pack me a bag to go stay with Gracie."

"Now Gracie is like me a she-male, only she isn't a mutant.   I hadn't seen or talked to her in nearly six years as my father had disowned her and told us never to mention Greg's name in the house again.  Greg was Gracie's male name before she took the drug that made her into a she-male.  She took it at the age of 18 just after graduation from college.   Gracie had been the heir to the running the family business, but once she became a she-male, father and the others in the family disowned her.   Paul was the only one left who would talk to her as far as I knew,"

"Well I didn't know all that so you can guess my surprise when I get off the plane in L. A. to discover my brother is no longer male and is now my sister.   I confess that I behaved very badly towards her that first day.  Then I learned something more shocking than my mutant power.   For some reason every time I phased my body grew more feminine looking.  Gracie took me to see a doctor friend of hers and I learned that my power was making me into a girl."

"By the time I was at Gracie's for three days I was going by the name T.J. rather than Trevor as I no longer looked like a boy named Trevor.  I was still fighting tooth and nail that I was turning into a girl, but by then I was starting to have small budding breast growing.  So it was a losing battle."

"A few days later Gracie got sick of me moaning about changing and hiding in the spare room she and her wife Janet had made up for me.   She came into the room and sat me down for about an hour and gave me a piece of her mind.   By the end of the day I was in panties, bra and a dress.  And hating every second of it.   Thankfully Janet went out and got me some jeans for girls and the rest was history.  From that moment on I dressed as a girl.   Janet even renamed me Ayla to try and help me deal with the changes in my body."

"All that in a few days?" Nikki said with awe in her voice.

"Yep!  And it gets better," Ayla said with faint smile before she went on with her story.

"By the end of that first week I had given in to the fact that I was turning into a girl or at least into a she-male like Gracie as her doctor had said it was doubtful I would become a full female.   On my tenth day with Gracie she came down to the beach were I was sunbathing with her roommates Tiffany and Amy, two other she-males, when she told me that my parents wanted to talk to me,"

"Now understand by this time I had learned all about Gracie's story and how Dad had disowned her and left her penniless.  It was only due to her finding Janet and making her life in the Square that she was able to rebuild her life."

"The Square," Jade asked.

"Sorry.   The Square is where Gracie lives.  It is an area of L.A. near the ocean that is home to transgendered males and those that love them," She explained.  Belle offered more info to them by saying it was basically a tiny part of L. A. carved out by the transgender community in the 70's.   It was rumored to be the best party zone for she-males in the States.

"It seems my Uncle Theo had talked Dad into seeing that me being a mutant wasn't that bad.  Uncle Theo didn't seem to have the dislike of mutants both my parents and other relatives had.   Gracie however didn't trust him for some reason.  Anyway Gracie talked me into putting on a dress and wig as well as getting a makeover at the salon before we went to met them.  I was a little worried how they'd react to seeing me as a girl, but Gracie said they would have to see me at some point as that was what my power was making me become,"

"Well Dad freaked out and started yelling at Gracie about turning me into more of a freak, Uncle Theo tried to calm everyone down but it was no use.  Mom, well she freaked out and began crying saying her baby was dead or some crap like that.  That was when I missed the needle by Dr. Hammond again.   The jerk whisked me out of the room while Dad's bodyguards restrained Gracie and Janet.  I spent the remainder of the day as Hammond's lab rat again.  He confirmed that I was becoming a she-male when Dad and Uncle Theo joined him in his lab.   Uncle Theo gave me a strange look, but that was beside the point as Gracie came storming in the door with ten lawyers.   She and Dad started screaming again while Janet gave me my clothes back.   When all was said and done Dad gave Gracie custody of me but not before he made me penniless,"

"You mean you're broke?" Toni asked while Nikki let off a low whistle.

Ayla smiled.

"Well I won't say completely broke.  Gracie learned her lesson after what Dad did to her, so instead of my 12.5 billion I was to get at the age of 21, she got me 300 million to live off of.   So I won't want for much as long as I watch how I spend the cash," She added with a smile.  Then she wiped the tears from her face that she hadn't noticed had fallen as she told her story.

 "Is that all dear," Belle asked.

 "Nope," Ayla said as she thought about her trip back to the Square.

 "I was still messed up in the head about what I was and still fighting what I was becoming.   To add to my troubles the second we return to the Square we get attacked by some loser bitch named Sparkler."

 "Oh god what did Sarah do now," Belle said with a weary sigh at the mentioning of Sparkler.   Ayla couldn't help but giggle.

"Well she threw this giant sparkling fireball at me that burnt all my clothes off but my panties and bra.   I wasn't sorry to see the dress go, but if I hadn't been standing if front of Gracie she would have been killed,"

"Wait a second, Sarah can only create light shows.   None of her firecracker effects can do damage," Belle said with a confused look on her face.

"That is what Janet told me later.  Regardless of what you know about her, Sparkler got an upgrade to her power somewhere, because she burned three cops and nearly killed the bank teller of the bank she had just robbed.   Well I was seeing red by then and began fighting the ditz, which ruined the street we were on."

"Wait a second.  How can you turning into a ghost do any damage?" Toni asked in a puzzled tone.

"Oh, I forgot," Ayla, said as her face turned bright red.   "I can also increase density to the point that it is diamond hard.   When I do that I also get really strong and can lift about a ton with little effort.   Janet thinks that I'll be able to lift more as I get older,"

"Anyway I'm tossing around cars like basketballs while Little Miss Firecracker is making the street explode.   After she ruined my bra I ran at her and started hitting her really hard, but her skin was as hard as mine so I did little damage there.  Then an idea hit me.  Since she was firing those damn fire blast of hers from the gauntlet on her wrist I phased my hand into them and shorted out the circuitry in them.  But she was still kicking and managed to clock me in the balls," Ayla added and saw everyone flinch at the mention of that.  It seemed even despite everyone's current form and Hank's limited time as a male, each recalled what that could do to a guy.

"After I was able to see straight again I ran after her and this time phased my hand into her back.   My hand tingled and she went limp in my arms.  Janet told me I was lucky that I didn't kill her pulling that stunt without knowing how it works.  So after the cops hauled Sparkler away and Gracie talked them into letting me go home, Janet told me about Whateley and informed both me and Gracie, that I was heading here.  And since Gracie does whatever Janet tells her and I seem to do whatever Gracie tells me that is how I ended up here," Ayla finished with a shrug.

"No offense but your parents are assholes," Hank quietly put in after she was done.

She just shrugged her shoulders at him and felt her bare shoulders slide out of her shift, Showing her lacy bra straps.  She pulled it back up before the others noticed, but Hank raised an eyebrow at her and she couldn't help but blush.

"Thank you Ayla," Belle says as she turned towards Jade.  "Next, we have the kid of the group."

Jade put her hands on her hips and leaned forward to yell, "Hey!  I'm as old as the rest of you!  I'm fourteen, by two months!"  Her mild tone took any sting out of the protest though.  "But we're telling everyone about our powers, right?  Well, the day I got my powers, my old man was drunk and he..." She trailed off, looking down at the ground and unable to meet their eyes.  More quietly, she said, "Well, the details don't really matter, do they?  What's important is what I can do."  She took a pair of gloves out of her pocket, along with what looked like a quarter, wrapped in aluminum foil.

"Oh, might as well add my jacket."  She pulled off a pink vinyl jacket that didn't really match the rest of her outfit.  "So anyway, what I do is, I'd guess you'd call it, I bring stuff to life."

She let go of the items but they didn't fall to the ground.  The gloves filled out, showing clear evidence that someone's hands were inside.  The gloves reached up the jacket and shrugged in into place around an invisible body.  The foil-covered quarter floated about where a throat would be, on a visible person.

"How do I look?" the empty clothes asked.  The voice was similar to Jade's, perhaps a touch higher and a bit more tinny.

"Is it telekinesis?" Belle asked.

The jacket shrugged, saying "How should I know?" while simultaneously Jade answered "You're the experts."  The girl looked at the jacket in embarrassment.  "You first," Jade said.

The jacket held out a hand, gesturing.  "I'm my own person.  The body-me isn't in charge of me-here - not once I'm charged.  Oh yeah, 'animated' was the word you used.  But we can go our own way, do separate things.  I've got a complete life of my own.  Well, until my time limit expires.  I'm up to just over sixty minutes on a charge.  When that happens, or when I let go of the last piece of whatever I was 'charged' into, then *poof*, I'm gone."

As if to demonstrate, the jacket suddenly fell limp.  The gloves, still floating as if worn by an invisible person, caught it, then helped Jade put her jacket back on.  Then they handed her the foil-covered throat disk, then, one by one, the now empty gloves.

"And as soon as she vanishes - I call her 'Jinn' by the way - her memories are instantly back here."  Jade tapped her temple.  "It's like I've just been two places at once, and now both of me are back here."  She shrugged again, looking at Belle.  "So you tell me.  Is she 'ectoplasm'?  You said you could bring things to life.  Or is she more like one of Fey's hobgoblins?"

"I didn't see any ectoplasm about her," Belle said.  "For that matter, I didn't *feel* anything, either."  She looked toward Fey with a questioning look.

"Hey," Fey said, "I'm still figuring this stuff out, too."  She frowned in thought.  "I don't really know enough to say whether it is or isn't like a hobgoblin.  But when I was looking at it - at her - she seemed to have a thread like a normal person.  Only fainter.  It was a lot like yours, Jade, only different, if that makes sense.  And... I couldn't quite see it, but there was a hint of another thread connecting the two of you."

Jade scrunched up her face.  "Huh.  Weird.  Anyway, I got examined for traditional telekinesis and stuff, and I just charged up Jinn and let her do it all.  So the school entered me as a mid-level PK subject with clairvoyance and clairaudience, whatever that is.  Level two, I think they said.  But they haven't given me any real in-depth examinations yet, like the rest of you guys have had."

Jade finished talking, but Belle continued to look at her.

"What?"

"Were you going to share anything with us about your sexuality, dear?"

Jade was looking at the ground again.  "Do I hafta?"

"At least enough to let us know what you'll be becoming.  It's only courtesy."

"Nothing!"  The vehement outburst was surprising, considering how shy she'd been a moment before.  "I'm turning into nothing!  I'm just frozen, and I'm probably not even going to have puberty, which is FINE with me, because what if I turned into a boy?  But I'm a girl!"  Her voice switched to a sudden pleading.  "Didn't anyone see me?  Could anyone see Jinn?  She's a girl!  She's me!  That's what I am, inside!  I -" She had that alarmed deer-in-the-headlights look of someone who suddenly realizes that perhaps they've said too much.

"That's all."

"All right, dear." Belle nodded with an encouraging, sympathetic smile for the girl.  "That's all we need this time around, and thank you for sharing it with us.  I'm sure that everyone here would be more than willing to help you as you need it. Please remember that all of us are here to help each other whenever and wherever it may be needed."

"Thanks."  Jade nodded with a flush of embarrassment.  "I sure hope so."

"I know so." Belle answered softly while moving forward to give the smaller girl a hug.  "And so do the others here."

That pronouncement was followed by a chorus of agreements and individual hugs for the young looking girl/boy who so desperately wanted to be a real girl.

"Ok, now that we have that part of the introductions over..." Belle waved at the building they stood in front of.  "Let's get moving, shall we?"

"What about Tennyo?" Asked Jade.

Tennyo stood there, getting a little red in the face.

"Well, Tennyo?, is it?" Said Belle. "I thought your name was Billie?"

"It is. Billie Wilson. I also go by Tennyo. It's the name my Sensei gave me. Uh, if you don't mind, I would prefer going by that name most of the time."

"Okay. Tell us about yourself."

"Uh, my name was William Wilson and I was the second son of my parents Larry and Cher Wilson. We live in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I have two brothers, Larry jr. and Thadeus. Larry is older and eighteen. TB, as I call him, is eleven. I'm sixteen and was going to be a junior at

Cascade High School this year."

"You're not going to be a junior here?" Belle asked.

"No. Everyone thinks that, because of all the changes I am going through and the fact that I am going to be training really hard, I should try to take the learning side off a little and concentrate on the important things right now. It will also help keep some people who shouldn't know where I am from finding out too easily."

"Someone's trying to find you?"

"My family has some enemies that have tried to kill me, and I was kidnaped at the same time that this happened to me."

"They tried to kill and kidnap you?"

"Well, It's kind of complicated and I hope none of you will tell anyone this, OK?"

Everyone nodded.

"It all started when TB gave me some fudge to make me do what he wanted me to do."

Toni broke in, "You can be controlled with fudge?"

"Welll... It kind of depends on the fudge."

"What kind of fudge would it take?"

"It has to be really good stuff. Not the cheep stuff that you usually see in candy stores."

"And if I got some I could control you with it?"

Tennyo grinned. "Depends on what you wanted me to do. I might do a lot for the right kind of fudge. Need someone killed?"

"Not right now, but I'll keep it in mind. So your brother had some fudge that could control you?"

"No, not really. It had a compound in it like a hypnotic. I thought he was trying to make up for being such a brat the last few days, and I never suspected he would do something like that."

"Anyway, to make a long story short, the compound was not supposed to hurt normal people. It only worked like a hypnotic on them. It has fatal consequences for mutants though. TB figured that since I hadn't shown any mutant signs up to that time, that it was safe for him to use on me."

Tennyo shrugged. "He was wrong and I proceeded to burn to a crisp and take our kitchen with it."

Belle interrupted, "That's catastrophic burnout and no one survives it. There hasn't been one like that in years, and you're obviously alive."

"Mr. Tanaka," Fey started a little, "said I was a one in a billion coincidence. My power while very strong, was latent and so I didn't die immediately when the burnout was triggered. I was already under the hypnotic influence of the compound and TB was trying to embarrass me by making me act like Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo. Mr. Tanaka thinks that my power was a strong mimic like ability."

"Was?"

"He thinks it burned out when all the power that was being released was diverted into changing me into a copy of Ryoko. The way TB stated his command was for me to become like Ryoko."

Tennyo pointed to herself. "He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams."

"I'm probably alive now because instead of burning me out, the power surge was used up changing me."

Fey spoke up. "You mentioned being kidnapped and someone trying to kill you."

"Yeah, I was still burning up myself and everything around me at first. TB ran to get help. Somehow, after that, the power kicked in and was diverted to changing me. He ran past some guys outside when he ran next door. He saw them run in. When he could get back, the fire was starting to run down and they weren't there. Neither was I."

"We have assumed that they took me and tried to blackmail my parents. They took me somewhere that could hold dangerous mutants. When I woke up about a week later, I heard some people talking about killing me or some girl. They disappeared suddenly because they couldn't find me and thought it might be a trap."

"That's when I realized I was a girl. I wrecked the place in my panic. I could suddenly project energy and made a mess of the place. After I calmed down they told me I had become a danger to everyone and was being kept where I was to protect people. They wouldn't tell me anything else and I let them move me to a new hospital."

"I wanted my parents but they wouldn't answer my questions and kept me locked up. A few days of that and suddenly I started to feel kind of sick to my stomach. I yelled until a nurse came and led me to the bathrooms. When I sat down there was blood everywhere. The nurse followed me into the stall and started laughing."

"When she started to talk, I realized that she was one of the people who had been talking about killing me before. They had figured out I was a girl and come in to finish me off. They were working for someone else than the ones who kidnapped me and wanted me dead so the others couldn't use me."

"She was called Warp and could teleport and kill people with a disruptive touch. When she tried to touch me I somehow blasted her into the wall and ran for the door. It was locked and I didn't know how to blast it. I was doing things by instinct alone. I suddenly formed a sword that cut through the door and ran out."

"Her partner, Ripper, was outside dressed as a custodian and tried to stick me with his knife. I blocked with my sword and they both exploded. He got the worst of it and I ran. Between them and the others who were trying to shoot them I got to the roof. I thought they had me there when I found that I could fly."

"I realized they had been holding me in the State Hospital that was about 20 miles from my house. When I got there I found the house surrounded by police tape and no sign of my family.  I then went to the Tanaka's who helped me contact my family and hid me."

"How did the Tanaka's know it was you?"

"Uh, well, I didn't know it until then, but the Tanaka's are mutants and Mr. Tanaka can read minds. I don't know how I could have gotten the help I needed except they were ready to help me all they could after they had found out that it was me."

"Mrs., Tanaka is my Sensei and was ready to really put some hurt on me before her husband set her straight and they realized they wouldn't have to get any information of my whereabouts from me. At first, when I flew in, they thought I was someone who knew where I was being held."

"After they realized it WAS me they took me in and cleaned me up. They got my parents and together figured out what was going on. It seems my parents have been causing grief for some biological terrorists in the area and they were being targeted because someone had leaked information about them."

"Someone leaked information about them?"

"Like I said, It's kind of complicated."

"One group, the one that kidnapped me, was trying to get a sample of the stuff that TB used on me. It seems he intercepted it and the bad guys thought my father had it and were trying to get it from Dad. The two trying to kill me were hired assassins who were told to kill one of us to make a point. They realized that the others had me and decided to kill two birds with one stone."

"Between them all it was one wild mess. Because no one was expecting what happened to me, it threw all the plans out of whack. Mom, Dad, and the Tanaka's came up with a plan to get me out of it until I can get trained enough not to burn out again."

"Burn out? Again?"

"Mr. Tanaka knows about that kind of thing and is pretty certain that if I don't get properly trained soon I'm going to go up in smoke."

Jade was looking at Tennyo intently. Belle asked, "What did they do?"

"Oh. They ambushed the murderers and made sure that they wouldn't bother anyone for a while and made arrangements to get me out of Colorado so I could train without people trying to send me back to the State Hospital."

"The State Hospital?"

"Yeah, It seems that I've been blamed for all the damage at the State Hospital when I escaped and they are using that to try to get me back."

"How is your family taking this?" Asked Fey.

"I just found out that they were mutants also. At least I know Mom, Dad, and Larry are and I think TB must be also. Overall, they seem to be taking it OK."

"They're all mutants? Your whole family?"

"Yeah, They are."

"I don't think I've ever heard of that before. And, they managed to keep this a secret from you?"

"They wanted me to have a normal life. They thought that I would be better off not knowing. Especially if I wasn't a mutant. I didn't show any signs of it until TB gave me the drug."

"What about the blood?" Asked Jade.

"What?"

"The blood, when you escaped."

"Oh. That." Tennyo blushed like mad.

"Well, what was it?" Jade wasn't going to drop it.

"UH, well, uh, it was, uh, nothing really important."

"What was it?" Jade was very determined.

"OK, OK, It was my period! Happy?

"Your period?" Jade got a strange look on her face.

"I had another one just before I headed out this way. I really don't want to discuss it right now, do you mind?"

Jade just turned away.

Belle had been watching and now asked, "How do you feel about this?"

"About what?"

"About what has happened to you. Becoming a girl and all."

"Everyone seems to feel that I should be a lot more upset about it than I am. Mr. Tanaka has discovered that until I was nine, I was a hermaphrodite. I was then operated on for appendicitis and everything was removed. I think I feel that I have simply gotten back something I lost a while ago."

"The fact that the male part burned out at the same time doesn't really bother me too much. I'm much more concerned about the fact that I am very likely to burn out again if I can't get trained enough to prevent it from happening."

"What kind of powers do you have?"

"I'm not entirely sure."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, I can fly, levitate, and the like very well. I'm stronger and faster than I was, but I haven't had a chance to test how much more. I can sometimes do energy blasts and swords but that seems to be when I am under a lot of stress and sometimes it just happens spontaneously when I don't want it too. I am not aware of anything else right now."

"You think there might be more?"

"It's not likely, but I never seem to know what's going to happen anymore."

"Well, again, that's what Whateley is here for, to teach you, and all of us how to find things like that out, and to stay in control of our abilities once we do that."  Belle smiled, then waved towards the architectural oddity of Schuster Hall.  "Let's move on now, shall we?"

 

Once inside the building the kids were again impressed with its size all over again.  The entry hall was floored in gleaming hardwood, probably oak from the feel of it to her, and stretched into what almost seemed to be infinity.  A grand staircase dominated the center of the huge room, made of gleaming and lovingly cared for mahogany and led to a landing branching off into what looked like more spacious hallways.

There were comfortable looking chairs, couches, desks, tables, tasteful lamps and potted plants scattered apparently at random through the hall, and huge fireplaces dominated each end.  Given the location of Whateley, Fey figured those were not only real, but used fairly often in the cold winter months.

"This is the main hall, children."  Belle explained as she led them through it.  "Study and quiet gathering area for students and staff.  It's kind of chilly in the wintertime, but the fireplaces are nice.  Get a spot close to one if you have the chance during the cold months.  It's a lot warmer and kind of cool sitting by the fire.  Especially with the right guy or girl."

She gave an evil little grin at the expressions on her charge's faces at the mention of boy or girl friends, then relented a bit.  "Not to worry, if you guys aren't ready for something like that you can just say 'thanks but no thanks' and no one will get bent out of shape over it."

Belle walked over to a wooden door and peeked inside it. "Hiegh-Ho, Mrs. Linford! I'm leading the first wave of Poe Cottage Frosh Orientation Tours. Would you please open up the Homer Gallery?"

"Of course, Belle." A warm alto voice responded. A moment later, a trim 50ish African-American woman in a green dress came out, flipping through the keys on a ring. She clipped over to a set of double doors with a bust of Homer set into a niche beside the doorway. Mrs. Linford gripped the dome of Homer's head and pushed back. The bust swung back revealing a lock set into the base of the bust. She inserted the key, and a panel in the door jam swung open, revealing a card slot and a keypad. Linford swiped a card and punched in a combination. There was a sound of bolts being withdrawn, and Mrs. Linford pulled one of the doors open.

"Thenk Yew!", Belle sang as she shepherded the Freshmen into the gallery. "This is the Homer Gallery, which is where we keep momentos of prominent Alumni. Note, I said 'prominent'- not 'famous' or 'glorious', just 'prominent'. Of course, the very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone not 'In The Loop' drops by.

The Gallery was a long room lined with glass cases, with paintings on the wall and statues and free-standing exhibits on the floor. Belle walked up to a wax figure of a heroically built man wearing an odd suit consisting of a royal blue metallic looking armless and legless body sheath with shoulder plates, a wide golden belt with a thunderbolt design on it, white gauntlet gloves, high white boots, a long white cape and a large red triangular 'C' on the chest. The tabs holding the cape, and the greaves and bracers over the boots and gauntlets were gold metal matching the belt. "I don't think that I have to tell anyone that this is a uniform belonging to Champion, the greatest superhero that Chicago has ever seen. This is the outfit worn by Champion during most of the 1970's and early 1980's. This really is one of his costumes, one that he wore during several of his battles of that period. This statue was on display at Madame Tassaud's in Paris; when Champion changed his outfit in 1983, Tassaud's made a whole new statue, and Champion asked them to deliver this one here."

Hank raised a hand. "Champion was a student here? I thought that he was around way back before World War II!"

"Okay, this is one that almost everyone gets wrong. It's a 'sort of Yes, sort of No' thing. You see, the original Champion, who was operating in Chicago as early as 1934, was what we now call an 'Avatar'. An Avatar is a sort of mutant who has a psychic gift of bonding with spirits. Now, most spirits can, and will, try to possess human beings, but it isn't a very good 'fit'. The host tries to fight the possession, and if the spirit does manage to completely take over the host, the host is usually so utter wrecked by the struggle that they're a physical and psychological ruin. You see them sometimes, hanging out with the winos and schizos on various 'Skid Rows'. But an 'Avatar' can successfully fight the spirit, take control of it, and use its magical powers. As I said, the original Champion was an 'Avatar', even though he didn't know it. In the course of his career, he managed to capture and 'bind' several spirits within himself. In so doing, he sort of fused all these spirits together into a single, greater spirit that we now call 'the Champion Force'. But unfortunately for him, he didn't know what he was really doing, and he came up with some rather bizarre ideas to explain to himself how he was able to do all the things that he did. Some of those ideas wound up costing him his life in 1953.

"But one of the things that the original Champion-" Belle pointed at a LIFE magazine color cover picture of a man in blue tights with a white cape, a hood that showed the lower half of his face, trunks, gloves and boots, with a large red 'C' on the chest, standing holding an American flag. "- did right, was to train two Avatars like himself." She pointed at two figures standing on either side of the original Champion in the picture. To the left was a young blonde girl of maybe 15, wearing a short dress of a blue that matched Champion's. She also wore a domino face mask, cape, belt, boots, gloves and large hair bow that matched the white of Champion's trim. To the right was a young man of maybe 17, wearing a costume that was almost exactly like Champion's except that the blue and white were reversed, and he only wore a blue domino mask, instead of a hood. "They were called Miss Champion and Junior Champion. When the original Champion died, he managed to pass the Champion Force onto Junior Champion, who became the second Champion. Since the original Champion trained him, the second Champion also inherited the original's rather odd notions of how his powers worked. This caused him no end of troubles during his career.

"It was a very good thing that Champion did train Junior Champion and Miss Champion back in the 1940's, because in the 1950's there was a wave of legislation making 'Kid Sidekicks' illegal, under the 'Endangering Minors' laws. Now, the second Champion wasn't just an Avatar, he was also a very versatile Kinetic. That's where his 'lightning vision,'  'polar breath' and 'thunder shout' came from- pyrokinesis, cryokinesis, and psychokinetically created vibration. Mind you, his base kinetic powers probably weren't that great, but they were most likely amplified by the Champion force. As the 1960's rolled around, the term 'Mutant' entered the popular lexicon, mostly as a synonym for 'dangerous freak'. As Champion II interacted with mutants of both the superheroic and supervillainous persuasion, he began to suspect that he too might be a mutant, not the rather bogus 'Olympean' origin that his mentor had taught him. As the nature of mutant abilities was researched by various fronts for various reasons, Champion II found another Avatar, someone who he could pass the Champion Force onto, if he should fall in combat. But he couldn't train the boy personally- those 'Anti-Kid Sidekick' laws. So, in 1966, Champion II was part of the cabal of mutant superheroes and sympathizers who bought up the bankrupt Whateley Academy and turned it into a refuge for emergent mutants, who needed to be taught how to control their powers. Among the first class, was the young Avatar that Champion had chosen for his successor.

"In 1969, Champion II died, killed by a knife formed of 'Tartareum'. It was just a piece of volcanic glass that someone had chipped into a knife-" Belle walked over to a glass case, where a crude knife of black glass lay on two brackets. "-but in Champion II's mind, it was Tartareum, the one substance that could penetrate his defenses. So, it did, and he died. Champion II managed to hold on long enough to pass on the Champion Force to his successor, who was still taking classes at Whateley. The boy waited a year to graduate, and then took up the mantle of the Champion. The first thing that Champion III did was hunt down the vicious bastard who killed Champion II. The idiot had another glass knife- he wanted to go down in history as the 'Man Who Killed Champion Twice'. Champion III didn't have the psychological crutches that Champions I & II did, though. The knife broke on Champion III's skin, and he dragged the scumbag to jail by his heels.

"Ever since then, it's been understood that Whateley Academy will always be training at least one Avatar at all times- the best, the smartest, the strongest, the bravest Avatar enrolled- who is ready at all times to accept the Champion Force, in case the worst happens. We even have a jet on call at Berlin Airport, just in case."

Belle walked them across the room. "On the flip side, here we have Lord Paramount, the mutant Prince of Wallachia." Belle gestured at a large oil portrait. It showed a long view of a trim, athletic man, dressed in a deep purple coat cut in the manner of a Napoleonic Era officer, with a high collar, tails down the back, large cuffs, embroidered silver trim everywhere, and a white lace jabot down the front. He was wearing tight white trousers tucked into black riding boots, bound up with a silver lame sash, and had a white cape thrown over his shoulders. The man was aiming his classic patrician features up at the mantle of a rough-hewn fieldstone fireplace, contemplating a bust of a hawk-faced man with a large mustache. The painting projected an air of 'the melancholy Byronic nobleman, enduring the majestic loneliness of splendor, meditating on the lessons of a bygone hero'.

Toni took a long look at the painting. "I get the impression that I'm supposed to recognize the bust, but I don't. Who is it?"

"It's Vlad Tepes Bessarab, Prince of Wallachia and Moldavia. You may know him better by his nickname- 'Dracula'. And no, he wasn't a Vampire. He was a 15th Century nobleman who ruled over much of a region called Transylvania, the border between Hungary and Rumania. While he had a reputation for being harsh, even brutal, he was also known for being even handed, and expecting Nobles to obey the same laws as the Commoners. He's remembered as something of a romantic hero in Rumania. I rather expect that Lord Paramount is trying to cash in on that perception to help bolster his regime in Wallachia."

"Why do you keep such a big picture of him here? I mean, if he's an alumus, I can understand you having something- but this?"

"We gotta- Lord Parry is a big contributor to the school, and a condition of his donations is that we keep this picture here, and show it to all the incoming Freshmen."

Hank took a long look at the painting. "How the heck did a loon like Lord Paramount wind up being a head of state, even in a backwater like Wallachia?"

"Well, give his Lordship his due, he's not as loony as he sometimes comes across. While he makes no bones about doing the whole 'supervillain' thing, he's sharp enough to know exactly where the line is, and to play his game right up to that line and no further. Or at least not where anyone will ever catch him at it. Anyway, back in the 1980's, when the Soviet 'empire' crumbled in the space of about three months, some parts of Transylvania, which is traditionally Hungarian, wanted to secede from Rumanian and rejoin with Mother Hungary. Others wanted to become their own Nation. And others wanted to avoid trouble by staying with Rumania. Lord Parry here stepped into this, stirred things up, got a good sized militant group behind him. He used his powers to strategically steal ammunition, fuel, supplies and other essentials, and manipulate the tides of war. Remember, just because Lord Paramount comes across as a posturing git, doesn't mean that he isn't a clever dick under it all. For instance, Wallachia has about a dozen different ethnic, religious and political rivalries going. Lord Parry doesn't waste time and effort trying to stop them- he uses them, and has set himself up as an impartial arbiter of their squabbles, giving each faction just enough to keep them thinking that they can get more from him. He keeps the squabbles down to shouting matches and the odd street fight, and everyone else in the region thanks him for being a peace-bringer. While he has his bullyboys handle most of the 'peace-keeping', every so often, he takes off the kid gloves and shows them that he's equal to an armored column all by himself, just to remind everyone that he can."

Billie cocked an eyebrow at the brooding figure on the canvas. "What are his powers, again?"

"Well, if memory serves correctly, he's a level 5 Exemplar- just look at that chin, what else could he be?-, but he's also a level 4 Kinetic- sort of along the lines of what you do, Hank, but more versatile-, a level 3 Telepath and a level 3 Esper. He's supposed to be able to lift a good-sized car without straining, and can tip over tanks with some effort. Plays a mean game of Chess too, I hear."

Belle walked away from the painting, to neat pile of what appeared to be large gold ingots, protected only by a red velvet rope. "Is That....?"

"Yep. Exactly one metric Tonne of 16-karat Gold. It's a donation from Gabriella Guzman, the Mexican tycoon. She's an alumna. Her 'gift' is some sort of Esper thing, that she uses to manipulate various markets. She started out dirt poor, from peon stock, and attended Whateley on a scholarship, but now she flat out owns Delicias, a major Mexican city in the Chihuahua province, most of the rest of Chihuahua, and good sized holdings in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and El Paso. She donated this on the condition that it's not be sold, but displayed here. She said that it's supposed to be a statement. Apparently, either you get it or you don't. If you get it, no explanation is necessary; if you don't, you wouldn't understand the explanation."

*   *   *   *

Following that little side trip, Bell made sure the doors were closed, locked, and hidden again before turning to her group with a smirk.  "We have a major influx of students coming in over the next couple of days.  That means parents will be wandering around with their kids.  Parents who really aren't aware of all the things we do here, and really don't need or want to.  So like I just made sure the Homer Room was all buttoned up, you guys make sure that you keep your powers the same way until the opening day furor dies down.  Ok?"

Stopping at a set of large, Oak doors with polished brass fittings, she dramatically paused for a moment before pushing them open with the announcement.  "I give you The Crystal Hall, one and all.  Cafeteria is to the right, let's eat!"

The place was very impressive, with an open quality that Fey found more than a little pleasant.  The setting sun was framed in the west by real trees, even if they were small ones on the inside.  And there was actually grass in parts of the place.

"Wow!"  Jade piped up, almost bouncing in her excitement at being in such a place and obviously a part of it.  "This is Totally, Completely, Awesome!"

"Cool!"  Tennyo echoed, obviously just as impressed as her roomie.

"Nice."  Ayla, the punker agreed with the first grin, or approximation of one anyone had seen on her face.  The lack of sullenness actually showed just how pretty she was for brief instant.

"Food!"  Toni headed straight towards the cafeteria with a huge grin on her face.  Fey was already growing accustomed to her new roomie's brash, bubbly actions and demeanor.  "Let's eat!  I'm starved!"

"What she said."  Fey shrugged, then grinned as she turned to follow the other girl in search of what was making those so enticing aromas wafting to her nose from that direction.

The food was good.  Better than that, it was abundant and very well prepared.  Fey found herself filling a tray with mostly non-meat items, as she had done since her change had first started.  Meat didn't exactly turn her stomach, but it wasn't nearly as appetizing for her as it had once been.  Still, the collection of pastas, fruits, and crisp steamed vegetables had her mouth literally watering by the time she had gotten her tray filled and obtained a mug of steaming tea liberally laced with lemon and a dab of sugar.

Other students, mostly upperclassmen, and some other new arrivals were scattered around the huge eating area, and Fey noted with a bit of discomfort that just about every hetero male they passed was checking her out as one of the new chicks, and a pretty hot looking one at that. 

 

"Well then," Belle said, "I suppose we're ready to see some of the highlights down below.  Come along." 

Followed by her gaggle of girls (and one guy), the raven-haired junior led them to an elevator.  The doors did not inspire confidence, looking as if they had seen better days.  And the single black bakelite button was old enough that the word "up" was only barely legible.  Belle mashed the button, and after a moment of clunking from behind the doors, they heard a steady hum, interspersed with occasional loud mechanical clicks.  Above the doors, a large bronze dial gave a jerk, then the indicator hand began to move from "3", turning slowly down to "1".  There was a loud "thud."  The doors began to open, paused, then fully opened.  Inside was a large but geriatric-looking elevator, finished in mahogany and brass.

"Pile in," she invited.

The first in was Toni, although she looked a little puzzled.  "This only goes to the third floor, and there are stairs right over there -"

"No, we're going *down*."

Everyone looked at the brass control panel.  In addition to the normal buttons for closing the door and ringing the alarm, there were buttons for floors one through three.  Nothing else.  Belle reached over and pressed "three."

The door ground shut.  Once they were closed, however, Belle quickly tapped buttons in quick succession: "alarm-close-alarm-close."  Silently, smoothly, and quite rapidly, the elevator began to move downward.  It accelerated swiftly, before smoothly braking and slowing to a halt.  The doors snapped open with a crisp hiss.

"We're here," Belle announced needlessly.  "Hurry out quickly, please.  The elevator should return to the third floor as soon as possible."

As the last of them stepped out, the elevator doors slid shut.  They could hear the rush of air, as the elevator shot upward again.

"Every elevator in the school works like that," Belle explained.  "They're slow and clunky on the upper floors.  We do everything we can to encourage people to use the stairs.  To get to the underground levels, you need to press a normal floor, then hit the pattern I used after the doors close.  Don't worry if you missed it, they'll explain again when you get this."  From out of her purse she held an item that looked like either a shiny pea or a small green pearl.  "This is your secure area pass.  You need to have one of these whenever you travel into a restricted area, like the underground complex.  Each ID-pinger is tagged with a unique number, so we can restrict who goes where.  They can deactivate them, but don't lose it unless you're keen to pay a nasty fine.  Also, you have to swap it in for a new pinger each semester.  Some people make them into jewelry."

The new students only listened with half an ear.  For the most part, they were looking at the huge tunnel they now found themselves in.  The tunnel was close to fifteen feet in diameter, but the far edge on each side was taken up with a moving conveyor-belt walkway.  The walls of the tunnel seemed to be lightly textured, and were painted a golden color.  From the center of the ceiling hung ugly globular institutional chandeliers.  Lastly, they noticed that the color scheme changed abruptly at their position, moving from gold to flat yellow.  Painted on the wall, and pointing down the gold corridor was an arrow and the word "Hawthorne."  A small plaque next to the gleaming elevator doors announced "Siegel Hall."

"Alright, everyone!"  Belle had to raise her voice significantly to capture their attention.  "We are now in the underground portion of the Whateley Academy.  These areas are strictly need-to-know, and discussion is therefore restricted to your fellows and the staff.  If you are ever in doubt, *shut up*!  If you'd like to talk about it, don't.  Remember, you are just freshmen.  Blow this secret and the upperclassmen and administration will make your lives miserable for the remainder of your short, miserable stay here."  Turning smartly, she began a brisk walk farther down the tunnel.

"Yes, one more thing," she announced, turning back.  "Anyone down here may be presumed to know what we're about.  Consequently, there's no need to hide the flash and glitter.  If you wish to fly, glide, glow, or what-you-will, feel free."

After a moment, Tennyo looked cautiously around, then lifted into the air.  She didn't so much fly as float.  Tipped forward at a 45-degree angle, she effortlessly slid in whatever direction she wanted.  With her arms clasped behind her back, she looked casual and comfortable.

A moment later, Ayla nodded, then she also rose into the air.  Her posture was a little stiffer, being posture-perfect upright, with her arms crossed under her small breasts.

The group continued down the disturbingly empty tunnel.  Behind them, toward Hawthorne Cottage, the tunnel stretched back straight as an arrow for what seemed like a mile.  Ahead of them, it reached another fifty yards before hitting a tee intersection and branching left and right into smaller tunnels.  They passed several dark corridors as they walked.

"What's with that?" Ayla asked from the air, hooking a thumb toward one of the small unlit passageways.

Although she was facing away from them, you could hear the frown in Belle voice.  "Old legacy.  A lot of this was tunneled out by the classes of '74 and '77.  They put in a lot of little side rooms.  The official story was that they could be club rooms, or storage, or even handle overflow classes if we needed the room.  The administration was never going to turn down an offer like that.  But Whateley's never had so many as 600 students, so I'm afraid that most of the rooms sit locked and unused.  They aren't even finished on the inside, just rough carved.  Occasionally the board decides to do put in a loo or some such, but mostly it's just hands off."  After a moment, she added, "Mainly, I suppose, they serve for fans of the matches, whenever there's an arena event."

No one could quite figure out that last comment, so they ignored it for the moment.  This was because as they turned the corner they could suddenly see an armored-glass gallery looking down upon a fantastic scene.  The glass wall in the tunnel's side looked over and down on a hemispherical room, easily two hundred feet in diameter.  The outer walls were lined with bank after bank of complex electronics, blinking and flashing in an arcane exhibition.  Small, caterpillar-tracked vehicles surrounded the center.  Each vehicle mounted either a large parabolic antenna or a spiral-wound rod.  The parabolic dishes projected lambent cones of energy that flickered over the thing in the center.  The rods, on the other hand, seemed connected to the central object through crackling streams of arcing electricity.  And in the center, in the focus of all that power, was a crimson red whirlpool that narrowed into a black funnel.  But no matter how you moved up or down the gallery, the funnel seemed to always point directly away from you.

Moving slowly from machine to machine, tending them and occasionally adjusting, were three figures in silvery blue space suits.

Belle cleared her throat after a moment.  "Originally this housed a fairly conventional light water reactor.  A team of devisors and manifesters created the armored glass in front of you.  Don't worry, it blocks 99.999% of the radiation, and is as strong as 400 millimeters of hardened steel."

Her tone became somewhat dryer.  "As I said, that was the original design.  Every year the 'power shop' class reworks things a little.  Everyone still calls this 'The Reactor', but I suppose that's a bit of a misnomer, these days.  And don't even think about it.  Unless you're a high-level devisor, you have to be a junior or senior to sign up for power shop.  Last I'd heard -" she shook her head dismissively "there was nothing left of the original reactor.  They'd redesigned things to tap into some bloody superstring energy potential."

The others looked at her, surprised at the bitter tone.

Belle shrugged.  "I'm sure the board loves it.  Keeps the academy's power bill nice and low.  Doesn't seem to help tuition costs, though.  And it starts to get a little irritating when the cottage's radiators keep loosing steam in the middle of winter.  You can't help asking - if they can build a secret underground complex with bleeding cosmic energy taps, why can't they put central air into the cottages?"  She grimaced.  "Wait until February, and see if you don't feel the same way."

With that, Belle turned and moved on.  "Right down this way is Arena '77, the first of those combat training areas I mentioned."

"This room is, as you can see, very large." Belle informed then quite needlessly.  "It has to be for the things that go on here.  We train in here, and in some of the other rooms, and through the use of specially designed machinery and holographic projection we can go through just about anything that might happen to us in real life.  Specifically, this is a very real danger room, and the things in here can hurt you, and will if you come in and don't pay attention."

"Do you mean to tell us that this place could actually kill someone?" Billie questioned warily as she moved her gaze over the cavernous room.

"Not really." Belle reassured the girl.  "There are so many failsafes set up in here, that it would take either a catastrophic systems failure or deliberate sabotage for someone to get really injured, or killed in here.  So don't worry about that, please.  Stuff in here can hurt you, even break bones.  But it will not kill you.  It's designed to train you to use your powers, not get rid of you."

"Oh now that's encouraging." Fey put in with an acerbic tone hinting at what the redhead might be like in the years to come at Whateley.  "All I have to worry about in a place like this is broken bones.  Cool, I can live with that.  I think."

Everyone stared at the little redhead for a moment, and she shrugged with a little grin.  "Hey!  I was always a putz when it came to physical things.  I was actually thinking of skipping the classes that go in here until I heard that from Belle."

"Skipping your training sessions wouldn't be a good idea." Belle warned.  "You all need the skills and experience you'll get in rooms like these.  Just to survive in real life once you graduate.  Trust me, the bad guys, or good guys, depending on which direction you decide to go, aren't going to go easy on any of you just because you're new in the world."

"Then I suppose I'd better at least show up." Fey giggled.  "And see if I can blow up some of this expensive machinery."

"That's the spirit!" Belle responded with a grin.  "A good rule of thumb in these training rooms is that if it moves and you don't recognize it as a friend... Zap it and ask questions later.  Once you do, you'll find out where you overreacted, or didn't react soon enough."     

"And on that note..." Belle waved back towards the door leading to the elevator.  "Why don't we head back to Poe and get you all settled?"

 

As they stepped into their own hallway, the dark-haired boy Hank nervously asked a question.  "So, ah, what bathroom does everyone use?"

Belle looked sideways at him.  "Well, if we were on the main campus, dressed like that, behaving like that, would you try to go into a girl's bathroom?"

"Uh, no.  Of course not."

"Right.  And in public, none of the girls here would try to go into a mens bathroom.  Well, whatever you'd do in public, you do the same thing here.  Which means, whatever you've got under your skirt," she glanced at Hank, "or pants, as the case may be, doesn't matter.  The skirt, or pants do.  That's how you behave here, too.  And if you're in the bathroom here and you see something odd, well, you don't see it.  Understand?  Because you can believe, that person has problems and is probably hurting a hell of a lot more than you are.  We all stick together here, and we all support each other.  No matter what we were, what we are, or what we may someday be.  Everyone got it?"

There were general murmurs of assent, and understanding.

"Good enough."  Belle nodded, then launched into another discourse.  Now this cottage, like the others, is four floors, a basement, and the attic.  First floor is the receiving area, where the parents come to visit, things like that, study areas, and common rooms along with the kitchen and small dining area, as all of you have been told.

The second floor is mostly for freshmen -- sorry Fey, you got stuck here because you're new to Whateley -- and is probably the worst looking of the bunch.  I'm sure, that given a bit of thought you can understand why that is.  This floor catches all the newbies, who are still working out how to use their powers..."

"So why repair everything when there's a good chance some newbie is going to tear it all up when their power gets out of hand?"  Toni questioned without needing an answer.  Fey noticed Tennyo flinch a bit at that, but could easily see the logic.

"Exactly."  Belle agreed, then pointed out the stairs on one end, the bathroom facilities, and individual rooms to them.  Third floor is sophomores and juniors, fourth is Seniors and influential juniors.  The attic is reserved for the most influential seniors in the cottage and is most definitely off limits to anyone who doesn't live in the penthouse unless a specific invitation has been given.  Got all that?"

At the nods from her charges, the older girl showed them a panel with colored lights in a spot where it would be visible from the entire hall.  This is the safety indicator.  Red means there are visitors in the building and absolutely no use of your powers is permitted.  Yellow means a stranger is here, but probably ok.  Use caution and your own judgment regarding the use of powers.  Green, as should be obvious, means it's all clear and just about anything goes so long as the house isn't destroyed or another resident here isn't hurt too badly.  And yes, some of the people living here play kind of rough, so get used to the idea.  Got that?"

"Sure."  Toni nodded after looking to the others for signs of confusion and seeing none.  "I think we all get the idea there."

"I sure hope so."  Belle went on.  "There are smaller panels in each room with switches in color coded strips so you can activate the warning lights all by yourselves, but be sure things are clear before clicking the green one."

"All right, then."  Belle nodded with a grin.  "The flagpoles on campus use the same type of signals to let everyone know the current situation regarding use of their powers.  Make real sure you look for one to see what's expected of you in that regard every time you leave the cottage.  Are your brains melting from overload yet?"

"Mine is starting to hurt a little."  Fey grinned while miming a headache.

"Well, that's it for now, all.  Go to your rooms, unpack, and relax.  The major bunch of students will begin arriving tomorrow, probably after breakfast, so enjoy the peace and quiet you have now.  It won't last all that long." 

 

Fey watched as Hank effortlessly hoisted on travelling trunk onto his shoulder for the trip up the flight of stairs. But before anyone could get up the stairs, there was a loud *thud!* against the front of the building. "I'd know that thud anywhere," Belle said dryly.

She walked to the front door and looked outside. Curious, everyone else followed close behind. They followed Belle's gaze to a blue and white heap on the ground right at the base of the wall. "It wouldn't have done you any good, anyway, Megs," Belle drawled. "They're reassigning rooms, remember? You're on the Third Floor this year. That is unless you WANT to stay on the Second Floor with the newbies."

"Oh, go boil your cauldron!" The heap snapped back. With a groan, the heap pulled itself up and resolved itself into a rather nicely put together blonde girl of about 16 wearing a legless blue leotard, with a white belt, gauntlet gloves, buccaneer boots, and cape, and a stylized red 'M' on her chest. "Everyone, this is Marty Penn, a.k.a. 'Mega Girl', or invariably 'Megs'. Marty is one year ahead of you, one of Our Crowd, and a card carrying member of the Cape Squad. Megs, this is the Freshmen crew of the Gender Baffled."

'Megs' smiled sweetly, stuck her hand out for Hank to shake, and bubbled out a stream of welcomes and disconnected bits of Sophmore wisdom to the Froshes. A bit of recognition clicked in Toni's mind and she thought to herself 'Dear Ghod, somebody went and gave Lizzie McGuire© super powers!'

As Marty's babbling brook paused for a second, Belle asked innocently, "You flew in from the train station?"

"Sure? Why Not? It was getting late, and nobody saw me, and they'll bring in my luggage with the others-"

"And you're going to hide the fact that you're here well ahead of the others with only your super-suit to wear from Mrs. Horton, exactly How?" Belle arched an eyebrow.

Marty's bellflower blue eyes popped wide open, and she worried her lower lip. "You could.... use your Ectoplasm to disguise me?"

Belle smiled acidly. "No-no-no-no-no- I've 'bibbledy-bobbledy-booed' you out of trouble for the last time. You can get yourself out of this little mess. I'm going to have my hands full with this lot, thank you very much!" With that, Belle shooed the Froshes back in, and pointedly shut the door behind her.

"Isn't that a little harsh?" Jade asked worriedly.

"Not to worry- it will take her a bit, but eventually it will occur to her that all she has to do is fly up to the roof and hang out there until the rest of the incoming students come in. She just wanted to get first call on rooms."

Ayla raised an eyebrow. "When you said that Marty's 'one of Our Crowd', did you mean that she's here in Poe Cottage, or that she's---?"

"Transgendered? Most definitely. You see, under that PK shell, Marty is a rather weedy looking young man."

"You mean, Marty can make himself look like a girl by creating a 'PK shell', but under it all, he isn't changing into a girl?" Jade asked.

"Not quite- you see, Marty IS changing himself in rather the same way that I did, but it's very slow. She's going to be switching back and forth for quite a while until he manages to redefine his biological patterns. So, if you see a strange boy walking down the hall in a lacy blue nightgown, and he says that he's Marty, there's a good chance that he is. Just steer him up to the Third Floor and let them heckle him to death."

"You said something about 'the Cape Squad'. What's a 'Cape Squad'?" Toni asked.

Belle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Ah, well, you see, here at Whateley, we have our cliques, the same as everywhere else. We have the usual roster of groups- there's the Alphas, our resident self-appointed 'elite'; there's Venus Inc., the local Fashion Police and Beauty Nazis; there's the Rat Patrol, the inevitable group of grungy losers, and so on. And we have some groups that could only exist here at Whateley: the Masterminds, the Ninjas, the Robo-Jox, and of course, the Cape Squad. The Cape Squad is basically a bunch of kids who are VERY Up on the notion of being 'future super-heroes of America' and all that. If the superhero fan magazines are right, Marty spent a good part of the summer trying to be accepted by the Empire City Guard. Again. Ah well, at least Marty can come back here and try to get Iron Star to get to notice her."

"_Iron Star_?" Ayla said in a pained tone.

"Well, Yes---" Belle said with an embarrassed grin, "Well, Marty likes him, anyway. He's sort of the 'main man' in the Cape Squad."

The Wild and Ferocious Cabbit Chase

Toni was 'helping' Nikki unpack by shelving her books. From a reclining position on her bed by tossing them onto the bookcase across the room. " 'Archetypal Imagery In Folk lore' by Dr. Tregwaithe Brown, Pd.h." <Shelf!> " 'Universal Concepts In Metaphysical Systems' by Sylvia Wiggins- I'll bet that's a real page-turner!" <Shelf!> " 'The Magic Mirror: Medieval Legend And Modern Psychology' by Dr. Donald Ryecroft. Don't tell me how it turns out, I want to read it on my own!" <Shelf!> " 'The Glory That Was Avalon: An Overview Of Faerie Lore in Europe' by Jessica Godfrey. I think I'll wait until the movie comes out." <Shelf!> " 'The Tribe of Oberon: Analytic Comparison of Faerie Concepts in Global Folklore' by Horace Brigham- jeez, Nikki, are you into this whole 'Fairy Princess' concept or what?" <Shelf!>

Nikki sniffed, "Well, unlike some mutant powers, _mine_ require a real understanding of how they work. I can't just wing it, the way that you do. Besides, you have all those martial arts teachers just panting at the idea of working with you. Me? Real magicians are pretty rare, and they don't exactly part with their secrets easily. I need every bit of lore that I can scare up!"

Fey began unloading her bags and putting her things into one of the two standing wardrobes meant for the hanging stuff.  Though she was a sophomore, being new to the school meant that she was placed on the second floor with the incoming freshmen.  Not that it mattered all that much to her.  At least she would be surrounded by people she had already met.

"Hey!"  Toni was looking over her shoulder at the thing still in the suitcases and trunk, then at what was already hung up in the closet.  "You have some really nice things.  Real pretty, and even the pants and shirts look feminine.  Show's my roomie has good taste."

"My Mom, and a friend's idea, mostly."  Fey indicated her clothing with a small grin.  "But thanks.  I'm getting used to them, especially when I can only wear linen, cotton, or silk pants.  Hard to appear even a little masculine in the silk ones, and the others were picked for their feminine cut.  Wish I could still wear jeans, though."

"I bet my folks could find some pure cotton denim for you."  Toni offered.  "If I asked them to look."

"I appreciate that, Toni, I really do."  Fey grinned up at the black girl.  "The problem is that I can't tolerate most of the dyes they use on denim jeans.  Unless they are specifically not synthetic based.  Which makes the kind I would need very expensive these days.  Heck, a real silk dress costs less than a pair of those does."

"Well, I could have them look around, anyway, if you liked."

"That would be great, Toni."  Fey told her while carefully placing a colorful assortment of satin and silk underwear in the drawers of the chest that was on her side of the room. 

A thump and suddenly expelled "Ack!"  from across the hall interrupted any further conversation as both girls went to their door to see what had happened.  Something small, and furry, was skittering and sliding down the hallway with the sound of soft feet on the hardwood flooring.

"My cabbit!"  Tennyo yelled as she charged out the door and began looking up and down the hall for the thing.

"I didn't think we could bring pets in here."  Toni answered while pointing in the direction the thing had run.

"It's a stuffed animal!"  Tennyo answered in exasperation then colored a bit as she realized she'd just been had.  "My little brother gave it to me before I left."

"Cool!" Toni stepped out into the hall as Tennyo charged down it in pursuit of the errant stuffed cabbit, barely avoiding being knocked down by the other.  She hollered to the hallway in general.  "Loose cabbit on the floor!  Loose cabbit on the floor!  Sound the alarms and round the critter up!"

The cabbit, giggling, slid between Tennyo's legs on its way back down the hall, leaping over a laughing Jade, then adroitly avoided a grab made by Toni as it charged past her.  Fey and Ayla moved to cut it off from the stairs at the end of the hall while a bemused hank watched all the activity from his own door.

"C'mon, Hank!"  Toni caroled as she rushed past where the cabbit had just been before it had executed a perfect 180 and ran skittering back the other direction, evidently with the idea of hiding in one of the bathrooms.  "Help us round up this wild and dangerous Creature!"

The cabbit, in that space of time, had made it to one of the bathrooms, the boy's, and pushed open the door, disappearing inside with a sound suspiciously like a raspberry for those chasing it.

Fey was checking to make sure she hadn't inadvertently caused the stuffed animal's sudden liveliness by accidentally tapping into her power without controlling it.  With a visible sigh of relief, she determined that it wasn't her fault, and joined in with the chase, which had stalled at the door to the boy's room.

Sounds of running water, flushing toilets, and paper towel dispensers being suddenly and violently emptied came from the bathroom as Hank finally walked carefully up to the group with an amused look on his face.  "A cabbit?"

"Half rabbit, half cat."  Tennyo offered helpfully.  "It's in there."

"I know what one is."  Hank chuckled.  "And where this one is.  I just can't figure out why it's not only hiding in the boy's room, but running around at all."

"Who cares?"  Toni laughed while pushing him towards the door.  "It is, and we need you to go in and get it."

"Yeah, we are in a school filled with mutants."  Tennyo gave both Jade and Fey a halfway suspicious look.  "One of our classmates must have brought it to life."

"Not mine."  Fey protested.  "I haven't even done any of my stuff since I got here."

"Who me?"  Jade gave her roommate a hurt look.

"Ok, I'm going in."  Hank sighed, reaching to open the door.

The cabbit had been waiting for that.  Once the door had opened even a crack, it bounded out of the bathroom, wove a complex path through the gathered kids, and headed for the stairs at top speed.

Toni used her incredible speed to head it off, but the canny cabbit veered into another room before she could grab it.  Fey was right outside that one, and ran in to try and catch the thing.

The cabbit pounced when she did, wrapping its stuffed legs around her arm and letting out mock growls while butting its head against the arm and running its blunt feet along it as well.  "Bite, claw, claw, bite, claw..."

It stopped for a moment, looking up into Fey's face with an almost grin before telling her in a female voice.  "Hey, you're being savaged by a wild and ferocious cabbit here!  don't you think a few screams of agony and useless cries for help would be in order?"

"Jinn?!"  Fey understood suddenly and started to laugh.

"Come on, play along with me."  the cabbit, or Jinn wheedled.  "This is too much fun."

"Uh, ok.  I guess."  The redhead answered.

"Claw, claw, bite, rend, bite, claw, claw, claw, claw!"  the cabbit answered, then giggled.

"Oh help me!"  Fey hollered out the door.  "I'm being savaged by a wild and ferocious cabbit!  The pain!  Help!  Help!  Help!"

With that she staggered out the door with the cabbit ferociously 'mauling' her arm and fell to the floor with exaggerated motions.  "Arrrgh!  It's killing me!  Help!"

The cabbit let her go, and ran again as the others closed in.  Scampering off to hide itself among the still piled up luggage in the hallway.

"Enjoying yourself drama queen?"  Toni questioned as Fey stood back up.

"Yes."  Fey answered, then laughed.  "I haven't had this kind of simple fun for ages!"

"Me either."  the black girl answered with a giggle, then pointed to a motion among the luggage.  "There it is!  Get that cabbit!"

The girls, with Hank's enthusiastic assist, tried to corner it there, but there was too much in the way. It managed to slip by again and headed for the stairs again. Fey and Toni kept it from going downstairs but it succeeded in going up to the next floor.

As all of them reached the third floor, Hank told the others to go after it and he would head it off.

Tennyo giggled at Fey as we headed down the hall.  "My cabbit! You hexed my cabbit!"

People on the second floor were starting to poke their heads out of the doors to see what the commotion was.

Fey giggled back. "Wasn't MY doing! Hey, I'm the one who got mauled! Has that cabbit had its shots?"

Tennyo grinned even wider, this was way too much fun. "You can't get rabies from a TOY!"

Toni got in on the conversation. "Mighty lively looking toy! How do you know it's not  possessed?"

Tennyo stared for a moment, then let out another giggle  "Is possession contagious like rabies? Cause I don't think its been inoculated against that. I wasn't expecting a POSSESSION."

Fey picked right up on that one. "Nobody EXPECTS a POSSESSION!"

They all skidded around the corner right on the cabbit's tail, when Hank stepped out of concealment. "Ha! Outfoxed on the far side. Let's see you..."

But he never got to finish as Toni yelled, "Hank, LOOK OUT!" And everyone plowed into him.

Suddenly the cabbit took off again, yelling. "I smell carrots! Miya, MIYA!" And headed up to the fourth floor.

Eventually, with the help of some of the other students, they cornered it. After capturing it and trussing it up good,  Tennyo thanked everyone for their help and carried the errant toy back to her room.

 

Tennyo poked her head into the door of Toni and Fey's room with a small grin.  "Hey in there?  Got room for company?"

"Sure thing." Toni waved the girl in, giving a suspicious look to the stuffed lion she was carrying.  "Is that one going to run away, too?"

"Nope." The Asian girl widened her grin, showing off an unnerving display of sharp canines when she did.  "This is our culprit from Cabbit Chase, though, and she's here to take her punishment.  Feel free to whack away at her."

"Yeah!" The lion chirped as Nikki stared at it with another funny expression on her face.  "Knock the stuffing out of me!"

"Jinn." Nikki shrugged, then hauled off and gave the lion a solid thwack with her little fist.  "I think you're going to start worrying me one of these times."

"Ouch! Ouch! Arrgh!" The lion obligingly yelled, then looked up at Nikki and seemed to wink.  "For a little thing, you sure do have a good punch there."

After everyone had a chance to whack the lion, the group retreated to the common room on the second floor to talk a little more. They started learning more little tidbits about each other. It seems both Jade and Toni were really into Aikido.

Neither Fey or Ayla had much exposure to the martial arts. They didn't seem too interested in them just then either.

Toni began to explain how martial arts had become a very big part of her life and how it was nice to have something in common besides the BIG thing.

Tennyo interjected with, "Big TWO things, don't forget the mutant powers bit."

She replied. "That's what I was talking about. OH! You meant the whole 'turning into a girl' bit." She waved her hand in the air. "You know, it's like, shit happens. Deal with it and move on."

Fey wasn't as enthusiastic about it. "Easy for you to say, maybe you didn't have your whole life thrown into the toilet. My Dad freaked when he heard what was happening to me, and my little brother just laughed and told me I'd been a pussy anyway, so what was the difference now?"

Suddenly, Jade jumped up and cried, "It's just not fair! You're probably the most beautiful girl in the entire state! Some of us would DIE to look half as pretty as you!" She turned and ran from the room.

The others just stood there and looked at each other in surprise for a moment. Then the lion said, "Girls.   Who can figure them. Must be hormones or something." Everyone took  turns whacking her while she muttered, "I deserved that."

After that was out of their systems, they tried to decide what was wrong with Jade. By careful questioning of Jinn it was decided that Jade must be jealous of the changes the others in the group had happen to them or were going through.

No one was sure exactly how to help her with that one. All agreed to keep their eyes open and see if there was anything that could be done to get the small girl through her difficulty.

Toni changed the awkward subject by asking Tennyo for a demonstration of her powers. 

The Anime escapee shrugged.  "Well, I don't think it's a real good idea to show you guys my energy sword, or blasts, after all, we were told not to destroy anything, weren't we?  But I can show you the thing I am good at controlling."

With that, she left the floor, rather floated off it, to hover in the air about halfway between the floor and ceiling.  "It seems that gravity doesn't affect me unless I let it. It's kind of fun seeing the double and triple takes I can get when people walk into a room where I am doing it. They seem to lose a little equilibrium as they try to make sense of my new reality."

"Bet that is a real riot." Toni dryly commented.

About then, Jade knocked on the door frame wearing an embarrassed look on her pretty face. She apologized for running out like that. Fey welcomed her back and Tennyo gave her a small wave hello, which she smiled at.

Fey got down to the hard part immediately. "You aren't really jealous of someone like m -- us, are you?"

She looked at Fey with such a strong need that it made all of them nervous and said, "You are so beautiful. I'd give almost anything to be like you."

The girls exchanged looks when Jade wasn't watching, silently agreeing that the smaller girl was going to need careful watching over.  It also seemed to dawn on each of them that they actually liked and cared for each other, even after such a short time of being together.  None of that was spoken aloud, but everyone got a feeling of satisfaction and warmth at the same time. 

Toni gave Fey a narrow eyed look.  "Nikki, are you broadcasting?  I mean are you an Esper, too?"

"Oops." The redhead offered a sheepish smile.  "Guess I was at that.  I'm actually an Empath instead of a mind reader.  The wizard who tested me says that I'm a strong level three in that, whatever that means.  I didn't mean to send my feelings to all of you, though, it just kind of leaked out."

"Hey, not to worry there!" Toni answered while the others agreed.  "We all seem to have pretty much the same feelings anyway, you just kind of reinforced them for all of us there.  I feel like we're all sisters here, and that isn't so bad, is it?"

There was general agreement and hugs passed out all around after that, when Tennyo cleared her throat and got things rolling again.  "Well... Hey! I was just telling the girls some of the things I do. I didn't want to try and show off the energy blasts and stuff, We were warned not to destroy anything. So I showed them some of the other things I do. Next person up was going to be Fey, right?"

Ayla chipped in. "Yeah, We got part of it on the tour. Psychedelic squirrels, Turning into a girl, FORCED to buy cool clothes, and which of us can't understand that last part? But you never told us how it works."

Fey looked a little nervous, and then straightened up. "I told you about getting power from ley lines, right?"

Jade shook her head. "I didn't quite understand that part."

Fey took a deep breath and started to go into a detailed lecture about how all life is linked by the powers in them.  Tennyo appeared a bit skeptical on that part and interrupted, "Do you believe in a god who controls us through these lines of power?"

Fey gave her a surprised look, and when she widened her eyes, it was clear just how alien she was becoming in some respects appearance wise.  Then she just stuck her tongue out at the Asian girl and grinned.

Toni joined in, "Yeah, remember Tennyo, hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side."

"I have to agree in principle to that, although I have always felt that it is a good idea not to anger The Powers That Be if you don't have to." Tennyo grinned back.

Rubbing her head, Fey broke in. "Excuse me! I was trying to have an origin here!"

Toni apologized. "Sorry! Please continue."

"No, no, you've ruined the mood. I'll just cut to the chase." She proceeded to explain that she didn't understand it herself. That was why she had come here. It was an attempt to learn what she did and how to control it. She wouldn't show us because she didn't want to be the cause of any weirdness herself.  She then looked at the stuffed lion and said. "Pardon me,  any more than we've already had today."

The lion replied, "Weird is as weird does." Toni was the closest and whacked it a good one.

        *    *    *    *

The next day was pretty much spent getting more settled in, getting uniforms squared away, and finding at least tentative class schedules.  Nikki emerged from the uniform shop carrying a large number of paper wrapped packages with a small grimace.

     Toni finished with her own fittings and not all that comfortable with the idea of actually wearing one of the uniforms gave her roommate a questioning look.  "What's wrong?"

"My Mom -- and Dad."  the redhead let out a sigh.  "Mom must have told him that I can't tolerate synthetics any more, and passed my measurements on to him or something.  And he sent all of this stuff to me, care of the uniform shop.  With a little note, too."

"So you don't have to pay for uniforms, and given your special needs in that regard, it can't be a bad thing, now can it?" Toni pressed.

"I guess not." Nikki shook her head and handed the black girl a sheet of paper.  "Tell me how you'd take this."

Dear Nichole,

I still can't say I'm thrilled over what has happened to you, but since it has, and you're still my child, I feel responsible for seeing to your needs just like before.

Hope these all fit, you Mother was pretty quick with rolling the measurements off to me on the phone.  If you need more of them, my personal tailor has the information and you can contact him at the below address.  I'll cover the expense.

Dad

"Well." Toni handed the note back to her roommate.  "At least he hasn't disowned you or anything.  Give him time and he'll get used to the idea, and the new you, I think.  I mean, looking at you as you are now, what's not to like?  You're gorgeous."

"Maybe," Nikki let out a sigh.  "But I used to be his oldest son.  Now I'm his daughter, and he's still freaked, I can tell by the note."

"Hey, you're still kind of freaked, too." Toni gave Nikki a pat on the shoulder.  "Just remember that daddies dote on their daughters.  You'll both get used to it eventually."

"Yeah, I suppose." The redhead grimaced, then muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "When pigs fly."

 

"Why do you only have afternoon classes?"  Hank asked Nikki as some of the girls, and He gathered in the sun room to compare schedules.

"I was told that I needed the morning time for special classes." Fey shrugged.  "That and lots of testing to see exactly what my powers are, where they sit in the classification ranges for Wizards, and how I'm going to handle them.  I'm also going to have some one on one stuff about things like all the 'voices' I hear in things, and the changes my body is going through."

"Oh." Hank nodded with a glazed look in his eyes.

"Well you asked." The redhead grinned with a glint of mischief in her large violet eyes.

Further discussion of class schedules and testing was halted in mid voice as Ayla slammed into the room muttering and swearing under her breath followed by a worried looking Tennyo and Jade.

"What?" Toni stared at all three of them.

"Read this." Tennyo handed a note to Toni with a grimace.  "I don't think Ayla is in any mood for a calm discussion of anything just now."

"Seems to be a day for notes around here." Fey grumbled and just waved off the questioning looks Tennyo and Jade gave her.

Missing your family much?

Don't worry.  However far they may be from your heart and mind, rest assured that they aren't far out of our sights.  Particularly that so-called sister of yours.  Play things right and we give both you and her a wide berth, and never talk to you again.  Play things wrong and the very least that will happen is that those innocent young girls you're living with will find out that their sorority sister used to look a lot different.

We're looking for someone else, not related to you.  All you have to do is get the name and address of every girl living in Poe Hall.  It should be easy.  Right now, everyone's moving in.  They all have addresses on their luggage.

Write the information down, fold the paper up, and leave it under the bust of Edgar Allen Poe in the entryway to your cottage.  Wednesday, exactly at noon.  No tricks.  Complete this successfully and we will never again bother you or yours.

Don't play games with us, Trevor.  We mean business.

"Innocent Young girls?" Toni gave everyone a look. 

"Guess my note wasn't so bad after all." Nikki muttered.

"Well, what do we do about this?" Jade questioned.

I'm going to tear someone apart!" Ayla growled to the room in general.  "Once I find out who's doing this."

"I can understand that." Tennyo nodded.  "I've been threatened a lot recently, myself, but that just brings us back to Jade's question.  What do we do about it?"

"We?" Ayla looked up and the obvious clouds of rage in her eyes began to fade, and be replaced with puzzlement.

"We." Toni confirmed, waiting for the others to agree and going on when they did.  "We're all new here at Whateley, we all have gender issues to deal with here, and we're going to be together for quite a while.  So if one of us gets in trouble, the others need to help out if it's at all possible.  That way we have our own support system here."

"Makes sense to me." Nikki nodded, then moved to sit with Ayla.  "Look, all of us have problems here, some worse than others.  And we all need to stick together, it just seems like the right way to do things, doesn't it?"

"Not only pretty, she's got a brain." Toni grinned at Nikki briefly.  Nikki stuck her tongue out at the black girl and gave Ayla a quick squeeze.

"So." Jade piped up.  "We thought we might make up a false list, you know use silly names and stuff that might actually be true given where we live right now.  Then stick it under the bust and keep watch to see who comes for it."

"A plan!" Toni agreed with a bounce.  "We have a plan now.  Let's do it!"

"Umm, a thought here." Nikki quietly tapped Tennyo on the shoulder.  "Could these people be looking for you?  With what you've told us I think that might be the case."

"Damn." The Asian girl frowned.  "I hadn't thought about it in that light."

"All the more reason to find out who is behind this." Toni answered.  "So we can figure out what exactly it is that they're after."

"Right." Tennyo's eyes had taken on a reddish tinge, then returned to her more normal look.  "So let's get started on this fake list, shall we?"

 

Continued in Quothe The Ninja,Nevermore!
Read 3020 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 01:02

Add comment

Submit

Comments

0
alisa
10 months ago
Here"s the 1st meet of Team Kimba..Great read!
Like Like Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

Original Timeline

Original Timeline stories published from 2004-2009

Original Timeline stories published from 2010 - 2015

Original Timeline stories published from 2016 - 2021