Bonus Story - Redheaded Conspiracy, and Other Issues

The events in Chapters 1 - 15 take place in the first week of September; this story takes place on Wednesday of that week, or somewhere between Chapters 5 and 6.

Luke sat in his office between classes, his feet up on the desk he used only as an ottoman, and flipped through the channels on his TV. Addergoole had to be the only academic institution in the world where the administration encouraged their teachers to spy on students in the locker room, he mused, and while he and Mike Vanderlinden had been with Regine from the beginning, it was only her he pictured when he thought of “the Administration.” And while none of these younglings had what it took to arouse him, he was certain that hadn’t figured into Regine’s promotion of high-tech snooping. Not a year went by that Vanderlinden didn’t have at least one student in his bed – but, being what he was, that wasn’t surprising.

Luke being what he was, he looked for something else in his students, a certain grace of movement, a certain strength of purpose.

Like these two. He stopped on a pair of pretty redheads getting changed in the last row of lockers. They didn’t know they had the strength, the one too friendly, the other too shy, but he could see the steel in them, and when someone did mess with either of them, then they would feel it too.

His friend Tate called it the skillet: “Every Irish woman-” and, even if the red hair and freckles hadn’t given it away, Luke knew Kailani’s father and Kylie’s mother, and they were both definitely Irish – “has a skillet in their purse somewhere, and when someone messes with them or their kin, it comes out, and Wham! Some poor sucker with the poor sense to mess with an Irish woman gets it smack between the eyes.”

Luke had seen it before, not just in the Irish but in seemingly mild-mannered women who hailed from all over the globe, and he saw it in these two. If the situations had been different, he probably would have tagged them as his mentorees for the year, but these two – Regine would get Kailani, and Doug would Mentor Kylie, and there was no use worrying about it. Still - he turned up the sound – he couldn’t help but be curious.

“Are you new, too?” the petite redhead was asking Kailani. “I’m Kylie, by the way.”

“Kailani. Hi,” she smiled nervously. “Yes, I’m ‘Fifth Cohort.’” The term still felt unfamiliar in her mouth. “You, too?”

“Yep!” she grinned. “We can be newbies together. Kylie, Kailani, our names even sound the same. As us cute redheads have to stick together, right?”

“Cute?” It certainly described the other girl, who was short and lithe, with a gymnast’s build and artless red curls.

“Yeah, cute. You know.” She made a face, kind of pouty, like a kitten wanting cream. “Cute.”

Kai couldn’t help but laugh at the face. “Um.. okay. Sure,” she agreed, mostly to be friendly. “That sounds good to me.”

“Yay!” she bounced a little bit, happily. “So… what do you think of this place?”

“It’s kind of nice.” The bullies weren’t any worse than in her high school, and the rest of the people were a lot nicer. “They seem like they’re actually trying to challenge us in our classes, instead of just going through the motions.”

“Oh, I’m always challenged,” the other girl said with a dismissive giggle, and Kailani cringed, waiting for the rebuff. But it didn’t come. Instead, Kylie leaned in closer, conspiratorially. “But don’t you get the feeling that there’s something weird about this place?”

“There aren't any exits,” Kailani replied without thinking. “Except for the way we got in, and that door is locked.”

“Really?” She looked thoughtful. “You know, you’re right. I haven’t seen any sort of door – and no real windows. And underground like this – it’s almost like they want to keep us from escaping.” She shuddered dramatically. “Creepy.”

“The older Cohorts don’t seem to mind.”

“They’re too busy chasing after the new students to care.” Kylie made a face, wrinkling her nose and sticking out her tongue.

“Chasing?” She hoped she didn’t look as lost as she felt.

“You haven’t noticed?” She shook her head; the other girl echoed the gesture sympathetically. “I wouldn’t have, either, if they hadn’t explained it to me. Eris calls it my queue.” She laughed shortly. “It’s weird. I’m not used to any of this.”

“Me, neither.” She was fairly certain that cloistered nuns were more accustomed to that sort of attention than she was. “Queue?”

Kylie shrugged. “That’s what she says. But still, even when they’re being nice, don’t you ever get the feeling they’re hiding something?”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah. Like there’s some elaborate joke I’m not a part of. I thought it was just me.”

She shook her head. “No, I get that too. Everything is all secret, ‘I’d love to tell you but I can’t.’ It drives me nuts!” She made an adorable little aaargh noise, screwing her face up.

“And why would a school want to promote ignorance? Aren’t they supposed to be educating us?”

“And what’s so horrible that they have to keep it secret and lock us in here like prisoners?”

Prisoners. Like the first domino toppling over, something clicked in Kailani’s brain. “I don’t know,” she said softly, “But I’m going to find out.”

“Atta girl.” She would, too, and then, he was willing to bet, she’d find her skillet. Luke flipped the channel to the boy’s locker room, to find a Second Cohort – Ardell – and a Fifth Cohort doing what he hoped was wrestling. Just wrestling… no. “Fuck.” He dropped the remote and took off at a run for the locker room.

Damnit, when would these kids learn? Predation was one thing – although he and Regine disagreed on the finer points there – but this was just not acceptable.

“Ardell!” Damnit, what was the new kid’s name? Ringo? “Yngvi! Break it up!” He grabbed Ardell by the shirt collar and hauled him away from the smaller boy, studiously ignoring the kid’s half-naked state and the wetness on his face, being enough of a spectacle that the other kids would stare at him, give Ringo a change to pull himself together.

“Who’s your Mentor, Ardell?” he snarled.

“Vanderlinden,” he answered sullenly, “sir.” Well, that explained it.

“Well, you and me and him are gonna have a little talk.” And if Mike didn’t give him the answers he wanted, he was going to regret it. “Come on.” Half dragging the kid, who was eight inches taller than him and no small bit broader of chest, he made it as showy as possibly. Let them remember Ardell getting hauled out on his ass… and not why.

This sort of shit, this was the part of the job he hated. But when Kailani figured it out and came gunning for them all – that, he would welcome. They sure as hell deserved it.

Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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