Home » The Crystal Hall » Fan Fiction » Breakaway (Part 1 of the “Tandem Trilogy”)
() 2 Vote(s)
|Breakaway [message #47378]
||Sat, 29 October 2011 22:56
|| The Old Poet
Registered: June 2011
Location: Fly-over country, USA
Disclaimer: The following story is a Whateley Academy series fan-fiction it is just for fun. Any characters you recognize belong to their respective creators; any characters you do not recognize are from my own imagination, and bear no resemblance to any person, living or dead. This story may or may not match the timeline or continuity of the Whateley Universe project, but since it's a fan-fiction and not a part of the canon milieu, who cares? I am doing this for entertainment, as a personal exercise in creativity, and out of respect for the Whateley Academy Universe project.|
This story is Part 1 of the "Tandem Trilogy", and is a sequel; you can find the previous installments under the "Shénlóng Trilogy":
Part 1 "One Step at a Time":
Part 2 "Every Time We Touch":
Part 3 "I Am The Eagle":
I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly
I'll do what it takes 'til I touch the sky
I'll make a wish
Take a chance
Make a change
Out of the darkness and into the sun
But I won't forget all the ones that I love
I'll take a risk
Take a chance
Make a change
"Breakaway", Kelly Clarkson
Songwriters: Matthew Gerrard; Bridget Louise Benenate; Avril Ramona Lavigne
From the Walt Disney Pictures film "Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement" (2004)
From the Kelly Clarkson album "Breakaway" (2004)
########################## THURSDAY, FEB 3, 2011 ##########################
========================= 6:00 PM
It hadn't taken Bridget long after her arrival at Whateley Academy to decide that, despite the dazzling array of mutant powers and abilities on display, it was the relatively-mundane artistic talents that truly mattered. Like singing, or dancing, or (in her case) painting. Those talents expressed the owner's soul, not wantonly vandalized school property or victimized campus residents. Energy beams and super-strength did not particularly impress her, since to some extent they could be replicated mechanically. But so far, no computer built could sculpt a fawn from a lump of clay, or compose a sonnet, or conduct a symphony.
She knew she held the minority opinion, but few people had ever been interested in her opinions anyway or in her, for that matter. As a freshman and sophomore, she'd kept pretty-much to herself, taking refuge in the Library or in the Art Room, seeking solace in printed books and paint brushes. However, the first few months of her junior year had seen some radical changes in her life; she still took refuge in the Library and the Art Room, but she was seldom alone any longer.
Her present circumstances being a typical example.
Mrs. Plouffe, the Art Teacher, kept a small radio in the corner of the Art Room, tuned to the campus FM station, as a source of background noise for her students. However, Bridget could barely hear the radio for all of the conversation that ebbed and flowed around the table behind her. The chatter in six feminine voices centered around gossip, homework and juicy Web articles. Bridget didn't feel the least bit excluded, even though she barely participated; she faced away from the group towards her easel, which held a canvas four feet high and six feet wide. Her attention was focused on the painting, once a pristine white and now layered with acrylics and oils. Her share of the table space contained her laptop (open to her reference photos), a thermos (filled with hot tea), and a well-used collection of paint tubes and brushes.
Bridget became aware of a sudden silence in the room and, turning, paused to study the first real friends she'd ever had, mentally posing them as if for a portrait:
* Celeste Lenninger, aka Odonate: her heart-shaped face, aquiline nose, aquamarine eyes, and prominent lips bestowed upon her a certain Elfin cast. Her long and lustrous platinum hair shimmered as it moved, pulling at the shoulders of her waifish, willowy physique.
* Glynnis Stibolt, aka Twidget: her lozenge-shaped face contained a high forehead, pug nose, hooded hazel eyes, and a sharply pointed chin. Tightly-curled chestnut-tinted hair flowed over her ears to cup her cheeks before tumbling onto her short stout shoulders.
* Melody Cabrera, aka Clef: high rounded cheekbones framed her soulful green eyes and pert little nose, riding above a wide mouth and knob-like chin. Long blond hair streamed down the sides of her head, which coiled and cascaded over her slim shoulders to spill equally onto her chest and back.
* Nancy Yamakaji, aka Doyen: an apple-shaped face centered around almond-shaped brown eyes, pouty lips, high flat cheekbones, and wide nose. Straight, mahogany-colored hair hung like a curtain from the crown of her head, broken only by the gap beneath her bangs.
* Beth Zanchini, aka Volatile: a lean and pinched face, with thin lips pressed into a harsh smile, a shark-fin nose with narrow nostrils, and slitted blue eyes beneath razor-thin brows. The mop of hair that sprayed from her scalp was cut short, tinted in loud colors and combed into permanent exclamation marks.
* Alicia Shewan, aka Bakeneko: afflicted with serious GSD, she had therianthropic characteristics mostly female human from the waist up, mostly female feline from the waist down, covered in short dense fur with calico coloring (though mostly hidden beneath her Whateley uniform).
* And last would be herself, Bridget Krauss, aka FLIR: afflicted with mild GSD, she had pronounced lips and a subtly-exaggerated jaw, brow ridge and cheekbones. A bushy ginger-tinted unibrow arched above her jade-green eyes and the spray of freckles on her wide nose. Her long rust-colored hair had been bound into a pony-tail, which swept the spinal seam of her paint-spattered smock with each roll of her head.
They were all staring at her. "Is something wrong?"
"How do you do that?" Glynnis asked.
"Paint like that. Those gryphons look like they're ready to fly off the canvas. And those clouds look so real..."
"Absolutely," Celeste added. "I keep expecting to hear the wind."
At the center of the painting two gryphons flew abreast, wings extended and pinions spread like fingers. Dainty forelegs were crossed and tucked beneath their chests, while stouter hind-legs dangled behind. And each animal allowed its tail to unfurl like a rudder, deftly nudging the slipstream with practiced ease. The horizon was a strip of breathtaking azure, fading to a deep blue above and a carpet of cumulus clouds below. A few patchwork fields were visible through gaps in the clouds, made gray and indistinct with distance. The painting was a direct result of those recent radical changes in her life, created as an expression of gratitude and joy. "Jarrod says I paint from the heart, from moments that hold the most emotion, or the people that mean the most to me."
"That sure sounds like something he'd say," Beth opined, shaking her head. "Man, even his own girlfriend isn't exempt from the sound-bites..."
Bridget grinned. Three months earlier, she might have taken offense at Beth's comment but a lot had happened in three months, and now they were good friends. Beth had proved to be one of Jarrod's best 'Tai Chi groupies', as well as being one of the few people he trusted with his Kung Fu knowledge. If anyone was entitled to make such a statement, it was Beth. "When I told him about this project, he found me some Web articles on cat and eagle anatomy, and a really neat book by Adrienne Mayor on the origin of the gryphon. He liked the realistic approach, rather than the fantasy approach, and I agreed with him."
"So, why do they kinda-sorta look like dinosaurs?" Melody asked.
"Because a lot of the late-model dinosaurs had feathers. Velociraptors, for instance maybe even Tyrannosaurs. And, since an eagle is a modern-day raptor, it just seemed proper."
"What about the clouds?" Nancy asked.
"From memory, seen one Saturday during Flight II Lab."
"What does your teacher think of it?"
"Mrs. Plouffe thinks the composition is a little sparse, though she thinks the colors are very 'vibrant'."
"'Sparse'?" Glynnis snorted. "Why?"
"She thinks the sky is too empty."
"Obviously, she's never been up there."
"I agree," Celeste added, "or she would know it's an ocean of air, with vast distances between travelers."
"Thanks, guys," Bridget said. The gryphons on the painting closely resembled the mascot featured prominently on the 4-inch patch distributed to the many friends and supporters of Team Gryphon, the members of Whateley's Flight II class. However, there were only only six examples of the 9-inch version of the patch in circulation and three of those were sewn onto the varsity/letterman jackets draped over the backs of the chairs occupied by Celeste, Glynnis, and Bridget herself. If anyone knew enough about the sky to offer a knowledgeable critique, it would be her teammates.
"The one in the background is the male, right?" Alicia asked.
"How did you know that?" Beth asked. "I don't see any external plumbing."
"That one looks a tad bit bulkier," Alicia replied, "and the thicker plumage around the neck looks like a lion's mane."
"Good call," Bridget nodded.
"Well, I do know a few things about big cats."
"No, duh," Beth teased.
Alicia snarled, revealing a wicked set of teeth.
Beth returned the snarl, revealing a set of braces.
Alicia laughed. "I win!"
Beth sighed. "Yeah, it's tough to be ferocious with a mouth full of metal."
"Don't say that too loud," Celeste cautioned. "There are a few kids on this campus that actually do have a mouth full of metal and really are ferocious."
"Those gryphons are so colorful, they make me think of a couple of parrots," Nancy announced.
"They remind me of a song by Loreena McKennitt," Melody countered softly.
Bridget grinned. Nancy and Melody were the newest members of the group, and their personalities were just about total opposites: Nancy was perpetually chatting with anyone and everyone, a loud and laughing extrovert; Melody was generally shy and withdrawn, often lapsing into introspective silences. But, even though Bridget had brought Nancy into the group, and Glynnis had brought Melody into the group, Nancy and Melody had gravitated towards each other...perhaps surrendering to the old 'opposites attract' dictum.
"What song is that?" Glynnis asked.
"The Old Ways."
"Do you have a copy of it?"
"No, but I can sing it for you if you'd like."
"I'd like to hear it. How about the rest of you?" The others nodded and shrugged.
"Well, if no one else minds..."
Glynnis grinned with anticipation.
Bridget noticed the expression, and recalled a comment by Glynnis that her roommate was very talented, but very reclusive, and rarely demonstrated her mutant ability. This, then, was to be a treat.
Melody carefully eased her chair away from the table, judging the open space between Glynnis and Nancy. Satisfied, she stirred the air gently above her lap, leaving behind a twinkling wake and a tinkling trill. Her hands commenced a series of kneading and knotting gestures, her fingers weaving through the air as though tapping invisible keys or plucking imaginary strings and each movement ended with a spark-like flash and a bell-like chime. She adjusted the volume, tone, pitch and duration at will, producing a haunted and windswept warble that echoed with Sylvan voices. Her own voice proved to be deeper, but just as captivating.
The thundering waves are calling me home, come to you
The pounding sea is calling me home, come to you.
On a dark New Year's Night
On the west coast of Clare
I heard your voice singing
Your eyes danced the song
Your hands played the tune
T'was a vision before me.
We left the music behind as the dance carried on
As we stole away to the seashore
We smelt the brine, felt the wind in our hair
And with sadness you paused.
Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go
Your world was not mine, your eyes told me so
Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time
And I wondered why.
As we cast our gaze on the tumbling sea
A vision came o'er me
Of thundering hooves and beating wings
In the clouds above.
Turning to go, I heard you call out my name.
You were like a bird in a cage, spreading its wings to fly
"The old ways are lost," you sang as you flew
And I wondered why.
The thundering waves are calling me home, come to you
The pounding sea is calling me home, come to you.
The thundering waves are calling me home, come to you
The pounding sea is calling me home, come to you.
A spell of silence hovered over the group, until Celeste broke it. "That was beautiful," she sighed. "I'd love to dance to it."
"Slow dance?" Nancy asked.
"Oh, ok. Because the very idea of trying to get Devin on the dance floor..." Nancy shook her head. "The boy is pure grace on a board, but on the floor he trips over his own feet."
"Same with Adriano," Beth admitted. "He's a terrific skater, but dancing...not so much."
"And with Bryan," Glynnis added. "Agile as a hummingbird in the air, clumsy as a penguin on the ground."
"I don't know about Gregory," Melody mused, "but I don't think it's one of his strong suits."
"It's not, trust me," Glynnis replied. Her eye roll (so much like her twin's) caused Melody to smile.
"Marcus is a very good dancer, actually," Celeste said. "One of the benefits of a classical education."
"So is Sean," Alicia added, "though that might be because he knows what I'm going to do before I know it."
They all looked at Bridget.
"Jarrod doesn't dance...at least, not with me. He's shorter than I am, and his tail gets in the way."
"Now hold on," Beth countered. "I've seen the boy fight; that tail is no hindrance at all."
"Different objective. He wasn't trying to be gentle or graceful with his opponents."
"You've danced together in the air..." Glynnis noted.
"Yeah, while sitting in a saddle on his back. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it would take a serious effort to make it happen."
"That sounds like a great idea!" Nancy exclaimed.
Everyone else: "Huh?"
"'A serious effort.' Why don't we hold a Team Gryphon Valentine's Day Dance? We could even bring in a faculty adviser to help Jarrod!"
They all stared at Nancy.
"What? It could work."
"Nancy..." Beth groaned.
"Actually," Celeste said slowly, "that's not a bad idea at all."
They all stared at Celeste.
"I hope to be a ballet teacher someday...to mutants, with or without GSD...so I'd be facing this very situation. What we would need is someone to evaluate Jarrod's attributes and coach him accordingly."
Glynnis snorted. "Jarrod is an athlete, with a natural rhythm. Teaching the other boys to dance would be the bigger challenge!"
That produced a round of laughter.
"But not impossible," Celeste concluded.
"No, not impossible," Glynnis agreed.
"I gotta see this. Count me in," Beth grinned.
"And me," Alicia purred.
"And me!" Nancy giggled.
"And me," Melody nodded.
"Ok, I'm in as well," Glynnis said. "So, who's gonna organize this thing?"
"I will," Celeste said.
"What about you, Bridget?" Nancy asked.
Everyone looked at Bridget.
"Only if Jarrod agrees to it," she replied.
"You mean, you can't persuade him to agree to it?" Nancy asked, her face screwed into a leer beneath lecherously hopping eyebrows.
That brought another round of laughter.
"Well...I guess could try," Bridget grinned.
* * *
Jarrod hovered motionless 2,000 feet above the Whateley campus, which lay eerily silent beneath a smothering white shroud. The recent winter storm had left behind nearly a foot of fresh snow and tear-inducing arctic winds. He noted a few hardy commuters struggling against three-to-four-foot drifts and black ice, swathed in parkas and ski goggles normally reserved for the slopes, rather than using the tunnel complex between buildings. Icicles hung like fangs from every eave and branch, and wind-whipped snow-plumes whirled across the landscape.
Of course, none of that bothered Jarrod overmuch, equipped as he was with a two-layered pelage that would make a polar bear envious. And from his present height, the ghostly blue light of the young crescent moon rendered Whateley and the surrounding forests of the Medawhila Reservation a phosphorescent silver, liberally sprinkled with the glittering stars of lamplights and shuttered windows, like a Currier and Ives painting. And where those below would hear the wind as a shrieking demon, he heard it as angelic laughter.
He really had no business being up this high; there were rules posted about leaving the campus without authorization, and that included vertically as well as horizontally. But he couldn't help himself: the Nèi Jia Class he attended on Thursday Nights always left him feeling exhilarated and energized, as only two hours of meditation and qi-gong exercises could do, and tonight was no exception.
He had no trouble spotting the figure in Whateley sweats arcing up to join him.
"Jarrod, is that you?" said the deep baritone voice.
Vincent Wadsworth, aka Cheveyo, was one of those multi-talented students commonly called 'bricks', i.e., an individual gifted with flight, enhanced strength, heightened constitution, and extended senses. Many questioned why he was a Beta and not on the Cape Squad; others simply appreciated his calm attitude that didn't let much disturb him. "What are you doing up here this time of night?"
"I was too wound-up after class."
"Me, too. I usually go down to one of the indoor tracks and walk awhile."
"I usually sit on the Twain roof, but tonight it felt too confining...and truth be told, I felt a little homesick. From up here, under the snow and moonshine, the campus looks a lot like the Taoist temple I was raised in."
"I can appreciate that. It reminds me of the Arizona desert where I was raised."
"Too bad there's a half-mile limit; the view is better from higher up," Jarrod sighed, looking longingly at the stars twinkling far above.
"I wouldn't know," Vincent replied with a gentle grin. Like most flyers, he couldn't ascend beyond a few miles, a feat reserved for only the strongest or most specialized mutants...like Jarrod. "Going to be up here long?"
"Nah. I told some friends I'd meet them over at Everett."
"Sounds like fun."
"Not as much fun as swimming in the ocean."
"Better than nothing."
"True. I guess I should be going. See you next Thursday Night."
"I'll be there."
Jarrod waved and rolled away, gliding towards the big Parthenon clone that crested one of the larger hills, a marble and granite block that towered above its snow-covered terraces. He knew that Vincent would report his presence to Campus Security, which would record his comments and validate them against previous entries. He had no problem with it; after all, he'd been under similar scrutiny his entire life.
He flew silently down to the building's impressive glass doors, then settled onto the main steps. There weren't any pedestrians outside, but he saw a fair amount of activity inside. He shuffled through the airlock, getting immersed in the heat, humidity, and chlorine fumes that proved such a stark contrast to the clear, crisp, cold air outside. However, he'd been in the building so many times that he barely noticed it.
He waved at a few familiar faces in the lobby, then hiked down the hallway that led to the main pool. The air behind the glass double-door coated the walls with steam and trickling drops of condensation. Once opened, he was again immersed, only this time with the voices and splashing sounds that echoed off the cavernous walls, and the glitter of ceiling lights reflecting off the churning surface of the pool.
It didn't take long to locate his friends, who were clustered around the ladder of one of the diving boards. He paused to watch each of them take a turn climbing up and and plunging off, like six lemmings in standard Whateley swim-trunks:
* Marcus Bingham, aka Tanerore: his round flat face and copper-colored skin centered about his dark brown eyes, wide nostrils, and thick lips. Wet, wavy black hair lay plastered against his skull like so much seaweed.
* Gregory Stibolt, aka Snidget: his oval-shaped face contained a high forehead, pug nose, hooded hazel eyes, and a square chin. His hair resembled a thick shag mop that rolled over his ears and into bushy sideburns.
* Bryan Bandurski, aka Trochilidae: his cheery, infectious smile overwhelmed the patrician nose, green eyes and elephantine ears. His snow-white hair stuck to his skull like a salad bowl, wet bangs sweeping his eyebrows and wet mullet scraping his neck.
* Devin Perini, aka Curl: he was stamped with the classic surfer look: blue eyes, aquiline nose, heroic chin, high cheekbones, and ears like moth-wings. His blonde-white hair resembled the waves and spray of a Hokusai print.
* Adriano Pirillo, aka Lube: his dark, narrow face with its equally-narrow nose and slit-like eyes and lips gave him a perpetually dubious scowl. He kept his dark hair close-cropped bristly, deliberately low-maintenance.
* Sean Krauss, aka Weird: ruddy-skinned and heavily-freckled, the resemblance to his sister, Bridget, was unmistakable the same ginger-tinted unibrow, the same jade-green eyes, the same wide nose, and the same mane of rusty hair.
* His own appearance, reflected in the glass doors, looked nothing like his friends: XiaoZheng 'Jarrod' Yang, aka Shénlóng, afflicted with serious GSD, had a distinctive theropod appearance long tail, short legs, shorter arms covered with extremely dense azure-tinted fur.
He had two methods for bipedal locomotion: he could waddle along in a clumsy, duck-like shuffle, body upright and tail dragging on the ground; or he could extend his torso well forward while extending his tail horizontally as a counterbalance, pivoting at the pelvis. Either way, he lacked the simple grace and dignity that his 'normal' friends and acquaintances took for granted. They literally ran rings around him, or outpaced him by miles and minutes.
But he was equally matched with them him in the water; after all, he was flexile and streamlined, and his tail pumped the water like the Sea Otter he resembled so much. He could keep up with all of them, even the stronger ones like Devin and Marcus.
And in the air, only a handful of mutants in the entire world could match his speed, rate of climb, and ceiling.
It was no surprise, then, that he avoided activities that involved much footwork...and that included most of the social activities like sports and dancing. Nor was it much of a surprise that he and his friends routinely compromised on the medium where they were most at parity.
Grinning, Jarrod launched himself with a PK boost, sailing out over the middle of the pool in a ballistic arc, before plunging with nary a splash. He barely disturbed the water as he undulated towards his friends.
|Re: Breakaway [message #47379 is a reply to message #47378 ]
||Sat, 29 October 2011 23:03
|| The Old Poet
Registered: June 2011
Location: Fly-over country, USA
########################## FRIDAY, FEB 4, 2011 ########################## |
Bridget picked at her salad, watching Jarrod chow-down a pizza slice, considering how best to frame her question.
He beat her to the punch: "Ok, what is it?"
"Excuse me?" she replied.
"Something's been on your mind since we got here."
"What makes you say that?"
"You're distracted, for one thing. Normally you're focused on eating, gossip, and class assignments, in that order."
"You know me too well."
"Not by a long shot." He grinned, finishing the last of his slice. "So, what's on your on mind?"
"Ok," she sighed, setting down her fork and pushing the plate away. She crossed her arms and put her elbows on the table, all the better to lean forward. "We were talking last night "
"The Girls Club."
"We were talking...and...we've decided to hold a Team Gryphon Valentine's Day Dance." She watched his facial muscles go slack.
"I don't dance," he said.
"Why not?" she countered. "You do martial arts, and isn't it all just movement?"
"Because...I don't know how."
She grinned at the admission. "You could learn."
"From who? Not many dinosaur-tailed dance instructors around, even at Whateley."
"Celeste is going to locate a faculty adviser for you " she saw the flash in his eyes and hastily added, " and the other guys."
"They don't have tails," he growled.
"They aren't very good dancers, either, according to the girls. All of them could use a good coach."
"I don't know, Bridget, it sounds rather embarrassing."
"Only if you let it. Think of it as a challenge."
Jarrod turtled-up, crossing his arms, tucking his chin, and slitting his eyes.
Bridget knew him well enough to let him cogitate in silence.
After a few moments, he said, "The other guys have agreed to this?"
"Not yet, but the girls are going to ask them." She decided to play the trump card: "And I really want to go the dance."
"Because...I've never been to a dance before, and it sounds like fun."
He nodded at the revelation and sighed, a lung-clearing expressions of resignation that she'd come to know so well. "Ok, I'll do it for you."
She grinned and reached across the table.
His hand met her's halfway.
Relieved and happy, she felt hungry enough to finish her salad, in spite of his troubled expression.
========================= 7:00 PM
"Have you ladies thought about what you're wearing to the dance?" Glynnis asked the group sitting around the dorm room that she shared with Melody.
"Well, I have a really nice pink chiffon gown I inherited from my sister," Celeste replied, "but it has an open back."
"It reveals my extrusions."
"You're too self-conscious about those."
"You would be, too, if you had four limp tentacles straddling your spine."
"Oh, just wear a sweater over them."
"While dancing?" Celeste frowned. "I don't think so."
"Whatever," Glynnis replied with a dismissive wave. "Nancy?"
"I have this hot red dress I wore as a bridesmaid last year," Nancy replied.
"Red?" Bridget's expression mirrored the others girls' faces.
"It was a Goth wedding, what can I say."
Glynnis nodded sagely. "Alicia?"
"Well," Alicia mused, "my aunt wore a blue silk Mu'a-Mu'a to her Senior Prom, and I might be able to get hold of that."
"What's a Mu'a-Mu'a?"
"Big sleeves, short skirt..."
"Oh, yeah. Duh! Why a Mu'a-Mu'a?"
Alicia pointed to her cat-like legs, all furry with ankle tufts flaring prominently. "It's not real comfortable to cover these up, no matter how pretty the dress is."
Glynnis nodded. "What about you, Beth?"
"Slacks and a blouse," Beth answered. "I don't do dresses."
"Not even for a dance?"
"I don't do dances, either this is an exception."
"I have a bridesmaid's dress, too," Melody replied. "Pale green, with ribbons and puffy sleeves."
"Sounds pretty," Glynnis said.
"What about you?" Nancy asked Glynnis. "What are you wearing to the dance?"
"I was thinking of a short kimono and hakama, with a brightly-colored obi," Glynnis answered.
"I don't know what those are," Melody admitted.
"Sorta like a Japanese pant suit, with lots of loose fabric and bright colors," Glynnis explained.
"But you aren't Japanese..."
"No, but I like the look."
"Sounds like some kind of anime cosplay costume," Beth snickered.
"Well, there might be an influence there," Glynnis admitted, grinning. "Bridget?"
"I don't know," Bridget replied slowly. "I don't really have anything. I've grown so much in the last couple of years, a fancy dress just wasn't high on the list. That, and...well...I haven't needed a nice dress in a long time."
"You do now."
* * *
All of life on the Earth is contained in the Biosphere, which is measured from the ocean floor to the top of the atmosphere, stacked in layers like a vast wedding cake. Each layer is determined by temperature, humidity, acidity, and other factors.
Starting from the ground upwards, in the trees, we have...
* Forest Floor
In the air above the trees, we have...
Starting at sea level, and heading downwards, we have...
Even below the sea floor, we have...
And life has been found in every one of these layers, albeit mostly microbial. However, almost all non-microbial life is confined to a band roughly five miles thick, from 200 feet below sea level to the tops of the mountains. Which means, in effect, that there are biomes on this planet that are virtually fallow.
Humans, like most animals, are hard-wired to live in a planar environment. Be it a beach, a grassland, or a mountain valley, we all view the world in a predominantly horizontal mode. We are all tuned by genetics and history to our own personal layer of the biosphere, with little interest or perceptual machinery to observe what lies beyond our ecological niche. But: there is a small percentage of humans specifically, Metahumans who are able to translate across layers. And of these Metahumans, while a few are capable of deep-water diving, the most common ability is flight.
That Human Flight Potential (HFP) has emerged, and succeeded, is remarkable in and of itself, particularly in light of how poorly the human body is designed for Transvection (though Levitation does seem to be a better fit). The standard flight model evolved by insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats involves (1) the development of extensive respiratory systems to supply quantities of oxygen to flight muscles, (2) sophisticated nervous systems to coordinate rapid flight responses, and (3) functional pairs of wings, all without violating the size limits for flying organisms (for instance, the largest flying birds weigh about 30 pounds / 13.5 kg). Metahumanity resolved these issues by basically ignoring the standard flight model altogether, instead employing such mechanisms as magical aura projection, elevtrogravitational alteration, psychokinesis/telekinesis, and other, even more exotic, methods. Factor-in the low-speed/low-altitude hazards terrain, towers, trees, power lines, antennas, birds, other commuters, precipitation, smoke and dust, updrafts and wind sheer and the high-speed/high-altitude hazards extremes of temperature and atmospheric pressure, as well as the ability to perceive one's surroundings at supersonic speeds and HFP becomes even more impressive.
Interestingly enough, the numbers of Metahumans exploiting HFP has grown so large that it has become an ordinary occurrence. But, while a few rare Metahumans have been observed at altitudes of 30,000 feet for brief periods without serious discomfort, the overwhelming majority are seldom observed flying above 14,000 feet. There has been some speculation about this apparent restriction:
* The leading theory posits a mass/distance law, that the energy required to reach higher altitudes is simply prohibitive.
* Metahumans are as susceptible (or even more so) to environmental factors as Baseline humans.
* There's just no good reason to go any higher, as all the people/food/shelter/etc are near the ground.
Thus, humans tend to remain firmly ensconced in their Biospheric layer, even when they have the means to leave it.
So, given all of the above, how does one explain a Metahuman who has developed the physiological structures to climb in excess of 140,000 feet (ten times higher than his peers)? Specific physical attributes include: larger than average lungs; hallow bone structure; a set of nictating membranes to shield the pupils against UV radiation; super-dense fur with an inner thermal layer and an outer water-repellent layer which is tinted blue for optimum UV reflection; slitted nostrils and narrow nasal passages to prevent moisture in the air from freezing his sinuses; a huge tail for counter-balancing; and a long body with a narrow cross-section. His Metahuman ability has been appraised as a PK-4d, EX-1, which translates as a Level 4 Psychokinetic capable of lifting up to five tons, expressed as a psychokinetic shell around his body, which provides preternatural locomotion and protection against pressure and friction differentials. Thus, this individual not only can translate comfortably into a foreign Biospheric layer, the Stratosphere, but does so on a regular basis.
Well...not only does Mother Nature like to re-use the same solutions to different problems (i.e., the standard flight model), She often poses the same questions.
Consider the sperm whale: it is the largest living toothed animal in the world today, taking in air at the ocean's surface then holding its breath while it dives as deep as two miles, then remains submerged for up to 90 minutes looking for deep water squid and fish. Just as amazing is how fast these whales can reach that depth; in one study, a Sperm whale descended at an astonishing 550 feet per minute! The sperm whale has devised some extraordinary adaptations to cope with the drastic pressure changes encountered when diving: the flexible ribcage allows lung collapse, the metabolism slows down to conserve oxygen, increased levels of myoglobin which stores oxygen in muscle tissue, a high red blood cell density, and the oxygenated blood can be directed towards the brain and other essential organs only when oxygen levels deplete.
Thus, the sperm whale regularly transits out of its "normal" biome and descends two layers, to the Bathypelagic Zone.
Which leaves us wondering what drove the ancestral sperm whales to dive so far down for food in the first place, when there was probably something comparable a lot closer to the surface?
No one knows, any more than we know why individuals exist who can fly unassisted above the Ozone Layer.
"Too much environmental trivia and not enough personal facts," Marcus opined, leaning away from Jarrod's laptop screen.
"I thought Dr. Quintain would like that kind of technical razzle-dazzle."
"Maybe, but I doubt it. You also asked questions without providing either solid answers or useful clues."
"But I don't know the answers," Jarrod sighed. "Especially the ones about why I'm so different." He sat in his favorite Library perch, one of the secluded alcoves on the second floor. Where he knelt on the floor, Marcus sat beside him on one of the divans. "Dr. Shandy and Dr. Quintain both thought it had to with childhood trauma, but neither will commit to it."
"Hey, gents, check this out," Gregory said, dropping onto the empty divan across the table from Marcus, setting his open laptop on the table beside Jarrod's machine. "The government's Avian Hazard Advisory System website has been updated to include mutants. They've even added some crash-site pictures to the gallery section and a few are pretty gruesome."
Jarrod and Marcus glanced briefly at Gregory's screen.
"Ah, I see someone is still working on his autobiographical sketch for Quintain's class," Bryan noted, as he settled beside Gregory. He withdrew his own laptop from his bookbag and set it up on the table.
"Yeah," Jarrod replied. "I have a tough time with assignments like this."
"I see you took my advice," Devin said to Jarrod, as he sat next to Marcus.
"What advice?" Bryan asked.
"I suggested that he write the piece about somebody else, then go back and change all the references to himself. Helps maintain a certain...what's the word?"
"Objectivity," Marcus answered absently.
"You mean, make up a complete fabrication about a total stranger?" Bryan asked.
"No, of course not. But if you can look at yourself from a distance, you can get past some of the tough spots." Devin saw the skeptical expression on Bryan's face. "I didn't say it was easy, but it worked for me."
"Well, to each their own."
"What's up, gents?" Sean asked, tumbling into a cross-legged pile at the far end of the table from Jarrod. Adriano dragged a chair over to the group and sat on that. Both boys retrieved their laptops.
"We're discussing Jarrod's biopic for Dr. Quintain," Marcus replied.
"I heard about that assignment," Sean said. "I haven't had that class yet, but I'm definitely not looking forward to it."
"Anticipation of an event is often worse than the event itself," Adriano mused. "I try not to listen to stories or rumors about assignments."
"Well, bully for you," Bryan smirked.
"How's that working out for you?" Devin added.
"It's a mixed bag," Adriano admitted.
"Subject change," Gregory announced. "Let's talk about the Team Gryphon Dance."
"What's there to talk about?" Marcus asked. "Celeste is organizing it, Glynnis is pushing it, it's pretty-much a done deal."
"Who's going?" Devin asked.
"We're all going," Gregory replied, giving Devin an amused look. "That's a done deal, too."
"What about this 'coaching session' thing?"
"It's part of the package."
"I'm not going at least, not the coaching thing," Sean said. "I have to be somewhere else."
"But you are going to the dance, right?" Devin asked.
"Yep. Alicia is looking forward to it."
"Anyone else not going to the coaching thing?" Devin asked.
"I'm going, but I'm not real enthused about it," Jarrod admitted.
"Why not?" Marcus asked.
"Isn't it obvious? I'll be tripping over my own tail most of the time if I'm not tripping Bridget with it."
"There's that anticipation thing again," Adriano noted.
"Celeste seemed convinced that a faculty adviser would benefit all of us, not just you," Marcus said to Jarrod.
"You can certainly hold your own in other areas," Bryan added. "How bad could it get?"
"I don't know and that's what bothers me. I seem to be coming up short on answers lately."
[Updated on: Sat, 29 October 2011 23:04]
|Re: Breakaway [message #47382 is a reply to message #47379 ]
||Sat, 29 October 2011 23:21
|| The Old Poet
Registered: June 2011
Location: Fly-over country, USA
########################## MONDAY, FEB 7, 2011 ########################## |
========================= 4:30 PM
Jarrod had learned a long time ago that pacing was not a particularly practical way to practice patience, even when there was plenty of space to do so like the center of one of the campus's smaller multi-purpose rooms. It had sufficient room for group activities, an assortment of folding chairs that lined one wall, and even a few mirrors hung on another wall. Still, it made him nervous to be so far underground, even if there were stairs and an elevator just down the hall...which is why he slowly paced, head-down and tail-high, under Bridget's watchful eye.
"Is everyone here?" Celeste asked the group milling around one of the doors. She took a head count, before adding, "I thought Alicia and Sean were coming?"
"Sean has a schedule conflict," Bridget explained, "and Alicia didn't want to come without him."
"They probably don't need this as much as some others do," Beth replied, poking Adriano and grinning wickedly.
Adriano rolled his eyes patiently.
Jarrod noted Bridget's excited expression, sighed resignedly, and strode over to join her.
A figure appeared in the doorway, causing all conversation to sputter into silence. She was unmistakably an adult Exemplar: gorgeous of face, athletic of build, regal of bearing. Her strawberry-blonde hair was tied into a ponytail that sprayed curly locks down the back of her Whateley sweats.
"Holy sh" Adriano started to say, but Beth jabbed him in the ribs.
"Good afternoon, I'm Ms. Zündel. I'm a physical therapist, working with both Mrs. Bohn at the Powers Lab and Dr. Traherne at the Medical Office. I'm here at the request of Celeste Lenninger."
"That's me," Celeste said, raising her hand.
Ms. Zündel gestured, and Celeste hurried across the room to join her. There was a brief discussion, with the former listening intently to the latter, interrupting only occasionally with questions. The conference ended with mutual nods, and Celeste returned to her seat.
"Very well, then," Ms. Zündel continued. "My presence here is in an advisory capacity. Ms. Lenninger has stated a goal of preparing you for an upcoming holiday dance. Therefore, we will start with some basic techniques and then sample a few advanced techniques. There will not be a grade for this, but I would recommend that each of you consider what works best for you, and keep an open mind. Now, are there any questions before we get started?"
"Yeah, I got one," Beth said with a deadpan expression. "Is it true Exemplar guys are better in bed than normal guys?"
Ms. Zündel didn't even blink. "No. In fact, many have severe physical and psychological...shortcomings...that make them less than ideal partners."
The whole room burst out laughing, and the tension ebbed.
They started off with introductions, with each student giving their name and a brief bio. When it came around to Jarrod, he offered his name...and nothing else. He patently ignored the quizzical looks from Bridget as the silence grew in length.
"Do you have any hobbies, Mr. Yang, like a favorite sport?" Ms. Zündel finally prompted him.
"Not true," Bryan objected. "He's the goalie for our Quidditch Variant soccer team."
"And a damn fine swimmer," Marcus added.
"And an ace martial artist," Beth concluded.
"Really?" Ms. Zündel asked. "Perhaps you would be willing to demonstrate some of your martial arts moves for me? That way, I can make a better evaluation of your physical capabilities."
Jarrod hesitated, feeling more-and-more under the microscope; it was the look in Bridget's eyes that finally coaxed him to his feet. "Alright. But I don't see how it's going to help."
"Let me be the judge of that."
"Fast or slow?"
"It makes little difference. Speed can be adjusted, whether fighting or dancing."
Jarrod nodded, resigned to the effort. He trudged into one of the empty corners, while he heard chairs scraping the floor behind him.
Truth be told, he wanted to leave, immediately if not sooner but it was all-too-obvious that Bridget wanted him to stay. Well, so be it: for her, he would put on a show. He looked upwards, silently measuring the distance to the ceiling, as well as taking stock of the open space to the walls, before turning to bow towards Ms. Zündel.
To everyone's surprise, she returned the bow.
Jarrod rose silently off the floor, his tail slowly unwinding beneath him until it completely cleared the tiles, his body fully extended and bobbing gently without visible support. He kept from drifting by subtle flickers of his feet, while his tail undulated downwards from his hips in gentle ripples. His gaze became intense, and his fur ruffled in waves as the muscles beneath tensed which ended abruptly with a loud shout and sudden spin that caused his tail to whipsaw horizontally.
Gone was the graceless waddle, the soft slapping of bare feet and the 'sluffing' sound of his dragging appendage. When airborne, he pirouetted and cartwheeled with lethal force, bouncing off the floor or ricocheting off the ceiling with equal precision. When grounded, he pranced and tumbled along with verve, pitching and swaying into impossibly-curved crouches and back-bends, before veering away at odd angles. His tail was the primary weapon, a massive flail that cut through the air with a frightening whistle. Supporting it were the lightning-fast slaps and rakes of prehensile fingers and toes. He resembled an azure maelstrom which ended suddenly with another shout, leaving him hovering right where he'd started.
His friends applauded enthusiastically.
"Damn," Beth exclaimed while hooking elbows with Adriano, "that never grows old!"
"And that's why he's the best goalie in the League!" Bryan added.
All Jarrod could see was Bridget's proud smile. Panting softly, he settled to the floor and started shuffling back to join her.
"Very impressive, Mr. Yang," Ms. Zündel said. "However, I do foresee some problems adapting it to dancing."
"What?!?" Beth demanded.
"Please explain that statement," Bryan asked.
"While very gymnastic," Ms. Zündel replied, "I'm afraid all those movements are better suited to clearing a room full of hostiles, rather than an artful expression that compliments a partner."
"I could've told you that," Jarrod said with a shrug.
"Yes, but I prefer to make my own evaluations. Thank you for the demonstration."
Jarrod crouched next to Bridget's chair, feeling her hand settle on on his shoulder.
* * *
Jarrod sat as still as a stone Buddha, albeit more otter-like than human-like, waiting for the introductions to be completed. In due course, they were.
"We will start with the Box Step," Ms. Zündel announced, "so named for the pattern it creates on the floor."
Most of the boys groaned in chorus.
"It's not so bad, gents," she replied. "It will lead to other things, ballroom dances like the Rumba, Waltz, and Foxtrot."
"At least we aren't square-dancing," Adriano sighed. "Got my fill of that before coming to Whateley."
Beth snickered, punching him in the shoulder. "Yee-haa, cowboy. Wanna do-see-do later?"
His droll frown only increased the intensity of her snickering.
"This may be the 21st Century, with full equality for women," Ms. Zündel continued, "but men still traditionally lead the dance, and that's how we're going to practice it. So, everyone find their partners, please."
Chairs were set along the wall as the group sorted into couples.
"Keep a few feet of separation for the moment, as we walk through the pattern," Ms. Zündel explained. "Now, as the gents will be leading, they will step forward with the right foot. The ladies, of course, will maintain their distance by using the left foot to step backwards. Please do so, in unison."
Looking sheepish (or bored) and feeling more so, they all moved as directed.
"Very good. You are one-quarter of the way through the box. The second step is to the side: gents step with the right foot again, to your right side; ladies step with the left foot again, to your left side. Please proceed."
They all stepped.
"Excellent. You are now halfway through the box. The third and fourth steps are the direct opposite of the first and second. Thus: gents step with the left foot this time, to the rear; ladies step with the right foot this time, to the front. Go ahead and take the step."
They did so.
"Well done. You have completed three-quarters of the box. The final step is to the side: gents step with the left foot again, to your left side; ladies step with the right foot again, to your right side. Please proceed."
They did so.
"Congratulations, you have completed the box. The pattern is simple and clean, and it can start from either foot, moving backward or forward or even sideways. Speed and tempo can be varied, extra movements can be improvised. Very versatile."
"With all due respect, Ms. Zündel, most of us already know this," Marcus said.
"I assumed as much, Mr. Bingham, but I was told that there is an issue with fluency, as well as familiarity. In my experience, it is best to start everyone together with the basics, and observe carefully."
"It's new to me," Jarrod admitted quietly to Bridget. "You seem to be keeping up, though."
"Well," she whispered, "when I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time with my older cousins. Lorraine, Roxanne, and Vivienne were all very much into socializing, which included dancing and they'd teach me as much as my gangly pre-adolescent head could absorb."
"Let's all step through the whole pattern, please," Ms. Zündel directed. "Ready? Go."
With plenty of eye-rolling and shoulder-shrugging, they marched through it.
"One more time through the pattern, please."
They paced once more through the box.
They did so.
"Very good. You may now embrace your partners." Ms. Zündel waited for the usual clumsy giggling to subside. "Gents, extend your left hand, and place your right hand on your partner's waist. Ladies, take your partner's left hand with your right hand, and place your left hand either on his shoulder or on his waist."
"Is this where the groping starts?" Beth asked.
"Focus on the task at hand, Ms. Zanchini," Ms. Zündel said. "All together now, step through the pattern."
They did so.
They walked through it again.
"Please step through the pattern until I tell you to stop."
"Shouldn't there be music for this?" Beth quipped.
"Feel free to hum if you find it useful," Ms. Zündel replied.
"I will, if no one objects," Melody offered.
No one objected.
Melody did start humming a variant of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. The fingers of her left hand began tapping an accompaniment on Gregory's shoulder, adding a trill of resonant chimes and a miniature light show to her vocalization.
The couples started into the box, this time without any pause.
"Owww!" Beth snapped, suddenly limping. "How can you mess-up something so simple?"
"Friction sucks," Adriano shrugged. "I guess dancing isn't my thing."
"It is now. Watch your feet, if you have to, just don't step on mine."
The exchange raised smiles around the room.
"What are you grinning at?" Nancy asked Devin. "You're no better."
"Sorry," Devin replied sheepishly. "Maybe if the floor was moving..."
"Jeez, how can you be so nimble in the air yet so sluggish on the ground?" Glynnis asked Bryan.
"Gravity weighs me down," Bryan declaimed, "relentlessly tugging at heart at breath and feet."
"Then, resist valiantly the tides of immutable immobility and pick up your feet."
"Touché, fair maiden. Or perhaps it's simply the lack of competition; after all, you don't score any points at this."
"No, but it might help you score something else," Adriano smirked.
"Hey!" Beth, Glynnis, and Nancy chorused.
"What...?" Melody asked.
"I'll explain later," Gregory offered.
Melody nodded, oblivious to the disbelieving glances cast her direction.
"It's probably a good thing the Skipper isn't here to see this," he said, changing the subject.
"Who is that?" Ms. Zündel asked.
"Mr. Vilmaniac, our Flight II teacher."
"Why would it matter to him?"
"We do a lot of close-order formation flying in his class, but nothing like this."
"He's going to see this anyway," Celeste added.
"What do you mean?" Gregory asked.
"He's our faculty sponsor for the dance."
Ms. Zündel walked around the couples, making slight adjustments until she reached Bridget and Jarrod. She studied them in silence.
"Is there a problem?" Bridget finally asked.
"I'll bet it's the tail," Jarrod opined.
"Yes, it is" Ms. Zündel replied. "Your tail inhibits maneuverability, Mr. Yang. Your legs are so short that they do not shift the tail any great distance. This is not an issue with the forward or sideways steps, but it is an issue with the backwards steps. The bulk of your tail does not move, but tends to curl and remain inert, preventing the backward pace."
"Of course," he replied.
"Can you move the tail independently?"
"What, you mean wag it?"
"Only by changing my posture, like this." He stepped away from Bridget and leaned forward, assuming his 'T-Rex pose', hoisting his tail clear of the floor. He started walking a large circle, demonstrating the full range of motion.
"That is unfortunate." Ms. Zündel considered the matter silently, with one eye watching the other students. "How is it you were able to perform those aerobatics earlier?"
"I discharge PK effects along my limbs," Jarrod replied. "Since my tail is the largest limb, it exerts the most force."
"Interesting. Can you hop?"
"While standing erect, can you employ sufficient PK force along your legs to hop, thus lifting your tail?"
"Hopping around, like a rabbit?"
Jarrod swallowed the comment that threatened to erupt, held in check by the hopeful look on Bridget's face. "I can try."
"Please do so."
He discovered quite quickly that his tail refused to remain rigid enough to be pushed; it kept wanting to fold under his feet during the backward arc. And the more he worked it at, the more frustrated he became...and that frustration was further fueled as he kept imagining the storm of jokes and jibes he and Bridget would be subjected to (as previewed by the curious glances from his friends).
And then he landed on his tail and tumbled to the floor.
"I've had enough of this," he hissed. "I'm sorry, Bridget, but this just isn't going to work." Before she could respond, and before Ms. Zündel could intervene, he made a PK-enhanced leap to the door and dashed through it.
* * *
Bridget sank onto the nearest chair, deflating visibly.
Celeste slid onto the chair beside her. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
Glynnis settled onto Bridget's opposite side. "Where did he go?"
"Where he always goes when he's upset," Bridget replied, pointing upwards. "By now he's probably passing Mach 2 and won't stop until he runs out of air."
Beth found a free chair nearby. "Wow, I don't think I've ever seen him angry before."
"He's not angry with you, is he?" Nancy asked, kneeling beside them.
"No," Bridget replied, "but this whole thing hit a nerve." She looked over to where Ms. Zündel was addressing the boys, who kept casting discreet glances at them and the door.
"Please resume your positions," the Exemplar announced. "Ms. Krauss, I will be your partner until Mr. Yang returns."
"You mean if he returns," Beth could be heard muttering.
"Have faith, Ms. Zanchini."
* * *
They all watched Ms. Zündel's shapely backside exit through one of the doors.
Bridget settled slowly on a chair, feeling alone in spite of the friends gathered nearby.
"Well, that's an hour of my life I'm never going to get back," Beth said. She kissed Adriano's cheek, adding, "Thanks for trying."
Adriano simply nodded.
"That was certainly depressing," Bryan mused, dropping onto one of the chairs.
"Indeed," Marcus said, joining him. "You could practically see her mental wheels grinding, downgrading her estimate of our collective IQ's, or at the very least our physical capabilities."
"Well, Celeste, how was it?" Glynnis asked as she sat beside Bryan. "Get any teaching tips?"
"A few," Celeste replied, settling next to Marcus. "Notice how patient she was, and how nothing flustered her?"
"Well, I did try..." Beth said, grinning.
"Overall, it was a good review of the basics...but not what I'd hoped for Jarrod." She looked over at Bridget's crestfallen face. "I'm sorry."
"That's ok," Bridget sighed. "I appreciate the effort. And I'm proud of him for lasting as long as he did."
"If a square peg doesn't fit a round hole, neither the peg nor the hole is to blame," Melody said quietly.
"Huh? What the heck was that?" Beth asked.
"A quote from Jeffrey Bryant."
"And here I thought Bridget was the quote specialist..."
"Melody, you're a genius!" Nancy exclaimed, slapping her forehead.
"I am?" Melody countered.
"We've been going about this all wrong. Glynnis, did you build Bridget's saddle?"
"Gregory did," Glynnis replied.
"More or less," Gregory added.
"Do you have any leftover augmenters?" Nancy asked him.
"Yeah, a few," he replied. "They're down in the lab. Why?"
"Because I've got an idea." She grabbed Glynnis by the hand and started for the door. "C'mon, let's go get 'em."
"Hold it," Glynnis said, resisting. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking "
"I probably am, but I also know how to circumvent the flow vacillation effects. Trust me."
Glynnis surrendered and allowed herself to be pulled towards the door, shrugging at Bryan and Devin in passing.
Both boys laughed and shook their heads.
"They're in the blue cabinet," Gregory called after them, grinning.
"Wow, I hope no one gets in their way," Bryan said. "Just imagine: a Gadgeteer and a Devisor working together..."
"It boggles the mind," Marcus concluded.
Even Bridget smiled.
========================= 5:45 PM
When Jarrod didn't show-up for dinner at the group table, Bridget started to worry. It was nearing curfew, so she knew he'd be back on the campus...somewhere. Acting on a hunch, she finished her meal, grabbed her jacket, and headed for the tunnels, walking directly to Twain Cottage. The elevator let her off at the lobby, and the main door let her out onto the steps and into the teeth of an arctic wind.
The day-time campus could be spooky because of the near-total absence of life, but the night-time campus was twice as bad. It never really got completely dark due to the layer of snow, but the gloomy twilight didn't make anything less sepulchral particularly when she heard the mournful notes of Jarrod's qinxiao, his Chinese flute, dissipating solemnly on the wind.
She followed the sidewalk away from the building and looked up five stories, to the snow-laden roof, to the dark gargoyle-like figure crouched on a cornice. She called up to him, half-afraid she'd be ignored.
The music stopped immediately. He lowered the flute and studied her before rising and stepping off the roof.
She watched him float slowly past all the frost-coated window panes, a serpentine silhouette that silently occluded their light. His descent had a disturbing, ghostly quality to it, as the blue shade of his fur proved to be an efficient camouflage, made even more unsettling by the fact that his multiple layers of insulation rendered him nearly invisible to her IR sense.
His tail settled into a snowdrift with an audible crunch, followed by his bare feet. He stood silently observing her, head canted to the side and instrument couched in his left elbow. He kept his face an inscrutable mask, dark and indistinct save for the predatory eyeshine which gave his gaze an ophidian intensity. A moment of awkward silence hung between them before he spoke. "Bridget, I "
She plowed into the snowdrift and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his scalp fur. "I'm sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for?" he countered, genuinely surprised. "I'm the one that ran away."
"Because I'm the one that put you in that spot in the first place."
His arms encircled her waist. "I'm sorry I wasn't more patient, since I know how much you wanted to go to the dance."
"Forget about the damn dance. I just don't want you to be angry anymore."
"I'm not angry anymore...except at myself."
She pulled her face away, revealing tear tracks that glittered in the twilight.
He wiped her cheeks dry with the back of his hand. "Careful, gorgeous, or you'll freeze your face."
"No one thinks I'm gorgeous but you."
"Good. I don't need the competition."
"You don't have any competition. Now or ever."
"Just the way I like it," he grinned. "Look, be honest with me: do you still want to go to the dance?"
"Yes," she admitted softly.
"Then let's go. I'm willing to give it a try, as long as you're willing to be seen with a big blue bunny, and deal with all the snide comments."
"Of course I'm willing and I don't care what anyone else thinks. Besides, it may not be a problem."
"What do you mean?"
"Nancy and Glynnis have some crazy scheme they're working on, something to do with augmenters like the ones on my saddle."
"Really...?" His voice faded as his mind whirled away in thought. The action was interrupted by a loud gurgling.
She giggled. "That'll teach you skip dinner."
"You know, if you hurry, you can just get there before they close-up for the night..."
"Maybe I should."
She released him and gave him a gentle nudge towards the glowing dome of Crystal Hall. "Go on, I'll meet you there."
"Are you sure?"
"Never argue with your RIO."
"Copy that." He kissed her, turned, and leaped into the gloom.
Bridget sighed, then started chuckling. After a moment, she punched the air. "Yes! We're going to the dance!"
That became her mantra as she entered the lobby and retraced her steps to the elevator.
|Re: Breakaway [message #47384 is a reply to message #47382 ]
||Sat, 29 October 2011 23:50
|| The Old Poet
Registered: June 2011
Location: Fly-over country, USA
########################## FRIDAY, FEB 11, 2011 ##########################|
Jarrod reflected silently on how much of his life had been spent waiting for events to unfold, such as his present circumstances. He and Bridget waited with Sean and Alicia for the arrival of Kurt and Kathleen Krauss on the Whateley Campus, filling chairs in the lobby of the new Rosalyn Harger Guest House. Since the activity level around the campus had increased (due to returning alumni, chaperones, and family dropping in for the Valentine's Day activities), the guest rooms in all the dorms had filled quickly, so late arrivals were either shunted to Harger House or advised to go into Berlin. Bridget's parents had opted to stay on-campus for the night.
While Bridget, Sean, and Alicia watched for any activity on the driveway beyond the windows, Jarrod watched one of the grounds crew blowing snow off the sidewalk that led towards Beck Library and Schuster Hall beyond. It would be largely vacant this time of year, due to the weather and the availability of the new tunnel spur to the building. He would rather wait outside, but his friends were far more vulnerable to the weather, so they remained inside.
"I couldn't tell you who gets the most crap," Sean grumbled. "On one hand, Bridget gets a lot of expectations dumped on her because she's the oldest; on the other hand she's overprotected because she's Daddy's Little Girl. Talk about mixed signals. In my case, I get a little pampering because I'm The Baby of the Family, but I also get lots of expectations for being The Only Son."
"Dad's had a long career as a successful lawyer," Bridget explained. "That meant money and prestige and it also meant setting high standards for our education and future prospects. When our mutant abilities surfaced, and the need to come to Whateley became unavoidable, our parents were appalled."
"Yeah," Sean added, "Whateley isn't considered Ivy League yet, besides being populated with Metahumans. At least sending us here got kept us out of sight of their social circle most of the time."
There was sudden movement in the driveway as a silver sedan pulled into the lot, slowed, and chose an empty parking space.
"Show time," Sean muttered, and led them towards the doors. While they all exited together, Jarrod and Alicia stayed behind as Bridget and Sean advanced toward the car.
Two figures climbed from the car's front seat. Bridget's father, Kurt, had a large and pugnacious build, complete with tufts of reddish hair sprouting from every visible patch of skin. That, combined with the folds of skin that famed his large brown eyes, emphasized his resemblance to an Orangutan. Bridget's mother, Kathleen, had a slender, almost willowy physique, buried beneath layers of linen and wool save for her hands and head. The later was crested in brown hair edged with silver, centered around two very piercing green eyes.
The Krauss family greeted one another, with embraces and handshakes.
"I have to admit, I haven't been looking forward to this," Jarrod said quietly.
"Me, neither," Alicia replied. "Do you think Sean and Bridget have talked about us at all?"
"I know Bridget has, but only in general terms. She did warn them than I have GSD, without giving many details."
"I think Sean took the same tack." She chewed briefly on her lips before adding, "I guess we'll know soon enough."
"What are you going to do if gets ugly?"
"Depends on how ugly. I can ignore the sneers and snide comments to a point but if the insults start flying, then so will I."
"That'll break Bridget's heart."
"I know. But, better a broken heart than an international incident." He had a brief vision of losing his temper and beating her father to a pulp before Security hauled him away and then being summoned home to face his official government patron, with profound consequences. "What will you do?"
"I have to be careful, too. If things start to turn nasty, I guess I'll just try to make a graceful exit and leave with my head held high. If it gets too bad, my family will hear about it. At the least, my cousin will make life miserable for Sean; at the worst, it will have an effect on Sean's apprenticeship with my aunt."
Jarrod considered the state of his own apprenticeship...and a life back in China, away from Whateley and Bridget.
After a brief conversation while retrieving the luggage from the trunk, the Krauss Family turned towards the building entrance and the waiting Jarrod and Alicia. Bridget said something to her parents, and the latter went saucer-eyed.
"I guess we're something of a shock," Alicia whispered to Jarrod.
"So much for inviting them to the next Faction 3 meeting, huh? Jarrod countered.
They watched as Bridget and Sean escorted their parents to the doors. Jarrod settled onto his haunches, wrapped his tail around his feet, and clasped his hands together across his navel, deliberately choosing an innocuous Buddha-like pose that hid his apprehension and rooted him firmly to the ground. Alicia tried to look equally casual and relaxed, hoping that her hands weren't obviously shaking.
Bridget put a hand on Jarrod's shoulder. "Mom, Dad, this is Jarrod."
Jarrod smiled, bowed, then held out his right hand. "Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Krauss."
Kurt took the hand; Jarrod found his grip loose and tentative.
Kathleen took the hand; Jarrod found her grip limp and moist.
Jarrod's expression didn't waver at all...and neither did her parents' expressions. The awkward moment was broken by Sean.
"And this is Alicia." Sean took Alicia's hand firmly in his own.
"Hello," Alicia squeaked, then cleared her voice and repeated the greeting.
Kurt's polite smile never reached his eyes.
Kathleen's polite smile lacked any hint of warmth.
Alicia self-consciously tugged at her blouse and blazer. Another awkward moment threatened to settle-in for an extended stay.
"Well," Kurt declared, "your descriptions don't do you justice."
"Neither do yours'," Jarrod countered, deciding to go on the offensive.
Bridget gasped before she could suppress it.
"Really?" Kurt growled, one eyebrow rising precipitously.
"Yes, sir. I was under the impression that all the men in Bridget's family had beards. I have fur, but nothing quite so stately and dignified as a full beard. I felt at a distinct disadvantage."
Kurt touched his bare chin. "Yes. Well, I normally grow a beard this time of year, but felt in the mood for a change."
"It looks very nice, Dad," Bridget added, relief evident in her voice. She gave Jarrod a quick glance.
"I could probably grow one," Sean added, "but it would look pretty thin on the sides."
"I like your face just the way it is," Alicia added. Her smile died stillborn under the frosty stares from his parents.
"Are you guys hungry?" Bridget asked. "We could go grab some lunch over at the cafeteria..."
"We're fine, dear," Kathleen replied. "I think we'd just like to unpack for now including your dress."
"Thanks for bringing it."
"Do you need any help hauling your luggage upstairs?" Sean asked. "Alicia and I have to get class..."
"We'll manage," Kurt replied.
"I should be going, too," Jarrod added.
Bridget nodded, giving his shoulder a squeeze.
Jarrod slowly floated into the air, allowing his tail to uncoil beneath him. He briefly watched Sean and Alicia enter the lobby and head for the elevator, glued at the hip and whispering fervently...and dismissed them (the sight was a daily occurrence in his life). Instead, he watched Bridget's parents' reactions: both Kurt and Kathleen stared slack-jawed, watching him rise effortlessly...and then he dismissed them, too (they were not his concern for now). He arrowed away over the snow-burdened trees with Bridget's parting smile firmly held in his mind.
* * *
Bridget helped carry the luggage into her parents' room. While not quite as pedestrian as a motel chain suite, it wasn't much better. She retained the suit bag that contained her dress, while her parents dumped everything else on the bed.
"Your young man is so much shorter than you are," Kathleen sniffed.
"And he looks like a sky-blue Yeti," Kurt sneered.
"Actually, that's a pretty good analogy," Bridget replied, forcing her tone to remain light.
"Why?" Kurt asked, surprised.
"Because his body has adapted to living at altitudes even higher than the Himalayas."
"That explains the fur; what about the tail?"
"Critical to keeping his balance and orientation."
"You mean like a gibbon, or a squirrel?"
"Yes. Actually, you should to talk with Dr. Shandy, and get his opinion."
"Why would I do that?"
"So you wouldn't sound so ignorant."
"Bridget!" Kathleen snapped.
"What? Didn't you guys teach me to get all the facts before making a judgment? What do you know about Jarrod?"
"I know as much as I want to," Kurt said evenly.
"Which is next to nothing."
"Look, I don't know if your boyfriend is a decent kid or not, but it doesn't matter. Love is blind and it's frequently stupid. No I'm not insulting you; I'm just pointing out that you're not in a position to consider this objectively. We don't know him, so we can evaluate all of the relevant facts without any 'butterflies and rainbows' clouding our judgment."
"Put yourself in our place, dear," Kathleen added. "If this romance of yours blossoms, and you have children with him, you'll be knowingly exposing them to all of the societal issues surrounding Metahumans."
"Oh," Bridget replied, "you mean like what you guys have gone through?"
"Exactly," Kurt said. "We've shielded you and Sean from the worst of those issues."
"Were you shielding us, or hiding us?"
"We were protecting you. We still are."
"From where we sit, it's a case of out-of-sight/out-of-mind."
Kurt and Kathleen exchanged long-suffering glances.
"You know," Bridget mused, "I wonder if you guys realize just how much of a factor genetics plays in mutant appearance and abilities. Sean and I weren't born in a vacuum, you know; our mutant traits had to come from somewhere..."
Kurt flushed and Kathleen blanched.
"Did you even read those materials the school sent you, The FAQ on Metahuman Development, The Metahuman Whitepaper, or The Future Trends in Metahuman Growth?"
"No," Kurt admitted. "I haven't had the time."
Kathleen shook her head.
"They all agree: we're the future, the shape of things to come."
"Please don't say that," Kathleen said.
"What, that Metahumans are the future?"
"No, that you're one of them."
"I'm sorry, Mom, but I am one of them...and I can't go back to what I once was. And neither can Sean."
"This is a pointless discussion," Kurt fumed. "I will not allow my daughter to 'hook-up' with a freak of nature, and I won't allow my son to fall under the spell of a Nekomimi nymphet!"
Bridget's jaw slowly dropped. "Do you even know what that means?"
"Yes, I do. I'm not as ignorant as you think I am."
"You needn't be so harsh about it," Kathleen scolded him. "But your father is right, dear. Have your fun, but you cannot seriously consider anything long-term with this young man. It's just not acceptable."
Bridget's anguished reply sputtered into silence. She recognized two closed doors when she saw them. She nodded slowly. "Fine. I'll be by to pick you up tonight around 6:30."
========================= 4:40 PM
Bridget sat in a Whitman Cottage lobby chair, sharing an occasional glance with Celeste, as both watched Glynnis and Nancy strapping the augmenters in place. The devices looked like braces or ski boots, with the force-wand supports extending around Bridget's ankles and under her heels. Walking in them would be decidedly difficult.
Nancy and Glynnis stepped back, admiring their handiwork.
Bridget stood slowly, rocking gently from heel-to-toe.
"Here, you'll need this, too" Nancy said. She extended her fist, which jingled from the contents.
Bridget accepted the gift, which proved to be ten feet of fine-linked chain. There were clasps at each end, and little metal hearts dangling from the center links. "What's this for?"
"It's a safety line. The augmenters have to stay inside Jarrod's PK bubble to work, so you can't drift more than a few feet away from him. Each of you needs to loop an end of the chain around your waist; there should be enough slack in the middle to keep you in range."
"What's with the hearts?" Glynnis smirked.
"So it doesn't look so much like a leash," Nancy replied. "Who knows, it might even start a fashion trend..."
Bridget nodded solemnly.
"Now, you'll have to be careful about the edges of the struts and the buckles, or they'll snag your dress."
Bridget wasn't listening. She sank slowly onto the chair, staring at the devices strapped to her legs. Her eyes teared-up, but she did nothing to stop them.
"What's wrong?" Celeste asked softly.
"I...really appreciate what you guys have done for me. These...augmenters...are awesome."
"I don't think I can wear them."
"Why not?" Nancy asked. "Don't they fit? I can adjust them..."
"No, they fit fine. It's just that...well...I wanted to look pretty...and I wanted Jarrod to be proud of me. So I called my mother, and told her about the dance. My parents drove over from Boston, and brought me a special dress...pale yellow, with lots of frills and lace...one that would even look good on Wilma Flintstone. But...when they met Jarrod, they didn't approve of him. My dad called him a 'freak of nature'."
"Oh, no," Celeste said, placing a hand on Bridget's shoulder. "That's awful!"
"And he called Alicia a 'Nekomimi nymphet'."
"I'm so sorry."
"I just thought that if they could see us together, how happy we are together, that they'd come around. But now...they'll see all the serious GSD kids like Jarrod and Alicia and see me looking like a cyborg, and they'll be totally turned off. At the least, they'll walk out; at the worst, they'll pull Sean and me out of Whateley." She sobbed once, quietly.
"For starters," Celeste said, kneeling beside Bridget, "Jarrod is already proud of you. You only have to look in his eyes to see it. The color of the dress, or the gizmos on your legs, aren't going to make one bit of difference to him. But I know he'll appreciate the effort."
"What about my parents, especially my father?"
"You can't make them change their minds, no matter what you do. All you can do is show them how you feel, from the heart."
Bridget nodded slowly.
"In the mean time, you better go try on that 'special dress' with your new dancing shoes."
Bridget removed the augmenters, donned her sneakers, and trudged toward the elevator up to her room.
Her friends stared after her, then exchanged glances.
"C'mon," Celeste said, heading towards the elevator down to the tunnels. "I've got an idea."
"What?" Glynnis replied, falling into her wake.
"Gryphons stick together. We train together, we fly together we should dance together, too."
"Ok, but I don't understand."
"You will. Trust me." Celeste paused, looking back at Nancy. "Aren't you coming?"
"I'm not a Gryphon," Nancy shrugged.
"What you did for Bridget makes you a Gryphon."
"Cool!" Nancy bounded after the other girls. "So, where are going?"
"We need to find the boys. Beth and Adriano, too."
========================= 6:00 PM
Bridget exited the elevator into chaos: the Whitman Cottage lobby was full of boys waiting to pick-up their dates for the night's activities; some sat, others stood in groups, and all of them seemed to be talking at once. A few girls were visible, chatting or flirting or leaving with their escorts. Mrs. Savage and Ms. Bugaresti sat at the Reception Desk, watching the herd carefully.
Bridget saw an azure figure standing near the main windows, and proceeded in that direction.
"Wow," Jarrod said, eyes alight. "You look awesome!"
"You like?" she asked, fluttering her eyes and posing for effect.
"Very much so."
"Thank you, kind sir. And I think you look very distinguished."
He snorted audibly, gesturing towards the crowd. "You know, generally it's the male of the species that wears the brightest plumage." The Administration had waived the dress code for the evening's festivities which meant, in practical terms, that there wasn't a Whateley blazer or jacket to be seen. The boys were dressed in suits for the most part (and even a few tuxedos); without exception the girls wore brightly-colored dresses that swept the floor. His only concession to the evening was the clip-on Victorian collar and black bow tie that she'd found for him, which matched his black silk shorts. "I feel under-dressed."
"I happen to think blue is suitable for all occasions," she countered, referring to his fur. "And your accessories add just the right touch of elegance."
"That's because you're biased."
He indicated the duffel bag she was carrying. "I'll trade you, this box for that bag."
"Deal!" They exchanged burdens, and she carefully extracted the corsage from the box and slipped it over her wrist. The yellow flowers matched her dress perfectly. "They're beautiful."
"So are you."
"Now who's biased?"
"Guilty as charged."
"Let's go fetch my parents."
He nodded, falling in behind her as she threaded her way through the throng towards the elevator down to the tunnels. The Administration had also declared it a Yellow Flag Day, since there were guests on the premises savvy guests, who were fully aware of the realities of life at Whateley so the tunnels were free to use rather than going out into the cold.
Her smile opened a passage through the crowd, and was returned by several passing faces.
========================= 6:40 PM
Bridget led Jarrod through the double doors, one of three sets that led from the tunnel into the chamber. Though this wasn't a gym (Bridget wasn't sure what this chamber was normally used for) it was large, with high ceilings, streamers and posters taped to the walls, a table in the corner for a DJ (a senior from the looks of him), another table to control the spotlights and various lighting effects dangling from the ceiling, and a portable podium. Little round tables and scores of folding chairs had been set-up near the refreshment table, beneath which several coolers had been tucked.
Her parents followed them, eyes constantly in motion.
Bridget led them to the first adult visible. "Mom, Dad, this is my Flight II instructor, Mr. Vilmaniac," Bridget said. "Skipper, I'd like you meet my parents."
The adults shook hands.
"So, Mr. Vilmaniac," Kurt began, "we didn't even know Bridget was taking a flight class."
Vilmaniac's only reaction was a raised eyebrow. "Perhaps that's because she's not technically one of my students."
"Could you explain that, please?"
"I'm not officially registered for his class," Bridget admitted.
"What?" Kathleen asked.
"I asked her to audit the class," Vilmaniac explained. "Normally, only students who are flight-adaptive sign-up for it. However, she assists my students in an advisory capacity. She doesn't receive any academic credit for participation, but she has earned commendations for her efforts."
"How?" Kurt asked.
"Her IR sense has proven very useful, and works exceptionally well when partnered with Jarrod, here. Plus, she serves as the class coordinator during group activities. In fact, she's been so effective that I may try to standardize a similar position for future classes."
Bridget beamed at her parents.
"That sounds very impressive," Kurt said. "I presume it's all done remotely?"
"Negative. Bridget goes aloft with the other students."
"And I love it!" Bridget exclaimed.
"She flies?" Kathleen asked, saucer-eyed.
"She's a passenger, not a pilot," Vilmaniac clarified.
"I see," Kurt said. "So, what kind of aircraft does she ride in?"
"None. She rides with Jarrod."
"On his back," Bridged said, grinning wolfishly.
Her parents stared at her, then at Jarrod (also grinning wolfishly), and then at Vilmaniac.
"A very effective arrangement, actually," Vilmaniac added. "Perhaps you'd like to drop by tomorrow afternoon's Lab and observe?"
Kurt and Kathleen exchanges glances, and then both nodded. "Yes, I think we should," the former said.
"Excellent. I'm sure Bridget will be happy to escort you."
There was slight disturbance behind Kurt and Kathleen, as another adult couple passed through the doorway.
"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Mathieu, nice to see you again," Vilmaniac said, extending his hand. Kelvin and Torri both shook it. Vilmaniac then introduced Kurt and Kathleen, to more handshaking. "So, the Mathieu Family came all the way across the Atlantic just to chaperon this dance?"
"Well," Terri admitted, "we're susceptible to a certain nostalgic influence."
"That, and hauling cargo," Kelvin added. "A dress for our niece, and a date for our son."
As if on cue, Conner Mathieu appeared, a heavily muscled leonine/human centauroid. "Yo, Tandem! How's it hangin', Mr. Vilmaniac?"
"Hey, Sagittary," Vilmaniac replied. "Who's your date?"
The figure that appeared beside Conner proved to be a female leonine/human centauroid, lithe and graceful and older than Conner by a few years. "This is my cousin, Aileen. She's come all the way from Glasgow."
"Second cousin, actually," Aileen corrected, in a raspy voice with a deep brogue. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Nice to meet you," Vilmaniac replied, shaking her hand. To Conner, he said, "I got the impression you didn't care much for social events."
"I don't," Conner agreed. "But this one is special. I respect these people." He touched knuckles with Jarrod.
"Aren't Sean and Alicia coming?" Torri asked Bridget.
"They're probably just running a bit late," Bridget replied. "The Whitman lobby was packed."
"Nothing ever changes," Kelvin chuckled. "Let's go grab some punch."
"Have fun," Vilmaniac said, watching the Mathieu Family drift towards the refreshment tables.
Bridget nudged Jarrod and gestured towards her parents, who stared openly around the room.
Jarrod grinned back.
"I need to find a place to sit down," Bridget announced, heading towards the cluster of tables and chairs.
* * *
Bridget stood nervously at the edge of the crowd, holding Jarrod's hand. She fidgeted, self-conscious about the augmenters strapped to her feet, feeling as ridiculous as a fairytale princess in a ball gown and combat boots. She asked herself for the thousandth time, What am I doing?
"Relax," he said.
"I'm trying," she replied. "I just feel so out-of-place here."
"H-m-m-m, now where have I heard that before...?"
She looked over to see his grin, and elbowed him (gently). "Guess I should take my own advice, huh?"
"Well, now that you mention it..."
She stuck her tongue out at him.
"What's your painting doing here?" he asked, indicating the easel set-up near the refreshment tables.
"That was Celeste's idea." She looked around. "Speaking of Celeste, I don't see her or Glynnis or Nancy. I see Marcus, Bryan, and Devin..."
"Do you want me to go ask them?"
"No! I want you right here, with me."
"No place else I'd rather be."
"Good answer," she replied, locking her arm around his elbow.
* * *
At 7:00 PM promptly, the lights dimmed, and the spotlights swiveled randomly until locating and pinning Vilmaniac. He strode to the podium, a loose paper clenched in one hand. He set the paper down and reached for the microphone tapping it twice for attention. "Good evening. I'll be brief, as you kids don't want to listen to me any more than I want to talk to you."
"Alright!" Conner chimed from the corner, drawing a chorus of laughs.
Vilmaniac flashed him a grin. "You saw the rules posted in the hall; failure to follow them will get you tossed out of here and we will call for assistance if it becomes necessary. I trust it won't become necessary." The edge in his voice carried an implied threat. "Bathrooms are down the hall, on the left side. They'll get checked periodically, too. So, if you get bored here, or have an issue with someone, I suggest you go elsewhere and leave the rest of us in peace. Questions?"
There were none.
"Now, no doubt you've all seen the amazing painting over there, courtesy of our own Bridget Krauss." He pointed at the easel. "It says here that at the end of the school year, she's donating the painting to...the Flight II class. Bridget, is that correct?" He cupped his palm over his eyes, shading them against the glare of the lights, his head rotating until he spotted her.
"Yes," Bridget replied, raising her voice to be heard. "It belongs in your office, on the wall behind your desk."
The crowd responded enthusiastically.
"I don't know what to say, other than, Thank You," Vilmaniac said.
The crowd cheered again.
"Which explains, then, why Jarrod and Bridget have been chosen to lead-off tonight's first dance. Take it away, Tandem."
The spotlights converged on Bridget and Jarrod.
"Let's do this," Jarrod said.
She nodded, taking a deep breath. She hobbled forward on her augmenters, and he shuffled forward with his tail dragging behind, matching her pace. She expected to hear snide comments from the crowd, about how long it was taking them to reach the center of the dance floor, but there were none.
They faced each other, the spotlights casting elongated shadows behind them in different directions. Bridget handed one end of the safety chain to Jarrod, waited for him wrap it around his waist and latch it, then repeated the movement herself. Then he used one of his toes to deftly tap the power switches on her shins.
He took her right hand in his left, and placed his right hand on her left hip. "Ready?"
She draped her left hand over his right shoulder, her eyes focusing on his face...the way the lights reflected star-like in his eyes, and the big smile that inflated his cheeks and furrowed his dimples. Everything and everyone else simply faded away.
Jarrod nodded at the DJ, and the big speakers crackled.
Everybody needs inspiration
Everybody needs a song
A beautiful melody when the night's so long
'Cause there is no guarantee that this life is easy
Yeah, when my world is falling apart
When there's no light to break up the dark
That's when I, I, I look at you
When the waves are flooding the shore
And I can't find my way home anymore
That's when I, I, I look at you
Jarrod expelled sufficient force to hoist them aloft, his tail clearing the floor tiles and his feet paddling the air to provide lateral motion. He commenced the Box Step.
Bridget's augmenters hummed with activity, and she struggled briefly with them: each pace felt like stepping on a spongy surface, and the little bit of 'give' was just enough to throw off her natural walking rhythm. However, Jarrod's grip was solid and supportive, and she adapted quickly, following his lead.
She relaxed, feeling the dance come naturally. Momentum alone added a bell-like sway to their movement, let alone the little spins that Jarrod applied. She felt the air moving around them, the music compelling them, and the simple joy of being alone with him. Her smile was radiant.
When I look at you, I see forgiveness, I see the truth
You love me for who I am like the stars hold the moon
Right there where they belong
And I know I'm not alone
Yeah, when my world is falling apart
When there's no light to break up the dark
That's when I, I, I look at you
When the waves are flooding the shore
And I can't find my way home anymore
That's when I, I, I look at you
Bridget saw movement out of the corner of her eye, and looked over to find Celeste and Marcus dancing beside them. She had removed the jacket she wore, completely exposing her extrusions. The four digit-like organs were erect and vibrating furiously, generating the distortion bubbles that levitated her. Marcus had conjured a column of spinning air beneath his feet, a translucent pedestal that moved along with him as he paced. They waltzed gracefully through the air and Celeste winked at Bridget as they swept past.
A moment later, Glynnis and Bryan danced past, also at the same elevation. Bridget had donned her electrogravitic backpack with the flexible extensions down the outsides of her arms and legs, which were clearly visible over the swirling fabric of her kimono and hakama. Bryan didn't need any artificial lift: his native Ethrobacy allowed him to swim through the air like Peter Pan. He spun her through a series of pirouettes and Glynnis flashed Bridget a great big grin.
Yet another movement caught Bridget's eye, and Nancy and Devin slipped into view. They stood on a wooden disc, an all-too-obviously commandeered table top with the legs removed. Two sets of stirrups had been installed, both facing the center, which rooted the couple securely. Devin teked the disc into the air, tipping and rotating it slowly, while they swayed in synchrony and Nancy laughed and waved at Bridget as they precessed past.
Bridget and Jarrod exchanged grins as their friends orbited around them, the whole constellation revolving fully a dozen feet off the floor.
You appear just like a dream to me
Just like kaleidoscope colors that cover me
All I need, every breath that I breathe
Don't you know, you're beautiful
Yeah, yeah, yeah
When the waves are flooding the shore
And I can't find my way home anymore
That's when I, I, I look at you
I look at you
Yeah, yeah, oh, oh
You appear just like a dream to me
The room seemed full of movement: Celeste uncorked a series of ballet moves, artfully escorted by Marcus; Glynnis slipped into a two-step combo, which Bryan gamely matched; Nancy wrapped her arms around Devin's neck and clung tightly, their heads nestled against one another. Soon other couples had joined them in the air, and below them still more couples appeared on the dance floor:
* Melody and Gregory performed a subdued shuffle, occasionally grinning up at the satellites passing over their heads, as she sang along and wove a trail of firefly-lights in their wake.
* Beth and Adriano had jettisoned their socks and shoes, and she stood on his feet as he skated gratefully across the floor with all the finesse and polish of a professional skater.
* Alicia and Sean were twined about each other, barely shuffling through a box-step, paying little attention to what was going on around them.
* Conner and Aileen pranced and trotted in an empty corner, hands clasped and chins held high, weaving through a slip jig.
* Kelvin and Torri waltzed around the periphery, keeping a watchful eye on the kids.
Bridget reveled in the beat from the music, the energy from her friends...and the smile directed only at her.
* * *
The next song proved to be much faster, causing Bridget to shift gears.
She quickly discovered that the faster she moved her feet, the faster the augmenters responded; it felt more like standing on the floor. So she took a deep breath and let go of Jarrod, hanging free with the chain between them taught. The faster rhythm and heavy beat made it easier to resurrect her long-dormant dancing skills, and her confidence rose accordingly.
Jarrod, too, had cut loose with a phenomenal set of moves, his long torso coiling and uncoiling around his super-flexible spine, his hands and feet sliding out to match her movements. And that's when she realized that he was utilizing his martial arts skills to block, parry, and evade her limbs without ever touching her. And it looked terrific!
She was so proud of him she wanted to hug the breath right out of his lungs and kiss him until his eyes crossed but she decided to save that treat for later; she was having 'way too much fun to stop now.
She watched her friends out of the corner of her eye: Celeste and Marcus twirled together through some kind of floating Lindy Hop, weaving in-and-out and roundabout with a smooth precision; Glynnis and Bryan played at some Mambo derivative, hips and shoulders shaking with a Latin-style shimmy, their feet churning the air like egg-beaters; Devin had set the disc to twisting and rolling through an incredible series of gyroscopic spins in time to the music, with Nancy mirroring his surfer-like moves flawlessly.
It's a long way down
We so high off the ground
Sendin' for an angel to bring me your heart
Girl, where did you come from?
Got me so undone
Gaze in your eyes got me sayin'
What a beautiful lady
No if's, and's, or maybe's
I'm releasin' my heart
And it's feelin' amazing
There's no one else that matters
You love me
And I won't let you fall girl
Let you fall girl (ahh ohh oh oh yeah)
Yeah, I wont let you fall
Let you fall
Let you fall (ohh ohh)
The lights flashed and pulsed, figures moved around in the gloom, and the speakers roared...and Bridget surrendered fully to the moment.
* * *
Kurt stood beside Bridget's painting, staring at it. What would possess his daughter to paint such a thing? True, it had a surprisingly lighthearted mood about it, but the subject matter was just plain...eccentric. His brooding was interrupted by a male voice at his shoulder.
"Evenin'." The voice had a Southern accent, and belonged to a middle-aged man in a seedy costume: a mask that covered the top half of his face, a hooded poncho decorated in browns and grays, faded blue jeans, and grungy sneakers.
"Uh, good evening," Kurt replied, wishing the stranger would go away...and wondering how he'd approached without being seen.
"That's quite a painting."
"Yes, it is."
"Did you paint it?"
"Me? No, my daughter painted it."
The stranger leaned forward to inspect the signature. "Bridget Krauss."
"That's her..." Kurt searched the room for the girl in the yellow dress, and finally looked upward to find her literally dancing on air. His jaw slowly sagged open. "...Up there," he said, gesturing absently in her direction.
"She's got quite a talent."
"Yes, she does." Kurt wished yet again that the evening the whole trip! was over. "Who are you?"
"People call me Caligo." The stranger extended his hand.
Kurt swallowed his reluctance and shook the hand. "Are you one of the chaperones, Mr., eh, Caligo?"
"No, I'm just delivering dresses to my daughters."
"Oh, are they here?"
"At this dance? No. At least, not yet. There are four other dances being held on campus tonight, and I reckon there'll be quite a bit of migration between them. They might show up here at some point."
"Tell me, then, if you're not one of the chaperones, what do you do?"
"I do a bit of free-lance police assistance down in Georgia."
Kurt chewed on that for a moment, before asking, "You mean...you're a super-hero?"
"Some people call it that." Caligo replied, sipping from a cup.
"Ah." Kurt didn't recall seeing the cup before.
"Who's your daughter dancing with?"
"His name is Jarrod."
"Oh, yeah, Jarrod Yang. Nice kid. Looks like they're having a good time."
Kurt grumbled a comment.
Caligo considered that comment before adding, "Look at your daughter's face: she's glowing, she's so happy. Nice to see, you know? Take my girls, for instance. The oldest is about the same age as your daughter. Moody all the time. My wife says she takes after me."
Kurt produced the obligatory smile, if a little weak.
"You should be proud of her," Caligo said.
"I am proud of her." Kurt replied evenly.
"When was the last time you told her that?"
Kurt hesitated, caught off-guard by the question. "I'm just not too impressed with her choice of boyfriends."
"You should be," Caligo countered. "You know what his ability is?"
"He floats, obviously."
"That's nothing. He's one of the fastest, most powerful fliers in the world. And if you knew the Whateley student roster, you'd know just how impressive that is."
"I don't care for the idea of my daughter becoming a super-hero or marrying one, either," Kurt said, then remembered who he was talking to. "No offense."
"None taken," Caligo shrugged. "My wife could tell you stories. However, few Metahumans become supers, you know. For instance, Jarrod, there, wants to be a meteorologist."
"How do you know that?"
"Word gets around. Whateley is like a small town: lots of gossip."
"Well, then: one of the fastest, most powerful fliers in the world should be well-suited to be a meteorologist. I wish him well."
"Just not with your daughter, eh?"
Kurt gave the stranger one of his best it's-none-of your-business glares.
The stranger returned a surprisingly penetrating expression. "Stultus est qui stratum, non equum inspicit; stultissimus qui hominem aut veste aut condicione aestimat."
"You'll have to excuse me, my Latin is rusty."
"It's a quote from Seneca the Younger. Seems things haven't changed much since his time."
"And what does it mean?"
"'The man who inspects the saddle blanket instead of the horse is stupid; most stupid is the man who judges another man by his clothes or his circumstances.' H-m-m-m, looks like that hit a nerve. Maybe you'd prefer an American proverb, then, by Edwin Rolfe and Lester Fuller: 'You can never tell a book by its cover.' Don't like that one either? Well, then, how about the ultimate source: 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' Matthew 7:1."
Kurt bit back his reply; the stranger was not what he appeared and these people usually came equipped with strange abilities.
"He can't help the way he looks, Mr. Krauss."
Kurt snorted softly. "His looks will cause him endless grief. My daughter has been taunted for years for her appearance, but it was mild compared to what that boy is going to endure and there's bound to be collateral damage. I don't want her hurt any more than she has been."
"Looks to me like she's willing to risk it. Maybe that's what brought them together: she knows how it feels. I reckon she's learned to look past the skin and see the soul inside."
"Rubbish. It's all just an infatuation. She's drawn to the exotic aspects, to the fur and the tail. The sooner this madness passes, the better."
"I don't think this is a passing fad, Mr. Krauss. I think it goes much deeper."
"Either way, it's still my duty to decide what and who is best for her. If need be, I'll pull her out of Whateley and away from that boy."
"That won't do you much good. Bridget's a junior, right? One more year and she's legally an adult and then I can pretty much guarantee she'll be right back where she is now, with Jarrod. Face it: the best we can hope for as parents is to give our kids a proper set of values, point them in the right direction, and pray for a good tail-wind."
"Really? And how's that working out for you?"
"Well, my oldest son is in college now, and he's been dating the same girl since he was 16. She's not the one I would've picked for him, but she's got a good head on her shoulders, and they're happy together."
"I see. Is he going to be a super-hero, too, like you?"
"Nah, he's more interested in the environment. Forestry, I think. Believe it or not, most of these kids just want to live ordinary lives, and be ordinary people. Fate gave them special abilities, but not special destinies. Maybe you should talk to Jarrod, get to know him a little. You might be pleasantly surprised. You might also want to consider the fact that he could be with your daughter long after you're gone. Best to make peace early; that way you'll be on the inside looking out, rather than on the outside looking in."
"I'll consider your advice," Kurt replied evenly, his gaze swinging back towards Bridget and Jarrod.
"Here, I brought you a drink," Kathleen said, nudging his shoulder.
"H-m-m-m? Oh, thanks. Let me introduce you to..." Kurt turned, finding no one behind him.
"The man I was talking to. Threadbare-looking costume, Southern accent, said he was a super-hero from Georgia..."
"I haven't seen anyone here like that."
Kurt shrugged and sipped his cup of punch, wishing yet again that the evening the whole damn trip! was over. But, he also thought about his conversation with the masked man in the grungy poncho.
* * *
"You're Mr. Vilmaniac, aren't you?"
Vilmaniac turned to find himself under the curious scrutiny of a mind-numbingly beautiful woman in a long red dress. He decided she must be an alumni, returning to the campus to watch a younger sibling, or maybe even act as a chaperon. He had to swallow before he could answer the question. "Affirmative. And who are you?"
"Ms. Zündel, from the Phys. Ed. Department."
"Oh, yeah, I heard about your efforts to coach my students. Sounds like you had your work cut out for you."
She smiled, an angelic expression that nearly stopped his heart. "Well, it was a bit of a challenge."
"Looks to me like you succeeded, though. They're all holding their own out there."
"I can't take any credit for it," she countered. "I tried to get them to stay grounded; most of them don't appear to be."
"Well, they're flyers, after all; they're at their best in the air. They've learned to play to their strengths, not their weaknesses."
"Did you teach them that?"
"I'd like to think so. But it's just a bucket-load of blather if they'd don't already have a natural aptitude for it."
"Interesting. I am also impressed by the way they help each other out."
"The first lesson I teach them is teamwork, whether in the air or on the ground. We have little use for ball-hogs and prima donnas."
She studied him for a moment, marshaling her thoughts. "You're not a Metahuman, are you?"
"Negative, though it does run in my family."
"Ah, that explains it."
"You're affinity with your students."
"Your students mentioned you, so I looked up your bio. I expected to find a washed-out fighter jock; I must say I was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise."
"I'm flattered...I think."
"You should be; it was a compliment."
"You graduated from the University of Texas with a BA in Aerospace Engineering; enlisted in the US Navy as an officer; primary role as an F/A-18 and F-35 multi-role aircraft pilot, later Jet Pilot Instructor. You've held several billets including NATOPS Officer, Instructor Standardization, Coordinator of Spin Training (for both air-to-air gunnery and advanced air combat maneuvering students) and squadron test pilot. You served as Advanced Tactics Instructor for the Navy's Top Gun Aggressor Squadron; and served as consultant to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, revising tactics in the fixed-wing vs. rotary-wing air combat syllabus. Professional Achievements include multiple awards for athletics, marksmanship (for both rifle and pistol), and multiple awards for superior performance in Air-to-Air Combat (including most kills, highest kill ratio, and best survival ratio). You retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander to accept the role here teaching the Advanced Flight course."
"That's a pretty thorough assessment."
"It's one of my specialties. Tell me, do you dance, Mr. Vilmaniac?"
"Only with women who call me Victor."
"Very well, Victor, you can call me Lucrecia." She extended her hand in an obvious invitation.
He took it, and followed her onto the dance floor.
* * *
Jarrod and his friends approached the table, swapping jibes and laughing. They had come to fetch drinks for their dates, to quench the thirst they'd worked up. It wasn't until they were almost at the table that they saw Bridget's father standing there, idly watching the activities. Bryan, Devin, and Marcus altered course, leaving Jarrod to face Kurt alone. Jarrod steeled himself for a potentially unpleasant meeting.
"Thirsty?" Kurt asked. "That looked like a lot of work."
Jarrod picked a cup and drained it. "Yes, sir, it was. Almost as heavy a workout as a martial arts class."
"What's it like up there?"
"What's it like to float around, to fly in the sky without a plane?"
"Well," Jarrod searched for an analogy, "it's a lot like swimming, really. I've been doing it for so long, it's hard to remember what it was like before I could."
"When was that?"
"I had my metamorphosis at nine, and started floating soon afterward."
"What do you mean 'metamorphosis'?"
"When my abilities manifested. I wasn't born with them."
Jarrod saw genuine surprise on the older man's face, the kind of expression one gets when a deeply-ingrained assumption is shattered. "Yes, sir. The blue fur and tail didn't appear until after my mother's death."
Kurt chewed on the revelation silently.
Jarrod looked over at Bridget, who was hugging Celeste, Glynnis, and Nancy. "When did Bridget's metamorphosis occur?"
"She started changing a few years ago, right after her grandmother's death."
"Wow. That's quite a coincidence..."
"Yes, it is."
Kurt nodded. "I thought Metahuman appearances are determined by genetics?"
"Only initially; the final form is determined during metamorphosis, which is also affected by outside influences. For instance, the experts here think the trauma caused by my mother's accident directed my manifestation; had she lived, I would've manifested in a completely different manner. And since each event is unique, it's a pretty safe bet that my children won't look like this," he gestured towards his fur and tail. "I thought Bridget told you about the changes?"
"No, she didn't. In fact, I prevented her from telling me much of anything." Kurt's expression reflected several conflicting emotions. "Do you think that Sean's girlfriend..."
"Yes, Alicia. Thanks. Do you think her...condition...is like yours?"
"I know it is. She showed us some of her baby pictures."
Kurt sighed heavily and grumbled quietly.
"Nothing, just contemplating a platter full of Corvus corax." He selected a cup from the table and handed it to Jarrod. "Here, you'd better deliver this to my daughter. I think she needs it."
Jarrod nodded, and stepped away. After a few paces he paused and looked back; Kurt gestured, urging Jarrod to complete his mission, then squared his shoulders and turned towards Sean and Alicia, his jaw set.
* * *
Bridget hobbled off the dance floor, escorted by Jarrod. They were chatting and laughing and suddenly found themselves facing her mother. "Hi."
"Aren't those things uncomfortable?" Kathleen indicated the augmenters strapped to Bridget's feet.
"A little. That's why I thought I'd go sit down for a few minutes." She turned to Jarrod, and asked him to get her another drink.
Jarrod nodded to mother and daughter, and shuffled away.
Kathleen fell in beside her daughter. "I can't remember the last time I saw you so happy."
"I don't think I've ever been as happy as I have the last few months."
"All because of your young man?"
"He's certainly swept you off your feet, hasn't he?"
Bridget grinned at the pun. "Absolutely. He's everything I dreamed Prince Charming would be like, Mom: warm, caring, smart, brave, courteous..."
"He looks more like a dragon than Prince Charming."
Bridget laughed. "He'd appreciate that."
"Yes, he would."
"Can I say something, at the risk of spoiling your evening?"
Bridget knew The Look, and The Tone, and so steeled herself for the worst. "Go ahead."
"Far too often you rush into things when you're so convinced you're right, with little thought of the consequences. And now you appear to be rushing head-long into this relationship without considering the full implications."
"Well, you've never really had a boyfriend before..."
"So, it's too easy to get overwhelmed with the infatuation. You don't have any experience to draw upon."
"You think this is some silly crush?"
"Yes, yes, I do. And I'm afraid you'll get hurt when it's over."
"Then tell me, Mom, how do you know the difference between infatuation and love?"
"It's a matter of time, dear. Give yourself at least six months...time enough for feelings to change, to see if boredom is setting-in or if you two are still as close as you are now."
"Is that what you did with Dad? Is that how you knew he was the right one?"
Bridget nodded slowly. Her mother's advice was simple, sound, and not unreasonable...unlike previous examples. "Ok, Mom, I'll keep it in mind."
|Re: Breakaway [message #47386 is a reply to message #47384 ]
||Sun, 30 October 2011 00:05
|| The Old Poet
Registered: June 2011
Location: Fly-over country, USA
##################### S A T U R D A Y, FEB 12, 2011 ##########################|
========================= 1:00 PM
Bridget stepped through the Hangar door and onto the concrete apron, dressed in her azure pressure suit, carrying her helmet and gloves. She paused beside Jarrod, who sat on the ground with his tail wrapped around his ankles, having already donned his saddle. She took the hand he offered.
Kurt, Kathleen, Sean, Alicia, Devin and Nancy huddled together along the building wall, out of the wind, in a patch of sunshine. The remainder of Team Gryphon busied itself nearby, donning their flight suits and inspecting each other. Vilmaniac stood nearby, absorbed in his clipboard full of notes.
"Tell your parents what you see up there," Jarrod coaxed Bridget.
"Well," she replied, rather self-consciously, "winter clouds are different than summer clouds, because the atmosphere in the middle latitudes in winter is more stable. The air is colder and denser, and stays along the ground longer, forcing warmer air from the tropics to slide over the top of it. These are good conditions for causing flat-layered stratus or stratocumulus clouds to form, which is known as an inversion. The low sun angle and short days of winter don't allow enough heat to break an inversion, unlike in the summer, so it can persist all day. That's what's above us right now: an inversion. All those flat, hazy, gray-and-white clouds are are stratus clouds; they're little better than above-ground fog, and could produce a light drizzle or snow. But in the breaks you can see another weather system even higher up; those thin, wispy strands are cirrus clouds, and they're moving in a different direction because the higher altitude winds don't usually match those closer to the Earth's surface."
Jarrod nodded approvingly, as did her teammates.
"You let my daughter ride on his back, up there?" Kurt asked Vilmaniac incredulously.
"Affirmative," Vilmaniac replied absently. "They'd do it eventually, with or without permission, so we provide some guidance and support. Safer that way."
"Just how high do they go?"
"Their current record is just under 27 miles."
"27 miles? Straight up!?!?!"
"On the contrary, Mr. Krauss, she's safer riding with Jarrod than in any vehicle on the Earth or above it."
"Mr. Krauss, I love your daughter more than anyone else in the whole world," Jarrod said. "I would rather die than allow any harm to come to her."
Bridget's face lit-up, and she coiled her arms around his elbow. "I trust him completely, Dad."
"So do I," Sean added. "He saved my hide the first week of school, fighting five bullies single-handed and whipping all of them. And then he took on one of the nastier vermin and sent him over the horizon!"
"Conner told me all about that," Alicia added softly.
"Really, Mr. Krauss, you won't find anyone more gallant or chivalrous than our Jarrod," Marcus concluded.
Kurt fumed quietly.
"Mr. Krauss, didn't you ask me last night at the dance, 'what's it like to float around, to fly in the sky without a plane?'" Jarrod queried.
"Yes, I did," Kurt replied. "Why?"
"How would you like to find out for yourself?"
"How would you like to take a ride with me, the way Bridget does?"
"That's a terrific idea!" Bridget exclaimed.
"You can't be serious," Kurt scoffed.
"I'm very serious, sir," Jarrod countered.
"We've got Bridget's old flight suit in there," Glynnis said, pointing towards the Hangar. "It should be warm enough."
"C'mon, Dad," Bridget urged. "You're only the second person to get an invitation like that. You'll have a great time and you'll see why I do, too."
"I'm jealous," Sean added. "I never got an offer like that."
"You're next, then," Jarrod said.
"Not to interfere in a domestic issue," Vilmaniac drawled, "but this discussion is cutting into my lab time. Gregory, fetch the gentleman his flight suit. Celeste, adjust the exercise schedule to accommodate our guest."
"Yes, sir," Gregory and Celeste chorused.
* * *
Kurt inspected the baggy old skydiver's jumpsuit, which was colored an eye-searing orange with white trim. It came with a matching helmet and goggles. "It looks rather flimsy."
"It won't actually be subjected to any wind shear," Gregory replied, "since you'll be tucked inside Jarrod's PK field."
"I see you've got your own gloves, too. That's good."
"Do you need any help getting into that?" Glynnis asked.
"I believe I can manage it, thank you." Kurt shook the suit twice by the shoulders, then started stepping carefully into it. Kathleen came over to provide a shoulder to lean against.
Bridget and Sean exchange discreet grins.
Kurt climbed unsteadily into Jarrod's saddle, then submitted silently as Bridget and Gregory secured the safety straps, which left him crouched across Jarrod's back, his heels almost touching his buttocks, his bent knees extending beyond Jarrod's hips, and his chin just clearing Jarrod's shoulders.
"There, that ought to do it," Gregory announced, giving the main strap a final tug.
Kurt exchanged glances with his wife. "Are there any reins to hang onto?"
"I'm afraid not," Bridget giggled. "You'll have to wrap your arms around Jarrod's chest, like this." She guided her father's hands under Jarrod's armpits, and held them while Jarrod locked them in place with his own hands.
"This is awkward," Kurt complained.
"Think of it like riding as a passenger on a motorcycle," Gregory offered.
"Just one more thing," Bridget replied. She placed both hands along Jarrod's jaw, tipped his head upwards, and kissed him on the lips. She ignored the reactions from friends and family alike and took her sweet time about withdrawing. "I love you, too, more than anyone else in the whole world."
* * *
"Gather 'round," Celeste ordered, and Team Gryphon gathered in a circle. She looked over at Nancy and Devin, standing quietly beside the Hangar door. "Aren't you joining us?"
"Really?" Devin asked, eyebrows rising into his hairline. Nancy grinned like a Cheshire Cat.
"Absolutely," Celeste replied.
They hustled forward.
Celeste extended her arm, palm down. "The clock is ticking and history waits. Odonate is in."
"Tanerore is in," Marcus said, placing his hand on top of hers.
"Twidget is in," Glynnis said, adding her hand to the stack.
"Snidget is in," Gregory said, adding his hand to the stack.
"Shénlóng is in," Jarrod said, adding his hand to the stack.
"FLIR is in," Bridget said, adding her hand to the stack.
"Doyen is in," Nancy said, adding her hand to the stack.
"Curl is in," Devin said, adding his hand to the stack.
"Nos no qua aquila deficio praecessi!" Celeste exclaimed.
"Volaré!" Marcus, Glynnis, Gregory, Jarrod, Bridget, Nancy and Devin chorused, pumping their stacked hands.
Kurt watched the whole exercise quietly from the saddle, one eyebrow raised.
Celeste snapped her helmet visor into place, saluted Vilmaniac, and ascended to the height of the roof. Marcus, Glynnis, and Gregory followed her lead.
"Here we go, Mr. Krauss," Jarrod warned. He rose effortlessly, his tail unwinding beneath him, until he was level with his friends. He winked at Bridget, who blew him a kiss.
Kurt cast one final glance at his wife.
Team Gryphon dove into the sky.
Vilmaniac fished around in a pocket of his overcoat and extracted two 9-inch Team Gryphon patches. "I believe these belong to you." He handed one each to Nancy and Devin.
"Awesome!" Devin exclaimed.
"Wow," Nancy added.
"So, which one of you is the Telekinet?" Vilmaniac asked.
"I am," Devin replied.
"What's your rating?"
"Max lifting weight is around 2,000 pounds. Riding a board, I can go up maybe 50-60 feet and maybe 50-60 miles an hour."
"Fair enough. And you're a Devisor?" Vilmaniac asked Nancy.
"None so far."
"Interesting. You built Bridget's dance shoes, right?"
"Yes, sir, though Glynnis helped."
"Good work. Good teamwork, too. I like that. Let's go back to my office and talk a bit. Tell me, what do you kids know about gliders...?"
* * *
There was a crackle in Jarrod's earphones.
Celeste: ""Shénlóng, is our guest wearing any earphones?"
"Negative, Odonate," Jarrod replied. "FLIR has them."
Celeste: "Roger that. Change of plans: we're pushing back the schedule a bit, and executing the VIP Tour first."
Gregory: "The Skipper may not like that."
Celeste: "He said to make appropriate adjustments. Don't worry about it I'll take any heat."
Marcus: "There shouldn't be any heat. This falls squarely under the heading of Employing Contingency Plans."
Celeste: "Twidget, do you have any classical or ballet music in the library?"
Glynnis: "Well...I've got about a dozen tracks by Kitaro and Yanni."
Gregory: "Now that's an interesting combination."
Glynnis: "I inherited the library, remember? No need for classical tunes before now but I'll put it on my To-Do List."
Celeste: "Are they soft or hard?"
Glynnis: "Soft. Why the change in plans?"
Celeste: "Just like at the dance: we're supporting FLIR. Her father needs to loosen up a little."
Glynnis: "Copy that."
Celeste: "Twidget, queue-up those tunes. Shénlóng, crank-up your external speakers. Everyone, fall in trail, casual separation."
Jarrod used one hand to rotate a knob on the front of his flight collar, activating the external speakers mounted on its back. Kurt heard the sudden static and started searching for the source. "Relax, Mr. Krauss, I was just turning on the speakers."
"Speakers?" Kurt replied, his voice sounding hallow inside Jarrod's PK bubble. "What for?"
"Mood music. Standard procedure for all our practices."
"Oh. Very well."
* * *
Bridget exchanged grins with Sean and Alicia, and then with Kathleen.
"Is it always this interesting around here?" the latter asked her children.
"It has been lately," Bridget admitted.
"This school year has definitely been the best so far," Sean added.
"Definitely," Alicia echoed.
"What is a 'FLIR'?" Kathleen asked Bridget.
"That's my alias," Bridget grinned.
"An alias? Like a nick-name?"
"No, more like a nom de plume. All the students here have one."
"And you have one, too?" Kathleen asked Sean.
"Sure do. But I'm changing it."
"I outgrew it. I'm learning to be more pro-active than I used to be." He grinned slyly at Alicia.
Alicia poked him in the ribs, but grinned back.
How long do you think they'll be gone?" Kathleen asked.
"Fifteen to twenty minutes," Bridget replied. "Let's go into the Hangar and wait for them."
* * *
Kurt had, of course, seen his fair share of clouds through the cabin windows of innumerable jetliners over the years, generally distant and streaming far below the aircraft when he bothered to look at all. Knowing the teenage mindset, he expected to be taken for a cartwheeling series of maneuvers designed to induce vertigo and nausea.
Instead, he received an almost-poetic parade of soft colors and shades of light, conducted to rhythmic music and long sweeping brush strokes across the sky. Even though he rode piggyback on his daughter's boyfriend, in an awkward and frankly compromising position, the indignities soon slipped from his mind entirely.
Few people other than his wife knew that Kurt had not always been a lawyer; he had actually started through college as an Art History Major. Somewhere in his junior year his father had convinced him to switch to something with more career potential...so, he'd reluctantly switched to Law. Eventually he'd found a niche in Copyright Law, and a reasonably comfortable life resulted. However, there'd been many moments since then that he'd regretted the decision: while ultimately financially successful, he was also ultimately creatively stifled. His passion for landscapes, in particular the American Tradition and the works of Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Winslow Homer, was confined to a few art books in his collection, or the few framed reproductions on the walls of his office. But today, for an all-too-brief period of time, he saw the sky with his inner artist's eyes, closed so many years earlier.
His teen-aged hosts engaged in a slow, stately procession that climbed over alabaster cloud banks, gently sliding beneath pearlescent canopies, banking and looping around building-sized tufts of frosted foam, skimming along luminous lobes of silver and ivory streaked through with slate and cerulean veins. Glories and Sun Dogs and dazzling Rainbows peeped mischievously from the sun-drenched mists of shredded fog that formed the outer edges. The azure horizon beyond the clouds darkened to a sapphire ceiling far above them, streaked with miles-long strands of nebulous angel's hair. Jet aircraft stitched contrails even higher, creamy wakes that dissipated slowly in the high altitude winds. The snowy hills of New Hampshire formed a vast bowl below them, spattered with splotches of drifting cloud-shadow, reflecting the sun back up with arctic solemnity. The pavement of Whateley's walks and drives formed a dark bulls-eye, surrounded by acres of vanilla-tinted cotton-candy forests.
From his position on the corner of their dart-shaped formation, Kurt watched as patches of radiant and diffused sunlight washed across his hosts, who grinned at one another and even pointed at various features for him. Early in the flight, the young lady in the lead slipped back far enough to grasp the hand of the young man on her left, and for awhile they flew together side-by-side...like gryphons.
It all seemed so effortless, and so natural.
* * *
Five flyers (and one passenger) settled gently onto the concrete apron.
"How was it, Dad?" Bridget asked. She helped her father unbuckle the safety straps, then assisted him out of the saddle. Jarrod sat patiently, watching the effort with a broken smile.
"That was...remarkable." Kurt passed the helmet and gloves to Sean, who waited eagerly. "Such beauty."
"You should see the stratosphere; there's simply nothing like it." She took Jarrod's hand while they watched her father climb out of the jumpsuit. Sean practically snatched it from his hands.
"All we ever hear from the media is how disruptive and discontent the Metahuman community is," Kurt said, "how they constantly fight among themselves or go on destructive rampages. But...there was nothing manic up there, nothing rabid or resentful. It was grace incarnate, like St. Peter's idea of Heaven. I could almost hear the celestial voices. And now I understand your painting, Bridget." He hesitated, before adding, "Thank you, Jarrod."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it, sir," Jarrod replied.
"I think I understand you a bit better, too. Maybe we can do this again sometime."
"Anytime you'd like."
"I must admit that I was wrong about you, Jarrod...and about you, too, Alicia. I owe you both an apology. Even though you look different on the outside, you're completely normal on the inside...where it counts the most. My kids are obviously smarter than I am, for having figured that out from the start. I'm sorry it took me so long." To Bridget, he said, "And I have no more objections about these sky-rides of your's. You're in good hands."
Bridget embraced her father. "Thank you, Daddy. That means a lot to me."
"Me, too," Sean added, putting on hand on his father's shoulder, "because, I'm ready to rock'n'roll right now!" He had finished donning the jumpsuit, and began pulling the helmet down over his head.
Behind him, Alicia shook her head with a rueful grin in her face.
"Climb aboard," Jarrod sighed. "Bridget, do you mind...?" He nodded towards her exuberant sibling, who was fumbling with the harness.
"Sure," she nodded, stepping forward to supervise Sean's climb into the saddle.
"Hurry up, you two," Celeste said. "We still have some maneuvers to cover."
"Do we have time for a real Nugget Tour?" Gregory asked slyly. "Something with some turn-and-burn in it?"
"Yeah, how about a little boom-and-zoom?" Glynnis echoed. "Maybe some yank-and crank?"
"Bring it on!" Sean countered.
"In that case," Marcus added drolly, "do try to remember to vomit away from your driver and his associates."
Even Kurt and Kathleen grinned at that.
"There you go, little brother," Bridget said as she backed away. "Enjoy the ride."
Sean gave his parent's and Alicia an emphatic 'thumbs-up' gesture.
"I'm next," Bridget whispered into Jarrod's ear, then kissed him.
"I'm looking forward to it," he replied. He watched her back away before clamping his hands tightly over Sean's, and then floated upwards. "Are you ready, hot-shot?"
"I was born ready!" Sean announced.
Jarrod raised his face to the sky and they disappeared in a blur, marked by a tremendous updraft, a spreading circle of mist, and the rumble of disturbed air.
"His vapes are improving," Glynnis noted.
"Indeed," Gregory added.
"Be careful what you wish for," Marcus concluded.
"We...we didn't do that, did we?" Kurt asked, astounded.
"No, sir," Celeste replied. "We're just a bit more...casual...with our fellow students."
"Will Sean be alright?" Kathleen asked.
"Oh, sure," Bridget grinned, putting an arm around her mother's shoulders. "But I think he'll probably want to skip dinner tonight."
"Alright, Gryphons, back to work. Form-up on me. Let's go." Four helmet visors snapped into place, four farewell waves to the bystanders, and four bodies rocketed into the sky.
Kurt, Kathleen, Bridget, and Alicia shared a moment of silence, each lost in their own thoughts, as they watched the four figures dwindle into the distance.
* * *
Bridget watched as Gregory and Marcus unstrapped Sean and eased him out of the saddle. Sean's knees buckled, and he would have fallen had he not been caught.
"Are you alright?" Alicia asked, fussing over him.
"Just a little weak-kneed," Sean admitted, grinning like a Cheshire cat. "That was a hundred times better than the world's best roller coaster. I can't wait to go again!"
"Another day, stud," Jarrod replied.
"Yeah, that's probably a good thing," Sean agreed. He let Alicia help him over to the Hangar wall, then slid down it like a discarded marionette. "I envy you, sis," he said to Bridget. "You get to do that any time you want. You are so lucky."
Bridget nodded, locking fingers with Jarrod. "Yes, I am lucky."
"You're next, mom!" Sean exclaimed in her general direction.
"I'll pass, thanks," Kathleen replied. "I can see you had such a good time..."
"It was a good time," Kurt said. "But I can see where it would be an acquired taste..."
Kathleen's expression was droll as well as skeptical.
Glynnis carried a set of canisters out of the Hangar and strapped them to the saddle.
"Saddlebags?" Kurt asked.
"Sensor pods," Glynnis explained. "Once the science teachers heard that Jarrod and Bridget were making regular trips into the stratosphere, they petitioned Mr. Vilmaniac to take some payloads aloft for them. He said they had to talk to the administration before he'd consent to it. The administration permitted it on the condition that Jarrod and Bridget get credit for transporting the payloads, and Gregory and I get credit for building or modifying the payloads." She made one last inspection before stepping away. "They're all yours, Tandem."
"Copy that," Bridget said. She turned to face her parents. "We'll be gone for about an hour. Are you going to be here when we get back?"
"I'm afraid not," Kurt replied, checking his watch. "We need to be getting back to Boston."
"Ok." Bridget stepped forward, giving her father a big hug, before moving on to give her mother a big hug. "I love you both. Drive careful."
Bridget climbed gracefully into the saddle, expertly adjusting and fastening all the straps and connectors with fluid movements. She snapped the helmet in place, donned her gloves, and tapped the read-out pad on her wrist, walking though her pre-flight checklist. Then her fingers danced over the keypad attached to the saddle's main supporting strap, causing her HUD to flash a series of graphics across the inside of her helmet as she prepped the sensor packages. Satisfied, she spoke into the mic and received a nod from Jarrod.
Kurt watched the whole exercise with growing amazement. Then he noticed that Celeste, Marcus, Glynnis, and Gregory had removed their helmets and gloves, and started loosening straps on their flight suits.
Bridget noticed his expression, which caused her to activate her exterior audio unit. "Is something wrong?"
"They're not joining you?"
"Are you kidding?" Gregory countered. "No one on this campus stands a chance of keeping up with them. In fact, other than the 500-plus astronauts and cosmonauts who passed through the stratosphere on their way up, and maybe a handful of Metahumans, no one in all of human history has gone where they go."
"They literally have the whole stratosphere all to themselves," Glynnis added.
Kurt stared at them, digesting the information. Then he looked at his daughter, and said. "I...just want you know how proud I am of you."
The smile that spread across her face was brighter than the winter sun. She nodded, then wrapped her arms around Jarrod's chest, and he responded by placing his hands over hers while gradually rising. It was obvious to everyone: this is where she belonged.
"Ready?" Jarrod asked.
"Let's go home," Bridget replied.
Shénlóng and FLIR tipped their heads to the sky and vanished in a rush.
=== A U T H O R ' S N O T E S ===
Author whines and whimpers...:
Title: "The Old Ways"
Lyrics and Music: Loreena McKennitt
Title: "When I Look At You"
Artist: Miley Cyrus
Songwriters: Hilary Lindsey and John Shanks
From the original motion picture "The Last Song", Copyright © Walt Disney Studios / Touchstone Pictures, 2010
Artist: Chris Brown
Inspiration is where you find it. The following sites provided some elements, either visual or emotional. I highly recommend them...
For Bridget's painting:
For Melody's song:
For Kurt Krauss's VIP Tour:
And for the record, I did not discover these sites until well into the fourth installment of the Shénlóng saga but they look like terrific places:
I also just discovered these rather unsettling coincidences:
So, to all those who may think they smell the nasty taint of plagiarism, I extend my full apologies. As Isaac Asimov once stated, there really is nothing new under the sun, and convergent evolution in literature does occur.
This concludes Part 1 of the "Tandem Trilogy".
Current Time: Wed May 22 16:16:28 EDT 2013
Total time taken to generate the page: 0.02134 seconds