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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“We're an hour early.”
“Ah...” she said before
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
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
“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?”
Sheepish, Marie attempted a formal introduction. “Troy, this is
Kamila. She has the locker next to mine. The one you crashed
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.
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
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,
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.”
“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
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
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
“Yeah... I think tonight
works,” he replied.
stands, all eyes were on Kathryn and Kamila so nobody saw Renee
approach until she said, “Hello! What's up everybody?”
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.
left Kurt to say, “What are you doing here?” Only partially
sarcastic, he added, “Don't you usually sit with the cool kids?”
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.”
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.
yeah, I saw you three up here and thought I'd drop by,” Renee
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.
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
raised her eyebrows. “Oh?” she said, surprised but not
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.
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?”
wasn't just the old girlfriend/new girlfriend issue that
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,
worry,” Renee interrupted. Her smile grew wider, more devious
even. “Molly's not here. And Claude's got his hands full.”
pointed at Claude, who was apparently stuck supervising the
audience and dealing with any troublemakers. He was already
eying the Zukoni trio with suspicion.
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?”
Renee leaned back, already a bit intimidated by Marie's
presence. “It's a long story. Molly just has, uh... problems
as?” Marie rubbed shoulders with him. “He seems pretty harmless
want to talk about it,” Troy said, defiantly.
it's... complicated,” Renee added.
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.
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!”
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?”
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
right, you're a senior,” Renee said, immediately seizing the
opportunity to change the subject. “What are you doing after
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
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.
that?” Unfortunately, Marie wanted elaboration.
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.
other advantage- Marie had no further interest in the subject.
In fact, she excused herself to use the facilities.
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.
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
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?”
becoming a guardian, right?” Yuki asked, determined to force
herself back into the picture.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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-
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.
passed Claude, she whispered to him, “Hey, those three over
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.”
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.
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.
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...”
think you're crossing up your cooking techniques,” Red said.
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.
do we stir the pot?” Red said, adding, “Damn, now you got me
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.
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.
Green smiled knowingly at each other. Nothing like a solution
that descended from the rafters.
do you want to be racist or sexist?” Green asked.
is more up that Hokoni's alley. Sexist will do fine,” Red
until later though. Can't have them try to throw us out too
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.
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
rising to their feet, the Zukoni trio couldn't resist. All three
shouted, “DUNK IT!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
to come to games more often,” Green said, amused with his
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.
going to have to ask you three to leave,” Claude demanded,
although it sounded much less forceful coming from a mere
underling like him.
snickered. “You and what army? Or are you going to drag us out
folded his arms. “Fine. We can do this your way. Excuse me.” He
exited and and pressed two buttons on his cell phone.
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.
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
a few idiots at a basketball game have to do with the student
council?” Molly asked, annoyed at such an interruption.
haven't been activated in weeks and could use a live drill.
Besides, it would be goodwill for the council.”
if it will get you off the phone,” Molly replied. After a few
minor details, Molly hung up and made one more call.
returned to the gymnasium and faced down the three once again.
now?” Red asked, almost daring Claude to assert himself.
Molly's remote command, five large high school seniors in full
riot gear entered, surrounded the Zukoni and pointed police
tasers at them.
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
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
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
“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
Marie echoed his sigh.
Relenting, she said, “I know what Kamila's capable of so...
“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.”