TG Universes & Series:
A Whateley Academy Tale
By Joe Gunnarson
Wednesday, December 27, Kilgore Texas
Matt Carter slid out of bed, groggily, trying to come to grips with the daylight outside. He dropped the four feet to the floor from the top bunk of his room, and wandered over to the computer and hit the power button, listening to the fans rev up on the ancient piece of computer hardware. He looked over at the empty lower bunk, meticulously made up by their mother.
Matt never touched the bunk, he refused to acknowledge the meaning of it being made up as though the owner was merely out elsewhere. Mom and Dad were deluding themselves if they thought Ryan was coming back. He hadn’t been spirited away, or possessed by the devil, like they tried to convince themselves of. Ryan had turned into a mutant and they, along with the help from Pastor Ferris had tried to kill Ryan in their delusion that the devil had taken their son and left a demon in his place.
He took the time to wander into the bathroom and clean himself up before getting dressed and turning his attention to the computer monitor. He began his weekly routine of checking the darkweb site that had been pulling data from the MCO databases for years. Hackers around the world were into those databases both to protect and likely hunt mutants. Matt had found traces of data that leaned towards this database being a deliberate leak by the MCO for use by people hostile to mutants.
He knew it was a forlorn hope, because the odds were that his twin would never have gone the legal route, registering for an MID. He’d have been too afraid of his own family catching up to him. Hopefully the Admin password Matt had gotten hold of that actually allowed access to name searches rather than blind MID codenames would last until Ryan popped up. One of the site admins thought he was clever, unfortunately even a script kiddie like Matt had been able to cull the access.
He had to wonder if that was deliberate.
Carter, Ryan was the name he plugged into the database, blindly hoping that his brother might have been picked up, just so that he could find him. The hits were in order of relevance, and there were only three.
Carter, Jamal. “Psyscream”
Carter, Amanda. “Nadir”
Carter, Sandra. “Diamondback” (File sealed, Juvenile subject)
None of the names matched, and Matt sighed and shut off the machine the family allowed him to use for the ‘net. He looked over at the lavish supply of Christmas presents he’d piled in a corner of the room, mostly unused. With Ryan gone, the Carter extended family had pretty much doubled up on all the goodies they gave to the remaining, “pure” son.
He was slowly getting used to being alone, but with Ryan gone, and Crazy Joe Turner off to some fancy school for the disabled Matt’s count of people to talk to was pretty slim. He could go find the rest of the “brat pack” crew they all hung out with, but he was forced to admit that it had mostly been Joe who kept the unruly mob of troublemakers going. Without that needless element of caffeinated chaos, the brat pack was slowly edging into the other cliques around the school.
Matt wandered downstairs to discover that mom and dad were gone, off to work and some asinine PTA meeting where they were debating banning mutants who used any powers inside public school property. Sounded like an easy excuse to exclude them from public education to him. Mom was a huge fan; he was less enthusiastic since his brother was one of those “demon-possessed” monsters.
It had been his fault that Ryan had been found out and then hunted by the lynch mob Pastor Ferris had cobbled together in a few short moments. He’d been asleep when Ryan had shaken him awake, and the first thing he’d opened to were a pair of glacial blue eyes with creepy reptilian slits. It wasn’t human-looking and in the seconds it took him to process that it had been his brother he’d screamed holy hell, startled out of his mind. The rest was history, and now he couldn’t find his brother.
He wandered downstairs and clicked on the TV, sliding into the recliner his dad normally co-opted and paged through the digital recorder to find the G4 recording he’d pulled on the sly every week. Herowatch on G4 was quite frankly a ridiculous show, paparazzi following “up and coming” heroes as they crashed the gates of infamy giving silly reality show interviews and glitzy coverage of a bunch of (mostly) idiots who couldn’t tie their own shoelaces, much less make a difference in the world. The exceptions were few and far between. The upshot was that the announcer, Mira Connell was a stunner.
Tonight on Herowatch, a stunning three-way fight in Darwin, Australia erupted scant few nights after the Rager’s night march on December 23rd. Join us as we follow the new super team called Outback Fury as they move to thwart the Supervillain known as SkyHammer-One, only to have both sides assaulted by an unknown group being dubbed “Crowd Control” by the locals here.
Mutant tracking shows had become Matt’s obsession since Ryan had disappeared; trying to catch a glimpse of that familiar face that would tell him his brother was alive and well. He watched impassively as a series of scenes played showing some of the upcoming drama. A clear shot of something that looked like a spiked dinosaur leaping off a roof, then cut to a woman in bright blue spandex firing energy bolts at what could only be the villain, a man in a power harness hovering above the street, bristling with guns.
The young woman with shiny black hair and the cobalt-blue, metallic tattoos was intriguing, and he smirked at the short image of some kind of azure fire erupting from her hands as she looked at the camera. “Get that *BEEP*ing camera out of my face you damn *BEEP*wit!”
Matt chuckled at the image, so rare in the Herowatch world as costumed dorks hammed it up for the camera. Another scene showed some kind of snake person slithering into a crowd, and the bystanders breaking and running from it. The shot of a Power Armor suit standing against the “hero” team bedecked in white and red crosses, holding some kind of octagonal shield looked awesome. The Armor rather resembled some stylized angelic knight until the flashing lightbar and ambulance siren sounded from it.
He settled in and watched the “special episode” from beginning to end, oddly intrigued by the unusually good spectacle. The Camera crew followed the nascent superteam, Outback Fury from their staging point on the outskirts of Darwin to follow the “Hot tip” that something was going to go down, downtown. The group of four barely-grown and graduated teens consisted of “Tazman” a speedster with claws and a harelip that only his mother could love, “Dreamtime,” a skinny blonde girl who would have been an ethereal beauty if her snotty attitude didn’t shine forth and ruin it. The team Science hero was called “Ayer,” and he spent more time dickering with his widgets than paying attention to the camera and interview.
The capper, however, was the leader of the bunch. “Crocodile Commander” was a buxom young brunette with far too much enthusiasm and not nearly enough common sense. Matt idly noted that she was hot to trot in that black leather outfit that hugged her curves. Sadly, she also suffered from the attention-fiend impulse so many other people on the show had.
The fight in the Darwin shopping districts was pretty standard-fare, although Matt was kind of surprised Crocodile Commander was allowed to use an endangered species in a supers fight. The bad guy was some jackoff in a flying power suit acting like he was king of the world while his minions swarmed around the heroes.
Then it got interesting. The G4 crew played an emergency band transmission. “These morons are putting too many civilians at risk!” The quality of the recording left much to be desired. “This is Jericho and I am requesting permission to put these idiots down, hard.” The Emergency band response was short. ”Jericho which side are you intending to put down?” “All of them!”
He got permission. Then Matt was treated to a rare sight of one of the oh-so-rare “freak squads” his dad liked to rant and rave about. A beautiful girl with reflective black hair and cobalt-blue tattoos, what looked like a spined velociraptor only bigger and scarier, a girl who looked like a humanoid snake flinging arcane bolts and a power armor suit decked in white with red crosses and ambulance lightbars abruptly started tearing across the screen, stomping hero, villain and minion alike with willful abandon.
Matt clicked off the screen and deleted the recording after the mayhem had finished. The Outback Fury and their supervillain opponent had all been beaten into submission surprisingly rapidly, something that made Matt wonder who the hell the newcomers were, and why they refused to talk to the cameras.
He wandered upstairs, grabbed his backpack and the odd pendant he’d received on the winter solstice from a very odd woman and left the house, tying it around his neck on the way out. He still couldn’t figure out why the Sidhe had chosen to attend the winter solstice celebration, and why she had chosen him to carry the pendant. He knew enough about them that he was wildly suspicious of her motives.
* * *
“No, lady, Matt will not be joining in the actual festivities for a couple years yet.” Bannon had looked at the lithe woman with her oddly beautiful, fine features and pointed ears. Her eyes had been absolutely strange, an almost blue-grey marble-color that reminded Matt of stone more than anything else. The silvery hair falling to her waist completed the picture of the ethereal beauty.
“Humans, nowadays, you have such odd rules of propriety. No matter, if he will not be joining us then I would like to speak to him before we begin.”
Bannon had wandered off, leaving Matt with the woman, and he was wildly curious what the hell one of the aloof and often erratic creatures had wanted with him. He didn’t say anything as the others in the coven wandered off for the skyclad ritual, leaving underage kids like Matt to head home and pretend to be good little Christians for mommy and daddy.
“So you are Matt, not what I was expecting, but you’ll do.”
“Umm, do what?” Matt really wasn’t comfortable about standing in front of one of the mercurial elves all by himself.
“That remains the question.” She dipped her hand in a pocket, and drew out a pendant with what appeared to be a solid garnet the size of a knuckle with some beadwork on a leather thong. “This, is all that remains of a great creature from a time long before man walked upright, fully. She waits for one to allow her to finally rest. I believe that you are the one.”
“Why would you think that?”
“I have a bit of the sight, dear boy, and I have seen your face before.”
I took the thong and looked back at her. “What’s the catch?”
“What makes you say that?”
“You’re Sidhe, and regardless of what the more trusting think, there’s always a catch.”
“Smart boy.” She smiled. “On my word, and by my soul I’ll not be extracting the price from you in this. The pendant and fate itself will call for that in themselves. It is both a gift, and a burden, but one I believe you would be more than willing to pay to do the right thing. If you choose to do nothing, then she shall await another time.”
Matt nodded as the woman stood and began walking toward the ritual area. “Tell your sister I said hello, her tattooed friend as well.”
“What’s your name?”
“Wait, I don’t have a…” he stopped as he watched the sidhe woman blithely strip her clothing as she walked away, jaw hanging for a few minutes before he continued, …”sister.”
* * *
It was a taste of freedom, roaring along on the off-road motorcycle his parents had allowed him to have. Subconsciously he figured it was either parental guilt over Ryan, or they were rewarding him for not being a freak. Either way it left a sour taste in his mouth. He opened the throttle and cruised out to one of the nearby lakes, having left a note saying he was going camping with the Turner family. He hadn’t told them that the Turners had gone away for Christmas, a lie mom would undoubtedly figure out in a little while, but he needed space.
It was cold, but at least it wasn’t raining again, something Matt was thankful for as he pulled out the tent and camping gear from the makeshift saddlebags he’d rigged up for the bike. The only oddity he’d seen was a man decked in full marine dress blues standing at a grave at the cemetery alone. It was a quiet day, and he found himself wondering what he was exactly thinking when he’d left.
The campfire he set was well-contained, a legacy of his time in the boy scouts. Technically he was supposed to meet the troop later that night, but he found it very hard to muster the urge to want to go anymore. He shucked his jacket and hung it on a tree nearby, sitting to watch the flames from his spot on the dirt.
He sat there for hours, simply taking in the peace and quiet, and he could almost imagine his brother sitting nearby, joking with him when the first drops of rain hit him. The heat of the fire, the chill of falling water combined with the cool air blowing in from the north, the feel of the earth below, and the smell of the woods around him found him almost in a trance as the conflicting sensations entered his mind, and he sat unmoving until he opened his eyes again.
Matt’s eyes snapped open and he looked around for the source of the voice he’d just heard. Except for the falling rain, all was silent. “Please, help me.”
“Hello? Who’s there?” Matt was getting somewhat freaked. The other voice sounded inhuman, otherworldly.
The voice was silent for a moment. “I’m here, with you.”
Matt looked around and then blinked. His hand slid up and found the garnet pendant around his neck. As he did he could feel excitement radiating, from where he couldn’t tell. He let his hand fall and it was all he could do not to get carried away in the waves of crushing disappointment.
He remembered the words of the Sidhe woman, about the pendant being all that remained of a great creature. “Who are you?”
“I can’t remember. It’s been so long I don’t even remember if I had a name.” It was bizarre, finding himself translating alien feelings and impressions, as well as odd images in his head to words.
“Why are you waiting to speak to me until now?”
The voice came, the pain writ large in its tones. “I can only speak to someone being affected by all of the elements of the courts.”
“The Five-Fold Court, mortal, surely you have heard of them.”
Matt caught himself shaking his head, then said aloud, “No, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“No matter. The courts are dead and gone. The last person I spoke to said as much.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I believe I still remembered my name, my purpose. It was far too long ago. I have been trapped in this thing for too long, stripped of power, deprived of even my purpose.”
“What do you want from me?” Matt was suddenly very terrified for his very existence, as some powerful thing trapped in an object had been fodder for legend and story the world over. Possessions had been the norm, and never once did he hear a real old legend where the person being taken had kept a part of themselves enough to recover.
“What I want mortal…” Matt braced himself against the fear,”...is to die. I want peace, to not be trapped in limbo and feel nothing. I wish to join my sisters.”
* * *
Matt cut his camping trip short before sundown, and drove home. He wasn’t exactly feeling very centered after the conversation with the thing in the stone around his neck. He especially didn’t know if he was all good with the idea of being used as the vessel for someone’s death, even someone who was nothing more than a voice in a chunk of rock.
He pulled the bike into the garage and unloaded the camping gear to dry in the garage, taking his shoes off before trudging into the house. Caroline Carter was in the kitchen, getting the stuff prepped for dinner when he poked his head in. She wouldn’t begin actually cooking until he or Dad got in to help her cook. The Carter family was big on sharing the responsibilities around the house, and since he’d gotten home first, Matt was nominated.
“Hey honey, I thought you were going camping.” She smiled at her son.
“Forgot the Turners were out of town, Mom. They’re all on vacation in Australia right now.” He pulled himself up to the counter and began the odious task of chopping onions.
“Have you talked to Joe lately?”
Matt shook his head. “No, apparently the private school only allows calls every now and again, so he’s been calling home. Mama T says he’s doing well, and they actually have a mechanical instructor that has Joe fixing stuff even though he can’t see.”
Mom nodded slightly at her son, considering. “Dad and I were thinking, Matthew, we’d like to take a cruise this summer, just the family. Get away from Texas for a few months, see some sights and get a clean outlook for this year.”
Matt grunted unenthusiastically in response.
Mom gave a worried look. “Don’t worry Matt, we’ll find him.”
Him, they’ll find him... Matt dearly hoped not, and just the sheer, stupid blindness that his mother allowed herself set his teeth on edge. He dropped the onions he was cutting and drove the knife tip into the cutting board, walking away. “Ryan’s not coming back.” Not if he wants to keep breathing he won’t at least.
Mrs. Carter watched her son storm off. Losing a son had been hard on the family, and it pained her to watch her remaining child withdraw further from everyone who cared about him. She didn’t want to lose another boy. Losing the first to that sick, mutant imposter had been quite enough. Ryan had been such a good boy, and that thing had taken him from her.
Matt slammed the door as he went into his room, all thought of bothering to eat, or interact with anyone, gone. He vaulted to his bed and reached under a shelf, pulling out a baseball that he, Ryan and Joe had played ball with for years. The ancient baseball’s stitching was coming loose in places, just like my life.
Matt had been living in fear since the day Ryan’s eyes had changed. He knew the numbers, knew the score. Ryan’s change had prompted him to do some research. Twin changes were almost never one-offs when it came to mutant manifestations. In the last fifty years, only two sets of identical twins showed one manifesting while the other did not. Nine times out of ten the second child manifested within a year. Usually they manifested together.
He loved his parents dearly, but he couldn’t forgive what they had done to his brother, knowing their reaction was going to be the same to him was pure torture. A genetic accident was all that it would take to turn his loving and adoring parents into the worst kind of terror. He was just marking time until his inevitable manifestation of what his parents and their church considered a gateway of damnation. He had half a mind to grab his dad’s varmint rifle and go shoot that sick fuck pastor that convinced his parents that they had done right in calling the lynch mob.
The feeling never lasted. Pastor Ferris had scared the hell out of Matt and Ryan both since they were kids. The other factor was the mere thought of ending someone’s life left him feeling cold, unclean. Video games was one thing but the thought of actually killing someone, of taking a life, just didn’t sit right at all.
When he got tired of tossing the ball up and down aimlessly, he rolled back off his bed and wandered into his closet. He pulled out a small room fan and set it up to get the air moving in the room. A potted plant brought in by his mother sat next to the candle he lit as he pressed his finger to the dirt in the pot and breathed in the scent of the odd, ivy-like plant.
“You’re back. We just stopped talking.”
Matt began muttering, figuring correctly that the thing in the rock could probably hear his thoughts as clearly as he heard its. “It’s been a couple hours. Sorry for the abrupt exit, but I’m not sure how cool I am with the whole helping someone die thing.”
“Why not? Death is part of the natural cycle.”
“Accepting death as necessary and actually causing it are two different things for me.”
“So you will not help me?”
“I never said that, but I have to know why you would do this.”
“Too many years trapped in this cursed rock. Too many millennia of nothing but silence and my own thoughts. You cannot imagine what bliss it is to feel your mortal mind touching mine by comparison to watching my own thoughts spiral into madness then claw back out when there is no further depth to which they can sink, then have the cycle repeat itself for an eternity.”
Matt shuddered. “So what happened to you? Why are you trapped here?”
“I do not fully know how to explain.” Matt felt a probing, the feeling of something shuffling around in his mind, bringing thoughts to the surface and discarding them back to where they came from. “You do not have the knowledge to fully understand, but I will attempt to explain. One of the great weapons of those who would destroy what should be was a means of cheating death, be it natural or not. A way of binding one’s consciousness to an object so that the mind, and part of the soul carrying personality, memory, knowledge and a trace of their power would be preserved. They would be traps to the unwary, subsuming a host and taking a new form with each incarnation.”
Matt suddenly felt less sure about the wisdom of holding the pendant.
“I see you are smarter than most of your kind. Yes, it is a danger, and were you like the others I would not have had much to say in the matter. I would have simply subsumed you and taken your body, regardless of how either of us felt about it the instant you touched the stone were you not different, Matthew.”
“So I’m already a mutant?”
The nameless voice flashed images of confusion, as it rifled through his memories again, searching for a context. “Mutant? Is that what you call racial progression? Such a vulgar and hateful way of finding expression for a natural process. Why is it that when something new arises from within, the ones who see themselves being replaced fail to realize that with time, their descendants will be elevated to the same level?”
“That’s what happens when you’re faced with death as inevitability. No one likes the thought that they will be somehow obsolete.” Matt shrugged, “so many people try to find ways to avoid it, for fear that they will no longer exist.”
“Surely your sorcerers and sages educate society properly? Death is but another leg of the journey.”
“Journey to what?”
“… I cannot remember. I know I should, but I cannot.”
“Then you have all the answers we do. The not knowing for sure absolutely terrifies us, but in the end, I know too many people in their twilight years who are almost relieved to know that the end will come soon.”
“Then think of me as one in her twilight years, child. The only difference is I cannot pass on naturally.”
“How did you wind up inside the stone?”
“By force and trickery. The stone was used to rob my body and power of guiding force, whereupon the rest of me was obliterated, my mind cast adrift in this prison. I can’t remember why, or how. I simply remember great pain, then nothing but my thoughts echoing into the void.”
“No need to apologize for something you never had a part of, mortal.”< The voice gave a thoughtful pause. “Although I daresay I owe you an apology. It’s been so long since I forgot my own name that I failed to ask you your own.”
The boy cocked his head, curiously. “I’m Matthew Carter.”
“Very well MatthewCarter, I suppose you may call me whatever you wish.”
Matt smiled. “Just call me Matt for now please.”
A knock sounded at the door. “Matt, dinner time.” His father’s voice came through loud and clear.”
Matt cursed under his breath. “I have to go. I need to deal with my parents for a bit. No escaping it.”
“Is dealing with your family really so onerous?”
“I’ll explain later.” Matt turned to the door as he withdrew his fingers from the potted soil and blew out the candle. “I’ll be right down, Dad. I need to wash up.”
Matt cleaned up the mess, hiding the candle in his stash, putting the plant back where it normally hung. He went out and cleaned himself up, moving himself along to go deal with his folks. As he considered what to do he realized that it wasn’t his parents he disliked. It was inevitability that was ruining things for him, the inevitable knowledge that were he to show any sign of being a mutant, his parents would no longer recognize him as their own.
* * *
Saturday December 31, 2006, Kilgore Texas
Matt made his decision four days later. He didn’t sneak out in the dead of night, skulking away like a thief, hoping no one would notice him climbing out a window. He waited until his parents were out grocery shopping and simply loaded his backpack and camping gear onto his motorcycle and went out. He did it often enough that none of the neighbors would question his actions anyway, and the varmint rifle was quite frankly no big deal. The big deal was the six hundred dollars Matt lifted from his father’s safe in his parents’ room.
“Why are you leaving your home?”
Matt almost spilled out as the voice spoke in his head without the ritualistic combining elements. “I thought you couldn’t talk without the element stuff.”
“It appears you speaking to me is forging more of a connection. In any case, I’m glad to be able to speak to you without having to wait for you to find a clear time to do so.”
“Yeah, well could you give me a small warning before you decide to chatter at me? While I’m driving the motorbike is about the most dangerous damn time for surprises.”
“My apologies. I did not realize.”
“No harm, no foul.” Matt cut a corner and hit a dirt road. “Just bear in mind, I’m not exactly invulnerable.”
“A situation I intend to partially rectify if you help me.” The voice seemed hopeful. “May I ask your plan?”
“I’m going to find my brother somehow. I mailed a letter to the Turners explaining why I left.”
“Who are the Turners?”
Matt shrugged unconsciously. “My best friend’s family.”
“What do you mean by partially rectify?”
“I’ll explain when you stop moving at such a dangerous speed and have better control of your transport device.”
“We’re almost there.”
Matt pulled the dirtbike into the campsite he called his place, and settled in with the camping gear. It took an hour to get the campfire going but it all came together. His time in the Boy Scouts was serving him well.
“What, you read minds too?”
“I can hear your thoughts. They’re loud.”
“Wonderful. Why are we forming a connection?”
“You are unique. Your body has an astral ‘pocket’ for lack of a better word, which would allow a normal spirit to nestle in and drink deep of the essence your little hollow would provide. I cannot take that route.”
“What’s that mean for me?”
“It would mean the spirit gains a home, and you would gain access to a measure of its power.”
“And why can’t you do that?”
“Partially because I’m bound to that rock around your neck, but mostly if I tried to it would very likely kill you outright. I’d much rather that you be the sole survivor of this arrangement.”
“Again I mention my problem with the whole assisted suicide thing.”
“I cannot die, young one, not in the way you know it. Because of the nature of my prison when I am released temporarily I will subsume the host, unless some things are done that would allow my host to subsume me.”
“Now I’m really weirded out with the idea.”
“It is not true death, Matt. Not true oblivion, but it is close enough for my purposes. For all intents and purposes I would become another part of your spirit, my thoughts would become yours, my desires would be little more than a human adolescent’s. In other words, yours. I will be you, and neither of us need suffer the memories of my incarceration ever again. And no fragmented memories of faces long dead.”
Matt sighed. “Will this help me find my brother?”
“I have been promised that much, yes. One thing I remember from so long ago. I would find my peace, and the one who succeeds me will carry my power and find that which was lost.”
“Carry your power?”
“You will understand better if you agree to perform this ritual and allow me my peace. I swear by my power, my soul, and the wrath of my mother that I shall never attempt to control you, subsume you or take away your life or free will. However, I cannot promise not to change you so that you can survive this, nor can I promise there will be no side-effects that I may be unable to forsee.”
Matt nodded. “I’m already no longer human, am I?”
“Whatever gave you that foolish idea? Of course you are still human. You always will likely BE human unless you become more of your own accord. As it stands child, you are simply a different type of human, one with altered potential. The sooner your people stop trying to kill each other because they’re afraid of their own children growing beyond them the better for them.”
Matt chuckled mildly. “Now if only everyone else had such a clear picture.”
“Hindsight, child, is always clearer than foresight”
“Very well, how do we do this?”
It took hours. The preparations for what the voice demanded were exacting, and differed from anything he knew of ritual, wildly. Oddly, the pentacle used by Wiccans was still there, though he was confused by the addition of Wood to the closing of a circle, and replacing spirit with earth. The spirit had only chuckled and made a cryptic comment about how humans were so very close to some very basic truths, and yet so very far. She had him re-draw the circle six times before she was satisfied with his efforts, directing him to place a rock at the central point, a smoldering branch to the south, a berry branch to the west, and leaving the North empty, as the air was already there. Water poured into the eastern point, where she had directed him to excavate a small bowl for the water to pool and soak in, completed the odd formation.
“So what do we do now?”
“Normally there are witnesses, ritual games, and feasts, but I think we shall be fine. Traditions can only carry so far when none alive remember them. This is actually fairly simple, Matt, kneel in the pentacle in the center, facing the point of earth, and recite the supplication I told you then strike the pendant between two rocks. Normally it is required to be word for word, but again, we don’t have the time to dedicate to rehearsal and really, there is no point. This is you, not a dead court of Gods, heroes and beasts. You are the only one who matters here and now.”
Matt carefully stepped into the circle, carrying a piece of stone in his hand as he carefully took a knee, as though in supplication, laying the pendant on the rock at the earth point. As he spoke haltingly the voice was silent, the words of supplication, renewal and succession left his mouth but never touched his ears as the sound seemed to literally be carried away by the wind itself, drowned into the water, breathed in by the wood, consumed by the fire and absorbed by the very earth itself. Even as each word slipped from his mouth it was as though a hand reached forward and caressed his mind hearing the words there as well as by his voice.
“So let it be.” This voice wasn’t the one in the pendant, and he wasn’t sure he heard it as he brought the stone down upon the pendant. The garnet that made the stone didn’t shatter as he had expected, but cracked, and a streamer of something, energy or smoke he could not tell, reached out towards his face and then lashed out like a viper, entering his nose and mouth as he inhaled.
His body burned, but it was not pain. He could feel the spirit exultantly sliding back and forth in his mind, shuffling through his memories, picking and discarding images from therein. It was looking at the images of the many Gods worshipped by man. Once it was done and the burning intensity reached its crescendo, Matt heard the once-trapped voice in his mind for the last time.
“Let this be done.”
Matt’s body felt like it was erupting as the spirit, demon or whatever it was unleashed itself upon his body and mind. It didn’t hurt, but Matt found himself screaming at the sheer intensity of the sensations ripping through him that he had no reference in his mind to understand. When it all became too much for him to take, Matt blacked out. His last thought was that he’d fouled up and unleashed one of those demons that his parents had been so terrified of mutants being. He thought he was going to die.
* * *
Matt woke up slowly, feeling groggy, tingly and generally confused. As he clutched his head to stop the memory of the bizarre sensations he’d just experienced he also received a shock as multiple hands began patting around his body, which felt strange. The second shock was realizing that the extra hands felt like they were his! His eyes snapped open, looking square into the eyes of the silver-haired Sidhe woman who’d given him the pendant on the Solstice.
“I was right about you Matt, I knew you would do the right thing.” She was actually smirking, knowingly, in the fashion that most people would readily claim made them want to play punt-an-elf.
Matt was wide-eyed as he took stock of himself, propping himself up on not two, but six hands. He stood up quickly and everything felt off, somehow, and as he took stock he felt the panic rising. There was no way in hell he could ever go within a mile of home as he was. “What the hell happened to me?”
The Sidhe woman shrugged. “I told you, the pendant would extract its own price.”
“But this?” Matt was wide-eyed and horrified at the new “him.”
“I have no control over the creature imprisoned in that stone. Quite honestly I’m surprised she didn’t make you look even grander, more obvious. The Earthen Court was always rather ostentatious like that.”
Matt didn’t know what to say to that.
“In any case, child, there are benefits. Your body had to change so you could survive holding the prisoner’s remaining power, so she could become one with you and end her nightmare. That power may only be a pale fraction of what she used to be capable of, but I daresay it is likely to make you a formidable force, thusly bringing you that much closer to surviving this world long enough to find your lost sibling.”
Matt looked incredulously at his, or rather her, new form. At least he thought the form was female, save for some very mixed signals he was getting from certain areas. “I don’t know how to deal with this…” her voice sounded very small and unsure, with more than a little wide-eyed panic thrown into the mix.
“I’m afraid that is not my problem now my dear, I’ve completed my task and am now free of that particular onus. What you do from here is up to you.”
“Oh come now child, do you really think I’d be out here on some mission of mercy without being forced or having been paid to do so? Really now, and I thought you were one of the smarter ones.”
Matt’s normally thoughtful mode evaporated as she realized that she’d been used. She should have been expecting it, but she’d lost sight of it somewhere. “So all of this, my old life is over and that’s the best I get? Good luck and have fun looking like a freak-out looking for a place to happen?”
"Look at it this way, Matt, you pulled the sword from the stone, now you're the rightful born queen of... whatever. Me, I have a long overdue appointment with a locale far more befitting one of my means and powers."
Ah, there’s the aloof, uncaring, capricious Faerie from all the stories. Matt’s mind was in overdrive as she considered the crap she was going to go through because of this snotty elven bitch. “Cute, so you’re going to leave me here, like this, after I help you discharge a service?”
“How I fixed the problem was up to me, and as I said before, I have a bit of the sight, and your destiny was intertwined here.”
Matt wasn’t even aware she’d done anything when three of the trees abruptly cracked, splintered and hit the ground, hard. “I think I helped you at my expense, now you get to help me in exchanged. Regardless of whether I was unknowing, I did you a service, and you owe me.”
The elfin woman actually smiled as the trees fell. “Oh this is an utter delight! Not only do you try to intimidate me but you claim payment where none was offered! So cute!”
“Sidhe have rules, even when dealing with mortals. Even when you do a favor for us, payment is always demanded and taken regardless. I did a service for you, and I’m asking you nicely to fulfill the debt incurred.”
“And if I do not?”
“You’re the one with future sight, you tell me.” Matt had no intention of doing anything to a freaking Faerie of any stripe. However, debts owed were debts owed, no matter how much she would wiggle to get Matt to admit to no debt and skip away laughing at her folly.
“Very well, you’re beginning to bore me. So my dear, what service would you demand of me.”
“Same thing I wanted from the beginning.” Matt looked her in the eyes. “I want to see my brother again.”
The Sidhe grinned and narrowed her eyes at him. “So many, many possibilities to see what you have already seen. Very well. Travel to the fort-city, and find a knight of red on blue with silver shield riding upon a steel horse. When you find this man your choice is five-fold. Two paths lead to death, One path leads to failure, one path leads to servitude, and one path leads to your dear, sweet sibling. So ask yourself Matt of the Carter Clan. Will you talk? Will you flee? Will you hide? Will you be silent? Or will you simply walk away?”
“Damned cryptic riddles.”
“Aye but the riddle be the best you get from me. My onus discharged again at such feeble cost! Surely you mortals can do better than this.”
“This mortal carries pig-iron in her camping supplies. Get the hell away from me and don’t come back.”
“Gladly oh Lady of Earth. And should you encounter your…” she chuckled… “brother again, please give my best to the Queen to Come.”
“Another favor?” Matt unconsciously crossed all of her new limbs over her abdomen and breasts, giving her a skeptical look. “And what payment do you offer for this service as well?”
“Tell the Knights to save the people.” She turned and walked away gracefully, almost gliding across the ground as she parted with that cryptic piece of non-clue. "Also, tell your friends the succession ritual. They'll need to know how to do it. Soon."
“I’m really starting to dislike the Fae.” Matt got a disgusted look and again tilted herself to view her new body, moving the arms out of the way for a clearer look. “Well fuck me. How the hell am I gonna explain this to Ryan when I find him?”
She looked over at the three fallen trees, which had seemed to keel over of their own accord, suddenly too heavy for their trunks. “What the hell did that thing do to me?”
Matt took stock of her situation carefully, beginning with her new form. She dimly noted the reddish brown curls of hair that had been the hallmark of the Carter Brothers now fell past her shoulders, ending somewhere low along the back. Her torso was very much feminine, sliding along the immature curves of a teenage girl just beginning to hit the stage of life cursed with the name puberty. She had breasts, but they weren’t exactly huge, she had hips, though they didn’t seem as “Spread out” as her mother’s yet. Slender legs ending in delicate feet ended the parity to a normal girl.
The arms were eerie, felt strange and normal at the same time. Each one was slender, delicate, feminine with a hint of muscle toning and her hands followed the normal, girlish pattern. The three pairs were set down along her ribcage, each pair of shoulders beneath the one above it, complete with shoulder blades that were somehow connected to the ribs when Matt reached back to feel. The oddest thing was the lack of distress. Each of the arms moved like she’d been born practicing with them all her life. She shouldn’t have been able to maintain any level of fine control on an additional limb.
For that matter she should have been freaking out. More than anything else, that thought unnerved Matt in ways indescribable to other people. If she was so comfortable with her new form, it meant that the spirit had changed her more than just in body. She wondered what else the odd creature had done with her mind while she was passed out. She couldn’t feel anything different.
It was when she realized that none of her clothing had been removed or ruined that she finally took stock. Her jeans hugged her hips just as the shirt tried to cling to her new breasts like a second skin. The fabric of the shirt seemed to have extended, with sleeves for her new appendages coming out naturally.
When Matt finally dug up the resolve to check and confirm her new gender, she received a shock. Yes she had a girl’s parts, and all of the odd, unfamiliar sensations that came with it. She also still had what boys oft called “their little buddy” hanging just forward of the odd opening in her body. Matt remembered the images the imprisoned spirit had plucked from his mind, images of divinity. The arms were common enough, especially in mythologies such as Hindu, but the other change was rather common as well. Many old cultures never differentiated gender in their gods, and in many cases they were considered to be hermaphroditic.
Matt was left somewhat at a loss to figure out just how much more obnoxiously, arrogantly ostentatious the spirit could have chosen to be with her new body, despite what the whimsical Sidhe might have said. In any case, Matt rapidly figured out that she needed to get the hell out of the Kilgore area while the getting was good. If Pastor Ferris caught a hint of her now, it’d be all over but the hanging.
* * *
Dawn came on the eve of the new year, as light-falling footsteps fell silently amongst the fallen trees. The Sidhe woman smiled and watched, unseen at the tail-lights of the once-boy’s motorcycle tore away from the campground, seeking a highway heading west. The silver-haired woman looked at the signs of Matt’s passing and closed her eyes. There were no words spoken, no odd gestures, merely a twitch of her will. When her eyes opened no one would ever find the signs of the child’s time here. No pentacle, no tire tracks, no fallen trees, not even the remains of a carefully tended fire. Not even a DNA trace would be found.
Another piece in the puzzle began falling and she was relatively certain that the boy would find his way as her skin began to brown, flaking away as dead, brown leaves in the morning wind, carried along to parts random, to settle on the ground and renew the earth. As more leaves slid away into the night air, twigs, burrs and dirt began falling away as she walked deeper into the copse of trees.
When the last of her fell away, nothing more than dead plant matter given life, the dream that was Kalrys ended and another began elsewhere.
* * *
January 1st, 2007, Outskirts of Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Texas
Officer Thomas Knight of the Texas Highway Patrol felt tense, uneasy. Something was off about this day, ever since the APB from Kilgore came across the horn. Apparently one of the local boys had gone missing, along with his motorcycle, a street-legal dirt-jumper. The word passed along was that the family in question had lost another son earlier in the year to a mutant with blue, slitted eyes like a cat, or some lizards. That the second boy had gone missing on the eve of the new year was doubly worrying.
Knight adjusted his helmet, watching the road, trying to concentrate on doing something constructive when he saw the motocross dirtbike scream down the highway towards Dallas. The shock of red-brown hair coming out from under the black helmet didn’t match the picture of the boy, nor did the lithe female frame occupying the bike.
Knight kick-started his own motorcycle and pulled out behind, slowly approaching the odd rider from behind, trying to get a look at the back license plate. “Dispatch this is unit 113, following possible match on dirtbike matching the APB out of Kilgore, license plate number to follow.”
He rattled off the plate number and waited a few seconds. “Unit 113 license plate confirmed, that’s the bike. Make the stop and detain the rider for a black and white to pick ‘em up.”
It was all Knight needed to know. He flashed the light bar on his bike and sounded the siren, and saw the rider of the motorcycle look at her mirror then look back over her shoulder at him. He could almost hear the rider cussing and wondered what would happen. He was very pleasantly surprised when the motorcycle clicked on the turn signal and he followed the machine in an easy turn-off, coming to a stop behind the rider, who visibly turned off the engine and threw down the kickstand, hands still on the handlebars, making no aggressive or threatening moves.
“Dispatch, this is 113, suspect is stopped at the Belt Line turn-off, appears to be unresisting.”
“10-4 113, proceed with caution.”
As officer Knight stepped off his bike he watched for any sign of the suspect rabbiting as he got close. It was rather surprising to see that he’d been right about the female rider, although her dark blue jacket was bunched up oddly around her stomach. “Miss, please step off the motorcycle and remove your helmet.”
The girl nodded, and he noted that she seemed to be shaking as she stepped away from the motorcycle, and removing the off-road helmet from her head. The wild mane of hair that was loosed was that red-brown color. Again, she seemed to be shaking as she dropped the helmet to the side, still facing away as he stepped to about eight feet away.
“Miss, please turn around, keeping your hands to your sides.”
When he did get a look at her the first thing he thought was “teenage girl,” just young enough to be his own daughter. She had that awkward but beautiful face and build that promised to become something more in a few short years. He also saw her eyes. Glacier blue irises with reptilian slits stared back at him, and rather abruptly Thomas Knight’s asshole puckered so tight that he wouldn’t be able to shit for a week as he realized she was a mutant, and her eyes matched the description of the ones that had kidnapped the Carter boy earlier that year. His hand went to the holster of his pistol as he turned sideways so she couldn’t get a full view of what he was doing.
The girl’s eyes went wide, like a deer in headlights as she realized what he was doing. She didn’t look like some killer mutant, but a scared child. Knight had to remind himself that even children could be killers.
“Get on the ground, face-down with your hands on top of your…” he stopped as a crash sounded behind him as he snapped his head around to see his motorcycle fall over and hit the ground. There was a whining screech of tortured metal and cracking asphalt as the bike abruptly compressed itself into the ground, warping and deforming like an elephant had just sat its fat ass down on top of it.
“…head?” He looked back at the girl to see she was no longer standing, but scrambling onto her face, clutching her hands to the back of her head.
As he moved closer, gun out, he could hear the girl, panic in her voice chanting “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again, shaking.
Officer Knight looked at her for any sign of weapons, although she’d just unintentionally declared live and in stereo that she hardly needed them. As he looked at her, he saw movement inside her jacket, low around her belly.
“What’s that inside your jacket?” He decided to forgo the preliminaries. “Take it off and show me what you have in there.”
Knight was absolutely stunned when the jacket seemed to come unzipped on its own and four more hands slid out along the pavement. “Please don’t shoot me.” The girl was crying.
“Dispatch this is 113, suspect is a mutant, my motorcycle is toast, and I don’t have enough handcuffs to take this one into custody properly.”
* * *
Matt was shaking, nearly uncontrollably, in the back of the heavily reinforced cage of the powder-blue MCO van. It took exactly four minutes for her to break all three of the pairs of handcuffs, and the van jerked wildly as the driver tried to control the vehicle while she huddled, shaking, across the back seat. She’d seen enough “where is my child” websites on the internet while trying to catch a glimpse of anything related to Ryan and more than a few horror stories while researching mutants in general.
She was desperately afraid that the MCO agents were going to kill her. The motorcycle cop was riding in the front of the cage, staring at her while she was quietly wishing she’d run away from him. He had a worried look and the two agents driving the vehicle maintained a calm façade that scared the hell out of her as the officer had read her the Miranda rights, arresting her for the disappearance of one Ryan Carter over six months prior.
Officer Knight looked over at the agents. “Do mutants always panic and start shivering in the back seat?”
The agent riding shotgun, a blonde woman with shoulder length hair shrugged. “Sometimes they do, mostly kids who’ve heard too many Gestapo stories about us.”
“Anything I can do to calm her down?” Knight was rather worried that the girl might panic and accidentally kill all three of them. What he knew about mutants could have filled a thimble and still left room for someone’s fingertip.
The driver looked back. “No, not much. Hopefully she’ll stop freaking out once we get her to the interrogation room. There’s really no help for it until they see that we’re not actually going to put a bullet in them.”
At the mention of bullets Matt felt the van lurch again, almost going off the road. “I’m sorry!” Her voice was panicked, not wanting to give the cops an excuse.
“Christ she’s going to get us killed.”
The woman looked back at the cop. “Doubt it. Yeah, this is worse than usual, but most kids who’ve just manifested don’t actually kill anyone unless they intend to, completely lose it and panic, or are ragers. She’s showing all the signs of rapid-burst power spikes, and I think she’s more afraid of doing us harm than anything.”
“How can you tell?”
“She didn’t rip your head off when you pulled her over.”
Knight shook his head. “No, I mean how can you tell she just manifested? We’ve been looking for a mutant with her eye description for six or seven months now.”
“And I know at least four in the Dallas area with similar eyes who were never near Kilgore.”
Knight blinked. “You serious?”
The driver nodded. “Yeah, quite frankly eyes going weird is pretty much the most common type of early warning you get. Now the fact that she was on the boy’s bike means either yes, she did do something to the Carter boy, or…”
Knight caught on. “Or she’s the Carter boy. Can that happen?”
The woman nodded. “It’s rare as hell, but it happens. See? There you go, she’s stopped shaking and is actually listening to us now.”
Matt was actually pressed up against the cage, listening to every word, absolutely fascinated. She didn’t realize she was twisting up the metal her fingers were pressed through. The two MCO agents seemed to take this as par for the course. As she looked at the officer, who was staring at her nervously, she noted the silver shield and the name tag that read “Knight.” Knight of red on blue with silver shield riding upon a steel horse. Of course, the cryptic statement had to be literal. She also remembered the comment about five courses, and their consequences. All in all, she was desperately hoping that she could talk her way out of getting turned into a grease smear, or incarcerated at Thunder Mountain.
The blonde agent looked back at her, “Ah, I see you’re a bit more rational now. Care to talk a bit?”
“I guess. Sorry about your motorcycle. I’m still not sure what that was.” She gave Knight an apologetic look.
“So you are accepting responsibility for the motorcycle?”
“I dunno. I don’t even know for sure what happened to it, much less if I’m not losing my mind.” Matt was a bit frustrated.
The agent nodded. “Hey look, you’re calm, the van’s stopped lurching, we may be able to get this done quickly. Could you take your fingers out of the cage grille please? You’re a bit stronger than you look and I’d rather we were able to keep this ride on a civil level.”
Matt looked at the parts of the cage she was mangling with her grip on six limbs. “Sorry.” She withdrew her hands from the metal cage.
“Thank you. We’re five minutes out from the office. We will ask you a few questions and see what we can learn. If I’m right, then we’ll probably need to call your parents and have them here for the interview because I doubt you’re over eighteen.” The blonde agent was all business.
Matt quailed. Having her parents see her like this was the last thing she wanted. The van lurched.
“Woah, what’s the matter kid?” Knight saw Matt’s terrified look, and started talking to calm her down.
“I don’t want them to let the pastor kill me like he tried with Ryan.” Matt’s voice was very small, terrified.
Knight looked over at the two agents as they asked what she said. “She says there might be a bigger problem with this case than we thought.”
* * *
January 1, 2007, MCO Dallas/Fort Worth office
The interrogation room was bare save for a table, three chairs and a cup of water which she’d already drank and one mirror which she knew would have MCO agents watching her every move. She fidgeted with her new limbs, trying to not be too nervous, although she had to force herself to not mess with the table much. She’d managed to bend it downward, dangerously, before she realized that she was a lot stronger than she should be. Fixing it without doing more damage had occupied a lot of concentration and cussing quietly to herself.
After what seemed like forever to her mind, the two agents who had driven her to the MCO branch office walked in with a third man who carried another chair along with his briefcase. The blonde looked at her appraisingly.
“My name is Agent Cassandra Tyler, this is my partner, Agent Will Howes.” She pointed to the well-groomed man with a shock of red hair that had driven the van. “And this is Agent Colin Davis from the FBI missing persons division. He will be conducting this interview and evaluation, per Federal law pertaining to potential kidnappings.”
Matt waved weakly. “Hi.”
Agents Tyler and Davis sat across from the fearful child while Agent Howes stood by the one-way mirror that Matt knew from all the cops shows had a recording station and people watching. He was looking at a cellphone as the other two moved into position.
Agent tyler pulled her hair behind her ears as she and the FBI agent opened the folders. “Now young lady, for the record would you please state your name?”
Matt sat there, mouth open, running down ideas as her brain basically froze. The sudden paranoia over giving a boy’s name, rattling her for a moment, fought down the idea that being considered gay was somehow worse than being arrested for her own kidnapping. Her shoulders slumped as she dropped her head between two hands while the other four hands fidgeted nervously in her lap. “Matthew Carter.”
Agent Davis of the FBI closed his folder. “She’s all yours.” The FBI agent dismissed Sandra’s claim and stood to get up as the agent standing in the back’s phone beeped, and he read the text message. “If she’s not going to cooperate with us I’ll leave her to you. Tell me if you get a lead on where she dumped the twins.”
Matt was watching with horrified disbelief as the FBI agent was stopped at the door by Agent Tyler’s Partner.
“Sit down Davis, Boost just confirmed, girl’s legit. Either she’s the missing kid or someone figured out how to imprint her with his identity.”
“Psychics don’t prove anything in court, and I thought it was…”
Tyler snapped over her shoulder. “Davis shut up. For the last freaking time, whomever this department hires on as a Shepherd is none of your damned business. Boost says she’s legit, I’ll take her word for now.”
Davis shrugged. “If she’s legit, then there’s no FBI case here, and I’m overloaded. So if you get the whole skinny, and there’s an FBI case to be had, call me. Otherwise, you’re the MCO. Do your MCO thing.”
“I still hate him you know.” Howes flipped the chair around and leaned forward on the backrest while Tyler made a few notes. He took in the terrified expression on Matt’s face and shook his head. “Hey kid, can you calm down a bit? Just take a few deep breaths, full ones. You’re not under arrest, and contrary to the propaganda, there have been no disappearing children with the Dallas MCO. I want you to put that firmly in your head now.”
Tyler chuckled as Matt tried to calm down, taking the deep breaths, realizing that she felt lighter as the slightly-heavier-than-normal gravity in the room was gently returning to normal. “We don’t do things here the same as places like New York. There’s a few branches like us, and if you tell us your story and it lines up, we’ll talk about why you ran away.”
“Do… Do you actually have a psychic watching me?” Matt looked at the mirror, squinting, even though it didn’t help her see past her own reflection. That reflection was rather creepy, in a very special way, because it took Matthew several moments to register that the reflection was not the one she was born with.
“Boost? Yeah, we do. We only use her for preliminaries to figure out if we’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“Can I at least have her in here? It’s kinda creepy having someone reading your mind when you can’t see them.”
“Depends kid, you find it creepier to have someone behind the mirror? Or would you prefer combat power armor?” The man closed the cell phone. “Sorry, kid. We don’t let non-MCO personnel see the faces of our Shepherds. Too many other mutants would cheerily kill all of them for selling out to the enemy.”
“Oh.” Matthew was actually at a loss for what to say. “I don’t suppose it would help if I said I won’t tell anyone about her?”
“Actually, no, I’m sorry…” His words were interrupted as the door opened and a brunette woman with short-cropped hair in a bob stepped in, interrupting his train of thought.
“Actually, it would.” The woman said. “Young lady if Boost reveals herself will you promise not to reveal her identity to anyone not in the Mutant Commission Office of Dallas and Fort Worth? If you’re willing She also promises not to invade your personal life more than it takes to confirm or refute your story.” Both of the seated agents looked at the woman like she had a trout coming from her forehead.
Matthew very carefully stopped. Everything she was, everything she could do, every possibility of her life seemed poised on her answer to this one thing. The question throbbed in her mind as she dimly nodded and the woman held out a hand. As Matthew took the hand in agreement, everything washed into the statement as the word “Done,” Instinctively slipped from her lips. Matt didn’t know how, and didn’t know why, but she knew that the one called Boost’s identity would never travel beyond her lips, ever, even under torture. It was a terrifying thought.
“Boost what the hell was that?” Agent Tyler looked at the other woman like she’d gone mad.
Boost looked at the agents. “I was just confirming that the dashingly terrified princess here fits a rather rare type of mutant. She won’t tell anyone who I am, because she can’t. Making that promise wrote that deal into her soul, as it were. For her breaking it’s likely impossible, and if I broke it, I’d be in for a very bad day.”
“More of your magic meets psychics claptrap?” Howes grinned at her like he was used to needling her.
“Well, yeah! And if even an uneducated lout like you can figure that out, then we’re off to a good start.”
Matt covered her mouth, the odd banter doing more to put her at ease than anything else, even through the bizarre creep factor. Even so, “She’s right. I dunno what she did… But she’s right. I don’t think I can tell anyone.” She seemed bizarrely bemused.
Agent Tyler blinked. “Mage or Avatar effect?”
Boost grinned and sat down. “I’m guessing Avatar, the assimilated avatar rather than both because for all Matthew here’s thoughts are very much those of a normal teenager, they express themselves in rather alien ways. She’s changed quite a bit, haven’t you?”
Matt processed the information. It seemed to jive somewhat with what the thing in the pendant had told her, but she wasn’t sure. “Changed, yeah. Uhh what’s an Avatar?”
“Avatars are weird.” Agent Howe leaned back, gripping the backrest of the chair as he did so. “I’m not sure how much of it I buy into but it’s pretty much considered scientific fact by now. Avatars are basically people who can safely contain spirits without being eaten from the inside. Call it a metaphysical pocket. But as often as not, avatar and spirit tend to merge after a time together. Each takes on traits of the other until they’re indistinguishable.”
Matt blinked. “Yeah, I heard that as something else. But it fits with what seems to have happened.”
Tyler nodded slowly. “Well, what we’re looking at here is a criminal investigation. Tell you what happens. If you tell us everything that happened, to Boost’s satisfaction that you aren’t trying to lie to us, and you give us something we can look into and confirm, then we will pass on the whole jail cell routing for now, and maybe try to help you sort yourself out, process you for an MID card, and send you home.”
Matt’s eyes went wide, and panic at the thought of having to face her parents set in rapidly. Boost howled something as the three MCO agents ducked from the room as the mirror shattered inward, parts of the wall and ceiling tore from their moorings to join with chair and table, compressing into a large ball of miscellanea in front of the terrified girl. Even though the manifestation ended as abruptly as it started, the three agents took their time before they came back into the room, rather bruised, along with a good number of people who had been abruptly slammed into walls with desks, shelves, coffeemakers, all in the direction of the interrogation rooms, briefly pulled to the epicenter of what an ignorant science nerd might have called a black hole.
* * *
MCO recording tapes, subject: Carter, Matthew. January 1, 2007
Agent Tyler: Are you ok?
Carter: Yes. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.
Tyler: We’re aware, but it also means we need to get you power classed fast and into someplace you can train not to accidentally hurt someone.
Tyler: Alright… Matthew. I need you to tell me what is going on, to the best of your understanding. Wherever it begins.
Carter: That’s over a year ago when my brother manifested as a mutant.
Tyler: If that’s what it takes, then we can start there.
Carter: You don’t really sound surprised.
Tyler: Wish I could tell you why that is, but for now… what happened please?
Carter: Is Boost listening in?
Tyler: Right in the next room, in fact, kid. Don’t worry she can “hear” you rather clearly.
Carter: All right, but this really sucks. No one ever believed me, and I’m not sure I believe all of it.
Tyler: Just give us what you got, Kid. I can’t tell you to give more than you know, not if I want any results.
* * *
January 2, 2007. Dallas/Ft. Worth Mutant Commission Office.
Matthew woke up on a cot in the office room she’d been assigned to for the evening. The previous day had been filled with recorded Questioning, over and over about the same things as the agents followed procedure, even though Boost confirmed that the new “girl” was telling the truth as she understood it. That didn’t leave a whole lot left but endless repetition, and finally blessed sleep as she was allowed to pass out in the Shepherd’s office.
It was an odd title for a mutant in MCO employ, in fact Matt had never considered the idea of a mutant working for the MCO as a serious one. But apparently the MCO had mutant personnel who felt that there was, in fact a need for MCO agents with powers to help curb the excesses of the others with power. It also made them targeted by mutants in the know as traitors and sellouts.
She looked around and saw a fast-food bag on the desk with a post-it note with her name on it. She took the hint and savaged the contained breakfast burritos and sausage biscuits with gusto. As she did, looking around told her the story of the place she was in. For all the expectation of uniform hangars with MCO dropships, powder-blue armor and the screams of mutants languishing in the Gestapo prison the place was like any other office building. Well, any Government office building with the requisite mandatory photos of the directors, motivational posters and ooh-rah crap one expected among Texas households of veteran soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
Finishing her breakfast quickly she darted to the bathroom, not paying very close attention to which one as she used the sink to clean herself up a bit, washing the grime of the day off carefully. She looked at herself in the mirror again, and brought her arms up, touching each finger with her thumb on first her upper, then middle and finally lower hands. Her level of control was impossible, and she knew it. She should have been fumbling around with her new limbs the same way she fumbled around with the crushing power that had destroyed a police motorcycle, and one of the interrogation rooms.
Her reflection brought a distinct level of unease, looking at the female face, the pretty, curly-haired girl with the odd eyes stared back. It didn’t feel wrong, the way she was now, and the face of a stranger seemed impossibly normal. She was as comfortable, bizarrely, with her new anatomy. Even the budding teenage breasts of a fifteen year old girl didn’t seem odd except when she compared it to the face of Matthew Carter. The thoughts of her old body actually brought a feeling of creeping unease, of wrongness.
She turned away, and shuddered, heading over to the standing urinal to do her business. The changes to her body she could cope with, but the thought that her mind had been altered on a fundamental level scared her. In fact, the only real comfort of familiarity she could find was not having to sit down to take a piss.
She came back to the office and put the cot away in a standing closet that had been moved in. She’d gotten the impression that more than one of the MCO agents had pulled all-nighters before. Here and there, bleary-eyed faces were nursing cups of coffee, and more than one of the agents in the office had hairstyles that bespoke of pillows being their primary hairdresser. Most of them looked up at her as she exited the office, but didn’t really give her much thought. She got a very “I’ve seen weirder” vibe off of them.
A blonde man who looked military came into the area of cubicles. “Yo, latest dispatches from the Main Branch for your perusal boss.”
Another woman, this one with jet black hair and a Japanese cast to her face looked over. “SSDD?”
The blonde man nodded. “The usual procedural edicts and policy changes.”
“Anything legal under US law?”
The man shook his head.
The Japanese woman shrugged. “Round file ‘em then.”
The distinct sound of a paper shredder revving up sounded off as Matt simply stared at the unlikely scene. This was not anything she’d imagined she’d find in an MCO office. She expected a lot more “Death to Mutants” propaganda and posters of the type the more hardcore members of Humanity First! would hang all over areas of town.
“Carter.” Matt turned her head back to the Japanese woman, who crooked a finger and entered her office.
She followed, somewhat bemused, sitting down in a chair across the woman’s desk.
“I’m Director Kuni Sommers, the person in charge of this departmental district for the Mutant Commission Office. You look a bit confused.” On second glance Matt realized the woman was probably pushing into her fifties. A well-maintained and attractive Fifty at that.
“This…” Matt didn’t exactly know how to say it politely, “is nothing like I expected an MCO office to be like.”
The woman smiled with a bit of understanding. “And you likely won’t find another MCO office like it north of the bible belt either.” She smirked at Matthew’s quizzical expression. “Basically when the MCO gained its charter in the U.S. several southern states, Texas included were deeply concerned with exertion of yet more federal controls, and in this case, International controls on laws and enforcement.”
Matt nodded. “My dad talks about that kind of stuff all the time. Always saying taxes are illegal and such.”
The woman nodded. “We’ll save that argument for elsewhere though. But in this case while the MCO and their lobbyists were pushing for entry Texas, Georgia, Kansas, and the Carolinas all passed laws forbidding foreign-controlled Law enforcement agencies from appointing non-residents of the states as directors for their offices, as well as Locking out hiring people from known hate groups, and restricting actual agent-enforcement personnel to state residents hired locally. They also made it a mandate that all management personnel be drawn from local and federal Law enforcement.”
Matt looked bemused. She had never even thought of such a thing, much less heard of it. “So basically, you’re saying the MCO branches in all the major bible belt cities are…”
“Drawn from actual locals, which has its good and bad points, but mostly makes sure I don’t have some United Nations oversight puke breathing down my neck in any way that matters.” The woman finished with a smile. “So relax a bit. I can’t say all my agents are the type to like mutants, but I can say they’re professionals first. To the best of our knowledge, you have not committed a crime, but we’re in a quandary due to what you’re telling us about yourself and your brother.”
“So, Matthew, I have to ask you. Do you honestly believe your life would be in danger were we to send you back to Kilgore?”
Matthew nodded. “They tried to lynch Ryan. Literally, all of them. Pastor Ferris led the group to do it. Dad went with, Mom stayed behind to watch me.”
“Matt, what you’re describing is attempted murder, child abuse, neglect and a few other things. If we investigate this, you’re very likely to end up in foster care after we get enough evidence to turn over to Child-Protective Services and the Texas Rangers, since as you said, a couple deputies were a part of the posse you speak of.”
“So you can’t arrest them?”
The MCO director shook her head. “Unless there’s some sort of unnatural influence causing people to turn on their children, then no. It’s cleanly outside the mandate of the Mutant Commission Office. We can have a look, but at some point it has to go to State Law.”
Matt nodded, sighing, both relieved and apprehensive.
“However, the upshot of all of this is, you’ve more or less shed some light on a quiet legal battle that this office has been involved in for the past eight months or so.” She turned and put a file that had been opened on her desk into a cabinet. “I can’t go into details, because of some truly obnoxious lawyers banging down the doors of Child Protective Services. I can’t tell you where Ryan is, legally, but I’ll ignore parts of the bullshit and tell you that your brother’s alive, and according to our records hasn’t been thrown in jail.”
Matt’s eyes went wide, and she felt tears begin to collect. She didn’t know what to say, because there quite bluntly was no reason beyond kindness that she could see for someone like an MCO director to tell her any such thing. She didn’t know whether to thank the woman or hug her. When she saw the glass full of pens float off the desk she opted for a third option, taking a few deep breaths and setting the cup back on the desk. One of the pens stubbornly stayed aloft, floating like a picture of things drifting in the space shuttle despite her best efforts to get herself completely calm.
The director cocked her head. “Well that’s unexpected. Come on, young lady, Boost should be getting back with our shepherd team shortly. She wants to talk to you.”
“I’m sorry about banging your people around yesterday.”
The director looked at her calmly, as though trying to puzzle this girl out in her mind. “You didn’t kill anyone, or do anything more than bruise people, and wound some prides. My objective is to make sure it stays that way.”
“So what’s going on with me?” Matt was more than a little antsy. “Every time I get scared something breaks, collapses, tries to run off the road…”
“Believe it or not, you’re fairly normal for a mutant. If I were joining the office pool, I’d peg you for a combination Gravity Warper and Brick.”
“Brick?” Mat gave her a quizzical look. “I know what a brick is, but I haven’t exactly tried to move anything heavy.”
Director Sommers chuckled. “You left handprints in the interrogation table, a very common sign that one is an exemplar or PK brick.”
A few moments later, Matt saw three of the powder-blue body armor suits walking in a wild-eyed man who was vibrating so fast that the concrete was cracking as he stepped. He was muttering “please stop” over and over again.
“Shaky, you didn’t hurt anyone this time?” Kuni Somers asked quietly but clearly.
“Nonononono, but can’t make it stop. Won’t stop…” the man muttered as he was led away with a distinct lack of handcuffs or being prodded by the armored suits.
“Shaky Jake, one of our local homeless.” She looked back at Matt. “Vibrates at such a high intensity he damages things around him. Started out epileptic, and when he has a seizure this happens. Sad thing is he’s more scared of hurting anyone than he is what it might do to him.”
“Ouch. So what happens to him?” Mat watched the vibrating man leave a small path of destruction to the lockup areas.
“We put him in a brick containment cell for a day or two, till he stops vibrating, then we turn him loose. He’s harmless except purely by accident, and his friends all call us to get him under control so he doesn’t hurt himself.”
“I get the feeling I’m one of the lucky ones.”
“Mutant traits aren’t always kind to the host. We had one girl pass through here to a safe place that was being eaten alive from the inside by the toxins her own blood was generating. It was very touch and go, and from my understanding the transit was a long one.”
Matt shuddered slightly. “So what do I do for now?”
“For now, you’re a ward of the state,” the brunette woman walking up behind them said rather abruptly, causing Matt to jump very nearly out of her skin.
“Don’t do that!” the exasperated teenager rasped out after she calmed down.
“No gravity event,” the director said drily. “We might be able to take you out in public yet.”
The director found a pair of blue, reptilian eyes pointed right at her with a dry expression that matched her own tone.
“So glad to see the MCO using the responsible approach of triggering panic attacks in teenagers.” Matt gave the comment with a tone as dry as a desert in July.
“Oh please, you’re just jealous you didn't think of it first,” Boost remarked calmly.
“I can neither confirm, nor deny that I would have deliberately spooked you given the chance.”
“For now I’m releasing you into Drea’s care here,” Kuni said. “You’re going to get powers-tested then you two need to sort out more than one set of clothing that fits. Then to be sure, we’ll be packing you along to wherever we need to get you safe from this pastor and the influence he has on your family.”
“Okay.” Matt considered, “Will I get to see Ryan again?”
“If I can get the ducks to fall in a row, absolutely.” Boost put a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “But for now, we need to get you settled out on a path that might take you there.”
“Why are you being so cryptic?”
“It’s part of my nature, and partly because your brother’s circumstances are as unique as yours.”
“And here I was thinking that the stupid Sidhe was the last one who’d play ‘riddle me this, Batman’ with me.”
Director Somers gave Matt a horrified look. “And let you walk away thinking the MCO was reasonable and friendly? Are you mad?”
Matt shook her head and followed the MCO Shepherd into the Powers Testing area of the building.
* * *
Anomaly’s MID card was glossy and warm to the touch, and bespoke a terrifying potential to Matthew Carter. The Mutant’s Power Set was Exemplar 2, Warper 4g, PK 4, Esper 1. She was able to lift about four tons and could manipulate gravity with incredibly fine control.
And she could fly.
The hard plastic showed a young woman’s face staring out under a mop of curly, reddish-brown hair with a pair of blue slitted eyes that looked guiltily familiar. Matt looked over at Boost, curious. “So what’s all this mean?”
“It means you’re a rather nasty customer, or an amazing utility person. I’ve seen Gravity Warpers who can make as much or more than container ship crane operators and telekinetics who can lift multi-ton loads. You’ve got a very bright future ahead of you if you decide to capitalize on your abilities.”
“So what do the numbers mean?”
“Usually it denotes power scale. Exemplar two means you’ll be able to enjoy a long, healthy life in excellent, but normal, physical condition. Adult Exemplar-fives can bench press a ton or more. Esper is because you seem to be sensitive to certain phenomena involving gravity, and the PK rating goes up as strength goes up.”
“So I’m what, super-warper?”
Boost shook her head. “Warper ratings are based on how many dimensions are trackable being altered, for you, space, gravity which brings time, even if at a immeasurable level and you appear to be drawing off of another dimensional aspect we don’t see often. The G means you are a gravity-focused Warper. Even Warper 1’s can be incredibly powerful within that dimension, but 1’s are rare. Usually warpers affect multiple planes of reality simultaneously, so the rating is more of a scientific tag than a power-level, though the two usually correlate.”
“Meaning you could probably have done a lot more damage to everything around you if you were the type of person who enjoyed wrecking things for fun.”
Matt screwed her face up at the thought. “Pass, I’ll leave that to the retards who think that public endangerment is a spectator sport.”
“I knew there was a reason I liked you.” Boost smiled a bit. “Just as a fair warning, I do read surface thoughts, whether I want to or not.”
“Figured, most telepaths I read about on the net seem to feel that being around people is a headache and a half because of that.”
“You’re not so bad, honestly, easier to tune out. That’s another reason why you’re an Esper, your thoughts aren’t at all patterned to human norm anymore, it’s like another language I kinda know but have to think about to decipher. it’s rather refreshing.”
“Just let me know if I start speaking in tongues and my eyes start bleeding or something.”
“Ew, morbid much?”
“Too much time listening to a certain Pastor and his ‘mutants-are-demons’ monologues.”
“Sounds like a real charmer.” She led Matthew out of the powers-testing area and handed her the jacket she’d used to conceal her extra arms. “While we’re moving out, have you thought of a new name? As little as I care, most people will give weird looks to girls named Matthew.”
“Monica, probably. Mom would have named us Monica and Sandra if we’d been born girls.”
“How do you stay calm talking about her like that? I know you love her dearly.”
“I cried myself dry a year ago when Ryan ran. I knew it was coming, I knew it would happen, the odds of a twin not manifesting within a year of the other are so small that they aren’t worth wasting the breath on. I was counting the days till I had to run.” She did bite back tears this time. “My folks can’t even acknowledge that Ryan was their son, not some demon who kidnapped their child, and it was my fault because I had a panic attack when I saw Ryan’s eyes. The scream had them come running.”
“You can’t blame yourself for that.” Drea shook her head. “What happened to Ryan would have been inevitable given the changes he went through.”
“Let’s say your brother wound up catching the GSD bug much, much worse than you did.”
“You ever meet Ryan?”
She shook her head at the prying teenager as they got in a nondescript, blue, VW beetle. “Ryan was lucky enough to have local help from friends who sheltered him during the events that happened. Apparently Ryan threw one of his attackers into a moving box truck.”
“So I’d heard.”
“So. Clothing. I know of a mutant-friendly place where there’s not going to be hairy eyeballs pointed at you for the arms, and they have a selection of things more the speed of your generation.”
Matt said nothing, just watching, and didn’t realize that Drea was speaking until the finger tapped her shoulder. “Earth to Monica. You might want to put the jacket on.”
“Moni… Oh shit, right.” The newly-minted “Monica” scrambled to get the jacket on, folding her extra arms under her breasts. “I need to get used to answering to a new name, don’t I?”
“Easy enough for me, I can use auto-hypnosis on myself to imprint the name to your face.”
“Can you do that to me?”
“Maybe if I could figure out how to casually navigate that M.C. Escher space you call a mind I could.”
“Hey! I’m not impossible! I’m festively warped.” Monica grinned.
“Pull your arms in tighter, you look like you have six breasts.”
“And now I want a baggier coat.”
“That would just make you look fat.”
“Better than if I look like I have more tits than most animals!”
“You say that now…”
The petty, and amusingly distracting, bickering continued until they pulled up in front of a nondescript storefront. A simple sign reading “Fabricator’s Lab” hung above the blacked-out windows and nothing else.
“Why do I feel like i’m about to step into a mad science lab from a movie set?” Monica shuffled in her coat, quietly reciting the mantra “my name is Monica, my name is Monica” over and over in her head.
Fabricator’s was rather like any other clothing store, if normal clothing stores included body armor, utility harnesses, GPS suites that could be worn, and more. She sat there for a little too long, staring at the various neat things.
“Monica, what’s up?” Boost used her new name to reinforce the change, quietly.
“Oh my buddy Crazy Joe would have loved this place. He’s a total tech-head, he was our best friend back home until he went to some fancy school out in New Hampshire.”
“Yeah, he had a knack for engineering, but he was going blind, completely blind. His folks got him enrolled in a private school that would make it so his eyes turning white and becoming worthless wouldn’t ruin his chances at a good life. I miss him.”
Drea said nothing, and let Monica try to decipher the slight, mysterious, Mona Lisa smirk she wore for a few moments before the shopkeeper came out from a back room, dropping several sets of folded clothing in their proper places without really seeming to care where things belonged.
He was big, scary, had horns, claws and scales all over his body to match the sinuous, reptilian tail weaving behind him. Demonic wasn’t the word Monica would have used to describe the man, Draconic was.
He noticed them, but far from being sheepish about his looks, he stumped right up to Boost and gave her a hug. “Heya Andrea. Good to see you.”
“Drea, Daryl, please.”
“I like your name.”
“Just like you hate yours?”
“Just because Mom had good taste with you doesn’t mean she matched for me.” He looked down, unconsciously looming over the young woman who suddenly felt very small, and his voice rumbled like an earthquake riding in the wake of an avalanche. “New kid to the Mutant world? Careful kid, your eyes are about to pop out.”
“Sorry,” Monica stammered out as she force-averted her gaze. “I’ve never seen…” She found herself at a loss to describe what she was seeing politely. “...a humanoid dragon before.”
“Huh. I must be losing my touch, most people call me a demon. Although you made ‘ol Steamer happy.”
“Daryl here is an Avatar, he has a draconic spirit inside him, one too big for his Hallow, the side-effect of that being my brother now looks an awful lot like him. The two of them communicate, unlike most Avatar/Spirit pairings.”
“Yeah, and now he’s rambling something about an ‘earth Court,’ whatever the hell that means. Dunno, but girlie there’s similar, she’s just merged with hers.”
“How did you…” Monica looked at him quizzically.
“Dunno, one of my tricks, the old grump claimed to be a Herald, so it’s his business to know who he’s addressing or something. So every so often he’ll recognize someone as having been important in his day and age, which I’m still betting was the mesozoic era, and have to make a comment.”
Monica found herself giggling slightly.
“Alright kid, take the jacket off. My dear sister wouldn’t have dragged you in to see me if you weren’t having your own GSD issues.”
Monica nodded and carefully removed the jacket, unfolding her arms. The draconic man grumbled a bit to himself. “Huh. Shuddup Steamer, I doubt the kid would recognize that name. Fine, I’ll say it if you shut up. Terra-Kashaly, Thirdborn.”
Monica felt a twitch in the back of her mind, like she should recognize it. It felt odd, and right, but not her, at least not anymore. “Rings a bell, dunno why it does, but it does.”
“Search me, the grumpy old fart just went silent again.” He gave her a critical look. “he keeps yammering on about courts, and what we call atlantis every so often. Nice arms, gonna be a pain in the ass to get something to work as well as what you got there.”
“The shirt got changed when I did. Spirit decided it wanted to be done with the world, so she poured herself in, and changed me. I can’t feel any traces of her anymore.”
“She picked an heir. Go figure. Now the old grump’s distraught.” He turned to Boost. “Sis, you should probably tell her about Whateley, if for no other reason than she’ll be able to get better clothing from Cecilia over in Dunwich.”
“I was getting there.”
He snorted. “Get there faster. Your love-affair with cryptic speech always gets these poor kids more confused than anything.”
“Do you think you could do better?” The brunette woman smirked.
“Yes I think I can…” he paused. “Oh you snotty little brat. OUT! Out of my shop you psychic, rotten manipulator, before I change my mind!”
Boost smirked and bowed, then turned and wandered out.
“Did I miss something?” Monica looked more than a little confused.
“My dear sister likes to bring me strays who have to be kept off the blotter for a while. We’re going to ‘disappear’ you until whatever heat is chasing you drops off and she can get someone to haul you out of here, probably to Whateley Academy.”
“What’s Whateley Academy?”
“School for people like you, me, and Boost. We graduated about a decade ago. Get this, Lady Astarte was our English teacher.”
“You’re shitting me.” Monica looked him in the eyes and saw his expression and her jaw dropped. “You’re not shitting me.”
“Nope. Unfortunately, unlike my dearly beloved, pasty little sister, I didn’t get blessed with an overabundance of marketable mutant power. Sure I can lift heavy objects, breathe fire, and when I’m really focused I can turn into a thirty-foot-long dragon for a while. But unless I want to join a supers team and get shot at everyday I’m stuck for my gadgeteering talents. Tech head as you put it for your buddy.”
“So you went into clothing?” Monica asked dubiously, wondering how he’d picked out her comment from the back room..
“More went into fabricating things that the Mutant Community might find useful. It’s kinda hard to find a cardigan that will fit someone with two heads. So I build stuff that can fit, or survive a brick tapping on it. I have a few dozen mechanical keyboards that’ll survive and exemplar-seven clicking away on them.”
“That’s actually kinda neat.”
“Pays the bills. So let’s get you into the scanner. You’re going to need more than one t-shirt and pair of jeans.”
“So where am I staying if the MCO dumped me here?”
“Upstairs I have five apartments that I put up strays in for a while, while the heat cools down. Don’t have anyone up there, so you get to use one all to yourself for the time being. I’ll get the food stocked, and I’ll give you your privacy. Just let me know if you have to run anywhere so I can give a heads-up if you don’t come back that day.”
“Come on, I’m feeling generous with my sister’s money. Let’s get you outfitted.”
* * *
The news commentator’s voice was cracking as she read off the death toll. It has been five days since the return of the mass-murderer, Doctor Reaper had struck the Australian seaboard, this time targeting the city of Darwin in his latest attack upon the cities of the world. Representing a monumental loss in property and life, the death toll could have been a lot worse. Doctor Reaper was once again defeated by the combined efforts of the Overwatch Defense Team, a multinational group formed to patrol for multinational threats, and the unexpected appearance of Unverziehen, a former Waffen SS officer whose activities are known to be in atonement for the wrongs done during the second World War…
It had only been a week since Monica had watched the pasting of an Australian Supers team only to now see the city torn apart by the arrival of the most murderous supervillain the world had ever seen. Even the known villains had dove in on Reaper’s Hunter-bots. Dr. Diabolik, who had been in the area for some unknown reason, had run toe-to-toe with the bizarre energy beings the media had dubbed “Gogg” and “Magogg.” He and Unverziehen had assaulted Dr. Reaper as the last vestiges of overwatch Defense were being mopped up. The former SS officer who had spent eighty years trying to be a hero for the world to atone for the party he had supported had given his life defending the Australian Port Town.
Ironically it was Diabolik who was credited with the defeat of Reaper this time, and his efforts had saved lives uncounted, despite the collateral property damage of the fight.
In the footage of mutants and Law enforcement fighting back to save Darwin, four figures were seen blocking the killer Robots’ advances time and again as a group. They were pushing ahead a massive crowd of civilians seeking to flee the aftermath of a disabling pulse that had stopped all of the cars in the city for over twenty hours. The cobalt-tattooed girl, the siren-blaring red-crossed power armor, the snake girl and the velociraptor were going toe-to-toe with killer bots one at a time in a fighting retreat while the civilians were covered.
The ferocious quartet seemed obsessed with getting out alive, and they could be seen frequently stopping to pick-up a fallen man or woman, getting between a robot and a child, or generally fighting a running war against the inevitability of death itself. It was amazing as the murder toll had been through the roof. They had assisted Diabolik in defeating Gogg and Magogg, then the cobalt-tattooed girl had ridden Diabolik’s power armor through Darwin to assault Reaper himself and steal his scythe.
A heavy knock on the door signified Daryl’s presence, and she got up and answered, only to be greeted by the sight of an imposing man with short-cropped, dark hair going slightly gray in an MCO suit that made him look more imposing than Daryl’s draconic bulk. The man looked like he’d been a marine Drill Instructor in a past life and his eyes seemed to bore a hole right through her to see what crimes were written on her soul.
“You’re not Daryl.” Monica squeaked out.
“No. I am not.” The man looked at her for a moment. “My name is Agent Miles Wylann, I’m actually with the Seattle branch of the MCO. I just finished a prisoner transport and was asked to assist you in making a decision about whether you wanted to try to get into Whateley Academy under one of their Scholarship programs, then get you to the school. Daryl will be joining us shortly, after he closes down the shop.”
“May I come in Miss Carter?”
“Do I actually have to give permission?” Her voice was wary.
“No warrant, no probable cause, regardless of the MCO reputation this is still the United States. So yes, I have to ask permission.” He smirked just very slightly, like he’d fielded this question hundreds of times.
“Okay.” Monica stepped out of the way, and the imposing man simply stepped in and looked for a table, set his briefcase and popped it open. He began sorting stacks of paperwork that came out, several of them looked like duplicates.
“I’m only here to get you set up. The semester begins officially on the eighth, so we’ll have to get moving as soon as possible to get you to New Hampshire.”
That twigged Monica’s perceptions. “Why new Hampshire?”
“That’s where Whateley Academy is located.” He gestured for her to join him at the table. “This is the entry package and scholarship application for the school. I can walk you through getting it filled out completely and correctly, as well as explaining the Scholarship application.”
“Why are you helping me out with this?”
“Partly because it’s no trouble, and partly because once I’m done helping you get to Whateley safe, sound and without incident, I get a few days off at home to spend time with my wife and son.”
Daryl stumped in through the open door. “Ah, I see you found the right one. Wylann here’s the Agent who issued my MID at the school. He’s been there a few times.”
Monica chuckled at the gruff, rude and perennially grumpy Dragon-Avatar. “Ok I’ll bite, is this school pretty cool?”
“Awesome as hell, and I’ll never regret going.” He paused. “I heard the new headmistress is amazing. A bit of a ball-buster, but amazing.”
“Indeed,” Agent Wylann said drily.
“Ok, so school for mutants, then?” Monica took the first set of offered papers and began filling them out. “Are all of these this detailed?”
“Trust me kid, you fill those out to the best of your ability, your life will be easier. It’ll be easier for them to accommodate people with your particular problems.”
“I can hear every word spoken in the building and my sense of smell tells me you have problems that will likely require accommodation in my old cottage on campus. You’d stick out like a sore thumb, even in Whitman where weird is the norm. Trust me. Honest and complete as you can be.”
Wylann raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as Monica began filling out her application. The process took a couple hours, which were mercifully made easier by the two men showing her how to fill the things out. After they were done, Daryl scooped up the paperwork, then headed downstairs.
“Gonna fax this out. You two grab something to eat and get outta here. Sooner she’s at Whateley, the less likely some triggerhappy imbecile in KoP armor is likely to shoot her for jaywalking.”
“He’s joking, right?” Monica asked apprehensively.
“Mostly,” Wylann replied with a sour look.
“What do we do now?”
“We head to the car,” he handed her a small cellphone, “That’s for emergencies. First number on speed dial is mine, second belongs to Boost, third one goes to the office of the Headmistress of Whateley Academy. If we get separated, use those numbers. If you can’t get to me for whatever reason, call Whateley and let them know what’s happening. Second is so Boost can give moral support.”
Monica rapidly scarfed down more food than she should have been able to, then followed the agent to his car, a black, unmarked Lincoln town car that could have been used by any number of law enforcement agencies. She got in the passenger seat, and the car began to quietly pull out to the main roads, then onto the highways.
Neither had much to say, and Monica bided her time watching the landscape change. She was silently thanking the powers-that-be for Daryl’s ability to make shirts that could accommodate six arms without just mauling them with scissors, or a bra that wouldn’t get tangled up in her extra limbs.
* * *
January 7, 2007, Somewhere near Zanesville, Ohio
As far as truck stops went, this one was much the same as any other. Monica kept a firm lid on most of her abilities and let Agent Wylann do all of the talking. The two of them were enjoying a quiet lunch when the explosion went off. The windows rattled a second later as a car came hurtling, from outside the parking lot, right at the window, end over end.
Wylann was up and moving even before he could tell Monica to duck, then gravity got weird. Everyone inside felt a strong tug towards the window, and up, then as the car slowed, it seemed to hang in zero-G for a moment while miscellaneous food started rising. Monica could see the panicked people in the car, frozen in shock as their hurtle to death was unexpectedly interrupted.
The agent looked at her. “Good job kid.” he actually looked somewhat impressed.
“I’ll get them down, you do your thing!” Monica bounded out the door, not bothering to wait as she tore her jacket off and grabbed the floating car hood, pulling it to its wheels facing the road before waving a hand, yelling at the driver “GO GO GO GO!”
The driver didn’t even hesitate, getting herself, and her screaming children out of the area as fast as her engine could haul them.
She could see Wylann, sidearm out and on the phone as four suits of Powered Armor shrieked overhead, converging on the site of the explosion.
“Knights of Purity.” She felt her heart drop into her guts even as their target plucked another moving car off the road and hurled it at the oncoming enemies.
One of the armored forms took the impact and crashed to the ground even as she distorted gravity again, stopping the vehicle’s terminal flight to impact. She brought it slowly lower, and peered inside, noting that the two occupants were unconscious from the torque of the spinning arc it had taken, but still breathing. She got the car down, then dove into the car, taking each passenger out, then hauling them to the building.
The people inside looked at her like she was a monster until she handed them the two people out cold. “Get to shelter, NOW! Help them!”
She wasn’t a superhero, but she did understand what was at stake. She didn’t know how to fight supervillains, but she had seen an example where even the freaks could help in a crisis. She’d try to keep as many bystanders alive as she could. Just like the weird, freakish mutants she’d seen on the news.
The world seemed to slow in sharp contrast as her body lightened, her hair began floating as she started hovering a few feet off the ground, watching the carnage as the three other suits of power armor engaged the mutant with heavy weapons. Nothing seemed to be effective as she watched the lunatics shoot literally everywhere trying to pin down the fast, strong terror creature that looked like nothing more than an angry old man who’d had the kids tromp across his lawn one time too many.
“Anomaly, get down!” Wylann yelled as she spotted the giant chunk of asphalt the rager flung at one of the armor suits. “You can’t take any of them on.”
“Not going to take them on, I’m watching for… Oh God, no.” She went pale as the rager leapt into the parking lot of the truck stop, charging right at a safety-yellow School Bus that was parked, only two of the basketball players managing to get out before the man simply grabbed it, then threw it like a lawn dart at his assailants.
She was gone, gravity around her warped so fast that she shot like a bullet right at the bus, spreading her arms wide, as she focused on the murderous momentum of the vehicle. She hit the back, catching it as she pulled, warping gravity hard while she dug all six sets of fingers into the body of the bus, which dangled towards the ground like an arrow about to drive into the ground from Gods only knew how many feet up.
She didn’t know it, but it took all of her combined gravity manipulation and PK to keep the bus aloft. She just held on for dear life trying to keep it from falling, and as her hands threatened to tear through the frame, she found herself re-setting her grip. Any time she tried to do anything, they started falling, and she had to re-assert herself just to keep them from dropping.
The ordeal seemed to stretch on to forever as she waited, praying someone, anyone could help. She was not relieved to find the three KoP power suits bracketing her.
“Let them go now!” The loudspeaker on the armor let her hear them clearly, just as she could hear the panic inside the bus.
“Are you insane? If I do anything we all fall! Get them out; get them out NOW!!!!” Her voice was screaming, unable to comprehend the blistering stupidity of pointing guns at the person trying to keep people from dying.
It took a moment for the hovering mercenaries to process the information before one dropped slightly and began cutting on one of the walls, then extracting one of the kids caught in the line of fire. A few moments later the three found themselves rapidly removing and setting the shocked teenagers one by one away from the bus, lightening the load, one body at a time. Monica reset her grip again, rapidly running out of solid structural points to hook onto when the driver and coach of the team were finally extracted last.
She was able to lower the bus to the ground.
She was not, however, able to stay standing, hitting her knees and shaking, feeling weak, hungry and mentally drained. She was only barely aware of the few students who were aware enough still, and grateful enough to come say thanks for saving their lives. She was completely unable to provide a statement to the swarms of police officers and MCO suits whom Agent Wylann firmly sat on, using the powers of the Law and Regulation to keep literally everyone’s hands away from her.
It was four hours later, after what felt like a small, metric ton of food and mental calm descended again that she gave her statement. She wasn’t so out of it that she didn’t recognize that many of the MCO suits did not like Wylann, which upped him a few dozen points in her book. They really did not like how he kept them away from her, and guided the interview away from accusations of wrongdoing on her part.
Suddenly his-by-the-book-and-regulation professionalism seemed a lot more warm and welcoming than it had over the last couple days. Monica was grateful that he’d been the one working with her, very rapidly.
“I’m not going to go into how stupid what you did could have been. I think you know.” His words were not quite as clipped as they usually were. “But I have to say, your instincts were in the right place. You kept a lot of people from dying today. I wish more mutants were as cognisant of this as you showed.”
“Couldn’t just let people die.”
“So, you’re not in trouble, and you showed you have an instinct for saving lives rather than fighting. I think you might have a bright future in Search and Rescue when you’re done with school if you ever cared to go that route.”
“So what happens to the old man?”
“Right now, he’s on his way to Thunder Mountain awaiting trial.” he shot a sidelong glance at the KoP suits outside talking to the local PD. “There’s strong evidence that the Knights of Purity provoked a known rager deliberately so they could take him down for good press.”
“What’s going to happen to them?”
“I don’t know yet. So far as anyone here knows, they, and you, saved a lot of lives. I’m more dubious about them.” he looked right back at her. “You, however, need training. You did overexert, and you could have killed yourself saving those boys’ lives. The bus is a loss, micro-warping in the frame did a lot of damage.”
“They’re alive. That’s more than they would be had we not stopped here. Just don’t make a habit of getting involved in police or supers fights.”
“If I have a choice I’ll skip the whole mess.”
“That puts you ahead of the game in the brains department. For now, it’s time to get going again. We’ll hit a hotel up the road, then continue. Should have you on campus the day after the semester opens.”
“Late to school on the first day, what would mom think?”
* * *
January 9th, 2007, Whateley Academy
Crisp, cold air should have bothered Monica more as she exited the MCO Lincoln. The two gray gargoyles at the gate were almost as imposing as the man she left in the car with a heartfelt “thank you” for helping her.
It was cold, but not cold enough to need the jacket, and the buildings were very “Old-school New England” with the exception of the impressive, geodesic, crystal dome in the center of the school. Along the path a pretty girl waited for her, and held a hand out.
“Hello, my name’s Beltane, welcome to Whateley Academy.” The girl’s voice was thick with an english accent.
“Uh, hi. I’m Anomaly?”
“You sound like you’re not sure.”
“I was expecting something more… X-Mansion, I guess.”
“Wait until we get you settled in then. We’re going to take you to Poe Cottage and get you situated, then we’ll do the tour, and you should be able to hit the Crystal Hall for lunch right as everyone settles in.”
“Now just as a heads-up, Poe’s a bit… odd, I’ll explain as we go.”
It was two hours later when Anomaly was quietly settled into a basement room at Poe, filled in on the purpose of the cottage, and taken on the tour before being set loose to grab some lunch. She was very much overwhelmed by… everything, especially when she saw them. A serpentine girl and the metal-haired girl with the blue tattoos walking into the Crystal Hall with literally no one offering them so much as a second glance. The metal-haired girl had several bandages along her body, and her back and one arm sparked with odd, eldritch colors as she moved along what Monica could only surmise were her wounds.
She shook her head as she followed them in and was promptly overwhelmed by the sheer breadth and number of kids in the hall, ranging from exemplar hotties to GSD terrors. Hundreds of kids had filtered into the lines, and she found herself staring at too many people in turn.
“Hey you in line to eat or gawk?” a cheerfully snarky voice erupted behind her, attached to a rambunxious looking black girl who looked like she was a walking sugar high.
“Umm, sorry.” She walked over to the line and piled the food on after seeing just how much some of the other kids could eat.
“Hey, no worries, you got the new-girl look. Just remember, the chow line is sacred.”
Monica chuckled and headed towards the more sheltered area of the Crystal hall and as she was looking, she heard a painfully familiar voice speaking a familiar phrase very loudly.
“We got out, and we kept people alive doing it. No fear, no regrets.” She turned and saw the cobalt-tattooed girl, the velociraptor and the snake girl fist-bumping together with a person in the garish, nearly vomit-inducing ensemble of clothing worn by “Crazy Joe” Turner.
Monica froze like a deer in headlights as she saw the snake girl and two other monstrous girls snap their attention at her sudden upwelling of disbelief. In the head of the snake were a pair of slitted, blue eyes that matched her own.
It didn’t take long for the other eyes to follow, and the dinosaur-kid stood up and walked over curiously sniffing the air next to her. She barely noticed. She noticed when he shrieked ferally back at his friends and signed -She smells identical to Diamondback.-
“No fucking way.” Joe jumped out of his seat and came over to examine the girl whose face was too uncannily identical to Diamondback’s sans scales, and stared at her with those blind, white eyes.
“Carter, is that you?”
* * *
February 3rd, 2007, Crystal Hall
Ayla shook hands with Hazmat and watched him make his way over to the Underdog's table where Anna jumped up and greeted him with a huge smile and an enthusiastic hug. Smiling at Anna's uncomplicated outlook, Ayla casually glanced over see who else was at the Underdog table and frowned, quickly turning to the food lines to check them too.
Puzzled Ayla made his way to the Kimba table and sat down, glancing over at Fey who raised her eye to him. "What's on your mind Ayla?" She asked.
"Have you seen the Outcasts lately?" He asked her. "Are they doing something for you?"
Fey quickly checked her privacy necklace, but still leaned close to Ayla and kept her voice low. "Ah no, that's not the issue," she explained. "It's Diamondback, and her sister."
Ayla blinked. "Sister?" He pressed Nikki. "I didn't know she had a sister."
"She does, she just manifested and arrived here about a month ago, the new Poe girl, the shy one in the basement room with six arms?" Ayla nodded he knew of her. "Well, apparently Diamondback had a lot of issues with her parents when she manifested, and now her sister is here too, and well, she's in Poe! So the Outcasts are kinda keeping a low profile and helping the two siblings sort stuff out at the moment."
"Do they need anything?" Ayla rolled the words around, nervous. He knew Anomaly was a changeling, but she hadn’t really gelled with many of the other Poe kids.
"I've let them know if they needed anything, even just someone to run interference in Poe for them, to let me know. I'm sure they'll ask us if they need us, otherwise, well, I was just gonna give them space?"
Ayla nodded and smiled his thanks before turning back to his food. “Is everything ok?”
Nikki shook her head. “I’ve heard some of the arguments. Anomaly thought Sandra was dead, and since Jericho was best friend to both of them, and he didn’t tell her where her twin was…”
Ayla winced. “How long until things calm down?”
“It’s been a month, things are calm. They all vented their anger on Medawihla grounds. They’ve taken to finding pockets of the Bastard’s spawn on the reservation and scorching them out as a group, now that the Voodoos seem to have petered out.”
“They’re hunting these things?”
“We have, with Bunker and Mule. Anomaly is… If any of the big-spirit avatars ask you about her, tell them to give her a lot of space.”
“You really don’t want to know.”
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