Chapter 12: Never the Hero
What if I say I'm not like the others?
What if I say I'm not just another one of your plays?
You're the pretender
What if I say I will never surrender?
- The Pretender, Foo Fighters
1 November 2006
The Don used his pinkie finger to clear out first one ear and then the other. "I don't think I heard you correctly, Cavalier. The bitch did what?"
"Our sources inside Doyle indicate that Solange awoke from her coma last night, killed one Tiger Guard and disabled a second before leaving the hospital. She was then re-admitted some time later with a gut wound. According to Sergeant Buxton, the headmistress credits her with assisting her in taking down Deathlist."
Cavalier shrugged to indicate that he was simply reporting the words of others. "There is some confirmation from members of the Wild Pack. Thunderfox appears to be of the opinion that Solange's response to Deathlist was cowardly flight, but Mindbird is more complimentary and claims it was a calculated trap to let her immobilise him for Carson." He paused. "There is one more thing."
"Oh?" The Don had always felt that Dale 'Mindbird' Thompson was the most perceptive of the 'Betas' and would be a most desirable addition to the Alphas if she could be convinced to 'trade up'. However in this case, her team-mate's view sounded more plausible.
"Solange appears to have made use of at least one of the Alpha's secure rooms - she let the Wild Pack into a laboratory at the north end of the Workshop. I've sent Fade to change the codes, just in case."
"Quite. I don't want that treacherous bitch using Alpha assets against us. Whether Solange really ran away or not, we will have to make sure that the rumour that she entrapped him reaches our contacts. Once the Chessmaster learns that Solange is responsible for Deathlist's demise he'll stop at nothing for revenge and we'll be rid of her without lifting a finger."
"Of course, sir."
"Solange fighting Deathlist? What is the world coming to?" The violet-eyed Exemplar shook his head in disbelief. "Well, what else is circulating around the school."
"The majority of the student body appears to be rather in shock," the other boy reported. "An attack on Whateley is rather unprecedented of course. Some of the more... combative students are engaged in bragging and claiming that they enjoyed themselves. Unsurprisingly a number of relationships are in flux based on effectiveness or otherwise last night."
"And what do they say about us?"
"There appears to be no doubt that the Alphas are seen as having taken a leading role in repelling the attack on McFarlane. The usual detractors are giving credit to the freshmen Chaka and Tennyo but between their being freshmen and the usual allegations of sour grapes..."
"Hmm. Muddy the waters as you can. There must be some Cape who wants to boast of 'leading' the charge."
"Iron Star was one of the first to join the aerial fight," Cavalier told him promptly.
"Perfect, we'll set him up to argue that he, not Tennyo, led that fight and let them make themselves look foolish. Then Skybolt and Phoenixfire can play the modest heroines and everyone will know that since the two idiots weren't in charge, it must be our ladies."
"Of course," agreed the Don's thrall. "And Chaka."
"I think a dignified silence will do best there. No one would believe any magnaminous statements after the little negrita made such a fuss in Crystal Hall last week. I'll deal with her later, when the fuss has died down." He turned and looked out the penthouse window down at Melville, watching repair teams swarm over Kane Hall, every inch the offended hidalgo. "It's a shame that the Syndicate couldn't manage to take out any of their real targets, but we've put some more lustre upon ourselves and the losses among security can be played to our advantage. If that damned blonde had just had the good taste to die, then I could count it as a good night."
1 November 2006
"So this is where it happened," Doc said, pointing at the marks in the scarred hillside. "Solange and the three Betas come out of that Workshop entrance there, then they start running up the hill towards McFarlane."
"Deathlist landed there," added Dee, pointing at a point that had evidently been scorched by the cyborg's jumpjets. "And to judge by the crushed grass there, Mrs. Carson must have landed here, between him and the four of them."
Doc walked through the grass and then reached down and found a brass bullet casing. "One of them shot at him. Ah doubt that this calibre had much effect."
"There are some more that way," Simone told her. "Two of them with guns and Firecat was throwing fire. I presume Solange was the useless one?"
"Ah don't think so." Doc said, looking at the marks of footsteps. "Mindbird and Thunderfox agree that Solange was the only one that ran, which means she was the one firin' a rifle from here. Give the girl credit, she did try to fight him off before her nerve snapped."
"So you believe she did try run away?"
Doc thought about that for a moment as she traced the footsteps up the hill towards McFarlane. "Ah guess so," she said, although there was still some doubt in her voice. "Ah don't blame her, mind. Ah wouldn't like to be facin' that one myself."
"Yeah, but these three didn't run," pointed out Simone.
"That's because Betas are crazy," Dee told her.
"And here," Doc announced to break up the argument. "We have exhibit B." She pointed at the patch of grass still stained with gore.
The other two girls ignored Dee's distaste. "Deathlist catches Solange and apparently runs her through. And then..."
"Carson tears him apart?"
"No... well, yes, eventually. But before that, something happened to Deathlist. Because ah'm not seeing any sign of evasion, nor anything to suggest he was fighting back. Once Carson got here, it was just an execution: bang and he's dead."
"So she did do something to Deathlist, held him in place somehow?"
Doc chewed on her lip thoughtfully. "Ugh. That's a nasty idea."
"Well you know what Solange's most used psychic trick is?"
"I've honestly never wondered," Simone admitted.
"She can stimulate the pleasure centre in the brain," explained the young engineer. "Apparently it makes her an incredible, uh, partner."
"Uh, no." Doc gave the Spider Avatar a suspicious group. "Ah'm a straight stick girl. But what ah'm thinkin' is that Deathlist is a sadist, right?"
"I think I'm seeing where you're going," Dee said distastefully. "And ugh."
"Yeah. So Deathlist's gettin' his jollies from hurtin' Solange and she gets him so hyped about that that he plumb forgets about Carson."
Simone folded her arms. "Seems awfully thin."
"You're not wrong. But she sure's eggs are eggs did somethin' to him." Doc looked like she'd bitten into something bitter. "Which means she deserves the credit ah guess."
Doyle Medical Complex
2 November 2006
Tansy wasn't surprised to awaken in a quiet ward of Doyle, at least it wasn't the same room she'd found herself in on Halloween. "So how are you feeling today?" asked the attending doctor, Ophelia Tenent. She also taught Mystic Arts, in fact she was Tansy's instructor for Principles of Magic, so the girl felt free to let her hair down a little - no joke intended with regard to the teacher's Shifter trait, which manifested as prehensile hair.
"Given how I felt when I got here, much improved." Tansy rubbed her face. "Was I really clinging to Mrs. Carson like a baby?"
"Quite understandable after the day you'd had," Tenent assured her. "Now Banned Aids spent so much time lying next to you that I half suspect him of bending back the other way..."
Tansy chuckled. The mutant Healer was openly, flamboyantly gay. "Well who could blame him, presuming up against this gorgeous body of mine," she purred.
"Of course," agreed the doctor with evident amusement. "And while I have every faith in Mr. Donohugh, I've also checked you over thoroughly, just to keep my hand in. You'll probably be unusually hungry for a day or so, and you'll need more sleep than usual so you've been excused classes until Monday."
"I'm going to have so much homework to catch up on," groaned Tansy. Then she blinked. "Oh bother, I couldn't go and recover Clover, Abracadabra and Palantir. Did they turn up or do I have to tell someone where I had them hide."
"Don't worry, they turned up for breakfast yesterday, most aggrieved about you not coming to let them out until someone explained you were back in Doyle and why."
"Oh? And what tales are being told about me?"
Tenant smiled slightly. "I don't really have time to listen to all the gossip, but the fact that you were stabbed by Deathlist is in general circulation, as is the fact that you and three of the student peacekeepers helped to fight him. Of course opinions are divided as to how that happened."
"People will believe what they want to."
"I'd appreciate hearing your side of the story," the doctor told her, settling into the chair by the bed. "Mrs. Carson has asked me to take over as your counsellor and you've been through quite an ordeal - more than one in fact - and I'm afraid there will likely be more in the future."
Tansy frowned. "Why do you say that?"
"I'm afraid the headmistress had a slip of the tongue when someone congratulated her on bringing down Deathlist at last. It would have been better if she'd simply accepted the credit but unfortunately Liz is too honest sometimes and she told them that you were the one who brought him down and she just finished him off. I'm afraid that means you've been marked out as someone of consequence in some circles."
"Oh yes. Do you ever watch cartoons?"
"Hardly." What did Tenent think she was, a little kid?
"Well there's an episode of one of the Batman cartoons: 'The Man Who Killed Batman'. A small time hoodlum is mistakenly believed to have killed Batman. Although he's hailed as a first-rank villain by the other criminals in the city, challengers appear to make their name by killing him, the Joker tries to kill him in retribution for beating him to the kill and the other crime bosses suspect the poor sap of trying to muscle in on their rackets."
"I don't follow your point."
The teacher leant back in her chair. "Deathlist's allies - few though they might be - will want revenge on you and Lady Astarte for his death and you're by far the easier target. More insidiously, now the superhero community will have noticed your actions. Some will hold the fact that Deathlist was killed against you because it violates what they consider proper conduct for a superheroine. Others will applaude - and expect that you will deal similarly with other adversaries in the future."
"That's ridiculous. I'm not some kind of assassin!"
"As you pointed out, people will believe what they want to believe."
"I suppose you're right. What a mess."
"And then there's the reward."
"What reward?" Tansy asked.
"Deathlist had many many enemies. The collective bounties on his head are a fortune - at least a billion dollars."
"Well doesn't the school get that?" Tansy asked.
"That's one arguement, I'm sure that the Board of Trustees would prefer it. Of course, as your counsellor I should point out that you have a pretty good claim, and after that the headmistress herself and the other three students. In my experience once money gets involved people will all want their piece."
Tansy thought her father's financial dealings. "I suppose that you're right. Who decides?"
"I suppose you'll have to come to an agreement."
"Hmm. Half to the school (with a stipulation that they have to use it for the repairs and set up trust funds for the families of the people who got killed), the rest divided evenly between five of us that were there," Tansy decided.
Tenent shrugged. "It sounds fair to me. Do you want me to tell Liz that that's what you want?"
"Don't be silly. Tell her to tell the trustees and the others that I want a three way split between myself, the school and the four of them. Then I'll let them wear me down."
The Doctor laughed. "I can tell that being your counsellor is going to be interesting."
"You have no idea."
Doyle Medical Complex
2 November 2006
Tansy had to wait a whole twenty seconds after Tenent cleared her to receive visitors before the door exploded inwards with said visitors, most of them talking all at once. Toni, Jade and Jinn were the worst offenders but far from the only ones. Only Ayla and Sara maintained dignified, if amused, silence.
"You gotta stop getting mangled," Toni insisted after everyone else had been bludgeoned into submission by the sheer penetration of her voice. "Take Martial Arts next year - we can coach you."
Tansy sighed with mock fatigue. "Well I tell you what, Toni, they'll probably let you play in the Simulators next term so why don't you see how well your kung fu does against a simulated Deathlist and we can talk then." She then returned to the important business of giving Jade a hug. The little girl was definitely the most tactile of the group - not that Tansy would have minded Bunny or Nikki rubbing against her...
_Okay, libido, back into the closet,_ she ordered sternly. _No making a fool of myself mooning over freshmen - I got lucky enough that Sara puts up with it._
"First Montana, then a ghost up in the woods and now Deathlist himself?" Ayla took a regal seat in the guest chair. "If it wasn't for Boston, I'd be able to point to a worrying trend."
"And the cheerleaders and the Alphas," replied Tansy. "You know, I didn't get into any fights at all for the last two years. The lot of you are clearly a bad influence."
"So you don't want to transfer to Poe?" asked Tennyo curiously.
"I... wasn't aware that the offer was there," Tansy said slowly. "And I don't think I could live with myself if I left my poor little froshes there hanging."
"Aw, she cares about them after all."
Tansy rolled her eyes. Right now, she wouldn't take an offer to move over to Melville so she'd hardly accept transfer to Poe. "This from the girl who kicked up so much fuss about being asked to move over to live with her friends in Hawthorne."
That shut Tennyo up about that.
"So what happened to all of you on Halloween?" Tansy asked, wanting to change the subject.
Ayla looked disgusted. "Not very much. Those damn sonics had me phasing in and out of everything, I'm lucky I didn't kill someone."
"Yeah, but then you took out like, four of those Chessmen!" pointed out Toni. "Just went right through them and boom! All four of them right out."
"I guess you were keeping track, 'Colonel Chaka'," Nikki told her, saluting her room-mate. "Don't believe anything that you hear about the Alphas leading the counter attack," she added to Tansy. "Chaka was the one with the plan and the one that got everyone organised. The Don and his cronies only got involved once they were sure that we'd win and wanted to grab the credit."
"That isn't hard to believe," Tansy told her. "I was trying to get there - I'm pretty sure they had orders to kill at least some of us."
That sobered them up. "You're right," agreed Chaka. "The Chessmen had orders to take us out - and they knew what costumes we'd be wearing. Man, the Power Rangers were mad!"
"Why?" Tansy asked. The Power Rangers were one of the nerdier groups on campus - all she knew about them for sure was that they'd been bugging Tennyo in the belief that she had a spaceship hidden away somewhere.
"They were wearing the same costumes," explained Vox. "So the Chessmen went after them as well."
"That must have been fun." Tansy shook her head. "I hope it was a good party before it was interrupted?"
"Pretty good, yeah. Sara and Axel really rocked," confirmed Toni. "Is he going to be okay, Sara?"
"So the doctors say," she answered. In answer to Tansy's inquisitive look she added: "They opened the attack by shooting at me while I was on stage. He took a stray round but Tennyo got him behind cover before anything worse could happen."
"You were the primary target," agreed Tansy. "I'm not sure who took the hit out though. My best guess is The Necromancer, but I don't have any evidence of that."
"It isn't very likely," Sara told her. "He likes the personal touch. We do have one clue though: the girl who came after me with a sword was Nightbane, Englund's pet demonslayer."
"Nightbane? The name doesn't ring a bell."
"The one with the Buffy the Vampire complex."
"Ah. What, she thought you were close enough to a vampire to sate her but you turned her down?"
Sara smiled a little smugly. "You know me better than that, Tansy. No, she's tried to kill me several times and accomplished nothing. However, this time she was using an orichalcum blade. That isn't the sort of thing that you pick up on E-Bay. She has a backer willing to contribute serious resources to destroy me."
"Englund," Ayla concluded. "We know that he has a serious hate on for you."
"Ayla, you're suggesting that one of the Board of Trustees connived to violate Whateley's neutrality. That's quite a serious accusation to make. And even if that's so... why go after the rest of us? With the exception of Tennyo he doesn't have any reason to order attacks on the rest of us."
The girls looked at each other uneasily but it was Hank that put it into words: "We've got more people out to get us than we realised."
2 November 2006
With a violent sweep of his arms, the Chessmaster swept the chessboard of pieces and grasped another set to begin setting up the scenario again. Down on the floor, small automatons crawled across the floor collecting chess pieces that had been sent to the floor.
"How did she do it?" he demanded, unsure himself if he meant his nemesis and one-time teacher or the little whore that had killed his Precious.
Under his feet, Chessmaster HQ leant a couple of degrees to the left as the submarine made a slight adjustment of course. They were running now, hunted by not only the offended forces of law and order but also from his erstwhile superiors in the Syndicate. The Chairman had forbidden the attack upon Whateley, but had he succeeded then all would have been forgiven. Failure, on the other hand...
In the dog-eat-dog view of the Syndicate, that made the Chessmaster dogmeat.
He'd been as surprised as anyone that all his forecasts indicated that a spoiled rich brat was a major threat to completing their objectives. His beloved had not been pleased at the prediction that Lady Astarte could defeat him because of a teenage girl (Chessmaster still had bandages from the resulting rough play). It was particularly galling that the chit in question was in a coma at the time.
Still, he had covered his bases. Tiger Guards had been assigned to her hospital room and to her dorm room (in case she had recovered before the operation commenced), Deathlist's tacit approval having been obtained by reminding him it was simply to keep the girl out of the way. If she had recovered in time to attend the Halloween party then their sources of information would have given information about her costume so she could be singled out and killed discreetly (without provoking a panicked counter-attack by the students). The risk of the Headmistress or one of the more powerful students going into a murderous rage and seeking revenge for her was surprisingly low (at least by Lady Astarte's standards) until intelligence reports had shed some light on the nature of the girl.
The Chessmaster could follow Solange's escape from the Tiger Guards at Doyle. It was unfortunate, but there were contingencies for that. She should have been pinned down with the Student Security Volunteers in the Workshop levels an elegant move if the Chessmaster said so himself. But instead she had managed to move an unimportant pawn to take her place and slip free from the trap: something that changed the chances of his Precious' death from negligible to almost ten percent.
And then... The villainous mastermind hammered his pudgy fist against the table, rocking the pieces.
And then Potter had butted herself into his affairs, monopolising his communication bands (how the old bitch had gotten hold of his command frequencies remained a mystery for now) with asinine prattling and keeping him from exercising the necessary tight control over events. He could have move in reinforcements or called in mortar fire on the girl or even warned his Precious to avoid that area! But by the time he'd been able to get rid of her, every signal from his Precious' chassis had vanished. Even the teleport homers that would have let him rescue the murder-machine didn't respond.
The Chessmaster conceded as he moved the black bishop representing Solange across the board to position itself next to Deathlist's white queen. An illegal move in chess and one that should have been just as suicidal here. Certainly she had had no armament that could have threatened Deathlist, nor did any of the other students there except possibly Firecat's manifestations, but a half-trained boy against Deathlist should not have been any challenge.
Slowly, the overweight man pushed the black king back, to represent Solange's reported attempt to flee. Then he moved Deathlist's piece after her. One step short no, nothing threatened him. Taking the Bishop though... He lifted the queen, knocking the Bishop over.
That left an opening for the Black Queen to move to threaten Deathlist but in so doing Lady Astarte would not only expose herself but also the pawns she was shielding to the White Queen. The only way that she could have followed through with the threat was if for some reason Deathlist had waited and let her strike.
"Why!" he shouted. "Why did you let her kill you, Precious! Why did this Solange survive you when no one else ever has?"
Again the pieces were scattered and he clawed for replacements, holding up a black bishop to examine it more carefully. There had to be something about the Walcutt girl! Something that all their reports had missed and that therefore could not have been included in the Antagonist Response Program.
The Chessmaster stopped himself in mid-set up and scooted his chair across the command centre to one of its many communications consoles, not caring that the powered chair broke a couple of fallen pieces. The 'bots would clean them up just as well as they did the broken ones. "Terror!"
"I'm busy," his lover's protégé spat back. The anguished sobbing in the background made it clear what he was busy with.
"You can play with the General in your own time. He doesn't know anything useful anyway, It's time to start planning our revenge."
"On Astarte?" the other man gasped in dark desire.
"On her, and her students. On that bitch Potter and most of all on that slut Solange," promised the Chessmaster, flinging the black bishop piece to the deck.
General Tetsuo's blubbering died off in a wet squelch. "I'm on the way," promised Terror.
Doyle Medical Complex
3 November 2006
"I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to visit before now," Carson said as she entered the hospital room. She was back in her usual business dress but Tansy could still see Lady Astarte in every movement
"I'm surprised you had the time now," Tansy said and then realised how that might sound. "With everything going on, I mean."
"If I couldn't keep my own schedule under control, I wouldn't have lasted very long here," the headmistress told her. "I'm going to be talking to Ophelia about you once I have a little more time and perhaps with your friend Sara as well. I imagine the idea of being called to my office for some reason other than someone complaining about her will come as a surprise."
"You get a lot of complaints?" Tansy asked.
Carson's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "Reverend Englund, the Mathematics department, now the MCO... the list goes on. It isn't often that we get such controversy over one student.
"What do the MCO want with her?"
"They wanted to press murder charges against her." There was a certain satisfaction in Carson's eyes. "They won't make that mistake a second time. As a secondary benefit they were shown off campus before they got a chance to interview you."
"I'm not afraid of the MCO." Tansy shrugged as she saw Carson raise her eyebrow at that piece of teenage bravado. "I'm not saying that it's fair, just that my family connections tend to deter them from anything too foolish."
"And if they go after your friends?" asked the headmistress. "They don't have that sort of security. In fact, they're precisely the sort of mutants that the MCO doesn't want walking free. A considerable portion of their funding comes from pointing at mutants such as Mr. Terwilliger. Someone as charismatic as Nicole Reilly subverts the image of the dangerous mutant that the MCO sells to the public. It's hard to point to a girl like Anna Parsons and call her a menace to society."
Tansy chuckled, which wasn't exactly a reasonable reply to the implied menace. "A few weeks ago," she explained. "I asked Ayla to consider what he would do if he running was the MCO. Can you imagine that? A mutant in charge of the MCO, using them as a force for good?"
"Some would doubt that Mr. Goodkind is likely to be a force for good."
"How many would say the same about me?"
Carson nodded thoughtfully. "I hope he repays your faith in him. But I didn't really come here to talk to you about your friends."
Tansy leant back in the bed. _Great, now another chewing out. Maybe she'll at least have the decency to strip being a teaching assistant off me._
"If you were one of my children I'd spank you within an inch of your life and then hug you to death."
"Mindbird told me that she was reading your surface thoughts when you ran away. Baiting Deathlist into attacking you was incredibly stupid. What if he'd killed you with his first strike?"
"Then I'd have traded a couple of minutes of my life for the chance to try to fight back." Tansy had to blink back the temptation to tear up at the headmistress' evident anger. _Since when did her approval matter to me?_ "Because maybe you could beat him in a fair fight, but with four potential hostages he could use against you, howfair would it have been?" she finished hotly.
"Not particularly fair, but most battles aren't. That doesn't excuse that sort of recklessness, no matter how little confidence you have in me. Solange, you've gone a long way to redressing your previous behaviour but please don't go too far the other way."
"I'm not going to turn into Gloriana," Tansy told her with a scornful laugh.
"Gloriana wouldn't have pulled a stunt like that," the headmistress pointed out firmly. "And if she did then her team-mates would have..."
"Died alongside her?" asked Tansy. "Don't get me wrong, I like her I think everyone does but I think I can count the number of students who might survive against Deathlist on the fingers of one hand. You know him better than I do of course, but how would you rate the chances of, say, the Capes if they had to fight them."
Carson's lips grew pinched, but she didn't utter a lie.
"I wasn't lying about what I said then: I don't want to die," Tansy admitted. "I was just as frightened as he thought I was."
"Not quite," sighed the older blonde. "I'm sorry, I just don't want you to be hurt."
"I don't want to be hurt. I just seem to have that sort of luck."
"Meaning just enough to survive. So how long have you been manifesting lightning?"
"Since July," Tansy replied without thinking. "Oh shit," she added when her brain had almost, but not quite, caught up with her mouth.
Carson gave her a very old fashioned look. "I shouldn't have said that on Tuesday, so I'll give you a pass for that slip. This time."
"I suppose that you kept your new abilities secret because of the break with the Alphas?" Carson asked calmly.
"I'd ask if it's helped you against them, but if Deathlist knew about it then he'd never have fallen for your trap, so I can't argue with the strategy. I do want you to have some testing, but I think I can keep that off the books for now. If the MCO finds out though..."
"The Secretary will disavow all knowledge of my actions?
"Essentially, yes. I imagine that the MCO won't be pleased with you, but as you say, that is less a concern for you than it is for some of your classmates."
Tansy nodded her understanding. Even if the MCO did kick up a fuss it wasn't as if she would get into more trouble that she would have been anyway for keeping Fenryk a secret for this long. "Power testing sounds fine. And I suppose that Mriss. Grimes will be putting me through the wringer too now that I've sparked my essence?"
Carson chuckled. "I'd imagine that Elyzia will. I hope I can rely on you to be a good example to your classmates?"
"As long as you mean a paranoid, constantly on edge that they'll try to steal essence from me, example I think I can provide that," Tansy told her drily. "If you don't my asking, how long am I going to be kept here? Since Banned Aids treated me I'd have thought that they'd have wanted to discharge me yesterday."
"Even a Healer can't be sure of picking up long-term problems," Mrs. Carson explained. "Besides keeping you here kept you out of sight while the MCO was on campus and then there's your room..."
"My room?" Tansy gave her a confused look. "What about my room?"
3 November 2006
In addition to sending gun men to Doyle, the Syndicate had had some of the their troops shook up Tansy and Sahar's room. Tansy hadn't been there of course and nor had Sahar. The middle-eastern girl was being quite coy about where she had been at the time, since she'd not been at the party.
Tansy had simply taken account of Toni's smugness at getting Sahar and Zenith back together as a couple and decided that there were some questions that she didn't need an answer to.
"I don't understand why they had to tear the room apart," Tansy complained as she sorted her clothes out into two piles: one that was still wearable (ripped jeans were a fashion statement sometimes) and a much larger heap that she was going to have to replace.
"They had guns and permission to use them. What else do men need?" asked Sahar cynically. She'd only just been issued a replacement for her school-issue laptop, which had been a particular target. Tansy's was still in the computer labs, waiting for one of the specialists to see if anything could be salvaged from it. While Tansy's room-mate hadn't had so many possessions as she did, they were essentially all that she had.
"I'm sorry about this," she said apologetically.
Sahar gestured dismissively. "It is not your fault that these men targeted you. You've been very generous in offering to replace my clothes, I would be ungrateful to also look for an apology."
The damaged furniture including Tansy's expensive fridge had been removed and replacements would be delivered later today. Reconstruction of the campus was proceeding with its usual quick efficiency, but the details would take some time to fully restore.
"Is this yours?" Sahar asked, extending a scrap of paper that had ended up on her desk. "It's not mine."
Tansy accepted the paper and looked at what was written on it. "Oh yes. New codenames I was looking at." One of the possible names on it sprang out at her. "Fenryksdottir."
"I'm sure your father would be flattered."
Tansy shook her head. "Fenryk's not my father and it's dottir, not daughter. It's some sort of foreign word."
Sahar gave her a look and opened a search engine on her new laptop. "It means what it sounds like," she told Tansy after a minute. "A patronymic: the daughter of Fenryk. I don't think you should use that as your codename unless you're planning on renouncing your actual family."
Tansy made no reply. Her mind was instead focused upon another conversation, a few weeks ago.
_Don't knock parenthood until you've tried it._ _Like you'd know... oh my god, have you? You're a parent!_
_Like you'd know... oh my god, have you? You're a parent!_
_He couldn't have meant... me? I'm his prisoner, not his daughter! He doesn't act like a father, except one of those sappy ones they show on the TV._ She compared Fenryk's treatment of her, to her father's. _No, they're nothing alike. You're nothing like my father, Fenryk._
As she had since waking on Halloween, Tansy waited for a response. What she got was not words (or a reproving electric shock) but rather a warm feeling of amusement.
_I guess he's still recovering._ "I don't think I'll be changing my codename anyway," Tansy said, dropping the scrap into their waste bin or more accurately onto it, since the modest container was overflowing with their unsalvageable property. "Everyone already knows I'm Solange. They're not going to respect me anymore because I have a different codename."
"Go back to expressing philosophy in terms of your wardrobe, it sounds more natural."
"No one's ever going to let me forget that," Tansy complained. "Besides, look, I am throwing out most of my clothes."
There was a muffled question about 'froshes' from the corridor and then a knock on the door. Tansy and Sahar looked at each other and then Tansy opened the door.
Outside were Winnie, Anna, Skids and Molly with Basimah glowering at the four freshmen from further along the corridor. "Tansy, come on," Anna said urgently, taking her by the wrist.
"What?" Tansy asked, bemused but letting the smaller girl tow her down the stairs. She saw Molly and Skids - _Ellen, I really should remember her real name even if she doesn't use it much_ - doing the same with Sahar.
"Well we all thought it was a shame that you'd missed the Halloween party," Anna said brightly as they went past the third floor. "So we're going to throw you a special Welcome Back pizza party! Ayla's ordered some pizza from some place she knows and everyone's here."
As they entered the lobby, she could see that the doors into one of Dickinson's function rooms were open and a table inside was half-covered by heated boxes of pizza, with more being ferried in by a cluster of her friends from Poe including Jinn doing her amazing levitating boxes trick for Jade. It wasn't just Poe either: she could see other students from her various classes in fact only one did not seem to be represented...
Tansy pulled back slightly against Anna as she passed the freshman floor and spotted Clover looking enviously over the railing. "Anna, this is for my friends, right?"
"Uh-huh?" She looked at Tansy and then at Clover. "Are you sure?" she hissed. "She did..."
Tansy nodded firmly. "Come on Clover, what are you waiting for?" _I've got to keep an eye on those three. It might be a bit easier if I'm at least a bit friendly with them._ "And call your friends."
Even Mindbird was there and the girl gave her a hug as soon as they arrived. "I'm sorry Thunderfox has it in for you. I'm afraid Theo and Adam believe her story more than what Bob and I told them."
Tansy returned the hug. "You and Firecat believing me is two more than I expected, honestly." Over the psychic's shoulder she saw Mega-Death lurking in the corner of the room looking ill-at-ease. The boy looked away when he realised she'd spotted him. "Excuse me, I think I have an apology to make."
"Go easy on him," urged the other girl.
"I'm kind of hoping he'll go easy on me," Tansy told her, hiding a grimace.
Mindbird shook her head. "He feels like he let everyone down by 'dricking out."
"He would think that." Tansy parted company from Mindbird and approached the inventor with caution. "Harvey, I'm glad you've come to the party."
"Uh, yeah." The boy continued to avoid her eyes. "I'm sorry I went to pieces on you."
Tansy took hold of his chin and levered his face up. "None of us are perfect. Not even me," she conceded with less than total sincerity. Then, as much because she knew it would fluster him as any other reason, she kissed him on the cheek. "That's for not abandoning me in the Workshops."
Mega-Death went red in the face either due to the kiss or perhaps the mention of a favour from one of the most beautiful girls in the school.
"Three cheers for Mega-Death," Mindbird called out.
"Hip-hip!" Tansy prompted.
"Hurrah!" the group shouted and they gave him the requisite two repeats before letting him sit down with a soda and his meds to calm down.
"I owe you a favour for holding off those Syndicate troops," Tansy told him quietly once attention was taken off him by a round of cheering Tennyo's leading the aerial counter attack on the second wave of Syndicate dropships. "Diedrick's or no Diedrick's, you did what you needed to."
"You don't know what it's like," the boy told her.
"I never said that I did," Tansy replied with a little snap to her voice. "It doesn't mean you have to be so shy about taking the credit that is your due."
He chuckled. "Now that sounds a bit more like the Tansy I know. Are you sure about that favour? I could invite you to my lab as a guinea pig..."
Tansy had to fight a bit to keep her rejoinder more humour than venom. "I'm sure there would be pig involved."
"Or a lab assistant. I could see you in a labcoat, fetching and carrying for me."
_Well I can think of worse things he could ask._ "Well as long as it fits around my classes..."
Mega-Death's drink went all over the floor what was in the glass and the mouthful he'd been drinking. Tansy was glad she'd stepped aside in time. "Seriously?"
She shrugged. "If that's what you want to ask for."
"I'll have to think about that for a while," he said, half-seriously. Then he raised his voice. "Hey, everyone. Aren't we missing someone from all the cheering?"
"He's right," Ayla declared, voice carrying across the room. "Three cheers for Tansy. Hip-hip."
"HURRAH!" they all called out, and if Tansy's eyes were a little moist when they were done, no one seemed to notice.