TG Universes & Series:
This chapter hopefully explains what happened last chapter. There's a fair amount of tension between the school and Atalanta with Manny siding with Atalanta and leaving Sam walking a fine line.
As always I want to thank Ashleigh for her editing skills. It would be mostly unreadable without her as grammar is not my strength.
I do hope you enjoy this chapter and I will appreciate your comments and answer any questions you have and of course kudos.
Memory rushed back. Deliberately I reached up removing the VR helmet that had provided the holographic sim scenario. Turning it over slowly in my hands I turned and looked at where I knew the camera was located. My gaze never wavered from that corner. The molded composite I held began to bulge as its layered compounds reached its shear and tensile limits. Suddenly the sphere collapsed under the stress popping like a dry twig the report ping ponging off the walls.
“Who’s fucked up idea was this,” I demanded.
The door opened admitting Manny and Sam; they walked directly to me and each softly lay a hand on my shoulders, “It took us by surprise too, Atalanta.”
I nodded at each looking past them as the second wave piled in consisting of Mrs. Carson, Delarose, and Franklin; flanked by extra security. Sam and Manny turned to face the door.
“Atalanta this wasn’t our doing.”
“I suppose it was mine.”
An unwritten rule at Whateley was that family remained off limits and that included sims.
Mrs. Carson chose her reply carefully rolling each word over her tongue tasting it before airing it, “Neither and both. The room and setting was our doing; it was set up to test your boundaries. But you supplied the details.”
As I turned her words over in my mind the arrangement of the room’s participants hadn’t escaped my attention. I fully trusted Manny with my back but Sam hadn’t moved also standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me. This wasn’t the time or place for a showdown that could drive a wedge between Sam and her coworkers. Manny was hired on a 6 month temporary contract.
I shrugged a thin smile escaping, “Nobody’s fault then. Hopefully you can review the procedure to where it doesn’t happen to someone else.”
“We will in the future but first a couple of questions if you don’t mind. Why did you choose the weapons you did? In our sims we are careful not to encourage using lethal force.”
I frowned knitting my brows, “I don’t think I did”—holding up a hand to ward off her reply—“but if I did it was a subconscious choice that I don’t know the answer to.”
I chose my next words carefully knowing the school’s stance on lethal force. “I was quite content to disarm my opponent and wear him down until he escalated the threat level.”
Mrs. Carson nodded and pointing at my helmet, “What happened?”
“Shoddy workmanship,” I quipped holding up the misshapen object.
Her frown said she wasn’t buying that explanation, “May I examine it?”
“Sure,” I replied stepping forward and handing it to her.
“What’s that,” she asked sharply pointing to my forearm where a dart from the creature had penetrated.
“A surprise gift from Stumpy,” I replied dryly.
“See that you go to the infirmary and get it looked at,” she replied frowning while turning the helmet over and over appearing to be examining it closely. Suddenly it shattered in her hands; small composite shards drifted to the floor.
“I see what you mean,” Elizabeth Carson returned dryly and turning to Franklin adding, “Chief get on the horn with our suppliers.”
A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she left the room.
Manny turned to me, “You alright, kiddo?”
Nodding, “I think so.”
“We’re here if you need us,” Manny continued pointing to Sam and himself.
I turned to them, “I know and…thanks guys,” adding, “I have to run. I don’t want to be late for class.”
“Better hurry you can’t be getting anymore demerits,” they chortled back at me.
The two savvy warriors watched the young girl leave before following security into the Sims control room that was down the hall. They walked in on an animated discussion between the Chief and the Headmistress.
“What’s going on,” Manny asked as they walked over to the display showing Area 77.
Franklin pointed a finger at the broken display window and the street that surrounded it. A parked ambulance at the storefront was besieged by an army of attendants.
“That’s not NPCs,” Sam declared moving closer to the screen and recognizing Whateley security badges.
“No, they’re not and neither is that,” Elizabeth Carson replied, pointing at four men that were straining to carry something wrapped in a tarp to the back of the ambulance. Common sense said it was a body.
“That’s one of the creatures she killed.”
“How did it get there? There is just supposed to be NPCs in the Sims.”
She turned to Manny and replied her voice pinched, “You’re the resident expert on Atalanta, suppose you tell me.”
Manny shrugged his broad shoulders, “Well you did want to know what it would take to push her across the line. Threaten her mother or bring overwhelming force against her appears to be two things that will.”
“What about you Sam? Do you agree with Manny; that she didn’t act prematurely?”
Sam didn’t answer immediately her eyes training on some distant object as she recalled the events. “No I don’t,” she replied her attention snapping back adding; “Atalanta has a kind of sixth sense when it comes to danger and she never seems to get flustered. I think she was content to wear down the creature until he summoned three more of the big uglies. In a confined space and outnumbered I don’t think she had any other choice.”
Sam started to say something then changed her mind before adding; “You did notice that she had a wound on her arm?”
Mrs. Carson nodded for her to continue.
“None of this stuff is supposed to happen but it has. What about Atalanta’s Mom; she was in the sims too?”
A sharp intake of breath and widening eyes betrayed her surprise, “I better call her and see if she’s all right.”
“Let me,” Manny interjected palming his phone explaining, “I usually call Liz—Mrs. Reed a couple times-a-week to let her know how Atalanta’s doing. She won’t expect anything out of the ordinary if I call.”
“Go ahead,” Mrs. Carson replied shaking her head breathing out pent up air. She and the other Liz didn’t see eye-to-eye over Atalanta.
Manny punched in Liz’s number, “Hullo,” he heard the distracted voice over his earpiece. He knew immediately something had occurred.
“It’s Manny. How are you; you sound like you just woke up from a nap?”
“I think maybe I did,” he heard her reply hollow and distant. “Odd though. I wasn’t sleepy and I never dream.”
“You had a dream,” Manny prompted.
“Yeah, Atalanta was in it too and we were in some town. A ghost town I think. At least I don’t think there were any people around.”
“That’s it.” She then seemed to shake off her lethargy. “Atalanta is she okay?”
“She’s fine. I just called to let you know she aced her test today.”
They exchanged pleasantries and weather reports before ending the call.
“You heard,” he asked placing the phone in its holster.
The two women nodded and Manny continued, “She believed that she dreamed they were in a ghost town somewhere.”
“Until we get to the bottom of this,” she began and including Franklin and Delarose, “combat sims is out for Miss. Reed.”
Manny and Sam drifted out into the hallway after Mrs. Carson and security left, “They had to push but they got what they wanted.”
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” Sam observed laconically.
“I know,” Manny agreed between clenched teeth, “but I was hoping for later.”
“What do you think happened in there?”
“Meaning the sims?”
“Yeah, the sims,” Sam replied.
Manny stopped and rubbed the back of his neck, “Damned-if-I-know. Could be the hologram, could be Atalanta or it could be that they combined in a weird way.”
“Or it could be an outside force,” Sam offered.
“Or a saboteur,” Manny countered.
“Let’s keep our eyeballs peeled.”
At the end of the hall as they were about to separate, Delarose stepped into the corridor “A moment please,” he spoke indicating they should enter the room he had stepped from.
They turned as one crossing the threshold and into the room with Delarose closing the door behind him. Mrs. Carson was seated behind a desk with Bardue on her left and an empty chair on her right. In front of the desk were two empty chairs.
“Have a seat,” Delarose said indicating the chairs as he occupied the empty chair flanking the headmistress. Mrs. Carson let the silence build. Both Sam and Manny had played this game many times. They waited for Mrs. Carson to break the silence.
“I take it you don’t approve.”
Manny pointed to Sam, “Sam and I both told you that Atalanta is a natural and what that means. We’ve both told you she would kill if you pushed her hard enough.”
“I have other students to consider.”
“Students that are mutants with many having power greater than hers.” Manny replied evenly.
“But,” Mrs. Carson replied pointing out, “none have been trained to kill.”
“Neither has Atalanta,” Manny replied quickly his words crackling. Pausing he took several deep breaths and continued, “Naturals are a tiny minority of the humans on earth probably less than one percent. Worldwide there are less than 50 million; here in the US my guess is less than 5 million. While they are not common you have probably met several and not know it. Most of those 5 million or so will never know it and unless they serve in the military or put in a life or death situation neither will anyone else.”
Manny scratching the back of his neck paused to organize his thoughts.
“Naturals are like sheepdogs,” Sam interjected, “they protect the flock against predators and then come back and lay down with the sheep.”
Manny nodded eagerly his jaw set, “Exactly it doesn’t get easier—or harder. They don’t get any pleasure from it or remorse either. Atalanta is no more likely now than she was before. The reason I was dead set against any tests like today was not that I was concerned she’d go on a killing spree but how she’d be viewed by outsiders.”
“People like me you mean,” she replied leaning forward.
“Partly but those I am most concerned about are those who view her favorably.”
Stunned Mrs. Carson fell back in her seat, “Favorably?”
“Yes, favorably there are branches in the government that would cut each other’s throats at a chance for an asset like Atalanta.”
“An asset,” she echoed woodenly.
“And private criminal enterprises,” Sam added.
“Some outfits you join for life— “
“—and others will kill you if you don’t.”
“They’ll convince her it’s her civic duty to join-up.”
“Blackmail or extortion too,” Sam chimed in.
“Whoa,” Mrs. Carson cried throwing her hands up at the rapid-fire responses. “What do you suggest we do?”
Manny smiled relaxing in his chair at the use of the collective pronoun. “I knew this day would come,” he said softly, “but I wanted it delayed until she experienced life and people and developed her own internal BS filters. I wanted her making informed choices with her eyes wide open.”
Manny stopped and looked at Sam who nodded.
“Think of it like a symphony,” he added recalling a conversation with a pianist he had dated briefly. “When a new musician joins the orchestra no matter how well trained they are every member will feel that new note and look for the source. There was a new note sent out today into the world and every awakened Natural will feel it and some will look for the source.”
“Wait are you telling me, that…that what we saw was a work of art?”
“As every bit as delicate, fine tuned, and balanced as any musical score or a ballet.”
“These are the notes of life and the dance of death.”
“Exactly,” Manny agreed, “yin and yang; life and death the natural cycle: The deeper truer meaning for the Natural. But what happened today places her in potential danger from those agents. As to your question; no more sims combat and lose the record of today’s results.”
“The Sims combat is part of what we do here at Whateley to prepare the student for life outside these walls, “Mrs. Carson scolded adding, “Records are a school’s stock in trade, what will it accomplish to destroy what happened today? She needs the results from the Sims on her card.”
Manny slowly rubbed the back of his neck, “She is a military dependent so technically Atalanta doesn’t need the MCO card and you don’t have to destroy the record of today just misplace the files.”
Leaning forward in his chair Manny continued, “Let’s face it Mrs. Carson, Atalanta doesn’t need the combat Sims; that’s more you wanting to know what her limits are. We already told you what they were. The only Sims that she needs is of the secret squirrel type.”
“Spy School, that’s not what we do.”
Manny and Sam remained quiet as she rolled it over in her mind before reaching a decision, “I’ll make an appointment for her with Dr. Bellows.”
“Let us talk to her first,” Manny interjected making eye contact with Sam, “We’ve both dealt with this before. We can talk to her from firsthand experience and we both recognize the distress signals.”
Mrs. Carson reluctantly lowered the phone on its cradle, “I suppose it might be better for it to wait for their scheduled session. Hum-mm,” she mused idly tapping her fingers on the desk, “yes let it come up naturally in their conversation. That’ll be better that way,” she added almost to herself, her eyes darting quickly to her left and back.
The two warriors across the desk caught the subtle shift but neither flinched.
“Okay,” she beamed across the desk at them, “We’ll do it your way. But keep me informed.”
“We will,” they acknowledged rising from the chairs at being dismissed and leaving the room.
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