Cadre 5:

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Sun Dec 04, 2011 2:31 pm

(continued from above)
LIGHTWING aka Tracy Bramhold

I was a bit surprised at the invite to Kenna's home, and at first I didn't have any inclination in going. Pat was going and so was Amelia, and I didn't want interfere with whatever was happening there. I would point out that I was going to be the only person there without a date, but that wasn't quite true. Lisa Polanski aka Talon from Neoforce 1 was going to be there. In reality though, I just wasn't interested in having a date at that time. I was doing a lot of soul searching about what I wanted to do with my life and was glad to not have the distraction of a significant other.

Kenna must have sensed that I was going to bail on her invite, because she cornered me right after the meeting in the common room and made it clear that she expected me to come. “It's and invitation for the whole team, and I'd really like you to be there,” she'd told me. That in itself was strange because she almost never talked about her faith. I wondered what was going on, but decided to let it slide.

“Okay,” I told her. “I'll be there. It's not like I can't go home anytime I want.” To be honest most of the cadre knew that I had been going home for the weekends quite a bit lately. I was trying to stay out of Patrick's and Amelia's way. Besides, I actually liked spending time with my folks.

Anyway that first day at the Draupnir's was really interesting. I hadn't realized how much the school was starting to bring us down. Losing Michael, the attack on the tower, and then move underground- which I do not like- all had been just a little more added weight on our shoulders. That first morning was actually pretty liberating- especially trying to catch the pigs.

It was fun to use our powers for something other than practicing to fight or actually fighting. I'm not sure the pigs appreciated our fun, but we sure did. I also discovered that Talon was completely out of my class when it came to power of flight. That girl had aerial maneuvers that I could never hope to match. My wings are designed for lift and gliding, hers were designed for power, speed, and maneuverability. My wings were more like a swans, hers like a falcon, and she definitely knew how to use them.

After we got the pigs back in their pen we all headed back to the farm to get the mud off our shoes and maybe change jeans- most of us had more than just a few mud splatters, and poor Sawyer and Alex had it all over them.

Those of us who could fly didn't see any need to traipse through the mud, and to be honest, mine and Lisa's long feathers were likely to drag the ground, so we kept to the air. Lisa flew up beside me and said, “On your turns if you'll twist your body more so that you're flying sideways, you'll cut off some of your radius.”

“I'm not sure what you mean,” I told her.

“You try to turn while keeping your body flat to the ground. It makes you skip sideways when you turn. Instead turn your body so that your shoulder is to the ground and and pull up.” She beat her wings a couple of strokes to put some distance between us. “Like this,” she yelled and then she twisted sideways and with a couple of powerful strokes she'd made ninety-degree turn.”

I nodded and tried it myself. It was hard at first. It didn't seem natural to not face down while flying. But I started to get the hang of it and before long the two of us were cutting tight circles around the field, dodging and generally cutting up and playing. It was fun, it was something I only got to do when I was at home and in the desert- and then I had to call my Dad's boss and let them know what I was doing so they didn't think I was an unregistered aircraft trying to spy on them.

After about an hour, we landed next to an apple tree near the edge of the field and just rested. I could see a lot of the tension had gone out of Lisa's eyes as we settled to the ground with a fresh apple each. “That was fun,” she said.

I nodded and bit into my apple and replied, “Yeah, it was. I don't get to do that kind of thing very often without Coach Moore or Commander Erikson critiquing it.”

“I bet,” she replied. “Mrs. Calvin, our team's physical trainer is the same way. Sometimes I just like to soar around New York and see the sights. No costume, no ID- just me the thermals, and the winds.”

“A city like that must breed some awesome lift,” I told her.

She nodded and said, “It does, and all those concrete canyons mean you have to be very careful how you're flying. Maneuverability there is not just something cool and fun, it's a necessity.”

“I bet,” I told her. Then thinking that she didn't seem to be as hard and cool as the others had described her, I asked, “How do you like working for the Neoforce 1?”

She shrugged and said, “It's pretty cool. Rebecca is a good teacher and she and the rest of the team have helped Alex an me get settled into the city.”

“Do you like living in New York all by yourself?” I asked carefully. Kenna had told me that Lisa was one of those kids stuck in the system. Her family had abandoned her when she went through her cold burn and became a neo. Nobody wanted to adopt a neo kid with wings so she was pretty much raised in foster care and in various orphanages. When the present administration came to power she'd been shipped off to the Danville school where she lived full time. Kenna had described that school as part concentration camp and part psychic waste dump. She had nothing good to say about the place.

She grinned and asked, “Are you kidding? It's the Big Apple! It's the most alive city I've ever been in. Of course I love it.” The smile she had lit her whole face. “I've never been this free before, and at the same time so in control of my own life. I don't know what I would have done if Rebecca hadn't pushed to get us on Neoforce 1. For the first time, people are treating me like a human being, and I love it.”

We actually sat there talking for a long time. We talked about her life in New York as a member of the nation's first neo-human team. We talked about my growing up in New Mexico and we talked about flying. The funny thing was there was no romantic or even sexual context to our conversation. It was just like people who had been best friends since grade school. I think flying was what made us connect.

The rest of the stay was just a relaxing weekend away from the school. I don't know how the Draupnirs managed it, but they kept us entertained and busy while making us feel at home all the while they were preparing for this Winterfinding thing. I have to agree with Lisa, it was the most normal I'd felt in a long time. There were no tests to worry about, no projects due for Mr. Waterford, and no DEA or government issues to give us a headache. We were just teenagers having a nice weekend.

By the time Sunday night rolled around, the farm was decked out in pumpkins and corn shocks. There were black and orange paper lanterns hanging from various places in the back yard, and the smell of slow cooked pork was making all of our mouths water in anticipation. I think I was almost drooling, and I know Patrick was. I kidded him about needing a bib and Amelia gave me the strangest look.

Now that was one girl I didn't want to mess with. She could change your mind in a minute and you never realize it was her doing. More frightening however was her ability to drain your strength. I know she and Patrick are close, but I sometimes worry about my best friend dating a psychic vampire. But he managed and I minded my own business.

As for the preparations, there was an area out back where I think the ceremony to which we'd been invited was to take place. A ring of unlit torches and a large raised flat stone that had a small ledge at the back and was about three and a half feet high sat under three large trees staggered in a triangle. A small round table sat in front of it. An ornamental pond and waterfall was on one side, and a stone-lined fire pit was on the other. There was a white banner with a black raven behind the stone, and several other banners with runes painted on them scattered around the circle. I later found out that the middle tree was an oak and it had an ash on one side and an elm on the other. According to Kenna, the latter two are what Odin and his brothers used to create man and woman.

Now that's a story you don't hear about much in school. I mean we've got all these people wanting for the schools to teach creationism or intelligent design or whatever they want to call it, but in reality it all adds up to them wanting the schools to teach THEIR creation story- Genesis. If the schools are going to have to teach creationism, the question comes down to which creation story to tell. Personally, I'm partial to the Egyptian story of the universe being masturbated into existence. At least that way, somebody is having a good time.

Well anyway, we were all very interested in exactly what was going to happen. Kenna and her family had explained part of it to us. Winterfinding was a celebration held before the winter began. Animals that were not expected to survive the coming long hard winter were slaughtered and the meat prepared to see the family through that time. It was also a celebration of the female ancestors of the family, something they called the disir, along side the female Gods.

Other things were explained to us as well. As guests we'd be toward the front of the gathering. Out of respect for the large number of teenagers present, the traditional horn that is passed around would not contain an alcoholic drink but some more of the cider we'd been sipping. When the horn came to us, if we didn't want to make a pledge, then we could either simply pass it to the next person or raise it with simple, “Hail.” We were welcome to hail any of the Norse Gods but it was considered bad form to hail any from another pantheon. Kenna also warned us against hailing Loki.

When the time for the ceremony came we were all standing around the living room talking and sipping that apple cider the Draupnirs served us and waiting to be “called” to something they referred to as the ve. I guess that was the circle I described earlier. We were all dressed like we were going to church- which in a way, I guess we were- and on our best behavior. There were a lot more people here than I expected. Doctor North and Professor Moffett were there talking to Kenna's mother, and there were a bunch of other people I didn't know, but guessed they were part of the Draupnir's kindred.

Kenna, Rowan, and Sawyer were in one corner talking to Kenna's grandmother. I overheard the old woman asking Kenna, “Do you still have that knife I gave you?”

Kenna reached behind her back and pulled a long silvery dagger out of nowhere. I still don't know where she hides all the things she carries around with her. “It's right here, Grandma,” she told her.

The old woman reached out a gnarled hand and patted Kenna's. She smiled softly and said, “Good girl. You hang onto that. Keep it with you always. You're werewolf is a coming. I can feel it in my bones.”

Kenna just nodded and replied seriously, “I will, Grandma. Don't worry; none of Angrabotha's offspring are going to get anywhere near me.”

“Good girl,” the old woman told her patting the hand again. “That's the spirit of the 'tru.” I'm not sure what that was all about. I know that Kenna's grandmother had killed the feral neo who attacked their farm. He evidently had wolf like features. From what Brian said, she gave him both barrels of ten-gauge shotgun loaded with silver slugs.

I looked around for someone to ask about it, but I wasn't sure who knew what. Then there was the sound of a bell ringing and everyone looked toward the door. Mrs. Draupnir excused herself from her conversation and went to the door. Kenna joined her saying, “That means we're ready. If you'll take a candle and follow mother.”

As we lined up at the door, Kenna handed each of us a small white candle to carry. Filing out of the front door, I could imagine the eerie procession we made across the yard and around back. Everyone was serious and quiet as we entered that circle under the trees. Evidently someone had set up several rows of chairs in a half circle facing the stone. Mrs. Draupnir guided all the visitors, meaning those of us from Neoforce 1 and Wyndgate, to a place in the front. The others in line began to fill the rest of the seats.

Mr. Draupnir was standing in front of the stone, and there were two small statues sitting on its back ledge. One was of a woman sitting in a large chair. She had a cloak of feathers around her shoulders and two cats were at her feet. The other was of an older man with a wide brimmed hat, an eye patch and he was holding a spear. Two ravens sat on his shoulder and two wolves were at his feet. A large cow's horn with a silver rim and tip, a stoneware pitcher with a floral design, a wooden bowl, and a some kind of evergreen sprig lay on the table in front of the stone. A fire blazed in the fire pit, and all the torches had been lit. The scent of cedar and sage permeated the area.

I looked over to where Pat was standing next to me, and on the other side of him was Amelia sitting on the aisle seat. I was a bit surprised though when Kenna didn't join us, but instead walked up to stand by her father. The dark blue in her wings appeared almost black in the torch light. I could see tiny jolts of lightning were dancing between her antennae.

It took several minutes for the thirty or so people to take their places. Oddly enough there was not a lot of conversation going on. Most of us guests were simply unsure of what to do, and the regulars seemed to be content to sit and wait for things to begin. There was a strange feeling that seemed to rise out of the ground beneath us. It was a feeling of peace and warmth; of belonging and somehow welcoming.

When everyone was seated, Mr. Draupnir cleared his throat and Kenna took up a place beside the table with the horn and bowl. He began, “Thank you for joining us this night. As most of you know, I usually dedicate Winterfinding to the Allfather in his role as the leader of the Einjhar. But at the request of my daughter and son, I'm also dedicating it to Freyja, the first chooser of the battleslain.” He smiled hugely and said, “So you'll please forgive me if I'm a little off my game.”

All of the regulars chuckled. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I got the feeling it was some kind of inside joke. He continued, “We'd like to take the opportunity to welcome our guests here tonight. Some of them you may know from the news, others you may not, but all are welcome this night of the spectres, this winterfinding night.”

He took a deep breath and looked over to Kenna and said, “Let's begin.” He turned to face the stone and began, “As in the days of our ancestors, and as in today, we beseech you our Elderkin, our progenitors to join us, to make us aware of your presence here with your people. As elders beloved, we ask that you Odin, the Allfather, the Waytamer make your self known to us. We ask you, Freyja, the First Chooser of the Battle Slain, the Keeper of Cats, to make us your children aware of your presence among your people. We ask and welcome any of the Aesir, or the Vanir who would join us on this Winterfinding Night to make us aware of your presence.”

Kenna took to the horn from the table and poured it full of the amber liquid from the pitcher. It was at this time I noticed the rather large stone container under the table. I assumed it had more of the cider in it. Raising the horn to the stone behind her and bowing her head she passed it to her father. He in turn raised it to the altar and then proclaimed loudly, “Hail Odin; he who hung on the tree for nine day, Hail Odin, the Allfather, Hail the Raven God.” He took a sip from the horn.

Passing it back to Kenna who raised it and raised her eyes to the heavens. In a loud and clear voice, she intoned, “Hail Freyja, Hail Od's wife. Hail she who walks her own path. Hail she who is the most beautiful of all the Goddesses, Hail Brisengamen's Owner, who raised forty thousand draugr to win back her property.” I noticed that she winked at her father who looked suddenly surprised. Several chuckles ran through the gathering. Evidently there was something surprising about what Kenna had said.

Her father grinned at her, nodded his head and the two made their other end of the front row where some of the regular members of the kindred were seated. Kenna passed the horn to her father who handed it the woman sitting on the far end. She raised the horn
high the air and said, “Hail Sif of the Golden Hair.” She then took a long drink and passed the horn back to Kenna.

Next in line was a short fat man with dark hair and a beard. He raised the cup and Hailed Odin. I noticed that Mr. Draupnir stuck out two fingers at his side as if he were keeping track of who was being hailed. I found out later that he had to offer up a cup to Loki outside the circle for each time Odin was hailed.

When the horn came to us, Kenna whispered, “If you don't feel like hailing one of the gods, simply say hail, or pass the horn back.”

Not really comfortable with the idea of hailing a pagan god, I simply passed the horn back like Patrick did. I was surprised though when the four core members each hailed one of the gods. Boomer called on Thor, and Sawyer hailed Tyr. However when Rowan lifted the horn and in a clear voice said, “Hail Nerthus, Goddess of the Earth and mother of Freyja and Frey,” two things happened. The first was that a ripple of approval seemed to run through the regulars. It would seem that most of those present approved of Rowan's choice of Nerthus. Why I'm not sure. The second however was much more profound.

The warm feeling of belonging flared to life. It nearly knocked me to my knees and in my mind's eye I saw a well proportioned woman in her late twenties or early thirties. She was wearing a long green dress and was barefooted. She smiled and then disappeared. Suddenly I felt something flow up from the ground and into me. I felt like I was home with Mom and Dad. I felt like my family had just expanded to include everyone gathered here.

Evidently I wasn't the only one. As the horn continued to pass down the line, I could see where each person had been touched by what had happened. There were looks of surprise, and understanding on their faces. We all seemed to be joined together some way. It was like our minds had been opened to something bigger than we were, something deep in the primitive parts of our brains had been touched. It felt good, and just a little scary.

I don't remember much more of the details of the ceremony. There was a sermon that followed about the interconnectedness of family and how the Gods were our ancestors and our family. There was talk about the coming winter and the hardship it would bring, and how that hardship had been far lessened by modern conveniences. His sermon- if you can call it that was about the important women in our lives and all that they teach us. There was a blessing where we were each sort touched on the top of the head with the evergreen branch dipped into the bowl of cider. At least I think it was a blessing. It was as if the meaning of the ceremony had become part of my soul, but details were lost in the over all feeling of being part of something greater than myself.

After it was over we were all sort of wired for sound. There was a huge feast, where we all gorged ourselves on roasted pork and more home grown vegetables than I've ever seen in one place. The fresh bread brought by one of the other families was the best I'd ever tasted in my life- and don't get me started on the roasted pork loin. I guess living on a farm does have its advantages. There was another small ceremony afterward, but it was mainly for the adults. I understand that the drink used for that one was the real stuff. Still the whole gathering affected me- affected all of us- in a really profound way. I mean, I've heard people talk about a personal relationship with God, or feeling God's presence in their lives, but I never thought I would feel something like this and I never thought it would be during a pagan ceremony.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Sat Dec 10, 2011 12:33 pm

Note: This is the first part of my NaNoWriMo project for 2011. The whole thing is actually 80k+ words long but in the interest of maintaining stylistic continuity, I'm including it here as issues. Please remember to comment or review on your way out. Getting reviews good, bad, or indifferent is one of the great joys of any writer.

Issue 6: ERUPTION! (Part 1)
SPEEDFIRE aka Patrick Mattison

Yeah that gathering in West Virginia was something to talk about. Like Tracy, I felt something deep inside me stir to life. And I'll admit that it was an event that cut through the all the crap that was going on in my life just then. I was getting regular updates on what was happening with my Mom and her trial. That organization that she wanted me to see about bobbing my ears, and cutting off my horns and tail had hired for her a high priced lawyer.

It looked like they were wanting to not only defend my Mom, but use the trial to stir up anti-neo sentiment. Even that lady who interviewed Rowan was getting in on the action. Gretchen Von Hostren was talking about it on her show For the Record. Of course she'd be interested in it, she was a former lawyer who made a big name in the media for herself when she covered the murder trial of that football star who killed his wife. She tended to jump on any story that had a legal angle to it.

But at the same time O'Malley was running his mouth too. He was wanting me to come on his show and tell my side of the story. The thing about it, there isn't much to tell, and the prosecutor in Roswell had told me that if I started talking to the press, Mom's defense lawyers could use what was said to get an appeal on the grounds that it had tainted the jury. All in all, the whole situation was totally screwed up.

I had been seeing a lot more of Dad lately. Evidently his boss has had him coming to DC to hammer out some contracts with a local company as well as the government. We were going to dinner at least once a week. At first I felt bad for Tracy because he didn't get to see his folks as often. I shouldn't have worried though, because after Amelia and I started dating, he started visiting his parents back in New Mexico. I guess when you can transform your body into living light and travel at light speed, then 1500 miles isn't that bad. I know at top speed I can make it there in under a quarter hour, but I”m so exhausted that I don't feel like visiting. More importantly, I leave a trail of sonic booms behind me that tear up the roads, and shatter windows. And for the record, I didn't start putting the two events together until Amelia pointed it out to me.

What I didn't know was the other reason Dad was spending so much time in DC. That is until about a week after we got back from Fall Break. He picked me up at school as usual on Wednesday night. This time he'd told me that I should dress nicely as we were going to a “suit and tie” restaurant, which probably meant mixing business with dinner.

“Where we going tonight?” I asked as I slid into the rental he was driving.

“Manassas,” he grinned back at me. Then he asked me, “How is school?”

I shrugged and said, “Not bad.”

“Learning anything new?” he asked.

“Just the usual stuff,” I told him. “We've got a major project coming up for Mr. Waterford, but to be honest we always seem to be either winding down or starting a new project for him.” I shook my head and added, “I've never been in this kind of learning environment before.”

“But are you learning?” he asked me.

I nodded and said, 'Yes sir, I am, and I'm loving it. I've never had a teacher like Mr. Waterford.”

“Good. You've always been bright, and I honestly didn't think you were being pushed hard enough at your old school- you or Tracy,” he told me as we pulled out of the main gate.

“How long are you in town for?” I asked.

“Just a few days. We're about to seal a couple of deals for the company, and then things are going to get busy with a new design for a space plane,” he told me.

“When did you get put on that project?” I asked. It was no secret that Nordwell Avionics was developing a new reusable space plane for government and commercial use. Half the engineers at the company wanted on that project because it could lead to actually spending some time in space.

“Right after you came back to school this year. That's why I've been traveling so much,” he told me. Then quietly said, “And there's been personal business here in DC.”

I raised and eyebrow and asked, “What kind of personal business?”

“I've started seeing someone,” he told me. I must have blinked in surprise because he asked, “I was wondering how you feel about that?”

It was something I hadn't really considered. Mom and Dad had been divorced for over a year now. I really hadn't thought about him starting to see other women but I guess it was time- if he was ready. “I'm cool with it.” I stopped for a second and then thought about the situation with my mom. “How does she feel about your having a kid who's a neo?”

He grinned at me and said, “She's cool with it.”

“You've talked to her about me?” I asked a bit surprised.

“Of course. I won't hide you for anybody Patty, and I won't date anyone who doesn't respect you. She knows all about you and is cool with it. We're having dinner with her tonight so we can get this all out in the open,” he told me. That should have warned me that he wasn't telling me everything. Then changing the subject he asked, “And you? How are things going that girl you were telling me about? Amelia was her name?”

I nodded and smiled, “Amelia Norguard. We started going out right after the school was attacked. She saved my bacon when I was being chased down by that female speedster.”

“She's a year ahead of you, isn't she; in Cadre 4?”

“Yes sir,” I told him. “But her team has decided to go active too so we're training a lot with them.”

“What's she like?” he asked me.

“Well, she's one of the Psi-Corps kids who came to Wyndgate to learn to use their other powers,” I told him.

“Other powers?” he asked.

“Yes sir, all of the Corps students Wyndgate are either ferals or have other non-psionic powers. Amelia an I are a lot alike. She has horns, a tail, and pointed ears too. But she also has these huge bat-like wings. You can guess the kind of sight we make when we're together.” I know I didn’t have to say any more. I think it was my demonic appearance that turned Mom off so much. Well, add Trance into the picture, and we looked like a couple of denizens from the netherworld come to Earth.

“That good looking huh, Son?” he asked.

I smiled and got the message. “Yes sir. And a really nice tail too.”

He chuckled and the mood was lightened considerably. For the rest of the hour and a half ride to Manassas, we talked about unimportant things. It was a pleasant drive as we come down out of the Appalachian Mountains and onto the coastal plains. Most people would not have been able to enjoy it as I could because like Boomer I had excellent distance and night vision. For someone who can run at hypersonic speeds, the first is a necessity and the latter a bonus.

The restaurant was called Carmello's and Little Portugal and was one of those five star high-end restaurants. I think they specialized in Italian food. The décor was interesting. There were a lot of earth tones and yellows and it reminded of the rich Autumn that was winding down in the mountains.

I got a few stares as we entered the restaurant, but the people who found me an oddity quickly returned to their dinners. I did notice one older woman who quickly crossed herself. Dad told the waiter that he had reservations for Mattison.

The waiter smiled at him and said, “Your party is already here, sir. Follow me.”

He led us around a screen and out into the main dining room. As we approached a table on the far side of the room, my jaw hit the floor. Sitting at the table to which the waiter was leading us, were Heather Blake and Rowan. Dad couldn't be dating Heather Blake, she was just barely older than I am. This was so embarrassing.

Heather was wearing a nice pink dress with long sleeves. Her hair was pulled up in a bun, and there was a single tear-drop diamond pendant lying at the top her cleavage. As always the girl was a knock-out. Rowan had chosen to dress as a female tonight and was in a nice blue skirt and a gray turtle-neck sweater. I noticed that she'd managed to finally get the black tips out of her hair. It was still in that pageboy haircut though. There was even a bow nestled between her cat-like ears. She either already knew what was happening, or did a much better job of hiding her surprise because the only reaction I saw out of her was that her ears tilted back against her head.

Dad walked over and said, “Good evening, ladies.”

He must have missed the look Rowan gave him, but I didn't. I got the distinct impression that she was pissed off about something. She simply nodded and said, “Mr. Mattison.” Then looking at me, she said, “Patrick.”

“Rowan? Heather?” I asked surprised. Then looking at Rowan I asked, “Did you know about this?”

Rowan shook her head and replied, “Not in so many words. I've suspected for a long time.”

“How?” Heather asked.

Rowan turned and looked at her cousin and touched the tip of her nose. “You of all people know how sensitive my senses are. I smelled Mr. Mattison's scent at the house several times over the last few months.”

“Why didn't you say something?” Heather asked.

“I assumed you'd tell me in your own good time,” Rowan replied.

“Well, now that it's out in the open,” Dad started to say.

“Exactly what is out in the open?” Rowan asked.

“That your cousin and I are seeing each other,” Dad told both of us.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

Heather smiled and said, “This past summer while everyone was trying to set you up for that great teen summer romance you had with that Carla girl. We ended up talking a great deal, and discovered that we liked each others company.”

“What do you mean everyone was setting me up for a great teen romance?” I asked.

“We were flinging girls at you right and left,” Rowan said simply. “You were depressed and the whole cadre was trying to get you out of it.”

I hadn't realized I'd been set up. I thought that I'd just gotten lucky with meeting Carla. It was one of those things where we met, hung out- among other things- but we both knew it was only for the summer. If the whole team was in on it and I didn't figure it out, that said a lot about how the team worked, how much like a family we all really were. In a way that thought sort of softened the blow of what Dad and Heather was telling us- for me at least. I wasn't so sure about Rowan.

“Is this why you weren't at school today?” I asked.

Rowan shook her head and said, “No, Heather and I had to be at a board meeting for Blake Enterprises to sign some paperwork about our trust fund. Up until now, I just thought we were having dinner.” Her voice was unusually stern for that last part.

Heather blushed at the comment. “Heath, Patrick, please sit down. We were just about to order appetizers.” It was clear that she wanted this meeting to go smooth and get back on track toward a more normal conversation. I could handle that. However, the look Rowan shot her suggested that maybe she either couldn't or wouldn't. I wondered what had gotten her underwear in a bunch. I got the feeling that there was going to be areal row between the Blake girls later.

“Thanks,” Dad said as he and I settled into two seats and the waiter approached. We kept our conversation to the food while he was there. However, after the young man left, Dad turned to Rowan and said, “You're not happy about this are you?”

Rowan blushed slightly and Heather quickly said, “I just think we caught her off guard.”

Rowan raised an eyebrow, smiled and said, “That's pretty much it. I had figured that when you guys were ready to talk about this, it would be in some place less public, and someone would have at least informed Pat what was going on.”

“You could have done that,” Dad said.

Rowan lowered her gaze at Dad and said, “I don't tell other people's secrets.”

I quickly came to my teammate's defense and said, “She's right Dad. Rowan hears or smells just about everything that goes on in the school. She probably knows more than even Kenna or the other telepaths, but she keeps what she may learn to herself.” Then looking her in the eye, I said, “Because that's the same courtesy she expects others to give to her.”

“I see,” Dad said. “That's actually a very good policy, Rowan.”

“It's one I've developed the hard way, Mr. Mattison,” she said.

“Please, call me Heath,” he replied.

The smile that crossed her lips didn't quite reach her eyes when she said, “Heath.”

“So, exactly why all the secrecy?” I asked.

“Well, there is the age difference between your father and me,” Heather said. “And because of you and Rowan there is a certain amount of media scrutiny aimed at us. I mean let's face it, we can't even go on vacation without paparazzi following us trying to get pictures. We wanted to see if anything was going to develop privately before we let anybody else know about us.”

“Even me and Rowan?” I asked.

“Well, we'd have told both of you if you'd been living at home, but since you were both busy at Wyndgate and with all the mess that's been going on there we decided that it was best to wait and see.” Dad told us.

“Wait and see what?” I asked. I figured if I could be the one asking questions, I could keep things from getting too tense between Rowan and Heather.

“If we were going to take things to the next level,” Heather said.

“Exactly what level are we talking about?” Rowan asked, this time not hiding the anger in her voice.

Heather shot her a surprised look. “To decide if we were going to start seeing each other exclusively,” she finally said.

“Isn't that what you are already doing?” I asked.

“Well, yeah,” Dad said. “But there was always an option between us to see other people. We've decided to close that option.”

“I see,” Rowan said. “Does that closure include some kind of ring?” Her voice was now clearly dangerous.

“Rowan!” Heather protested.

“It's a fair question,” I found myself saying.

Dad just smiled and said, “No. Not yet at least.” Then looking at Rowan he asked, “Can I assume by your tone and reaction that you don't approve?”

Rowan shook her head and said, “No you cannot. It's not a matter of approving or disapproving. It's a matter of being kept in the loop.” She turned to her cousin and said, “I told you about Sawyer and Kenna almost immediately. You were very supportive of me. Why did you wait so long to tell me? Did you think I wouldn't support you?” She looked over at Dad and asked, “Either one of you?”

“We didn't know how,” Heather said.

“How about, Rowan, I'm seeing somebody. It's your classmate's father?” she said. “Is that so hard? Are there any other secrets you're keeping from me?”

“Like what?” Heather asked.

“Are we still going to live in that house we just started building in Richmond or are you going to be moving out west to be closer to Mr. Mattison?” Rowan asked. “Am I going to be living alone when school turns out, or am I going to be moving to New Mexico?” I could see her biting back tears.

“Your cousin isn't abandoning you, Rowan,” Dad said. Then glancing over to me he added, “Nobody is.”

Rowan looked at him and said, “It's not being abandoned that bothers me Mr. Mattison, it's not knowing.”

“We're telling you now, Rowan,” Heather said, her voice both comforting and pleading at the same time. I could see the pain in her eyes. She looked up at me and asked, “How do you feel about this Patrick?”

I shrugged and said, “Me? I'm cool with it.” And to be honest I was. Unlike Mike, I wasn't head over heels in lust with Heather Blake so I could look at the situation with a bit more objectivity.

Turning back to Rowan, Heather said, “As far as the house is concerned, of course we're going to continue to build it. We'll live there as long as I'm your legal guardian. I'm not going anywhere any time soon. This is simply our letting you guys know that we're dating and aren't going to be dating anyone else while we're together.”

“Rowan, answer me this. Do you have a problem with the age difference?” Dad asked her.

Rowan's ears rotated toward Dad and her head followed a moment later. She said, “No. That doesn't bother me. I don't care who Heather dates as long as she's happy. I just want- need to know where we stand.”

“Nothing has changed between us, Row,” Heather reached out and touched her cousin's arm. It struck me that I'd never seen Rowan this vulnerable before. She'd always been something of a calming influence on the team.

“And I'm not going to try and take Heather away from you,” Dad told her. “But you and Patrick are going to be spending most of your time at Wyndgate, while we're functioning in what is basically the outside world.”

Rowan nodded her head and said, “I understand that.”

“So can we at least enjoy this meal, and a day off from school?” I asked.

Rowan looked over at me and said, “I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be difficult. I guess I'm overreacting.”

“No, you're not,” Dad said. “It's obvious that you and your cousin care a great deal about each other. You've also been through a lot, both individually and as a family. A bit of concern over things like this is perfectly normal.”

Rowan gave him a wan smile and said, “Thank you for understanding.”

Dad chuckled and said, “No, thank you for understanding about us. There are going to be a lot of people accusing me of robbing the cradle, or worse.”

“Well, we'll deal with that when the time comes,” Heather said. “But for now, this is family time. This is where we start exploring possibilities.” She stopped and smiled at Rowan and said, “Just like I expect you to keep me informed on what's going on in your life.”

“I haven't hidden anything from you,” Rowan protested.

“Really?” Heather asked. “What about the private investigator you hired?”

“That's not aimed at you,” Rowan protested.

“Then what?” Heather asked.

Before Rowan could answer the waiter arrived with our appetizers and drinks. We dropped our conversation until he was once again out of earshot. Then Heather asked, “Then who were you investigating?”

“A man by the name of Jorges Medina. He was the leader of a neo-gang that operated out of DC when our parents were murdered,” Rowan said coldly.

“You were looking for our parents' murderer?” Heather asked.

Rowan nodded.

“Did you find him?” Heather asked.

Rowan nodded again.

“Where is he?”

“He's dead,” Rowan replied.

“Rowaaaan...?” Heather asked.

Rowan shook her head and said, “I didn't do it. Glitch did.”

“What do you mean Glitch did it? Aiesha isn't even on your team anymore,” Heather demanded.

“No, but he was also the gang banger who attacked her apartment in Chicago and killed her mother. Glitch was the neo they were chasing that night,” Rowan said.

“How'd you find that out?” Dad asked.

“I paid very good money for that investigator. He ran down every convenience store, every ATM and every camera in the area and got their videos. He did the ground work that the police wouldn't do,” Rowan said.

“What are you going to do about it?” Dad asked.

Rowan shook her head and said, “Nothing. There's nothing to do about it now. Glitch lost her mom, Jorges and his gang are dead. At least we know now.”

“And you were going to tell me this when?” Heather asked, neatly turning the table on Rowan.

“As soon as I was absolutely sure that there weren't any more of his gang left,” Rowan answered.

BLOOD FIRE aka James Donovan

My name is Jimmy Donovan and I died- but as the saying goes, I got better. Something has changed me, changed me more than just becoming a neo. I became something else. Something fundamental inside my soul has changed. I don't know know if it's for the better or not. I have powers now. I can do things; frightening and amazing things. But it comes at a price: the thirst.

I know what I've become. I've seen all the movies and have read all the books. The strange part is that it doesn't bother me. If I had a soul, and if I've lost it, I don't feel any different than I did when I was alive, when I was on the other side of mortality- except for the new powers- and the thirst.

Sometimes it gets the better of me. Sometimes I'm out of control- if I've gone too long without feeding, the thirst becomes a pain deep inside me, a pain that can only be soothed with rich warm blood. That's right, I'm an honest to goodness, can't see myself in the mirror, bat-transforming, blood-sucking fiend from beyond the grave. With a hat tip to Pike from Buffy of course.

It's taken me a while to find my family. My mother passed before I died. It was cervical cancer and it was ugly. I have no idea where our dad is, he's been out of the picture for about five years now. After Mom died, they split us up. While she was in the hospital I did everything I could to keep us together, to keep anybody from finding out that I'd been taking care of all of them- of all of us. I took her SSI check and paid what bills I could. I used the EBT card too to keep food in the house. I even signed report cards, and field trip permission slips. But in the end, it wasn't enough. Somebody reported us and the police came and put us in foster care which meant busting us up as a family.

They tried to find a relative somewhere who would take us in, but nobody seemed to want us. Then I went through some kind of combination cold burn slash eruption. I guess I died because when I woke up, I was underground and in a coffin. With a single push of my mind I blasted my way out of the grave, transformed myself and went looking for my family.

At first it was hard. I didn't understand what had happened to me, what I was feeling. The worst part was that I couldn't see myself in the mirror. I had no idea how much I had changed. I also had no idea how I appeared to people around me. I almost died a second time on that first dawn. I had no idea I'd become one of the undead. The sun burned me- badly. It took a week for me to regenerate the damage. A week for the pain to go away, and by that time the thirst had almost driven me mad.

I'm truly sorry about that burglar- both for draining him, and for what I had to do later to put him down. I was hiding out in one of the nicer homes that had been repossessed near the New York state line. He should have just taken what he wanted and left. He shouldn't have attacked me. He shouldn't have tried to cut me.

But it was then that I discovered what I really was. As I drained him empty like a cup, I saw in his minds eye what I had become. More muscle, better defined. Faster reflexes, and red eyes that burned like candles in the night. His blood healed me almost immediately. I felt stronger, more in control. I wanted more.

I'm not a killer- not by nature. If I'd known what had happened to me, if I hadn't been burned so badly, I would have had better control. I would have taken only what I needed to survive, not all of him. I've since learned better. I've learned how to take what I need without killing- how to make them forget- even to enjoy it. And I haven't completely drained anyone else.

There are other powers coming to life as well. I don't understand them. I don't think I'm like any of the other neo-humans. Things work for me that don't work for anybody else. The only way I can describe it is magic. I'm not complaining mind you. I now have the power to do what I couldn't do before. I can take care of my brother and two sisters.

I had to go looking for them. They had been spread out all over the state. I found Tina, the youngest not far from the New York State line in Danbury. I'd always been close to Tina, mainly because I'd just about raised her after Mom got sick. I made some mistakes on that one. I used a little too much influence on her fosters, and ended up having to back track to her caseworker to keep the police from looking for her.

However, that was a lucky break too because the same caseworker had Tim and Cathy's case too. It took a lot to get things set up, but I already had some experience with the bureaucracy so I wasn't completely blind while working things through. After that, it was easy to find my brother and other sister and get them away from their foster families.

The hardest part was convincing my sibs that I wasn't a monster that was about to eat them. At first, only Tina wasn't afraid of me, of what I had become. It took a while for the others to come around. She also helped me with my appearance. I couldn't brush my own hair anymore because I couldn't see myself in the mirror. It was around this time that we discovered something else. Although I can't stand the sun anymore, I'm not quite as vulnerable as the vampires in the movies to other things.

I still love garlic. Although I can't eat any food, garlic doesn't repel me. The same goes for holy symbols and holy ground. Or maybe it takes someone with true faith to ward me off, like in those games, but I haven't found anyone with that yet. Crossing running water has never been a problem. We haven't tried a wooden stake through the heart- somehow I'm not that interested in finding out if it would kill me.

I guess it was about a week after I'd finally gotten us all together when I found out that holy symbols were ineffectual. We were staying in one of those pay by the week mini-hotel suites while I was working on finding us another place to live. I was sleeping in the closet during the day and Tim was in charge of keeping Cathy and Tina out of trouble. I had a very short period I could actually work on our problems finding a place to live. It had to be on very cloudy days, or right at dusk, or on the phone. The phone wasn't as useful to us though because I couldn't affect anybody without seeing them.

I managed a late meeting with a bank manager on one of those cold overcast Fall afternoons when I could actually move about with, as cliché as it might sound, a trenchcoat, gloves, a hat, and a pair of dark sunglasses. The most difficult part of the whole situation was arranging for a meeting in her office instead of in a lobby. It wouldn't do to bite someone in a bank in full view of all the tellers and customers.

I had worn a nice suit and carried a briefcase with the money I had managed to get together that I wanted to deposit. Getting that was a lot simpler than I had imagined. New York City wasn't THAT far away- as the bat flies. A little imagination, a little observation and it didn't take long to find what I was looking for- a drug dealer here, a drug dealer there, and then one big score with their supplier and I had enough money to take care of my brothers and sisters. The supplier had a couple of low-level neo-human guards. Their blood tasted- interesting.

At the bank, the first thing I noticed was that she was wearing a golden crucifix around her neck. I didn't feel anything from it as we sat down, so I started putting my plan into action. When I was sure the door was closed, I locked eyes with her. She was saying, “How can I help you Mr. Donov...?”

“I want to open an account,” I told her willing her to ignore that I was only a teenager- a skinny one at that.

“Of course,” she said. “What kind of an account and in what amount?”

“I want a checking account,” I told her. I named the amount and willed her to not pay attention to it. I could feel her fighting the compulsion. It was difficult. I hadn't “tasted” her so I didn't have the kind of connection I needed to make it last.

“Relax,” I told her with both my voice and mind. I willed her to be still. She fought me. I think she could sense that she was in danger. I got up slowly and made my way toward her as I put pressure on her mind to not notice me moving. To her it seemed like I'd just disappeared from one place and reappeared behind her.

I was quick. I moved her hair out of the way, my hand brushing up against the crucifix with no pain. I felt the fangs slide down into place as I leaned in bit down on the jugular. The blood tasted strong and sweet, and there was something else there. Something in it I hadn't tasted before. It was something different, it was almost as if there was something else in her that gave it a sweet after taste. I had to remind myself not to drain her completely. I needed to have her in a position where I could use her services in the future.

This one was difficult. Women always are for me. Their blood starts something stirring in other places, that I don't have time to deal with. Yes, she was attractive, and yes, I could make her more than willing. But it wouldn't be right. I forced myself away from those thoughts. As I pulled back from the bite, I gently kissed the two marks and watched them heal and fade away. With a tissue from her desk, I gently dabbed the two small crimson rivulets that flowed down her neck toward her cleavage. Again, I forced myself away from those kinds of thoughts and completed the job, tossing the tissues into the trash.

I returned to my seat and went back to discussing what I needed. The deposit was made, there were no embarrassing questions and she was able to supply me with an ATM card right on the spot. The checks would be in the mail. I had gotten past the first hurdle.

Doctor Duncan Blair Headmaster Wyndgate Academy

The mess with the FBI had some long term implications- which with the benefit of hindsight I think were for the best. For one thing it gave us a breather from the media spotlight as well as from the government. It seemed that after the FBI team came back empty handed, the government suddenly became engaged in its own internal conflicts and left us alone for a while.

The situation with the drug hype just sort of dried up and withered away. Nobody could find the source, and not even the top government run university labs could break its code. Because of that, the DEA bowed to internal pressure and withdrew its offer for Cadre: 5 to work with it. That at meant that our training at Quantico had been superfluous, but Jim and Andrea could go back to teaching regular classes.

It was over the Fall Break that I got a visit from one of our major benefactors. He was someone I'd met early in my career on Neoforce 1. He was evidently now buried deep in the bureaucracy of the alphabet soup of the intelligence and law enforcement communities. But he had sent a lot of funding to the school, as well as intervening with the government to get poor Lance sent to us. Even though that had not worked out, and we still had no idea where Dark Nova disappeared to, he still was helping us.

He was a tall blond man with blue eyes and very well built. He still looked to be in his mid thirties, just as he had appeared when we'd first met when I was a founding member of Neoforce 1. He was smartly dressed in an dark three piece suit that still seemed to be the uniform of the intelligence community.

As we settled into the comfortable chairs of my office with a glass of good scotch I asked, “What can I do for you, Bob?”

He smiled and sipped his drink and leaned back in the comfortable chair and replied, “It's not so much what you can do for me, as what I can do for you.”

I chuckled and said, “You've already done more than this school can ever repay you.”

“Don't go there, Duncan. It's my pleasure. Watching your students grow and become successful is more than payment enough. You've made one of my childhood fantasies a reality. I may not be one of you, but I can at least help you succeed,” he told me.

“Well, you've more than done that. By the way, George Stonecraft told me to tell you that he sends his regards, and his thanks for the teacher you sent him,” I told him. George, Jenny, and her sister and I had finally had an opportunity go out for that dinner.

“I'm glad to oblige. Getting these kids the right kinds of instruction is becoming more and more critical these days. That jackass in the White House is doing his damnedest not only stir up a class war, but a race war between neo-humans and normals. We can't have them going off half-cocked and causing the tensions to flare any more than they already have.”

“Don't I know it. Over half of what Grace is discovering with her own research both here and when she was on Neoforce 1 is stuff that can't be released to the general public because it might offend somebody's sensibilities.”

Bob smiled and nodded. He knew exactly what I was talking about. Some people were just looking for a reason to be offended. The problem was that the facts didn't lie, and to preserve the peace we all did our best to ignore them. “How is Grace's new toy working out?”

I put my drink down and gave him a long look. “You knew about the Mattison and Bramhold boys didn't you?” I asked.

He nodded. “Of course I knew.”

“Do you know who the father is?” I asked.

Leaning forward he put something on the table. It was about the size of a flash drive with a long row of flashing green lights along the edge of it. Then he nodded and said, “Yes. And I know that he's extra-terrestrial.” Leaning back again he continued, his voice deathly serious, “Listen, Duncan, things are about to get really hairy. I'm not sure exactly when, but probably before the end of this school year, I'm afraid our little world's innocence is going to be stripped away. There are forces in motion now that not even I can stop.” His voice dropped an octave and I could sense the fear in it when he said, “I'm not even sure I can survive it. But your kids are the last best hope for the survival for human kind.”

“What's going on Bob?” I asked.

“The first wave of changes started with the Neogenesis Day. Now they're starting to gather steam. I'm about to pour a lot of resources into this school because the very nature of reality is about to rip. We're going to be returning to a very primal state of existence soon. Your students will decide the fate of mankind.”

“Does this have anything to do with the fact that the rogue the team faced in DC was a giant from ancient Norse myth?” I asked.

It was Bob's turn to be surprised. “How do you know that?” he asked.

“Faerie is a very powerful telepath. She said it was thinking in a variation of Old Norse. The neos that attacked this school were thinking in a variation of ancient Greek,” I told him.

He smiled and said, “Leave it to the telepath to figure things like this out.” Nodding he added, “Yes, it has something to do with that. I can't tell you any more than that. But you do need to know something. There'll be a time coming when you're going to be presented with some shocking news. You're going to have to act on it without hesitation.”

“You aren't telling me everything, Bob,” I warned.

He shook his head and said, “No, no I'm not. And there's a good reason for that. Your recent difficulties with a rogue telepath were just the tip of the iceberg of a greater problem of which I've only recently become aware. It would seem that the administration has managed to build it's own version of Psi-Corps and is employing unregistered telepaths and telekinetics. We don't think they're very powerful, and we know they're severely lacking in their training, but they are still dangerous.”

“I know,” I told him. “I've seen some very subtle uses of psionics be extremely devastating.”

“Well, the administration has started to move against the Corps. You're kids are going to be next,” he told me.

“How do you know this?” I asked.

“Because the President told me himself,” he told me candidly. “Right before he told me to have the DEA to withdraw it's offer to back your students.” That was not good news. It looked like the President was starting to take things personally. “There's more,” he said.

“Do I want to hear it?” I asked.

“Probably not, but you need to,”he told me.

“Go on.”

“He told me to find Aiesha Richmond and make sure she was enrolled in the government school at Tomlinson, Illinois,” he continued.

“And?” I asked.

“I didn't tell him what to do with that order, but it's one that I aim to see doesn't get carried out. Glitch is going to be very important in the coming crisis. I want her where I can put my hands on her.”

“What about Lance?” I asked. “Do you know what happened to him?”

He shook his head, “Honestly, no. He and his mom have done a very good job of going to ground.”

“Do you know where Glitch is?” I asked worried. I knew that she'd been hidden by the neo-underground that was operating out of Psi-Corps, but I had no idea where.

He smiled and sipped his scotch but said nothing. I knew that meant he wouldn't tell me if he did or not. Finally he asked, “How are George and Jenny?”

I laughed and said, “They're doing well. George is very frustrated with bureaucracy at the Danville school. He says there's so much more he could do if he wasn't constantly fighting both the curriculum and all the nonsense rules.”

Bob laughed and said, “It's the nature of a bureaucracy to make life difficult for anyone working with it. I guess it weeds out the weak willed.”

“If you say so,” I told him.

We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about old times and non consequential stuff. When he left, he picked up the little device and looked at it. Then with a smile, he tossed it to me saying, “A gift.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It's a gift from a non-Terran source. It's a scrambler. It'll make sure no electronic nor psionic eavesdropping can occur in an area about the size of this room. You're going to need it more than I will, I should think.”

“Take care, Bob,” I told him.

“I will,” he said. Just before he left, he added, “Oh, and I'm going to be sending you some more students when all this construction is completed. They need to go active immediately.” Before I could reply he was out the door.

GOTH aka Alexander Moonbeam Caine of NeoForce 1.

I knew I had been set up. Kenna had pretty much told me she was going to set me up with her brother. The thing about it, is that I didn't think it would make that much of a difference. However there was something about Kenneth Draupnir that was intoxicating.

I guess the first thing that I found interesting about him was that he seemed to be psi-null. That doesn't mean that he was not a psi, but instead he was a blank spot to my psychic senses. If I wanted information from him, I had to actually talk to him. I couldn't just pick it out of his surface thoughts, which by the way is against the Corps rules.

It turns out that he's totally resistant to psionic effects. That was the other draw. I could touch him without worrying about “eating” him with psychic vampirism. And let's face it, he's looks good enough to eat and that makes touching him a very desirable prospect. He has this head full of shaggy blond hair and the kind of blue eyes that most contact makers try and fail to reproduce. Like his sister, he's on the small side for a sixteen year old, but he's not as small as Sawyer. Although he's lithe in build, he's very toned and his muscles have a lot of nice definition. The large red and black butterfly wings and the, pointed ears and antenna just make him look more fairy-like.

We really hit it off during the Winterfinding gathering at their parent's farm in West Virginia. Things probably would have gone a lot further between us had it not been for the incident at the actual ceremony where we all felt the presence of something greater than ourselves. I don't know what it was, His/Her mind was hidden from me, but it was there with us and it was anything but hostile.

However, it spooked the hell out of Kenneth. Not in a bad way, but in a distracted way. Whatever it was had spoken to him on a very primal level. I do know that after the ceremony he and his mother had gotten into a major league-argument. I think it was about whether or not he was going to go back to the British Isles with her. Of course in the end, she'd won.

What surprised me the most about the whole situation was just how cool his parents were about his sexuality. They knew he was gay, and they simply accepted it. They even accepted that his sister had set up the two of us. Of course after Kenna coming home with a Sawyer and Rowan as a boyfriend and boy/girlfriend at the same time, the fact that their son was gay was probably pretty low on their worry list.

We'd exchanged email addresses, Skype, and Facebook information before the end of the weekend. I guess I was sort of walking on cloud nine by the time we got back to the team headquarters in New York City. Even Rebecca had commented on it.

However, it was Lisa who brought me up short. We'd been in our “hero” identities of Goth and Talon, doing another of the what I called, “tamed neo” event at a middle school. I guess I was being a little more positive and interactive than usual because Lady Lightning wasn't wincing at my answers to their questions- even when the questions got dumb or too personal.

One of the questions was actually more insightful than most adults tended to ask. It was a little Hispanic girl, probably in the sixth grade because she looked on the young side of the students. She stood up and the when the microphone was passed down the row to where she was standing, her voice echoed off the gym walls a lot stronger than I expected. “We have been learning in our classes about how predator animals have stereoscopic vision that lets them judge distances better. I was wondering if with your third eye if you have any better depth perception now than when you went through your cold-burn?”

I was impressed. There was actually hope for this kid- that is as long as she doesn't end up in hell hole like Danville. I smiled at her and said, “That's a very good question. And the answer is yes. It took me a while to get used to a wider range of vision, but I can judge distances much better than I could before my cold-burn.” With a smile I said, “For example, you are about forty-two feet and six or maybe seven inches from me.”

Off to the side I saw Rebecca smile at me. She was obviously pleased with my answer. And I'll have to admit, it was better than my usual one or two word answer. To be honest, I just didn't have a lot of uses for most people. But Kenneth had at least given me hope that maybe it all wasn't that hopeless after all.

It was at lunch later that though that Lisa knocked some sense into me. We were eating in one of our favorite restaurants on Wall Street, not far from the headquarters. Lady Lightning had already flown ahead to deal with some detail or another and we were glad to have a little time to ourselves. The rest of the team was on various other public relations missions around the city and we were left on our own for once.

As we settled into our seats, Lisa looked over at me and said, “You know he's only sixteen don't you.”

“What? Who?” I asked at the sudden non-sequitur.

“Kenna's brother, Kenneth. He's only sixteen. You're nineteen. In this state, that'll get you ten.”

It took me a second to realize what she was talking about. “What makes you think something is going to happen?”

She laughed and folded her large red and brown wings behind her. “Because you're not acting like your normal self.”

“Meaning?” I asked biting into my sandwich.

“Meaning that if you keep this up, you'll have to change your code-name. Goth is supposed to be depressed and brooding. What I see here is a young man in love.”

“What would you know about that?” I asked and then immediately regretted it. Lisa had never had a lot of luck in that department. The only boy who'd ever shown her both respect and physical affection had been Badger, and we both had watched as Fury ripped in him half at the Battle of Sleepy Creek Mountain.

I could see the hurt in her eyes when she said, “Never mind.”

“I'm sorry, Lisa. That was uncalled for, and insensitive of me,” I said. “I was out of line. What did you mean?”

She stopped for a moment and then said, “You're acting like a ten year old in love. You've got a major crush on Kenneth.”

I shrugged and said, “He's interesting.”

“And you can touch him without worrying about draining him,” she completed the unspoken thought.

“I thought I was the telepath,” I said.

She smiled and replied, “At least you're honest about it.” Then looking around, she asked, “You haven't touched him have you?”

I smirked and told her, “No. It hasn't gotten that far.”

“From what Kenna tells me, he's a fast mover. How did you fight him off?” she asked.

“I was honest. I told him I wanted to go slow, and he was cool with that. Plus he got into that fight with his mom Sunday night and wasn't in much of a mood for anything other than talking. Since we had to be back at the base Monday morning that didn't leave a lot of time.” I sighed and looked at her, “But you have a point. Leave it to me to fall for someone that can get me tossed in jail.”

“So what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don't know. Call him on Skype and set up a visit with him,” I told her.

“If he's on the Isle of Man, and you're here, how are you planning to do that?” she asked.

I looked at her from under my brows. “Remember the first time we fought Cadre 5? I teleported the whole team from DC to Kentucky. Kenneth weighs a whole lot less than Slugger, Giggle, Badger, Slash, you, and me. It more than makes up for the difference in distance.”

“I wonder what ever happened to them?” she said. “I mean R. K. said that there was going to be a price to pay for our disobeying orders and coming out to help Lady Lightning.”

“I'm not sure the price he was talking about wasn't for the others sitting it out,” I said shaking my head. “I'm not sure what happened to them. R. K.'s mind has always been closed to me. But I know he was not as unhappy with us as he was with them.”

“I just wonder why we haven't heard from any of them since then,” she said. I knew what she was thinking. Robert Killpatrick was spookiest kind of spook. He was the kind of operative that gave even the most powerful psi nightmares. He was capable of any act to get the job done. And you were never sure what the job was supposed to be.

I shrugged and chose my words very carefully. I didn't want to upset Lisa anymore than necessary. “I'm not sure they're still alive. Let's face it. Slash and Giggle were loose cannons, and Slugger was just a bully wannabe.”

I watched her reaction carefully. Finally she nodded and said softly, “I thought as much myself. I just didn't want to say it.”

“I know,” I told her with a smile. “The point is that if this weren't reality, that if it were a comic book somewhere, those three would be muscle for some kingpin of crime or something. It was everything that R. K. could do to keep them in line. If they're not still alive, whoever took them out of the equation, may have done the world a favor.”

“Alex!” she protested.

I shook my head and said, “That might not be the nicest thing to say, Lisa; but it's the truth. Giggle alone was a psychopath who would have charged a hurricane if it irritated her. We both knew that Slugger's biggest goal in life was to be a leg-breaker for the mob. Slash had all the empathy of a rock.”

I stopped to let what I was about to say sink in. “And if you hadn't stood up to R. K.; if Badger and I hadn't been willing to follow you, I'm not sure we wouldn't be dead too, or at least on the same track.”

“Well, Kenna had always been nice to me. I couldn't let her face Fury by herself,” Lisa offered. I knew it was more and the same time exactly that. Kenna's kindness was simply treating Lisa as a fellow human being, not as just another neo-human freak. What nobody knew at the time though was how much it had touched her. Kenna had been a friend, and Lisa didn't have a lot of friends. Lisa had even told R.K. that she would not attack Kenna when we'd been sent to get that data for him.

I smiled and said, “I understand. But R. K. was right. There were consequences to our actions and they weren't what we expected them to be.”

She raised and eyebrow and said, “You know, you're right. He wasn't threatening us, he was telling us that he was happy we were doing what we planned. I hadn't thought of it that way. Here I was waiting for the other shoe to fall, for him to show up and make us pay for going after Fury. He wasn't making us pay, he was paying us.”

“That's one way to look at it,” I said simply.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“About?” I replied.


I shrugged and said, “Be careful I guess. Three years really aren't all that much of a difference in the long run. Of course our contracts are very specific about breaking any laws. I guess we'll just have to make sure we don't break any.”

She nodded and said, “Good.”


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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Sat Dec 10, 2011 12:34 pm


ICE STORM aka Lauren Rathbourne

I'll admit it, what happened in West Virginia left me shaken. I've never been much of religious person, but I was raised Christian- Catholic to be specific, so it goes without saying I'm not accustomed to what can be called spiritual experiences. In my family's circle of friends, it's considered bad taste. One does not talk about religion, one does not engage in overtly religious evangelism. One goes to mass on major holidays, goes to confession periodically, and gives to the church charities.

Needless to say the experience left me questioning my life once again. Why had I felt the presence of pagan Gods, but never of my own? How is it that Kenna's family warrants that kind of divine connection. Is this what the charismatics feel when they speak in tongues and handle venomous snakes without being bitten? It was getting to be too much for me to handle. I mean come on, how much self-examination is a girl expected to do before she graduates high school?

Luckily, Brian was there. He was my rock, my compass pointing due North. I know he felt the same thing that I had, and was equally effected by it. But he seemed to process it better than I did. I'm not sure why, maybe it's because he's a guy, or maybe he just handles these kinds of things better.

In the end, the main way I dealt with it was by ignoring it and burying myself in my new role as leader of an active team. Of course we didn't get much real action. Doctor Blair had arranged for us to work with local law enforcement and Emergency Response, but for the most part we mainly trained. It was about a week after we got back when we discovered why we finally found ourselves on stand down.

Doctor Blair called me, my second Doug Garfield aka Sound Wave, Brian, and Sawyer into a meeting in one of the new base's conference rooms. None of us had any idea why we were there, but it was interesting that it was the cadre leadership for the two active teams. We all looked at each other in confusion, because nobody had any idea what was going on.

Doug, as usual had in his hand a copy of the latest R. A. Salvatore novel stuck in the side pocket of his school blazer. He also looked like he needed to shave again. I don't know what it is about some guys, but when they start being able to grow even the first hint of a beard, they refuse to shave it, no matter how scraggly it looks. He could at least shave his throat.

As we settled into the chairs around the long table Doctor Blair walked in. He looked tired. I got the feeling that he'd been overworking a lot lately. Running this school obviously a difficult job, and since some of our teams- read as Brian's team- had been getting more publicity, it didn't make it any easier.

He nodded to all of us and said, “I've got some good news and some bad news for you.” That was it, not preamble, no trying to ease into whatever it was he had to tell us.

“Go ahead,” I said quietly as I looked over at Brian.

He settled into the chair at the head of the table and said, “The DEA has decided that working with this school is not in the best interest of the public.”

“What about that drug, hype?” Doug asked.

“According to the agency, it has disappeared from the market,” Doctor Blair answered.

“For now,” Sawyer said.

“I'm afraid that you may eventually be right, Sawyer,” the headmaster told us. “It could be that there was only ever a limited supply and it's now gone, but I think that's just wishful thinking on our part. I'm afraid that this decision will eventually come back and bite them in the backside.”

“So we won't be going to Quantico any more?” Brian asked steering the conversation back to why we were asked to come to this meeting room.

Blair shook his head and said, “No. No more classes at Quantico.”

“And this is bad news how?” Sawyer asked.

“It means that Rowan is not going to get an automatic pass to enter Washington anymore,” he said. “It also means that you aren't going to get government coverage for property damage that might result from any of your actions.”

“I think that Rowan can work around that,” Brian said, cutting Sawyer's reply off. I knew that Sawyer had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the government and that Brian was doing his best to keep it from becoming a problem for the rest of the team. “What about Cadre 4?” he asked quickly.

“Well, there is a bit of good news there,” Doctor Blair said with a smile. “Starting in January, Cadre 4 will be spending three days a month “shadowing” various members of Neoforce 1.”

“What do you mean shadowing?” I asked.

“You'll be traveling to New York City, staying in their headquarters and following one member of Neoforce 1 to see how things are done on an active government team,” he told me. Now this was good news. Shadowing Neoforce 1 would be a chance for some really effective on-the-job training.

“Thank you, sir,” I told him. “We really appreciate the opportunity.”

He smiled and for the first time in a long time I saw it actually reach his eyes. “I'm just trying make sure my students are prepared for their lives after they leave this school. But to be honest, you guys are starting to make me wonder if the world's going to be prepared for you.”

“We do try,” Doug said.

“So we have our weekends off again?” Brian asked.

Doctor Blair nodded and smiled, “For now. Also, I suspect that Mr. Waterford, and Ms. Thomas won't be including DEA legal codes in their lesson plans.” He looked at us and then added, “Any other questions?” Brian and I looked at each other and shook our heads.

“No sir,” Brian said.

“Very well,” Doctor Blair told us. “You're dismissed back to your cadres. I trust you'll inform your teams.”

“Yes sir,” Brian and I both told him. Doug and Sawyer were quiet as we stood and filed out of the room.

When we were sure we were out of earshot of the adults, Sawyer looked around and asked, “Why do you think they decided to end the program before we ever really got it started?”

Doug shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don't know. Maybe the drug really did disappear.”

“Even if it did, having access to a neo team would be a major feather in the DEA's cap,” Brian said. “This doesn't really make a lot of sense.”

“Could it be inter-agency fighting?” Sawyer asked. “You know like Mr. Waterford was telling us about the German espionage agencies during World War Two, and how they spent more time spying on each other than they did on the Allies?”

I raised an eyebrow at that suggestion. From what Ms. Thomas was telling us about the government agencies before September 11, most of the agencies didn't talk to each other. Now with them all rolled into the Department of Homeland Security, they may be taking their infighting to a new level. “It's an idea, and it fits the facts, Sawyer,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I'm still not happy with it. My gut tells me something else is going on, and whatever it is, it's not going to be pleasant for us,” he replied. Before anyone else could say anything his stomach made a rude noise.

Brian looked at him and said, “That's it. The trouble alert just went off. We're going to get some food into you before we're attacked by aliens or something.”

We all laughed at the joke and headed toward the school's cafeteria. Personally, I was glad that the school administration felt we needed to still have some interaction with the rest of the school, so we were required to still eat with the other students. Let's face it, the food at Wyndgate is good, and I'd hate to take a chance that if they gave us our own cafeteria that it wouldn't be up to par. During dinner, Brian and I made plans for a little “us” time.

After dinner, Doug and I went back to our cadre and informed them of the changes.
It went over a whole let better than I was expecting. Tower was actually relieved that we weren't working with the DEA. He said he always felt dirty around their agents. Since he's a telepath, I sometimes wondered what he was picking up from their thoughts. Especially since he really was the classical gentle giant: six and a half feet of steel-skinned giant, so there was a certain intimidation factor involved as well.

We hashed out what we were going to be doing, and almost everybody was amped about the whole shadowing Neoforce 1 thing. If nothing else it meant a trip to New York, each month and New York meant shopping. Trance was really looking forward to chance to meet Virago, a fellow New Yorker, and an outspoken advocate for women's rights around the world. And I'll admit that there's a certain anticipation at the thought of meeting the enigmatic Gray, a master of more martial arts than anybody has a right to know and the power to to become a two dimensional shadow like being. He's the closest thing to a real Batman there is.

After the meeting, I headed over to Cadre 5's suite to find that Brian was on his way out the door to find me. With a grin he said, “Let's get out of here.”

“What?” I asked.

“Tracy and Patrick are heading into Bath for the evening. There's some kind of festival going on there. They said it had something to do with alternative medicine and psychic healing. I think they're planning some kind of practical joke to pull on Kenna,” he told me.

I smiled and said, “They'd better be careful that it doesn't backfire on them.” Taking his arm, we made our way to the main elevator that led upstairs to the ground floor. “But that doesn't explain why you want to get out of the suite.”

He grinned and said, “I get the feeling that Kenna and Rowan want some “alone” time with Sawyer.”

“What gave you that idea?” I asked as we stepped into the reinforced elevator and hit the button to take us up the ten stories to the ground floor.

“Kenna told me what they were planning. She said it was to give me fair warning if I decided to stick around. It was just barely more subtle than a sock on the door handle.”

I laughed at that. The running joke was that it was a good thing that Doctor Chapel
put all the girls on campus on birth control pills. The reality wasn't anywhere near that bad, but even Brian had a certain reputation. “I thought they had an agreement to keep things on the DL except on weekends.”

“They do, but Rowan got some interesting news Wednesday and I think the three of them are going to be doing more talking than anything else,” he told me.

I raised an eyebrow as the elevator made the trip to the surface. “What kind of news?”

He grinned and said, “Evidently her cousin Heather has started dating Mr. Mattison.”

“Patrick's dad?” I asked as the doors opened.

He nodded and replied, “Yeah. It sort of threw Rowan for a loop. I get the feeling she's less upset about it being Patrick's dad than she is about the fact that they waited until now to inform anybody. Patrick is taking it a whole lot better than she is.” Then changing the subject he asked, “Where do you want to go?”

I pulled him closer to me as we walked out the main doors and down along the east wall surrounding the school. After the last attack, the school had replaced metal fence that surrounded the school with an eight foot brick wall that had another four foot of wrought iron fencing above that. They also installed a nice walking path along the wall complete with footlights. It was really very romantic. “How about we walk down to the lake?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “Fine by me.” He slipped his arm around my waist and I snuggled up against him as we walked.

“Mom wants to know if you and your family want to come to Thanksgiving Dinner?” I told him.

“Dad and I might be able to, Mom is on Duty Thanksgiving Day,” he said.

“Oh?” I asked.

“Yeah, with the team having four new recruits and only her and Gray being the veterans, she felt it was best if one of them stayed on duty to back up the newbies,” he told me. “Gray offered to give her Christmas off if she'd take Thanksgiving.”

I nodded and thought about it. It made sense. When the government revealed the secret identities of Neoforce 1, the only members of the team that didn't resign on the spot were Brian's mother, and Gray. That left the team very short handed,and they had to recruit almost an entirely new team. They pulled Talon and Goth off of some kind of spook squad. The government wasn't about to argue with their qualifications. They'd help take down Fury, which is more than the old team had done. Then they recruited Virago out of the Salem Center School in upstate New York, and Powerbolt came out of one of the government-run neo schools out west.

“Well, you and your dad are invited then,” I said.

“We appreciate it,” he said as we made our way past the copse of maples who were just now surrendering their last leaves to Autumn. In the distance, we could make out the lights of the school reflected off the inky blackness of the large lake nestled between hillocks.
After a moment he said,“It's been a while since Mom has had to pull any kind of major holiday duty. It sort of reminds me of being a kid again.”

“Well let me know so I can let my mom know,” I told him.

“Will do,” he replied. I could tell he was distracted by something. I wasn't sure if it was cadre business or something to do with us.

We walked along in silence for a while, just enjoying each others company. I snuggled in close. It wasn't that I was cold, far be it. Cold doesn't bother me. With a thought, I could freeze the top few inches of most of that lake. No I was willing to admit it. I liked to snuggle Brian because he made me feel safe. He made me feel like with him at my side, we could accomplish anything.

As we made our way down the terraced path toward the small trail that led around the lake, Brian asked, “I take it then that your Mom approves of us.”

That question caught me off guard. I looked over at him, and realized that he'd never shifted his gaze from the trail. I knew he had no problem seeing it even without the ambient light coming from the school. He could see as well in almost pitch darkness as most people could see in the day. As for me, there was enough heat left to the ground to make it stand out in sharp contrast to the rapidly cooling air for my own thermal vision to allow us both to walk quite safely.

Of course these thoughts were a mere cover for my own surprise at his question. “What do you mean by us?” I finally asked.

“That we're together?” he said, but I knew that he meant something more than just dating.

“You mean that we're having sex?” I asked.

He shrugged and said, “Yes..., and no.” He was obviously struggling to find a way to express his thoughts verbally.

“You've already told me that your mother is indifferent to the idea of you having a lover, so I guess I don't mean that,” he said. “What I mean, is that she is at least is comfortable enough with you and I as a couple to invite us to Thanksgiving Dinner.”

I chuckled and said, “Oh that. Yeah, she thinks you're good for me. She genuinely likes you and your family.”

“Even though we don't normally run in the same social circles?” he asked.

That's what he was asking about! My mother has in the past made it quite clear what kinds of boys with which I was to involve myself. There were boys that were for “play” and then there were boys that I could bring home. My mother can be such a snob. I'd described this attitude to Brian once and he'd been appalled. However, Brian was definitely in the latter category. “Mom isn't worried about that. As far as she is concerned, you're more than adequate.”

He smiled and said snarkily, “So kind.”

“You know what I mean,” I told him.

“Yeah I do. My question though is whether or not you approve. I'm the kind of boy you want to keep, or do I fit in the category of somebody to play with,” he asked as we stopped on the trail.

“Oh, you're somebody to play with,” I said as I stepped in front of him and lifted my face to his and kissing him soundly. Drawing back I told him, “But you're a keeper too. Just because you're the boy my mother would approve of is just icing on the cake. If there's one thing I've learned being at this school and being and being a neo, is that I don't have to go out and do the opposite of everything other people want me to do.”

“Good,” he said kissing me again. “I don't have a lot of respect for girls who want to play with the bad boys.”

Now that comment surprised me. “What do you mean?” I asked suddenly serious.

He took my hand and we began to walk again. After a few seconds he said, “Girls who go looking for bad boys, eventually get tired of being treated bad, and then can't figure out why none of the ones worth having will give them the time of day.” I could tell that this was something he'd thought about for a while. It was bothering him.

“Why's that?” I asked.

“Because by the time they're ready for someone who'll treat them right, they've got so much baggage that those guys don't want them,” he said bitterly.

I wasn't sure where this was coming from. I know I might joke about my mom's attitude, but Brian knew I wasn't serious. Didn't he? “Do you think I was doing that before I met you? Do you think I have a lot of baggage?”

He looked at me in shock. I could tell immediately that was not what he meant. He shook his head vigorously and said, “No!” Then his voice got quite. “No, not at all.”

“Then what brought this up?” I asked. “Why are you talking about playing with bad boys? Do you think I'm seeing someone else?” I pressed.

Again there was a look of surprise in his eyes. He shook his head and said, “No.” Turning away from me he seemed to gather his thoughts while my emotions were swirling in my head. I couldn't figure out if he was trying to break up with me or what. “It's just that I got some bad news from home.”

“What?” I asked reaching out and touched his shoulder.

“You remember when I told you about the kid, Jimmy I knew in school?” he said. It was something we talked about not long after we started dating- mainly because he'd gotten news of Jimmy's death back last winter.

“Yeah,” I told him. “What of it?”

He shrugged and said, “I was catching up with one of my friends from my old school and he told me that the girl Jimmy was crushing on was pregnant by one of those kinds of guys,” he told me. “It just got me to thinking about how if she had given Jimmy a chance, then maybe she wouldn't be in that situation. It made me wonder how Jimmy would handle the news.”

“Well, from what you told me, she did give Jimmy a chance, at least more of a chance than most of the girls in school did,” I told him.

“Yeah, she did,” he told me. “Still it makes me wonder about her throwing away her life like that. You know if she'd only consider a “nice guy” as a boyfriend she might not be in this situation. Jimmy might not have died. He might have had something to live for.”

I shook my head and said, “You don't know that she threw her life away. Yeah, she's made it harder on herself from here on out, but it's not the end of the world.”

I pulled him close to me and said, “You're problem, Brian is you worry too much about the things you can't change. You internalize them. It's what makes you such a good team leader, but it tears you apart inside sometimes.”

He shrugged and said, “I can't help it. I knew something was wrong in Jimmy's life and I didn't do anything.”

“Do not do this to yourself, Brian,” I told him. You can't take the blame for all the bad things that happen in the world. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on,” I told him. He nodded, but I wasn't sure if I was getting through to him or not. Brian could be difficult at times. He set the bar for himself so high that sometimes he forgot that he wasn't a god, that he couldn't be perfect no matter how hard he tried.

Finally, he said, “I'm sorry to spoil your evening. We can talk about something else.”

I nodded and smiled. I knew that was his way of saying that we hadn't really resolved anything but that he would drop the subject for a while until he reached some kind of resolution that he could live with. “My evening is not ruined,” I told him.

He smiled down at me and said, “Good.”

I leaned in and whispered, “Why don't we go back to my room and discuss things further.” I knew that at least would get his attention. Our discussion later that evening was rather vigorous and satisfying.

GHOST aka Sawyer Jackson Grey

We slowly settled into our regular routine at the school, and things sort smoothed out to be consistent if not normal. I even got used to living eighty or so feet underground- which is more than I can say about Kenna and Rowan, both of whom were suffering from a bit of claustrophobia. Probably the reason I was less worried about it than those two was because I could still pass through all that stone so it didn't bother me as much.

Thanksgiving rolled around and we spent a week at our various homes. Rowan and Heather made it a point to have their own Thanksgiving without anyone else. I think it was Heather's way of making sure that Rowan didn't feel like he was being abandoned. I know they planned to go out to New Mexico for Christmas. Kenna and her Dad were traveling to the Isle of Man to visit her mom and brothers, and sister. I briefly wondered if when they came back to the US, if her mom would be pregnant again. Kenna wondered the same thing.

I actually enjoyed the Thankgiving weekend rather well though. Auburn took out Alabama so Braxton had to eat a lot of crow. I'll admit to enjoying a lot more than I really should have. He'd spent so much time talking smack in the days leading up to the game, that I took a great deal of pleasure at the look on his face when the final whistle was blown. Sometimes my brother is just too damn full of himself. Next year, he may be laughing at me, but for this year, I had the bragging rights.

I know, I know, it sounds petty, but you have to understand something about living in Alabama. The rivalry between our two main football teams runs strong and runs deep. One of the first questions kids ask each other when they first meet is, “Are you for Alabama or Auburn?” It's a Southern thing.

Anyway, the end of the semester rolled around without anything really standing out. I think we were all still absorbing what had happened on Halloween night. I know I started to look at my own faith a little different. Some of the thoughts I was having would have made my youth minister worry even more than the fact that I was in a relationship with both Kenna and Rowan. I mean if what we're taught is true and the Christian God is the “one true God” like so many claim, then how was it I felt the definite presence of another deity at that gathering. It really did make me rethink a lot of what I'd been taught most of my life. This was a conversation I dreaded having with my parents even more than telling them I'm gay. My horizons were definitely as they say broadening.

I got home on Saturday the eighteenth, my parents not wanting me to drive through the night, and it was after all about a nine hour drive from West Virginia. It was just in time to help the rest of the family trim the huge Douglas Fir Dad and Braxton had brought in. It was kind of a nice afternoon with the family. I think Mom had set her foot down and insisted that there be no interruptions to what was going to be family time. That meant none of us were to have any friends over until after Church on Sunday.

That night after dinner, Dad he said he wanted to talk to me about something important. I knew something was up. As I settled into a spot on the small sofa in his study, I asked, “What's up, Dad?”

“About Church tomorrow..,” he began.

“What about it?” I asked.

“Look, if anybody says something to you tomorrow, I want you to remember what you've been taught at school and here about being the better man,” he said very seriously.

“What do you mean, anybody say something to me?” I asked.

Dad sighed and I could see where he was really disturbed about something. He leaned forward in his chair and squeezed my shoulder. “The youth pastor is going to be giving tomorrow's sermon. Lately, he's been on a real kick about what he's calling sexual deviancy.”

“Meaning gay people?” I asked.

“Meaning gay people,” he confirmed.

I shrugged and said, “I've been listening to it all my life Dad. This isn't any different.”

“Except that this time it's going to be aimed directly at you,” he said.

I leaned back in my chair and thought about it for a moment. “What brought this on?” I finally asked. I had a good idea what it was, but I wanted some confirmation.

He grinned and said, “Evidently Rowan managed to chase off Paige Flughorn this summer. She didn't take that too kindly, and started putting two and two together about Rowan's condition. The next thing any of us knew, she was spreading it around that you're gay.”

“And Reverend Peterson thinks that being gay is worse that getting pregnant from pulling a train?” I asked him.

I could see the surprise look on his face as he chuckled and said, “That's a rather earthy way to put it. But yeah, that's his attitude.”

I grinned and replied, “Blame it on Kenna. She's a very earthy person.” I didn't tell him it was an attitude she claimed was a result of her being what she calls Vanic in her outlook. “But don't worry about it, Dad. I can deal.”

Dad nodded and leaned back in his chair and said, “Actually, your mom and I are considering changing churches.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because lately they're spending more time talking about other people's sins than worrying 'bout doing what's right by God,” he said. “Look, I can't claim that I'm happy that you're not dating just a single girl. But I can't complain about the character of the two people you are dating, and you're doing it openly and honestly. That's more than I can say for a lot of people in that church.”

“Dad,” I said. “I appreciate the gesture, but you've been members of that church since I was a baby. Don't leave it on my account.”

He shook his head, “It's not on your account, Saw, and it's not because we've left the church. The church left us lately. And we haven't made up our minds yet, we're just thinking about it.”

“Just don't do anything just because of me,” I said.

“Son,” he said, “in case you haven't figured it out, everything we do, we do because of you kids.”

“I know Dad. But you've done enough to try to protect me. I can stand on my own,” I told him.

“It's not a question of standing on your own, Saw. I know you can do that- as much if not more than any sixteen year old can. It's a matter of where your mom and I feel comfortable,” he told me.

“What about Braxton, Christy, and Susanna?” I asked. “How do they feel about changing churches?”

“Christy is all for it. Braxton and Susanna haven't said anything one way or the other. But you know that if we moved our letter and they would rather stay, then they're welcome to do so. After you were old enough to decide, We've never forced any of you guys to go to church with us, and we're not about to start now,” he said.

I nodded understanding what he was trying to tell me. Things changed slowly in our town. The local preachers and bootleggers had managed to keep most of the county dry for the past 80 years or so. Only recently was beer or liquor allowed to be sold in downtown Jasper, and still not the rest of the county. Youth pastors had free rein in the schools to proselytize at will, and teachers were expected to lead prayers whether they were comfortable with it or not. It was just the way life is in some small towns. And that's not always bad either. But for someone like me, it can be difficult.

I frowned and told him, “I'll be the better man, Dad.”

He smiled and said, “I know you will, Saw.”

I yawned and asked, “Is there anything else, Dad?”

He grinned and said, “I thought that neo gene kept you from getting too tired.”

I shook my head and replied, “Normally it does. But I just came off a week of semester exams- some of which were both physically and intellectually challenging, as well as packing up and driving home. I'm beat, and I don't mind saying it.”

He laughed and asked, “What kind of grades can I expect this semester?”

I shrugged and said, “I think there might be on B in there, but the rest are As.”

“What did you get a B in?” he asked.

“Music,” I told him. “I had some problems with some of the advanced concepts.”

He nodded and asked, “Did you try your hardest?”

I stopped for a moment and considered what he said. In reality I hadn't. “No sir. I can't honestly say that I didn't give it a hundred percent. I was struggling with some concepts in math, and one of them had to give. I chose to concentrate on the math instead of the music.”

Dad looked surprised. I've always been honest with him, but I think this was a level he wasn't expecting. He stopped for a moment and the said, “Go to bed son.” I turned and left the study as he chuckled to himself.

That night, I slept like a baby. I hadn't been exaggerating about being tired from the exams and from the drive from West Virginia. But more importantly, I was exhausted from the time Kenna, Rowan, and I spent with each other before the long break. It wasn't until my brother came barging into my room around eight o'clock yelling, “Breakfast is on... Dude!”

I came out of bed instantly and without thought. Before I even realized I'd gone into defensive mode I was standing by the bed, half invisible, fully intangible and totally naked. My had was stretched out toward Braxton, and I just barely caught myself from increasing his density two-fold. “Braxton! Ever heard of knocking?”

I could see fear in his eyes as he stood there in the door. I had come very close to doing him some serious harm. His voice trembling just a bit, he said, “I did knock- three times. But you didn't answer.”

I shook the rest of the sleep out of my eyes and willed myself to become visible. “Sorry, Bro. I guess I was tireder than I thought.”

“Breakfast is ready,” he told me again shutting the door behind him. Then looking me up and down, he asked. “When did you start shaving? You on a swim team or something?”

“Huh?” I asked. “What makes you think I'm on a swim team?”

“Swimmers are the only guys I know who shave their pubes,” he said.

I caught myself blushing. Quickly grabbing the sleep sweats that I had left on the bed when I went insubstantial, I pulled them on. “I didn't shave. It's a side-effect of my neo-gene.”

“Really?” he asked.

Blushing deeply as my fourteen year old brother looked me up and down, I said, “Yeah. According to Doc Chapel, being hairless below the neck along with a five chambered heart is not too uncommon among class tens.”

“You have a five chambered heart?” he asked.

I nodded as I grabbed my Auburn sleep shirt and pulled it on. “And blue blood cells along with the normal white and red, plus according to the doc, I have a hyper-developed nervous system that is tied into an extra organ behind my breast-bone. I also have some disk like structures under my skin that she thinks help make me insubstantial and invisible.”

He seemed to absorb what I had said and then blurted out, “You really aren't human are you?”

I stopped cold. I wasn't going to admit how much that accusation hurt me. I felt the corners of my eyes tighten. “No, Braxton, I'm not. Not biologically. There are some fundamental physiological differences between you and me.”

He shook his head and left the room as I sat down on the bed. I don't think Braxton had meant for what he said to hurt me, but it did. But sitting there feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to get the day started. I brutally shoved the thought down and made myself head down to breakfast.

Hitting the landing, I smiled as the odors of my mom's idea of a Sunday breakfast hit me. Entering our large kitchen I saw scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, sausage, bacon, and sawmill gravy spread out on the sideboard. Dad looked up from his plate and said, “You finally decide to join the land of the living?”

I nodded and said, “Yes sir.” Scratching the back of my neck I said, “I guess I overslept.”

“Well, you did tell me you were tired last night,” he replied digging into his plate.

I looked around. Braxton was settling in to his regular chair on Dad's left, next to him, was Susanna, who'd said less than ten words to me since I got home. Of course she had her head stuck in a book most of the time. What worried me was her obsession with the Left Behind series. Outside of Dad's picks, I don't think she's read any other book in over six months. “Where's Mom and Chrissy?” I asked grabbing a plate.

“Chrissy's sick,” Susanna said. “She has a fever and is throwing up. Mom's gone to check on her.”

“Has she eaten?” I asked.

“You know Mom. She won't eat until all of us are ready to eat,” Susanna said.

I nodded and grabbed a plate from the stack and started filling it. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I caught a whiff of Mom's cooking. When I finished, I slid into my usual seat, said a quick Grace and began to dig in.

As I took my first bite, Susanna said, “That didn't seem very grateful.”

“Huh?” I asked.

“That was one of the quickest prayers I've ever seen,” she said. “Has being at that school made you less grateful for God's bounty? Or do you think because you're special that you don't have to be thankful?”

“Excuse me?” I asked her putting down my fork. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing,” she said looking over at Dad.

I glanced over and could see where he was shooting her a stern look. It was clear that he and she were having some kind of argument about something. That wasn't unusual. All of us at one time or another have had disagreements with our parents. A couple of us have even won a few and far between victories. Our parents very much wanted us to learn to question authority, but to always do it with respect. We all knew exactly how far we could go with an disagreement and how far was too far. The look Dad gave Susanna told me that she was about to cross the line. Evidently she understood that too.

Before anyone could say anything else, Mom came back in and said, “Good morning, Saw.” She kissed me on the forehead and then said, “Chrissy's got a fever. She's going to stay home today.”

“Does one of us need to stay with her?” Dad asked.

Mom shook her head and said, “No. She'll be okay by herself. Right now all she's doing is sleeping. If she doesn't feel better in a few days or if she gets worse I'll take her to see Doctor Tygart.” She picked up a plate and began to fill it.

Breakfast conversation was about plans for Christmas and our plans for vacation. Dad told Braxton and I that tomorrow he wanted us to get the bobcat out of the barn and get the berms on the back field built up a little higher and thicker. We told him we'd take care of it.

I was running behind because I slept late, and then I stayed at the breakfast table a little too long. I barely had time to get a shower and get dressed for church. We didn't make it in time for Sunday school, but that was okay. To be honest, I was still distracted by what had happened between Braxton and me. The first thing that bothered me was that he seemed to be genuinely afraid of me now. The second was what he said about me not being human. I wondered if that was how the government saw us: Not Human.

As we entered the church, I could see the place was packed. Evidently the church had started growing some since this summer. I saw several people I knew from my old school scattered around the sanctuary, and even a few in the youth choir. Dad led the way into the pew and all the way down to the far end. Mom followed with me right behind her, and then Braxton and Susanna.

I waved to Dewayne and his little brother across the sanctuary and then sat down looking at the bulletin next to the hymnals. I tried my best to ignore the stares I knew I was getting from several people. Next to me Braxton was already pulling at his tie and collar. I leaned in next to him and said, “Consider yourself lucky. I have to wear one every day as part of the school uniform.”

He gave me a horrified look and said, “I couldn't handle that.”

“You get used to it after a while,” I told him.

He started to say something, but the organ started to play and the services began. It was the typical fare, not really any different than I remembered from years of attending this particular church. The only major difference was that there was a large crowd of teenagers ranging from middle school all the way up through high school all sitting in the front right hand section of the sanctuary.

For the most part the service went the same way every service I've ever been to went. There's a particular order to do things. It was just plain normal: the call to prayer, the announcements, the hymns, the offering, and then the sermon. Of course when Kendall Peterson took the pulpit, I knew things were going to get interesting. He pointedly refused to look in the direction of where we were sitting. That should have been my first indication that things were going to get nasty. And nasty is exactly what they got.

It started out innocuous enough. Peterson's sermon began as one on cautioning us against the seductions of popular culture. He warned us to pick our role models carefully and not to be swayed by famous names. Where things got difficult was when he started naming names.

With a timbre that would do the most charismatic evangelical proud, he lay into his subject matter. “We are warned about putting our faith in men and not in God Almighty and his perfect word. In First Corinthians, Paul tells us that "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Taking a deep breath, he continued, “We live in a time today like no other in history. The sexually deviant are allowed to march their perversity through the streets in what they call pride. They’re public figures who openly declare their immorality and their distance from God and try through example to make society accept them as normal, as natural. But they are not normal. They are Satan's servants. Entertainers like Madonna, John Barrowman, Neil Patrick Harris, and Elton John; sports figures like Greg Luganis, and David Kopay. Even those who are supposed to be defending us are not immune from the sodomites.” Suddenly he turned and looked in my direction and my heart went into my shoes.

“There are even those that people call heroes who are openly seducing our young people to accept their sexual deviancy, their sinful nature as natural. Even our own Sawyer Grey has turned on us,” he said.

Suddenly I felt Mom's arm locked across my chest and she reached for Braxton. I looked to my left and saw her other arm holding Dad back. She missed Braxton though and he bolted to his feet and said, “Wait just one blasted minute! That's my brother you're talking about.”

Peterson turned to grin at Braxton and I could see the gleam in his eye. He'd gotten the reaction he wanted. He was going to turn this into a good ol' fashioned witch hunt right here. “Are you denying that your brother has a sexual relationship with Rowan Croften-Blake a person we know to be both male and female?” He suddenly sounded more like a bad lawyer on television than a preacher. The sanctuary was silent.

“I don't know what kind of relationship my brother has with Rowan. He's never talked about it one way or another. My dad- our dad has always taught us that a gentleman doesn't talk about those kinds of things. And even if he did, what gives you the right to drag his name through this church like this?”

“The right of a shepherd watching over his flock,” Peterson said. “Somebody has to stand up to the immorality that is rampant in our schools. Sawyer Grey is attempting to make us all think that what he does is normal, and wholesome. He's a sodomite and an evil influence on this community!”

I started to stand, but Mom held me tight. Between clenched teeth she growled, “Let your brother handle this. You'll just make it worse.”

“Listen here, my brother is a lot things, but he is not evil. Some times he scares the holy crap out of me with the things he's capable of. But he's put his life on the line to save innocent people. He's gone toe to toe with the worst the neohuman community can throw at us and stopped it. Yeah, he's a little weird. He's an Auburn fan for God's sake. That's about as weird and unnatural as they come.”

A low chuckle ran through the sanctuary. Peterson started to comment, but Braxton cut him off as he worked his way past where Susanna was slinking down in the pew looking totally mortified. “You seem to be awfully concerned about a single sin. You don't even look twice a fifteen year old girl who gets pregnant from pulling a train after a football game.” He turned to where Paige Flughorn was sitting very pregnant. “Have you figured out which of the football team is the father yet, Paige?” Leave it to my brother to take the fight to its source.

“Although what Paige did was a sin, it was a natural sin- part of human nature as God meant us to be,” Peterson said.

Braxton turned on him and said, “You seem to be awful concerned about this particular sin, Mr. Peterson. I wonder if you're projecting your own feelings into it. I've heard that the the things we hate the most in other people is what we see reflected from ourselves. You do have a tendency to lay your hands on a lot of us boys. Are you maybe envious of my brother for the courage he has and you don't?” There it was. Like the general for whom he was named, Braxton doggedly continued to fight. “I think that before you try to get the splinter out of Sawyer's eye you might want to first take the two-by-four out of yours.”

Suddenly Dad and Mom stood. I could see the fury in his eyes. Maybe Braxton was the best person to handle this after all. “We're going home,” was all he said.

Someone from the congregation said, “This is way out of control. Peterson, sit down before you make even more of a mess of things.” A rumble of assent ran through the deacons' pew.

“This is a house of God. Everybody's welcome here,” someone else said.

Peterson glared at my brother. In a low voice, he asked, “Do you have anything else to say?”

Braxton smiled and said, “Yeah. Roll Tide.” He turned on his heel and walked toward the front door to meet the rest of us. Another low chuckle ran through the church. My baby brother did have a certain style all his own.

We were all silent as we headed through the main foyer. As soon as the door closed behind us Braxton started cussing sulfurously. “All this because you wouldn't screw one girl, Sawyer. I tell you girls are more trouble than they're worth sometimes. All they want to do is stir up crap.”

“Hey!” Susanna protested.

“Both of you be quiet,” Mom snapped.

I was simply mortified. I couldn't believe that the youth pastor would be allowed to do something like that in church. I couldn't believe how quick things had turned nasty. I couldn't believe my brother had brass balls the size of cannon shot.

“It's probably a good thing that Chrissy is sick,” Braxton said.

“Why on Earth would you say a thing like that?” Susanna asked.

“Because she would have scratched Peterson's eyes out,” Dad said.

We all nodded in agreement as we piled into the Ford and headed home.

Later that day, we got a visit from from the Deacon's committee. They were there hat in hand to apologize. They made it clear that the sermon Peterson turned into Reverend Mitchell for approval was not the one that he gave. They also wanted to make sure we understood that we were always welcome back.

I sat in shock and listened to what they had to say. Dad told them that he appreciated them coming by, and that we had a lot to think about and discuss as a family. He'd inform them of his and Mom's decision. He also reminded them that it was the holiday season and that we as a family were going to be working on not losing our holiday spirit and that they should too. They smiled, apologized yet again and left.

I just wanted to forget about the whole thing. I figured my social life here at home was pretty much over. It was going to make for a long Christmas vacation and an even longer summer. But I'd cope. Maybe I could travel again like we did last summer. I just hoped that the rest of the vacation would be uneventful.

You know what they say about wishes and horses.

The following week turned into far more drama than I really wanted to deal with. I got visits from Jamey and Dewayne, plus four or five other old friends from Farmstead. Of course they weren't at Farmstead anymore as the county closed the school as there just weren't enough students to warrant keeping it open.

Evidently Peterson's little tirade had really upset the church elders. Something had gone terribly wrong with the man over the last few weeks as he'd suddenly become more and more shrill about the sin of homosexuality. Of course it was what everyone in the local community was talking about. The fact that Braxton had called him out about his own proclivities while at the same time his hypocrisy about Paige only added fuel to the fire.

Oddly enough the community wasn't really even that divided over it. Everyone thought that Peterson's “calling me out” during the service was way out of line. The fact that nobody could point to any case where I was even out of the closet, much less flauntingly gay wasn't lost on people either.

By the time Christmas Day rolled around, people were more interested in the holiday than they were in what was essentially a rogue busy-body embarrassing himself and his church. For the first time since I can remember, we didn't attend Christmas Eve services, but instead stayed home as family and listened to carolers.

Christmas Day came and went and we all forgot about all the unpleasantness of the previous Sunday. So far nobody had bothered to actually ask me how I felt about the accusations and all the events that followed it. In a strange way, it seemed like I was detached from an event that was centered around me. It was as if I were two people, Sawyer Jackson Grey the superhero named Ghost, and just plain Sawyer Grey.

By the time we opened presents the whole unpleasant mess was forgotten by the Grey family. Chrissy had recovered from her bout with the flu, and Susanna was at least talking to me again. I think she somehow blamed me for what happened at church. She was really getting strange lately when it came to religion.

I found out why Dad wanted the berms out back built up. Braxton and I both received new hunting rifles as gifts from Mom and Dad. Mine was actually a collector's item- an EXPENSIVE collector's item: a Winchester 1873 lever action .44-40. I have no idea where Dad found it, but he knew I had been wanting “the gun that won the West” for a long time. Braxton got the Marlin 30.30 and scope he'd been eyeing for a couple of years, along with plans for a Elk hunt in the Yukon in March.

Of course we wanted to shoot the new rifles so Dad took us all out to the back field where he'd set up some targets. We'd been out there for about half an hour, setting the sights and and enjoying some “guy time” with Dad when Chrissy came out.

“Can I try it Saw?” she asked looking up at me.

I looked over at Dad and he shrugged. I smiled and said, “Sure Squirt.”

I showed her how to pull the butt tight up against her shoulder and how to hold it. She gave me a look that reminded me that she knew how to fire a rifle. With a smile she turned and put four rounds in the bulls eye in quick succession.

“Dang girl!” I said. “We're gonna have to start calling you Annie Oakley.”

She grinned at me and Braxton handed her his Marlin. Picking up on the teasing he said, “Why don't you try mine Calamity Jane?”

Dad gave him a quick hard look that told him to knock it off. I don't know if Braxton knew or not what the “calamity” in her name was supposed to mean, but I knew Dad knew it.

Okay, lesson one: Never, ever, ever tease a tweenage girl with .30-30 in her hand. She just turned to the face the target and put three more in the bulls eye. Without lowering the rifle she growled over at Braxton and said, “Don't call me that!” She squeezed the trigger and the there was a flash of light and a deafening roar that punched right through our ear protections.

I immediately went insubstantial and looked around. Dad and Braxton threw themselves at the ground. My heart sank as I looked over at Chrissy. The rifle was gone, and she was standing there in shock, a golden energy glowing around her body. Looking down range I could see where there was a hole blasted half way through the earthen berm behind the target.

“Sawyer?!” Chrissy cried. As the tears welled up in her eyes, I could see the energy starting to pulse around her body. “What's happening?”

I went solid and stepped close to her. I suddenly realized that it wasn't the flu that Chrissy had. She'd been going through a cold-burn. Her neo-gene had become active. I reached out to pull her into a hug- to comfort her- and the energy field flared. There was a loud pop and I slammed into the woodpile ten feet behind me. That HURT!

I came out of the wood pile feeling bruised and stiff to see Chrissy sitting on her butt with a surprised look on her face as she turned her hands over and stared at the glow around them. “Calm down Chrissy,” I told her. You've been sick. Your body had to process your neo-gene coming online.”

“Neo-gene?” she asked.

Braxton began to cuss as he stood up and dusted himself off. As he looked over at Chrissy for the first time since the explosion, I could see a look of fear in his eyes. He didn't understand what was happening to our sister and it was scaring the crap out of him. It was everything he could do not to bolt and run for the house. “Ccc.., Christine?” he asked.

She didn’t miss the fear in his voice or his eyes. “I can't turn it off!” she pleaded with him.

“Sawyer?” Dad asked looking over at me.

“Chrissy, you're first flare is usually powerful and violent. It'll calm down soon as your body adapts to the changes,” I told her trying to remember everything Doctor Chapel had taught us about handling eruptions and cold-burns.

My voice seemed to sooth her. “What if I can't ever turn it off?”

I smiled and said, “Who do you sound like now?” She stopped and shook her head. “Remember the first time I walked through a wall and couldn't turn it off? What did I ask?”

“What if I'm stuck like this forever?” she said with a sheepish smile.

I nodded and noticed that the field around her started to dissipate. “Exactly, Squirt.”

She smiled at the nickname and put her hands down on the ground to pick herself up. Again the field flared and literally tossed her into the air. She screamed “Saaaawwyer!”

As she came down, Dad, Braxton and I all three scrambled to get under to try and catch her. Well all four went down in a tangle of arms and legs. As he was pulling himself out from under her and Dad, it was Braxton who gave her a code name. “That's a heck of a recoil you got there, Squirt.”

Dad just looked at her and then me. He sighed and said, “I'll call Doctor Blair.”

Dr. Lovecraft
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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby Dr. Lovecraft » Wed Dec 14, 2011 4:09 am

Loving the storyline! Having been raised Southern Baptist and being gay, your story hit home on several points. I've also turned on a couple of my heathen friends to your work. Keep up the great writing!!

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Wed Dec 14, 2011 4:30 am

Thank you for those kind words. I really hope you are enjoying it. It's about to get really hairy for the crew.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Sun Dec 18, 2011 10:23 am


Issue Y2-07 Cadre Aleph?

FAERIE aka Kenna Draupnir

Winter break was fun, but I was still worrying. Things were getting too easy. The travel restrictions were being loosened, and it looked like the Department of Neohuman Affairs was turning a blind eye to the fact that Kenneth was traveling back and forth between
Europe and the US. They weren't making any noises about him attending a neo-school. Something was up and I didn't like it. There was an itch between my antennae that told me a storm was brewing and something told me it was going to make the fight with Fury look like a picnic.

The nice thing about the holidays on the Isle of Man was that the whole family was together. It was now obvious for anyone who took the time to look that Brandt was a neo too. Something about the little points on his ears, and the fact that there didn't seem to be a crib, a door, or even a diaper that could hold him. Half the time he wandered around the estate naked as the day he was born, and the cold didn't seem to bother him. He also kept asking me where Rowan was.

The baby was a easy compared to Brandt. Mom had named her Sigritha after a famous Danish Queen. She seemed to be one of the most content children I've ever come across. So far she showed no signs of a neo-gene- except for the ears. I don't know why, but all four of us had pointed ears.

If it hadn't been for the feeling of foreboding that haunted me, it would have been a perfect Yuletide. Mother's Night was wonderful, and the feast that Mother and Grandmother prepared was fit for a king. There was ham, apples, potatoes and mouth watering bread. Mead poured like water, and neither Mother nor Father said anything about how much of it Kenneth and I drank. It was sweet and thick and of course it seemed to have no affect on either of us. I guess our bodies metabolized the alcohol faster than it could build up in our system. Father just chuckled and commented that we could probably drink a company of marines under the table. I was afraid that when I got back I was going to have to spend some extra time in the gym to be able to fit into my uniforms.

Kenneth and Alex talked a lot on Skype, and Alex came to visit a couple of times. I'm not sure that his bosses, or the Manx government knew that he was on the Isle. I know on one night, the two actually managed to consummate their relationship. What surprised me the most is that it took Kenneth this long to get into Alex's pants.

Late, on my last night on the Isle, he and I talked about it. I could sense the turmoil in his emotions through the link we shared. He was tossing and turning and I couldn't sleep because of his restlessness so I went to his room to talk it out.

He at least had the good graces to pull on a robe when he answered the door. I simply said, “Wanna talk about it?”

He frowned a small embarrassed smile and opened the door. “Sorry Kenna. I can't seem to block it out.”

I nodded, knowing what he meant. When I was Jonesing over Sawyer and Rowan, I'd been the same way. The problem was that we had to have this conversation telepathically over a huge distance. At least this time we could actually see each other.

I went over to the large wing-back chair by the fireplace and sat. “This one is different, isn't?”

“You knew it would be, didn't you?” he accused.

I nodded and said, “I suspected so.”

“Why?” he asked plopping down in the chair across from me. “Why didn't you warn me?”

“Would you have listened?” I asked. “Let's face it, most of the time you let your little head do the thinking for you big head.”

He was honest enough to admit it, “No, no I wouldn't have listened. Is it because he's a telepath?”

I shrugged and said, “I don't know. I don't think so. Neither Rowan nor Sawyer are telepaths, and yet we are connected on a visceral level that I can't explain. I think the Gods are playing with our lives.”

He chuckled and said, “What did we do to attract their attention?”

I glowered at him under heavy lids and said, “Kenneth Geri Draupnir. You know good and well that when deeds become as loud and sweeping as what we've done, the Gods themselves take notice.”

“But those deeds are yours, not mine,” he whined.

“And Alex's” I said. Leaning back in chair I teased him, “Who knows, maybe you're his reward for what we did.”

He smiled at me and said, “Now that's a blow to a bloke's ego.”

“You want it different, come back to Wyndgate with me,” I told her.

“You know Mum'll have none of that. She chews her nails down to the quick whenever she thinks of you and that team of yours in danger,” told me.

I nodded and said, “We are Freyja's and Freyr's. They have ordained deeds for both of us. I can feel it in my bones. Father at least accepts that. He may not like it, but he accepts it. Mother can't keep you from your wyrd for long, Brother. Either you deal with it soon, or the Gods may take it out of your hands. And you know they aren't always subtle. They may just decide to hit you and Mother upside the head with a clue-by-four.”

“For a seidr-worker Mother can be difficult at times,” he sighed.

“It's because she loves us. She doesn't want us to get hurt or worse.” I said.

“Men die, cattle die, and you too shall die, but glory is forever for those who have earned it,” he quoted the Sayings of Har. At least he got the quote right and didn't replace glory with “a good name”. But he was as steeped in the Lore as I was.

“Tell Mother that, not me,” I said.

“I'll work on her,” he replied. I could sense a shift in his mind. With that simple decision the turmoil in his mind was starting to calm.

I rose from the chair and kissed him on the cheek. “Do that Kenneth. I could really use someone who understands what we are sometimes.”

“I miss you too,” he said.

“We won't be separated much longer,” I told him. “Our orlog has built up too much momentum. Something is building in the wind and we're racing toward it at a frightening speed.”

He nodded and said, “I know that too. If you need me, call. I'll get there somehow.”

I nodded and replied, “I'll hold you to that.”

“A promise made, a promise to keep,” he told me.

I returned to my bed and my sleep, however my dreams were anything but quiet. I dreamt of fire and ice meeting in a great valley. I dreamt of battle and a great wolf that tried to devour me. Try as I might I could not find my grandmother's knife. I dreamt of burning lands and a city in flames. All in all it wasn't a good dream.”

When we got back from break, Sawyer had a surprise for us. His sister had evidently gone through a cold-burn during the holidays and had come back with him. She was being placed in one of the several new cadres that the school had been gearing up for. Our school population doubled between last year and first semester. Now it doubled again- to the point that some of the cadres no longer had numbers but alphabets appended to them. Wyndgate was growing and it just fed the monster in the pit of my stomach that kept telling me something evil was coming.

One cadre was even going active right off the bat. They were a group of all ferals who were in the same year as ourselves. I briefly wondered why they didn't just fold them into our team, but then realized that it would make Mr. Waterford's job nearly impossible. Instead of a number, they were given an alphabetical designation- sort of. The school called them Cadre Aleph after the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There was a certain charm to that, I supposed.

Our biggest adjustment however came from the fact that we now had Junior ROTC classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Commander Erikson started off with teaching us basic military protocols and drills. At this point it was actually a bit of a rest compared to what he and Coach Moore had been having us do. Me? I liked it. I think Sawyer and Rowan did as well, although the uniforms created a problem for Rowan. Finally, Commander Erikson made him pick a gender while in uniform. He finally settled on female because otherwise he'd have to cut his hair.

Rowan just shrugged it off as a small price to pay for the leadership classes. I'm not sure how much of it that though was her trying to find something to bury herself in so she didn't have to think about what was bothering her. I could sense it in her thoughts. She was hurt and angry but was refusing to let herself realize that she was. It was a strange mental dance she was doing and was not the normally stable and centered person who'd made a very special place in my rather divided heart.

Sawyer must have sensed it too, because on our usual “date night” in Frederick he finally put his fork down, looked over at her and said, “Okay Rowan, what's eating you?” No prelude, not building up to it, just a straightforward thrust at the problem.

Rowan who was dressed in button down and a pair of jeans raised an eyebrow and asked, “What do you mean?”

“Something's bothering you. Are you going to tell us what it is, or are we going to have drag it out of you?”

“Nothing is wrong, Sawyer,” he said.

“That's my first warning,” Sawyer replied. “Rowan don't try to tell me that nothing's wrong. You're acting a lot like you did right after Jason Carter went to those hacks that call themselves reporters.”

“I am?” Rowan asked suddenly concerned. I could feel her going through things in her mind. There was a strong sense of betrayal along with a hint of shame. It was as if she was feeling guilty for feeling betrayed.

“Kenna,” she warned.

“What?” I asked.

“Your antennae are sparking,” Rowan said. “That means you're reading one of us.”

“Busted,” I said. “I'm only picking up what you're projecting, I'm not scanning,” I protested.

She put her glass of milk down on the table and sighed. “My holidays sucked,” she said, “and not in the good way.”

“What happened?” Sawyer asked suddenly very serious.

Rowan shrugged and looked to around to make sure nobody else was listening. “I'm feeling like I'm not going to have Heather in my life for much longer.”

“What do you mean?” Sawyer asked worriedly. “Is she sick?”

Rowan shook her head and said, “No. She just doesn't seem interested in the house we're building together.”

I thought as much. I'd been suspecting that Heather was just going through the motions of that project to give Rowan a sense of belonging. The loss of both their parents had left them so that each was literally the only family the other had left. Rowan being younger and at the mercy of the courts, was probably hit by that loss more than Heather. Anything that threatened to take Heather out of her life was likely to be met with force. “Exactly what did she say?” I asked.

Rowan shook her head and her champagne blonde hair slid back and forth across her forehead. “She didn't say anything. She just refused to argue with me about any ideas I had for it. It was like she didn't care what we did with it because she wasn't going to be living there.”

“Don't you think you're reading too much into this?” Sawyer said. “Maybe she just didn't want to fight with you about it.”

Rowan shook her head and said, “Maybe, but somehow I don't think so. I think she's not interested in the house because she doesn't plan to live there, or at least not for very long. I think she's planning on moving away.”

This was not like Rowan, and it was sure as Hel's dark half not like Heather. “How does Patrick feel about the situation?” I asked.

Rowan shrugged and sipped her milk. “He hasn't said much one way or another. We spent four days in Roswell with his family, but he didn't say much about it.”

“How do you feel about Patrick?” Sawyer asked carefully. I think I knew what he was getting at.

“I guess I could be mad at him, but I'm not. I won't let myself be mad at him because he doesn't have any more control over the situation than I do. If he's happy with it, he has at least had the good manners not to rub it in.”

“Rub it in?” Sawyer asked sipping his own drink, almost mirroring Rowan's actions. “Do you feel like you're competing with him or his dad?”

Rowan shook her head and said, “No, not with Patrick. Maybe his dad, but I won't let that interfere with how I treat or feel about Patrick.”

“Rowan, we can't always control how we feel,” I told her. “You may be angry with Patrick over this situation and are just not willing to admit it. You need to talk to him and Heather about this.”

Rowan shrugged and said, “If I am then I won't let it affect how I treat him or anyone else.” She sighed and added, “And Heather and I have talked. She thinks I'm being silly.”

Now, that did not sound like Heather. She would never tell Rowan that she's being silly. “Maybe she's feeling a little pressure from both you and Patrick's dad,” I suggested. “Maybe she just needs to distance herself for a short while. I'm sure she's not going to go off and live without you.”

With a sigh, Rowan said, “Can we talk about something else, please?”

“If you're not comfortable with the conversation, sure,” Sawyer replied. He turned to me and asked, “How was your stay with your grandmother? Any more problems out of that Assmud Kelly guy?”

I grinned at his attempt to bring some levity into the situation. “That's Asmund, Sawyer, not ass mud. And no I didn't have any problems out of him. He didn't even come around. I think I spooked him just a little bit when I told him the rumors about my family were true. Some people still have quite a few superstitions about House Raven.”

“You scared him off with a ghost story?” Rowan asked.

“Something like that,” that I told her.

“What about you Sawyer?” I asked. “Outside of the fact that your sister ended up going through a cold-burn, how was your holiday?”

Sawyer shook his head and I could see the tiny muscles at the edge of his eyes tighten. He said, “Outside of the fact that I got called out in church as a sexual deviant.”

“What!?” Rowan and I both asked.

Sawyer smirked and said, “Our youth pastor went bat-shit crazy and called me out as a sexual deviant in the middle of a sermon. The deacons and the pastor and just about everyone else thought he'd lost his mind.”

“What kind of sexual deviant?” Rowan asked with a low growl.

“You can guess,” Sawyer said obviously not wanting Rowan to think she was the blame.

“How do they know whether or not we're having sex?” Rowan pressed.

“They don't,” Sawyer said. “They're assuming it, and you know what they say about assuming anything.”

“But why?” I asked.

It was Sawyer's turn to shrug and shake his head, “Nobody knows. He just sort of went off the deep end after attending some kind of youth summit in DC. Before he left, he was just a sanctimonious ass, but was mostly harmless. After he got back he was some kind of zealot.”

“What did you do?” Rowan asked.

“Mom, Dad, and Braxton are looking for another church. Susanna has decided that all her friends are at our old church and she doesn't want to move.”

I looked over at Rowan and she nodded. We both had a good idea that Susanna was going to end up giving Sawyer a whole lot of grief in a few years. We'd only met the girl a couple of times in passing, but she set off both my psionic warning bells, and Rowan's animal instincts. We both knew the reason for it too: our neo-gene. The girl was a classic bigot. But that wasn't something you told your boyfriend, whether he knew it or not. I sighed and said, “And you?”

He leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. “As for me, I'm still processing several things. I definitely won't be going back to that church, maybe not any other.”

I raised and eyebrow at him. “Somehow you don't strike me as an agnostic. You've got too much a grounding in good old fashioned spirituality.”

“Oh, I definitely believe in a higher power. I'm just not sure which higher power it is anymore.”

“You too?” Rowan asked.

He nodded. “I think it affected all of us on some level. I'm just willing to acknowledge that it's awoken something inside me.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Winterfinding,” Rowan said. “Don't tell me you didn't feel it.”

“I thought I was the only one who did,” I told her.

“We all felt it Kenna. For a telepath, sometimes you're awful blind to what's going on,” Rowan teased. “When I lifted that cup to Nerthus, we all felt a presence among us, and it wasn't mortal. I've never been touched like that.”

Now that was a surprise to me. I knew I felt something, and I knew Kenneth did too. I've felt it occasionally before: usually when the Gods were about to hit me upside the head with that clue-by-four I warned Kenneth about. I figured that maybe Mom and Dad felt it too, and some of the others from the kindred as well. But I hadn't realized that the non-'Tru had. “So what are you considering?” I asked Sawyer.

He shook his head and said, “I don't know yet. But I feel something else calling me. I also realized that when I was in the church it was dead, I felt nothing. It's something I need to think about.”

I nodded and said, “If you need to talk let me know.”

“I will,” Sawyer replied. “In the meantime, why don't we go back to the school. I want to check on Chrissy.”

Rowan and I nodded and dropped a couple of bills each on the table for a tip as Sawyer went to pay. As he walked away, I caught Rowan watching his butt. He whispered softly, “You know he's eventually going to have to let her stand on her own two feet.”

I nodded, “Yeah, but he's going to bust a bunch of tweenage boy's heads first.”

“I don't think we're going to have much time for that,” Rowan said. “This little cat's whiskers are twitching.”

“That's not your whiskers twitching,” I teased.

“That too,” he said with a smile as we headed out to Sawyer's Jeep.
SHADOW CLAW aka Rowan Croften-Blake

The talk with Kenna and Sawyer did me a lot of good. What we did when we got back to the suite was just as comforting. I needed to feel like I belonged, like the ground wasn't shifting under my feet. In a lot of ways, Sawyer and Kenna were as much of an anchor in my life as Heather was.

One of the things that had made the trip to New Mexico at least bearable to me was knowing that I was coming back to them. That knowledge helped mitigate the gnawing in the pit of my stomach that told me something was seriously wrong with the world. That and I devoured just about everything I could about Kenna's faith and about the Goddess Nerthus that I could get my hands on.

Some of my reading finally made sense of what Kenna had called me that evening in the gym so long ago: a child of Nerthus. There was some speculation among those who studied the ancient tales that the male God, Njord had transformed himself into the female Goddess, Nerthus to give birth to Freyja and Frey. I could see where she could consider me a child of such a Goddess.

The next day was Sunday, and Doctor Blair had something special planned for us. He had scheduled a meeting with us, Commander, Erikson, Mr. Waterford, and another teacher, Ms. Lakota at eight a.m. We just didn't know who else he planned for us to meet.

We managed to get cleaned up and make it on time, but it was close. I knew for a fact that both Lorna and Amelia had also spent the night in our suite, or at least a good portion of it. Poor Tracy was the only person sleeping alone- although I do know that he spent several hours playing his guitar. He was good- REALLY good.

We all trudged down to the main briefing room as a team. We'd been told to wear our new combat uniforms for some reason. I much preferred them to last year's. They have some kind of crystal weave that makes them a whole lot more durable than the old spandex stuff. Doctor Blair had assured me that it would actually stand up to a direct hit from a flame thrower. Maybe the next time we're in a conflict, I can manage to keep my clothes on.

The new ones were a basic black but the crystals would catch the light to make them look like a dim night sky full of stars. The top of the uniform was a white cut out in a stylized “W” across the chest. “Cadre 5” was embossed in blue and red over the left breast. There were matching black boots and gloves for the others. We all had a white utility belt with red packs. Mainly we used them for carrying identification, cell phones, and that kind of things. I think Kenna used her ability to shrink items to keep quite a bit of other stuff in hers. Like the old uniforms, mine had neither the gloves or the boots- mainly because they would interfere with my claws.

We filed into the room where our teacher, our combat trainer, our doctor, and our headmaster were waiting. There was another woman who appeared to be in her mid-thirties with them.. She was tall with long raven black hair and a very aquiline nose. Her eyes were like wells of blackness, and her complexion was a deep tan. It was obvious that this was a woman who engaged in rigorous exercise on a daily basis. In spite of the nose, she was extremely attractive.

We all looked over to Doctor Blair to explain. He held up a hand and told us, “Sit down and we'll discuss what's going on.” We did as he asked and when we were all settled he said, “You know that they government has withdrawn it's offer for a partnership with the DEA. It's my understanding that Director Pagoria is being asked to resign for extending it to you.”

“So we won't be working for Uncle Sam,” Sawyer said. “That's not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Not quite, Ghost,” Doctor Chapel said. “You will just be working where you were originally intended. As you know, Cadre 4 has asked to go active. They're going to be shadowing Neoforce 1 this year, and will be called up to handle certain kinds of emergencies alongside them.”

“And my team?” Brian asked.

“Whether you, the President, or anybody else likes it or not, Brian,” Doctor Blair said, “You are already an active team. You'll be working mainly as a fast intervention team dealing with environmental emergencies and that kind of thing.”

“And if we don't want to?” Sawyer asked.

Doctor Blair locked eyes with Sawyer and asked, “After all that we've been through, are we going to have this argument Sawyer?”

Sawyer chuckled and said, “I guess not.”

Doctor Blair smiled and said, “Good.” He looked back at the rest of the team and said, “The problem is that you six are just not enough to handle the crises we suspect that are building.”

Next to me, I felt Kenna tense. “Exactly what do you know, Doctor Blair?”

“Not as much as I would like, Kenna. I know that the attacks on this team have not been random, but I don't know who has been directing them or why someone suddenly decided to focus on a bunch of teenagers whose main worry should be if they have a date next Friday night. However, I have been told by my own contacts in both the Psi-Corps and the government that I should have my teams prepared for something major.”

“Teams?” I asked. “As in plural?”

Mr. Waterford smiled and said, “Teams, Shadow Claw.”

“That's what we're here for,” Doctor Blair said. Then indicating the woman next Doctor Chapel, he said, “This is Miss Lakota. She's the cadre teacher for the new Cadre Aleph.”

“You mean that group that just moved in to the suite opposite Ice Storm's?” Patrick asked. “What about them?”

“They're going active too,” Doctor Blair said. “They'll be your sister team.”

“Sister team?” I asked. “Exactly what does that mean?”

“That means that if things get too busy, we won't have to split your team up to handle an emergency. They'll be training alongside side you,” Commander Erikson said.

“But they're not part of our team?” Brian asked.

It was Ms. Lakota's turn to answer, “No. They'll be their own team, hence the name Cadre Aleph. The idea here is to have two autonomous teams that know how to work with each other, but who can operate equally as effective by themselves.”

“When the teams come together, who will be the overall mission leader?” Tracy asked.

“I was wondering who would ask that first,” Commander Erikson said. “Because of sheer experience, that role will fall to Boomer. That doesn't mean that Protea won't be in command of her own forces, just that Boomer and to some extent Ghost will be in overall command.”

“Ghost?” Ms. Lakota asked.

Doctor Blair nodded and said, “Ghost is the cadre tactician- and a very effective one at that. He gives Boomer options for the most effective use of team resources.”

“I see,” Ms. Lakota said. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.

“Any other questions?” Doctor Chapel asked. We all shook our heads. We all had questions, but I got the feeling we were going to see how many of them were going to be answered in the course of this meeting. “Very well.” She walked over to door connecting this conference room to the next. Opening it she said, “This is Cadre Aleph.”

The first thing I noticed about the five teenagers who entered the room was their uniform. It was almost identical to ours, except that the white area of ours was crimson on theirs. Where ours said , “Cadre 5” theirs read “Cadre א”. Also down the arms of their uniforms, in a tight script were the words: “Wyndgate Academy”. I guess the school felt they should get some advertising out of this.

Their leader was a very beautiful dark-haired girl with Polynesian features. I smiled when I noticed the pointed ears. There seemed to be a lot of pointed ears among ferals lately. She had a serious expression on her face as the rest of the team flowed into the room.
Behind her was guy that looked like someone had anthropomorphized a white tiger. His ears were much more like a human's than mine, and were closer to the sides of his head. He didn't have a tail, but he was covered from head to foot in white fur with black stripes. His eyes were a deep green, and I could tell they were picking up every detail in the room. Then came a guy whose body seemed to have odd angles all over it, like he was wearing some kind of armor under his costume. I can't say much about his face because he actually wore a full face mask. But again because of the angles, I suspected it was less to hide his identity than it was to simply hide his face. It was as if he was ashamed of what he was. After that was a very attractive boy about our age. He had pointed ears like Protea but his features were very Nordic not Polynesian. His long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail and his eyes were bright blue. For some reason, he reminded me of Patrick and Tracy. Lastly was a tall girl, maybe five six or seven, with long hair the color of white chocolate. She was covered in a similarly colored fur and her nose was somewhat flattened. Small whiskers extended from both sides of it. Atop her head sat a pair of rabbit ears that added at least two feet to her height. She had a body that most girls would dream of- all curves and sexy. There was a little white rabbit tail just above her butt. Like me, she looked like something out of a Japanese anime. I noticed that three of them were wearing Psi-Corps pins on their uniform.”

Ms. Lakota stepped forward and said, “This is Protea, Psi-Claw, Webs, Hardlight, and...”
She stopped in the middle of the of her introduction when Protea leaned in and whispered to her.

I could hear it, but I doubt anybody else in the room could except for Psi-Claw who looked like a white tiger. “He says he filled out the paperwork to change his code-name to Earendil.”

Lakota nodded and then turned back to us and said, “I'm sorry, Earindil, and Thumper.”

“Thumper?” I heard Patrick ask.

She turned and glared at him and then with twang that reminded me of the local accent said, “Yeah, Thumper, like what I'll do to someone who doesn't like it.”

Patrick held up his hands and said, “Hey, it's cool. Just thought Disney might disapprove.”

“Then they can take it up with Ian Fleming first,” she replied. “Besides, they own the rights to their movie, not the tale.”

“Touche,” Patrick said.

“Okay, we've got the code-names, what should we call you around campus?” Tracy asked.

“Bond, Tamara Bond,” Thumper said with a mischievous smile.

Earendil gave her a smile and said, “Eric North- and no, I'm not a vampire.”

“Conrad Skorzyni,” Webs said from behind his mask. Based on the movements around the mouth of the mask, I began to wonder if his features were arachnid.

The guy with the tiger features, Psi-Strike said, “I'm Kevin Warner.”

Finally, Protea said, “My name is Amber Kiolani Mo'i.” I briefly wondered if she was related to the Mo'i family out of Hawaii. My dad used to do a lot of business with a Katherine Mo'i who is the matriarch of a major agricultural giant there.

“Welcome to Wyndgate,” Boomer said. “I'm sure we'll all end up working well together.”

“That is if we don't kill each other first,” Kevin said, raising one furred brow.

Commander Erikson stepped forward and said, “Okay enough for introductions, we need to get down to work. Ms. Lakota and Mr. Waterford have both agreed to give me all of Cadre Aleph plus Boomer and Ghost for the day. You will report the practice dome in thirty minutes. The rest of you are dismissed.”

“Interesting,” Speedfire said next to me.

“How?” I asked turning to him.

“Sounds like they want Boomer and Ghost to get a closer look at their abilities and how well they work as a team before the rest of us,” he replied.

I shrugged and as we got up to leave said, “Makes sense to me.”

“I guess so,” he replied. Then holding the door for me, he said, “Dad called. He and Heather want us to have dinner with them tonight.”

I stopped for a moment and thought about it. Then I said simply, “I'm busy.” I then walked on.

I heard Kenna come running up to me. I knew it was her, because her smaller legs made a certain quick rhythm when she ran. Catching up, she snuggled up under my arm and said, “That was rude.”

I shrugged and said, “Really? Isn't it rude to assume that I would drop everything or assume I didn't have anything important to do?”

“What do you have to do tonight that's important?” she asked.

“I smiled and looked down and said, “Besides you and Sawyer?”

She at least had the good graces to blush before asking, “Yeah, besides us.”

“I'm planning on starting a time line of events starting from the day my parents were killed to the present time. Twice in as many days people I trust with my life have told me that they sense something bad is coming. I plan on being proactive and see if I can figure out what it is so I can be prepared to deal with it,” I told her.

“Really?”she asked.

“Really,” I told her.

“And this has nothing to do with what you told us last night?” she asked.

I shrugged. I knew better than to try and lie to Kenna. She would sense it probably without even having to read my mind. “I don't know. Maybe. If Heather is making it a point to pull away from me, then maybe she needs her own space. I'll give it to her.”

“Even though your heart is breaking while it happens,” Kenna accused.

“You know what they say. If you love something let it go. If it comes back then you it is yours for life...,”

“And if it doesn't, hunt it down and shoot it,” she interrupted.

I smiled and said, “I have other options.”

“Yeah, you do. I think it's a mistake,” she said. “But it's your mistake to make.”

And she was right. It probably was me being petty, but sometimes a person need to be just a little bit selfish and petty. Right now I wanted to spend time on the things that were directly affecting me. There were people out there wanting to kill me and my friends. I wasn't going to let it happen. If that gave me cover from feeling left out of Heather's life, then so be it.

It was several hours before we saw either Brian, or any of the others again. As we settled into our usual table in the now packed cafeteria, Conrad and Kevin were teasing Eric. Brian and Sawyer each had a tray and were leading the whole team over to our table.

Boomer said, “I tried to warn you man.”

“But he's so small! How can he hit that hard?!” Eric was complaining.

“You know what they say,” Kevin said with a growl. “Dynamite comes in small packages.”

“What happened?” I asked suddenly worried.

“Commander Erikson pitted these three against Ghost in a demonstration.

“Oh?” Kenna said with a smile.

“He walked right through my hard light construct!” Eric was complaining. “I was sure it would stop him!'

“I've only ever known one thing I had trouble passing through,” Sawyer said quietly.

“What was that, lead, gold?” Webs asked.

“Fury,” Sawyer said. I noticed that subconsciously he reached down and rubbed his leg, the one that Fury snapped like a twig.

Things got quiet for a few seconds. I decided to rescue my rather cute boyfriend and asked, “Exactly what did you do to them?”

“He made me think he didn't know I was behind him,” Kevin said. I leaped at him and took out poor Webs. Then he dropped Ellen to the ground like a ton of bricks.”

“Well, that's about what he weighed when I finished with him,” Sawyer said.

“Ellen?” Tracy asked.

“Eric,” Conrad said.

“It's Earendil,” Eric said.

“Sorry, I can't remember that long enough to use it. I could remember Hardlight. It makes sense and it fits your powers. Where did you get Earandal anyway?” Kevin asked badly mispronouncing the name.

“It's from Tolkien,” Eric replied. “Earendil was an elvish seafarer who carried on his brow the morning star.”

I raised an eyebrow and said, “That is a rather arcane reference. You might be better off keeping the name Hardlight.”

Eric shook his head and said, “Hardlight was someone else's idea. Earendil at least has the advantage as being my own choice.”

“Then don't be surprised if your teammates keep calling you Ellen,” Kenna warned him. “Everyone is welcome to step outside cultural expectations, but they do so at a price.”

“What about you Conrad?” Tracy asked. “Can you shoot webs or anything like that?”

The masked teen nodded his head and said, “And I have these.” Four jointed and spiked arachnid-like arms projected out from his back. He added, “I'm the world's only nine-legged spider.” I could almost see the grin under his mask- at least there was some movement under it.

“That's more information than I needed Dude!” Brian protested.

“What's your story, Tamara?” I asked Thumper. “You sound like a local.”

She grinned and said, “You mean a townie?” Nodding her head and taking a bite of her salad she said, “I am. I lived with my grandmother until I went through my cold-burn. When Doctor Blair found out, he offered me a scholarship here.”

“Where are your Mom and Dad?” Patrick asked.

Tamara looked at him coldly. She glanced over at Kenna and then back to Patrick before answering. “I have no idea who dad is much less where he is. Last I heard, Mom was in San Fran turning tricks.” There was a bitterness in her voice that made it clear that she had something of a chip on her shoulder about that. At least her mom was still alive. There was still hope for her, and she had her grandmother. To me it seemed like she was overlooking what she had and was being bitter about what she didn't. Boom! It hit me. Maybe I was doing the same thing. It was something to consider.

Turning to Amber I asked, “Are you related to Katherine Mo'i?”

She smiled at me and said, “You know Grandma?”

I shook my head and said, “I know of her. My dad used to talk about a Katherine Mo'i who owned several companies in Hawaii and Asia.”

“Yeah, that's Grandma. For the most part, my family ignored the fact that I was a neo. Then some navy brat saw me use my powers to chase off a tiger shark where we were surfing and reported it. Personally, I think he was just upset that I was kicking his butt. So when they investigated I had to register. Grandma checked with some friends on the mainland and found out that this was the best place to come.”

“So, you can talk to fish?” Tracy asked.

She shook her head and said, “No. I can control the elements: earth, wind, fire, and water.”

“Sounds like you and my brother Kenneth would get along,” Kenna said with a grin. “He's has the same power set- that and a set of wings like mine.”

“How about you Eric?” Patrick asked. “What powers do you have?”

The blond boy smiled and said, “I can create and control hard light constructs.”

“Hard light?” I asked.

He nodded, “It's sort of a glowing force-field that I can shape any way I can imagine.”

“Did a ring come with that power?” Tracy teased him.

“No, and I'm not fearless either.” He looked over at Sawyer who was working getting up from the table to go back for seconds. “Especially not after today.”

“Exactly why did Commander Erikson pit you Ghost?” I asked.

“I think he wanted to make sure that we understood the need for team work,” Amber said bitterly. “But I don't see how one man can be a team.”

“He can't, but Ghost is very good at tactics,” Boomer said. “He kept you where only the closest one of you got a line of sight shot at him, and he kept that one busy. He set it up so that when you attacked you had to worry about hitting someone on your team.”

“I didn't notice any of that,” Tamara said.

“You weren't supposed to,” Boomer said. “But if you think about it, how many times did you get a long distance shot at him?”

“He's right,” Psi-Claw said. “I noticed it.”

“So what's your power set, Kevin.” Tracy asked. “Not that the pin on your collar doesn't tell me some of it.”

He grinned exposing upper and lower fangs like my own. “Enhances senses, some strength and durability, and telekinesis.”

“And before you ask,” Tamara said, “I'm strong, durable, and can leap long distances.”

“And she has a devastating repeating side kick.” Brian said.

Well, in case we haven't said so: Welcome to Wyndgate's active teams.”

“Thanks,” Amber said quietly.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Fri Dec 23, 2011 1:45 pm

Issue 8 Danville No More

PROTEA aka Amber Mo'i

We were weeks deep in February and I as too damn cold! C'mon people, what is this white stuff and what's it doing on the ground? I'm not used to having to pile on layers and layers of clothes just to go outside. Ms. Lakota was kicking our butts with this new teaching style and we were slowly coming together as a team.

There were a few surprises. Eric, and of all people, Tamara had paired off. This created some tensions though with Conrad, who was obviously crushing on Tamara, but was actually dating Nurene Griffin from Cadre 7. I don't know how that's working out. Nurene is a competent telepath. Surely, she has to sense that Connie is crushing on another girl. On top of that none of us have yet to see his face. How can you date someone who is so convinced that he's a monster that he won't show his face? Maybe she sees it as a challenge.

Let's face it. Conrad has trust issues. I can't complain that he isn't working as part of the team, only that he refuses to trust us enough with what he looks like under that mask. Add into that his growing resentment of our resident “elf-lord” and the fact that he's dancing the naked nasty with the object of his crush and it's amazing that he hasn't gotten his ass kicked six different ways from Sunday.

But we were slowly becoming a team, and a team was just what we needed be. Our team had gone around the bend when it came time to pick a team language to learn. I can't believe they actually voted to learn KLINGON! I blame Eric. It was his idea. He tossed the idea out as a joke and it stuck.

We were going over our team project when a Doctor Blair came walking into the room with a heavy set black woman that had a look of disgust on her face. Doctor Blair just looked worried. He looked at us and said, “We've got a situation on our hands and you guys are at the top of the roster.”

“This isn't Cadre 5,” the woman protested.

Doctor Blair shook his head and said, “No, it's not. Cadre 5 is unavailable right now.”

“Where are they?” the woman demanded.

“They're on a training mission at the moment, Doctor Delang. This is Cadre Aleph.”

“Never heard of them,” she snorted. “What about Cadre 4?”

“They're busy with Neoforce 1,” Doctor Blair said. “And the government has already refused you access to them.”

The woman nodded, and then turned to us and cast a critical eye. “Are they up to the job?”

I'd had enough. If we weren't good enough for this woman, then I wasn't going to let her stand there push Connie's self esteem any further into his boots than it already was. I spoke up, “If we aren't good enough for whatever you want ma'am, maybe you should wait until your fair-haired children return.” Okay, that wasn't fair. It wasn't Cadre 5's fault that Commander Erikson had taken them on a survival excursion and they were out of touch.
And it wasn't their fault that this woman was obviously and overblown bitch.

It was Doctor Blair who answered however, “Normal, I would agree with you Protea. But in this case, the situation is somewhat personal- to me at least.”

That got our attention. All of us turned to listen and Kevin asked, “What's the sich Doc?”

“The students at the Danville school have gone rogue, taken over the school, and are holding the headmaster, hostage,” he told us. “The headmaster is a personal friend of mine. I would hate to see him hurt.”

“So you want us to go in and take the school back?” I asked.

“Something like that. The students refuse to negotiate with anybody but another neo. I would rather you try and talk them down than fight them. But I want some fire power there in case they refuse to talk,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “Danville is in upstate New York- a place colder than even here I might add. How do we get there?”

“I have a New York State National Guard helicopter waiting on the pad out front. It'll take you directly there,” Doctor Delang said. Her eyes narrowed at me and she asked, “Do you think you can handle this?”

I wasn't about to tell her we couldn't. We'd been practicing hard. We were coming together as a team. I think that probably put us ahead of the kids in a school that on more than one occasion I'd heard Kenna refer to as a psychic toxic waste dump. I simply nodded, stuck my jaw out and said, “We can handle it.”

“Your first priority is the hostages,” Doctor Blair said. “You have to get them out safely. Then find out what set this off.”

“You mean besides treating gifted teenagers as prisoners?” Ms. Lakota asked.

Doctor Delang shot her a glare and said, “That's not fair.”

“It's accurate,” Ms. Lakota countered.

“Find out what their demands are,” Doctor Blair said.

“I thought the government didn't negotiate with hostage takers,” Conrad said from under his mask.

“That's terrorists,” Eric countered.

“Same difference,” Conrad replied simply. “But you're right. Our first priority is to protect innocent lives.” He was taking to this whole hero thing like a duck to water. Too bad we couldn't convince him that he wasn't a hideous monster under that mask and that we wouldn't run away in terror if he took it off.

“If you can get them to surrender and back down, then we'll work on what happens afterward,” Doctor Delang said. Something about the way she said it made me worry just a bit. It had a ring of finality to it.

“In exactly what branch of government do you work Doctor Delang?” I asked.

She straightened her jacket and said, “Department of Education.”

“Since when does the Department of Education engage in law enforcement issues?” Kevin asked.

“Since it involves a school full of neo-humans,” Delang snapped. “I have the government's authority to engage the help of a group of neo-humans to bring this issue to a satisfactory conclusion.” Again, something in what she was saying was setting off bells in my head. I could almost hear her saying, *And satisfactory means dead.*

I nodded. I didn't like it, but I had to agree with Connie; our first job was to protect the innocent. Standing I looked at the rest of my team and said, “Okay, you heard Doc Blair. Suit up and meet me outside at the helipad in five minutes.”

I caught the little smile that crossed Ms. Lakota's face.

It didn't take us long to get changed, and piled into the UH-72 Lakota and take off. The Danville school was on the outer edge of the Lakota's range so we were low on fuel as we came over the tree line to see the school, and that turned out to be a good thing.

The first thing we noticed was that the school had been surrounded with Civilian Defense Force vehicles. I want to know who gave these pukes all that military equipment. I thought the country was broke. The co-pilot was radioing instructions to whoever was on the ground and telling them that he had Cadre Aleph on board.

Suddenly there was high pitched pinging sound and then an explosion. The whole cabin shook, and I found myself hurled backward in my seat as we started spinning and falling. Pinpoints of light started opening up in the cabin as I realized they were firing on us. “Ellen! We need your force-field now!”

“Got it,” the blond said.

“Ouch!” Thumper yelled.

“What?!” I demanded.

“The bastards shot me!” she said. Okay, she didn't use the word bastards, but I don't use that kind of language.

“Webs turned to her and asked, “Ouch? You're shot, and “ouch” is all you have to say?”

“It didn't penetrate,” she said holding her hand out with the bullet in it. “Do you want me to scream in pain?”

“Will you two be quiet!” Ellen said through gritted teeth as the light around us turned blue. “This helicopter is heavy and it's got a lot of momentum for me to overcome!”

Both of them nodded as we stopped spinning. I looked at Webs and said, “Check the pilot.” Then turning to Psi-claw I told him, “See what you can do about checking our situation outside. I'm gonna help Ellen.”

“It's Earendil!” the blond protested through clenched teeth.

“Whatever,” I told him and dove out the main hatchway. Immediately I felt the winds answer my summons to lift me. With a smile I turned to the falling helicopter and saw that the whole right side of the of the cockpit had been blown out. Only jagged pieces of the rotors spun ineffectively above it. The whole thing was surrounded in a soft azure glow that reminded of some of the deep blue water back home With a thought I directed more wind under the fuselage and watched as it slowed even more.

With an up blast of wind, the chopper came to a rest on the main lawn just inside one of the high brick walls of the school,. I knew that the walls around Wyndgate were supposed to keep intruders outside, but these seemed more designed to keep the students inside.

“The co-pilot is gone, Protea. The pilot's in bad shape. He's already lost his left arm!” Webs said over our radio.

“Can you save him?” I asked as I touched the ground and looked toward the school. I could see movement in the front foyer.

“I can hope to stop the bleeding,” Webs replied, but he's gonna need immediate medical attention.

“Where did that blast come from?” I demanded looking around.

Suddenly Thumper slammed into me, taking me to the ground as the sound of automatic gun fire stitched the ground near me. “What the hell?!” I demanded.

“The CDF is shooting at us!” she said as I saw her wince a couple of times. I realized that the bullets may bounce off her, but they stung at the very least.

Again the world turned blue around us as Ellen covered our positions while Webs and Psi-Claw pulled the pilot out of the cockpit. I could see a huge mass of white webbing where his arm should be connected to his shoulder. “Run for the building!” Webs screamed.

“What? Why?” I asked.

“Bazooka!” Webs screamed as he deployed his four extra spider like legs to carry him toward the school, the pilot still in his arms. I noticed bullets bouncing off his back and legs as he kept his body between the CDF and the pilot.

Looking back I saw where a CDF soldier had some kind of missile launcher on his shoulder. He was taking a direct aim at Thumper and me. “Oh hell no!” I said and concentrated. I heard him pull the trigger and there was a high pitched whine just before the rocket fired from the tube on his shoulder. As some kind of secondary engine kicked in and the rocket raced toward us, the wind hit him.

The wind blast picked him up and slammed him backward toward the wall in front of which he was standing. The tube on his shoulder went tumbling out of his hand. Suddenly the rocket slammed itself into the ground with a loud explosion.

In a flash, Psi-Claw cleared the distance between them and slammed a fist into the side of his head. Blood flew from the CDF soldier's face and he went still. Bullets began to ricochet all around Psi-Claw's form as his own personal force-field snapped into place. I noticed several slam into the unconscious form of the guy with the rocket launcher. They seemed to have no compunctions what-so-ever about killing their own.

“Get to the school!” I yelled as the CDF continued to fire at us. I couldn't figure out what was going on. We were asked to come in and negotiate a hostage release, not get shot out of the sky. Somebody was going to pay for that. One New York National Guardsman was dead, and the other might die before the day is over.

We took off for the main doors. In the distance I saw a well-built man in a black and crimson costume step out of the door and gesture toward us with his hand. I didn't know if it was to help or harm us so I yelled, “Everybody down!”

A wave of black energy passed over us. I could see crimson lightning dance inside the wave as it hit the men on the wall. What happened next was amazing. Guns jammed, line of fire was blocked by a flock of ravens that descended onto the grounds, and shoe laces were suddenly untied. Whatever could go wrong did go wrong.

The man grinned at us and yelled, “Hurry! That won't hold them for long!”

We scrambled through the heavy glass doors just as bullets embedded themselves in the ballistic glass of the outer foyer. I noted that someone off to the side took the pilot from Webs. “What the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“Who are you?” the tall man in black and crimson costume asked in a deep voice with a slight English accent.

“I'm Protea from Cadre Aleph. We were asked to come and try to negotiate a release of the hostages,” I told him standing up to get a better look at him.

He was tall and well built with a musculature that was extremely well defined. He seemed to be in his late thirties or early forties with a head full of straw blond hair and gray eyes. He had a lantern like jaw and a sharp beaked nose. My name is Jason King, my code name is King Chaos and I'm a teacher here,” he said. “The last one on campus.”

“Where's Principle Stonecraft?” Webs demanded.

“In the infirmary,” a boy of about sixteen stepped forward and said. He was wearing a simple pair of blue jeans and an Amazon Princess tee-shirt that looked like it had seen better days. He was walking very gingerly and looked extremely pale.

“Why is he in the infirmary?” I asked carefully as I watched several other boys gather around Mr. King.

“Because the agent the DNA sent in with the doctors shot him,” Mr. King said.

“Okay, exactly what is going on here? What Headmaster Blair told us is completely different than the situation we have here,” Psi-Claw grumbled as he picked himself up from the floor.

Before anyone else could answer, the two boys holding the pilot said, “We're taking this one down and see what Channel can do for him.”

“If he doesn't get medical attention soon, then it's going to be too late,” Webs said.

The boy nodded and replied, “Channel will see what she can do for him.”

“You don't smell like you're in too good a shape yourself,” Psi-Claw commented.

“I'll recover,” the boy said bitterly.

“Webs, you and Psi-Claw go with them. Get me a status report on the situation in the infirmary.” Our resident tiger and spider boys both nodded and followed the two carrying the pilot.

“Why are you here?” King Chaos asked, crossing his arms.

“We were asked to negotiate the release of Principal Stonecraft and any of the hostages,” I told him.

King Chaos shook his head, “Like we said, there aren't any hostages. Principal Stonecraft is recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by a DNA operative when he tried to stop the government mandated sterilizations.”

“Sterilizations?” I asked concerned.

“More like castrations,” one of the boys beside him said.

“I don't understand,” I told them feeling like the situation was rapidly spinning out of control.

“The government decided that it would be best if the neo-gene didn't spread anymore than it already was, so they're sending medics into the government operated schools to surgically sterilize the students. It was decided that in order to keep the males under control to use castration instead of a simple vasectomy,” King Chaos said.

“And Mr. Stonecraft tried to stop it?” Ellen asked.

“Yeah. He sounded a general alert and fought back. They shot him and two other teachers. He's the only one who survived. The guys they sent in with the doctors were all professional killers. When Mr. Kin- I mean King Chaos found out what was happening he rounded up a group of upperclassmen and we sort of rebelled,” a boy with dark hair and the bluest eyes this side of the sky said. He was kind of cute.

I started to answer when the phone in my utility belt went off. Pulling it from one of the pouches I saw it was school's command center. “Protea,” I answered.

“What's the situation, Protea?” Doctor Blair asked.

I quickly explained about the attack on the helicopter, the CDF, and what King Chaos was telling us. He gave some orders to whomever else was in the command center and then came back to the line. “We're working on getting more information out of the CDF,” he told me.

“Somehow I don't think they're going to share any information about an active operation with you,” I told him trying not sound too cynical.

“Who said anything about them know it?” Doctor Blair replied. I could hear the worry in his voice. Although I'd known him only a short while, I could recognize the tone of a man who was getting fed up with the situation. I'd heard it enough with my dad dealing with my mom before they split up. “Take care of your people, get out as many of the injured out as you can. I'm going to try and call in a few favors. Don't trust anyone who can't tell you who it was that gave Conrad her email address.” How in the world did he know about that?

“Yes sir. And we're working on evacuating as many as we can,” I told him.

“Good girl. Now let's see what Hacker can find,” he said. Ouch, he was calling in Commander Erikson's daughter. She was likely to empty their databanks and replace all the files with episodes of My Little Pony.

I turned back to King Chaos and said, “I've got orders to get the injured and probably the children out of here and to safety. Is there someone who can tell me exactly what's going on, and what set this off- in detail?”

King Chaos nodded his head and said, “The government sent in the doctors for the first of the year physicals to track the usual development of the students. The only problem is that several of them were drugged and then were forcibly sterilized. By the time we realized what had happened six boys and three girls had been forcibly sterilized, and I'm not talking about vasectomies and tubal ligation, but total removal of the testes and uterus. When myself and Headmaster Stonecraft tried to intervene and put a stop to it, the government goons that were with the so-called doctors shot us.” he said.

“And that's when the riots started?” I asked.

“What riots?” King Chaos asked. “There wasn't any property damage. All we did was detain the doctors and their goon-squad and released the staff and other teachers to go home.”

“And the reason you didn't release Mr. Stonecraft is because he's in the infirmary,” I concluded.

“Exactly. But no sooner than we started to sit down and figure out what to do, the Civilian Defense Force showed up and started firing on the school,” a dark-haired boy said.

“Why would the government do something like this?” I asked. “Especially at this school. They're already under investigation for the forced sterilization of Talon.”

“I don't know. There's something going on at the Department of Neo-human Affairs that makes no sense. It's like somebody has decided that they don't have to follow the rules,” King Chaos replied.

I nodded and thought about it. Grandma and Dad both had told me that they didn't trust the government to do the right thing. That was why they were sending me to a private academy instead of the government run school in Oahu. “Okay, is there another way out of the school?” I asked.

King Chaos shook his head and said, “No. They only way out is through the main gate or over the walls.”

“We have a school full of neo-humans and you're telling me that the kids haven't figured out how to get off campus?” I asked.

The man shook his head and said, “This place is less of a school and more of a prison. It was designed to keep these kids in. There are one or two fliers who could go over the wall, but we suspect that they have the school surrounded.”

I nodded and realized he was probably right. Nobody yet had come up with a way of neutralizing neo-human powers like in the comic books, so the next best thing was to imprison them in as strong a facility as possible. I still don't know that happened to Fury. Most of us believe that the government killed her instead of having to take her to trial.

My radio headset beeped. “Protea, this is Psi-Claw. We've got about a dozen kids in all ranging in ages from ten to eighteen.”

“Only twelve?” I asked.

“That's it,” Webs said.

“Where's the rest of your student body?” I asked King Chaos.

“They're supposed to be in the gym,” he said.

“Check the gym,” I told Webs.

“Got it,” he replied.

Turning back to King Chaos, I asked, “What were the evacuation plans if there was a fire?”

“To gather on the front lawn and then evacuate through the main gate. There is no back gate,” he said.

“Protea!” Psi-Claw's voice came over the radio in an excited whisper. “We got soldiers in the school!”

“Where?” I asked.

“Coming in through the gym!”

“What about the kids there?” I asked.

“Based on the carbide in the air, and the blood I smell, I'd say they're dead. Confirm that, Webs says they're all dead.”

I turned to King Chaos and asked, “How would they have gotten inside the school?”

The man shook his head and said, “I don't know.”

“The kids' tunnel!” the boy who'd stuck close to King Chaos the whole time said.

“What kids' tunnel?” Chaos asked.

I could see the boy blush deeply. “The faculty doesn't know about it. There's a hole in the wall in the boys' locker room behind that stack of gypsum board. It leads to the underground storm drains.”

“Those are supposed to be welded shut,” King Chaos protested.

“This is the government,” I said. “I'm sure they have a few cutting torches lying around.”

I hit the mic on my radio and asked, “Psi-Claw, how many soldiers and how well armed are they?” I knew that he'd be able to give me a better description than Webs- he was after all a Marine brat.

“Looks like light assault weapons and sub machine guns with suppressors,” he said. “Maybe a few grenades. I think all the heavy stuff is outside. Webs says they're coming out of one of the locker rooms.

“Are we talking about real soldiers here, or are they CDF?” I asked.

“CDF,” Psi-Claw said. “I can see the insignia on their uniforms. They're even wearing their ranks.”

“Amateurs,” Psi-Claw and I said simultaneously.

“Uh-oh,” Psi-Claw said.


“Webs has engaged.” Suddenly the fire of unsuppressed automatic weapons filled the hall.

King Chaos said, “I'll distract them here..., you get the kids out...,”

My phone rang again. Damn this was getting too distracting. Too many things were happening at the same time.

“Protea,” I said into it.

“Get out of there!” Blair said. “They've called in an air strike!”

“What the hell?” I asked. “They've got people in here!”

“They're calling it acceptable losses. They're going to blame their deaths on the students in there. You've been set up, Protea. Do what you have to do. If you can get out, head due east. Someone will meet you there. He'll know the answer to that question.”

“Got it,” I told him.

“They're going to blow this school to hell and back,” I told King Chaos. “You stay here, you die.”

If somebody doesn't keep the guys out front distracted, then you won't stand a chance getting out the sewers with four injured,” he said.

He was right. It was going to be a fight to get out of that storm drain, and I expected at least a couple of squadrons waiting on us when we came out. If he raised enough ruckus out front then the maybe that would pull some of them away from the entrance to the storm drain.

I looked at Thumper and said, “Gather up as many of the kids you can find, get the injured out of the infirmary and meet me in the gym. We're going to fight our way out of here.”

“Got it!” she said and disappeared down the hall as fast as her long legs would carry her.

I looked at King Chaos and asked, “You sure about this?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah. These kids are my responsibility. I'll keep the goons out front occupied. I'd say give me four minutes and then head for the gym.”

“Good luck,” I told him.

“A former student of mine used to tell me never to give away my luck,” he said with a smile. “Damn I miss Faerie.” With a smile he said, “Best of luck.”

“Got it,” I said and took to the air and followed Thumper.

It didn't take us long to get the two injured doctors, Principal Stonecraft and the pilot ready to travel. I had a dozen boys and girls The gunfire from the gym had stopped. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not.”

It was strange. All these kids were neos, they had powers and abilities like our own, but they seemed timid, afraid to use them. I looked at the oldest among them and asked, “Are you up to using your powers to help us get out of here?”

“We're never supposed to use our abilities,” one of the girls said timidly.

“What?” I asked. “Why do you think you're in this school?”

“To learn to control them so we don't hurt anybody else with them,” she said. “We're only supposed to use them when we're told to.”

“Well, I'm telling you to,” I told the girl. “It's either that or they're going to kill you.” What kind of fragged-up joint were they running here?

She swallowed hard and said, “Okay.”

Thumper looked at me and said, “We may have to do this on our own. It looks to me like a whole lot of brainwashing has been goin' on here.”

I nodded and told her, “I think you're right.”

Suddenly Psi-Claw's voice came on the radio. “Boss-lady, we got ourselves a clear shot all the way to the woods.”

“What?” I asked. “How?”

“The soldiers have been neutralized. But you'd better hurry. Webs says that his webbing will only hold them for about an hour. After that it starts to dissolve, and the toxin in their system starts to wear off.”

“What toxin?” I asked. “Did he bite them? Is he venomous?”

“No, but evidently some of his webbing has a contact poison on it. It's some kind of neurotoxin.”

“On our way,” I told him as we herded everyone to the gym. Suddenly out front I could hear the sounds of automatic weapons fire, explosions and the unmistakable scream of a jet engine at a low altitude. “Move it!” I yelled as we headed out. Looking to Ellen I said, “We're gonna need some cover and some light!”

He nodded and suddenly we were all surrounded by a soft blue glow. It was just in time too because and explosion rocked the whole building around us, the lights went out, and pieces of the ceiling started coming down. The damn place was built to house neo-human kids. It could take a beating, so we still had a bit of time.

When we got to the hall leading to gym, I could see what Psi-Claw meant. There were several soldiers lying on the floor, their guns bent and broken. Obviously our tiger boy had been using is telekinesis. There were also soldiers webbed to the wall, their faces were an unpleasant shade of gray as the neurotoxin in the webbing worked its way through their system.

We found the hole in the wall, and saw that someone had moved the stack of gypsum board to one side. Psi-Claw was standing there waiting for us, he was holding Webs' mask in his hand. I wondered about that but said nothing. “Follow me,” Psi-Claw said, ducking into the hole and then dropping down another one.

We quickly passed our wounded down, and then the kids. I noticed several of the older ones were walking rather gingerly, and then realized that they must be the ones who'd had the surgery performed on them. As we made our way through the storm drain, we'd occasionally come across another soldier webbed to the wall. Webs might be neurotic about his looks, but he evidently was highly effective in a fight.

Reaching the end of the tunnel, Psi-Claw stopped and said, “Wait here.”

We all did as he bade as he stepped out. I heard him say, “You forgot this, buddy.”

“Thanks,” was Webs' reply. I then realized that he was making sure that none of us saw Conrad's face. Kevin went way up in my estimation at that point. He may give Connie a hard time about the mask, but he was willing to respect his privacy.

“Alright, folks,” Psi-Claw said. “Come on out.”

As we filed out, we could see a small clearing where the storm drain emptied into a wide creek. I could smell water. Again there were several soldiers that were tied up, unconscious and or cocooned in the sticky white webbing. Leaned against a hummer were several assault rifles, and a belt of grenades. I looked back to the creek. “Where does this lead?” I asked one of the older boys.

“To the lake,” he said.

“What lake?” I asked.

“Lake Champlain,” he told me. “We're right on the Canadian border.”

“And that's where I'm taking you,” a new voice said, stepping out from behind the jeep.

We all spun to face a big bear of a man with blond hair and a thick beard. He was dressed in a flannel shirt, a jacket, and a pair of jeans with work boots. He looked like he belonged in a forest with a bunch of lumberjacks. I wondered if this was the contact Doctor Blair told me about. “Who gave Conrad their email address?”

He smiled and said in an accent not too different from Tamara's, “That would be the snake-girl, Naja.”

He was right. We'd all been surprised when the quiet green haired girl had dropped a note on the dinner table next to Conrad. “Okay,” I said. “Where to?”

He looked at the wounded and the kids and said, “You six are going to follow this creek south toward Danville.” He tossed a bag on the ground and continued, “There are some clothes for you to change into. I had to guess at some of the sizes on short notice. There are six tickets to the Lord of the Rings movie festival playing at the sci-fi convention at the city convention center. Stay there until a van can arrive to take you back to the school.”

Suddenly behind us, there was a loud explosion and the ground shook. Looking back I could see a huge fireball rise into the air. “Hit the ground!” I yelled and pulled two of the kids down with me. Two F-16s flashed overhead and then into the distance.

The blast of force that passed over us bent the nearby trees double. Pieces of concrete, steel, and the occasional desk began to rain down all around us. Again Ellen saved our asses as he erected a quick force-field around us.

When the debris stopped falling, our contact said, “Now let's move out.” The kids took the wounded and headed off in the woods with him.

I turned to my team and said, “You heard the man. Let's go see The Fellowship of the Ring.”

“All right!” Ellen grinned as he handed Conrad a hooded sweatshirt out of the bag. Who knows maybe we wouldn't stand out too much at a comic convention.

On a side note, I found out where Ellen got the name.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby Gilliam » Sun Dec 25, 2011 3:57 am

I wonder strange behaviour and rogue epsers. I am really enjoying your story and look forward to the next chapter.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:52 am

Issue Y2-09
Ace in the Hole

FAERIE aka Kenna Draupnir

By the time we got back from our week in the woods with Commander Erikson, all hell had broken loose in the outside world. According to the government, the Danville Neo School where I used to attend rioted and then one of the students blew the school to hell and back killing everyone inside. However there were reports of a military air strike, and the CDF was seen all over the city. The mainstream media was towing the government line, but Vixen News and the alternative media were digging for what they believed as the truth.

I wasn't sure where it would go, but Doctor Blair filled us in on the truth- especially since he called on some of his contacts in the Neo-human an Psi-Corps Underground movement. I couldn't believe that the government was going to try and lie its way out of this. Then the whole town went silent.

Doctor Moffett pulled me aside to tell me what was really going on. Evidently there was a group of rogue psis out there that was influencing what the witnesses were saying. They weren't from the Corps and they were rather clumsy, and not trained very well. A veritable telepath war was being waged in upstate New York and the poor people of Danville were caught in the middle.

The fact that the Corps was trying to counter it was creating enough doubt in the public's mind that the president had to back down from a planned executive order to completely suspend all the civil rights of the neo-humans and move us all to a central facility in Kansas. The president was starting to play for keeps now. Things were building to get even more nasty. The problem was that the old media had given up any pretense of impartiality and were now acting as the propaganda arm of his administration. My comment about his planning on there not being another administration to follow his was starting to become a frightening possibility.

The fact that Protea's team came out of their encounter alive was saying a lot about their training and their skill. I hate that we lost King Chaos. He was a very powerful probability manipulator among other powers. I genuinely liked the man. Like I said, things were getting nasty, and we were about to find out just how nasty.

Our own lives were about to be tossed to the wind as well. I could feel the momentum build toward whatever showdown was coming. I was terrified that we wouldn't be able to survive it, much less stop it. I was having constant nightmares about that werewolf. I was also starting to sense something evil on the wind. Something powerful was starting to turn its attention toward us and it scared me a whole lot more than anything that village idiot in the White House could do to us. This was a fear of the soul.

It was about a month after the Danville incident when we were called into the conference room again. This time we were met with two people we never expected to see again: Michael's parents. I didn't need my telepathy to know that they were worried and upset. I could see it on their faces. Mr. McAllister was holding his wife's hand who looked like she'd been crying. When we walked in, they both looked up, and I could feel the sense of chagrin coming off of them.

As we sat down, Doctor Blair who was standing with them, a file folder in his hand saud, “We have problem, team.”

“What kind of problem?” Brian asked.

“Michael has been kidnapped,” Mrs. McAllister said.

“What do you mean kidnapped?” I asked. “How do you know that he didn't just run away?”

“Because his classmates said that he was grabbed and pulled into a van by two big guys,” Mr. McAllister said.

“When?” Sawyer asked.

“Yesterday evening,” Mr. McAllister said. They were on an excursion into Salem Center Mall when it happened.”

“Didn't his classmates try and stop it?” Sawyer pressed.

The McAllisters shook their heads. I could tell that they were wondering the same things themselves.

I reached up and ran my fingers through my hair, and pressed my antennae flat against my skull to hide the spark that arced between them when I opened my mind to theirs.

These two parents were terrified. They'd been to their boss, they'd been to the government and nobody was willing to help them. The other students at the school had been too afraid to try and intervene, even though they weren't without their own powers.

I remembered what Amber had told me about the kids at the Danville school and how they were timid about using their powers. I was beginning to wonder if there was some kind of connection- if someone was doing their best to convince neo-humans not to get involved, not to use their Gods-given powers for any reason. “Why haven't we heard about it on the news?” I asked.

“The FBI has turned it over to the Department of Neo-Human affairs. They are doing an investigation, but want to keep it quiet. We're worried that by the time they go through all the proper channels, that...,” Mike's father couldn't bring himself to to complete what he feared- what was every parent's worst nightmare.

“What can you tell us about the kidnappers, about the van?” Rowan asked.

Again there was a look of surprise on the parent's face. I could sense that these were questions that they had not heard the DNA ask. Mrs. McAllister said, “It was two men. Both were wearing some kind of black and gray body armor. The girl with Michael said that the van had West Virginia plates.”

We all looked at each other. Finally, Tracy asked, “West Virginia? That might explain why the DNA is dragging its feet. They may think we have him.”

“Why would they think that?” I asked.

“They're looking for a bogey-man. If they pass this off as something this school has done, then they'd have an excuse to shut us down.”

“All our people are accounted for,” Doctor Blair said. “Especially the three active teams. We didn't do it.”

Both of the McAllisters nodded their heads. “We know. You already told us.”

“But why West Virginia?” Brian asked getting up from his chair and walking around.

“We don't know,” Mr. McAllister said.

“Did they get a plate number?” I asked.

“A partial one,” Mr. McAllister said. “They've narrowed it down to the city of Huntington.”

“Isn't that the city where all those murders have happened over the last few months?” Brian asked.

Doctor Blair nodded his head and said, “We don't know if they are connected or not.”

“What kinds of murders?” Mrs. McAllister asked.

“Pretty grisly,” Doctor Blair said. “Maybe they're using the fact that the police there are busy with their investigation that they won't notice a hostage being held.” I got the feeling that Doctor Blair didn't want the McAllisters to associate the murderer with Mikey's kidnappers.

“Why would someone from Huntington, West Virginia kidnap Michael? I mean who were they?” Brian asked. This news was obviously as upsetting to him as it was the rest of us.

Doctor Blair interrupted and said, “I'm not sure, but we were able to get some video of what happened.”

“What?! How?!” Mrs. McAllister asked.

“We got it from a nearby ATM's video surveillance camera,” Doctor Blair said.

“I wonder why the police didn't check that?” Mrs. McAllister said.

“I'm not sure,” Doctor Blair answered as he pulled a flash drive out of the folder and dropped it into the slot under the plasma screen on the wall. It flared to life to show a grainy black and white video of Michael, two girls and another guy were walking along the outside of the mall toward its entrance.

Suddenly a van pulled up and two men got jumped out, pushed the other three students out of the way and grabbed Michael. The first thing I noticed that they were at least as strong as he is- and we know he can easily lift a car, so these guys had to be strong. They quickly wrestled him to the ground, and then one of them pulled something out of his belt and applied it to the back of Mike's neck. Our friend immediately went limp. It was then the guy sitting on his back turned to face the camera and I saw his face.

“I know him!” I said.

“Who?” the McAllisters demanded.

“Remember the fight in DC? The giant who grabbed me and pulled me out of the window?”

“The one you went berserk on?” Brian asked.

I turned toward him and stuck out my tongue. Then I nodded and said, “That one.”

“Who are they, why would they want Michael?” his Mom asked.

I wasn't about to tell them that they were Jotuns from Norse legend.

“I thought you might recognize him,” Doctor Blair said. The armor and bodysuits they are wearing fit the giant from that fight.”

“Any way of tracing where they have Michael?” I asked suddenly very interested in what was going on.

Doctor Blair nodded and said, “Yep. That van has a GPS system on it. We did some digging and got the frequency.”

“How?” Mr. McAllister asked.

“I'm not at liberty to say,” Doctor Blair told them. I knew that meant that it probably involved Commander Erikson's daughter, code-named Hacker.

“Do we alert the police?” Mr. McAllister asked.

“Do you want your son back?” I asked coldly.

“Of course!” Mrs. McAllister said.

“Then we don't alert the police. Although I have no doubt that the Huntington Police Department are highly effective in keeping the peace, they aren't going to be equipped or trained to deal with one suspect who can grow to twenty-plus feet high, and the other who possibly has other unknown powers.”

“Kenna's right,” Doctor Blair said. “I think this is something that we should handle.”

“Why?” Mrs. McAllister asked. I could sense the surprise and turmoil in her mind.

“Because we take care of our own,” Brian told her. “Whether or not he's still at this school, Ace is a member of Cadre 5, and we've lost too many friends to let him go without a fight.”

Brian's answer seemed to both surprise and sooth the McAllisters. I just knew deep down in my gut that he was right. I also knew that we were going to need Michael before this whole mess was over. “Where in Huntington is he, Doc?” I asked.

“Its last location was on 4th Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets,” he said.

“How do you want to go in?” Sawyer asked. “Do we want to go in in costume or do we want to do some recon first?”

“Who do you have in mind for the reconnoitering?” Rowan asked.

He smiled and said, “Well, I can go invisible and insubstantial. I could go look around and then report back. We could decide how to proceed from there.”

“How far away is Huntington from here?” I asked.

“By car about five hours,” Doctor Blair said. “But if we go in high profile, we can use the school's helicopter. That will get us there in about 45 minutes.”

“That wouldn't be a very covert entrance,” Brian said.

“We don't have to go downtown. The pilot wouldn't be able to land in the middle of the street anyway.”

“We could always hover over the city and then drop down,” Patrick suggested.

I shook my head, “Still not very stealthy. I'd rather not these particular bad guys know we're there until it's too late.”

“How do you know they're bad guys?” Mr. McAllister asked. I could see where he was automatically falling back on the non-judgmental mindset that was prevalent among certain political and academic elites.

“They kidnapped our son John,” Mrs. McAllister said.

Mr. McAllister didn't answer, he only blushed. I think his wife at least was starting to rethink her world view.

Sawyer simply gave them a tolerant look and then went back to the discussion. “I agree. We don't want the kidnappers to have any warning that we're there until we've got Michael safely out.”

“I could hide our decent with an illusion,” Tracy said. “Warping the light around us won't be very difficult as long as we all drop at relatively the same speed.”

“Someone would have to carry Speedfire and Shadow Claw,” I pointed out. “Neither of them can fly.”

“I can carry Shadow Claw,” Sawyer said.

“And I'll take Speedfire,” Brian added. “That will leave Lightwing free to concentrate on covering us with an illusion.”

“And I can scan for Michael's thoughts. I've touched his mind enough that it shouldn't be difficult to find him,” I said.

“What do you mean you've touched his mind?” Mr. McAllister asked.

“I've been in psionic contact with every member of this team at one time or another. I've been a bit deeper in Michael's mind than some others because he asked me to sit in on his session with Doctor Moffett to safeguard his privacy. I know what his thoughts feel like.”

“You mean when you discovered that Doctor Deperl had tampered with him?” Mr. McAllister asked.

I nodded and said, “Yes sir.”

I turned to Lightwing and asked, “How long can you keep us invisible?”

“As long as need be. It's actually not that difficult to do as long as I stay out of my other form,” he said. “It's a bit harder to maintain when I'm glowing,” he said blushing.

“I bet,” Rowan interjected.

“Okay,” Brian said. “We go in with the helicopter. Faerie will do a preliminary scan to narrow down his general location. We'll drop out of the chopper onto the nearest building, preferably the one where he's being held. Then Ghost will reconnoiter the site and locate Michael.” Brian stopped and locked eyes with Sawyer and then said, “He will THEN come back and advise the rest of the team. We'll will then decide on how to proceed from there.”

“Understood,” Sawyer said with a grin.

“Any questions?” Brian asked.

“What kind of combat are we entering?” Patrick asked.

“We match them blow for blow,” Brian said. “We try to avoid killing the bad guys, but if they enter killing combat then we do what is necessary to see that Michael gets out safely and we all get home. Understood?”

He looked directly at the McAllisters at this point and said, “This isn't some game, or school project. People can get killed here. We'll keep the property damage to a minimum, but we will get Michael back safely.” Then looking around, he asked, “Any more questions?”

We all shook our heads and he said, “In that case, suit up. I'm betting that the chopper is already fueled and the pilot is waiting.”

“You'd be right,” Doctor Blair said. “Be sure to take your headsets and tune them to blue channel.”

We all acknowledged what he'd said and headed out to change. I checked my own belt for all the little things I kept shrunk and inside it. I still had a very bad feeling about this, so I made sure Great-grandma Rood's knife was where I could get at it.

The helicopter ride across the state of West Virginia was noisy. We really couldn't discuss much on the way over the sound of the rotors. It was cold out, the temperatures not yet having risen out of the forties for more than a few days at a time. Winter still had a hold on the mountains, and I could feel the wind biting at my face and hands.

When we were over the city, I cast my mind out looking for Michael. The first thing I had to do was tune out the 50,000 other human minds in the city. Actually, it wasn't quite that many since we had some idea of where to begin our search. Downtown still had a lot of people in it, and it took me a while to narrow down the search.

I almost missed him. He was doing his damnedest not to think about the fear that was eating at him. There was something very primal about that fear too. It was something that went down inside him to a basic level. It wasn't rational, and it was artificial. “Found him,” I said into my headset.

“Where?” Brian asked.

I pointed to a long section of roofs that made up one whole side of a city block. “In the basement of one of those buildings. If we get closer, I can pinpoint which one,” I told him.

“Alright team. We know what we're going to do?” Boomer asked. Everyone nodded assent and he continued. “Remember, our first priority is to get our teammate out. Second is to make sure no innocents get hurt, and third is to keep property damage to a minimum. Got it?”

“Got it, Mother,” Ghost said with a smile.

“Smart ass,” he replied back with another smile.

I was the first out of the chopper. I had to let myself fall for a few seconds before I caught the winds, otherwise I'd get caught I the backwash of the blades. The same applied for Lightwing. Boomer and Ghost could simply overcome the backwash by sheer force of flight.

We touched down on the roof and I looked around and wondered if Lightwing had forgotten to hide us. But since nobody looked up and pointed to the roof, I figured we were still in good shape. I opened my mind and searched downwards. Looking over at Ghost I said, “Straight down from me. I seem to have homed in on him without thinking about it.”

Ghost smiled and then faded away. It was a long wait, and I worried that he might have gotten caught. Casting my mind down, I found him cataloging the various entrances and exits, the items that could be used as weapons and cover. He was doing his job and here I was fretting like a mother hen.

After what seemed like forever, but I am sure was no more than a couple of minutes he faded back into sight. He looked over at Brian and said, “They've got him in some kind cell in the basement. It's pretty high tech because the only thing visible is a line around the floor and walls that's glowing. I tried passing through it and it just about scrambled my nerves.”

“Is he alone?” Boomer asked.

Ghost shook his head and said, “No. There are three men with him. They all look like something out of that bad Thor movie you were bitching about, Kenna. They have long braided hair, beards, and are built like Superman on a good day.”

“Great,” Boomer replied sarcastically. “Anything else?”

Ghost nodded his head, “Yeah, I think one of them is a projective empath. The whole basement reeks of terror. I think they've been torturing him.”

Brian began to grind his teeth at that suggestion. “How do we get in?”

Ghost frowned slightly. He understood what Brian was feeling and like our team leader, he wasn't going to let it show. He would take it out on our enemies, but he wouldn't give them satisfaction of a visible reaction at this point. Sometimes boys can be so stupid. But damn, I love 'em. Finally he said, “There's a set of stairs on the first floor of the building directly under us. It's some kind of night club. Right now it's empty. I took the liberty of disabling the alarm and unlocking the back door. There's also a set of sunken concrete stairs at the back of the building that go down to the basement door. It's metal and locked from the inside with a padlock. I didn't mess with it because I was afraid one of the bad guys might see it. I figure though it'll put up about a tenth of a second of fight for Shadow Claw to go through it. Its on the opposite side of the room from the stair landing. We can use a pincer attack to catch them by surprise.”

Boomer nodded. “Okay, Ghost, and Speedfire go in through the stairs in the club. Speedfire, you're to disable the force-field and get Ace out. Ghost, you cover him. Shadow Claw, Faerie, and I will come in through the metal door. Shadow Claw you hit the guy who can grow. Take him out as fast as you can. Faerie and I will take the other two. Lightwing, there's going to be almost no room for you to maneuver down there. I want you to stay up and cover us when we come out. I don't want them on our tails. Remember folks, the operative word here is teamwork.”

We all nodded our understanding as Ghost said, “Remember, these guys are neos. They're going to be able to hit us with the unexpected. Be on your toes.”

“Yes, mother,” Patrick said.

Sawyer made a rude gesture as the two headed to the edge of the building. He looked at Speedfire and said, “Give me your hand.” Without questioning the request, Speedfire complied as the two stepped off the building and began to float to the ground as they became invisible. The rest of us made our way off the building as Lightwing took up his position as our guardian angel.

The sounds of the city seemed to echo loud in my ears as we quickly descended the concrete stairs to the landing below the street level. The area stank of old water and urine. I crinkled up my nose as we gathered at the door.

Boomer hit his mic and said, “We're in position.”

“So are we,” Speedfire's voice replied.

Boomer nodded to Shadow Claw and then said, “Now!”

Shadow Claw leaned back and then kicked the door. There was the loud sound of a metal frame being ripped from concrete moorings as the door, frame, and pieces of the concrete wall were hurled inward and across the basement. There was a loud crashing noise as it collided with the far wall. Somebody was using this mission for aggression therapy.

We poured into the room below. It was dimly lit and the main source of light came from a single hundred watt bulb hanging from one of the floor joists. The darkened walls and the cases of liquor seemed to suck all the light out the room. In one corner was a little alcove with a glowing strip of material all around the edges. Beyond that, I could see where Michael was standing against the far wall, trying to get as far away as possible from the hulking form menacing him from this side of the field that was between us.

This was technology far beyond anything I knew of on Earth. It just reinforced my theory that we were dealing with aliens. This particular alien was threatening my friend. Across the room from him was the guy we fought in DC. Instead of the body armor he was wearing the last time we met, he was wearing a simple pair of jeans, tennis shoes, and a green Marshall Thundering Herd sweatshirt.

Next to him was another man. He wasn't nearly as hulking as the other two, but I could sense an aura of personal power about him that told me he was far more dangerous than the other two. When he looked up at us pouring through the door, his mind lashed out and tried to penetrate mine. This was the guy who tried to fry my brain! This was the leader of these Jotuns. My personal shields slammed tight as I began to shrink. “Boomer, the little guy is the leader!” I shouted.

“Got it Faerie,” he said as he took to the air. Lightning danced along his force-field and then lashed out at the man I'd indicated. The sharp acrid smell of ozone filled the room as the lightning bolt tore into the alien's chest. For just a moment the whole room was lit up with a blinding light.

That moment was all Speedfire needed. Moving so quickly that his form was simply a blazing blur, he dashed along the wall toward where Michael was being held. He leapt into the air, and slammed into the man standing in front of it. There was a massive spark of energy as the alien and the field met. I could hear the alien's scream of pain over the discharge of the field. Speedfire rolled to his feet and two jets of flame launched from his palm and into what was evidently the control panel on the side of the alcove.

An ear piercing scream of anger split the air as Shadow Claw launched himself across the room and into the giant next to the leader. This was the one he'd fought in DC. This was the one he'd hurled a manhole cover into at super-sonic speeds. He hit the giant square in the chest, hands and feet first, his tail flying behind him. There was the definite sounds of ripping and tearing flesh as the Jotun toppled over backwards while Shadow Claw clung to his chest, claws flying in a flurry of strikes. It was nothing like Shadow Claw's usual graceful attacks. This was primal, feral, and fury rolled into one all out assault. I could sense nothing but fear and rage coming off my teammate.

“Get off of me, you stupid bear shirt!” the giant screamed in Old Norse, and kicked at Shadow Claw's mid section. There was a low “oomph!” sound as our resident neko went flying backwards and through the outer wall in a crash of cinder blocks and bricks.

I looked around and saw where Speedfire had the giant guarding Michael on the floor and was hitting his him with several score of punches a second. I knew his knuckles were going to be bruised and bloody under his reinforced gloves. I quickly flew over to the field and studied the now fried controls. The lights around the alcove were out so I guessed it was down.

I passed through it and found Michael standing there in shock wearing a ratty tee-shirt covered in dry blood and soot, and a pair of sweats. There were bruises all over his face, and upper arms. “Can you travel, Mikey? I asked.

He looked at me with a blank stare. For a second I was afraid that he was completely out of it. I touched his mind briefly to see what had affected him. What I saw made my blood run cold. I spun in the air, and yelled at Speedfire. “Use your fire!”

He looked up for a second, and asked “What?”

Suddenly a furry clawed hand lashed up and backhanded our speedster across the room. In a series of low grows and other guttural noises, the Jotun on the floor slowly rose to his feet, now half man- half wolf. “Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap!” I said. “This cannot be happening. Not here! Not now!”

I'll admit it. I froze. There was something terrifying about that werewolf. It was something that reached deep into my soul and twisted a bloody claw. It spun on me and started advancing. It was everything I could do to float there on the cool breeze that was now flooding the basement through the hole Shadow Claw made as he was knocked through it.

A flash of white to my right and Michael went charging out of the alcove toward the wolf. It was a clash of wills. I don't know how much stronger if any that the wolf was than Mikey. It definitely had a wolf's instincts when it fought. Ace was fighting with an unconscious skill that only comes with long hours of practice. The huge maw kept striking in like a deadly cobra trying to bite down, but Ace managed to always be somewhere else when the jaws closed- usually delivering a powerful body blow to the ribs or the kidneys. I could sense the same abject terror in Ace's mind as I did in my own. This creature was setting off a very primal fight or flight instinct in all of us.

BOOMER aka Brian Alexander

My heart was pounding in my chest like a jack-hammer. For some reason I was scared out of my mind. But we've been taught to overcome our fear and work through it. We've been taught to recognize our fear, and to use it and that was what we all were doing. As we entered the basement, I hit the guy Faerie identified as the leader with a double blast of lightning. For a second he was suspended in air as the electricity played hell with his nervous system. At the same time, Shadow Claw came over the desk and took out the big guy standing next to him. I've never seen him go on the offensive like that. He has always been very careful about not letting anybody think he's gone all feral and animalistic in a fight. Well not today. He was bat-shit crazy and was tearing at the big guy like he wanted to rip his throat out and drink his blood.

When the lighting died down, the man I'd just hit with enough electricity to punch a hole through plate steel, smiled at me and said in a strange accent, “My turn!” He raised both hands and fired a blast of something at me. I'm not a fool. I wasn't about to wait and see if my force-field could take it. I dove to the right and came up with another two handed blast of lightning at him. It caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder. This time it seemed that a little more got through than the last bolt. A large chunk of his shirt was melted off- I thought they banned 100% polyester clothing years ago- and I could see the skin under it blacken and begin to boil. Looking back to where his blast hit, I saw the brick and mortar was now covered in a thick coating of ice. The temperature in the room suddenly dropped by twenty degrees.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the big guy knock Shadow Claw through the wall behind us as he got up shaking his head. There were deep gashes in his shoulder. His right arm hung limp at one side- I guess he severed a tendon- and half the side of his face was torn off exposing the white bone beneath. Shadow Claw had done a number on him. He headed toward the hole he'd made to finish the job. I hit my mic and said, “Head's up Shadow Claw, he's coming out.” All I got back on his end was a low growl of affirmation.

The guy I just hit went scrambling backwards toward the wall behind him. I came around the desk just in time to see him disappear into a hidden door like some crime master in an old serial. I charged forward but the door literally closed in my face. “The leader got away. Take the others down. We need some answers.”

“We got what we came for,” Ghost's voice came back over the headset. I envied him his clear voice at a time like this. I knew mine was shaking in fear. “Let's take Mike and head for the hills- literally.”

Suddenly I heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. Lightwing's voice came over the radio, “No can do. Looks like big bloody and ugly out here has decided to start lobbing cars. We could really use some help out here.” There was a loud crash outside and the sound of tumbling bricks and concrete.

Ace, Faerie and Speedfire were dancing around the guy who had suddenly shifted into seven and a half foot of werewolf, but it was clear that none of them wanted to get too close and take a chance on being bitten. We didn't know if the legends held true or not. With our luck they would be. “Let's force him outside guys,” I said as I turned and dropped a lightning bolt at his feet.

The wolf suddenly turned and snarled at me. Faerie hit him with at telekinetic blast that knocked him back. She didn't often use her telekinesis, but when she did, she could be devastating with it. Speedfire, and I followed up with a couple of blasts of our own, mainly designed to drive him outside where we could have room to maneuver. He surprised us by twisting on the ground and shifting from man-wolf into a full wolf form and took off out the hole in four-paw-all-terrain mode.

Hot on his tail we followed him out just in time to dodge the top half of a church steeple as it came crashing down on us. Rolling out of the way, I felt the bricks bounce off my force-field. Looking over, I could see Speedfire literally racing along the tops of bricks while they were in mid air. Damn that boy was fast. The bricks were just passing through Ghost, and Shadow Claw was letting them bounce off her. I did notice that this new costume was holding up a lot better than her last one.

As Faerie came out of the hole in the wall she was pulling a dagger from behind her back. It looked hand-crafted and quite old. She was saying something in a language I didn't understand. However by her tone I knew it was a promise, or maybe oath since I did pick up the name Freyja in it. What ever she said must have got the wolf's attention because he turned to face her as he grew to the size of a school bus.

This was just getting weirder and weirder. The first giant- the one with the bad arm- was across the street smashing through what looked like the county courthouse's huge gold dome and was scooping out chunks of the wall to hurl in our direction. The wolf was down on it's front haunches growling and snapping at anyone who got too close. It had a red Cooper Mini crushed under its left paw. So much for keeping the property damage at a minimum.

Shadow Claw picked up one of the bricks and hefted it in his hand. Looking up at the monster he yelled, “Hey Ugly! We're not finished.” Then with a pitch that would have made proud the most radical anarchist, he hurled the brick at the giant's turning head. There was an audible crack as the brick broke the sound barrier. It slammed into the giant's good shoulder and exploded into a shower of blood and brick, and flesh. I think that if it hadn't disintegrated on impact, it probably would have blown a whole clean through the giant's body.

I took to the air to help her engage him before he did too much more damage to the local buildings. As I rose into the air I could see where his growth had done little to heal the damage that Shadow Claw had done to his face and his other arm. This dude was going to need some serious plastic surgery when this was over.

As I reached the height of his head, I realized that he was a good fifty feet tall. There was no way his bones should be able to support his weight. The fluid pressure in his arteries alone should be exploding his legs any minute now. But he was standing and it was my job to bring him down.

I aimed for his eyes and let loose with a powerful two handed lighting bolt. I wasn't disappointed. The electrical arc caught him square between the eyes. He screamed and swung blindly in my direction with the arm that Shadow Claw had just injured. The huge fist passed under me, but the wind from its wake slammed me backwards. Regaining control of my flight, I rose higher in the air. “Okay team, we've got to get these guys under control before they do any more property damage or worse yet, kill someone,” I radioed on the open channel.

“We're trying, we're trying!” Lightwing yelled through the radio. “If we can get this guy to the river, I think we can cut him down to size. Barges pass through that area, so I suspect there are a couple places it's over his head.”

I looked around at the rest of my team. Ghost and Speedfire were assisting Faerie in dealing with the giant wolf. Myself, Shadow Claw and Lightwing were taking on this big guy. The real problem was that we weren't going to be able to prevent further property damage and I was afraid that we wouldn't be able to keep innocents from being killed. I hit my radio and said, “Okay team, choose your shots carefully. We don't want any bystanders hurt.”

“Got it boss,” Ghost called. “You keep Shadow Claw from gutting your guy and I'll keep Faerie from getting a new rug for the main lobby.”

“Is she really that angry?” I asked.

“She's cussing at it- I think in Old Norse,” he said. “And she's got that knife out that her grandmother gave her.”

“What's the deal with that?” I asked as I watched Speedfire race past the beast letting loose with a jet of flame down its flank.

“She says her grandmother gave it to her to kill her werewolf with,” Sawyer said as he jammed a piece of reenforced concrete into its side and let go. The wolf howled in pain as much like Fury, it's body began to force out the foreign object.

“Oh crap,” was my only reply.

“Yeah, I've seen this act before,” Sawyer said. I wasn't sure if he was talking about a berserk Faerie or about the wolf's healing factor.

Suddenly the wolf lunged at Speedfire, and then twisted its body sideways to slam into Faerie's floating form. Speedfire literally ran up the side of a building to get out of the way. Faerie hit the side of a white SUV hard enough to crack the glass. The dagger in her hand went skidding off to the side. I saw her look around for it, panic in her eyes. The wolf saw it too and leaned in close. I knew what was coming next. It dropped its massive head low and growled, knowing that it had its prey cornered.

“Faerie, get out of there!” I yelled.

The blow must have hit Faerie's radio because I heard her growl in very plain English, “Come on you son of a bitch. Do it!”

“NO!” Sawyer screamed as he charged forward and grabbed the wolf's tail, planted his feet firmly in the ground, and pulled.

The wolf lunged. The space between Faerie's antennae sparked. Something off to the side flashed silver. “Zip!” “Chthunk! “Splat!”

The wolf fell dead, it's brain pierced through the eye by the silver blade . “Nobody said I had to be holding the knife when it sent you back Angraboda's bosom,” Faerie said as she landed on top of the SUV. Looking up at the sky she said, “My it's a beautiful day.”

It was then I realized that the fear that had gripped me since we entered the basement suddenly subsided. It was as if it had died with the wolf. I shook my head and looked around. Lightwing and Shadow Claw were driving the giant back toward the river in the distance. Shadow Claw was being surprisingly effective in forcing the fifty foot tall giant to retreat toward the river by hurling bricks, rocks, and the occasional heavy piece of metal at him. Every few seconds there was a small sonic boom as he was hurling objects at him at super-sonic speeds. Some of them shattered on impact with the giant, and a few- usually the metal ones penetrated deep. I realized that he was literally using his arm as a rifle- or considering the size of the rounds- a cannon.

I also was hearing the report of real firearms as the Huntington Police and the occasional armed citizen were doing their share to force the giant back toward the river. Lightwing in the meantime was hovering over the fight, using both hands to generate a devastating cutting laser all along the giant's body. Half of his shots seemed to cut away parts of the battle suit he was wearing. At the moment a thirty foot length of belt was was lying across the peaked facade of a Bob Evans Restaurant, and the giant was trying to use its injured arm to hold up its pants. Kind of reminded me of that fight with Talon's team where after Shadow Claw got her blouse and bra ripped off, Sawyer took Badger's pants in retaliation.

Finally, he stepped back into the dark green swirling waters of the Ohio River. I smiled and rose in the air high above him and concentrated on building up the electrical charge in my field. Speedfire came racing out over the water to deliver a massive fire ball to the giant's crotch and then literally ran straight up the support of the bridge and onto its deck. The giant let go of his waistband and grabbed where he'd just been hit by a blast of heat and fire capable melting through iron.

He took a second step backwards and suddenly dropped below the surface. Damn, Lightwing was right, the water was deep here. As soon as his flailing form surfaced again, I struck. I'd been practicing the particular stroke for a long time. It pulled the ambient electrical energy from the air partially tapping into the local electro-magnetic field.

In a blinding arc of power, the stroke hit him in the top of the head. We all turned our heads as it seemed a second sun was rising on the surface of the Ohio River. When the spots cleared from our eyes, we could see where it had done its job. The giant was floating face-down in the river as tiny sparks of the residual electricity dissipated into the water. I heard Kenna's voice over the radio say, “Oh Hel no. You are not gonna do this!”

I turned to look in the direction of the fallen giant wolf. It was fading away as if it had never been there. In the distance I could see the blade Kenna had embedded in its brain clatter to the ground. A sudden sucking sound under me made me look down. The water rushed into the space where the giant had just been. The only evidence left to attest that they'd been there at all was the damage to the city and the giant belt lying across the Barbeque joint.

Looking around, I wondered what happened to the leader. He disappeared, and I had half expected him to show up in the middle of the fight with some kind of surprise. But he hadn't. He'd high tailed it out of there and as Sawyer liked to say, “ran like the Union at the Battle of Bull Run.” Damn that boy is starting to rub off on me.

I looked to where Ace was standing in the middle of the rubble next to Ghost, Faerie, Lightwing, and Speedfire. Shadow Claw was slowly making his way toward them as I descended. It was like a homecoming of sorts, none of us really understanding how much we missed him until he was gone. We were just glad to have him back. But even in that, I still felt the keen loss of our other two teammates, Glitch especially.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby McGuffin » Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:33 pm

Another good read Cobalt :) Things are getting more and more interesting as tensions rise. I've always especially liked your diverse cast of characters.
McGuffin's Workshop: Warp, Naga

Why crawl when you can walk? Why walk when you can run? Why run when you can fly?

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Wed Jan 11, 2012 2:46 pm

Thank you. Out of curiosity which is your favorite and why? I always like to find out what works. Which is your least favorite and why? Again I like to know what's not working.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby Gilliam » Thu Jan 12, 2012 4:34 am

For me I find your characters to be very well rounded with their own distinct voices and add in their mix of family and relationships make for entertaining reading. I also enjoy the fact that even though it is mainly focused on the school it is not in isolation, events outside the school can impact on the school and on the characters in different ways especially from character to character.

So far the character I have enjoyed reading about the most has been Rowan who has evolved from an insecure person to a more confidant person thanks to Kenna and Sawyer yet still is able to show vulnerability. The other aspect I found interesting about Rowan is her gender which I cannot recall coming across before, and remembering back to my teen years I can't imagine what it would be like also having another set of genitalia as well.

Finally I like how they have bonded as a team and even though they are been dumped on by all and sundry they are still prepared to do the right thing.
Last edited by Gilliam on Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby McGuffin » Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:28 am

Out of the original core team I think I liked Brian the least, although in retrospect it might have been because everyone else had they're own personal problems and character quirks. He's grown since then, though, and is a more fully developed character now.

I kind of miss Glitch and Ace, since they brought a measure of conflict to the team. Even though they're all very close and count on each other to watch each others backs, Glitch and Ace showed that a little friction could still exist inside the team.

But like I said before, what I like is the variance and diversity among the characters, which makes it hard to bring up any one character as someone that really deserves extra mention. Everyone has their own different personality, their likes and dislikes. In short, they're pretty well fleshed out and don't overlap or step on each others toes too much.

Webs seems interesting, since the physical changes that sometimes come with being a neo haven't been explored that much. Well, there's Rowan, but that's more specific to her having to deal with society trying to force her to be mono-gendered.

Gah, I'm rambling a bit, hope you get the idea though.
McGuffin's Workshop: Warp, Naga

Why crawl when you can walk? Why walk when you can run? Why run when you can fly?

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby cobalt-blue » Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:41 pm

I appreciate the feed back from both of you. I worried about Brian not coming across as much as a leader as much as I wanted him to. I also worry about Patrick and Tracy seeming too two-dimensional. Ace was set up to be a conflict character from the beginning, but one that the reader was meant to grow to like. There are changes coming to the team, and to their lives. Something significant happens with the last issue of Year 2, and at least on character will be totally devastated. I hope you keep reading.

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Re: Cadre 5:

Postby Gilliam » Fri Jan 13, 2012 1:42 am

I have to admit out of the original Cadre 5 members, Brian does feels the most undeveloped to me however he is now showing more characteristics of been a leader and his relationship with Ice Storm has made him more of a person if that makes sense. Oh I can now see why Brian is so smitten with Lauren, attractive x3 he didn't stand a chance :)

I am looking forward to more chapters.

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