Part Two: How to … Yeah, Not Going There
"Hello, Dockworker's Association, Danny Hebert speaking."
"Mr Hebert, this is Carrie Blackwell, at Winslow High School."
Danny sat up at Blackwell's sharp tone. "Principal Blackwell. How can I help you?" He blinked, worry starting to spread through him. "Has something happened to Taylor?"
"Something has certainly happened. We're not sure what."
"I … can you explain that?"
"It appears that your daughter came to school today, didn't go to class, set off a bomb in her locker, and decamped."
Of all the things that Danny had expected her to say, this was not one of them. "A … bomb?"
"Yes. Some sort of explosive or incendiary device. It destroyed her locker as well as the lockers on either side, and it damaged two more, as well as the floor and the ceiling, and it embedded the locker door in the wall opposite. It also set that part of the corridor on fire. Were you aware that she was planning this?"
"I … no. No, I don't believe that Taylor did this. She … I don't even believe that she knows how to make a bomb, much less one that would destroy her locker. Are you sure someone else didn't do this to her?"
"Well, we have police and emergency services on site; the entire school has been evacuated and a complete roll call has been taken. Taylor is not here. The conclusion is inescapable."
"I … could she have been caught … in the explosion?"
"No, the emergency services have been combing through the wreckage. There are no human remains, although there is evidence that she was also storing large amounts of toxic waste in her locker. Can you explain this?"
Danny's head was spinning. "I can't … I don't … " A blinking light distracted him. "I have a call on another line. It's probably the police. I have to take this."
Without giving her a chance to demur, he pressed the button. "Dockworker's Association, Danny Hebert speaking."
"Mr Hebert, this is Sergeant Andrews, Brockton Bay PD. Do you know of your daughter's whereabouts at this moment?"
Danny put his head in his hands. This was going to be a very long day, and he had no idea what had happened to Taylor.
"Come on, it's just a little bit farther."
I let out a disapproving screech; flying was easy for her. She didn't have to actually claw at the air with wings that used to be her arms, for every foot of movement. For her, flying was a matter of saying fuck-you to physics and just coasting in whatever direction she wanted to go.
"Oh, don't be such a whiner." She was certainly picking up on my tones; I was pretty sure that she was joking with me in return. "Seriously, you're a dragon. How cool is that? Ames is gonna be so jealous that I brought you home."
That made me blink, with that weird double-blink that my nictitating membranes gave me. I'm a dragon? I thought I was a dinosaur. Some sort of pterodactyl velociraptor thing. How did I end up as a dragon?
Okay, well, yeah, breathing fire to blow my locker door off might have been a hint.
"Come on, pick those wings up. Don't slack off now. You're nearly there." She drifted past me again, waving her fingers at me teasingly. I flapped harder, swooped at her, snapped my jaws in her general direction without any real intent to actually get her. Laughing, she rolled out of the way. "Eek! Help! There's a dragon after me!"
The laser bolt smashed into my chest; I tumbled through the air, stunned. My thoughts were disorganised; I couldn't focus. Instinct took over, and I rolled; another blast ripped past my wingtip, the air crackling in its wake. All fatigue had left me, replaced by adrenaline; I pumped my wings, powered into a short dive, then flipped up and over in a hard loop. A sharp turn at the top of the loop, avoiding a third laser shot, then I was arrowing in on the flying form that had attacked me. Opening my jaws, I prepared to send an answering billow of flame -
"No! Don't! It's only Aunt Sarah!"
Glory Girl was in front of me, blocking my path. I angled hard, changing direction so that I didn't hit her, swallowing the flame back. Friend. Do not attack.
The other one wasn't a friend, though. Just for a moment, we both hung in midair, me beating my wings, her just hovering there. A glow built up around her hands; I gathered flame in my gullet.
And then Glory Girl was between us again. She flung out her hands in both directions, and I felt her aura, calming me. "No, don't! Don't fight! Aunt Sarah, why did you attack her?"
"I … it was attacking you, dear," the flying woman responded. "Wait … 'she'?"
"Yes, 'she'," Glory Girl stated flatly. "She's not an 'it'. She's a 'person'. She's had her trigger event and changed. I think she might be a case fifty-three. She can't talk, but she can understand English, and write it."
There was a long, somewhat embarrassed pause; I let the anger ease out of my posture. My chest still hurt, though. The woman – Glory Girl's Aunt Sarah; I seemed to recall a Lady Photon, real name Sarah Pelham – addressed me directly. "I'm sorry. I reacted badly. I apologise."
I nodded, let out an acknowledging chirp. She eyed me, then glanced at Glory Girl. "What did she say?"
"I have no idea. You think I speak dragon?" Glory Girl shrugged. "But it sounded like, 'eh, what the hell' to me."
I nodded again; for someone who didn't speak dragon, she was doing all right so far.
"All right, so where are you taking her?"
"I, uh, thought I'd bring her home."
"What? Honey, no. You shouldn't just bring home every strange cape that you meet."
"Aunt Sarah, look at her. She's a dragon. How cool is that? Also, she needs help. She asked me for help."
"So take her to the PRT or the Protectorate. Surely they're better set up for this sort of thing."
Glory Girl rolled her eyes. "They'd just poke her and prod her and make her join the Wards or something. Or put her in a Case Fifty-Three program. And she doesn't want that."
Which was true; when she had proposed the idea, I had made it quite clear that I was not in favour of it. I wasn't quite sure why; I just didn't want to go there. Besides, I didn't feel like being probed by anything, ever.
"So you're taking her home?"
"Sure, why not?"
"Okay; your mother will pitch a fit -"
"She'll get over it."
"And what about the rest of your family?"
Glory Girl shrugged. "Well, Dad might actually show some interest. And Ames will probably want to keep her forever. I mean, seriously, a dragon."
Lady Photon frowned. "And what about you? Why aren't you at school?"
"Heard about a weird thing flying over the city, went to investigate. Found Taylor here."
"Her name's Taylor? How do you know that?"
"Duh, she can write."
"Oh. Of course."
"Well, then. I'll see you two home. Then I'll call your mother. Because this is not a surprise that Carol needs to find out about by walking in through the front door."
Impulsively, Glory Girl hugged her aunt. "You're the best!"
A grimace. "Still not entirely sure that this is the right course of action, but … okay, Taylor. Let's get you there, then see what needs to be done."
I answered with a screech, then stretched my wings out; as Glory Girl led off and Lady Photon paralleled me, I flew on.
The house was modest; a two-storey structure in suburbia. We came in for a landing outside the front door; I flapped my wings hard to kill forward momentum, then folded them close to my body. Lady Photon watched the manoeuvre with interest, then observed how I leaned forward and used my tail as a balance.
"Where were you going to have her sleep?" she asked, as Glory Girl opened the front door.
"Floor of my room," was the reply. "We can put down a mattress." Glory Girl went inside. "Dad! Visitors!"
"What if she doesn't sleep that way?" Lady Photon stepped back, allowing me first entry. "What if she hangs upside down, like a bat?"
"Then we set up something to let her do that. Hey, Dad, check it out. Look what I found."
Grinning, Glory Girl gestured to me as I entered the front door, just as her father – Flashbang – came in from the kitchen, with a sandwich in his hand. He stared; I tensed. But he didn't attack. He just …looked at me.
"Okay," he ventured at last. "I give up. What is it?"
I blinked; that was the most apathetic reaction to my new appearance that I had encountered yet.
"For one thing, she's a she, not an it," Glory Girl explained patiently. "And for another thing, she's a person. Her name's Taylor. She needs help."
I chirped in agreement, nodding my head.
"As far as I can tell, Victoria is correct," Lady Photon noted, closing the door behind us and stepping past me. "Taylor doesn't appear to be hostile, and seems to understand what we say."
"So why not hand her over to the PRT -" he began. I shook my head.
"She doesn't want to go to the PRT or to the Protectorate," Glory Girl elaborated.
"Okay, fine," he sighed. "Taylor, is it?"
I nodded, and gave a chirp of agreement.
He blinked, seeming a little taken aback. "Well, uh, make yourself comfortable, I guess. Are you hungry?"
I snuffled at the air; if my nose didn't deceive me, he had a fish paste sandwich. I nodded, just a little. Hungry, but not starving. Of course, flying across the city had a way of sharpening the appetite.
"Okay, uh, get comfortable. Sarah, could you keep our guest company? Vicky, a word in the kitchen, please?"
Flashbang – Mark Dallon; Glory Girl's real name was Victoria Dallon – left the room. I felt a little sorry for her, as I figured she was about to get a parental interrogation. I'd had one or two of those in my time.
"So, uh, can you even sit on the sofa?" asked Lady Photon.
I eyed the piece of furniture, and tried to work out how to sit properly. With my new body, I wasn't at all sure I could manage it. But by curling my tail out of the way, I managed to ease my way down, tucking my folded wings in close to my body. But I found it hard to sit upright; it was easier to let my weight fall to one side, to lie down. To curl up, with my tail wrapped in close to my body, my wings partly wrapped around me.
My head rested on the arm rest at the end of the sofa. I sighed; this was actually comfortable. The nictitating membranes flickered once or twice across my eyes, and then I closed my actual eyelids. I had been going non-stop since the locker, since the change, and it felt so good to relax.
With my eyes closed, I felt myself drifting away …
"Oh my god!"
My eyes flew open at Sarah's exclamation. Everything was blurry; why was everything blurry? I tried to flick my nictitating membranes across my eyes to clear whatever the problem was, but they didn't respond. I could make out her form, though, standing and staring at me. A white and gold form dashed in from the other room, also stopped and stared.
What's the matter? What's happened? What have I changed into now?
Using my wings, I pushed myself into an upright position. Opening my jaws, I let out an inquiring chirp. "What? What's up?"
That was my voice! I slapped my hand over my mouth.
My hand. My mouth.
I was back to normal. I looked down at myself.
Oh yeah, back to normal, all right. My body was all there. I could see it plainly, within the limits of my short-sightedness. Arms, legs, no tail, lots and lots of pink skin.
Yes, I was back to normal. I was also very naked.
Grabbing a sofa cushion, I held it over myself.
"Uh, some clothes, please?"
End of Part Two