A Little R&R 2: Alyss in Wondercute Land part 2

Crystal Hall, Wednesday evening, Sept 26th, 2007
Ribbon:

I stared down at the dinner on my plate, letting out a deep sigh as I did so. There was a breaded pork chop, some green beans, and even some mashed potatoes and gravy. This looked very much like the kind of dinner my wife Meg used to make for me, which stirred up a lot of old memories and emotions.

Meg had been gone for years now, but I still missed her a great deal, and suspected that I always would. She’d been my wife, the mother of my children, and the rock that helped keep me steady for two decades. I’d long since gotten used to her absence, but sometimes, like right now, that ache in my heart just came back to the surface for no apparent reason, and reminded me of what was missing.

“Are you all right?” Amy asked, giving me a worried look.

I looked at Amy, then at Sapphire, who also sat at our table. She too looked concerned. “I’m fine,” I assured them.

Amy scowled for a moment. “Are those girls still being a pain?”

“Yeah, they’re still being pains in my cute little ass,” I responded with a chuckle. “Pardon my French.”

“No apology necessary,” Sapphire said with a look of amusement.

“Starbright is still talking behind my back,” I admitted. “And I’m sure that Drama Queen was using her powers to nudge things along.” I shrugged at that. “It’s all pretty damn frustrating, but that isn’t it. I was just thinking about home…” Or more accurately, I was thinking about the people from back home, and the woman I would never see again. At least not in this life.

“Homesick,” Amy said, nodding in understanding. “I’m worried about my mom, and how she’s doing without me to look out for her…”

“I too am homesick,” Sapphire said with a sad smile.

I gave Sapphire a curious look, remembering our conversation from earlier today. During lunch, Sapphire talked a little about her past, and told me that she’d actually been born with GSD, and that she’d been some kind of snake girl until she’d manifested. In a way, it was hard to imagine her as some kind of GSD snake girl, but on the other, it explained so much. It definitely explained why she always wore that scaled cloak.

“Where is home?” Amy asked her gently.

“Home is…Home,” Sapphire answered with a faint smile. Amy and I gave her curious looks after that vague answer, which made her smile just a little more. “I mean this literally. I come from a small town that we call Home, in Montana.”

“Nice,” I responded with a chuckle at the name. “I’m from Pittsburgh.”

“Portland,” Amy added. “Oregon.”

“Home is...unique,” Sapphire stated proudly. “It is a town for mutants.”

“A town for mutants?” I asked in surprise.

Sapphire nodded her confirmation. “Once, it was an abandoned ghost town, but then it was claimed by a group of mutants with GSD, including my parents. They built a sanctuary…and a home. That is where I was born.”

“So, the whole town has GSD?” Amy asked, sounding more curious than shocked.

“Not all,” Sapphire corrected with a wry smile. “But many. Some have normal family and children who live with them.” Then her smile faded and she had a pained look on her face as she admitted, “Some of my neighbors don’t like me anymore. They called me a pretty.”

“It’s okay,” Amy said, putting a comforting arm over Sapphire’s shoulder. “You might look different, but you’re still the same person inside.” I had a feeling that Amy was reminding herself of that fact, as much as she was Sapphire.

“Mama said the same thing,” Sapphire admitted, smiling faintly again.

“Good advice is good advice,” I pointed out.

For a moment, I just stared at Sapphire, now having a better understanding of the odd girl. I’d noticed several times, that she didn’t even flinch at the sight of the most extreme GSD cases on campus, and that she often seemed more comfortable near the GSD kids than the attractive looking ones. The only exception to that, was that snake girl Diamondback, whom I’d seen Sapphire staring at on several occasions. And now, even that made sense.

With all the real emotional stuff out of the way, we ate dinner and continued to talk about Home. From what Sapphire said, the place was really out of the way, and with a population of only a few dozen. And on the few occasions when outsiders came through the town, they had their own version of a ‘red flag day’, where the only residents who went out into the open, were the baseline or normal looking people.

“It sounds like an interesting place,” I said, which seemed to please Sapphire some.

“Perhaps one day, you can visit,” Sapphire told us.

The conversation was interesting, but in spite of that, Amy had out a notebook, which she wrote in while eating and talking. When I asked her about it, Amy looked a little self-conscious. “Sorry,” she apologized, as though she might have been offending us by not giving her full attention. “I’ve got some ideas for a battery, and I was writing them down before I forgot…”

“You’re in devisor mode?” I asked, suddenly getting a little worried. She’d been an exemplar this morning, and the only time she changed was either while she’d been sleeping, or went through a burnout. “Did you have another burnout?”

“No,” Amy quickly assured me. “No burnout, and I’m not a devisor right now.”

“That’s good to hear,” I responded. “The no burnout part, not the devisor thing…”

Amy merely nodded at that. “Lately, I’ve been thinking of trying to get some kind of battery to store my essence in, whenever I’m a mage, so I can save it for later. Well, today, I realized that if I can do that kind of thing for essence, then why can’t I do it for the energy I collect as an energizer. If I get the right kind of battery, I could probably store the energy and use it to power my devises.”

“Not a bad idea,” I mused aloud. “But if you’re not a devisor now…”

“I grew up with a devisor,” Amy pointed out with a wry smile. “I’m pretty familiar with how a lot of them work. I might not be a devisor right now, but I know enough to write down some basic ideas, and some parts I might need. Once I turn devisor again, I’ll look this all over again, and see what I can make of it…”

Sapphire gave Amy a curious look. “I thought you were working on a new weapon. One you can carry around campus…”

“I’m working on that too,” Amy admitted with a shrug. “I only have so much time as a devisor, but if I make as many preparations as I can ahead of time, then I might make better use of my devisor time.”

“Good idea,” I told her. It was nice to see that she was starting to figure out how to make use of her powers, even if she only had them for one day at a time.

Once we were finished with dinner, the three of us got up to leave. Since Hawthorne and Poe were in the same general direction from here, we’d stick together for at least part of the walk back to our dorms.

We hadn’t gone very far, when I saw four kids gathered close to each other in the distance. Two of them were standing up and away from the other two, who were sprawled out on the ground.

“Gravmax,” Amy stated in a cold tone.

One of the boys was indeed Gravmax, a spoiled rich punk, who had a hard time understanding the word ‘no’. When we’d first arrived at Whateley, the punk had tried hitting on Amy, and hadn’t taken her disinterest very well. He actually came after her several times, until Sapphire sprayed him with her venom. Ever since then, he’d kept his distance from Amy, which was good for him. If he’d come after her again, I just might have forgotten myself and kicked his ass.

The other boy, who was standing beside him, was Iron. Iron was an athletic and clean-cut black boy, who was another spoiled rich kid. I’d seen him hanging around with Gravmax on a number of occasions, though he seemed to avoid physically bullying people, and tended towards insults and snide comments instead. However, I’d heard that Iron had flipped out on the first day of school, and had actually attacked a teacher. Of course, I’d also heard that she kicked his ass, which was probably why he stuck to insults.

Both boys looked as though they were enjoying themselves, and Gravmax was laughing. However, the two students who were on the ground a short distance in front of them, were clearly not amused.

My eyes went to the green-skinned boy whom I recognized as Ribbit. We shared a couple classes together, so I knew the frog avatar, even if not very well. Sprawled on the ground beside him was a girl named Aquerna, who’d been introduced to me as a member of Wondercute. Gravmax was clearly using his power to pin both the other kids to the ground.

“So, Draco Malfoy is at it again,” Amy said wryly.

“If he’s Draco,” Sapphire announced, “then does that mean I can be Hermione?”

“I guess that makes me Harry,” Amy said with a grin, before gesturing to me and adding, “And you’re Ron.”

“I think she’s closer to a Gini,” Sapphire added with a smile.

Instead of getting caught up in Amy and Sapphire’s discussion about who was playing what role, I scowled and walked towards the two bullies. Then I put my hands on my hips and demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?” That had always worked for Meg, but when Gravmax and Iron turned to look at me, they both began to snicker and laugh instead.

“Security will be here any minute,” Amy pointed out, fixing Gravmax with a flat look. “You know, they probably have this whole thing on surveillance video…”

“We aren’t doing anything to the frog or squirrel,” Iron said with a faint sneer. He glanced towards Ribbit, and the sneer deepened a little, reminding me that he had a reputation for disliking people with GSD.

Gravmax looked smug as he pointed out, “I haven’t laid a finger on them. We’re just standing over here, minding our own business, while those two clowns are resting…”

“Let me go,” Aquerna demanded. “When my friends…”

However, her words were cut off with a grunt, as Gravmax increased her gravity even further. Or at least, I assumed that was what he’d done, since Ribbit was grimacing and gasping for breath.

“Let them go,” I said, clenching my fists.

Gravmax gave ignored me and instead focused on Amy and Sapphire. He gave both of them a cold glare, though he seemed a little concerned about Sapphire.

“You are an annoying little mouse,” Sapphire said with a sneer, taking several steps towards Gravmax.

For a brief moment, I thought I saw a flash of fear in Gravmax’ eyes, though it was immediately replaced by anger. A second later, everything suddenly felt a little heavier.

“Damn,” Amy gasped, stopping where she stood and slumping a little.

“Annoying,” Sapphire spat out angrily. She looked like she was about to spit at Gravmax, but he was still a little out of range.

“You should be going down,” Gravmax exclaimed, staring at Amy in surprise.

Apparently, he didn’t realize that my purple-haired friend was currently an exemplar 3. Of course, Sapphire was an exemplar 4, while I was a 6. I barely even felt it.

Gravity increased again and this time Amy dropped to her knees while Sapphire staggered. I hesitated for a moment, then acted as though I was going down as well.

“You will not do this to me again,” Sapphire hissed. She opened her mouth to spray her venom, even though Gravmax seemed to be out of range. However, before she could release her venom, gravity increased again. Amy and Sapphire both fell flat on the ground under the pressure.

“Too…heavy,” Amy whispered.

Without warning, I lunged forward and grabbed Gravmax, lifting him off the ground. He was so surprised, that he dropped his power and gravity shifted back to normal.

“Let him go,” Iron demanded.

Iron lunged at me, but Sapphire was already back on her feet and charging forward. She spat a venom spray all over Iron, who staggered back in surprise.

“Thank you,” Aquerna exclaimed as she slowly got back to her feet.

“That hurt,” Ribbit complained.

“Now,” I said with a grin, happy to have at least one punk that I could deal with the old fashioned way, even if I did have to use velvet gloves to do so. “What should we do with you?”

Mere seconds later, the two boys were on the ground, tied up like mummies in neon pink ribbons, which included large bows. Aquerna just stared at the two bullies, laughing at the same time.

“It would be a real shame if anyone found out that you guys got beaten up by a tiny little girl,” I commented in a sweet and innocent voice. “You’d be the laughingstocks of the school. You’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Wait til I tell the others about this,” Aquerna exclaimed with a gleeful grin. “You’re gonna fit right in with Wondercute…”

Then as Aquerna ran off, I let out a sigh and muttered, “No good deed goes unpunished.

--------------------

Thursday Sept 27th, 2007
Roulette:

Power Theory. This was a class about superpowers and how they worked, which was an exciting subject, or at least, it should have been. Ironically, the class on superpowers, was the most boring one on my schedule, but that had more to do with the teacher than the subject. Dr. Quintain was brilliant, and he’d literally written the book on the subject. However, his lectures were always delivered in the most boring monotone voice imaginable.

I stifled a yawn as I looked over my two notebooks. I was using one notebook to take notes for the class, but my other notebook was where I wrote down my thoughts and ideas about my own powers, and how I might be able to make better use of them. At the moment, I was playing around with ideas for a couple devises, though I wouldn’t know if I could actually build them until I turned into a devisor again.

For now, I couldn’t do anything more with my devise ideas, so I began practicing with my esper power. I stretched out my awareness and could feel where everyone in class was located in relation to me, but not much more than that. However, I think that I was getting a little better, because I was pretty sure that I could actually identify who a couple of them were. But then again, that might just have been because I knew where everyone in class was already sitting.

After a minute of just focusing on my esper sense, I looked around the room, seeing where everyone else was and trying to correlate them to what I was sensing. If I could figure out how to identify who I was sensing, then that would make my esper ability a little more useful.

Alyss sat beside me with her arms crossed, looking as though she was staying awake from sheer force of will. Sapphire wasn’t even bothering, and was slumped over on her desk. I thought I heard a faint snore from her every once in awhile. The class was so boring, that even Mischief, the girl who could barely sit still for five minutes, looked as though she was falling asleep in her chair.

When class finally ended, I gently shook Sapphire awake and told her, “Time to go. Lunch is calling.”

“About damn time,” Alyss grumbled.

Once again, everyone began to pour out of the classroom at the same time, and headed towards Crystal Hall for lunch. However, shortly after arriving, Jade, Bunny, Aquerna, and Superchick rushed in and surrounded Alyss.

“You’re eating with us today,” Jade announced.

“But,” Alyss started to protest.

“We need to talk about your initiation,” Bunny insisted eagerly. “And what color you want your uniform…”

I watched as Alyss got a little flustered, and she looked to me for help. I thought about helping her, but after taking one glance at the other girls, I just smiled and said, “Have fun…”

Alyss gave me a flat look and said, “Traitor,” before she was practically dragged away.

“Right now,” Sapphire told me with a chuckle, “I am truly thankful that those girls have no interest in me.”

“Me too,” I agreed. “But I think Alyss secretly likes the attention.”

Sapphire nodded. “That would explain why she dresses in that fashion too…”

I grinned as I said, “Wondercute bait.” I wonder if Alyss would like that new nickname.

Since Alyss was going to be absent from our lunch today, Sapphire and I went to find a table for just the two of us. However, several of our classmates from Power Theory had been behind us in line, and had been searching for a table as well, so I gestured to them.

“You guys can sit with us,” I said.

“Thanks,” Mischief said as she took a seat. The blonde girl flashed a grin and said, “Hi, I’m Melissa. My codename is Mischief, but you probably already know that.”

We were in Power Theory and Power Lab together, so I knew who she was, but this was actually the first time we’d really talked to each other. From what I’d seen, she was friendly, but just a little on the excitable side.

“Amy,” I said in introduction, though she probably knew who I was as well. “Codename Roulette.”

“I’m George,” said the other newcomer to our lunch, a hairy boy who looked like a cross between a human and a monkey. “But everyone calls me Monkeywrench.” He winked and added with a broad grin, “Even my mom.”

I nodded at Monkeywrench, since I actually had talked to him before, though briefly. We were in the same devisor class, and he’d complimented me on my floating orb.

“My codename is Sapphire,” my blue-haired friend said with a faint smile. “But my real name is Sapphire Scale.”

Monkeywrench gave her a curious look and grinned. “Sounds like there’s a story there…”

“I bet it’s a cool one,” Melissa exclaimed excitedly. “I bet you’re called Sapphire because you have blue hair, right?”

Sapphire chuckled lightly. “I was named Sapphire before I had hair…”

She ran her fingers through her hair, just a little self-consciously. I imagined that from her perspective, it might still seem a little strange to have hair at all. After all, from what she’d told me, she hadn’t had real hair until after she’d manifested and lost the scales.

“And you’re the girl with the burnouts,” Melissa said, giving me a sympathetic look. “That must really really stink.”

“It could be worse,” I said with a shrug. “I could have had only one, and then died…”

“Good point,” Monkeywrench told me. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a banana, which he set on the table beside his plate.

I gave Monkeywrench a wry look and asked, “Isn’t that a bit of a stereotype?”

“Well, yeah,” Monkeywrench responded with a grin. “But I have to keep my banana phone close, in case I get an important call. Don’t tell me that you don’t have your phone on you too.”

“I have a phone,” Melissa said, reaching into her pocket and pulling it out. “But the only one who calls me on it is my dad…and sometimes Aunt Brandy. Oh, and Imp. She’s called me on it…”

“So, what do you think of Power Theory?” Monkeywrench asked, making an exaggerated yawn.

Sapphire shook her head. “It is quite…”

“Boring,” Melissa interrupted. “Boring. Definitely boring.”

I chuckled at that, then pointed out, “Yeah, but you guys only have to deal with Quintain in class. I actually work for him for my campus job.”

Of course, Quintain wasn’t nearly as boring when he was doing his power testing work. When he was doing that, he actually got a bit more passionate about what he was going, though admittedly, not by a whole lot.

Suddenly, someone bumped up against me pretty hard and nearly knocked my face into my food. I snapped around to see who’d done it and saw one of the largest boys I’d ever seen. He was big, tall, and muscular, but his upper body was oversized compared to his lower body, almost as though he was some kind of cartoon caricature of a bodybuilder…or a gorilla.

“An ‘excuse me’ would be nice,” I said.

The large boy had just been walking past, but paused then I said that to turn and look down at me. “You’re excused,” the boy said, then laughed at his cleverness.

“You’re a jerk,” Melissa exclaimed, jumping to her feet and sticking her tongue out at the larger boy.

“And you’re a stupid little runt,” the boy responded, stepping forward in a threatening manner.

My mind raced as I tried to think of how to stop this before it went any further. “You know,” I pointed out. “Security is probably watching this place pretty closely. And there are a LOT of witnesses…”

Instead of scaring off the boy, he just grinned at that. “That means there will be a LOT of people to watch as Unstoppable stomps on you bugs…”

Suddenly, the boy...Unstoppable, grabbed hold of me and lifted me out of my seat. “Let me go,” I demanded, punching him in the face, though it didn’t do anything at all to him.

“Leave her alone, jerkface,” Melissa demanded.

“Now, you’re gonna see why I’m called Unstoppable,” he announced, his voice filled with menace.

“Release her,” Sapphire hissed out.

“Let her go,” a boy yelled from the next table over. It took me a moment to realize that it came from Aegis, who was standing up and trying to look tough. “Don’t make me force you…”

“YOU?” Unstoppable responded with a laugh. “I don’t think so…”

Aegis charged at Unstoppable, but I cried out, “No,” sure that he’d only made things worse.

Unstoppable dropped me, then swung at Aegis. Aegis’ PK shell glowed golden as the large boy hit him, sending him flying back and into a table. Food was flung everywhere, especially on Aegis. However, Unstoppable wasn’t done, and grabbed Aegis to pick him up.

Aegis had tried to help me, even if it hadn’t been the smart thing to do, so I couldn’t just sit back while Unstoppable beat him up instead of me. For a moment, I frantically tried to think of what I could do, and then it dawned on me. I didn’t need to beat Unstoppable, merely distract him long enough for Aegis to get away.

Using my telekinesis, I grabbed hold of a plate of food from a table behind Unstoppable, and flung it to the back of his head. It hit with a nice splat and he suddenly snapped around to see who’d thrown it, releasing Aegis in the process.

Suddenly, Melissa cried out, “FOOD FIGHT!”

With that cry, food began flying from the nearby tables, much of it being flung at Unstoppable at first, then at each other. In mere seconds, everyone was covered with food, except for Mischief, who was giggling as the food passed through her as though she wasn’t even there.

“What happened?” Aegis asked as he sat up, his aura still glowing golden.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” a newcomer said.

The newcomer was a large boy who wore an armored costume with blue trim and a helmet that resembled a wolf head. Beside him were several other students in similar costumes, and who wore fox, bird, bear, and tiger themed helmets.

“The Betas,” someone cried out, and the boy with the wolf helmet scowled even more deeply.

“We’re the Wild Pack,” the boy with the wolf helmet announced in an irritated tone. “And you’re all being detained for security.”

--------------------

Thursday afternoon, Sept 27th, 2007
Ribbon:

It had been a long day of classes, and I was glad that it was finally over so I could return to Poe. The classwork itself wasn’t a problem, and most of it was actually pretty easy. Some of it was actually pretty damn interesting too. No, the problem was other students.

All through the day, I’d been forced to deal with people whispering behind my back, and spreading those nonsense rumors. They’d been doing that to one degree or another since school started, but it seemed to be getting worse. And not only were there the rumors, but also the mocking and patronizing insults that were said to my face. In my old life, I’d simply kick the ass of anyone who tried to fuck with me, but now, that wasn’t an option.

The fact that I was being bullied by some fourteen year old girls, was both hilarious and humiliating at the same time. Of course, I knew exactly how to deal with the usual bully, who simply tried kick my ass, but dealing with ones like this was another thing entirely.

At first, I’d been able to ignore the rumors, since they were nothing more than words. But over the last couple weeks, it had been getting on my nerves more and more. If I didn’t do something about this soon, then sooner or later, I was going to lose my temper and do something that I’d regret.

“It won’t come to that,” I grimly told myself, remembering what had happened when Rachael went on one of her diedricks rampages. People died. There was absolutely no way that I was going to lose my temper and let that happen with me. There was absolutely no way that I’d hurt some kids, regardless of whether or not they were brats. “I won’t let it.” I had to deal with this before things got to that point. But how?

When I reached Poe, I started towards my room. I passed Kayda and Chou on the stairs, and gave them each a nod as I passed. Then in my hallway, I gave a similar nod of acknowledgement to Angel and Danny, who were in the middle of a conversation. When I reached my room, I was relieved to see that Martina was still out, because I wanted a little privacy for what came next.

I pulled my bottle of bourbon out from the bottom of my dresser, where it had been hidden, and poured myself half a glass. Being a high level exemplar, with regeneration, I couldn’t get drunk like I used to, but going through the motions was still comforting. I just wished that I had some beer instead.

Once I’d downed my drink, I grabbed my cell phone and made a call. A few seconds later, I greeted my elder daughter, “Hey, Mel. It’s me…”

“Alyss,” Melanie exclaimed with delight. “How are you doing in your classes? Are you making new friends?”

A broad grin formed as I began to chuckle. Melanie sounded so much like her mother, at that moment. “I’m doing fine with the classes,” I told her, while still smiling. “I’m still just getting all the basic classes out of the way, so they’re pretty easy. And yes, I am making friends. There are even a couple girls I’ve been hanging around with. They’re a couple odd ducks, but I like them.”

“That’s good,” Mel responded, and I could almost hear her nodding her head over the phone. “I was a little worried that you’d have a hard time fitting in, because… Well, you know.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I don’t really fit in, but the whole school is pretty weird, so by not fitting in, I sort of do…” I chuckled at that, then added, “And did I tell you, they’ve got me rooming with a girl, whose mom is a supervillain. She’s a nice kid, and needs people who aren’t going to judge her for what her mom does…”

“I can sympathize,” Mel said with a sigh.

There was a period of silence as we both considered Rachael, and all the pain she’d inadvertently caused the family. My middle daughter might be a supervillain, with a dangerous mental illness, but she was still my daughter and I loved her. That wouldn’t change.

“So,” I said to change the subject. “How are Kimberly and Kaylie doing?”

For the next twenty minutes, we talked about my visit with Rachael, how my granddaughters and everyone else back home was doing, and to my discomfort, how I was doing too. When that conversation began winding down, we shifted to the next logical stage.

“I’d love to come over for dinner some night,” I assured my daughter, who’d just invited me. “We’ll need to find a night that’s good for all of us, and when Rich can play taxi…” Once that was agreed on, I asked, “Can I talk with Kaylie for a bit?”

I had to wait for about half a minute while Melanie went in search of my eldest granddaughter. Kaylie was twelve years old, and not long ago, that sadistic bastard, the Marquis, had said that she was a mutant on the verge of manifesting. Because of that, everyone in the family was keeping a close eye on her, but so far, she’d yet to show any signs. I was actually thankful for that, because I knew the problems that could come with mutant powers, and some of them, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

“Alyss,” Kaylie exclaimed over the phone. “How is your new school? Do you have superheroes there?”

“It’s pretty interesting,” I answered with a chuckle. “And yes, there are some retired superheroes here as teachers…and some retired supervillains.”

“Do you think Aunt Rachael can teach there?” Kaylie asked.

I winced at the question, knowing that with her diedricks and body count, there was almost no way she’d ever be released from prison, much less allowed near kids. “Who knows,” I responded, trying to keep my voice from choking. Then, I quickly added, “Maybe you and Kimberly can come see the school on Parents Day.”

“That would be so cool,” Kaylie said. “I just wish I could tell my friends about it…” Then before I could say anything, she added, “But I know I can’t. Your school is a huge secret.”

For a moment, I considered the fact that if Kaylie did manifest as a mutant, then Whateley might be a good place for her to get an education as well. If that happened, it would be strange, to actually be going to the same school as my granddaughter. The very idea was enough to make me chuckle again.

“There’s a reason I called,” I finally told Kalie. “I think I need your advice.”

My granddaughter gasped from the other end of the phone. “You need MY advice?”

“You’re close to the same age as a lot of the kids in this school,” I told her. “And you’ve been dealing with school a lot more recently than your mom has, so I thought you might have a good perspective.”

There was a pause before Kaylie responded, “Okay…” She was obviously a bit confused and curious.

“There are some girls here who keep giving me a hard time,” I admitted self-consciously. “You know, insulting me, spreading rumors behind my back… That kind of thing. If it was a guy, I could just bust his nose open, but since I can’t do that, I need to figure out another way of dealing with this…”

“We have mean girls at my school too,” Kaylie said, and from her tone of voice, she didn’t particularly like them. Then she giggled and added, “You can always tell a teacher…”

I rolled my eyes at that. “That kind of thing never worked when I was a kid…the first time, and I doubt things have changed that much. Besides, I prefer to deal with my problems myself.”

Kaylie and I talked about this for the next ten minutes, and even though she was only twelve, her perspective was still helpful. Eventually though, I said goodbye to her, and chatted with her little sister for a bit. Kimberly was more silly and excitable, but it was still a joy to talk to her. By the time I hung up, I was feeling much better. Talking with my family was always a good thing, but in addition to that, Kaylie gave me a few good ideas for how to deal with my problem.

Once I was done with the phone, I put my bottle of bourbon back in the drawer and looked at my box of cigars instead. My supply was dwindling, and looking the way I did now, it wouldn’t be easy to get replacements. Maybe I could talk Rich into making a stop in Cuba for me. I chuckled at the thought.

A minute later, I left my room with a cigar and lighter in my pocket. Since I made my own dresses, it didn’t take any effort to design them with a few hidden pockets, just for such occasions. You never knew when you’d need to have money on hand, or any number of other small objects. This was just one of the lessons that I’d already picked up from Costume Shop.

I briefly considered going upstairs to Hippolyta’s room, to see if she wanted to go out and have a smoke with me, but I didn’t really feel like going that far out of my way at the moment. So instead, I went downstairs and peeked my head into the dayroom instead, since that was on my way. The dayroom was pretty full, but Hippolyta wasn’t there.

Several of the Kimbas sat in their corner, doing their homework. Rose and Ricardo were chatting away, though they were speaking in Spanish and I couldn’t quite follow what they were saying, nor did I really try. I wasn’t big on eavesdropping on people.

“Hey, Alyss,” Cindy called out to me from across the room.

Cindy, Peacock, Jinx, and Downpour were all sitting around a Monopoly board. Downpour looked a little dark and grim, but that was nothing unusual for her. She didn’t have any rain clouds over her head, so that was actually a pretty good sign. It had been a couple weeks since her ‘incident’, and everyone was still keeping an eye on her, just in case.

“Hey,” I greeted them, going over for a quick ‘hello’. “Who’s winning?”

“That would be Jinx,” Peacock said, giving the other girl a dirty look. “I keep landing on her properties…every…single…time.”

“I’m not cheating,” Jinx protested. “Really…”

Cindy nodded agreement, giving Jinx a suspicious look as well. “I’m not sure it’s a great idea to play a game like this, with a probability mangler…”

“But I’m not using my powers,” Jinx protested again.

“Of course not,” I said with a pleasant smile that hid my own doubt.

Just like everyone else on our floor, I knew that Jinx didn’t always have strict control over her powers. Even when she wasn’t trying to do anything, people around her tended to have bad luck when she got angry. I suspected, that even if she wasn’t intentionally using her powers, her subconscious was still pushing the odds in her favor.

Downpour just looked up at me and let out a sigh. “I’m losing. Again.” She didn’t really sound bothered by that, but more like she had never expected it to be any other way. Once again, I felt for the girl and wished that there was something I could do to help.

“Well, good luck,” I told Downpour. Out of all of them, Poe’s little Eeyore needed it the most.

I turned and left the dayroom, but had barely stepped out the door when I suddenly found myself facing a group of girls, all wearing brightly colored sailor costumes. The only exception was Danny, who stood there with a look that said he was silently pleading for help.

“There you are,” Jade exclaimed with a broad grin. “We were just looking for you…

“Well, it looks like you found me,” I said.

“We’ve got some Hamtaro DVDs and are gonna have a marathon,” Superchick exclaimed.

“Ham-Hams are so KEWT,” Bunny gleefully added while the other girls nodded agreement.

“Hamtaro?” I asked blankly.

Jade’s eyes seemed to blaze with excitement. “You’ve never seen Hamtaro? You’re gonna love it…”

Before I realized it, several girls grabbed me by my arms and began pulling me after them. Danny gave me a smug look, which silently communicated the old saying about misery loving company.

I was strong enough that if I really tried to get away from these girls, I could have done so. However, there was something about their enthusiasm that was sort of infectious. Maybe it was because they reminded me of my granddaughters, especially Kimberly. Whatever it was, I ended going with them.

A minute later, and we were all crammed into a dorm room, where a TV had been set up. The next thing I knew, several bowls of popcorn were being passed around and a soda was shoved into my hands.

“Here,” Molly said, giving me a pillow to sit on.

Then, when the girls turned to the TV and DVD player, Danny whispered, “Escape while you can. Save yourself. It’s too late for me…”

I glanced to the door, wondering if I could make it. However, my window of opportunity vanished as half the girls rushed back to their seats, with several of them between me and the door.

“You’re gonna love this,” Jade insisted.

Hamtaro, I quickly learned, was a cartoon about talking hamsters. It seemed kind of silly to me, but the girls all loved it, going ‘ooooh’ and ‘awwww’, and ‘how kewt’. But the thing is, I could imagine Kimberly sitting there and watching this same show, and even Kaylie, at least before she decided to do the goth thing.

After the first episode was over, the girls suddenly jumped to their feet and began chanting, “One of us. One of us. One of us.”

“Resistance is futile,” Jade announced, right before all the girls began giggling.

“What in the world did I get myself into?” I asked.

Danny just shook his head sadly and added, “It’s too late now, you poor damned soul…”

--------------------

Hawthorne, Thursday evening, Sept 27th, 2007
Roulette:

It was over. It had been a rough day, more for what had happened during lunch than from anything else, but it was finally done and over with. Classes were done for the day, and even dinner had been finished. Now, there was nothing left to do but hang around my cottage and relax. Well, that and a little something else that I’d already had planned.

At the moment, I was sitting in the dayroom, along with a few other residents. Diz and Frostbite were playing Scrabble in the corner, and of course, Diz was winning again. For a little kid, she sure seemed to be good at that game. Dust and Achoo were arguing over the TV remote, at least until Adore walked up and snatched it out of their hands. All they did was stare at her while she changed the TV to news. And then there was Spoof, who was doing his homework, while pointedly trying to ignore the neon orange ‘kitten’ that kept attacking his shoe.

In spite of the fact that the dayroom was hardly the best place for calm reflection, that didn’t stop me from thinking about the events in Crystal Hall, or about everything else that was going on. Whateley was definitely a crazy place, and though I’d heard about it for most of my life from Mom and Aunt Beth, experiencing it all for myself was something else.

“I’m going to have some interesting stories to tell Kara, the next time I see her,” I mused with a chuckle. I might even have a few to share with Mom and Aunt Beth, though I doubted that I’d be able to match some of their misadventures. “Probably for the best.”

After I’d been resting on my butt long enough, I finally got up and left the dayroom. It was time to get to work, and I was looking forward to it. Of course, everyone else in the cottage would soon be looking forward to it as well.

A minute later, I stepped into the kitchen and began to retrieve some of the ingredients and equipment that I’d need. However, I quickly discovered that there was more of both than I was expecting. Not only had someone stocked the kitchen with food, but they’d also bought some new tools, including a high-end knife set.

“What the…?” I asked as I looked into the spices and found saffron. Saffron was the world’s most expensive spice, so it wasn’t the kind of thing that I’d expect to find in the kitchen, especially in such a large amount. And then as I continued looking at the supplies, I found a few more surprised. “There’s even a truffle in here…”

When I was finished looking through the kitchen, I went in search of answers, just to satisfy my curiosity if nothing else. I found Mrs. Cantrel and asked her about it.

Mrs. Cantrel chuckled at my reaction. “The food was an anonymous donation for the students of this cottage,” she told me with an amused smile. “Feel free to use as much as you want.”

“Thank you,” I told her, my mind already racing through recipes that I wanted to try, but hadn’t had the ingredients for before. The saffron alone would let me try a few new things, and then there was the truffle…

“You look about as happy as Caitlin with a new gun,” Mrs. Cantrel told me with another chuckle. “Go on and enjoy yourself.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I responded with a grin.

I started back towards the kitchen, but saw Sapphire in the hallway. “What are you doing?” my blue-haired friend asked curiously.

“I was just about to do a little baking,” I explained. We walked to the kitchen together. “Someone donated a lot of food, and I have some great ideas for how to use it, but I’ve already got some plans for tonight.”

“And what would that be?” she asked, giving me a curious look.

“Watch and see,” I responded with a grin.

Sapphire and I chatted while I worked, and once I had everything together enough to be recognizable, I explained, “I’m making devisor brownies.”

“Devisor brownies?” she asked, looking a little confused.

“Think devisor coffee, in brownie form,” I said with a grin. “Basically, espresso brownies, with lots of caffeine. I figure that in the next day or two, I’ll probably be a devisor again, and I’ll want to take full advantage of it while I can. I’ve got a few things I want to make, so I’ll probably be staying up pretty late.”

“I see,” Sapphire said with a nod. “It looks like you’re making a lot…”

“Only a small batch of devisor brownies,” I said. “And a couple batches of regular brownies for everyone else to eat.”

Sapphire nodded again, giving the mixture a look of anticipation. “I see…”

Just then, I suddenly felt someone coming towards the kitchen door. One of the advantages of being an esper was that it was hard to sneak up on me, if I was paying attention. I wasn’t sure who this was, though I was sure that they felt familiar.

A couple seconds later, Alyss stepped through the doorway and gave me a wry grin. “Glad I found you…”

However, instead of responding, I just stared at my former roommate in surprise. Alyss had an unusual sense of fashion, doing the whole gothic Lolita thing. However, I’d never seen her wearing anything quite like what she had on now. It was a purple and black sailor uniform, with a symbol on her chest that looked like a ‘cute’ skull with a bow.

“What are you wearing?” Sapphire asked.

Alyss looked down at herself and blurted out, “Crap. I almost forgot I was wearing this thing…”

“What happened to you?” I asked, though from what she was wearing, I already had a pretty good idea.

“Wondercute happened,” Alyss grumbled. “I’ll explain after I change…”

Alyss left the kitchen, and when she came back a minute later, there was no sign of the sailor outfit. Instead, she was dressed in one of her old fashioned and frilly dresses.

“So,” Alyss said with a sigh. “Wondercute invited me to one of their cartoon marathons, and by invite, I mean strong-arm. I’ve met supervillains who are less intimidating than those girls…”

“They are rather…persistent,” I pointed out with a wry smile.

Alyss rolled her eyes. “Anyway, one thing led to another, and the next thing I know, I’m making them all dresses, and they’ve talked me into making that costume for myself. I swear, one of those girls must have a mind control power…”

“It sounds like you had a lot of fun,” Sapphire pointed out with a barely contained smirk. Alyss just glared at her.

“Danny wasn’t any happier about it than I was,” Alyss said with a shake of her head. “Poor kid. When I last saw him, he was wearing one of those sailor costumes too…”

Sapphire and I stared at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. “That must have been quite a sight.”

“Well, I finally made my escape,” Alyss said with a visible shudder, “and figured that this would be a good place to hide out.”

“We’ll protect her from those big bad girls,” I teased while Sapphire just snickered.

“Methinks she doth protest too much,” Sapphire added a moment later, which caused the both of us to start laughing again.

Alyss glared at both of us, but she looked so cute that it was hardly intimidating. In fact, I couldn’t contain my laugher, nor could Sapphire. Alyss responded by flipping us both the bird, which only resulted in more laugher.

“So,” Alyss said, obviously trying to change the subject. “I didn’t get to hear the details about what went down at lunch. Spill the beans.”

I smiled faintly, and was tempted to remind Alyss of why she was missing during the incident, but I decided that we’d teased her about Wondercute more than enough for one night. Of course, there was always tomorrow.

“Let’s see,” I said, thinking about the incident at lunch. “There isn’t really a lot to tell. Sapphire and I were sitting at a table, along with Mischief and Monkeywrench, when some big gorilla named Unstoppable decided to mess with me for some reason.”

“Aegis decided to play hero,” Sapphire continued for me, with her tone of voice showing just how unimpressed she was by this. “He attacked Unstoppable, and was promptly defeated and humiliated.”

“I tried to distract the thug,” I took over again, wincing slightly as I remember what I’d caused. Then I gave a wry smile and admitted, “I used my telekinesis to throw something at the back of his head…”

Sapphire smirked. “Amy flung a plate of food. Then Mischief jumped on top of the table and declared a food fight. Everyone started throwing food…”

“The whole situation was a complete and total mess,” I said with a sigh. “And not just the food. Everyone was covered with it, then some kids wearing Power Ranger costumes showed up.”

The Wild Pack, or the Betas, as they also seemed to be called, had immediately rushed in and declared everyone present to be ‘detained’ for security, though I didn’t know why they thought they had the authority to do that. I also didn’t know why a group of students would wear costumes around school, especially while eating lunch. The whole group just came off as a bunch of pretentious hall monitors, who were overflowing with their own sense of self-importance.

“And where were they when Unstoppable was harassing me?” I mused aloud.

Most of the students at nearby tables had immediately run off, and were gone before security arrived a minute later. Unstoppable had tried to leave, but to their credit, the Wild Pack had managed to stop him pretty quickly.

“So, how much trouble did you guys get in?” Alyss asked.

“None,” Sapphire answered a little smugly. “I didn’t do anything…”

“Nobody saw who threw the tray at Unstoppable,” I said a little self-consciously, “only that it came from a different table than mine…”

“They didn’t realize that Amy started the food fight,” Sapphire added with a smirk. “So she got away with it…”

I nodded at that and admitted, “I was pretty damn lucky. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I was a mangler.”

“Unfortunately,” Sapphire added, “Mischief wasn’t so lucky. I don’t think she actually threw anything, but since she instigated the food fight, she got in trouble.”

“Aegis and Unstoppable got detention for fighting,” I added, thinking that Unstoppable definitely deserved it. Aegis, had tried coming to my rescue, so I actually felt kind of bad for him. “Apparently, Aegis and Mischief are doing their detention here for the next week, and I heard that the gorilla was sent to work in the sewers.”

“Now, that is a shitty punishment,” Alyss said with a chuckle, before quickly adding, “Pardon my French.”

We continued talking about the incident until the first two batches of brownies were ready to come out of the oven. I set them to the side to cool off, then put the next two batches in.

“Damn, those smell good,” Alyss said wistfully. “Reminds me of when Meg used to bake.”

I was about to ask who ‘Meg’ was, when I suddenly realized that I felt someone with my esper senses. I snapped around and saw Morgan and Miranda, who’d just snuck into the kitchen and were making their way towards the brownies.

“Oh no you don’t,” I said standing there with my hands on my hips and giving them a stern look. “Not until they’ve cooled off…”

“But we want some,” Miranda whined.

Morgan made a quick rush towards the brownies, though Sapphire stepped in and blocked him. However, I only saw two members of Team Awesome, so I listened to my esper sense and jumped to the side, right as Ember and Revekah were trying to sneak past us.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“But I do,” Miranda exclaimed with a laugh.

Suddenly, a tray of brownies flew up into the air, courtesy of Miranda’s telekinesis. I leapt for them, but they landed right in Revekah’s hands. Then, without hesitation, all four girls ran for the door.

“We’ve got Amy’s brownies,” the kids called out triumphantly, “We’ve got Amy’s brownies…”

“Come back here,” I called out, rushing to the door, but it was too late. The four kids were already gone.

“Well, it could have been worse,” Alyss said with a chuckle. “They could have taken all the brownies…”

“It is worse,” I said with a sinking feeling as I looked at the brownies that remained. “They took the devisor brownies…”

--------------------

Friday, Sept 28th, 2007
Ribbon:

Power Theory was finally over, much to my relief. Dr. Quintain seemed like a nice guy, but damn, the man could put an insomniac to sleep without even trying. I felt sorry for Amy, having to work for him as part of her campus job. Then again, she’d done that to herself.

After showering and changing clothes, I started to lunch with Amy and Sapphire. However, just as we reached Crystal Hall, I saw my roommate Martina. Martina gave me a nod, then smirked and came towards me.

“I heard about you and Wondercute,” Martina told me with a chuckle.

“It wasn’t intentional,” I said with a sigh. “I think they used mind control…”

“Likely story,” Sapphire said.

Amy had an amused look as she added, “Well, Bunny and Jade are both devisors, and you never know what a devisor might cook up..”

“True,” I answered deadpan. “From what I’ve seen, all devisors are a bit crazy.” I gave Amy a pointed look.

“I’m not taking that personally,” my purple-haired friend responded with a shrug. “I’m not a devisor today.”

“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “The point still stands.” Then I glanced to Martina, who looked like she might be waiting on something. “You guys go ahead,” I told Amy and Sapphire. “I’ll catch up in a couple minutes…”

Once Amy and Sapphire were gone, Martina asked, “Have you been having any problems with the Cape Squad or Spy Kids following you around or giving you dirty looks?”

I considered that for a moment before admitting, “A little, but not too much. I’m on pretty good terms with Hippolyta, so she might be keeping some of the Cape Squad off my back. But it might just be because I’m so cute and innocent looking…” I gave her my best ‘puppy dog’ eyes, an expression that Jade had been trying to teach me last night. I wasn’t sure how well it worked, but Martina chuckled.

“That kid, Aegis, keeps glaring at me too,” Martina added with a roll of her eyes. “It’s like he thinks I’m going to start mugging students the moment he takes his eyes off me.”

“We’re…familiar with the problem,” a new voice said from behind us.

I snapped around and saw three kids standing there, all of whom looked familiar, since I’d seen them around the school. Two of them, I immediately recognized as kids whom Aegis had once pointed out as being members of the Bad Seeds, the children of supervillains. The one who’d spoken was a girl, who looked to be about sixteen or seventeen, and who had white-hair that was similar in color to my own.

“I’m Jadis Diabolik,” the girl introduced herself in a pleasant tone.

She was looking at Martina more than me, probably because my apparent age made it difficult for people to take me seriously. Even here at Whateley, where people should know better than to judge by appearances, everyone tended to just think of me as a kid. It was annoying, but I didn’t take it personally.

“This is my brother, Mal,” Jadis said, gesturing to a boy who had some kind of cybernetic implant in his eye. That made it difficult not to stare. Then, Jadis gestured to a dark-haired girl, who reminded me of Wednesday, from the old Addams Family TV show. “And this is Kate.”

“I’m Martina,” my roommate said in a wary tone.

“I’m Alyss,” I added.

“We’re members of a club called the Bad Seeds,” Jadis said with a wry smile. “I’m sure you’ve already heard of us.”

Martina chuckled at that and responded, “You do have a reputation.”

“A few helpful, but overly self-righteous people have warned us to stay away,” I added wryly, thinking of both Aegis and Christina, Martina’s former roommate.

“We’ve heard of you too,” Kate said in a flat tone.

Mal grinned as he added, “Nothing good…”

“The word around school is that your mother is Setup,” Jadis said to Martina, then she looked to me. “And that yours is Lady Havoc.”

For a moment, I considered correcting the rumor and pointing out that Lady Havoc wasn’t my mother, but that would only result in more awkward questions. It would probably be better to have Rachael being thought of as my mother, than to have everyone knowing she was my daughter instead. Before I could actually decide on my response, Mal suddenly pointed at my hand.

“Is that ebidium?” he exclaimed, staring at the black metal bracelet around my wrist.

“This?” I asked, raising my hand so everyone could get a better look. At his nod, I answered, “I have no idea. I’ve never heard of ebidium.”

“Our father invented it,” Mal explained rather proudly, “to shield… Well, never mind what he created it to shield.”

I removed the bracelets from both wrists, then held them out for Mal to look at. He tried to pick one up out of my hand but only grunted and dropped it. I quickly snatched it back up out of the air.

“Heavy,” Mal said with a nod. His eyes, or at least his normal eye, gleamed with excitement. “Ebidium is extremely dense and heavy. That has to be at least twenty pounds worth…”

“Closer to thirty,” I corrected, just a little smugly.

“You wear thirty pound weights as jewelry?” Kate asked, with only the faintest hint of curiosity creeping into her voice.

I gave a faint smile. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“Obviously,” Kate responded.

Mal stared at me with a curious look, asking, “Where did you get these?”

“They were…presents,” I answered, not sure if I should tell them that the bracelets doubled as weapons. That was the real reason I kept them close to me.

Jadis smiled faintly. “I assume that Lady Havoc gave them to you.”

“Yes, she did,” I answered cautiously.

“Nice,” Mal said, his expression turning almost hungry. “Ebidium is hard to come by, even for our dad, and he can make the stuff. Using it as jewelry seems like a bit of a waste… Would you be interested in selling?”

I slipped my bracelets back on before answering, “Afraid not.”

Mal looked like he was about to say something else, but Jadis cut in, “We heard you two talking and thought that we should introduce ourselves. We all know what it’s like being judged for who our parents are.”

“Are you trying to recruit us?” Martina asked.

“Not at the moment,” Jadis answered with an amused look. “We just took the opportunity to try feeling you two out…”

Martina nodded thoughtfully. “To see if we were worth recruiting, is my guess…”

Jadis smiled faintly and gave a brief nod of agreement. “Well, we don’t want to keep you any longer.”

“We’ll talk to you later,” Mal said, glancing at my wrists again.

With that, the three members of the Bad Seeds turned and left. Martina and I shared a look, then shook our heads at the same time before going into the lunch line together. A few minutes later, I went in search of Amy and Sapphire, while Martina took off in a different direction.

It didn’t take me long to see my friends, but just as I had nearly reached their table, a foot was suddenly stuck out into my path to trip me. However, I’d already seen Starbright sitting at the table, and wasn’t the least bit surprised. I stepped around her foot, rather than tripping over it like she’d intended.

A look of annoyance quickly passed over Starbright’s face, right before she flung her tray at me, crying out, “Ooops,” as though it was a mistake.

I had great reflexes, and stepped aside quickly enough to avoid being hit. “It looks like you’re pretty clumsy today,” I commented.

Starbright jumped to her feet and glared at me, as though I’d insulted her by dodging both of her attempts to mess with me. “Watch it, little girl,” she exclaimed, stretching herself to her full height and trying to intimidate me with her greater size. She looked so serious about it that I actually burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

For the last couple weeks, Starbright and her friends had been making things difficult for me in school, and they’d been annoying me to the point where I REALLY wanted to punch someone. However, after talking with Kaylie, she’d helped to put a few things into perspective.

As Kaylie had pointed out, girls like Starbright wanted to push my buttons, and leave me no recourse. It was all a power play. They wanted me to feel angry, frustrated, humiliated, and helpless to do anything about it. No matter how difficult it was, I had to control my temper and avoid falling into their trap. That wouldn’t be easy, because I’d always had a rather hot temper.

Fortunately, my conversation with Kaylie had also helped me realize that I’d already found the perfect way to fight back. I was just so used to doing all my fighting physical, either with my fists or my ribbons, I’d completely forgotten that there were other options, including one that I’d already used once.

“Don’t you laugh at me,” Starbright spat out. “You little diaper baby…”

Starbright seemed to have forgotten that I was stronger than I looked, because she tried to shove me backwards. However, I was expecting something like this and was ready for her.

I shifted to the side and asked, “Diaper baby?” as I put my hand on her shoulder and reached for my power. “Good idea.”

Suddenly, Starbright was wearing a bright pink romper over her school uniform, a one piece outfit that babies and toddlers wore. And then, just to jack up the humiliation factor, I layered a lot of while fabric around her tush, so that it looked like she was wearing an oversized diaper.

“Thank you Mrs. Ryan,” I quietly mused, thankful for the lessons in how to use my fabric ability more effectively. Then, loud enough for all the nearby tables to hear, I said, “It looks like you’re the diaper baby to me…”

Starbright let out a shriek of horror and humiliation, then began to glow with bright sparkles that made her hard to look at. She ran out of Crystal Hall as fast as she could, but as with the garish dress I’d given her a couple weeks ago, the only way out of this outfit was to cut it off.

I smirked in satisfaction, happy to have found a good way to strike back against that little bitch without worrying about hurting her. Sure, she’d be pissed and would probably try to retaliate again, but if I kept humiliating her worse than she could me, then sooner or later she’d either leave me alone, or would at least agree to a truce.

A few seconds later, I sat down at the table with my friends, who were both giving me amused looks. “Well,” Amy said, barely holding back a laugh, “that was entertaining.”

Sapphire nodded agreement and asked, “Is being harassed at lunch going to become a regular occurrence?”

“I hope not,” Amy responded. “I prefer to have a nice quiet lunch.”

“Me too,” I agreed. However, while I began eating, I began to wander what Drama Queen would look like in a clown outfit.

--------------------

Friday afternoon, Sept 28th, 2007
Roulette:

Power Lab. This was probably my favorite class, because it changed every day depending on what powers I had at that time. The weekday version of the class was only half as long as the one held on Saturday, and for most of the students, it was actually a little more organized. However, the nature of my powers meant that this class was even more of an individual study period for me, than for most of the other students.

Today, I was an exemplar, which was the simplest of my various powers. I was a little stronger, faster, and tougher than normal, plus, I had sharp senses and could also regenerate. None of those things really needed special training or practice, not like my other abilities did. Because of that, all I’d had to do today, was check in at the classroom, then I was free to go and work on one of my other powers.

I went to the devisor labs, where a few people were already present and working. This area was largely dominated by the freshmen and sophomore devisors and gadgeteers, who had yet to acquire a private lab. There were various tables we could check out and use while we worked, and lots of equipment that we had to share. There wasn’t a whole lot of privacy in this space, but there were plenty of opportunities to talk with the other people working, and even get some feedback.

“Amy,” Hardwyrd greeted me with a wave. He was sitting at one of the work stations, with a pile of parts in front of him. I had absolutely no idea what he was working on, and didn’t bother to ask.

I nodded to Hardwyrd, then to Blackbox, a somewhat chubby gadgeteer, who specialized in making lock boxes, puzzle boxes, and safes of various types. Just the other day, he and Breakdown had gotten into it, because she’d disassembled one of his prized puzzle boxes and ‘cheated’ as he said. Of course, after that, he began dricking out, and became a bit incomprehensible for the rest of his rant.

“So, I assume that you’re a devisor today,” Blackbox said, giving me a somewhat patronizing look.

As I’d learned in devisor class, some of the other students thought of me as a ‘poser’ or ‘wannabe’ devisor, because I only had that power set a couple times a week, at most. Blackbox seemed to have that attitude towards me a little, even if he was a gadgeteer rather than a devisor.

“Not today,” I responded pleasantly. “But I can still do some fabricating, and get things ready for when I am again. Hopefully, if I have everything I need ready and on hand, then I’ll be able to finish my devise pretty quickly.” I shrugged at that.

“Good idea,” Hardwyrd told me with a nod of approval. “So, what are you working on?”

I smiled at that and told him, “Wait and see,” before I went to my locker to retrieve my materials.

I’d been working on the parts for this devise over the last week, and was pretty sure that I had everything I needed. Even though I hadn’t been in devisor mode, I knew enough about the technology from my previous work, and from watching my mom, that I was pretty sure of what I was doing anyway. Unfortunately, I still had to wait until I had that special devisor spark, before I’d be able to put it all together and make it work. If I tried to do so before then, I might as well be making a paperweight instead.

About halfway through the class, I finished the last of the fabrication that I needed to do for that project, so I was stuck on it until I turned devisor again. However, there were a couple other projects that I had in mind, so I started on some preliminary fabrication work on those. I might not be a devisor very often, but there were still ways to take advantage of that power, especially if I planned ahead.

“Whatever you’re working on,” Blackbox warned me. “Don’t let Breakdown touch it…”

“I’ve already learned that the hard way,” I responded wryly, as I thought about my floating sphere. “But on the other hand, she’s good at finding things to improve.”

“I don’t need HER touching my work,” Blackbox stated firmly.

When the class period ended, I didn’t bother going back to Power Lab and checking back in. It was already expected that I’d just leave from here, so that was what I did.

Since I was in one of the devisor labs, I could have taken the tunnels all the way back to Hawthorne, but I preferred to avoid the tunnels when I could. Of course, that would probably change once the winter weather arrived, which meant that I had to take advantage of being able to walk outside while I could.

I’d barely made it to the surface and started back towards my cottage, when I suddenly found myself face to face with Gravmax. He gave me a look of surprise, which meant that he hadn’t been trying to ambush me. However, his expression immediately turned one of contempt and hostility.

“I don’t see your camera anywhere,” Gravmax commented a little smugly, making a show of buffing his nails. “Nor do I see your friends…”

“Maybe not,” I responded evenly. “But do you see the security cameras there and there...?” I pointed to two random places, having no idea if there were cameras there or not. “Or all the witnesses?” I gestured around us, where a number of students were walking past.

I suddenly felt heavier, but not heavy enough to collapse to the ground. My exemplar strength helped, but I also knew that Gravmax wasn’t pushing too hard, just enough to annoy me. He didn’t dare do anything too obvious, not with so many witnesses.

Gravmax glared at me for a moment, then suddenly flashed a fake smile. “I’m afraid that I don’t have time to waste dealing with someone like you right now. I’ll check my schedule, and if you’re lucky, I’ll find some time for you to squeeze in an appointment.”

“Really?” I asked, deadpan.

A moment later, Gravmax turned around and walked away, as though completely dismissing me. I wasn’t sure to let out a sigh of relief that he was gone, or burst out laughing at his little act.

“Anything to save a bruised ego,” I commented wryly. Was it any wonder that nearly every positive role model in my life had been a woman? “At least Malfoy is gone for now.”

With a shake of my head, I continued heading back towards Hawthorne, but before I’d gone very far, I began to feel the symptoms. I started feeling hot, and a throbbing ache began pounding through my muscles.

“Damn,” I gasped, stopping and looking around.

There was no time to get somewhere safe, so I sat down on the ground, before I was forced to go down and risked hurting myself. I just barely made it in time, before my burnout went into overdrive, and I began to twitch and shake.

“Are you okay?” someone called out.

My seizures lasted less than half a minute, though it felt like half an hour. When they were done, I collapsed, feeling spent and exhausted. I’d probably gone through more burnouts than anyone alive, even if they were only micro-burnouts, and this one was pretty mild. I didn’t even lose consciousness.

I slowly sat up, feeling weak, but otherwise all right. One of the side effects of shifting modes, was that my body tended to remove any injuries in the process, including the damage caused by my burnouts.

Several people were standing around, staring at me with expressions that varied from curiosity to worry. The one who was closest, and who had been nearly bent over me while I was having my seizures, was a girl I recognized from a couple classes.

“Darqueheart,” I said as a greeting.

Darqueheart had some pretty serious GSD, which gave her pure black skin, big horns that grew from her forehead, and a devil’s tail that hung out the back side. She was usually pretty prickly, and downright hostile towards anyone she viewed as a ‘pretty’. However, at that moment, all I saw on her face was a look of pity.

“What the hell was that?” Darqueheart demanded, her expression turning to one of suspicion. I had a feeling that at the moment, this was more of a mask than anything. What did it say about my situation, when even the GSD kids pitied me?

“A burnout,” I said with a grimace. Her eyes widened slightly. I forced a faint smile, then shrugged as though this was no big deal. “I get them a lot.”

From her expression, I could tell that this wasn’t really news. Of course, that was no surprise either. After I’d had a burnout in the Quad, and had then been rushed to Doyle from Hawthorne, rumors had spread around the school.

Darqueheart hesitated a moment, then held out her hand and helped me to my feet. “Are you going to be all right?”

“Yeah,” I assured her. “I just need to walk it off is all.”

Darqueheart gave me a skeptical look. “You need to go to Doyle?” she asked grudgingly.

I shook my head. “Naw. It’s done and over with for now. There isn’t anything they can do anyway.” I shrugged at that. “I was just going to head back to Hawthorne.”

For a moment, Darqueheart just stared at me, and the pity was visible in her eyes again. However, she covered that up with a sneer and said, “I’ll walk there with you…and make sure you don’t fall down on your face.”

“Thank you,” I told her with a smile. “I’d appreciate it.”

--------------------

Poe Cottage, Friday evening, Sept 28th, 2007
Ribbon:

Poker night was a sacred event, bound in generations of tradition. Grown men would sit around the table, smoking cigars, getting drunk, and complaining about the women in their lives, while bonding in a way that only men could. However, this was not poker night.

I held my cards close to my chest, while carefully looking around the table, trying to read any tells. My opponents were Amy, Rose, Voodude, and that really feminine looking guy, Erin. Then, without taking my eyes off the other players, I took a long sip of my drink, a Jack and Coke, minus the Jack.

Then with a grin, I played my card and announced, “Draw four.”

“Damn,” Amy grumbled as she took four cards from the deck.

“Skip,” Rose said as she played her card.

“Damn,” Voodude said, giving Rose a mock glare. “What’s up with that? I thought we were amigos.”

“All’s fair in love and Uno,” Rose responded.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” Erin commented, putting down a wildcard. I choose green…”

This time, it was Rose who glared at Erin. Over the last couple turns, it had already been made clear that she was all out of green cards, so her options at the moment were limited. However, Amy just smiled, looking rather pleased. That meant she was probably holding onto a couple green cards, and that Erin’s move may have just helped her.

“What are you doing here anyway?” Voodude asked Amy. There was no hostility in the question, merely curiosity. “Did they kick you out of Hawthorne or something?”

“Something like that,” Amy admitted with a wry smile. “There are a few people in Hawthorne, who aren’t happy with me at the moment, so I’m hiding out over here…”

“What happened?” Erin asked.

“Brownies,” I stated with a smirk.

“Brownies?” Rose asked, looking confused.

Amy let out a sigh. “Devisor brownies, to be specific.”

“Okay,” Voodude said with a grin. “Now I have GOT to know what’s going on…”

“Not much,” Amy said with a scowl. “Last night, I made a batch of devisor brownies…” Then, at the confused looks, she explained, “Think devisor coffee in brownie form. A lot of espresso and caffeine mixed in.”

“Gotcha,” Voodude said, nodding his understanding.

I chuckled at that and shook my head. When everyone looked at me, I explained, “A group of hyperactive little kids stole them…” Then, I added, “Thornie kids at that…”

Suddenly, eyes began to widen in understanding. “Damn,” Voodude exclaimed. “Is Hawthorne even still standing?”

“Mostly,” Amy responded a little self-consciously. “But a lot of the Thornies blame me, because I’m the one who made the brownies…”

“And you’re the one who let Team Awesome steal them,” I added with another chuckle.

Amy fixed me with a glare. “If I recall correctly, you were there too…”

I just shrugged at that. “But I’m not the one who made the brownies.” Then, I responded the same way my granddaughters would have, by sticking my tongue out at Amy.

“That’s pretty interesting and all,” Erin said as we continued playing. “But…Uno.” I looked and saw that Erin was right. He did have only one card left.

“That won’t do you any good,” Rose told him with a serious look. “I’m still gonna kick your scrawny ass…”

However, instead of being intimidated, Erin just smiled. “You and what army? Unless you’re talking about that army of cards you’re holding, in which case, I don’t think they’ll be a lot of help…”

“Bite me,” Rose said with a smirk as she flipped Erin off.

In spite of Erin having the lead with only a single card remaining, he didn’t win on his next turn. Instead, over the next couple turns, he was the victim of a skip, a reverse, and a draw two. Before he knew it, his hand was full of cards again, though Voodude managed to get down to two cards in the process.

“You’re from Pittsburgh, aren’t you?” Erin asked, giving me a curious look.

“Yeah,” I answered, knowing that he was from Pennsylvania too, though the two of us hadn’t talked about it before.

Erin frowned for a moment before commenting, “Everyone is saying that Lady Havoc is your mom…”

I let out a sigh of that. Of course Erin would ask about Rachael. She was probably the most notorious supervillain in Pennsylvania, so there was no doubt that he’d heard of her before. In fact, the only real surprise was that he hadn’t confronted me about this before. However, he didn’t look hostile or confrontational, merely curious.

“In spite of the rumors,” I said after a few seconds, “she isn’t my mom.” I took a long drink of my Coke, knowing that Rachael would be laughing at those rumors. “She is a relative,” I admitted to Erin and the others. “Just not my mom.”

“I’ve heard of Lady Havoc,” Voodude said. “She has a bit of a reputation.”

I scowled at that, feeling a surge of protective anger, though I pushed it back down. Voodude was right, Rachael did have a bit of a reputation, and unfortunately, much of it was well earned. However, she was also my daughter, and even after everything she’d done, she was still my little girl.

“She isn’t the monster that everyone thinks,” I said grimly, fighting back the tears that wanted to come. I took several deep breaths to keep myself calm and stead. “She has a bad case of diedricks and only gets violent when she’s dricking out. When she isn’t, she’s a good person…” My voice was threatening to break at that point, as I quietly added, “She turned herself in, so she couldn’t hurt people anymore…”

Amy nodded in understanding and gave me a sympathetic look. “Diedricks is pretty rough. If things had been only a little different, my mom could have gone the same route…”

Erin nodded faintly, and apparently realizing my discomfort with the subject, decided to change it. “Have you ever met the Freelancers?”

The Freelancers were a group of heroes based out of Pittsburgh, though calling them a ‘group’ wasn’t quite accurate. Instead of a group, they were more of a loose-knit alliance of heroes, who cooperated with each other, and sometimes worked together against larger threats.

“I’ve met them,” I admitted with a nod. “And I’m on pretty good terms with Pinnacle and Mystery Woman.”

“Really?” Erin asked, suddenly seeming a little more interested than when he’d asked about Rachael. “I saw a couple of the Freelancers when I was in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t really get a chance to talk with any of them.”

For a moment, I wondered what Erin would think if he knew that Mystery Woman, was dating my son Rich, or that Pinnacle had been spending a lot of time visiting Rachael. Of course, I couldn’t tell him that, not without revealing a few more personal details than I was comfortable with.

Erin looked like he was about to ask me another question, when Voodude announced, “Uno.” That sparked the competitive spirit, and we all turned our focus back to the game, and on trying to win. Just a minute later, the game ended, with Voodude as the winner.

“I think that’s it for the night,” Voodude said with a grin. “I’ve got a hot date tonight.”

“Male or female?” Amy asked curiously.

Voodude just smirked. “Does it matter?”

After this, everyone began to get up and leave. I stared at the now empty table for a few seconds before letting out a sigh. This little game of Uno had been fun, and reminded me of when my kids had actually been kids, and we’d play as a family. However, that had been a long time ago. Just like it had been a long time since I’d had a decent game of poker. Of course, it was hard to play poker anymore, when most of my old poker buddies were with Humanity First. Ever since Rachael manifested, none of them had wanted anything to do with me, and vice versa. I could only imagine what they’d think if they saw me now.

“Do you mind if I hang around a bit longer?” Amy asked with a wry smile. “I want to kill a little more time before heading back to Hawthorne.”

“It can’t be that bad,” I said with a chuckle.

Amy just shrugged. “Not really, but I’m still gonna have to cook up a real nice peace offering for the cottage.”

“Just make sure you invite me over,” I said as we started for my room.

When we stepped into my room, Amy paused to look over what had been her side of the room, for just a couple short days. Martina had moved the furniture a little and had decorated more than Amy had, so that side of the room looked quite different from the last time she’d been here.

“This is kind of strange,” Amy said, giving me a wry smile.

I nodded my understanding. “I imagine so.” Then I asked, “Did you hear that Cindy changed rooms?”

“No,” Amy answered. “Why? Did she and Jinx have a fight or something?”

“Or something,” I answered with a chuckle. “Apparently, she didn’t like sharing a room with someone who causes bad luck. I think the incident with her computer crashing and losing all her homework was the last straw.”

Amy winced at that. “Yeah, that would do it.”

“Can’t be any worse than living with a devisor,” I pointed out. “With diedricks.”

“True,” Amy agreed. “That can be…challenging.”

Then, Amy just stared at me for a moment, making me wonder if I had something in my teeth, or maybe if my dress was starting to vanish a bit early. A quick glance down at myself revealed that it wasn’t the latter.

“You know,” Amy said, “you’ve talked about…Rachael a number of times. You said she’s not your mom, but she’s obviously close to you. Is she your aunt, or your older sister?”

I hesitated a couple seconds before answering, “She’s my daughter.”

Amy chuckled at that, obviously thinking that it was a joke. However, when she noticed that I wasn’t laughing, she stopped and gave me an odd look. I could see the wheels turning in her head. Amy wasn’t stupid, not by any means.

I sat down on the edge of my bed and let out a sigh. “I told you that when I manifested…I lost a few years of age.” Then, giving her a self-conscious smile, I added, “It would probably be more accurate to say that I lost a few decades. Four to be exact.”

“You’re kidding,” Amy started to say, but then paused. “You aren’t.”

“Not in the least,” I replied with a sigh. “My name used to be Al Morgan, and last month, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday.”

“That explains a few things,” Amy responded, giving me a curious look, though not seeming as shocked as I would have expected. “That sounds like quite a story…”

“And you’ve already heard it,” I admitted with a shrug. “Just not all the little details.”

Amy gave me a look of amusement. “I think you left out more than a few little details.”

I nodded at that, suddenly wishing that I had a beer to drink while I talked. I didn’t, but I did have some bourbon, so I hopped off my bed, pulled out my bottle, and pulled myself half a glass. I glanced to Amy, then decided that she wouldn’t appreciate the booze. And that wasn’t even taking her age into account.

After taking a long sip of my drink, I said, “Rachael is my daughter. My middle-child.” I gave Amy a wry chuckle and added, “I have three children, and two granddaughters.” I took another sip, then closed my eyes for a moment. “Rachael was a good girl, and she had so much potential. Then she manifested as a devisor…and developed diedricks. I tried to help her. I tried every God damn thing I could think of, but it wasn’t enough. Her diedricks took over her life, and drove her to becoming a supervillain. As her father, it broke my heart.”

“I can only imagine,” Amy said in a gentle and comforting tone.

“I was the one who turned her over to the cops,” I admitted grimly. “I even testified at her trial. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I didn’t have a choice. Then, after she escaped, I didn’t see her again for years. Not until the hospital…”

Amy moved closer to me and gently urged me to continued. “You said that you’d been sick...”

“Cancer,” I said bitterly. “It ate me away to damn near nothing…” I closed my eyes. “I was in the hospital, with only a couple weeks left at most, when Rachael showed up. She said that she’d invented a cure for cancer, and that she was there to save my life.” I looked down at myself and chuckled. “It worked…but with a few side effects. Turns out, it kick started my own mutant gene complex, and I manifested…” I gestured down myself and gave Amy a wry look. “Rachael saved my life and gave me a second chance.”

“But it turned you into a little girl,” Amy pointed out.

I shrugged at that. “A small price to pay. Yeah, looking like this is a real pain in the ass, sometimes…pardon the French, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative. And there are other benefits.”

Amy looked just a little confused. “But if you’re really an adult, then what are you doing here at Whateley?”

“Because I have a second chance,” I answered, not sure that someone as young as Amy could really understand what this meant. “On my first time around, I dropped out of high school, and I’ve always regretted it. This time, I want to do things right. This time, I have a damn good reason.”

Amy was silent for several long seconds, before asking, “What reason is that?”

“Diedricks,” I answered grimly. Amy’s eyes widened slightly at that one word answer, and I saw the understanding in them. However, I still continued, “After seeing what diedricks did to Rachael, to my family, I want to do something to help. And in order to do that, I need to get a good education, and learn everything I can about it.”

“I see,” Amy said quietly. “Does anyone else know?”

“Carson does,” I admitted. “And a couple other people in admin and security, though I have no idea who.” I shrugged at that. “Hell, for all I know, Horton might know…or she might not. I’m not gonna bother asking though.”

“I can’t imagine what this must be like for you,” Amy said, reaching out and grabbing me in a hug. Sometimes, she seemed so naturally maternal, that it was easy to forget that she used to be a boy.

I hugged Amy back, which was strange, yet oddly comforting. I’d only told her about my real age on an impulse, because at that moment, I trusted her and wanted her to understand. Now, I was thankful that I had, because it felt as though a weight had been taken off my shoulders.

After I pulled away, I gave Amy a self-conscious smile and said, “If you could keep this to yourself…”

“Of course,” she immediately responded. Then, she added, “And if you wanted to talk more about Rachael and your old life, I’d be happy to listen.”

For a moment, I just stood there staring up at her. “I think I’d like that.”

--------------------

Saturday morning, Sept 29th, 2007
Roulette:

Power Lab. Again. Today, I was lucky enough to have woken up as a devisor, which meant that for Power Lab, I was actually spending the class period in one of the devisor labs, putting together the new devise that I’d been working on for the last week.

Even though I hadn’t been in devisor mode until today, I had managed to gather all the parts that I thought I’d need, and even fabricate the casing. And now that I was a devisor, I was able to start assembling them, doing so very quickly because of all of my previous preparations.

With my devisor instincts in play, I’d made a few last-minute design changes, but that didn’t add a lot of time to my work. By the time my Power Lab period was over, my devise was completely assembled and ready for testing.

I was in a good mood as I began the walk back to Hawthorne. I couldn’t wait to test my new devise, and to show it off. However, I hadn’t gone very far when I saw a potential problem.

“Not him again,” I groaned.

Gravmax had been walking in the direction of the campus store, when he saw me. For a moment, I thought he’d ignore my presence and simply continue on his way, but I should have known better. I was never that lucky.

As I watched Gravmax come towards me at a quick pace, with a noticeable smirk on his face, I considered my chances of running away. If I’d been in exemplar mode, then I probably would have tried it, but at the moment, I probably wasn’t fast enough.

“And it’s not necessary,” I mused, glancing up to where my golden sphere floated overhead.

I’d brought my little toy to the lab, so I could perform a couple minor tweaks on it while I was there. I still hadn’t installed a video camera, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t bluff again. After all, it had worked on Gravmax before.

But suddenly, my floating sphere dropped straight to the ground and smashed. Gravmax hadn’t even given me the chance to bluff, and had targeted the sphere right away. I felt my own weight increased too, but not enough to bring me down, just enough to keep me from trying to run.

“Do you know how much time that took to build?” I asked, glaring at Gravmax.

“I think it’s time for us to have that talk,” Gravmax announced smugly. “Without any of your friends interfering.”

“From what I’ve seen,” I pointed out wryly. “You’re all talk.”

Gravmax snarled and demanded, “Show me the respect I deserve…”

“I am,” I answered with a snort. “None.”

The rich boy’s eyes narrowed and I could see I was pissing him off. “You don’t want to make me mad,” he started to say.

“Because I won’t like you when you’re mad?” I asked. “I don’t like you now.” Then, because he was starting to get flustered, I just smiled and pointed out, “You know, there are security cameras…”

“And all they’ll see is us standing here and talking nicely,” Gravmax said with a malicious grin. “And then, they’re going to see you collapse and have one of those burnouts you’re famous for…”

“Is that what they’re going to see?” I asked.

Then, before Gravmax could go ahead with his plan of smashing me flat into the ground like a pancake, I decided to make my move. Fortunately for me, I had a brand new devise, and now I had a guinea pig.

With that, I quickly pulled out my new weapon, a needle gun, and opened fire, sending a spray of small needle projectiles right at Gravmax. My needle gun, which could also be called a flechette gun, was basically a tiny rail gun, which used electromagnetic fields to fire the needles. It wasn’t nearly as powerful as my rail gun, but it had the advantage of being small enough to carry around campus.

Gravmax yelped in pain as three of my needled caught in his upper thigh. I scowled at that, since the range and accuracy of my new weapon, weren’t nearly as good as I’d hoped. However, I had more important things to worry about at the moment.

Without a moment of hesitation, I grabbed what remained of my sphere from the ground, then turned and ran towards Hawthorne while Gravmax was distracted. I might get in trouble with security for this later, but there was no way I was going to just stand there and let that asshole mess with me.

I reached Hawthorne a short time later, and was relieved to get through the door where I knew I was safe. Sure, there were still a few people irritated me with me over the brownie incident, but the muffins I’d made this morning should have helped ease the rough feelings, and I’d finish making it up to everyone tomorrow with a nice meal.

Once I was inside, I saw Achoo and Dust in the hallway, excitedly laughing with each other. “I can’t feel my hands,” Achoo whined, which caused both boys to burst into another round of laugher.

I chuckled as well, now knowing what they were talking about, even though I hadn’t been there to see it myself. Yesterday, Aegis had been in Hawthorne for his detention, and Mrs. Cantrel had given him the task of changing out the curtain around Sapphire’s bed. Apparently, he’d forgotten to put on his gloves, because he came out of her room a few minutes later, complaining that he couldn’t feel his hands.

“Don’t treat Aegis too badly,” I told the boys with a chuckle. “He’s only here on detention because he tried to help me.”

“But he’s such a punk,” Achoo responded with a broad grin, that I could barely make out through his air filter mask.

After this, I went to the dayroom, where I promptly collapsed in a chair and let out a sigh of relief. Then, I took my damaged sphere and set it on the coffee table in front of me.

“What happened to that?” Sapphire asked.

I gave her a wry smile. “Gravmax.”

“Again?” Sapphire responded with a snort of disgust. “Do you need me to go spit on him again for you?”

“Naw, I took care of it myself this time,” I assured her, feeling just a little smug.

With that, I held out my new needle gun. It looked sort of like a high tech pistol, the kind that you’d expect to shoot energy beams or something. Instead, it just fired small needles. It was small, easy to carry around school, and non-lethal. Just what I needed to protect myself around the school.

“What have you got there?” Caitlin asked from the doorway.

“Needle gun,” I answered proudly.

Caitlin came over and gave my devise a curious look before asking, “Mind if I take a look?”

“Go ahead,” I answered as I handed it over.

The RA looked over my devise with a thoughtful expression, and even popped the clip to look at the ammunition. Once she was done, she slipped the clip back in, made sure the safety was set, and handed it back to me.

“Neat,” Caitlin said with a grin. “I like it.”

“It’s basically a miniature rail gun,” I explained. “I figured, that I needed something non-lethal to protect myself around campus.”

“Not a bad idea,” Caitlin said.

“It sounds like a great idea to me,” Sapphire added. “With the way that jerk keeps messing with you.”

I nodded at that. “Unfortunately, the range and accuracy need a little work, and it doesn’t have much oomph…”

“Talk to Slapdash,” Caitlin told me. “He does railguns like no one on campus today. He might have a few pointers to make it better.” She paused for a moment before adding, “Just not if he’s dricking.”

I nodded again. “I was thinking of having Breakdown take a look at it, and see if she saw anything I could improve. But as it is, I’ve already got a few ideas.”

“Any interesting ones?” Caitlin asked.

“Oh yeah,” I responded with a grin. A few of my ideas were a little out of the box, and would need time to arrange. However, there was one thing I could take care of right now. “So,” I said to Sapphire. “We’re neighbors, so would it be possible to borrow a cup of your venom?”

“Why?” Sapphire started to ask, until I held up my needle gun and grinned. Her eyes went wide in understanding, then she grinned back. “That wouldn’t be a problem.”

“If I coat my needles in her venom,” I explained to Caitlin, though I was pretty sure that I didn’t really need to, “then they become a lot more effective.”

“Not bad,” Caitlin told me with a grin and a nod of approval. “Not bad at all. However, you’re still gonna need to take firearm safety before you’ll be allowed to carry that around on campus.”

“Of course,” I replied.

Of course, I was going to carry my needle gun around anyway, since I didn’t want to get caught while helpless again. I’d just have to be careful not to flaunt it.

A few seconds later, Sapphire got up and left the dayroom, probably to get me some of her venom. I looked over at Caitlin, who was the only one in there with me. She had a look on her face, as though she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how.

“You slipped, Amy,” Caitlin finally said, which wasn’t what I was expecting. “Last week, on the range…when we were talking about your singularity bomb, and how you used to bond with your mom over those things.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, not getting what she meant.

Caitlin gave me a flat look. “Be careful, you might not always be talking to another changeling when you say ‘mother and son’. Make sure that if someone finds out, it’s because you told them intentionally, not because you slipped.”

My eyes widened at that. Caitlin gave me a friendly nod, then left the day room. For a moment, I just remained where I was, considering her words. I’d damn near told her about my being a changeling, and hadn’t even realized it. But just as surprising, was her revelation that she was a changeling too.

“Then why isn’t she in Poe?” I mused. Perhaps for the same reason I wasn’t. I’d heard that she used to have some weird issues with her powers, so that must be it.

It was strange, I considered, just how many people around Whateley seemed to have secrets. Sapphire, Alyss, and now Caitlin, all had secrets that they’d confided in me. And of course, I had my own secret, that I was a changeling, though I was realizing that it wasn’t as big a deal as I would have imagined.

“Everyone has secrets,” I reminded myself, thinking about how long it had taken me just to find out that my mom’s codename was Boom Job. “I’m just going to have to be a little more careful with mine.”

Then with a smile, I picked up my ruined sphere, and my needle gun, and started back to my room. The sphere would need to be rebuilt, even more than when Breakdown had torn it apart, which was annoying. But my needle gun would only need a few tweaks and additions, and it would be ready for use.

“Everything is finally starting to come together,” I said, feeling rather pleased about that. “Now, time to go make some cookies…”

--------------------

Saturday afternoon, Sept 29th, 2007
Ribbon:

I was in a damn good mood as I left the school library and began skipping across campus towards Poe. Sure, skipping was something only a little girl could get away with doing, but since I looked like a little girl, nobody cared except me, and I was just having fun.

So far, I’d spent most of the day in the garage, doing some oil changes and basic maintenance on a few campus and faculty vehicles. This wasn’t all that difficult or exciting, but it was the bread and butter for any mechanic, and it let me earn my paycheck, such as it was.

Then, that art teacher the Imp, brought in some kind of high-tech motorcycle, that was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Some of the other Gearheads did the ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ thing over it, while giving it a tune-up.

And of course, I spent a good hour or two helping Skids on some weird prototype car she’d been working on. I’d spent over three decades working on cars, but this thing, like Imp’s bike, was a first for me.

Even though I looked like a sweet and innocent girl, I still had the heart and soul of an old fart. I just hoped that this old dog was able to learn a few new tricks. In fact, I was counting on it, or there was no reason for me to come to Whateley in the first place.

Because of this, once I was done in the garage, I’d stopped by the library for a dozen or so books. That would be good reading material for the night, and would help me progress in my ultimate goal.

I’d come to the conclusion that in order to help people with diedricks, then I’d need to become a doctor, and not just a doctor. I needed to become a neurologist, and who knew what else. With that in mind, I’d picked up a couple books on the subject, which would hopefully, get me another step closer.

I hadn’t gone far from the library when I caught sight of Gravmax. He was walking towards Melville, but was doing so with a noticeable limp. I didn’t know what had happened to him, unless one of his would be victims had kicked him in the ankle or something. I just hoped he decided not to start anything with me, because I was in too good a mood to deal with any of his crap today.

A short time later, I reached Poe without any problems, and immediately went into the dayroom. Breakdown, Cindy, and Downpour were sitting there, munching on a plate of cookies. Even Downpour looked sort of happy at that moment.

“Hey, Alyss,” Breakdown greeted me.

“Hey,” I responded with a friendly wave. “Who brought the cookies?”

“Amy did,” Cindy answered.

“They’re good,” Downpour offered with a faint smile, which for her, might as well have been a genuine happy dance.

Breakdown nodded. “Amy gave them to me, for looking at one of her devises…”

Cindy chuckled. “And I bet it’s the only time anyone has ever paid you to tear their stuff apart.”

“Well, yeah,” Breakdown admitted self-consciously. “But Amy understands how useful my powers are…”

Cindy rolled her eyes at that, then almost as an aside, told me, “She’d be the only one. Hardwyrd was ready to blow a gasket the last time she tore apart one of his things…”

“And Blackbox,” Downpour added quietly.

“So,” Breakdown asked me with a grin. “When are you going to get Amy back in Poe? We need her to start cooking for us the way she is for the Thornies…”

“You’ll have to ask admin about that one,” I responded with a chuckle. “But I don’t think it will happen until her burnout issue is fixed.”

All three of the girls looked sad for a moment, as they considered Amy’s problem. I tried not to think of it myself, because she’d become one of my closest friends, and I hated to see her going through so many burnouts. One of these days, she might not be able to simply shake one off, and we all knew it.

“I hope Amy gets better,” Downpour said. The rest of us all nodded agreement at that.

After this, I accepted a cookie, which really was pretty good, then I settled down to read. I’d found one book in the library on diedricks, and was really looking forward to that one. As it was, I’d been tempted to read it right there at the library.

I’d only finished three of the books in my stack, when suddenly, a whirlwind of rainbows, unicorns, glitter, and bubbly excitement burst into the dayroom. Wondercute had arrived. Or at least, four of them had.

“Alyss,” Jade exclaimed with a broad grin, while mischief danced in her eyes. “We were looking all over for you…”

“Jade,” I greeted her, then turned my attention to Bunny, Molly, and Misty and gave them a nod of acknowledgement as well.”

Cindy and Breakdown both began snickering. “Have fun Alyss,” Cindy called out.

I rolled my eyes at that, then got up so I could go talk to the girls. Of course, at my height, I might as well have remained seated.

“Come on,” Misty exclaimed. “We’re gonna be late…”

“Late for what?” I asked suspiciously.

“Our Cardcaptor Sakura marathon,” Bunny answered with a broad grin.

“All of Wondercute is gonna be there,” Molly said.

Cindy and Breakdown both began laughing at my misfortune, and even Downpour looked somewhat amused. That made me scratch my chin, a leftover habit from the days when I used to scratch at my beard.

“But I’m not a member of Wondercute,” I explained carefully. “And I like you girls, but I’m not really Wondercute material…”

“Sure you are,” Jade insisted. “You’re totally cute…”

“No offense,” I said, “but I don’t want to join Wondercute, so please, stop trying to recruit me.”

“Okay,” Jade said with a disappointed sigh. “We’ll leave you alone.”

I stared at Jade and the others, scowling slightly as I did so. After raising two daughters of my own, and having two granddaughters, I could recognize the signs of girls having their fingers crossed behind their backs, even if only on a metaphorical level. These girls had absolutely no intention of leaving me alone.

“Are you still gonna come to our marathon?” Bunny asked, giving me the ‘puppy dog’ eyes.

Breakdown and Cindy laughed again. I turned to give them a flat look, which only caused them to burst into giggles. Even Downpour snickered a little.

Then, I turned my attention back to Wondercute and let out a sigh. These girls were so filled with bubbly enthusiasm, that it was enough to make my teeth hurt. But on the other hand, they reminded me of my granddaughters, especially of Kimberly.

A smile began to form as I thought about how much fun Kimberly would have with Wondercute. And then I thought of Kaylie, who was the same way, until she started on her more recent goth phase.

“Why not?” I finally answered, making Cindy and Breakdown choke in surprise. I chuckled at that. “I don’t have anything better going on today.”

All four of the Wondercute members who were present, cheered at that, making me feel more welcome. I just shook my head, wondering what I’d gotten myself involved with, this time of my own free will.

“But I’m still not joining Wondercute,” I told them. “I’m just curious about this show you’re gonna be watching…”

“Of course,” Bunny responded with a grin.

“You know,” I said with an evil grin of my own, “I think they might be interested too…”

Suddenly, Cindy and Breakdown jumped up and ran from the dayroom. Downpour wasn’t quite quick enough, and she was soon surrounded by the Wondercute girls.

“Come on,” Bunny announced. “You’re gonna love it…”

Jade nodded enthusiastic agreement and added, “You’re gonna have fun, whether you want to or not.”

I just chuckled at that, once again thinking that my granddaughters might fit right in with these girls. Then with a shake of my head and another chuckle over what I was going to intentionally put myself through, I followed behind the girls as they led the way to their marathon.

THE END…for now



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