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Schoolhouse Vandals (IC)

Curious Key

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When Kat reached her dorm floor she was humming to the tune of School’s Out, and tossed her keys into the air, watched them spin and snatched them right out of the air. There was a spring in her step and a smile on her face.

The smell of fresh paint made her wrinkle her nose. What is that? She caught her keys and made a disgusted face. It had been a while since she’d been given a rundown on the dorm rules, but she figured that giving it a new paint job was pretty high on the ‘Must Avoid’ list.

Kat could hear the murmur of students wondering, and the closer she got to her room the louder it got. She quickened her pace— “whodidâ€â€”shoved her keys back into her pockets—“howwhenwhyâ€â€”she shook her head no, licked her lips and worried anyway—“wholiveshere?â€

When she turned the last corner, she found a gaggle of half a dozen kids standing in front of her door, muttering and gossiping. Their eyes were wide and expressive, their voices morbid fascination. They crowded around her door, trying to get a closer look. Not one of them looked back toward her.

“Hey. Hey!†On stage, actors had to talk loud enough for the whole audience to hear—not shouting, no, but their voices had to carry, had to be heard. Kat had learned the trick of it, and when she spoke the students stopped talking and turned to look at her as one. “Let me through, that’s my room.â€

They exchanged nervous looks. A whisper there, a whisper here. A few of them stepped aside, their eyes always falling back to Kat, and there it was. The lock was busted, completely busted, and someone had taken the time to leave three letters in a slant across her door in drippy red paint.




The crowd’s voices started rising again. “—so sorry—" A half-dozen curious students, all looking to her for answers. "—know who did this?" She barely heard them; her eyes were fixed on the door. "—does it mean?â€


Child of Omega, or as the pundits had taken to saying, T-baby. Powered by the Terminus, the most vile force in the multiverse. Even if the other students didn’t make the connection, Kat did. After all, she was one of them.

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Elias could feel the commotion above him. Normally he didn't practice in his room, but he was flexing his abilities in his dorm room, feeling without trying to be felt in his touches. He felt the emotions strongly, and then he felt the crowd in the floor above him. Frowning, and he padded out of his room barefoot, and up the stairs to the next floor and looking at the crowd. When he approached and when people noticed they pulled back from him, as he had the rep as the creepy kid. Which made sense. Telepaths made people antsy. Not that everyone reacted, and the focus shifted to the redheaded girl standing in front of her. He followed after the owner of the room, seeing the shock on her face. Frowning a little bit, he moved through the crowd as well and coming up behind her standing there, and feeling around them, taking in the scene, without saying a word.

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Kristin pushed her way through the gathered girls with a frown on her face, unable to see what was causing the commotion because even standing on tiptoes she was shorter than most of the other students. Nevertheless, she did manage to spy Elias amongst the group, and she made her way over to him shaking her head. "You know you're not supposed to be on the girls floor, right?" she asked him as she stepped up beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. "You could get into... aww what the hell?"

She pushed another girl aside as she stepped towards the door. It was immediately obvious what the fuss was about as she got a good look at the smashed lock and the vandalised door, and she paused for a moment as she tried to remember who the room belonged to. That question answered itself a moment later as she caught sight of Kat. "Alright, you've all had your look," she called out as she stepped towards the door and tried to usher people away, even going so far as to shove one group of girls with a hint of her telekinesis. "Someone's a vandalising jerk, big deal, get out of here!"

With the crowd at least partly dispersed the little redhead turned towards Kat. "Your room, isn't it? That's totally uncool. You alright?"

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Kat hadn't mingled much with the kids, but she recognized Kristin, though she couldn't say exactly when she'd heard it. Some meet-and-greet at the dorm, maybe. She hadn't paid much attention. Now, with the other girls swarming around her like circling crows before Kristin swept in and shooed them all, Kat was definitely paying attention now.

A little of the tension in Kat's shoulders melted away as she smiled up at Kristin, shaky but earnest. She Shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts, Kat turned and looked again. She closed her eyes for a long moment and opened them again; the graffiti was still there. Surprise! Where would it have gone? Kat snorted and rolled her eyes at her own delusion.

"Yeah," Kat resisted a nervous urge to swallow. "This is my room." She looked over her shoulder at a few of the stragglers, still watching but scattered. Kat's voice went low, hoping none of them had hearing that could have picked her up. "They're like hawks, thanks for that . . ." She made a face waved a hand, trying to conjure a name out of memory. ". . .Kirstin?" Kat asked, half an apology, pronouncing it with an I before the R.

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Elias blinked and shrugged a little, but he didn't disperse with the crowd. But then he wasn't here for morbid fascination, the shock was a raw, palpable thing. Like sand paper and lemon juice on his senses. Of course, he just sort of stepped into the room, and up to the graffiti, reaching up and pressing a fingertip to the paint and smudging it a little to check the freshness of it. "No. Pests. Parasites." Slowly he sank down into a crouch and looked around the room carefully. He seemed unconcerned, or at least not really noticing the room belonged to anyone, or the impact it would have. But then, to him these were things, and privacy was something else. "What is see-oh-oh?" Said as he slowly flattened himself to the ground and looked under pieces of furniture.

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A lopsided grin crossed Kristin's face as Kat went close to getting her name right. "Close! but it's Kristin," she corrected. "But don't worry, there's teachers I've had for like a year that still get it wrong. I'm sorry, I don't actually know your name either."

A moment later she gave an exasperated sigh as she realised that Elias had just barged straight into the unfortunate girl's room. "Elias!" she said sharply. "Remember I already told you you're not even allowed on this floor? Well you're sure not allowed in her room! Come on, out of there!"

She did however get a glimpse of the damage inside the room, and her anger at the senseless bullying deepened. "How bad is it in there?" she asked. "And do you know why?" Her gaze turned towards the door again and she raised an eyebrow as she read the writing there again. "What does COO even mean?"

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It wasn't pretty. The bed frame had been axed to pieces, literally, so her mattress fell to the floor. They'd painted M O N S T E R across the top. There were little bits of paper no bigger than Kat's thumb scattered around the room. Her drawers had all been thrown open, and her closet too. There was nothing left there now.

As Elias peeked under the end table . . . jackpot. A fire axe, abandoned in a hurry. There were a few dots of paint here and there, but the brush and bucket was nowhere to be seen, if there had been any in the first place.

Outside, Elias had slipped past Kat without her noticing. She scratched a hand behind her head and gave Kristin her best embarrassed smile. "It's no big deal, I haven't been in the dorm long. Call me Kat."

Her brow furrowed. "Elias . . . ?" It wasn't until Kristin noticed that Kat looked and saw the last straggler; not just any straggler, a boy; why was he here? Kat's head swiveled to the strange bald-headed kid as ruffled through her things like he owned the damn place.

That was definitely why Kat didn't respond to Kristin's last question. Honest. "What are you doing?!" Her voice was alarm and incredulity, and she pushed through the door after him.

A picture she'd taken with her family in costume after a play had been taken out of the frame, and was nowhere to be seen. It was enough to make her forget her intruder for a moment. She leaned down and picked up one of the bits of paper. There was color on one side. She recognized it like a piece of an old, familiar puzzle, and knew where the photo had gone.

Kat breathed a word that would have turned heads in the Fens.

Her eyes turned to Elias. "Get out of my room!" Kat hissed, pointing toward the door. "I won't ask twice."

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Elias pretty much ignored both of them, and grasped the fireax by the handle before dragging it out from under the table. Lifting his eyes he flicked them over to Kristin and then to Kath, looking at the scrap in her hands. His tone distracted as he looked at the ax carefully, and responded to her demand. "Your room is over mine. They used this, it's from the stairwell leading up here, they almost got caught, that's why they left it." His tone softening then as he looked at her with eyes far brighter than they ought to be. "You're not asking me at all. You will feel better pushing your anger onto me, so lash out at me as needed. But I am going to need you to focus when you are done, and I am going to have to stay."

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Kristin's eyes narrowed as Elias dragged an axe out from beneath Kat's bed. "Someone came into your room with an axe," she said as she turned back to Kat and simultaneously tugged the weapon out of Elias' hands with her telekinesis. "That's messed up. What's the go with the 'Monster' and 'COO' stuff? Someone's obviously got it in for you pretty bad?"

She made a gesture towards the axe and it floated over to her surrounded by a fluorescent green halo. "We should get this to one of the teachers maybe. I bet whoever did this was dumb enough to not wear gloves, there'll be fingerprints all over it."

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Kat scowled at Elias and took one, two, three steps toward Elias before she heard Kristin. Her eyes swiveled between her rescuer and the meddler. Biting at the side of her lip, she considered deflection, dismissal, lying.

Some student had already figured it all out. Crossing both arms in front of her. "Well. . ." She breathed through her teeth. Kat didn't advertise her nature, but she'd been snared; the snoop would definitely look it up, and Kristin would find her answer somewhere else if Kat pretended ignorance. But how to even say it? Oh, that's probably cause I'm a T-baby? Yeah, sure, they'd react real well to that. But then again . . .

Kat shrugged, pretending casualness. "That's probably cause I'm a T-baby."

She let that hang in the air for a bit.

"We should get that checked," Kat turned to Elias, expression turning sour, "as soon as I get this out."

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His hands fell to his sides as he looked at Kat, then shrugging. He wasn't concerned by her admission, though this explained a lot. Of course he wasn't bothered by it. As she hadn't done anything yet. "I was born in New Freedom, and Kristin has a reputation for being destructive." He turned and left the room, stepping out into the floor and letting his eyes sweep down the hallway, before calling over his shoulder, "Please think about something else right now. I'm going to get loud." And then waves came crashing at their consciousnesses as his thoughts poured out, slamming and washing over them, and pretty much anyone in the building. Do you think you can get away with it? I will find you.

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'Who the hell?!'

'Some damn telepath is at it again.'

'What was that?'

'I lost my place! Where was I . . .'

The fingers of Elias' mind ran over the building, touching every mind, he felt their alarm almost at once, rage, irritation. He saw what they saw. Fingers dropped a book to the floor in the hall and looked to the left and right. A boy winced up from his phone and asked his friends if they heard that.

One mind of many stirred. He felt a curse pass through lips that weren't his, and their panic flared bright and hot in Elias' mind. The voice was unfamiliar, but clearly a girl's. She knew a psychic?! He felt a knot of worry tie in his chest - no, her chest as fingers ran over her face. This was a bad idea. I knew it. Knew it. He felt her hands tremble like they were his, felt the way her whimper crawled out of her throat as though he'd choked it.

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Kristin did little more than quirk an eyebrow as Kat calmly announced the obviously rather unpopular source of her powers. Any comment that she might have offered on that piece of information was interrupted as Elias made his telepathic broadcast. With a sharp intake of breath she shut her mind to the mental intrusion and shoved it aside, then stepped swiftly out into the hall to grab the boy by the shoulder.

"Elias!" she hissed between gritted teeth. "You can't just mind-shout at the whole school! And you sure as hell can't just mind-read the whole school! It's an intrusion on everybody's privacy. Just because someone else did the wrong thing here doesn't mean you can too. So quit it!"

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Kat was not so lucky. Elias' probe passed through her in a wave, and she felt an unfamiliar mind cascading over the roof of her thoughts, playing voyeur with her eyes, ears and hands and skin. Elias felt the rising tide of rage, not at Elias in particular but at everything and everyone.

The abominable voyeur wasn't even far enough to merit more than moving right in next to him. She tapped him three times on the shoulder from behind, wagged her finger no, showed him the back of her hand and swung, not to hurt but to rattle that little psychic brain until it saw stars.

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Elias would smile triumphantly, if that was something he did. He knew who it was, he felt her. Her guilt stained her thoughts, and he could all but taste it. Ignoring what Kristin said, he stiffened noticeably when Kat tapped his shoulder, and he turned to face her, in time to see that wagging finger and then he... closed his eyes. It hurt, her strike to his face, he stumbled, and it broke his concentration then, and he lost hold of the vandal. His hand instinctively going to his face, pressing against his mouth, aware his senses were fooling him, informing him that he was bleeding from the mouth even if that wasn't the case. Standing there in a daze.

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Vrix Dopple, the bronze-skinned and red-haired buzzcut RA for this floor, the one who some of the girls swore was either an alien or a lesbian, burst through the crowd of students, her face white and her mouth tight-lipped. "Silvestri, you are on report! Get back to your dorm, right now!" Her voice sounded in Errant's head as she spoke, a harsh, military bark of a thought, "" Errant remembered that this no-nonsense older girl was the telepathic ethics instructor this term while Ms. Albright was on vacation, and it wasn't hard to guess that he was going to be made an object example of if he didn't watch his step. Turning back to the girls, she stared at the vandalized door and wrecked room with bafflement and anger on her face. "What the frak is this?" she demanded of the students milling around the hallway. "How did this happen? Did anyone see who did this?"

A dark-skinned girl with white hair and eyes looked around at the others for a moment before pointing across the little knot around Kat, Kit, Errant, and Dopple to a short sophomore with red hair, freckles, and heavy glasses. "...Dorothy hasn't said anything, but she's been hating Kat ever since she moved in, she-"

"Shut up!" shrieked Dorothy, her face flushing even redder in her anger. "Stay out of my head, loser!" Glaring at her TA and the other kids, Dorothy hesitated just an instant before bursting out with, "What are you gonna do, T-baby, call your Omegadrones to blast me? You all heard about that, didn't you?" she asked of the other girls, who were staring at this ugly upwelling with surprise on their faces. "How last year, there was an Omegadrone on campus to talk to the T-babies! To teach them about the Terminus! Can't you see?" she demanded of the others. "Now she's got her creepy pervo friends reading our minds! They're everywhere! If we don't get them out now, every year there'll be more and more until the whole school is nothing but dirty T-babies! They're going to take over the whole WORLD!"

"That is quite enough of that, Dorothy Langford," spat the TA with intensity, and with a gesture purple tentacles of energy erupted from her hand and wrapped themselves around the angry girl. "You are coming to detention with me, right now!" She turned and floated right out the window over Dorothy's struggles and angry curses, adding with a shout through the window, "Just hold your positions! I'll be sending a teacher in to talk to you and fix the damage immediately!"

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Kat winced at Dorothy's every word and backpedaling as though she was being lashed. Every month that was some new drama from T-babies in Freedom City, around the world. Some preacher or general or citizen would write; they're willing agents of the Terminus, plants left to gain the trust of the world's heroes, ticking time bombs in human skin, waiting for a signal from the dark place that made them.

Some allowed for the existence of benign T-babies. But then, they said, even if they aren't aware of it, could they have been planted? Kat bit down on the side of her lip, staring at the raw hatred plain on Dorothy's face. Could they really all be wrong?

The thought was not a new one.

In the end she was spared from responding when Vrix seized Dorothy and pulled her out the window in the same way an old woman might drag someone out of the room by their ear. Kat chewed on her lip and watched the other students out of the corner of her eye.

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Kristin silently cursed herself for not being aware enough to stop Kat before she punched Elias, but Vrix swooped in before she could do anything more. The Australian teen watched in bemusement as Dorothy outed herself and got dragged off by the TA. Then she wheeled on Kat.

"You need to get a grip!" she said as she poked the other girl in the chest. "Some people will always want to believe you're bad because of what you are, but most people will judge based on what they see you do. You fly off the handle and punch someone in the face and you lend some credibility to idiots like Dorothy. One little slip can colour how people see you forever. Trust me, I know."

She eased back just a little and took a deep breath. "Elias might have been out of line, but he was trying to help you," she pointed out. "And you hit him for it. That's not cool, Kat."

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Headache, always with the headaches. Stones into water and ripples come forth. They touch all things that the water touches. All connected. Elias didn't look at anyone, there was nothing to say really, no immediately. He would be reprimanded. But the bully was caught, chastised. Attention was brought on the issue, and maybe Katherine would be able to speak with the staff about this. His efforts were clumsy, he'd have to get better, not just with helping others, but dealing with better, and with his powers. He could see the line, and he felt sick to his stomach that he had crossed it. That it was easy. It was disheartening.

His jaw hurt, his head hurt, and he was processing the brief moment of connection, the skin crawling touch of someone else's hatred. His hand still cupped at his face, those hazel eyes of his not really looking at anyone, and he turned to leave. Pausing a moment before he did so, "Kristin, don't. She doesn't need to feel bad over this now. That wont help." And he walked away, his expression as impassive as it had been when he showed up.

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Kat went stiff. "Help?" She sputtered. "All he did was give everyone a reason to hate me."

\ While Elias had decided to march in and ignore everything and hunt, hunt, hunt the vandal at all costs, he'd decided it would be a great idea to intrude on everyone in the building. Even if he hadn't got in their head, they would have heard him 'shout,' know what he tried to do, and guess why he'd been on her floor, in her room, championing her cause by peeling minds like onions.

"Which rumor do you think people are gonna like more?" There was an edge of hysteria in Kat's voice. "'Some telepath with a hero complex went overboard?' Or maybe, 'that T-baby had her friend read everybody's mind?'"

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Kristin guided the stressed girl into her wrecked room. It perhaps wasn't the most calming environment, but she wanted Kat away from the gathered students until calm could be restored. "I never said he did the right thing," she allowed in a more gentle tone. "I don't think Elias is really used to dealing with this many people. But as for rumours people will want to believe, how about a crazy chick trashed some poor girl's room with an axe then ended up in detention for all eternity?"

"Dorothy is the bad guy here," the Aussie teen said emphatically. "The only way you're going to get a bad rep out of this is if you fly off the handle because of it."

She took Kat by the shoulder and turned the diminutive girl towards the ruined mattress with the graffiti scrawled across the top. "See that? That's not what you are. Not unless you make it true." There was true conviction in her voice now as she hit on a topic close to her own heart. "You're different. You're special. It's what you do with it that matters. Monster. Housewife. Mother. Businesswoman. Hero. I don't know what you want to do with your life. Just don't let anyone turn you into something that you're not."

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Kat's feet, eager to lead her out of the hall and away from the other girls, let Kristin guide them. A little tension that Kat had not realized was there flowed out of her shoulders, but her belly churned when Kat saw where she was being led.

There was her room, demolished. There was a numb, hollow place between her ribs that felt like it would crumple inward at any moment. While Kristin spoke, Kat reached up and rubbed at her eyes, blinking furiously.

She looked up at Kristin, feeling very small. Something visibly broke in her at the way she said 'You're special,' like a puppet with its strings held tight suddenly held loose. Was anyone peeking inside? She leaned back a little, watched the door for five breaths. No one.

Kat shut her eyes tight, threw her arms around Kristin and squeezed as tightly as she dared, in the same way someone lost at sea might cling to a life raft.

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Kristin just wrapped her arms around Kat and held on. The smaller girl felt so tiny and fragile in that moment, and inwardly she was furious that anyone would attack such an inoffensive little thing over something she couldn't possibly change or control. Outwardly she simply returned the surprisingly tight hug while her eyes surveyed the trashed room.

"It's okay," she murmured soothingly in the upset girl's ear. "I know it looks pretty bad, but we can get all of this put back together pretty fast. The school will sort out the bed and the mattress, we can put those drawers back together pretty easy, it should be pretty easy to get new frames and get your photos fixed up too. You'll see, we'll have it all sorted out in no time!"

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Chewing at the inside of her gums, Kat nodded, once. "Right." Her voice was terse and tight and raw. She was the one who let go first, pushing away from the older girl and deliberately avoiding looking at any ravage piece of her room. "Right." She took a step away and ran a hand over her face. When she recollected herself she offered Kristin a sliver of a smile more authentic than a wide and clear one. Her eyes looked a little red. "Thanks, Kristin."

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They all wound up with separate appointments with Dr. Marquez over subsequent days, the school's shrink interested in helping everyone with the aftereffects of the attack on Kat's room. Kat, Kristen, and even Elias all won praise from their respective RAs about being there for their friend when she needed help, even though Elias did wind up with that extra telepathic ethics detail with Vrix Dopple after all. Spending Saturday nights with a hard-nosed drill instructor wasn't too different than growing up in Young Freedom, come to think of it! As for Dorothy, the teachers and staff had no comment on that until the morning when Dorothy's pale-faced, apologetic parents arrived to clean out her room. Dorothy Langford had been expelled from Claremont Academy for her attack on another student's personal space. Next year, on good behavior, she'd have the chance to come back. "I'm so sorry," said Sam Langford, an older, scholarly-looking man in a red sweater and slacks who looked like he belonged in front of a class himself. "This isn't like our daughter at all."

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