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Sunday, 02 June 2013 02:35

Whilst Any Speaks (Chapter 1)

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A Whateley Academy Story

Whilst Any Speaks

By E. E. Nalley

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Henry V, Act IV Scene iii, W. Shakespeare

March 24th, 2007
Bank of America Tower, 43th St with 6th Avenue, New York, NY

The Bank of America tower in Manhattan had always been a bit leery of its neighbor across the street. Being next door to the known headquarters of New York's premier super team meant that if the prime offices of one of the world's largest banks needed super heroes, they were in ready supply. Unfortunately, as it was the headquarters of New York's premier super team also meant that super villains where generally not running low either.

Still, most of the spandex and cape crowd looking for trouble were more interested in their neighbor than in home office of a bank. Even though there was a branch in the lobby, this was New York and the criminal classes here were held to a higher standard. Common bank robbers were kindly asked to take their low brow criminal endeavors over the ferry to Jersey.

That was not to say that the building wasn't secure; in point of fact the moment the tactical boots of the intruder touched down on the gravel aggregate that made up the bulk of tower's rain water management system an alarm went off in the central security office. Before the intruder had gotten the parachute that had borne them to the building under control and stowed a response team was riding a high speed express elevator from the nearest staging area.

All told, less than three minutes would elapse from first alarm to the beam of the high intensity flashlight mounted under the muzzle of the Team Leader's MP5 lighting up a lithe, graceful form in a dark red sleeveless and legless leotard turning from securing her parachute. She was wearing a mask that let her ebony tresses flow free in a loose pony tail. Like the rest of the outfit it was a dull red that would easily lend to black in the darkness. Across her back was what looked like a sword in a scabbard, and a long bow. A quiver of arrows hung from her right hip and some kind of carrier that wasn't as obvious as to its function on the left. Her eyes were covered with yellow lenses that polarized to an endless black as he watched. Her legs were wrapped so as to give the illusion she was wearing thigh high boots, but the soles were a flat tactical type nearly identical to the pair Tom wore. "Freeze, honey!" he shouted. "You're surrounded! Put your hands up! Do it! Do it now!"

Tom Parker was a veteran of both Gulf Wars and had even been one of the first boots in Afghanistan before he'd decided being a Marine was too dangerous for a man with aspirations of being a father and family man. Despite all the combat he'd seen and survived, the slow, cold smile that spread across the young woman's face in front of his machine gun sent a chill down his spine he'd remember the rest of his life. He clicked the safety from single to full auto. "Put up your hands, goddamn it!" he shouted. "Or I swear to God I will end you!"

"Wicked," the girl drawled as her hands went up and her hips settled into combat crouch. Tom got a vague impression of a small round pellet leave her gloved hand as she did so that exploded at her feet and instantly covered the roof in a thick, choking white fog. The Mag-light on the MP5 actually reduced the visibility as the beam scattered off the smoke. Tom heard the cries of pain from his team, but his own discipline kept him from spraying the roof not knowing if the rounds would strike friend or foe.

Pain exploded in his left knee that caused him to fall hard on the gravel, the knee pad he was wearing saving his knee cap. He wailed out with a reflexive strike that only connected with air before her palm smashed into his jaw from a completely different direction. Blinking back stars Tom swung again, but his arm was caught at the wrist and folded back up behind his back. This allowed her to slam his face into the gravel where, insult was added to injury as she bound him with his own handcuffs.

Her tongue, wet and sensuous licked his ear as she whispered, her voice betraying no strain of having just beaten the crap out of a dozen combat vets in their collective prime. "Let's dance again when you know the steps, stud."

The fog was lifting as Tom fought to stay conscious. He could see her now as it thinned as she sashayed back to her bag she'd been stuffing the parachute back into. Quickly finishing that, she took her bow and selected an arrow from the quiver. With careful aim, she fired at the Emerald Tower across the street. The arrow played out a line as it struck home that she attached to the strut of the AC Unit. Her gear gathered, she blew Tom a kiss and zip lined across the street as the darkness finally fell.

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I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
The best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously, it's only life after all
Closer to Fine, Indigo Girls.
Chapter One

March 18th, 2007
Stark Hwy, not far from the Main Gate, Whateley Academy

For a car that was entering its fifth decade of existence, Ayla was surprised at how well the heater kept the car warm and comfortable. Spring was remarkably late coming to the Presidential Mountains this year, the forecasted high for the day was only 23 degrees and there was considerable snow on the ground. And I'm in a rear wheel drive car made when my father was still a kid being driven by a Southerner, Ayla though to himself.

Despite that, Baby Girl, as Elaine had christened the Mustang was more surefooted than the last ride Ayla had taken in the school's shuttle to Berlin and without chains which was likely another of the red headed girls overly engineered solutions. The ride back from St. Barnabas had been a quiet one. The car's original AM radio could have picked up nothing in the mountains even it had been there. However the place for it in the dash was a gaping hole with a collection of wires that had been duck taped together where they could be reached.

In the back seat was a top of the line Kenworth receiver Elaine had bought at the G-Mart in Berlin, but had yet to install. While Ayla had questions about the bombshell his friend had laid on him, it had proven a difficult conversation to start and, perhaps considering the conditions, that might be for the best. It was at that moment, of course, that Elaine would spare him a quick glance and ask, "Penny?"

"Sorry?" replied Ayla, turning back from the mountain views that, despite the inclement weather where quite beautiful. Loophole smiled a sardonic smile.

"It's an old saying, 'Penny for your thoughts'. In mah family we tend to abbreviate."

"Ah, yes, I'm familiar with it," Ayla replied. The young mogul cleared his throat and kept his tone neutral. "Actually, I was just thinking about your, ah, 'solution' with Songbird. Aren't you worried there could repercussions about what you did? If she ever found out you conned her..."

Elaine's face clouded over as she indicated her intent to turn despite their being alone on the road and guided the car through the Main Gate. "Bitch got what was coming to her," she muttered.

Unseen by either student, the eyes of the gargoyles that flanked the gate glowed softly for a moment behind them. "Still" Ayla continued, "It should be something you consider. Do you even know where Songbird is now?"

Elaine shrugged. "Graduated. Beyond that, Ah think she was from Jersey or some place near New York. We weren't exactly 'social'."

"Why don't you let me make some discrete inquiries?"

"If what Ah did gets out, even if not back to her, just to the administration Ah'll be in a deep pot of hot water," Elaine cautioned, but Ayla merely smiled a very coy smile. "Discrete, right."

Elaine followed the turn off to Van Buren Ave and Poe beyond it. "A couple of the Gear Heads were thinking of heading out to the track and having some drag races," she commented as she turned into the small parking lot behind the cottage. "It'll be warmer, and you'd be welcome."

"So, you're going to humiliate your club friends and you'd like an audience?" he drawled before getting out. "Let me see what's going on with my team and I'll give you a call if I'm free."

"Sounds good."

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Luis considered the images that Elaine had almost been mentally shouting as his invisible projection watched her car drive away from Poe Cottage. The mystic warning that someone intended ill towards a student had quickly drawn his attention to the blue and white mustang that was the sole car on the main road. It's driver's thoughts were a chaotic blur, flashing back and forth between deep, abject shame and a towering rage that was nearly mindless and all consuming.

It was the first time he'd touched the mind of the Lit Chix as she had no psychic potential and therefore had not taken any of his classes, nor had to undergo the psychic probes that had followed the beginning of Winter Term and the revelations of Cavalier and Skybolt as she wasn't a Mage. The projection sighed, something Luis hadn't been able to do himself for some time and 'shook' his head. What have we allowed?

The psychic fought a brief war with his ethics. He hadn't intended to scan Loophole's mind as he responded to the alarm, but her mental state had all but forced herself on him. As a teacher, he was required to report all suspected abuse of the children in his care, but on the other hand, psychic evidence was practically inadmissible in any court in all fifty states short of an Act of God. He'd committed a gross breach of Psychic Ethics by learning what he had, and if he acted on it, he would be compounding the breech.

Finally Luis made a decision, and directed his projection to the combination small subdivision and apartment complex to the south west that was the Faculty Housing Complex. The projection gained the illusion of solidity, if in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt more fitting to a Sunday afternoon. His telekinesis rang the doorbell and, after a moment, an older man opened the door. "Luis! What brings you here?"

The illusion of Luis Geintz smiled. "Hello Alfred. I hope I'm not disturbing you?"

Dr. Bellows quickly stepped aside and gestured. "Not at all, please, won't you come in?" Fubar's projection entered the apartment and took one of the chair's the psychologist had indicated. Alfred quickly found the remote and turned off the television he was watching. "What brings you over?"

"Work, I'm afraid," Luis replied. "What do you know about Elaine Nalley?"

Dr. Bellows cupped his chin in thought. "Let me think. Loophole, isn't it? Shy girl, fairly classic Southern Introvert, with something of a rules fixation as I recall. I only spoke with her the once on her entry counseling session last year. Why?"

"Were you unaware of her involvement with Kodiak's coup of the Alphas? Or...?"

With a weary gesture Dr. Bellows waved off his friend's recitation. "Luis, there are only the three of us in Psychiatry. There's a student body of what? Six? Seven Hundred? Do the math." He sighed and picked up his cup of coffee from the small table next to his chair. "No, I'm afraid I'm not up on her latest exploits as she's not one of mine. Though, come to think of it, I don't think she's seeing Betty or Roger either. Why?"

"What would you say if I told you that your 'classic Southern Introvert' aggressively pursued arguably the campus' number one jock, was instrumental in ousting the social pecking order and reforming of the Alphas and, here's where it gets interesting, possibly tortured another student? Physically tortured?"

Alfred turned his chair around to face his phantom guest. "I'd say we weren't talking about the same person. She's done all of this?"

Luis rubbed his chin. "I...well, I'm not sure. As far as the Alphas and Kodiak go? The buzz around school is they're an item and they're seen together regularly. The rest? Well, the rest I learned by accident psychically."

An eyebrow ascended the Doctor's face. "Accidentally?"

Geintz nodded. "I was responding to an alarm, one student with intent to harm another. When I got to the main road, Loophole's car was below me and her mind was practically shouting a series a jumbled images. I'm not entirely sure when they took place, or if they did or if what I saw were just particularly vivid fantasy. Her mind is very visual so it's rather hard to tell."

"I see."

"There's more, I, I can't be sure, Alfred, but I think she may have been raped as well. The images are so rapid and distorted and I was trying very hard not to eavesdrop."

Dr. Bellow's face clouded over as he found his pipe and began to pack it. "Do you have a 'suspect,' Luis?"

The projection shook his head. "She was getting herself back under control when that came up, and as I said, I wasn't trying to probe." The psychiatrist lit his pipe and puffed in thought for a long moment.

"Alright," he said at last. "I'll have Cody come in for a chat."

Luis blinked. "Kodiak?"

"Yes," murmured Alfred, his eyes far away. "If the object of his affection was assaulted, he would know about it, and likely have made some act of retribution. We talk regularly anyway as a favor to his Mother I'm doing, so he may let something slip that would corroborate what you've told me. If so, I'll have grounds to compel Miss Nalley to have a chat with me if needed." He sighed and locked eyes with the apparition in his living room. "You did the right thing, Luis."

"That remains to be seen," Geintz replied.

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March 19th, 2007
Dr. Bellows Office, Doyle Medical Center, Whateley Academy

"Good morning, Dr. Bellows," greeted Donohue as he caught sight of the psychiatrist entering the clutch of offices that made up the Mental Health Department of the school.

"Kelly," replied Alfred with a nod and a smile to his student assistant. "Happy Monday to you; any emergencies this morning?"

"No sir, but Mrs. Carson called to remind you about the full department meeting on the 24th." Dr. Bellows nodded as he entered his office to set down his briefcase and coffee.

"Message received. If she calls again assure her we will be ready for whatever questions she has."

"Yes sir. Anything else for right now?"

"Yes," the Doctor replied as he shucked out of his coat to hang on the hat and coat rack by his door. "Would you please pull Elaine Nalley's file for me, and find out who her Guidance Councilor is as well?"

"Certainly sir, although I can tell you her GC is Mr. Donner from workshop."

"Ah, to be an exemplar and have perfect recall," Bellows said with a smile. "Off you go, my lad." Alfred returned to his desk and got his laptop settled in the cradle and booting. From there the school's intranet directory gave him the extension he needed which he dialed while taking a cautious sip of still steaming coffee.

"Workshop, this is Mel," a gruff voice answered on the third ring.

"Yes, Mel, Alfred Bellows here," he told the receiver. "I'm led to understand that you're the guidance councilor for Elaine Nalley?"

The voice on the other end of the phone sighed with a saint's patience. "What has she done now, Doc?"

Despite the distance between his office and the workshop, Alfred's empathy picked up on a number of conflicting emotions coming from the shop teacher and knew at once that Elaine was more than typical student to the man. "Is she a problem child?" he asked softly.

"This year has been...challenging," Melvin conceded. "At first the drive and focus was something of a blessing. She, ah, blossomed over the summer and I guess I hoped that had given her some badly needed confidence. But, I tell you Doc, the girl is different this year. I see flashes of the shy freshman every now and then, but she's bouncing back and forth to something else. Has something happened?"

"I'm doing some back ground investigating," Bellows replied as he accepted the folder Kelly handed him with a nod of thanks. "Most of it just for our end of term department meeting, but I wanted to get a little better feel for her. I understand she's seeing Kodiak fairly regularly."

The shop teacher's voice went cold. "Unfortunately."

"You disapprove? Any particular reason?"

"She can do better," Donner replied. "She has a future and I hate to see her throw it away on a school yard bully like Kodiak." He sighed again. "Look Doc, I got class here in a few, was there more you needed?"

"Sounds like you have more to offer," Bellows remarked calmly. "And everything helps. Would you care to join me for coffee on your off period?"

"Eh, I've got a study hall instead of an off period," Donner said. "If you'll venture into the caves I promise your suit won't get too dirty."

"I couldn't refuse an invitation like that. Which period?"

"Fourth. See ya then, Doc."

"Indeed," Dr. Bellows replied as he began to go over the file after returning the phone to its cradle.

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March 19th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

Elaine sighed as she looked over the chicken offerings sitting in the steam tables. The 'fried' variety was a greasy looking hodgepodge that had obviously been pressure cooked and not actually deep fried, let alone hand breaded or decently seasoned. There were times when you felt down that what you really wanted was a taste of home. "Ah won't find it here," the red head told herself as she left the hot foot entries and went over to the salad bar. There, a passable imitation of a Cobb Salad was assembled, then promptly generously washed in Thousand Island dressing. Several slices of garlic toast and a glass of sweet tea completed her lunch choice and, on her way to the check out islands Elaine thought her meal a fait accompli.

This was, of course, the moment she would be proven wrong. "Lanie!"

Elaine closed her eyes and counted to ten before acknowledging her little brother's presence. "How many times have Ah asked...?" she started, but he quickly waved her off.

"If you prefer Ethel..." Steve teased, but the storm clouds on his sister's face darkened and upped to gale force.

Loophole's eyes narrowed. "Would you prefer to be nutted again?" She took notice of her brother's attire and rolled her eyes. "Your chances of reproduction reduce to single digits the more you wear your under wear on the outside of your pants!"

Steve sniffed and grinned as he swiped a piece of bacon from her salad and popped it in his mouth. "Show's what you know, I have a date!"

Elaine snorted in derision and made her way to the pay island. "Maybe the world won't last to 2012. So why are you involving me in your evil schemes?" The lunch lady took the salad from the tray to weigh before handing it back to her whereupon Elaine swiped her ID in the reader and pressed her thumb to the pad.

"Hey, what's up with that, I thought the food was free?" asked Steve as he quickly grabbed a cheese burger and a pre-measured portion of fries to follow his sister.

"Nothing is free," she replied as she walked across the Hall to press the call button on the elevator. "The food is part of your matriculation fees, but it's not metered, otherwise none of the energizers could afford the fees. It's tracked and tied to your ID. The school knows exactly how much and what you eat both to order more food and as part of the ongoing study into mutation." The car arrived allowing the two Nalley's to enter and Elaine pressed the button for the upper of the two new tiers that Cody and the seniors had added to the hall.

"And how do you know all that?" he demanded as the car ascended.

"Ah wrote the 'app that facilities management uses to stream line the logistics chain across the entire school. That's how I won mah iPhone, remember?" Steve grunted in a non-committal agreement he followed her to the dais that held the Alpha's tables, overlooking the waterfall cascading down to the pool below. "What is it you want, Steve?" she asked finally as she took one of the smaller tables away from the main table.

"I want to borrow Picket's Revenge," he mumbled around his mouthful.

Elaine sighed. "Picket's Revenge is floating in her slip, twelve hundred some odd miles south of here," she told her brother, in passing wondering how he'd found out about one of her better kept secrets.

"I hear you have a copy here," he whispered, for once being discrete. "And Marty really likes the idea of going sailing..."

"And you really like thinking about how skimpy of an outfit she'll pick, never mind that you have no idea how to actually sail her..."

Steve's flawless, porcelain complexion flushed scarlet as his shortcoming was brought up. "How hard can it be?" he demanded.

"Indeed," muttered Elaine, her thoughts far away.

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January 28, 2007
Arena 99, Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy

Elaine lay on her back in a fantasy. Below her, riding softly on her anchor was a computer generated copy of her sail boat, Picket's Revenge. She was tucked quietly into a recreation of Ranger Cove off Lake Allatoona in a simulation of a perfect summer's day. A soft breeze hummed through the sloop's rigging even with her sails furled and reefed tightly. A few dozen yards away a family of Ants in a Chris Craft were swimming in the shallows of the cove while a barbeque on shore in the picnic area was painting the summer air with the sweet smell of baby back ribs brazing.

Ranger Cove had been Elaine's retreat since her father had given her the Catalina 27. Well, technically he'd given the sporty little twenty seven foot yacht to both of his children, but as usually happened when he tried to connect with his son, he'd found an eager and grateful apprentice sailor in his daughter and only vague disinterest from his son.

Steve had only set foot on the sail boat twice and then under coercion both times.

So Elaine had diligently learned to sail the fiberglass mono-hull that was older than her parents by herself, to be content in her own company and, when faced with a difficult decision, she came here. A Southern Girl in every sense of the word, Elaine fled to her roots and her favorite time of the year to try and decide when and how she would face Kodiak. Clad only in a bikini top and a pair of cutoffs, Elaine looked up at the clouds drifting by her mast and day dreamed. The fiberglass of the foredeck of the little yacht was warm against her skin and if she let herself, she could almost believe she was where the arena was trying so diligently to convince her she was.

"Oh...my...God, I'm going to melt!" declared a strident voice from the boat's little cabin beneath her.

Loophole sighed. "Hello, Jo."

"Is this a sauna?" the Alaskan demanded as she clamored up the companionway into the cockpit of the little yacht, shedding layers of winter clothing as fast as she could. "Or are you trying to acclimatize yourself to hell?"

"Welcome to the South," drawled the red head with a quirked smile. "Or at least the best recreation thereof." She paused for a moment as Murphy carefully made her way forward clearly uncomfortable on the narrow, moving boat.

"How long have you been a masochist?" Gunnarson demanded.

"There are lots of folks who consider this vacation worthy past times," Elaine shot back testily. "You lost," she added after a long moment.

"You assume we're playing the same game," the pale skinned girl shot back. The two girls smiled at each other and fell into a companionable silence for several minutes. "Your first, huh?"


"How was it?"

"That's a little personal, don't ya'll think?" Elaine exclaimed.

"Like you're not dying to talk to somebody about it," Murphy snorted. "That fake sun isn't full spectrum, is it? Am I gonna get sunburned out here?"

"Ah never have," the other replied. After a long moment she looked out over the lake towards the Dam and finally said, "It wasn't floating on the ceiling on a pile of rose petals, if that's what you mean." Murphy merely waited until, just over the lapping of the lake against the hull came, "...but it was close."

A single eyebrow ascended Murphy's forehead and disappeared under her purple colored bangs. "My, my, aren't we the stud?" Elaine's fist shot out and tagged the younger Alaskan in the shoulder. "Ow! Watch it, Exemplar girl!"

"Sorry," the other mumbled, her face bright scarlet from blushing.

Joann sat up and looked around while rubbing her shoulder to take the sting from it. "I wouldn't have thought of you as a boat bimbo, but knowing you now, I'm sure you know everything about this pile of rope and plastic."

"Fiberglass," corrected Nalley, one corner of her mouth up in a smirk. "Mah dad was in the Navy and even after he got out, well let's just say Ah grew up on the water. Picket's Revenge here was one of his many tries to connect with Steve."

"This is a real boat?" the other demanded.

"It's a copy of mah real boat," Elaine elaborated. "Steve wasn't interested so she's mine by default. Let's me get alone time and think things out." She sighed again and stood up. "Ah'm thirsty, ya'll want a beer?"

"Never mind the fact that it's Sunday and neither of us are twenty one, exactly how will you provide beer?" The red head threaded her way through the mast lines aft with the grace of lesser primates and disappeared down the companionway. Murphy's sharp ears heard the dorm fridge she remembered passing on her way out of the little interior of the boat open and close, the clink of glass bottles touching each other and the sigh of pressure being released by a church key.

"By virtue of a simulator that's too exact for it's own good," she replied as she returned and presented a bottle of Sam Adams. "When Ah created the simulation file last summer of Picket's Revenge Ah used the optic-laser camera Dash invented her freshman year."


Elaine nodded as she took a pull off the beer and leaned back against the pulpit rail at the bow of the boat. Murphy had seen enough pinups from her brothers to be more than a little jealous of the shapely curves of her friend and the unconscious sex appeal of the pose she'd affected. "Anyway, Ah used it to make a perfect copy and since there were two six packs on board when Ah took the scan..."

"Every time you call this thing up you get free beer?" demanded Murphy as she choked down the strong, bitter brew. It didn't matter that the beer didn't actually taste good, it was illicit, adult and breaking the rules. That made it ambrosia as far as she was concerned. Elaine only smiled and took another pull off her beer. "That's just sick!"

Elaine shrugged and looked away down the lake again. Joann watched the older girl drink from the bottle and as her face didn't flinch knew that she'd drunk enough beer to acquire a taste for it. Murphy forced her face to relax and let the bitter fluid flow over her tongue and down her throat. It was cold, but the flavor kept it from being refreshing at all and, despite her best effort, her face pinched up at the flavor. "If you don't like beer Ah'll be happy to get you a coke or something," she said with a smirk.

Murphy bit back on her temper. "What are you talking about?" she demanded. "I love beer! I can drink you and two like you under the table!"

"It's your first?" Elaine asked with a smile.

Joanne took another gulp and made a face. "Third," she admitted. "Gawd, how do people drink this?"

"Hold your nose and drink half," the red head instructed. With a dubious glance, Gunnarson pinched her nose shut and tipped the bottle back. It wasn't as bitter with her taste buds restricted, but still wasn't a flavor she'd ever think about desiring. Finally half the bottle was empty and she forced the cold lump down her throat. Looking up, she opened her mouth to demand what that would prove and the world did a lazy circle around her.

"Whoa," she breathed and despite her iron resolve, a giggle escaped her throat. Joanne hadn't giggled for two years and that had been a matter of iron will power.

"Now you know," managed Elaine around her own giggle.

"So, you beat the snot out of him, you did him, and now you're sulking in here," Murphy observed. "Wanna tell me why? Didn't you enjoy it?"

"Oh, Ah could get used to it," Nalley replied. "Hell, who am Ah kidding?"

"He knows how, eh?"

"Girl, he knows more than you're old enough to know about!" she said with a sigh.

Murphy only snorted and forced another drink of beer. She found that it wasn't as bitter as the first sips had been, there were actually a collection of flavors she was only just now starting to suss out from the cacophony of bitter and a very pleasant warm feeling was beginning to spread from her stomach. "So, why are you in here?"

Elaine looked down at her bare feet and back to the tree line of the lake. "Ah'm afraid," she admitted.

"Of what?"

"What he'll say," she said after a long pause. "What he'll do. What if he calls me a whore? What if he just says thanks for a good time, Red, but that's all it was? What if he just pretends he doesn't see me?" she ended in a whisper before her voice was drowned by a long pull from the beer. "In the history of science," she said with a smile that was obviously forced. "Not a single answer to a mystery of the universe has been found in the bottom of a bottle, but it hasn't stopped us from looking...!"

"Don't change the subject," Murphy ordered crossly. "And that's not what you're afraid of! He knows better than to do any of that shit, and with the sole exception of Tansy, from what I've heard every girl he's broken up with says he was such a nice guy about it that they'd probably take him back!"

"And the stories of the many notches in the belt?"

Murphy looked a Elaine with that "you're kidding right?" expression. "The telling story is the one you're not hearing. How many girls, the notches in the belt, are the ones telling the story? You know and I know, if he were to do that to either of us there would be tears and we'd blast him from now to forever."

"Yeah but that's us."

"And every girl under the sun who's ever had a bitch streak Elaine. Go to the source. If a girl's been burned hard, she'll be more than happy to share the hate and you know it. Betcha twenty he hasn't gone all the way with half the ones the stories claim."

Elaine snorted and took another drink. "Right, Ah'm sure he's a paragon of virtue and chivalry."

"You didn't lust after him for a year and a half because he was trying to top Pendragon in the shining armor department," Murphy shot back. She took another drink of the beer and was overcome with a giggle fit. "Man, you have it bad don't you? You're not afraid of him ignoring you or calling you names you want to be his whore, you've had it and you like it and that's what you're afraid of!"

"Hey, Ah'm not any man's whore...!" she shouted, her face flushed with humiliation.

"The hell you're not!" Murphy managed around her giggle fit. "You couldn't tell him no, could you? However he wants it you're up for it!" She went to take another drink and found the bottle to be empty. "It's like a damn porno movie! Hi Kody, Hi Elaine, bow chica bow wow...!"

"Excuse me," interrupted one of the Ants that was the 'father' character. "My family and I don't appreciate this kind of ..." he started before Elaine shouted to the heavens,

"Computer! Remove characters!" The human facade vanished from the robot that joined the crowd of his fellows filing out of the simulator. That handled, Elaine turned to further vent her rage on her friend only to find her snoring on the fore deck. "You don't know anything," she whispered at her sleeping friend. She took the empty bottle from her slack hand and vented her remaining anger on it, flinging it yards away until it vanished with a splash into the waters of the lake. "Ah'm not a whore," she told herself again. "Ah'm not."

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March 19th, 2007
The Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy

"Hello? Earth to Elaine? Anybody home?" Steve chuckled as he waved his hand in front her face. Elaine jerked from the vivid remembrance and scowled at her little brother. "Where were you?" he laughed.

"None of your business," she snapped, more angry with herself for slipping in front of him than him getting a 'point' off her. "Now, have you considered the probability that you will make a fool of yourself, trying to sail a boat you have no idea..."

"I've got that figured!"

Elaine broke off a piece of toast and chewed thoughtfully. "Ah'm all ears...?"

Steve became smug. "Hey, I'm an Exemplar now! And with the BIT, comes the Brain! You give me the nickel tour and with my new perfect memory as far as Marty is concerned I'm Ted Turner!"

"Captain Outrageous," drawled Elaine with a smirk "sank his boat; ten clicks from the finish line."

"You know what I mean, sis!" the younger man shot back. "Come on, you're all but shacked up with Grizzly Adams..."

"Watch it," she growled.

"I don't have to like him," he shot back. "...I just want to...well..."

Elaine rolled her eyes. "You realize there are about five hundred cameras in Arena 99, right? So you wouldn't think of committing an expulsion offense on mah boat on mah cushions where the stain won't ever come out?"


"Ah'll be cleaning the boat after you're done with it," she replied. "With a black light! And if Ah find..."

"Whoa, hey, slow down, can I just get to first base before you bust out the CSI torture?" Elaine flinched causing her brother to lean in closer. "Hey, you alright...?"

"Fine!" she snapped. "Ah'll check when the simulator isn't booked and email you a list of times." She stood and grabbed her purse.

"Hey, aren't you going to finish lunch?"

"Ah'm not hungry," Elaine muttered as she dumped her picked at salad and stalked off towards the stairs. Her brother stared after her for a long moment before he made a decision and took out his cell to dial.

"Hey Mark, Steve," he greeted. "No, the other...Stronghold. Yeah. So, what do you charge for a solid? Cool, yeah, let's get together and I'll tell you who and what I'm looking for."

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March 19th, 2007
Devisor Lab (Vehicle), Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy

Melvin Donner was working as a hall monitor as Dr. Bellows finally found his way to the vehicular lab. He was staring sternly at students moving a bit fast for his liking through his domain, but was other wise relaxed and wearing a smile as the Doctor approached. He even gave a start of recognition as the two faculty members shook hands which brought a smile to Alfred's face. "You weren't kidding, were you, Doc?" the teacher greeted. "Is there a story...?"

"Oh, I could regal you with tales of slighted Wiccans and family curses, but it's actually just a passing resemblance and a wild coincidence," the Doctor replied with a laugh. "Is finding your way around down here part of the same gag they play on the Magi and psychics over in Kirby Hall?"

"Well, I haven't found two signs pointing at each other saying a department is that way, but they do have a logic that once you find it's gets easier and faster," Melvin replied. The final tardy bell rang over an empty tunnel that Melvin checked both directions before gesturing for the psychologist to follow him into his office at the back of the cavernous work space. "Ringo."


"Take roll and then you all get to studying. That's what you're here for. Dr. Bellows and I are going to talk in my office, so I don't have to explain how annoyed I'll be if we're disturbed?"

The slight inventor gulped. "No sir!"

"Good lad," Donner rumbled as he led the way to his office and waved the Doctor into one of the chairs. "Coffee?"

"Yes, thank you," Bellows said as he took in the news clippings and photos that lined the office walls. "You take a very active role with your students?"

"How much do you know about me, Doc?" the big man asked from pouring the coffee into the two best mugs he had.

"As a mild psychic and empath I try to make it a point not to pry into people's lives. Is your history relevant to our conversation?"

Donner presented the mug and heavily lowered himself into the chair next to the Doctor rather than behind his desk. It was a gesture not lost on Alfred that he filed away as he built his impression of the man before him. "I like for people to understand where I'm coming from so they know I'm not just talking from my own prejudices, but from as well meaning and neutral side of myself as I can. So, first off, I'm a red bander, and I've been on the straight and narrow wagon since my conviction in '95."


"So, when I tell you that I'm seeing darkness in someone, you know that I know of which I speak." Dr. Bellows nodded and took a sip of the coffee and found it quite drinkable for coming from a metal can pre-ground. It was working man's coffee, brewed strong for strong men to accomplish great things.

"And you see Darkness in Loophole?"

"I'll warn you she hates that codename," Donner replied with a chuckle. "And before you ask, she didn't pick it, the Headmistress stuck her with it after she argued her way out of a detention her third day on campus."

Alfred chuckled to himself. "Yes, I rather thought she had an interesting rules fixation. So, tell me about the Elaine Nalley you know and how she's different this year?"

Donner got more comfortable in the leather seat, wincing as it creaked and squeaked while he did so and rubbed his chin in thought. "I met Elaine first on paper at the department meeting a week before opening day. We were going over our picks for Guidance Counseling from all the declared Engineering Track freshmen..."

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September 5th, 2005
Langley Paulson's Office, Kane Hall, Whateley Academy

"Welcome to the new year, every body," announced Langley as he entered. "Hopefully everybody had a great summer and anybody need a beverage before we get started?"

Most of Langley's office was taken up by the conference table to facilitate department meetings of this type. As Kane Hall was one of the historic buildings that meant his office on the third floor of Kane Hall took up what were two 'class rooms' in the old school. With the table he actually came out the worst of it space wise, however as was always important in New Hampshire, the extra room meant he had access to one of the buildings multiple fire places. They had long since been converted to natural gas from their original coal burning, but as a nod to those bygone days, the Chair of the Advanced Technologies Department kept a brass coal bucket near the fireplace that held its original brass fire tools.

Despite only being early September there was a merry fire burning in it now fighting off the damp cool that always plagued the historic buildings. Greetings were murmured around the table as the various teachers spread out the folders that had their new student's files in them and got comfortable in their places. "Everybody had a chance to go over the new freshmen?" Langley asked as he got his laptop booted at the head of the table. "Alright, let's go over the potential problems first; starting with Dale Carson. He has some preliminary work with power armor, but he's already diagnosed with Diedricks' Syndrome. If there are no objections, I think I'll take him myself?"

Langley paused for a moment and looked up at his staff for visual cues that perhaps no one was giving voice to. Satisfied, he propped his reading glasses back on his nose and went to the next name. "Shirley Godwin," he read flipping through the pages. "Miss Godwin had some rather severe birth defects that were remedied with prosthetic limbs. That will doubtlessly give her some self esteem issues with the Exemplar girls. Tejal, I know this would normally be up your alley, but Angela, would you mind?"

Ms. Merenis shook her head. "Not all, Langley. I think I'll be able to reach her. Tejal?"

"No objection," the younger woman replied quickly.

Langley slid the folder over to the more senior of the two women ATD teachers. "Alright, that brings us to Elaine Nalley. Miss Nalley is a special case, as her preliminary blood work comes back that she isn't an active Mutant."

"Then why is she coming here?" demanded Bill Pressman from cleaning his glasses.

"She's coming on a Ty West Foundation scholarship," Langley replied with some weight. "As for why, has anyone read this article?" he asked, holding up a copy of Popular Science that was emblazoned with an artist's conception of what the STS-B might look like.

"I think I read their swimsuit issue once," deadpanned Melvin to a spatter of suppressed chuckles and the disdainful glances of both the women in the room.

"I did, of course," replied Angela. "What of it, Langley?"

Paulson opened his briefcase and with drew a sheaf of photocopies and handed them to her. "I received this copy from Dr. Chris Clairmont at NASA."

Angela's flicking through the papers picked up speed. "How much of this did she write?" she demanded, removing a pocket calculator from her jacket and began to feed it numbers using buttons for functions that most people only wonder about.

"All of it," Langley replied. "She only referenced the Popular Science article, so the assumption is that was her only exposure to the engine design."

"But, this alteration of the fusion chamber, the movement of the event horizon in the engine bell..." stammered Angela from her number crunching. "There have to be six separate Ph.Ds on the design committee at Morton-Thiokol..."

"Seven," corrected Langley. "Eight if you count the NASA liaison."

"This girl hasn't started High School!" protested Angela. "Even if she's been exposed to Algebra, the math for the fusion co-efficient alone...!"

Langley nodded solemnly. "And that is why Whateley Academy will be welcoming its first non-active Mutant next week. Guiding her is going to be a challenge, Angela and she's going to have a tough time, especially if she thinks she needs to 'keep up' with the mutants. Are you up to...?"

Melvin sighed and cleared his throat. "Uh, Langley, actually, I'd like to coach her." The room went quiet for a long moment as the big man presented his case. "If you look at her application she's already filled out all the paperwork for transferring a project car here. And, according to this, her father owns an auto shop in Georgia. She's a Gear Head, or I'm a, well, you get the idea. No offense Angela, I'm sure she'll be coming to you and in a number of your space classes, but I think her GC should be someone more, uh, grounded. I'm pretty sure I can reach her Langley."

"Melvin, I appreciate the logic of your thoughts," Paulson replied slowly, "but you know we don't like mixing genders with the Mentors and their students. You have some great insight here, and Tejal being something of a Gear Head herself, perhaps will be a better fit..."

"Dollars to donuts you're probably not 'mixing genders'," Donner replied with a self deprecating chuckle. "If this girl isn't a Tom boy I'll eat my hat. I'm telling you, Langley, she's already got her head in the sky. She's going to be my shop working on that car anyway, let me try to get some double duty out of it. Unless, Angela, you want to start having a little grease under your fingernails?"

"There's a reason I prefer clean rooms, Mel," Merenis replied. She sighed and caught the department head's eyes. "No objection, Langley."

"No objection," echoed Tejal.

Langley nodded. "Alright. Melvin, be careful," he cautioned as he slid the folder to the bigger man across the table. "Moving on, next is Mary Nestle who is twelve feet tall..."

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March 19th, 2007
Room 314, Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

Mark's lip curled in disgust as Steve held up a photo of Elaine. "Dude," protested the older boy as he pushed a lock of blond hair from his eyes. "Your own sister? Why don't you just ask her?"

"You think I haven't?" demanded the youngest Nalley. "You think I haven't been pulling out mah hair worrying about what happened? That mah sister got into trouble and Ah wasn't there to protect her?!"

"Whoa, sorry, didn't realize this was a family honor kinda thing," Psymod quickly replied, holding up his hands in surrender. "What is it with you cornbread and buttermilk types, anyway? I mean, your sis is, what? Seventeen now, and that makes her an adult down south, right?"

Nalley's eyes narrowed and his face flushed. "I'll be generous and pretend I didn't hear you slander me, my sister, and my entire region in one sentence so I don't have to pull the detention for pounding you into Yankee pate."

"Damn generous of you," chuckled Willows, "especially seeing as you're in my room, hitting me up for a favor. A favor, I might add, that is against practically the entire canon of Psychic Ethics and will land me in detention if this gets out."

Steve crossed his thick arms over his chiseled chest. "So, what's your expert services going to set me back?" Psymod cupped his chin in thought. Finally he shrugged.

"Hard to say, really," he said finally. "I mean, getting her locker combination while she's walking to it and thinking about the combo is easy. You're talking about pretty deep memories, memories that she's probably actively repressing, how certain are you something happened?"

Stronghold sighed in remembrance. "Very."

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June 19th, 2006
The Nalley Residence, 2170 Kellogg Creek Rd, Kennesaw, GA

The Nalley home lay at the mouth of Kellogg Creek where it flowed into the Etowah River. The house once had sat on a much larger plot of land thanks to the money Great Grandpa Nalley had made as a bootlegger in the twenties and, later, as the mechanic other bootleggers turned to for the best custom jobs. That had changed in 1949 when Allatoona Dam had been completed, wiping out the small town of Allatoona and creating the Lake that would bear the town's name.

And while the arguably ill-gotten land was mostly underwater the house itself and a goodly yard portion had survived. It was a rambling art deco building too big to be merely a 'house' and too small to be a mansion designed by a local architect who desperately wanted to be Frank Lloyd Wright. The mouth of Kellogg Creek had swollen into a small bay which now allowed for the small dock that held the small collection of boats the family owned. Of course, their father's bass boat, a big metallic fleck blue Bayliner, took the premier position at the end of the dock where it was easiest to launch and recover. Before it, on either side of the dock was the pontoon party barge that their mother had claimed and on the other side of the dock was tied Picket's Revenge.

In the summers past, it wasn't uncommon at all for Steve to see his sister at the dock, usually in the company of the small posse of girls from the neighborhood who thought hanging with a girl who had her own boat was cool. Of course, that was in all the summers previous to this one. It had gotten around the neighborhood like a forest fire that the Nalley girl was a mutant, and even if wasn't technically true it was close enough to the truth that mothers, terrified that the condition might some how be catching had made Elaine a pariah and forbidden any of her old friends to have anything to do with her.

Steve had been on his way to try and link up with his own group of friends, air soft rifle in hand to get in a spot of war gaming, when he'd noticed his sister on the dock. Her arms were gesturing wildly, as if she were in the middle of a heated argument, but she was alone by the little Catalina she adored so much. The youngest Nalley fished his cell phone from his pocket, thinking perhaps she was on the phone and called her new number, but the call went to voice mail after six rings and she'd taken no notice. In fact, the dismounted scope of his rifle showed him her phone was in her purse on the cockpit of the boat, too far for any blu-tooth headset to be in use.

For a moment, Steve considered going down to the dock to tease his sister for her antics. Then she had spun to face the house without seeing him in the trees watching her. Tears were streaming down her face as she stumbled into the boat and went below, her body soundlessly spasiming with wracking sobs. For all his bluster, Stephen Nalley was a son of the South, who held family as one of the highest morals in his life. He could tease his sister; that was a brother's right and sacred duty.

But it was obvious some else had hurt his sister. He didn't know the details that had reduced her to tears and truth be told he didn't care. His grip on the rifle's wooden stock tightened to the point of pain in his fingers. Someone had hurt his sister and that someone would pay, if it was the last thing he ever did.

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March 19th, 2007
Room 314, Twain Cottage, Whateley Academy

"Dude, that's not what you'd call conclusive," protested Psymod. "I mean, maybe you haven't noticed, but the female of the species can be a damned emotional lot...."

Stronghold's eyes narrowed. "You're an only child, Mark. So I can get you don't know what it's like to have a sister, and to know when someone has fucked with her."

"Right, never mind the facts, your mind is made up."

"Somebody here messed with my sister last year!" hissed the younger Nalley. "Now, are you going to help me or not?"

"Sure, hoss, on one condition," the psychic.


"Your word, as a Southern Gentleman that if I find out nothing happened, other than maybe the boy she had such a major crush on didn't know she was alive, you don't do anything. If someone deliberately hurt her, hell, I'll help you teach them some respect, just on general principals, but if it's all in her head, no offense, you promise to let it go. Deal?"

The two shook hands solemnly. "Deal."

"Now, let's talk about payment."

"What happened to those general principals of yours?"

"Revenge is a courtesy service, hoss, but information is never free."

The gauntleted fists crossed over a remarkably manly chest for a young man. "Ok, what do you want?"

"Word around is that you've got a hot date with Marty Penn on Loophole's sail boat, that right?" Stronghold nodded guardedly. "Cool, as luck would have it, there's a sweet little blond over in Dickenson I'd like to make better acquaintance with and a day of sailing might be just the thing to break the proverbial ice. How about you make it a double date?"

"Dude, that's gonna cut into..."

"If you'd rather have Marty to yourself and not find out who dishonored your sister...?"

"Fine," growled Stephen. "Just keep the guest list to you and her."

"My word!"

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March 19th, 2007
Devisor Lab (Vehicle), Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy

"So you were certain that Elaine would be a challenge right from the start?" asked Dr. Bellows as he accepted the warm up of the strong coffee they were drinking. A cloud of conflicting emotions rolled off of Melvin as he put the urn back on the warmer and busied himself with adding cream and sugar.

"You know, Doc, I couldn't tell you why I wanted to mentor Elaine. I mean, sure, I was impressed with all that talk about fusion and crap. But, hell, I've been here long enough to get a little jaded by that. There was just, I dunno, something about her. When I saw her picture and read the file, it was, well, at the risk of sounding pretty corny, it was like looking at the kid I never had."

"I see," Bellows drawled, keeping his eyes on the mountain of a man next to him.

"I mean, I was always a pretty confirmed bachelor, ya know? I got my share of attention from the ladies, and all things considered, working here was way better than rotting in Leavenworth for twenty to forever. It was, I dunno, I've never been one to think about regrets and the road not taken before. But this girl wheeled that wreck into my shop and, damn it Doc, it was like I was looking at my own kid, growing up just as I would have wanted her to. Is that wrong?"

"No, Melvin, a number of teachers identify strongly with certain students. It's generally a hallmark of the best teachers."

He snorted into his coffee. "Somehow I don't think threatening a kid makes me teacher of the year."

"Excuse me?"

The shop teacher's eyes darted around the office and refused to settle on the psychiatrists' gaze. "I told you I was a red bander, right? When I found out that Kodiak had taken advantage of Elaine, well I didn't exactly handle it well."

"What are you telling me, Melvin?"

The big man sighed. "Maybe I should tell you. Maybe I deserve to be in that cell in Leavenworth where I can't hurt anybody else." He finally met the Doctor's eyes and it was all Alfred could do to contain the wave of remorse and guilt that flooded out of the teacher sitting next to him. "Everybody has ears all over the campus if you been here long enough, Doc. I'm sure you got your own clique or network or just 'favorite students' and faculty that slip you info. I found out about Kodiak and Elaine the morning after and I got angry, Doc; more angry than I'd been in a long time. That shaggy man whore had taken advantage of my little girl."

"Melvin, what did you do?"

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January 28, 2007
Cody's Room, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy

Cody woke with a start and realized at once he was alone. The scent of her was heavy throughout the room along with the smell of exertion and the aftermath of sex. He sighed heavily as he sat up, sad in a way he'd never felt before to face a day alone.

He stretched until his back popped scratched absently at the back of his shaggy head. "Did I do something wrong?" he wondered aloud.

Wouldn't be the first time, would it? Kodiak chucked from the back of his mind.

"Shut up," the senior growled at his avatar.

Wait, it was for her wasn't it?

Cody clenched and unclenched his fists. Normally he was more used to the bear's prickly sense of humor, but everything felt different this morning. As he became aware of his body, that other call of Nature made itself known and pulled on a robe before opening the door.

However, he found his way blocked by a mountain of a man, tree trunk arms crossed over a fifty five gallon drum of a chest. Despite himself, Cody took a step back which the giant used to enter his room and shut the door ominously. "Uh, Mr. Donner, right? Autoshop?" he asked.

"Sit," the teacher ordered.

"I, uh, I'd love to, but nature's calling collect just now and..."

The menace in the teacher's face only darkened. "Then piss yourself," he commented dryly. "Right now, you and I are going to have a chat."

"Look, pal..."

"You don't want to go down that road, son," Donner growled. "I've killed better men than you." Cody took a mental step backwards as both he and his avatar looked over the teacher once more, this time with an eye to evaluating a threat.

The teacher was better than double Cody's eighteen years and held himself with the subtle cues experienced fighters looked for in dangerous opponents. If Donner meant to end his life, the resultant battle would be long, difficult and it's outcome uncertain. And while the Kodiak chafed at backing down from a challenge, Wyatt Cody knew when to push, when to push back and when to evaluate the situation further.

He means it, the avatar remarked softly. And yes, he's killed before.

Wyatt looked about for a moment, found an empty two liter bottle of soda and proceeded to fill it. Once the bottle was safely capped once more he turned back to his unwelcome guest and began pulling on a pair of jeans. "What can I do for you, Mr. Donner?"

"You think anything you do on this campus goes without notice?" Donner replied. "That there are any secrets you can keep that we don't know about?"

That hackles on the back of Wyatt's neck rose despite himself. "If you had proof of anything you wouldn't be here, Delarose or one of his stooges would be. That intimidation crap might scare the freshmen, Mr. Donner, not me."

The teacher's face flushed with suppressed rage as he slowly stepped forward and stabbed Wyatt's chest with a thick finger. "Well, here's some crap you can take to the bank, sparky. You don't have privacy here. And if I find out you've hurt her..." He made a fist and held up for the boy's inspection. It was a massive instrument of war; nearly the size of Cody's face and Wyatt was not a small lad. "...You hurt her, and I'll do more than hurt you. She has a future and she deserves better than a two bit school yard punk like you."

"I don't know what kind of shit you've heard about me, but Elaine and I..."

"I'm not interested in your lies, boy, or your fantasies either!" Melvin snarled as he collected a handful of the robe and lifted the tall young man up to eye level with it. "If I thought for a moment you had an ounce of brains, I'd tell you stay away from her, but I know that's not going to happen, so this is all the warning you get, Casanova. Hurt her, break her heart, I fucking dare you and I'll take my time making you regret it. Understand?"

"Yes sir."

The senior was lowered to the ground as gently as he was lifted. "Good boy. You stay a gentleman and we'll just pretend this conversation never happened." Donner spun on his heel, the sudden showing of his back another slap in the face and made his way out.

Life with you is never dull, son

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March 19th, 2007
Devisor Lab (Vehicle), Kane Hall Tunnels, Whateley Academy

"Did you strike Cody, Melvin?"

The big teacher sighed and shook his head. "Naw, but on the way over Doc, I was thinking about hurting him. Bad."

"But you didn't," Alfred assured him. "Perhaps you should discuss this with your department chair. That you recognize what you did was not...acceptable...but still technically inside the preview of a, perhaps, overly stern lecture on rules breaking, isn't for me to discipline you. And if he would like a character witness that feels you're unlikely to follow through on your threats, I'll be happy to serve."

Melvin smiled a lopsided smile. "Thanks."

"My pleasure," Bellows replied as he rose. "And my thanks for the coffee and the information. You've been a great help."

"Doc, is, is she going to be ok?"

Bellows forced a smile to hide his own concerns. "I'm sure everything will turn out well in the end, Melvin. Thanks for your time."

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March 19th, 2007
All Hands of Mercy Rape Crisis Center, New York, NY

"Someone is at the door!"

Maria sighed and forced as much calm as she could into her voice without using her power. "That's the police, Jennifer. You remember I told you they were coming? They're going to take you to the hospital."

The panic in Jennifer's voice returned. "What if they're only dressed as police...?"

Maria cast a quick look around and softly let a little of her power into her tone. "They're real," she whispered, wrapping the panicked woman up in feelings of safety. "I can see on my screen right here they're outside your door."

"They're real," Jennifer breathed softly, a weight of pain and anguish sliding from her mind. "I'm going to be safe..."

"That's right, honey," Maria assured her. "You're going to get over this and you're not going to let this keep you down, are you?"

A hint of steel entered the battered woman's voice. "No, not me. I won't let him beat me!"

"That a girl. Now, let me talk to the officer, for just a second, ok?" There were a series of muffled noises as the door was opened and a pair of caring, female voices identified themselves.

"NYPD Officer Grant, badge number 22487, who am I speaking with?"

"Officer Grant, Maria, Operator 217 All Hands of Mercy Rape Crisis Center. You have charge of the scene?"

"We're ok, Maria. What's the tape numbers for the report?"

"Recordings on tape Alpha31 this date, I am terminating the call with the victim in your custody."

"You guys do great work, Maria. Thanks."

Maria sighed. "It's a job, Officer Grant. Have a good night." The line clicked and went dead while Maria took off her headset and sagged into her chair. The call with Jennifer had been a three hour marathon of a woman with enough emotional baggage to keep a therapist in luxury for years and enough bad luck to be tonight's target of some micro-penis ass hole with delusions of power. As it was, she was nearly an hour and a half past her quitting time, but that didn't matter as much.

The only thing awaiting Maria at home was a reading assignment from her classes at NYU and a cat who probably had better things to do anyway. She gathered her things in silence and tried not to disturb the other girls, working with callers as she left call center and was out on the street once more. She looked up, hoping to see a few stars, but the light pollution of the City washed out the sky in an inky black that matched the wet pavement below.

Finally she began walking to the closest subway terminal on the next block, wondering if she would brave leftovers or dig a bit deeper into her meager savings for Chinese take out when the hackles when up on the back of her neck and she stopped, projecting her power behind her. "You picked the wrong girl to mug, sport" she growled, adding layers of menace and fear to the threat.

She felt the attacker she sensed waiver, then before she could press home her advantage, her blood ran cold and familiar shape stepped out of the darkness in front of her. "Come now, Maria, is that anyway to greet old friends?"

"What do you want, Freya?" she managed, struggling to master the fear that was threatening to overwhelm her. The blonde bombshell in front of her narrowed her eyes in a gesture of malice Maria knew all too well.

"Oh a very, very great deal."

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