Magical Security Taskforce

 FULL ARCHIVE

VOLUME: 2

CHAPTER: 3

1 2 3 4 5 6

Chapter 12: Power Forward


Session One

With Kendrick and the Zukoni taking a rain check and no other marauding demons in sight, the three months passed quietly. Everyone involved appreciated the lull in the action, and while the duration could be deemed uneventful, it wasn't without note. To say that stuff happened would be misleading: that would imply an actual event or turning point to use as a landmark. Instead, there were trends. Slight shifts in the norm that slowly made an impact over the three months. The gradient of the curve may have been small, but over time the road still bended.

If there was a dramatic turn, it was Kathryn's miraculous recovery from injury. Bryce's healing abilities weren't extraordinary, but over the course of a few days (and Kathryn's repeated insistence that he hold up his end of the deal), he had removed any trace of her wound. Again, the school erupted when word got out. The word miracle was bandied about frequently, and that's what Kathryn went with when asked directly. All agreed that such a blessing could not have been bestowed on anyone more appropriate, and the phenomenon restored faith in God to so many in doubt.

Kathryn just wanted people to forget about that and concentrate on her return to the football team. Despite playing the often-ignored position of fullback, she received heaps of praise from spectators, who marveled and applauded her lead blocks and pass protections. Even when she screwed them up.

As instructed by Molly (and unsuccessfully attempted by Donovan), there was a focus on individual magic training. While the Weaving text was thick and complicated, especially for someone like Donovan, the guide to intermediate Thrusting was a cakewalk by comparison. Troy dove right in and experimented his way through the chapters.

At first, he made it his bedtime reading. But where the Weaving text would be an excellent sleep-inducer, Troy's Thrusting book went easy on the boring explanations and went straight into how to pull off neat stuff. Far too often, he found himself getting out of bed to sample some of the early experiments. After losing sleep and suffering in some of his actual classes, he integrated the magic study in with his normal homework. In time, practicing water magic and sampling the other elements became a reward for Troy after far too many Geometry exercises.

He did not, unfortunately, see any noticeable result in his pH adjustments. Mainly because his mom didn't let him drink soda at dinner. After three months, Troy settled for improved control and variety of his spells. As the time went on and Kendrick began to fade from his mind, he began to think about how everyone at the academy would be wowed by his newfound curve-wrecking skills come January. Troy enjoyed this possibility very much.

Yuki persisted with her potions, commandeering the science lab after school when she could. Home wasn't an option as her non-MST-affiliated host parents hated the mess she made whenever she tried. Not that the science teacher appreciated black smoke and charred beakers any more. She had trouble reading her level of improvement as nobody volunteered to get themselves injured for her.

Donovan continued getting instruction on magic circles from Bryce. The less said about that, the better. We'll assume that he improved his craft, shudder at the thought, and move on.

Renee, meanwhile, was a different story. When she attempted to read her textbook in bed, she not only fell asleep, but woke up the next morning with a textbook-sized bruise on her chest. Molly's insistence on considering Renee a Weaver had an unforeseen drawback. It wasn't that Renee wasn't skilled enough for the field, but rather that she didn't have the attention span to learn it on her own.

While Troy, Yuki and Donovan had nothing better to do and could spend time studying their magic, Renee was involved in no less than eight after-school clubs in the fall of her sophomore year. Her rare moments of free time were occupied by online gaming, fantasy football and several TV shows she absolutely couldn't miss. She usually remembered to eat and sleep too.

Every so often, usually while pondering which piece to perform for forensics, which weapon to equip on her blood elf or which wide receiver to start, she'd glance over at the big book of magic on her shelf. Maybe she'd page through it once in a while, even skim a passage or two. While the text itself may have been dry, it was still magic and it still captivated her. Chapters about telekinesis and other random mischief made her smile and picture herself capable of it all, followed immediately by her setting her book aside and returning to whatever she had been engaged in. She always told herself to sit down and really attack the book, but whenever she tried the complicated sentences and unnecessary details bogged her down until another distraction liberated her.

As for Richard Herman, he did exactly what he said he would- quietly fill his overnight shift while spending his free time watching movies and drawing every penny out of his weekly stipend. When the three months were over, he was both glad to see them go, and angry at the fact that with no attacks it was all a bothersome waste. He packed up and left quietly the minute his assignment was complete, not bothering to say goodbye to Molly, Kurt, nor all the restaurant employees who had come to know him as that guy who always used a corporate credit card to buy fried chicken and deep-dish pizza.

In his final report to Uriel, Richard concluded, “If there is a threat of demon attack upon these recruits, next time relocate them to someplace civilized. Let the demons have L. B. Gould. At least they'd make the place a little more exciting.”

 

Session Two

Thus far, December had been pretty nice to everybody. The weather gods had decided to spare Ohio any appetizer blizzards. It was still chilly, no getting around that, but it was a modest cold that Ohioans were more than willing to put up with. It signaled that the holiday season was approaching, including a slight chance of delivering the white Christmas everyone's inner-Irving Berlin hopes for. Plus everybody knew that in a month any temperature above freezing would be deemed a tropical respite.

Best of all, the season meant indoor sports. Too many bitter, windy October nights along the football field had left Troy craving the security and climate control of a gymnasium. Not only that, but while Kathryn was just an average player on an average football team, she and all her teammates on the Lady Buteos shined at basketball.

Troy handed a few bills to the overworked secretary at the door. “Two, please,” he said in a proud, almost obnoxious, fashion.

The overworked secretary, unimpressed, handed tickets and game programs to Troy and Marie. Troy's date had noticed his bravado and chuckled, amused that he was so thrilled to be paying for her. Not that she wasn't guilty of the same crime. As they walked down the corridor, she slid her hand into his and smiled. Both of them blithely strolled past their classmates, eager to show off their relationship. As they weren't at the stage of intimacy yet, this was the biggest benefit to their being together. For a girl new to town and a boy known mostly for being under the student council's constant watch, the presence of a significant other was a huge social statement.

“I'm surprised you're not complaining,” Troy said to her.

“What for?”

“We're an hour early.”

“Ah...” she said before laughing.

Some people can never accept being late for anything. Marie made it a point to never be early. She had a strange way of valuing time, disapproving of any minutes between arrival and the actual start of the event. Passing periods between classes were four minutes and Marie always used at least three minutes and forty-five seconds of it. If she deemed it necessary or prudent, she wasn't even opposed to being fashionably late, especially if the alternative was being hurriedly on time.

Troy had discovered all this the hard way on one of their earlier dates. Troy had been early and waiting outside the cinema well into the start of the movie. Just as he had entered the period to begin worrying about being stood up, she arrived wearing no remorse. They had gotten their tickets, refreshments and seats in the theater just as the final preview wrapped up.

As they entered the gym, Marie said, “Let's just say I like your logic for showing up early tonight.”

The logic she was alluding to was sitting in the stands next to the home team's locker room. Kathryn, wearing a stately dress per the team's dress code, was watching the JV players struggle to put up points.

“So are you going to win today?” Troy said, mostly to get her attention.

Knowing this, Kathryn didn't bother to answer. “Hey! You're here early.”

“Just wanted to say hi before the game. Wish you luck and all that.”

“Well hi and thank you,” Kathryn replied. “I like the hand-holding. It's cute.”

“It helps to show off a bit,” Marie said.

“Kinda sad that it works,” Troy added.

Kathryn chuckled. “Well, given all the seniors that have been going after me, I know a really easy way to get you on the map.” She winked, adding, “Marie wouldn't like it much though.”

Marie's face flushed and Troy brushed off the comment. It probably would have been more appropriate had they reversed their reactions.

“But hey, speaking of being seen, the team's getting together tonight. You two wanna tag along?” Kathryn asked.

“Sure!” Marie answered without consulting Troy. Not that he objected.

Right after Kathryn told them to meet her outside the locker room after the game, a booming female voice interrupted with a rowdy, “Hey Kat, you ready to kick some ass?!” Kathryn and Marie's smiles grew. Troy instinctively wanted to hide.

“Hell yeah!” Kathryn replied, just as boisterous, high-fiving the approaching girl. Unlike Kathryn, she was already in her warm-up outfit.

Troy probably had the right reaction to the girl; the other two were already familiar with her intensity. It eked from her hard green eyes, the light wrinkle on her brow and the eager smile on her face. She was not quite as tall as Kathryn, but that still left room for her to stand higher than most girls her age, and Troy for that matter. While her demeanor could have easily been some sort of 'game face,' Troy got the impression that she hardly spent normal business hours being docile.

While he had been intimidated, Marie let out a chuckle. “Hi, Kamila. So you're really on the varsity tonight?”

Kamila cracked her knuckles and approached Marie. “Yeah. Those Huffington bastards won't know what hit them!”

The closer Kamila got to Marie, the more Troy shirked back. Kamila, unfortunately, noticed. “I take it this is the beloved Troy?”

“Uh... yeah...” Sheepish, Marie attempted a formal introduction. “Troy, this is Kamila. She has the locker next to mine. The one you crashed into.”

Troy nodded and reluctantly extended a hand to Kamila. As he feared, Kamila didn't shake it as much as she clamped down on it.

“Ah... so you're the one who dented it,” Kamila said, grinning madly. Troy was too busy fearing for his life to enter a plea. Her grin grew wilder and her grip tightened. “Don't worry- I un-dented it.”

While he looked her in the eyes and tried to convey a look that didn't say 'please don't hurt me,' he couldn't help but be amazed at how strong her grip was. Though tall, Kamila had just an average build and did not look exceedingly strong, especially compared to Kathryn whose large frame clearly supported her athleticism.

Finally, Kamila released him after Kathryn beckoned, “Let's go. You'll see them tonight at the party.”

“Oh yeah?” Kamila said, rejoining Kathryn. “It's Friday night. You'd think they'd want to ditch us and go make out somewhere.”

Marie blushed again; Troy was busy wincing and forgot to. They were both too distracted to say anything as the two players walked away. Besides, thanks to Kamila, Kathryn was getting psyched up for the game, where she could grow enough intensity to match what Kamila brought naturally.

As the two disappeared through the doorway, Troy said, “She's, um...”

Marie sighed. “Yeah, I know... you want to sit down?”

Troy nodded. While they hunted down a seat, Marie attempted to take Troy's hand again. Troy pulled it away, not trusting anybody to make contact with it until the throbbing stopped.

 

Session Three

Marie and Troy sat a few rows up, with her leaning against a railing. As she had already praised Kamila for making the varsity, she was suddenly in 'wasted time' mode and began to nod off. Troy let her; it was better than hearing her complain about boredom. In fact, the junior varsity game was making him drowsy as well. Marie had leaned back, the railing improvising as a pillow. Troy saw no harm in scootching closer, resting his head on her shoulder and closing his eyes. He wasn't falling asleep with all the noise surrounding him, and he doubted Marie was in any state of meaningful slumber either, but this was a chance for him to gaze at the high ceiling through droopy eyes and relax. In this, Marie's body was certainly more comfortable than the hard bleachers.

At least it was in theory. In what was supposed to be a chance for him to just sit back and think, the only thing on his mind was 'wow, she has very bony shoulders.' While he was hoping for one of those adorable little scenes that make onlookers go 'aww, that's so cute,' Troy struggled to find the spot that made him feel comfortable and secure. He sat up, not willing to risk hurting his head... or Marie, for that matter.

He leaned back, now willing to tolerate having his head on the unforgiving bleachers. He wasn't sure what to make of his failed attempt at something resembling intimacy. Heck, this whole dating thing as a whole was a blur to him. Whatever he had been doing, and to his knowledge he wasn't doing anything, it was working. A decent-looking, decent-acting girl was wanting to spend time with him. She had initiated the first kiss, she had usually called to set up dates, and as far as Troy could tell, she was enamored with him.

On the other hand, 'enamored' was too strong a word for Troy to say when talking about Marie. He liked her, he liked spending time with her, and he liked having her for a girlfriend. It was just that whole 'can't stop thinking about her and need to be with her every waking moment' bit that was lacking. But Troy figured that was to come later, once he had discovered all her layers. Of course, even if he had already seen the complete Marie and she remained merely decent in his eyes, it wasn't like he could end the relationship. Troy believed that guys, or at least guys with his lot, didn't break up with girls over mere adequacy. Besides, if he kept at it, he figured he might even get some sex out of it.

“Hey! Troy!” Troy sat up as he heard Kurt's voice calling. Troy and Marie had been spotted, and thus they would have company through the game. This would have been fine if Kurt hadn't also been towing Yuki along.

“Hi Troy!” she shouted as she and Kurt climbed the bleachers to join the couple. “So is this your girlfriend?”

Troy saw that with the new arrivals, Marie was now attentive. She nodded at Yuki, eyes fixed on the youngster.

“Yeah, this is Yuki. Um...” Troy's attempt to explain didn't get far.

“Oh, I see you at school all the time,” Marie told Yuki. “I guess it felt out of place to ask about it.” What she meant was that the student council had ordered the student body not to ask too many questions about Yuki, under threat of The Letter.

Yuki smiled, oblivious. “I'm an exchange student from Japan!” she replied, ignoring the facts about her age or that she was planning to stay for all four years of high school.

“Ah...” Marie said, pretending that her questions were answered. She leaned in and, engaging in the timeless act of patronizing a foreigner, said, “Konnichiwa.”

Yuki stared back, suddenly confused. She glanced at Kurt and Troy, who didn't seem to notice anything peculiar. She turned back to Marie, bowed her head and said, uncertainly, “Yeah, hi.”

She and Kurt sat next to Troy. Once they did, Yuki leaned towards Kurt and whispered, “Did she just speak Japanese?”

Kurt chuckled. “Yep.”

“Dammit.”

“I take it you're on Lucidrol?” he asked. Yuki sighed and nodded.

Sorry if you were ever under the impression that Yuki actually spoke English. But that's the reason Lucidrol was hailed as such a revolutionary drug when it was concocted. The drug contained mind-altering magic that allowed the user to communicate in any language. Through her grandfather, Yuki had the right connections to get a steady supply. Don't count on seeing Lucidrol available at the pharmacy any time soon: not only have MST doctors failed to find any flora or fauna to 'explain' Lucidrol's chemical properties to the non-magi public, the surprisingly-powerful International Union of Translators has suppressed any attempts to get FDA approval for the drug.

(Side effects include headaches, nausea and infrequent episodes of transcendent Nirvana.)

To prevent any further discussion of her native language, Yuki sat as far from Marie as possible and tended not to call attention to herself. Kurt, on the other hand, blabbed on with Troy and Marie about all sorts of meaningless topics. It helped keep them occupied until the varsity game started.

The JV game eventually ended and the varsity teams began their warm-ups to an enthusiastic crowd. A growing influx of arriving fans started to fill the bleachers. Full houses were often rare in girls' basketball, but L. B. Gould had a good team and Huffington held the sacred status of school rival. On the court, Kamila couldn't help but marvel at her audience. Kathryn shoved her to draw attention back to the lay-up drill. By now, Kathryn was honed in on the competition, oblivious to anyone beyond the painted lines. This was why she lived. Kamila nodded appreciatively and shoved Kathryn back.

With Kathryn preoccupied with everything on the court, she never saw the three Zukoni henchmen enter the gymnasium. Making as little of a scene as they could manage, and thus only irritating those in the immediate vicinity, they sat in the corner housing Huffington's fans. Due to their gaudy business suits (which thankfully matched our code names for them), most of those around them simply assumed they were college scouts. Very obnoxious college scouts.

Red leaned into Green. “Please say we can do this tonight.”

Green looked away from Kathryn and scanned the seats. He grinned when he saw Troy and Kurt.

“Yeah... I think tonight works,” he replied.

 

Session Four

In the stands, all eyes were on Kathryn and Kamila so nobody saw Renee approach until she said, “Hello! What's up everybody?”

Yuki smiled brightly and returned the greeting. Upon one look at Renee and a follow-up look at Marie, Troy froze in panic. Marie withheld judgment, at least for the moment.

This left Kurt to say, “What are you doing here?” Only partially sarcastic, he added, “Don't you usually sit with the cool kids?”

Renee laughed, taking it in good humor. After all, he was right. “Well, a couple of my other friends are having some issues right now. Just a bunch of dumb high school drama. I don't want any part of that.”

A laugh escaped Kurt's mouth. He restrained it quickly, so all Renee heard was a high-pitched squeak. She attributed it to Yuki, whom Renee was trying to ignore.

“So yeah, I saw you three up here and thought I'd drop by,” Renee said, smiling.

“Who are you?” Marie asked bluntly. This was the first time Renee had noticed Marie, but introduced herself politely as a friend of Troy and Kurt. Even without knowing anything about Renee, something about her made Marie intuitively enter defense mode.

So when Renee asked Marie to return the favor, Marie linked her arm around Troy's and said, “My name's Marie. Troy and I are going out.”

Renee raised her eyebrows. “Oh?” she said, surprised but not judgmental.

In the meantime, Yuki pulled a small vial out of her satchel and waved it under Troy's nose. He snapped out of his funk. Yuki beamed, happy that she had a chance to try out her latest concoction.

“Well, this is what happens when I don't see you two,” Renee said, trying to contain the awkwardness of the moment. “I haven't talked to you guys in what? Three months?”

It wasn't just the old girlfriend/new girlfriend issue that bothered Troy.

Determined not to address the old girlfriend/new girlfriend issue at all, he aired his primary concern: “There's a reason for that. I don't know where I stand with the student council, but-”

“Don't worry,” Renee interrupted. Her smile grew wider, more devious even. “Molly's not here. And Claude's got his hands full.”

Renee pointed at Claude, who was apparently stuck supervising the audience and dealing with any troublemakers. He was already eying the Zukoni trio with suspicion.

“You're Pearson's sister, aren't you?” Marie asked, her guard still up. Renee nodded and Marie continued, “Then I don't suppose you have anything to do with Troy's issues with the council?”

“Uh...” Renee leaned back, already a bit intimidated by Marie's presence. “It's a long story. Molly just has, uh... problems with Troy.”

“Such as?” Marie rubbed shoulders with him. “He seems pretty harmless to me.”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Troy said, defiantly.

“Yeah, it's... complicated,” Renee added.

Marie gave up and sat back, wrapping an arm around Troy's and clutching it. Neither she nor Troy took their eyes off Renee. Renee sat forward, well aware of the stares.

A snicker from Kurt broke the tension. He smiled and said, “I don't know, Renee, being a third party to dumb high school drama is kinda fun!”

She didn't respond. She wanted to pretend that he was exaggerating, but she did feel uncomfortable with Marie alongside Troy. It seemed so sudden for him to rebound and obtain a new girlfriend, especially a girl Renee knew nothing about. Marie's presence also prevented any MST-related discussion, which was the only tangible connection Renee had with Troy and Kurt. Yet, with Kurt and Troy accustomed to Marie, Renee was stuck feeling like the outsider. This was a rarity among her many social groups, and it bothered her far more than she could appropriately let on.

Desperate to work her way back in, and hoping to fool Marie into thinking Renee was friends with both boys, Renee turned to Kurt and asked Generic Icebreaker #5: “So what have you been up to?”

“Not much,” Kurt said with a bit of a grumble. For such an innocent question, he seemed pretty unhappy explaining his answer. “I haven't really been doing anything in the motor club. The car we were working on was toasted in the fire. I'd start a new restoration, but there's no way we'd get it done before I graduate.”

“That's right, you're a senior,” Renee said, immediately seizing the opportunity to change the subject. “What are you doing after school, anyway?”

Kurt stared at her unhappily. He wasn't one to lose his temper, and his face could never portray ire and hatred as well as Molly's, but Renee could see that he found her questions anything but gentle.

“Going into the family business,” he replied, with enough strain in his voice to suggest an alternate meaning. Renee picked up on that and winced; she quickly imagined that with two parents in the MST, Kurt's post-secondary life was likely to be far more other-worldly than a typical student's.

“What's that?” Unfortunately, Marie wanted elaboration.

Kurt tongue's stumbled about for a few moments before finally spouting something about cars- either repairing them, selling them, building them, or a combination thereof. He had no intention of becoming a professional motorhead, but as it was his primary hobby he figured it was 'in character' and something Marie would buy.

The other advantage- Marie had no further interest in the subject. In fact, she excused herself to use the facilities.

“Troy, should I get you something from the concession stand?” she asked. Kurt's clumsy cover story had left Troy unsettled as well. He managed a smile and politely declined.

Once Marie was away, Renee started to ask Troy, “So how long have you two-” “You should know better than to ask stuff like that, Renee,” Kurt blurted, trying to both manage his temper and keep from raising his voice to where anyone around him would start paying attention.

Renee bit her lip. “Sorry. I wasn't thinking for a moment.” She glanced at Troy, but couldn't read his expression. “Guess the family business is the MST?”

“You're becoming a guardian, right?” Yuki asked, determined to force herself back into the picture.

“Yeah,” Kurt said, still not quite comfortable about the topic. “Of course, it would be nice if they'd tell me who my recruits are and where I'm going.”

Yuki furrowed her eyebrows. “They haven't told you yet?” Kurt shook his head. “You'd better ask Mr. Marlowe next term because I always thought recruits were picked years in advance.”

“Ya,” Kurt replied, forcing a smile. “But I'm sure it's no big deal. It's possible they haven't decided yet. They tend to stick guardians close to home, but Molly's got dibs on you guys. And last I heard, they were pretty well covered back in Milwaukee.”

“Freelance Guardian... sweet!” Renee said.

That seemed to cheer Kurt up, or at least he played along. Troy meanwhile was still a bit flummoxed at the notion of Kurt having his own problems, particularly ones related to the MST. Still, they seemed fairly minor, so Troy wouldn't dwell on it, unless it helped him keep his mind off the whole Renee/Marie thing.

Marie, meanwhile, paused to watch the conversation from afar. She saw nothing suspicious, but she couldn't help but distrust Renee. With Troy's reputation for mediocrity and problems with the council, what connection could he possibly have to the council president's sickeningly popular sister?

She noticed Claude a few yards away, keeping one eye on spectators as they filed in and a second trained on the three conspicuous men across the gym floor. Marie was tempted, just for a moment, to tell him that Troy and Renee were sitting together. She scolded herself mentally just for considering it. That would only lead to Troy getting into trouble, and she knew the worst move she could make was to do anything catty, bitchy, or worse- Molly-ish.

 

Session Five

When Marie returned from the little girls' room, she saw that while Claude had paced around and changed positions, he was still keeping an eye on those three. She couldn't blame him; their dress, mannerisms and physique suggested trouble. Apparently Marie was staring at them for too long, as the man in the red suit winked back and licked his lips. That was more than enough to get her to move on.

As she passed Claude, she whispered to him, “Hey, those three over there look-”

“I'm well aware of those three over there,” Claude replied, both terse and tense. “I don't know why they're here, but I'll make sure they behave. It'll be fine.”

Marie smiled and snickered; leave it to Claude to treat a couple potential delinquents like a hostage crisis. She returned to her seat and again retired any possible talk about the MST among the group. Renee sat forward and watched the game without saying too much to Troy. Still, Marie, almost unconsciously, sat just a little closer to him than she normally would.

Her presence was not only felt by her companions, but also the would-be troublemakers. “Did you see the way she looked at me? I had to show her I cared,” Red said, amused with himself.

Green was not as cheerful. “Well, stop it. If we're going to do this right, we need to let it simmer.” He leaned forward, staring menacingly at their targets across the gym. “Bring things to a boil... let them stew in their own juices...”

“Uh... I think you're crossing up your cooking techniques,” Red said.

“Well, now I'm hungry,” Yellow declared. He stood up suddenly. “I'm getting popcorn.” He shoved his way down two rows of bleachers to the floor, irritating six people along the way.

“So how do we stir the pot?” Red said, adding, “Damn, now you got me doing it!”

Before Green could be exposed for not having an actual plan for this phase, the pregame buzzer sounded. The arena hushed and the announcer went through the usual introductions, unsettling everybody with his awkward attempt at sounding like a professional PA guy with a stirring baritone.

“L. B. Gould High School promotes good sportsmanship among players, coaches and spectators. Racist and sexist comments will not be tolerated and are grounds for dismissal from the gymnasium,” he said, obviously reading off a sheet.

Red and Green smiled knowingly at each other. Nothing like a solution that descended from the rafters.

“So... do you want to be racist or sexist?” Green asked.

“Racist is more up that Hokoni's alley. Sexist will do fine,” Red answered.

“Not until later though. Can't have them try to throw us out too early.”

Yellow returned, almost disrupting the game by walking on the court on his way in. The other two didn't explain the plan, fearing Yellow would be stupid enough to start the heckling right away. Instead, they spent the first half staring down Kathryn, Troy, Kurt, and anybody else they wanted to make uncomfortable. They exempted Claude, who checked up on them less and less as the game went on.

They didn't designate a set start time. Instead, it came to them naturally. Early in the second half, Kamila swiped the ball from one of the opposing players. Rather than try to snatch it herself, she batted it down the court to Kathryn, who caught it and dribbled it unopposed for an easy fast break. The exchange was a highlight reel play, representative of the chemistry Kathryn and Kamila had formed. The crowd started to roar and Kathryn jogged in to make an easy lay-up and increase her team's lead.

And, rising to their feet, the Zukoni trio couldn't resist. All three shouted, “DUNK IT!”

Kathryn didn't. As athletic as she was, Kathryn couldn't. She still made the lay-up, the crowd still exploded and the score still went up. Yet while she was leaping to make the play, she flinched. Just for a moment, and hardly enough to prevent her from following through, but she had heard them. Perhaps it was the sudden entry of three large men with resonant, distinctive and bragging voices cutting through the din, but they bothered her.

As she ran back up the court to play defense, she heard them again. “Why didn't you dunk it?!” cried one. A second added, “What's the matter? Too pussy?!” Kathryn grunted it off, channeled her anger into her defense, and committed a foul on the next play.

Thus began the verbal onslaught. The three demons unleashed a fury of hate, most of it targeting Kathryn alone. They managed not only sexist comments, but critiques on her height, weight, muscular structure, chest size, and failure to follow up one jump shot. Red, on a tremendous roll, somehow managed four minutes of material based solely on her uniform number.

Kathryn did her best to brush it off. She was an experienced athlete after all and often had to put up with similar, though less vile, heckling at away games. Overall, she kept her focus and played well enough, more aggressively even.

Late in the game, a bounce pass heading her way misfired and seemed destined for the seats. Kathryn would have none of that and dove after it. She wrapped a hand around it and flung it back in bounds. The ball ricocheted hard off an opposing player's shins and went back out.

While the crowd went nuts for such a wonderful (and sinister) move, Kathryn found herself right in Yellow's lap. Before she realized who it was, he said, “Now that's a good position for you.” Resisting the urge to slap him, she jumped to her feet. For good measure, Red made sure to pinch her butt as she returned to the court.

“We got to come to games more often,” Green said, amused with his colleagues.

“No you don't!” An angry shout came from Claude, who witnessed the whole thing. While the game continued, Claude stared the three down himself. The surrounding spectators, all plenty annoyed at the trio's antics, gave him room.

“I'm going to have to ask you three to leave,” Claude demanded, although it sounded much less forceful coming from a mere underling like him.

Yellow snickered. “You and what army? Or are you going to drag us out yourself?”

Claude folded his arms. “Fine. We can do this your way. Excuse me.” He exited and and pressed two buttons on his cell phone.

Half a mile away, Molly Pearson was in her bedroom, doing her regular evening trigger practice, when her phone rang. As she was already practicing her triggers, she had no trouble using one for real to draw the phone from the desk into her fingers. “What?” she spat with her usual pleasant demeanor.

“We have a couple ruffians at the game,” Claude explained. “They keep pestering the players and angering the rest of the room, yet they refuse to leave under my orders. Permission to use the ops?”

“What do a few idiots at a basketball game have to do with the student council?” Molly asked, annoyed at such an interruption.

“The ops haven't been activated in weeks and could use a live drill. Besides, it would be goodwill for the council.”

“Fine, if it will get you off the phone,” Molly replied. After a few minor details, Molly hung up and made one more call.

Claude returned to the gymnasium and faced down the three once again.

“What now?” Red asked, almost daring Claude to assert himself.

At Molly's remote command, five large high school seniors in full riot gear entered, surrounded the Zukoni and pointed police tasers at them.

“Will this army do?” Claude said.

Following Green's lead, the three stood and left without a fight, trying not to look too humbled on the way. As much as they would have liked to test their mettle against the Student Council's special ops, one of Molly's newly-funded departments, eating tasers and police batons would interfere with their true purpose. Besides, they had gotten what they had come for.

 

Session Six

The rest of the game played itself out with little incident. Kathryn, Kamila and all their Buteo teammates had things well under control. The waning minutes alternated between an organized game of keepaway and a hurried, desperate shot by the losers. L. B. Gould won, the fans were happy and the custodian cut the lights in the gym as a subtle way of saying 'now get the hell out.'

Troy and Marie waited outside the locker room doors for Kathryn and Kamila. Both were totally up for the post-game party, taking it as a sign that they were perhaps ready to gain a rung or two on the social ladder. They did not expect Renee, Kurt and Yuki to be following them.

“Uh... did you guys get invited too?” Troy asked.

“Troy, it's the girls basketball team after hours. If you're the connection that gets me in, so be it,” Kurt answered shamelessly.

“I just wanted to congratulate Kathryn. I'm not staying,” Yuki said.

“I suppose there's going to be alcohol and stuff?” Renee asked.

“Sure hope so,” Kurt answered.

“Then I'll pass. I'm a good girl, I am.”

The door swung open. Kamila walked out first, saw the assemblage and turned back to Kathryn. “Christ, Kat, you got a whole posse!”

Kathryn was also amused at the five friends waiting for her. She raised her eyebrows. “What's all this about?”

“Troy says you're all having a party,” Kurt said, smiling deviously.

“Yeah, but I gotta run home and change first. I suppose you want to come along?”

“Sounds like a good time.” His smile broadened.

So did hers. “Yeah, I know what you're thinking about.”

Kurt shrugged. “What, is it so shocking that a high school senior's trying to get laid?”

Kathryn and Kamila followed the hallway outside. Everyone followed right behind. Continuing the conversation, despite everyone else's silent objections, Kathryn said, “Guess I'm doing the same thing. Always up for some boy-scouting.”

“I'm a boy,” Kurt replied eagerly.

“Keep trying, Kurt.”

“I plan to!”

“I thought you played really well, Kathryn!” Yuki's sudden comment jolted Kathryn.

She tensed up for a moment, then said, “Oh, hey Yuki. Suppose we shouldn't be talking about this with you around.”

“That's why I changed the subject.”

“I'm impressed you were able to ignore those asses in the seats,” Kamila said. “I would have socked 'em if they said anything about me.”

Kathryn didn't like the new subject. “Well... yeah, just gotta ignore all that,” she said, uncomfortable. “At least Claude finally did something right and got rid of them.”

“It was nice to see the council's strike team in action,” Renee concurred. “Good to see our student dues aren't completely going to waste.”

“Does anyone know who those guys were anyway?” Troy asked.

Kathryn shook her head, partially in response and partially because she really wanted to put the taunting behind her. “None of the Huffington players knew them either. They were as pissed as we were.”

“Fraternizing with the enemy, how dare you?” Kamila replied, more as a quip than a scolding.

“That is weird though,” Kurt said. “Who shows up randomly to a game just to insult the players?” He had said it in more of a rhetorical way, with a dash of conspiratorial implication. Troy and Yuki caught his meaning and both felt a twinge of fear. Troy instinctively looked over his shoulder.

Kamila, meanwhile, smelled the air and her face clenched in primal disgust. “They're here,” she whispered. “I can smell them.”

Everyone froze. Nobody else smelled anything peculiar, not that anyone save Kathryn had gotten close enough to recognize the offenders by scent. The only lingering smells were car exhaust and a few traces of cigarette smoke off in the far corner of the parking lot. That, however, was where Kamila directed her stare.

“If they're here, then let's not be. I don't want to deal with those creeps,” Marie said, walking away from the smokers. Troy, Yuki and Renee followed her.

Kamila went straight for them. “Uh uh... I gotta give them a piece of my mind.”

“Wait!” Kathryn shouted, but there was no stopping her. Unable to let her teammate go in alone, Kathryn was obliged to follow.

“Hey, if that's them, I wouldn't go over there,” Kurt said.

“I'm not letting Kamila go alone!”

“Yeah, but three guys and two girls? I don't like the math on that.”

Kathryn turned back and stared at him. “You said you're a guy, right? Prove it.”

That got Kurt into the fray pretty easily.

As for the rest of the group, they had no intention of joining in. Well, at least the right-thinking ones did. Renee followed behind them at a distance, developing a slight grin.

“I wanna see how this plays out!” she said

“Is she insane?” Marie said to Troy, dryly.

Troy sighed. As much as he didn't want to get involved, there were too many friends involved to not be concerned. “I suppose we better keep an eye on them.”

Marie echoed his sigh. Relenting, she said, “I know what Kamila's capable of so... yeah.”

“Yuki, I can't believe I'm saying this but...” Troy turned to the youngster, who looked back up nervously. He was nervous too, but more disgusted at what he was about to ask of her: “You'd better get Claude.”


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