Roger Master spluttered, wiped his face, and looked up, ready to order his Ogron posse to pummel whomever _dared_ to shove a mouthful of tentacles in his face -
Only to find no-one there.
Some of the other students glanced cautiously over in his direction - and when they saw who was involved, glanced just as cautiously away, making sure to keep one eye on the situation.
'Who're you looking for?' a girl's voice said from behind him.
Something told Roger that if he turned around, he was going to get another mouthful of tentacles in the face.
He kept his head positioned firmly forwards as he replied 'That depends. Would you happen to have seen anyone with a mouthful of tentacles hereabouts?'
'Boss?' one of the Ogrons rumbled. 'Who you talking to?'
Roger held a finger to his lips, indicating the Ogrons should remain quiet.
'What if I made it worth your while?' he said out loud.
'That depends. What were you thinking of?'
'What would you like?'
'What would I like...?' The girl hmmmed. 'How about... oh, I don't know, giving someone an atomic wedgie?'
'That can be arranged.'
'Making sure I pass my Physics exam?'
'Getting a date for Saturday night?'
Roger's eyes bugged, but his voice remained calm. 'I would have to see. I believe something could be arranged.
'_However_... I can only arrange _one_ thing for you at the moment. Which would it be?'
The girl hmmmed again. 'I think... I think I'd have to go with...'
'Giving someone a wedgie.'
Roger let out a small breath of relief. 'Very well. It shall be arranged.
'Now... tell me. Have you seen anyone with a mouthful of tentacles?'
Whatever else Roger Master's faults, he wasn't foolish enough to look in the direction the girl had indicated.
He nodded to the Ogrons that they should look instead.
The Ogrons blinked, and stared at him in confusion.
'Um... what Boss want?' one of them said finally.
Roger sighed. 'Would one of you look over there?'
The Ogrons looked at each other, shrugged, and looked.
Unnoticed by anyone else, Roger Master had slipped his hand behind his back, ready for anything that might come from that direction.
Unfortunately, when it_did_ come, he reacted just a little _too_ late.
At their leader's agonised shriek, the Ogrons turned back.
Finally, one of them said 'Why Boss have pants pulled up over head? Look uncomfortable.'
Someone lifted Roger's pants off his head.
He found himself looking at two gleaming white eyes and a mass of green tentacles.
With that, she was gone.
Leaving Roger with his pants pulled up over his head, a face covered in tentacular slobber, a sniggering group of Ogrons, and a playground in hysterics.
In the excitement, no-one noticed the girl who'd just arrived outside the school gates.
In appearance, she looked like a modern-day teenage Gorgon, with a mass of snakes where her hair should be. Fortunately, this didn't seem to apply to the rest of her body - her light purple skin was smooth and hairless, whilst her eyes were a deep purple.
She was outfitted in the standard uniform of a second-year at H. G. Wells - a question-mark pullover, matching white jacket and trousers, and a Panama hat placed atop the snakes, which were still hissing in complaint.
'Huh.' she observed to no-one in particular. 'Now, _that_ was certainly interesting.'
She scanned the playground until her gaze alighted on two girls, also in second-year uniforms, giggling to each other near the front doors.
One looked to be human, or close enough - long, dark brown hair, some of which fell in a braid behind her, blue-grey eyes, slim, athletic build.
The other looked like nothing so much as an earthbound bird-girl - her jacket fit snugly over two great wings that ran almost the length of her body. She had grey skin and slitted white eyes, and her dark brown hair followed her spine, disappearing underneath the jacket.
The teenage Gorgon nodded to herself, and headed over to the pair.
The pair looked up as she approached, their eyes widening as they took in her appearance.
'Hi!' she said. 'My name's Kwenella - call me Kwen. And you are...?'
'Um...' the human girl said, once she'd finished her goldfish impression. 'Um... Yeah. I'm Xeffy - Xeffy Allingham' - she indicated the bird girl - 'and this's my twin Ayna.'
'Um... Hi there.' Ayna said shyly.
'Um... listen, I know this must sound like a really stupid question, but, er... you wouldn't happen to be an _actual_ Gorgon, would you?' Xeffy said. 'You know, with the turning to stone and everything...'
Kwen chuckled. 'Nah. Not by a long shot. I'm a N.V.N.'
Xeffy and Ayna blinked. 'Huh?'
'Not-Very-Near Human.' Kwen explained. 'Y'see, where I come from, the humans'd met so many alien species they gave up trying to keep track, so they divided us up into three groups - Near Human, Not-Very-Near Human, and Real Weirdie. Made things a _lot_ easier for them.'
'Um... right,' Ayna said, after trying to puzzle that one out. 'So, um... what's your species call itself?'
'Skanks.' Kwen said.
Her snakes snigger-hissed.
Xeffy and Ayna _looked_ at each other.
'N.V.N sounds good, doesn't it, Ayna?' Xeffy said, in a suspiciously bright tone.
Ayna nodded. 'Uh-huh.'
Kwen looked back and forth between the two of them. 'What about you guys?'
'Us?' Xeffy said. 'We're human.'
'Absolutely.' Ayna said. 'We've... er... got a few quirks in the family tree... um, they're not mutations or anything like that, it's, er, just one of those things...'
'Right...' Kwen said, eyeing them, her snakes still sniggering, before finally jerking her thumb over in Roger Master's general direction. 'Mind telling me what all _that_ was about?'
Xeffy spread her hands. 'Got me. Not like everyone here hasn't _thought_ about it, but-'
'What was _that_?' Kwen asked, as the crowd began pushing past them towards the latest scream. 'And am I going to get an answer?'
'No clue.' Xeffy said. 'It came from the library.'
Ayna gasped. 'Mr. Merlin!'
Finally, Ayna, Kwen and Xeffy managed to push through to the front of the crowd and into the library.
They stopped and _stared_.
It looked like a hurricane had hit the place. The shelves had been toppled to the floor, and books were scattered everywhere - across the shelves, over the reading tables, on the circulation desk.
There was a smoking hole in the library computer, where someone had driven a sharp implement into the hard drive.
Mr. Merlin, the librarian, sat in the middle of the debris, a stunned expression on his face.
'...Mr. Merlin?' Ayna said finally. 'Mr. Merlin, are you okay?'
'...hurricane...' the little old man whispered. '...hurricane, it was a _hurricane_...'
'He's in shock,' Jon Doctor diagnosed. 'Get him to Doctor Holloway's office.'
Benton and Yates started forward.
Ayna frowned. 'Xeffy, do you hear that? Sounds like-'
The hurricane hit.
'...What _hit_ me...?'
'...Will you get _off_ me?'
'_Me?_ Why don't _you_ get off _me?_'
'I'm not lying on you.'
'Then who... okay, whoever you are, get your hand out of there!'
'...I don't think that's a hand...'
Xeffy staggered to her feet, wavering back and forth. '...Ayna?'
Only the support of a reading table stopped Ayna from falling over. 'H... Here, Xeph...'
'...Kwen? Kwen, you okay?'
'...What hit me?' the N.V.N asked, from her position prone against the wall, her snakes hanging limply off her head.
'...A hurricane?' Ayna offered.
'...Oh, one of _those_ things...' Kwen said in a distant voice. 'Happens every day...'
As the other students began picking themselves up from where they'd been thrown, Ayna and Xeffy managed to stumble over to Kwen and help her up.
'...Oooh.' the N.V.N said, rubbing her head. 'Ow, that _hurts!_'
'Tell us about it...' Ayna said fervently. 'Feels like someone's been whacking me with a tenderiser...'
'What's going-' Kwen trailed off. '...Okay. Am I seeing what I _think_ I'm seeing?'
'Well, if what you're seeing's what I think _I'm_ seeing, then... yeah.' Xeffy said.
'Oh good. I was starting to get worried.' Kwen said. 'I just want to make sure... we _are_ seeing the same thing, right?'
'...I don't know.' Ayna said.
'Okay. Er... books and shelves back in place?'
'Everything where it should be?'
'Then... yeah, we're seeing the same thing.' Kwen said, staring at the restored library. She glanced over to where Mr. Merlin had been, to see Jon Doctor getting Benton, Yates, and some of their friends help him over to Dr Holloway's office.
'...What's going _on_ around here?' she said finally
'Quicksilver?' Ayna suggested.
'...Didn't look like him.' Xeffy said.
'I dunno... seems too messy, even for him.' Xeffy said. 'Not the Flashes... 'least, I hope not. ...not most of the speedsters... Red Tornado?'
'Too small...?' Ayna suggested. '...at least, it _felt_ too small...'
'Mmm...' Xeffy frowned.
'...Taz...?' Ayna thought out loud. '...Maybe not, we're all still alive... then again, this _is_ Brightside...'
'...Taz?' Xeffy said. '...Maybe... Could be something new...'
'...Could be...' Ayna said.
'Ahem?' Kwen said, her eye quirking upwards.
'...Sorry, Kwen.' Xeffy said. 'Just thinking about who we know could've done something like this...'
The school bell rang.
The assembled students groaned.
'..._Hera_.' Xeffy muttered. 'Okay... okay, how about we meet up at break, see what we can come up with?'
Several of Kwen's snakes managed a grin, matched by the smile on her face. '...Yeah, why not?' She looked around at the library. 'Hell of a way to start your first day at school, though... and I thought things were going to be quieter here...'
'Quieter?' Ayna said. '_Here?_'
'Come on.' Xeffy told the sceptical Kwen. 'Gotta get to class.'
By the time break rolled around, the news had spread throughout the school.
Roger Master prowled the playground, glaring at anyone who happened to be possessed of tentacles, or who happened to giggle within his hearing, his loyal Ogrons forming a bodyguard of sorts.
The word "tentacle" seemed to be cropping up rather a lot in conversation, though.
Kwen shuddered, her snakes huddling close to her head as Roger's glare focused on her as a potential tentacle-suspect, then moved on to its next victim. '...Yeeow. Remind me never to piss him off.'
'We don't.' Ayna said, shuddering. 'Not if we can help it.'
'...So who _would_?' Kwen said.
'If they had the chance?' Xeffy said. 'Most of us.'
'But who'd piss him off like that and get away with it?'
Ayna frowned. 'And was whoever did it the same person who hit the library?'
'Don't know...' Xeffy said. 'We didn't exactly get a good look at whoever did _that_.'
Kwen frowned. 'What if... well, whoever hit the library and whoever put it back together weren't the same person?'
'...Maybe.' Xeffy said. 'But why hit it in the first place?'
'...They were looking for something?' Ayna said. 'But why smash the computer in?'
'Maybe they wanted to hide something?' Kwen suggested. 'They'd taken something from the library and didn't want anyone to know?'
'Good luck finding out what that was...' Xeffy muttered. 'The only person who might know if anything's missing is Mr. Merlin... Okay. Let's assume whoever hit the library and put it back together were the same person. Now... what about Roger?' She frowned. 'Someone who could get away with snogging him like that... okay, if it was the same person who did both, what did they want? Piss off Roger, then hit the library - okay, that's gonna get you _noticed_.'
'Attention-seeker?' Kwen suggested.
'Could be.' Xeffy said. 'But why put the library back together? Nah, whoever did this wanted _something_... but what?'
'And they either wanted to get noticed...' Kwen said.
'...or didn't care.' Ayna completed.
'...You know, you two are good at this.' Kwen said.
'We've got some experience with stuff like this.' Ayna said, her mouth quirking into what might have been a smile.
'Not that we wanted it, though.' Xeffy added. 'Y'know, this feels kinda like a pilot story: set up a situation, introduce the characters - have a newcomer turn up sort of thing - then have them sort the situation out, and leave things open for future stories.' Her nose wrinkled. 'Well, at least it's not gonna be a teen sitcom. Really not looking forward to being the lead in the "Saved By The Bell" remake, y'know.'
'It could be an...' Ayna grimaced. '...Olsen Twins kind of adventure series.'
Xeffy's face twisted at the mention of the name. 'Ew. I hope not. Being an Olsen Twin isn't exactly up there on my list of priorities...'
The snakes looked at each other in bafflement, while Kwen's expression grew steadily more confused. '...Sorry, you're saying you're _used_ to this?'
Xeffy and Ayna nodded.
'Comes with the territory.' Ayna explained.
Kwen and the snakes raised their eyes. 'Jeez. And I only came here 'cause I thought it was gonna be _quiet_... So what's the shopping like?'
'Great!' Xeffy said. 'You can pick up all sorts of stuff 'round the place - it's just knowing where to look.'
'Uh-huh.' Kwen said. 'Are they good on trade-ins? I mean, if I had, say, a clapped-out cold-fusion reactor, what'm I likely to get for it?'
'Er... dunno.' Xeffy said. 'Less than new, anyway.'
Kwen ahhed. 'High technology as standard, yeah?'
'Uh-huh. ...well, kind of.'
'Yeah, I've got you, I've got you.' Kwen considered. 'Huh. Okay, no problem... and if it's _standard_... yeah, no problem. Got you.'
'What I don't get...' Ayna said. 'Whoever did it, it's like they almost _wanted_ to be found out.'
'Why?' Kwen said.
'Well... when something like this comes up, someone's gonna get stuck into it. We're like that - can't keep our noses out of it.' Xeffy explained. 'We start wondering what's going on - 'specially when it's something _this_ weird.'
Ayna nodded. 'And everyone gets involved trying to find a solution. Well, everyone who's interested.'
Kwen considered that. 'So it's kind of a friendly competition? Who can work it out first?'
'Right.' Kwen rubbed her hands together. 'Let's get started.'
Ayna slipped into the library, and looked around. 'Mr. Merlin?'
Mr. Merlin turned from the shelf he was examining. 'Ayna! Always a pleasure to see you.'
Ayna went pink.
Xeffy followed close behind, Kwen taking up the rear.
'Hello, Xeffy.' Mr. Merlin greeted. 'Who's your friend?'
'...Hi, Mr. Merlin.' Xeffy ummed. 'This's our friend Kwen - she's just started today.'
'Hello, Mr. Merlin.' Kwen said formally.
'A pleasure to meet you, Miss Kwen.' Mr. Merlin said. 'How are you finding school?'
'It's... not what I expected.' Kwen said.
Mr. Merlin chuckled. 'It rarely is. Welcome to the school, and enjoy everything it has to offer.'
'Thank you.' Kwen said.
'I take it you're here about this morning's incident?' Mr. Merlin inquired. 'Most everyone has been.'
Ayna pinked again. 'Well... kind of. We... um... well, wanted to know how you were.'
'How I am?' Mr. Merlin seemed lost in thought for a moment. 'Shaken. A little shaken, but not stirred.' The corners of his mouth crinkled up at the expressions on their faces. 'Yes, I know, I know, but still... some quotes are perfectly fitted for an occasion.'
'You're not... hurt, are you?' Ayna asked.
'Am I hurt?' Mr. Merlin said. 'No. No, I'm not. It was a very _considerate_ whirlwind, all things considered.' He indicated the library computer. 'Although I _have_ had to declare an amnesty on all unreturned books.' He chuckled. 'But I don't think this was about trying to avoid a fine...'
Xeffy closed her mouth.
'What did you think it was about?' Kwen asked curiously.
'What do I think?' Again, the far-away look crossed Mr. Merlin's face. 'Do you know, I'm not sure. That's what I mean when I say it was like a whirlwind - quite apart from it actually _being_ one. If it was centered on anything, it was centered on the library.'
'So... they could've been looking for anything?'
'Or everything.' Mr. Merlin said. 'After all, everything here _is_ open-access...'
'Perhaps whoever did this didn't _want_ something open-access?' Xeffy suggested.
'Perhaps...' Mr. Merlin acknowledged. 'There's no way to tell, of course. But honestly, there are more subtle ways of doing that without drawing such attention to yourself.'
'A distraction?' Xeffy said.
'The question would be, a distraction from what?' Mr. Merlin said. 'I believe the headmaster's already looking into that.'
Ayna frowned. '"Everything"?'
'Hm? Oh, yes. As I said, if it was centered on anything, it was centered on the library - and everything in it. Perhaps not looking for _anything_ - but for _everything_.'
Xeffy boggled. 'Are you saying we're dealing with a literary _whirlwind?_'
'But why a high school library?' Kwen frowned. 'I mean... was this just the first place that came up, or was there a reason?'
'We'd've heard if it'd hit anywhere before today...' Xeffy said. 'So why...'
'Maybe it's new here?' Ayna offered.
Xeffy and Kwen _looked_ at her.
'...Well, not _it_, but whoever it really is.' Ayna said. 'You know what I mean.'
Mr. Merlin chuckled. 'She has a point, you know. The first thing quite a few kids want to do once they first hit the library is go through the place.'
'Okay... but what about the computer?' Kwen said. 'What's that about?'
'Computer rage?' Xeffy offered.
'...But what hit it?' Ayna said. 'I mean, why slice the computer and not anything else?'
'And why not chuck it against the wall with everything else?' Xeffy said.
'Mm.' Kwen said. 'Whoever we're dealing with here, they're definitely _thinking_ - even if it's not in a straight line.'
'New here, likes reading, wants to get back at Roger...' Xeffy raised an eyebrow. 'Doesn't exactly limit the suspects, does it?'
'Also might have tentacles.' Ayna put in.
Mr. Merlin looked up sharply. '_Tentacles?!_'
'Yeah,' Xeffy said. 'Got Roger right in the face.'
'In that case...' Mr. Merlin let out a little sigh. 'In that case, I'm very much afraid I might know who could be responsible.'
'Who?' Ayna said.
'The Grel.' Mr. Merlin said.
'The... oh, _Hades!_' Xeffy swore.
'Excuse me, newbie here.' Kwen said. 'Who are the Grel?'
Mr. Merlin rubbed his hands together. 'Ah. Exposition time. I always like this part... All right. The Grel are a species of squid-headed humanoids from the planet Grellor - and when I say squid-headed, I mean that. Gleaming black eyes, mouth full of tentacles, no hair...
'And they are, one and all, knowledge-seekers. They _live_ for more knowledge, more facts, and they'll do almost anything to get them. Facts that are correct are good, facts that are wrong are bad.
'And to help them get more facts, each and every Grel has their signature weapon, the dataxe - think of it as an axe with built in energy weapon and data monitor,' Mr. Merlin explained to the frankly disbelieving Kwen. 'Implant it in a hard drive - or in someone's brain - and it records all the facts they know. Unfortunately, it leaves a hole in the drive - and the brain.' He grimaced. 'The worst of the bunch take up space piracy, and raid ships for data.
'Fortunately, not all of them are like that. They're perfectly happy to sit down and ask, or read, or study.' He chuckled. 'Some of the best students I've ever seen.'
'...Which is why you think it might be one of them.' Xeffy finished. 'Because this place'd be a treasure house for them.'
'Uh-huh.' Kwen said. 'I notice there wasn't any mention of super-speed in there...'
'That would be because they don't have it.' Mr. Merlin said. 'But it's certainly what one would do if they got it.'
Ayna frowned. 'So why wedgie Roger? Why not whack an axe into his head?'
'Well, quite apart from the fact Nameless already has a higher-than-average murder rate...' Mr. Merlin said, 'the Grel don't have quite the sense of humour for a wedgie. That's why I say could be - even if exposition might suggest otherwise.'
'Like maybe a disguise...' Ayna said meditatively. 'Someone with super-speed...'
'Couldn't be Clark Kent.' Xeffy grumbled. 'You _know_ we'd be all over him...'
'You mean _you'd_ be all over him... Okay, maybe it's a speedster no-one knows - you know, a fan-created speedster or someone.' Ayna said.
'Or someone with one of those "hero-making" devices...' Xeffy said. 'Hope they remember to keep it hidden...'
Off Kwen's look, she explained, 'Well, look at it like this. If some of our resident loonies got super-powers, it'd get even _more_ life-threatening 'round here - if that's possible.'
Ayna's expression was carefully blank.
'You mean like this?' Kwen said.
And where there'd been one Kwen, there were three, standing side-by-side.
'Nice trick, huh?' Kwen-1 said.
Kwen-2 nodded. 'Uh-huh. Okay, so we usually end up arguing over who does the homework...'
'...but hey, at least we've got _someone_ who's going to be honest about our clothes.' Kwen-3 said.
Xeffy's eyes narrowed. '...Okay. You're an anime-sider, right?'
All three Kwens - and their snakes - grinned.
'We're - I'm - from RPG-side.' Kwen-1 explained. '"Teenagers From Outer Space"? Ever heard of it?'
Xeffy and Ayna shook their heads.
'Okay,' Kwen-3 said. 'It's about exactly what it says - teenagers from outer space who come to Earth because it's the centre of teen culture in the Universe.'
Xeffy and Ayna jaw-dropped.
'Where I come from, the Universe didn't _have_ teen culture.' Kwen-2 said. 'Not till they made contact with Earth.'
'Yeah...' Xeffy said, '...but _Earth?!_'
'Is there a problem?' Kwen-3 inquired.
While Xeffy tried to decide which of the many answers to this she could get away with in front of Mr. Merlin without being thrown into detention, Ayna was frowning.
'So could whoever's doing this be from RPG-side?'
'Could be...' Kwen-1 said. 'Doesn't mean I know them - but my sister might. She knows _everyone_. Hold on a moment.' She looked over at Mr. Merlin. 'Want me to take this outside?'
'Please.' the librarian said.
'...Right.' Xeffy said finally, as Kwen-1 popped outside. 'So we know whoever it is has superspeed, probably has tentacles, might like reading, _doesn't_ like Roger, and might be new around here...'
'And might have a dataxe.' Ayna said. 'It'd explain the computer, at any rate...'
'Hmm...' Xeffy said. 'Okay...'
'HEY!' Kwen-1 shouted from outside.
Xeffy, Ayna, and Kwen-2 and 3 looked at each other, then ran outside.
Ayna paused before she left. 'Um... thanks, Mr. Merlin. Hope things settle down.'
'No problem, Ayna.' Mr. Merlin said. 'Come again.'
The snakes on Kwen-1's head were hissing angrily as Kwen-1 glared out of the window.
'Remerge?' Kwen-2 said.
Two Kwens disappeared, leaving only one.
Xeffy and Ayna looked out from the window.
In the playground below, Roger Master and his gaggle of Ogrons had surrounded a young Grel in a first-year's uniform. The Ogrons were looming threateningly over her, while Roger was speaking quietly to the Grel.
It didn't look like he was interested in being friendly, either.
'Okay.' Kwen said quietly. 'Okay, if that's the way he wants it...'
She span on her heel and ran down the stairs, Ayna and Xeffy hurrying after.
'What happened to not pissing him off?' Xeffy wondered.
'He pissed me off.' Kwen said.
Ayna and Xeffy shared a look.
'Kwen,' Ayna said, '... Um, I know how this might sound, but would you hear it out?'
Kwen's expression didn't change. 'Go on.'
Ayna took a deep breath. 'When we start singing, get her out of there. _Straight_ out. We'll take care of the rest.'
'...Okay.' Kwen said finally.
And on that, they burst out onto the playground.
o/~He said "Angel, put that purple skirt on,
You know it makes me hot",
He said "Come on, come on, get on, get up,
Look like you're enjoying my company", oh,
And he said "You know you can't change the world,
You're another one of my fools -
You were born to have my baby now.
Don't cry, my precious one,
'Cause I ain't no sympathy for you..."
The Ogrons froze.
Roger stiffened, struggling against an unseen influence.
Kwen squeezed through between two of the Ogrons, and held her hand out to the Grel girl, who had one hand tight on her school bag. Her black eyes were darting around in fright.
'Come _on_!' Kwen hissed urgently. 'Come on! We're here to get you out!'
'Query?' the girl babbled. 'Query? Query?'
'No time for queries! Come _on!_'
Thin, tentacular fingers grabbed hold of Kwen's hand.
Roger took a step forward.
Kwen _pulled_ on the girl's hand, trying to pull her free.
Roger took a deep breath.
With a final strained _yank_, Kwen pulled the girl free of the Ogrons, and started running for the doors.
'GET THEM!' Roger yelled.
Kwen and the girl crashed through the doors and up the stairs.
She was dimly aware Xeffy and Ayna were close on her heels, but she had to run, run, run-
They piled through the library doors and into the library.
Mr. Merlin closed the doors behind them.
'He won't come inside.' the old man observed. 'He knows better than that, or he should.
'Would you like a seat, my dear?'
This last was addressed to the Grel girl, who was sucking in slow, stuttering breaths.
She took a deep breath, and nodded.
'Good.' Mr. Merlin said. 'Now...' He glanced at the library clock. 'Hm. Still some time to go. Why don't you girls take a breather?'
Ayna quietly went over and sat down beside the Grel girl.
The girl sucked in a couple of slow, hooting breaths, resting her hands on her legs.
'What was that singing about?' Kwen asked Xeffy.
Xeffy ahemmed. 'Um... that's our Siren gift. Lets us captivate whoever's listening - but if you're like Roger Master, you can shut it out for a bit.'
'You're Sirens?' Kwen inquired. "I thought you said you were human.'
Xeffy blushed. 'Um... it's that whole "quirks in our family tree" thing, you see...'
'Uh-_huh_.' Kwen said.
'Expression of gratitude,' the Grel girl said finally, lifting her head.. 'Thank you.'
She looked around, confusion, and not a little fear, evident in her face. 'Query: who are you?'
'I'm Ayna,' Ayna said. 'That's my twin, Xeffy, and this's our friend Kwen.'
'Good fact: the name I use when dealing with other species is "Molly".'
Xeffy choked. '_Molly?!_'
'Query: is there something wrong with my choice of name?' Molly asked, confused. 'If so, I could change it to something more appropriate...'
Mr. Merlin chuckled. 'No, no... Molly's a fine name. I take it young Mr Master was intimidating you over the matter of your tentacles?'
'...Fact.' Molly said.
'Why don't you tell us what happened?' Mr. Merlin suggested.
Molly's tentacles wobbled. 'I was returning to school when Roger Master and his allies stopped me. They were apparently suspicious of the fact that I had left the school grounds, and wished to question me further to learn whether I had any connection to this morning's incidents.'
'Mm.' Mr. Merlin said. 'Well, he won't bother you at least until afternoon break... although, all things considered, it might be advisable for you to spend it here...'
'Thank you.' Molly said.
'What did you go out for?' Ayna asked.
'I wished to make a few inquiries.' Molly explained. She looked down. 'They were... not as productive as might be wished.'
'Mm.' Mr. Merlin said again. 'You're new around here, is that right? I don't think I've seen you around that often...'
Molly nodded. 'That is correct.'
'What did you need to ask about?'
Molly's head snapped around.
As did Xeffy's, Ayna's, and Kwen's.
Mr. Merlin sighed. '...I was afraid of this. Molly, will you answer my next question either yes or no?'
'...Yes.' Molly said.
Mr. Merlin sighed. 'All right, Molly. Did you wedgie young Mr. Master this morning?'
Molly let out a slow, hooting breath. '...Yes.'
'...That was _you?!_' Ayna gasped.
'Clarification: it was this body, but I am not sure it was this brain.'
'...Huh?' Kwen said.
'Good fact.' Molly said. 'We Grel have two brains - one that does our thinking, and another that handles analysis and storage of data. In consequence, we have no need of sleep.'
'...But you're not sure it was the brain that does your thinking.' Xeffy said.
Molly shook her head. 'No.'
'Why?' Ayna said.
Molly's tentacles flubbled. 'Because of this object.'
She reached into her bag, and pulled out a wooden mask. It had two holes for the eyes, one for the mouth, and a metal band ran down the centre of its forehead, stopping just by the eyeholes.
'...The Mask.' Xeffy whispered.
Molly's eyes widened. 'You know it?!'
'Uh-huh.' Xeffy said. 'It's _major_ league magical. When you put it on... you become kind of a living cartoon character, a living cosmic shift. You can do virtually anything, no matter how loony. The thing is... when you put it on, it brings who you are, who you are deep down, to the surface. It's you, raised to the power of X. No limits, nothing. So if you're basically a good guy... well, things get _insane_, but, well... it works out.
'But if you're a psycho...' Xeffy shuddered. 'Watch out.'
'Uh-huh.' Kwen said. 'So you've run into it before?'
'Uh-uh.' Ayna said. 'We watched the movie.'
'And the cartoon.' Xeffy added. 'Where'd you _get_ it, anyway?'
Molly actually reddened. 'Statement: I won it in a raffle at This Time Round.'
'They've _really_ got to start vetting their prizes...' Xeffy muttered.
Kwen's eyes were large. 'Wow.'
'Par for the course around here.' Xeffy told her. 'Remind me _not_ to tell you about our run-in with the Witchblade...'
Kwen opened her mouth, then shut it again.
'Statement: That is what I meant.' Molly said. 'Theory: the Mask allowed my second brain to do the thinking, under which influence I pulled Roger Master's pants over his head, absorbed the information in the library computer, and then proceeded to go through every book in the library.'
Ayna whistled. '...Whoo. You got off lightly.'
'...Expression of outrage - _lightly?!_' Molly hooted. 'That was _lightly?_ I cannot throw it away - it keeps coming back! I cannot damage it - it is impervious to my dataxe's blows and energy blasts!
'I repeat: this is _lightly?!_'
'Well...' Xeffy ahemmed. 'We may not be able to help you with that, but I think we can help you with Roger...'
'Query: you can?'
'We can?' Kwen said.
Xeffy grinned. 'Watch.'
'...Uh-oh.' Ayna murmured.
Roger Master had been feeling a _lot_ better after putting the fear of himself into that pathetic little Grel.
Not that the others knew, of course. They still whispered and murmured, still laughed behind his back.
If he had any knowledge of teenage psychology - and he preferred to believe he did - this would remain in their memory for a _long_ time. It would be difficult to replace it in their minds - it would take a lot of effort, a good amount of threatening behaviour, and a number of poundings of those who had crossed him.
Of course, if one had access to hypnotism, the process was far simpler - although whether it was more enjoyable was open to debate.
Roger found both equally pleasurable.
At the moment, his dark expression was sufficient warning that anyone who might even _consider_ mentioning it to his face would be better off finding something _else_ to do with their time, unless they _liked_ being beaten to a pulp by a gang of Ogrons.
He was mulling over his homework from Professor Borusa's law class when the hurricane hit.
It came crashing through the school gates, weaving towards the middle of the playground-
-where it stopped.
Revealed was a girl in a matching yellow jacket and skirt, wearing a green latex mask that covered her whole head.
She struck a pose.
'Heeeelllloooo H. G. Wells!' the girl announced. 'Thank you, thank you, it's a pleasure to be here!'
Applause burst from the air.
The students looked around for the source, but saw nothing.
'Now... you might be asking "Who _is_ that gorgeous babe?" and "What's she doing _here_?" - but then again, 'round here that's practically a "good morning"!' the girl continued. 'So let me introduce myself.
'I am the one, the only... Mask!!'
The applause burst forth again.
The Mask held up her hand, and it stopped.
'Now, I was passing by this morning, decided to pop in, check the place out.' She shrugged. 'As you do. But, you know-'
In the blink of an eye, she was sitting next to Roger Master.
'There are some boys who can get away with goatees, and some who can't... and I'm sorry, but on you? Looks like something curled up and died.' The Mask tugged on Roger Master's goatee. 'Damn. And it looked so fake, too. Anyway-'
Another eyeblink, and she was standing in the middle of the courtyard.
'-I looked around, looked through the library, and I thought "_Whoa_, they've got a load of books here". And I've been meaning to catch up on my reading - so, 'course, that's what I did.
'So then I decided to give the rest of the place a looksee, get a feel for the place - and you know, you've got a nice little place here - so what _I_ figured was, "what the hell, why not hang around a while?" - get the chance to soak things up, see the sights, that sort of thing. And then I thought "well, if I'm gonna do that, I might as well introduce myself", so... here I am!
'Now...' The Mask looked thoughtful. 'Oh yeah, there was something.
'Y'know how there're some guys, you see them, and you just wanna shove a mouthful of tentacles in their face? Well...'
Roger Master suddenly got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach(s), and wisely decided now was the time to practice his fabled escapes.
The Mask grinned, raised her hands to her mouth, and _pulled_ the skin around it out into a tube.
'Don't do this at home, kids, I _am_ a professional.'
She put her hands either side of the tube, and started rubbing them together, until her hands were a blur.
When she'd finished...
...she had a mouthful of tentacles.
She looked around, failed to see Roger Master, grinned, and *blurred*.
Roger Master had _nearly_ made it to the entrance, when...
'And now, for the coup de grace...' the Mask announced to the world at large.
Roger Master winced, and braced himself.
The library doors flew open as the Mask whirlwinded in.
She came to a halt by the circulation desk, where Ayna, Kwen, Molly, and Mr. Merlin were standing.
'Ah well...' she murmured.
She reached up to the back of her head, and _pulled_.
With a minature thunderclap, the Mask came free, leaving Xeffy holding an old wooden mask which she handed to Molly.
'Here. This is yours.'
'Expression of doubt: I am not sure whether I should thank you for that, Xeffy...' Molly said, accepting the Mask and shoving it in her school bag.
'It'll be okay, Molly.' Xeffy reassured her. 'Now the Mask's introduced herself, that should make things a bit easier - I dunno _why_ it works, but it does. Besides, they think the Mask's an out-of-town human, not a Grel who just moved here. You should be safe enough, as long as you're careful.'
'Thank you.' Molly said.
'So now what?' Kwen asked.
'Well, there's still one lesson to go...' Mr. Merlin said.
'How about we meet up afterwards, pop over to the 'Round?' Xeffy suggested.
'Opinion: that sounds like a good idea.' Molly said.
'Yeah, why not?' Kwen said.
'Okay,' Ayna said, frowning slightly.
'Ayn? Everything okay?' Xeffy said.
Ayna nodded. 'Uh-huh. It's just, well... I _still_ can't work out what sort of series this's going to be...'
The school bell rang.
'We can sort that out some other time.' Xeffy said. 'Meantime, we've gotta get to class...'
Disclaimer: 'Doctor Who', the Doctor, the Master, Benton, Yates, and the Ogrons are the BBC's.
The Grel were created by Paul Cornell.
The Mask is Dark Horse's.
Xeffy, Ayna, Kwen and Molly are mine.
H. G. Wells High School created by Paul Gadzikowski, after Imran, after Tyler, after Kielle.
The song is "I Am, I Feel", by Alicia's Attic.
If - and it's a big if - this becomes a story arc in its own right, I'm thinking of calling it 'TFOC' - 'Teenagers From Outside Continuity'.
Alternative suggestions gratefully accepted.
Copyright 2003 Imran Inayat