I know I said (lo, these many moons ago) that this story would conclude in Part
7, but I've changed my mind. It will conclude in Part 8 instead. Gomen.
THEN DO THAT OVER: SHE TALKS TO RAINBOWS
'I just want to walk
Right out of this world
'Cause everybody has
A poison heart.'
"This junk had better work, Shanka. Or else..."
Kali left the threat hanging as Shanka cringed under her stare, her
back against the stained alley wall. "It'll work, it'll work," she
blurted. "I got Mr. Davros to help me mix it up, so--"
Kali put the syringe aside and grabbed the smaller Time Lass by
the collar of her uniform blazer. "You did _what_?" she growled.
"Cripes, Shanka, don't tell me you got a smegging teacher
"Easy, easy," Shanka soothed. "I didn't tell him what it was for. I'm
not that dumb. Besides, I kind of don't think he cares what
happens outside his lab."
"He'd better not. Because if he gets us in trouble, I'm taking it out
of _your_ hide." Kali noted with puzzlement the total lack of fear
on the other girl's face. Her expression was less the expected
toadying and more like a sort of... rapture, almost. She gave her
another shake. "And what's with you, anyway? Aren't you
listening to me?"
"Oh, yes... Yes, I am." Shanka sighed contentedly. "It's just that I
get all wobbly inside when you act so commanding." She wriggled
happily against Kali's hands until the redhead shoved her away.
Kali wiped her palms on her skirt. Shanka having such a crush on
her was certainly handy. She could get the little geek to do all
kinds of things for her, everything from doing her homework to
participating in her gang's little 'operations'. But useful or not, it
still made her skin crawl.
The push sent Shanka stumbling into Rhanda, who likewise
shoved her aside, this time toward Vanir, who brought up the
wooden broom handle she was carrying and poked Shanka in the
stomach before she could collide with her. "Keep off me, you
spastic," Vanir grunted.
Shanka stammered a few apologies all around, which were ignored
along with their source.
"And you," Kali said, looking at Rhanda, "You're sure this is the
way she'll come?"
"She might not," the Skyborn girl replied, shrugging. "But this was
the way she was going when I watched her, and people I asked
said she walks past here about every morning. So I think it's a
good bet. If not, we just try again some other time."
"If we can get more of this stuff, that is," Vanir added, holding up
the syringe. "Hey, science geek!" she barked at Shanka. "What
does this stuff do again?"
"It's a sort of adrenalin/endorphin compound. It should help
counter the physical effects of fear and suppress the fight-or-
flight reflex intrinsic in humanoid biochemistry--"
"Courage in a needle, you mean?"
"Not exactly." Shanka grinned a bit shakily under the other girls'
hard stares. "I mean, if your body is telling you to be afraid, you'll
be able to ignore that, but if you're scared _here_--" She tapped
her temple meaningfully. "--it won't do a thing for you. If you're
afraid, you're afraid, but if something is telling your body to _act_
like you're afraid, it shouldn't have any effect."
"_Shouldn't_?" Vanir asked. "You don't _know_?"
"No, I don't," Shanka shot back with just a hint of spine. "I haven't
done anything like this before. But the literature says it should
work, and so does Mr. Davros."
Kali snatched the syringe out of Vanir's hand and jabbed it into her
own arm, thumbing the needle home. "Doesn't matter," she said
around a grimace. "It won't have to work for long." She jerked the
needle out and passed it to Rhanda, then stooped and picked up
the metal rod she'd brought with her. "This won't take long at all."
Neither Kali nor any of her merry band happened to look behind
them, at the low roof overhanging a store's rear loading dock. Had
they done so, they might have realized that their clever secret plot
was none too secret and owed little to cleverness on their part.
"Are you seeing this?" Prak whispered into his cellphone.
<Zoom out a little,> Cain's voice crackled back. All the sheet metal
around Prak was playing hob with the signal, but there was no
better view from anywhere else in the alley.
Prak obediently widened the angle on the digital video camera he
was pointing just over the edge of the roof. "Better?"
<Yeah, that's great. Image on this laptop's just like bein' there,
but without the chance of Kali clawing my other eye out.>
"She'll claw mine out instead, you mean."
<Yep. So don't get caught, Birdman.>
Prak regarded the phone with a sour little half-smirk as the
connection went dead, then slipped it back into his pocket. Exactly
why Cain wanted to 'record the moment for posterity' was quite
beyond Prak. Evidence of involvement was not something a good
operator wanted to have on hand. Plausible deniability was always
the rule, _always_. What possible purpose would an electronic
record of Kali getting herself beaten like a rented mule actually
Cain tilted the laptop computer's little screen to get a better view of
the proceedings as his little knot of flunkies and henchpeople all
craned their necks to catch a glimpse. He cast an evilly cheerful
glance at Babydoll. "You got the stuff for tonight, babe?"
"You bet, Boss," she answered smartly. "Popcorn, nachos, and
something to wet the old whistle, too."
"Wonderful." He clappd his hands and rubbed them together.
"Don't forget, everybody -- party tonight at my place for the first
big-screen viewing of 'Kali's Comeuppance', a comedy in three
<The shadow of evil approaches a delicate flower, but worry not,
for I shall not let the flower fall!>
Nyssaias blinked groggily at the television as she wrestled into
her uniform blouse. Her favorite program was on, but she had all
she could handle just getting into her clothes, much less attention
to spare for 'The Masked Maiden'. Getting dressed for school
today was a less-easy task than it might sound, considering that,
one, she had to get both wings worked through their slits in the
back before she could stick an arm into a sleeve, and two, she'd
hardly slept a wink the night before.
<Curses! It's the Masked Maiden!>
They'd been a disjointed jumble this time rather than the clear and
lucid horrorshow she'd been treated to Friday night. Fragments
and impressions, some already forgotten and all out of order, like
a bad art-house movie. Dark wings. Chains and steel bars. Cruel
eyes glaring in the dark. The stench of dead flesh.
<No one shall touch this innocent blossom while the Masked
Maiden Polylina still stands! Nobody!>
Each time she'd wake up, there would be tears on her pillow.
Best not to think about it just now. She yanked a bit harder on the
blouse, wincing as feathers snagged on the material and were
<Take the girl back to our secret base! The rest of you, get
Polylina! There are fifty of us -- we can take her!>
Nyssaias turned a sleeve right-side-out and managed to get all
her limbs into the blouse. She started lining up buttons by touch
as the evil cannon-fodder on TV felt the wrath of the Masked
<Hohohoho! Throw as many men as you like at me! It shall avail
you not, for I carry within me the Spirit of the Light! The purity of
the Light shall always prevail!>
"Will it, Polylina?" Nyssaias mumbled to the TV. "Somehow, I
suspect you might be talking out of your butt on that one..."
The landlord was sitting out front of the Wild Rose Arms, his chair
a bit further out than usual to catch a bit of the early morning sun.
He squinted into the sky, picking out only the thinnest shreds of
cloud. For whatever reason, the sight cheered him a little,
prompting a whistled snippet of song as he leaned back, hands
clasped behind his head.
Funny thing, that. He'd been in a better mood than usual ever
since that little chippie had come by to visit with the Brat the day
before. Even though he'd _known_ that wouldn't, couldn't end
well, the girl's presence had added at least a temporary brightness
to the place.
And speaking of the Brat, that would be her strolling out the front
door. Wells school uniforms weren't especially dark-colored, but
Embericles always managed to make hers seem so, even with the
sunshine lighting up everything else. All the better reason to have
moved his chair, then, so he'd not have to have _that_ putting the
quietus on what was shaping up to be a pretty decent day for once.
He turned his eyes back to the sky, waiting for her to pass, but
turned back when he didn't hear her footsteps or the beat of those
nasty black wings.
Embericles had stopped on the front steps and was looking at the
rose trellis beside the door, head cocked a little to one side. The
indifferent glare with which she habitually greeted the world
softened just a little as she blinked at the flowers. She leaned a
bit closer, reaching out to touch the petals of the nearest white
Impelled perhaps by the general niceness of the morning, the
landlord broke his long-standing rule of never saying anything to
the Brat that he didn't absolutely have to. "Take one, if ye like,"
he called over. "Or a whole bunch. 'Tis plenty there."
Her reaction, in retrospect, wasn't at all surprising. She jerked her
hand away from the roses as though she's just brushed against a
live wire, her curious expression once again darkening to that scowl
he knew and loathed. With a phlegmy sigh, he turned back to
contemplating the stratosphere, letting her pass him by without
further pause or words.
The Assistant Headmaster's hand froze on his desk lamp as he
looked up from his paperwork, brows drawing up in a puzzled
scowl. The office wasn't at all dark -- bright morning sunrays were
picking out every speck of dancing dust and the overhead
fluorescents had driven of all but the smallest shadows -- so, why
had everything seemed so gloomy there for a second?
Maxil stared out the window, to where the students were beginning
to file through the gate and congregate in their various cliques and
subsets in the yard. His eyes instinctively sought the corners, the
usual spawning-grounds for trouble. There was that prime
troublemaker Cain in his usual spot, attended by his little flock of
followers: that pigtailed Rokossovsky girl; a few hulking Servii boys
from the Wrestling Team; Jubal Jackson, who'd seemed like
such a good lad at first. He blew out a long sigh. That was the
thing about delinquents -- if you let them go too long, their ways
would begin to infect the other students, like cancer cells eating at
a healthy body, killing it from the inside out. And, like any other
cancer, there was always a cause, always some toxic carcinogen at
the root of the sickness.
The girl was poison on legs, and nothing but. It was she that had
weakened the once-healthy body of H. G. Wells High School.
Were it not for her, for the climate of fear and uncertainty she had
brought with her to the school, the faculty would have been able to
rein in the excesses of these new delinquents, just as they'd done
with the Master Brothers.
And, from the look of things, she was about to take an active hand
in these latest troubles. For a few days, Maxil had let himself hope
against his own better judgement that the girl had genuinely
decided to play it straight, but that hadn't lasted long. He'd seen
her himself, taking payment from that insufferable Cain, and the
thought left him cold. With even the teachers too afraid of
Embericles to even speak to her, much less discipline her, Cain's
little criminal enterprise could grow that much more brazen. It was
small consolation, but at least she hadn't allied with that Kali and
_her_ cronies. Cain, at least, put on a facade of working with the
system. Some of the things the student grapevine -- to which the
Assistant Headmaster liked to think he had pretty good access --
had to say about Little Miss Fingernails were pretty chilling. After
Embericles, she was the next evil on Maxil's list. He glanced across
to the corner she and her little band of thug-ettes usually occupied.
It was empty.
Odd, that. Kali and her crew were usually on the grounds bright
and early, undoubtedly the better to pull off their illicit 'business'.
But they were nowhere to be seen this morning. Not Kali. Not that
shifty-eyed Rhanda. Not Vanir or Shanka, who'd been such a good
science student before.
That gloom passed across him again, making him shiver.
Something was wrong, he could feel it in his gut. He'd worked with
young people long enough to pick up an empathy to their crowd-
rhythms, a sense of what the natural flow of student life should be
and when that flow was about to be interrupted. He had that
feeling now, as though a thunderstorm were brewing just beyond
He let his eyes scan the crowd below again, but nothing apart from
a few absences among the usual faces struck him. There was still
quite a bit of time before the bell rang and only about half the
students had arrived. This was normal. And, he told himself, the
fact that some students were not there yet who were usually early
was no cause for disturbance. It was just a minor variation in the
routine, was all. Nothing to act excited about.
He turned back to his paperwork, staring at the columns of
numbers, pen poised. Outlays for Special Programs, plus faculty
expenses for the week, plus--
Maxil flung the pen aside and shoved away from his desk. Dammit,
he hadn't become a successful school administrator by ignoring his
gut feelings! He _knew_ something was about to happen, knew it
in his bones. And this time, he intended to see that the
perpetrators got their just deserts. He was _not_ going to fail his
school or his students, not again.
The cancer had spread far enough. It was now time to start cutting
"It's her! You were right, Rhanda!"
Kali disgustedly grabbed Shanka by the collar and yanked her back
into the alley before she could get too loud. "Right," she grunted,
glaring at her three subordinates. "We do a standard cannon-stall
routine. You two--" She pointed at Rhanda and Vanir. "--are the
cannons. Science geek here is the stall. Everybody ready?"
Vanir thumped the broom handle in her palm. "Ready."
Rhanda sketched a lazy salute with her cricket bat. "Born ready."
Shanka fidgetted. "Er, I don't know about--"
Groaning inwardly, Kali fluttered her lashes at the smaller girl.
"Please?" she asked in a sweet, sultry voice that was the total polar
opposite of her normal tone. "Won't you do this for me, Shanka?
I'd be _ever_ so grateful."
Shanka's eyes glittered with unconditional love, slightly blended
with naked lust. "O-okay, Kali," she sighed. "For you, anything!"
"Good." Kali's voice was back to its usual businesslike bark.
"Then get your butt out there and distract her, already." A one-
handed shove sent Shanka stumbling out onto the walkway beside
the street as Kali and the other two ducked low behind a cluster
of trash cans.
Shanka windmilled to a stop about a half-step from the gutter. She
wiggled happily, still feeling the heat of her sweet Kali's handprint
on her back, then composed herself as much as she she could (not
very much) and turned to face her duty.
Embericles was about fifteen feet away, coming on with her usual
ground-eating stride, eyes flicking disdainfully this way and that,
paying Shanka no more attention than the paper scraps blowing
down the street. Shanka felt a stirring of unease, but it was just her
usual nerves. At school, Embericles's approach almost invariably
triggered a sort of numb fear in her, but the serum she'd injected
seemed to be doing just what it was supposed to. She was
nervous, she was jittery, and she was afraid that someone was
going to beat the crap out of her before the day was over, but she
was still _rational_.
"Um, hi," she squeaked.
Embericles ignored her and was about to walk right on past. She
had to come up with some way to get the girl's attention and keep
it on her for just a moment. But what to do? What to say? This
wasn't really her forte, after all.
She stepped directly in front of the winged girl, who gave her the
sort of look a person usually gives to something they're trying not
to step in. "Hey, uh, Embericles," she stammered. "I was just
wondering..." Think, Shanka! Think! "...wondering..." Come on
and think of something! Something to get her attention! Her
gaze slid automatically down the redhead's body. She rather liked
redheads, especially strong-willed ones with big-- "...wondering
what you look like naked," she blurted.
Peeking out of her hiding place, Vanir put a hand over her eyes and
mumbled, "She _so_ did not say that."
Zero points for 'going there', but as a distraction that line turned
out to be 100% perfect. Embericles stopped in mid-stride, turning
those pitiless blue eyes on Shanka in a look of complete bafflement.
"Do _what_?" she demanded.
"I-I-I-," Shanka stuttered, "I mean, uh..." Well, she'd started it and it
seemed to be working, so she might as well keep at it. "I mean what
I said. I've, uh, been wondering what you look like nude, so I
thought I'd ask if you... had any pictures, or anything. That I could
Embericles caught the sudden shift of Shanka's gaze to something
over her shoulder and was halfway turned when a metal rod about
as big around as a thumb slammed down across her back. The
hollow bones of her right wing snapped under the impact and she
grunted in pain. A cricket bat crashed into her side just below the
ribs, knocking her sprawling into the grimy street.
"That's it!" Kali roared, laughing in triumph. "Teach her a lesson!"
She brought the steel rod down across the crippled wing again,
laying it open.
Strangely, the girl made no sound other than jaw-clenched grunts
as the three girls beat her. No screams, no curses, no begging to
stop. And that only made Kali all the angrier.
"Think you're tough, huh?" she spat. Embericles had struggled
up onto all fours, but a blow on the arm knocked her down again.
"Think you can take us on, huh? Think again, skank!"
Shanka had been standing, wide-eyed as her friends flailed away
at the fallen girl. But now Kali glanced at her and snarled, "Get
over here and put the boot in, science geek," and she obeyed.
She kicked once, a bit hesitantly, hitting her in the shoulder. Then
again, with more force.
Kali showed her teeth in a cannibal's grin. "Good girl. That's how
you do it."
"Yeah," said Shanka, kicking again. "She's not so tough, is she?
I bet I could EEEEEYYAAAAAIIIGHH!!" She stood there frozen,
eyes bugged out in purest horror, then let out another
bloodcurdling shriek as she collapsed to the pavement. Kali and
Rhanda blinked at her in dumb amazement as she curled herself into
a tight fetal ball, whimpering, her eyes rolled back in her head.
Vanir was the one who noticed Embericles's hand wrapped
around Shanka's ankle. She swung her broom handle into the
winged girl's side again, flipping her onto her back, then bent
down and snatched her up by the front of her blouse. "What did
you do to her, freak?" Vanir demanded, shaking her and drawing
back a fist. "I ought to--"
And Embericles, still expressionless, reached up and laid her
fingertips on Vanir's arm.
The Skyborn girl instantly let her go, staggering backwards with a
look of mortal terror on her cruel-lipped face. "No," she whimpered,
then again, louder, then again, until she was screaming the word.
"NO! NO!" She held out a hand as if to ward something off and
began clawing at her eyes with the other. "NO! NO! I don't want
to see it! NOOO!!" And with that she turned and ran, face still
covered, bouncing off walls in her headlong shuddering flight,
all the while still shrieking out frantic pleas to be let alone.
Rhanda took a single glance after her, then at Embericles who was
slowly and painfully regaining her feet, and tossed her cricket bat
aside. "Screw this," she told Kali with a big fake smile. "This
scene's going south, and so am I. Toodles." The next moment, she
was dashing off pell-mell toward the school.
By now people were coming out to look, drawn by the screaming
and commotion. Some shopkeepers, some idlers, and several
students who'd been walking to school. Kali regarded them all
with cool contempt, weighing things out in her mind. On the one
hand, there were lots of witnesses about now, lots of people who
might interfere or make trouble later. But on the other hand, she'd
never again have this good a chance at taking out freak-girl. And
besides, Embericles had just done Kali's gang -- and image -- some
major damage. That wasn't the kind of thing she was inclined to let
wait until later. Especially not when she had a weapon in hand.
Embericles just stood looking at her, face blank, immobile, but her
eyes burning with something wild and cold and deadly. Her broken
wing hung slack and bloody, so there was no chance of the little
tartlet getting away by air. Plus the blows they'd been landing had
obviously taken the edge off the girl, even though she still looked
as ready to rumble as ever. No, better to put this one down while
she had the chance, rather than letting her come back rested, ready,
and looking for payback.
"You're going down, bitch," Kali growled, drawing back her steel
Embericles's answer was an almost inaudible, "Bring it on."
(to be concluded)
'Doctor Who' is property of the BBC.
'Then Do That Over' concept by Paul Gadzikowski.
Opening quote is from 'Poison Heart', by the Ramones.
'The Masked Maiden' is a fictitious television series from the anime 'Galaxy