The Morning Aftermath
Jessica Lienne sat quietly staring at the rhythmic rise and fall of her tall Samoan companion’s chest as he slept peacefully. The man had been persistent, charming, and even while asleep he was courteous enough not to steal the blankets or occupy more than his share of the bed.
The attractive brunette rose silently from the sheets and carefully gathered the pieces of clothing and costume from their discarded places on the floor. She hadn’t meant to let the harmless flirting with the freshman go anywhere, much less carry through so far as it did. She thought back to her own freshman year with a pang of sadness, all the friends she had made that thought they would go through the program together in spite of the odds, her boyfriend that had promised to be there with her all the way through senior year. All gone now, and they didn’t even remember Jessica. Part of the penalty for washing out of the program, the Overton Focus Instructor was called in to cloud out the memories of all the faces and names of your fellow classmates and Instructors. No one that had failed in the HCP would ever be a security risk outside of it. Everyone had signed on the dotted line agreeing to exactly those conditions before they had arrived, but then you watched those closest to you pulled away, and afterwards unable to even recognize you. It wasn’t until that point that you really understood what you had agreed to.
Jessica finally slipped quietly through the door from the bedroom to the common room of the two person dorm, and closed the door softly behind her.
“Rorie is damned persistent isn’t he?” the quiet voice startled the sneaking girl into a spin that nearly sent her costume prop staff sailing into the wall, but the reflexes of someone trained for over a year in such a demanding environment proved up to the task of maintaining a modicum of stealth.
“You were the lazy vampire costume? I didn’t catch your name,” Jessica’s voice was pitched just as low as the dark haired boy’s had been. She smiled to see him lounging in one of the cheap dorm chairs with a bowl of cereal and a nearly silent TV playing awful early morning programming in the background.
“It’s Zach. I don’t believe you offered your name either when we met briefly last night.”
“Jessica,” the girl gave a half curtsy drawing a muted chuckle from the boy, before turning to head towards the exit.
“You really sneaking out at five in the morning? Seriously Jessica, that boy may look all big and scary but he’s a sensitive guy. You gotta break my roommate’s heart?” Jessica stopped again and turned this time to offer a very serious gaze to the younger man.
“How many friends have you lost in this program already?”
“Only two that I was particularly close to. You’re talking about the mind thing right?” She nodded in response. “That shit creeped me out, but we all signed up for it right?”
“Yes, we did. But I didn’t sign up to see all my friends not even know who I am anymore. Or to become a stranger to the man I thought I was in love with. I don’t feel like doing it again.”
“You should at least say goodbye to the poor guy.”
“Every second I spend talking to him is more pain when he goes away too. Or more pain for him if I don’t make it. Why would I want to put either of us through that?”
“What’s your rank?”
Jessica paused for a long moment at the abrupt change of topic, but thinking she saw where Zach was going she decided to play along. “My combat ranking is fourteenth, but I’m not specializing in Combat.”
“So you’ve made it over the top twenty bar that the junior class admits in an area that you don’t specialize in, and you’re worried about washing out? What rank do you think Rorie is?”
“Like you said, he’s a really nice guy. I’d guess he’s somewhere in the twenties.”
“You’d be off by a bit. Initially Rorie was ranked eighth. Now that he’s had some time to practice, he’s moved up to sixth. You still gonna tell me that you can’t trust that one of you won’t be here next year? Give the man a shot. He knew you were way out of his league and he didn’t let that stop him. Don’t prove the man wrong by walking out without saying a word.”
Jessica had trouble believing that the charming, gentle giant in the other room could possibly hold such a rank. But a girl as attractive as she was had long ago learned to tell when men were lying to her, and all of her senses were telling the girl that Zach was telling the truth. Turning slowly she saw that the two roommates had a whiteboard on the inside of their door with a ‘Chores’ list. As was pretty standard for a pair of guys living together, the extent of the listed chores currently was ‘Clean.’ Walking again to the door and ignoring the defeated sounding sigh from the brown haired boy with his cereal, Jessica grabbed the marker off the top of the board, and carefully wrote her message before taking her leave.
Zach stood as soon as the hallway door had swung fully closed and strode over to examine what the girl had written. The chores list had been obliterated he noted as his expression became a wide grin. There was a phone number followed by two words scrawled on the whiteboard.
Teresa felt herself swimming slowly back towards consciousness as a pounding ache in her head demanded her attention, and as awareness returned several more aches made themselves known to her as well. The hispanic woman opened her eyes and immediately regretted the decision as they quickly snapped shut again. She had somehow ended up half on the couch, mostly upside down, and positioned to be staring directly into the rising sun through the common room’s only window.
Carefully pulling herself into a new position, Teresa attempted the opening of the eyes for a second time, and surveyed her surrounding. She couldn’t believe that she was waking up alone on her own couch after going all out the previous night. She’d been a walking advertisement for a girl in search of a good time, and in spite of all the flirting, no one had attempted to close the deal. Dammit, boys are supposed to be easy.
Dragging herself in the direction of the upstairs shower she discovered that it was already in use, and a careful attempt to listen in revealed that it was currently a double occupancy affair. Apparently Lisa had not been so luckless as her roommate. Needing to feel clean Teresa hauled herself downstairs, though she paused in the kitchen to down a couple of aspirin and a very tall glass of cold water, which caused the hammering inside her skull to recede to a duller throbbing sensation. As the somewhat bedraggled woman arrived in the lower hallway she noticed quickly that both downstairs bedrooms were open and unoccupied, as was the downstairs bathroom. Either Susan and Kaori were ridiculously early risers, they’d passed out at the party, or…
Or I’m the only person in this house that didn’t get any last night. God dammit.
Amelia found herself in an unexpected place for an early Saturday morning. Seated in Coach Rachd’s office while the muscular instructor glared at her with a slightly greater intensity than he usually managed in class. The tall girl sat calmly in the chair, still wearing the remains of her makeshift mummy costume from the night before, waiting for the man to speak. He’d been the one to demand her presence after all.
“Jacobson, what the hell do you think you were doing in my gym last night?”
“Training? Is THAT what you kids are calling it now?” Amelia allowed a little more hostility of her own to creep into her expression at the Coach’s insinuation. “And what kind of ‘training’ were you doing exactly?”
“I was lifting weights and practicing flexibility exercises. Then after that I was learning to box,” the annoyance was still present in the girl’s expression, but Amelia showed not even a hint of embarrassment or any other emotion except her normal quiet confidence at the Coach’s continued questions.
“And it was Carerra that was teaching you how to box?”
Rachd’s eyes narrowed and he smiled slightly as he asked his next question, “And how exactly is it that Carerra ended up with a broken hip as a result of teaching you to box?”
“There was a minor accident towards the end.”
“Ramón decided to end the exercise by grabbing my ass. I was a bit startled and shoved him a little. He didn’t do too much damage when he hit the wall though, and I helped him get to the infirmary afterwards.” James Rachd looked a bit stunned at the ending to Amelia’s story. It was quite obviously not what he had expected to hear had been happening in his gym after the traditionally wild Halloween party.
“So you didn’t have any interest in accepting Carerra’s proposition in my gym, and it was your refusal that resulted in a new crack in one of my walls and a broken hip on one of my students?”
“I don’t think that’s what I said Coach Rachd. I never said anything about not being interested, I was just startled,” Amelia smiled at the taller muscular man as his expression softened a bit in surprise before she continued. “I think he’s taking me out to dinner tonight actually.”
The ringing cell phone drew first a quiet giggle, escalating into a deep hearty laugh that was partially cut off as it was smothered by a pillow. The Dr Who theme continued for almost a full repetition before the muscular young man finally found his pants half under the bed and pulled them out to retrieve the device, attempting to ignore the now partially stifled laughter from behind him.
“It is way to damned early in the morning for this… Huh?” Collin’s complaint to whomever his 6am caller was cut off and he began listening intently, before sighing. “Yes I will.” More waiting, and Tasha pulled herself upright to examine the young man that she had literally carried off the previous night. His posture had become tense and his tone suddenly very alert and serious.
After another long wait she watched Collin deflate a bit as he blew out a long exasperated sigh before speaking into the phone again. “This is the part where I say ‘I told you so’ like fifty times while doing the dance isn’t it? No, I really do get to fucking say it because you want ME to help.” Tasha continued to watch whatever was unfolding in front of her with rapt interest.
“Where’s your wallet? Cause I’m not paying your damned fine, you can put that on your own credit card. Yea, your parents will probably see the bill before you can do anything about it, how the hell is that my problem? Hold on.” Collin lowered the phone and turned to the giant black woman who’s bed he currently occupied. “Ben got his ass arrested last night. Apparently I have to go save the day.” This drew another round of giggles from the woman as Collin turned back to his phone.
“Who’s what? Oh, that’s proof that my plan for the evening worked out WAY better than yours did. Unless you made a new friend while you were waiting in lockup overnight?” Collin stopped talking into the phone again as Tasha pulled herself off the bed to stand in his line of sight and give him a look that he remembered very well from the previous evening’s adventures.
“Look Ben, it turns out that I’m not going to be able to get down there for at least a couple hours. No, I really don’t care what you think about it. Because it looks like she’s not done with me yet. Bye Ben.”
Tara made her way groggily into the common room of her shared townhouse and then into the kitchen, desperately seeking the coffee maker and its blessed sustenance. She let out a startled yelp when she arrived to see Gretchen already slumped over the counter, staring blankly at the machine Tara had been seeking herself. Tara smiled happily as she heard the machine begin its wonderful percolations just as she was wondering if her roommate had been too hungover to remember the intricate workings of the machine this morning.
“Morning Tara,” the redhead was a bit surprised that Gretchen was aware of her presence. She had not reacted to Tara’s arrival for several long seconds.
“Hi Gretchen, did you, uh, get lucky?” Tara was entirely unsure how to broach this subject with roommates, and took a shot at the direct approach. Gretchen chuckled softly.
“Not exactly what I was looking for last night Tara. I just wanted to unwind and get my drink on. I may have gotten a little bit too much on, but it was a good night. How about you? Mad-chemistry got any awesome sex-potions to try out?”
Tara felt her blush creep across almost her entire body and she knew her face had to be redder than her hair as she shook her head frantically and Gretchen’s quiet chuckles graduated into a resonant belly laugh at the smaller girl’s discomfiture.
Well, I wouldn’t worry too much. There’s a lot more to college than hooking up with random hot guys, although I’d be careful not to tell that to our roommates.”
Tara’s blush still persisted, but her embarrassment had lessened to a degree where she could at least speak again. “Why’s that? I don’t even think I saw Iris at the party. Wilma left with one of the older students though.”
Gretchen smirked at the smaller girl as the light on the coffee marker finally indicated the reservoir had filled sufficiently to get her the first cup. As the cheap off white mug filled with the wonderful brown liquid, she responded to Tara. “Wilma did leave with one of the sophomores. Then she came back to the party after about two hours only she didn’t bother wearing the costume tabard the second time.” Tara’s blush reasserted itself as she realized that would have left the buxom hispanic girl wearing little more than a corset and ultra tight side-lacing pants with some toy props. “The second time she left I believe it was with Roger.” At Tara’s lack of recognition she added, “the tall black guy that does fire?”
“Wilma had two guys last night?” Tara’s tone was completely disbelieving and she remained almost completely red along as much of her skin as the taller girl could observe.
“And I’m not completely sure, but I think Iris might have actually left with two guys at the same time.” Gretchen laughed again as she thought her smaller roommate was actually going to pass out at that revelation.
“Yea, but you know it doesn’t really count unless everyone’s involved at the same time. I only slept with Ron.” Both girls jumped a bit as the speedster strolled into the kitchen, collected a cup of coffee, and made her way back to the common area. “Also I picked up doughnuts!”
Tara finally managed to get herself sufficiently under control that she made her own withdrawal from the coffee maker, before slowly heading in the direction of promised baked goods.
Gretchen scowled a bit in the shorter blonde’s direction before following. “It is entirely unfair that you don’t have even the slightest hangover after last night Iris.”
Erin and Ty remained at their vantage point at the corner of the stairs looking into the common area at the strange sight before them. Sitting partially dressed on the couch, staring blankly at the wall above the turned off TV sat their roommate, Scott. On Scott’s face was the most exaggeratedly blissful smile either could remember seeing anywhere before. Possibly the most ecstatic look ever worn be a human being was currently occupying their living area. And it was being worn at seven in the morning by a young man who was rather more famous for cursing the Lord for making mornings happen that early at all, which was nothing compared to the state the duo expected their friend to be in on an occasion when he was up so early on a WEEKEND.
“What the hell is wrong with him? Do you think someone slipped him something after you carried me home?” Ty was more than a little creeped out by the unchanging, unblinking, euphoric expression on his shorter friend’s face.
“Maybe one of the upper classmen has a really weird ability that makes you super happy?” Erin could only think of one other possibility, and honestly with Scott it was a possibility that was difficult to contemplate.
“Why are we staring at Scott and whispering?” the pair of skulking roommates nearly fell forward in surprise as Amelia had somehow come up behind them with complete noiselessness.
“God dammit Ames, how did you get in without us hearing you?”
“Someone didn’t latch the door when they came in. Also that’s not an answer to my question.” Amelia was whispering quite a bit louder than Ty or Erin, but Scott still seemed completely oblivious to his surroundings.
“We’re trying to figure out what happened to Scott.” Ty answered after a long pause. “He does not normally look like that. Hell, he rarely looks like anything other than ‘unconscious’ before 10am at the earliest. You remember how much he bitched about having to be up so early for the combat rankings.”
“I’m guessing we could just ask Cat.” Both Erin and Ty turned genuinely confused looks at the taller girl with that suggestion.
“Ames, Cat is all the way over in the dorms. I doubt she’s picking up much of whatever’s going through happy-zombie Scott’s head right now.” Ty nodded with Erin’s statement in agreement, but Amelia just shook her head as she grinned.
“If Cat was in her dorm, I doubt that her Jester’s cap would have been sitting in the bushes outside our front door.” Ames held up the hat in question from where it had been concealed behind her as she stood on the stairs. Ty and Erin turned to look at each other with dawning comprehension, that was further confirmed as all three heard soft laughter that seemed to be coming from more or less inside their own heads.
“I’m sorry for laughing, but you two were hilarious hiding there and watching Scott like he’s contracted some terrible disease. I might have come out sooner but I’m just finishing up with the shower now.” Cat’s mental voice reached each of the three on the stairs, and Amelia finally pushed her way past the other two and over to one of the worn comfortable chairs in the common room.
“Morning Ames,” Scott’s expression barely flickered as he acknowledged the arrival of his roommate, who quickly claimed the remote from it’s place on the coffee table and turned on the morning cartoons.
Ty and Erin finally made their way fully into the common room and found seats of their own, still staring at Scott.
“You guys don’t have to act THAT surprised. It’s not like this is my first time or anything.” Scott couldn’t even manage to interject any annoyance into his tone as he addressed his two long time friends.
“Scott, last time you got laid you were literally singing and dancing when Ty and I came over to visit the next day. And two weeks later we thought you were going to kill yourself when the bitch dumped you and you swore off all women forever. So yes, little bit surprised.”
“You seriously thought I was really going to swear off all women forever? I was seventeen Erin. Forever was like, two months, tops.”
“Personally I figured you’d be out here thanking your Lord,” Ames response finally drew a change in Scott’s expression, slight puzzlement, and a burst of laughter from Ty and Erin.
“Ames, you’ve been living with Scott for weeks now. You should know better than that,” the telepathic voice this time was accompanied by the arrival of the auburn haired Latina, freshly showered and wearing some clothing apparently stolen from Scott’s wardrobe that, considering the notable difference in their heights, fit far better than it should have. “How often does Scott thank the Lord for anything? Maybe one time in twenty that something goes right. No, Scott has more of a hate-on for God than love for Jesus. He likes to have someone to complain at when things are going wrong that can presumably fix them.” Ty and Erin nodded enthusiastically in agreement with the telepath’s statement, and Scott looked as if he would object for a moment, then simply shrugged and leaned slightly over to rest against Catalina’s shoulder.
“So Cat, why Scott?” Erin’s question finally managed to draw a genuine glare from the blissed out male, though it still proved unsustainable as his expression reverted back to the goofy grin quickly.
“Because he’s actually very sweet, and having lived with my family of giants all my life, I was not aware that they MADE real men in this size!” Scott briefly managed a hurt expression in Catalina’s direction.
“Why does everyone have to constantly point out that I’m short? Or that I’m not all crazy buff? Or how my power is super short ranged.”
“Don’t worry sweetie. Most guys would kill to have your eight inches.”
“My power works out to eight and a HALF inches thank you very much.” Scott huffed a bit this time and Catalina laughed and hugged him to her chest.
“Not the eight inches I was referring to Scott.” The hispanic girl blushed lightly with that declaration, but nowhere near as deep a blush as everyone else in the room managed at that bit of information, save one.
“I think I missed that one,” Amelia’s tone sounded simply curious as she spoke.
Erin considered taking pity on her tallest roommate, but before she could being an explanation Amelia’s expression suddenly progressed through several rapid states before settling on a pretty equal blush to the rest of the room. “Alright, thank you Cat. I now know exactly how much information is more than I wanted to know about my roommates.” Amelia paused, and then shook her head briefly. “Aw man, does this mean I was the only one in this house that didn’t get any last night?”
“What? No, Ty and Erin didn’t have anyone to go home with either Ames.” Scott failed to notice that Ty and Erin were now blushing much more deeply than they had been a moment ago, as Amelia and Catalina leveled incredulous looks at the shortest occupant of the room.
“He really doesn’t know Ames.”
Amelia looked over to see Ty and Erin offer a shrug and a resigned look respectively before she spoke again. “Scott, Ty and Erin have been sleeping together pretty much every night since we moved in. How the hell have you not noticed this?”
Scott just turned to stare at his two friends with his mouth agape, noting for the first time that as the pair sat in neighboring chairs their hands were casually intertwined as they offered nearly matching apologetic smiles.
“When the hell did THAT happen Ty?”
“Well, you remember when you told me that if I wanted to get into the HCP I should see if Erin would train me?”
“Ty, that was a little over two years ago.”
“What can we say Scott,” it was Erin that responded this time, a great deal of humor evident in her voice. “You aren’t exactly the most observant person in the world.”
“But why didn’t you guys tell me? I’m your friend right?”
“We didn’t get too serious until just before the hellbitch broke your heart. After that we figured you didn’t want to hear about us getting all lovey-dovey and since then, well, it just kinda was fun that you didn’t notice.” Ty chuckled at this friend’s still disbelieving expression.
“It’s not like we were being secretive or anything. Hell, ask your mom!” Erin’s remark drew a great deal of additional laughter from the assembled teenagers. Scott’s eyes looked about ready to burst out of his skill in shock.
“My MOM knows?”
Dane Samson strode out of the Smith County Jail under the watchful glare of several corrections officers. The lanky white man in the grey hoodie quickly boarded the waiting public bus to ride away from his incarceration. Dane felt bad about throwing Jim to the wolves like that, but he was gonna testify against the man who’d actually tasered the tiny hispanic chick in front of all those people, and he was going to get off with a misdemeanor charge in exchange.
Looking around the bus Dane began to notice that a lot of people were glaring at him. He also noted that nearly everyone glaring at him was hispanic, young, male, and looked a lot scarier than he himself did. As the bus pulled up to a stop in downtown Tyler the increasingly frightened man waited a moment, then catapulted himself off quickly, attempting to evade the group of men that seemed to be obviously waiting for him. He let out a sigh of relief as he realized that no one seemed to have followed him.
Looking around to get his bearing he decided to head in the direction of a nearby coffee shop, but he didn’t make it quite halfway there when heavy hands grabbed him from behind and pulled him into an alley too quickly for the startled man to even scream.
Dane found himself surrounded by a far more frightening group of Mexicans than those on the bus. Gang tats were evident on nearly every exposed arm of the group of six men surrounding him. All six also wore bandanas masking the lower halves of their faces and sunglasses covering their eyes. Somewhat surreally he noted that the man standing farthest in the back seemed to be recording him on a camera phone nearly identical to the one he himself had carried.
“So you and your buddy think it’s fun to fuck up tiny little Latina Chicas?” Dane shook his head violently at the implication.
“No one was supposed to get hurt man, there was a guy online who was paying for people to mess with the kids at Overton, it was just…”
Unfortunately for Dane, it didn’t appear than anyone in this group was at all interested in hearing his reasons. Fortunately they were actually quite practiced at beating a man savagely without killing him, so when he was dumped, broken and bleeding, back onto the sidewalk where passerby could see him, he only WISHED he was dying.
“Hello Kathryn, what can I do for you on this fine morning?” Janette Riley’s voice held no trace of any emotion save sincerity and friendliness. Her smile conveyed a slightly different spirit, where fortunately the highly perceptive woman on the other end of the phone would be unable to observe it.
“Janette, there is a truly fascinating piece of news on right now. I was hoping you might have some free time to discuss it. Channel eleven if you aren’t already watching it.” Kathryn Jilles’ tone managed to be polite, though she was not quite as practiced as the other woman at completely removing unwanted emotions from her voice.
The attractive middle-aged blonde dutifully turned on the TV, although considering she had recently become the owner of this particular local network it really wasn’t a required step. “Ah yes, it is a very graphic story I must say.”
“Janette please don’t make me drive out there this early on a Saturday to learn the truth from you. I really would rather have some nice, quiet time. Did you have anything to do with that?”
“Kathryn, I will freely admit that I am a somewhat vindictive woman, however you will note that this attack was violent and very public. Would you say that this is at all my style?”
“It’s a bit of a coincidence don’t you agree?” Kathryn’s tone showed definite strains of exasperation now. “I can appreciate the sentiment in sending a message to try and prevent anyone else from being lured in by stupidity and greed, but between the shape that the last two ended up in custody in and the fact that we’ve tracked down where the posts were originating, this might be overkill Janette.”
“Was it more nonsense tracing back to Humanity Forever?” Janette’s tone held genuine curiosity. Whoever had set up the anonymous server to host the pictures and instructions for anyone willing to commit assault for five thousand dollars had been quite a bit more technically adept than those that set up the initial ‘attacks’ through the local media organization.
“No, it actually traced back to a completely defunct ultra-radical anti Super militia group in, believe it or not, Canada.”
“They’re definitely defunct?”
“A few months ago they finally stepped over the line of spewing verbal abuse and hatred at anyone who would listen to them for half a minute. They burned down a special education center for Powered children near Winnipeg. Apparently the RCMP and a couple of the Canadian Heroes took serious offense to a group murdering two dozen children and their teacher and sending a video to the CBC bragging about it. Most of them didn’t manage to surrender quickly enough to be arrested from what I read.”
Janette paused for a few seconds to compose herself. She wasn’t sure how she’d missed news like that but it was a truly awful event to contemplate. “Are we guessing that whoever set up these sites didn’t know about the group not existing anymore or doesn’t care that the dead end makes no sense.”
“We’re leaning towards not caring, and they’re more thorough than the news network attack in that there’s a similar site that went up targeting Sizemore and another for Korman. All three are offline now. Overton is the only one that did any active recruiting for people to cause mayhem though.”
“Probably not a coincidence.”
“No, probably not. I don’t suppose you’ve finished talking around the issue and would like to give me a straight answer as to your involvement with this local news incident?” Janette smiled again. She really hadn’t expected the Overton HCP Dean to be thrown off topic so easily and the woman had not disappointed.
“I’ll be sure to give your regards to Riley, Kathryn.”
There was a long pause then slowly building laughter from the other end of the phone. “You were right Janette, it definitely wasn’t your style. Please do give my regards to your husband and be sure to let him know that I will call him if I need ANYTHING.”
“It was lovely chatting with you Kathryn.” Janette decided to watch the complete news segment after hanging up the phone. She remembered the expression on her husband’s face when he had returned from meeting with the county DA to try and block the plea agreement that would see one of the two men responsible for multiple assaults on his students walking free in a matter of days. She sighed. She really did need to keep her husband reigned in a little better, but this time, remembering the recording she’d seen of the tiny girl struck, convulsing, and then collapsing, she found that she couldn’t bring herself to fault the man.