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Wyvern - Worm AU fanfic

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 4, 2015.

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  1. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

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    Well to be fair, at least it won't be mirroring your AmiSI fic now as much.
     
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  2. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    I forget what happened that made Armsmaster enemies of Taylor. She melted his haldberd when she acted on instinct, but I don't remember what else.
     
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  3. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

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    Armsy offered her a place in the Wards, but he Armsmaster’d the pitch and she declared for New Wave instead. Since then, she’s demonstrated the ability to grow into a full-scale dragon and took down Inago (AKA Skitter!Lung). Having a cape like that in ‘his’ Wards program would be utterly priceless in terms of reflected glory, and he seems to have decided that no matter what she wants, she’s going be a Ward.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2019
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  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Also, she told him to fuck off in front of everyone.
     
  5. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    In front of everyone, or in front of New Wave?
    I really should just re-read.
     
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  6. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    What'd it look like before?

    Also, she's in luck--the truancy officer is named Michael Allen. ;)
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2019
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  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    In front of:
    A few dozen high school students
    The Wards
    A number of gang members
    Some PRT troopers
    Amy and Vicky
    Everyone within about five blocks
    Anyone viewing the phone footage of the incident (which, yes, went viral)

    Basically, the adults went along with Vicky's plan without pointing out the flaws.
     
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  8. Threadmarks: Part Fifteen: Hidden Conflicts
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wyvern

    Part Fifteen: Hidden Conflicts

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    “Precautions?” I looked at Mrs Dallon with a certain amount of curiosity. “What sort of precautions were you considering? ‘Not showing up’ was the best one I could think of.”

    She gave me a brief smile to acknowledge the weak joke. “Taylor, in the legal field as in any other competitive business, it’s widely known that the ideal position to be in isn’t always one that’s possible to attain. You not appearing for this meeting would almost certainly trigger legal action aimed at your father. Showing up will disarm that trap.”

    “And leave her wide open to another,” Dad said. “As you well know.” I noticed he didn’t dispute the point.

    “This is true.” Mrs Dallon grimaced. “If my supposition is correct, Armsmaster is attempting to railroad you into a felony powers assault charge, which he then intends to use as leverage to press you into the Wards. All the while acting as the good cop, of course.”

    “By remote control, even.” Vicky looked suitably angry. I was pleased she was keeping her aura under control. The last thing we needed right then was another wyvern incident. “I bet he won’t even show up until you’ve set fire to the other half of the school.”

    “Which we intend to avoid.” That was Dad. “I’ll have to go in.”

    “That can only be a stopgap,” Mrs Dallon noted. “And if the Blackwell woman compels Taylor to return to class after the meeting, which is what I’d do in her situation, you can’t go with her.” She went into her office and pulled open the drawer to a cabinet. “But I’ve got something around here that should be just the thing …”

    From where he sat watching TV, Mr Dallon snorted. “You’re going to pull a bait and switch on them, aren’t you?” he called out.

    “That’s not its name!” she retorted, pulling an object out of the drawer in triumph. “Behold: the Decoy!”

    We stared at it. It was rectangular and made out of some kind of bright yellow plastic. About six inches by four inches by two inches thick, it had a row of buttons along one edge and a semi-transparent window on one side. Barely visible inside the window were two wheel-like objects.

    Dad accepted it from her and turned it over in his hands while she retrieved something else from the drawer; it was sleeker and made of black plastic, and looked a whole lot more modern.

    “… it’s a tape player.” Dad hefted the ‘Decoy’ in his hand. “A heavy tape player.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I understand the idea of giving her a recording device, but the last I heard, we were an all-party state. Everyone who’s being recorded needs to know about it. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. And if we were going to sidestep it, this thing’s not exactly discreet.” He looked around at the girls. Amy was smirking, and Vicky was outright snickering. “Okay, what am I missing?”

    Mrs Dallon’s smile showed her teeth. “The same thing everyone else who sees it will be missing.” She held up the sleek black object. “This is the key.” Handing me the ‘key’, she went on. “Now, this is how you’re going to proceed …”

    <><>​

    Dad and I entered Winslow High School an hour later. The lunch bell still had some time to go before it rang, so there wasn’t anyone in the corridors. I counted that as a bonus. My backpack was on my back, and the ‘key’ was in my pocket. I tried to keep my expression calm, but some level of my nerves must have betrayed themselves, because Dad glanced down at me. “You okay there? We can always go home.”

    “And give Blackwell and Armsmaster a cheap shot at you?” I shook my head. “Nuh-uh. Ain’t happening.” I strode forward with extra determination. My life hadn’t been the best to date, but since the horrors of the locker, I was actually connecting with Dad again, and I had a whole superhero team to fall back on. Also, Vicky was hilarious and Amy was pretty cool too. I hadn’t actually met the other members of New Wave yet, apart from Mrs Pelham, but I was looking forward to it.

    Long story short: my life was looking up, and there was no way I was going to let some jumped-up bureaucrat collude with a so-called hero to pull me down again.

    When we reached Blackwell’s outer office, I stepped aside to let Dad go first. He knocked briskly, then opened the door and strode in without actually waiting. I went in behind him, ready to follow his lead.

    “Ah, hello,” said Blackwell’s secretary. I didn’t like her much. She’d taken every single complaint I’d given her about Emma and the others, and had never offered me so much as a shred of comfort or understanding. I had the impression she’d decided early on that I was a troublemaker, which made me wonder exactly how far through the system my complaints actually got. “Who are you?”

    “Danny Hebert.” Dad’s tone was not quite abrupt enough to be rude. “This is my daughter Taylor. We’re here to see Principal Blackwell.” He started to move toward the inner door.

    “You can’t just go in!” squawked the secretary. “She’s on a call. She can’t be disturbed. Important business.”

    “This is important business too,” Dad said, his tone harsher than I’d heard it before. “She said she had to see Taylor today. We’re here. It’s today.”

    “Yes, but she has other business.” The secretary pointed toward the chairs at the side of the office. “Take a seat. She will be ready to see you soon.”

    Dad checked his watch. “We will wait exactly five minutes. Then you will sign a statement to the effect that Taylor attempted to show up for her urgent appointment with your boss, and was made to sit and wait. Then we will leave.” He placed his hands on the desk and leaned forward. “I know how these power-plays work. I grew up on them. Five minutes. No more.” Then he went to a chair and sat down.

    I sat beside him, not sure if this would achieve anything, but glad he was there to do the pushing for me. When I was being the wyvern, the world was easy to understand. There were good guys, and there were bad guys. And if the bad guys needed a little scorching, everyone understood. In this situation, the difference between pushing too little and pushing too much was a knife-edge, and before I even started I needed to know how and where to push.

    We didn’t have much to say as we sat there. About thirty seconds in, the secretary got up and went through the connecting door into the inner office. She wasn’t there long; when she came out, she gave us a suspicious look and resumed whatever she was doing. Dad caught my eye and gave me an encouraging smile. I nodded in return, but was too tense to smile.

    Without making it too obvious, Dad had his eye on the clock behind the secretary’s desk. So did I. With thirty seconds to go, Dad stood up. I got up as well. While the secretary pretended to ignore us, Dad made a production of stretching, then patting down his pockets. Finally, he reached into an inside pocket and produced a folded piece of paper.

    “Excuse me,” he said politely. “I’m going to need you to sign this for me.”

    “What is it?” asked the secretary frostily.

    “Acknowledgement that Taylor showed up as requested, but Principal Blackwell refused to see her, despite being given five minutes to conclude whatever business she has going on in there at the moment.” Dad’s voice was deadpan, but he had his Dockworkers expression on. The one that said, ‘this far and no further’. “If you refuse to sign it, I’m going to have to take a photo of you, the clock on the wall, and the unsigned note, to prove your unwillingness to do your actual job.”

    “I do not consent to a photograph being taken of me,” she said almost automatically.

    “Your lack of consent is noted,” Dad shot back. “I do not consent to have my daughter bullied in this school, whether it’s by the students or the staff. So far, that hasn’t gone too well either. Feel free to hold a book in front of your face. Proof of your presence in that chair will be good enough for me.” He tapped the piece of paper as it lay on the desk. “Or sign the note. Your choice.”

    “One moment,” she said, and got up from the desk. Pushing open the inner door, she went into Blackwell’s office.

    As soon as the door closed behind her, Dad took up the note and followed her. Fascinated by the way things were turning out, I followed close behind.

    “—should I do?” hissed the secretary in tones that would’ve been too low to penetrate to the outer office. She and Blackwell looked around as Dad entered.

    “Maybe not stonewall us every chance you got?” Dad stepped up in front of Blackwell’s desk. “Good to see that you’ve prepared for this meeting.” He glanced at the secretary. “You can go now.”

    “Prepared—” Blackwell caught herself, and started again. “What are you doing in here? I’m in the middle of something important!”

    “Your phone’s not on hold, and that’s Taylor’s file you’ve got open on your desk there.” Dad’s voice was implacable. As Blackwell went to cover the pages with her hand, he smiled coldly. “Why yes, I can read my daughter’s name upside down. And as you required her presence here today, and you have her file open right now, here’s something you might wish to add to it.” He held out his hand. “Taylor?”

    I was ready for this. Opening my backpack, I handed him my journal; or rather, a photocopy of every page. Mrs Dallon had the original in her safe. She’d personally numbered and signed each page of the photocopy, so we’d know if any sheets went missing. I was a little jealous that he got to do this next bit, but this was his show, so he got to grandstand. Taking the block of paper, he slapped it down on Blackwell’s desk with a flat crack, making her jump.

    “What in God’s name is that?” she demanded.

    “Taylor’s latest complaint.” Dad gestured to it. “Don’t worry, we’ve got a copy. You can keep that one. Oh, and just so you know, we brought this along too.”

    I brought out the Decoy, and ostentatiously pressed the button marked RECORD. Inside the scratched and smudged window, two reels began rolling. Blackwell stared at it. It was certainly garish enough, with the bright plastic cover, not to mention the black-and-yellow tape with YOU ARE BEING RECORDED printed in red on both sides of the Decoy. Beneath that was another strip of tape with PROPERTY OF TAYLOR HEBERT printed loud and proud on it. It was visible from across the room; I was pretty sure that it would be visible from Captain’s Hill.

    “Is that a recorder?” Her eyes shot to me and then Dad. “I don’t consent to being recorded.”

    Dad nodded. “As I told your secretary outside, your lack of consent is noted. However, this is a meeting that I do want an independent record of, and you are aware of the recording. We’ve fulfilled the legal requirements of the state legislation, so let’s talk about Taylor’s complaint. What are you going to do about it?”

    Blackwell pointed at the Decoy. “Take that away first! Turn it off!”

    With a sigh, Dad took up the Decoy and stepped away from the desk. “Well, this meeting’s over. You know what they say about anyone who doesn’t like their own words being quoted back at them.”

    That was obviously a straight line, so I took him up on it. “What do they say, Dad?”

    “Can’t trust ’em worth a damn.” He indicated the door. “C’mon, Taylor. Let’s go get something to eat, then I’ll drop you home. You’ve fulfilled your obligation to show up. It’s not your fault if your so-called educator isn’t willing to carry out her end and have a meaningful conversation about your complaints, one that’s on the record. Until that happens, I don’t believe your needs are being met here.” He gave Blackwell a significant look and hefted the Decoy.

    Several expressions chased themselves over the woman’s face, before she sighed with irritation. “Very well. But you will not release this recording into the public domain without my express permission.”

    “Or unless compelled to release it for legal reasons,” he replied immediately.

    “Or that too,” she conceded.

    “Good enough,” he said, hooking a chair over with his foot. “Taylor, have a seat.” He grabbed one for himself and dropped into it. “Now, have a good hard look at the bottom corner of that document. What do you see there?”

    Reluctantly, Blackwell eyed it. “It’s got a signature. Whose signature is that?”

    “Carol Dallon,” Dad said casually. I didn’t miss the way Principal Blackwell’s shoulders tensed. “You’re familiar with the name?”

    “She’s the superhero Brandish,” Blackwell confirmed. “But why—”

    “She’s also a lawyer,” Dad reminded her. “This is your official notification that the school will be getting a lawsuit filed against it regarding your criminal negligence in failing to prevent bullying against my daughter, despite her reporting it to you more than once.” He indicated the sheaf of papers. “And if you refuse to look into it even now, I’m reasonably sure they can justify a charge of depraved indifference against you and your entire faculty here.”

    “Fine, I’ll look at them,” grated Blackwell. She pulled the papers toward her and eyed them dubiously. I could see why; at fifty-some pages, the stack was actually thicker than the entire file they had on me. “But before I do, how do I know everything that’s in here is actually true?”

    Slowly, Dad stood up. His knuckles turned white as he clenched them and leaned on the desk. When he spoke, his voice was soft, but it was in no way gentle. “Are you, to my face, with everything that’s happened, daring to call my daughter a liar without even finding out what the charges are first?”

    “I … she’s a known …” But even Blackwell wasn’t so brazen as to finish that statement with Dad looming over her.

    “Troublemaker, I believe you were going to say?” Dad raised his eyebrows. “May I remind you that her locker exploded the other day, and they found traces of used feminine hygiene products in the aftermath. Tell me, who blows up their own locker?” Gradually, he sat down again.

    “People have been known to do odd things to get attention,” she ventured.

    “Yes,” I said acidly. “Such as bending space and time to put glue on my own chair in the classroom before I even get there. Or maybe filling my email inbox with abuse from a dozen different accounts, some of which have timestamps placing me in class where I don’t have access to computers. It’s a wonder I have time to even attend school, with all the effort I must put into faking all the evidence of people bullying me.”

    “Taylor,” Dad said gently, and I subsided. “I apologise for her outburst, but she’s not wrong. Do you ask anyone else for independent proof that they’re being picked on? Do you force anyone else to adhere to rules of evidence more stringent than the police require, just to start an investigation? Or do you play it by the rule that the popular kids are more trustworthy than anyone else, just because that makes life easier for you?”

    “I assure you,” she said freezingly, “that every student in this school is treated equally.”

    “And I assure you that I don’t believe a single word of that,” Dad retorted. “If you’d given Taylor anything like the considerations you’ve been giving Emma Barnes and her little friends, we wouldn’t need to be having this meeting.”

    “Emma Barnes?” I didn’t play poker, but even I could tell that Principal Blackwell would make a crappy player. Still, she gave it her best try. “What does she have to do with any of this?”

    Again, Dad indicated the sheets. “Quite a lot, in fact. You’ll find her name cropping up in those complaints. Over and over and over. As well as Madison Clements and …” He paused, fixing his attention squarely on her. “… Sophia Hess.”

    While she’d twitched a little at the mention of Emma’s name, the reaction had been less for Madison. But she visibly flinched when Dad said Sophia’s name, which made me wonder why. Armsmaster had also been interested in that name, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what they both had in common with Sophia, with the exception that they all liked to throw their weight around with me.

    “I’ll look over them later,” she said, pushing the sheets aside. “We don’t have time to go through every page today.”

    “Just like you didn’t have time to pay attention to any of my complaints,” I said bitterly. “Like Dad said, if you’d spent a little more time—”

    “Taylor.” This time, Dad put his hand gently on my arm. “Principal Blackwell, Taylor makes a good point. If you’d spent any time at all paying attention to her initial complaints, you wouldn’t have these ones to deal with right now. For your own good, I would strongly urge you to give them a solid read before you choose to dismiss them out of hand. Look for the one where Emma assures Taylor that it doesn’t matter how much Taylor complains, you’ll never listen to her.”

    I wondered for a moment what he was talking about, then as Blackwell’s expression edged toward panic, I got it. There was no such complaint in there, because I’d never put one in. But now, Blackwell would be certain to read it from end to end, looking for that one reference. I wanted to burst out laughing at the mental image of her face when she realised how badly she’d been played, but that would of course give the game away.

    Shoving the stack of papers into the manila folder containing my file, she dropped the lot into a desk drawer. “I’ll be reading it all the way through, tonight,” she said. “Of course, I can’t make any promises until I’ve seen everything that’s in there, but I will look at it.”

    “I’m certain you will,” Dad said, though I had no idea how he managed to keep a straight face. “So, you wanted Taylor in here to speak about her school attendance?”

    “Well, initially to ask if she knew anything about what happened with her locker,” Blackwell said. “Given her lack of injury, I’ll accept that she wasn’t anywhere near it when it happened, and I understand there was a gas leak involved … but where were you?” She turned and looked at me.

    “I didn’t want to go to school,” I said, apropos of nothing. I was being truthful, of course, but there was nothing wrong with also being misleading as fuck. “So not long after I got in, I left again. I spent some time down at the Boardwalk, then went and visited friends.” I raised my eyebrows questioningly. “Given what happened with my locker, I think it was a really good idea not to be in here on that day.”

    Dad gave me a bemused look, as if to say, well done. We hadn’t actually rehearsed anything for this, which was probably a good thing. I didn’t want to get all nervous and flub my lines. Blackwell, on the other hand, looked sharply at me. I suspected she knew the truth but had been told in no uncertain terms to not even think about revealing it.

    “I would have to agree,” she said. “However, now that we’re open for classes again and you’re obviously fit to attend said classes, I believe it would be best all round if you got back into the schedule as quickly as possible.”

    I cleared my throat. “Principal Blackwell, as you can see by the written record I just gave you, I’ve been suffering a large amount of bullying at this school. In all honesty, I do not feel safe or secure here. I mean, this time my locker exploded and the only reason I’m not being scraped out of the middle of that mess is that I decided to go to the beach. What’s going to happen next time?” I leaned forward slightly. “And you can’t tell me there won’t be a next time. If I’d asked you before Christmas Break started, you would’ve assured me beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no way someone could sneak that horrific trash into my locker, or that my locker would somehow explode. How can I anticipate what they’re going to try on me next?”

    Looking slightly hunted, Blackwell glanced from Dad to me. “Well, the teachers are all trained to look for signs of bullying—”

    “Which so far they’re doing a truly bang-up job with,” Dad interrupted. “No matter what else happens, no matter what you decide is true or not in Taylor’s journal, you can’t deny that the police found some unpleasant materials in her locker. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I am making a formal request, here and now, to have her transferred to Arcadia. She’s only missed a couple of days. It’s not like she’d have much to catch up on.”

    “Especially when my homework isn’t being stolen on a regular basis,” I added, then glanced at Dad. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to butt in.”

    Blackwell shook her head. “I, uh, can’t simply transfer you today, but I can make some calls?” The tone of her voice made it a question.

    “We would love you to make some calls,” Dad said warmly. “Let us know when you’ve done it, so we can check with the Arcadia administration to see how the transfer paperwork is proceeding.”

    I nearly smirked at that. She’d floated a possibility that I would’ve bet she never intended to carry through with, and Dad had turned it around on her. Now she had to make the actual calls, and it would be up to Arcadia to decide whether or not to take me.

    “Of course,” she said, as though she’d intended that result all along. “But in the meantime, Taylor can’t miss school. So she’s going to have to continue attending here at Winslow.”

    “We’ve already established that your faculty are all too overworked to keep an eye on one girl,” Dad noted. “So she gets to carry that with her. Everywhere.” He pointed at the Decoy.

    “Record other students?” Blackwell drew herself up sternly. “Out of the question.”

    “According to the latest Supreme Court ruling, school corridors and classrooms are not places which have a significant expectation of privacy,” Dad paraphrased. “The item is very noticeable and warns anyone around her that they are being recorded. If they don’t want their private conversations to be recorded, all they have to do is walk away from her.”

    “I can guarantee, I don’t want to know about anyone’s private conversations,” I added. “I would like to be left alone, just this once. If anyone comes up to me and starts talking, I’ll wave it in their face. If they don’t walk away, then whatever gets recorded, gets recorded.”

    Blackwell drew herself up freezingly. “And what about private conversations in the classroom?”

    Dad raised his eyebrows. “Really? You’re going there? Since when did you ever condone students having private conversations while in class?” He pointed at the Decoy. “I’ll say it again. They’ll know they’re being recorded. If they still want to have a private conversation, they can damn well pass notes.”

    “This is a government institution—” began Blackwell.

    “Which does not exempt it from being a public place,” Dad interrupted. “As such, you’re a government employee, but you’re not the owner or operator of this building. The school board is. They can decree that no personal recorders can be used within the building but until they do, the law says Taylor is allowed to carry a personal recorder so long as everyone around her is made aware of its presence. Confiscate it, and I will sue you personally for removing a device she needs to keep her safe in this school.”

    “Very well,” Blackwell said in an I-wash-my-hands-of-this tone. “Taylor can carry the recorder with her. But if she takes it into anyplace that does have an expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom, she will need to turn it off.”

    I wrinkled my nose. “Yeah, like I want to record what I do in places like that.”

    “I’m going to need that in writing,” Dad pressed. “If I’m not with Taylor through the day, one of her teachers may take it on themselves to confiscate it, and we’ve already seen how much attention they pay to her welfare.”

    Blackwell twitched, but did as he said. Taking a fresh sheet of paper, she wrote on it in a strong clear hand, TAYLOR HEBERT IS PERMITTED TO CARRY AND UTILIZE HER RECORDER ON SCHOOL GROUNDS. NO RECORDING MAY TAKE PLACE IN BATHROOMS. Then she signed and dated it.

    “Is that good enough for you?” she asked, handing it over.

    Dad scrutinised it, then nodded. “For the time being,” he said. Folding it, he handed it to me. “Keep this one safe. Don’t let anyone take it off you.”

    “Well, yeah, no,” I agreed. As soon as I lost the paper, I lost the authority to tell teachers I could keep the Decoy on me.

    Blackwell gave us both a tired look. “Was there anything else, or can Taylor attend classes now?”

    I checked the clock on the wall, then looked her in the eye. “World Issues has another forty-five minutes to run, but I don’t have any textbooks or school supplies. Because they got covered in gunk then exploded. In your school. Can I have some more?”

    By now, I was fairly sure, Blackwell was going to agree to just about anything to get Dad (and me) out of her office. “Yes, of course,” she sighed. “Give Miriam a list of what you need, and she will fetch it for you, from stores.”

    I assumed Miriam was the secretary in the outer office. I’d always seen her as more of a Dolores or maybe a Grimhilde. “Thanks,” I said, with as much politeness as I could muster. At least I didn’t have to pay for these ones, as I’d done with every other textbook of mine Emma and her friends had destroyed or damaged.

    “One last thing.” Dad’s eyes held a razor glint behind his glasses. “Just a reminder that if you speak to the Barneses, the Clements’, or the Hesses, or any of their associates, about the upcoming lawsuit, or if it’s found that you destroyed school records that could incriminate you in the charges, criminal charges can apply. You don’t want matters to go there.”

    Blackwell looked like she’d bitten into an orange and found a lemon. A rotten one. “Understood.”

    “Good.” Dad stood up. It struck me that if I’d spoken to him about this a lot earlier, maybe some of the crap could’ve been avoided. Or maybe we would’ve been dealing with different crap. The road not taken, and all that.

    “Hello again,” he said pleasantly when we got to the outer office. “Taylor needs textbooks and other school supplies. Principal Blackwell said that you can get them from stores for us. Immediately, please. Taylor needs to get to class.”

    Miriam began to puff herself up. “You’ll have to pay for it—” she began.

    “No, in fact, we won’t.” Dad’s voice was quiet but firm, and he overrode her as if she wasn’t even there. “Her books and the rest of her school supplies were destroyed because of the negligence of the school, and the school will replace them. Unless you want to argue with your boss about this?”

    “Fine.” She bit the word off. “What exactly do you need?”

    Dad took out his notebook and wrote the textbook titles and other things down as I rattled them off, then he tore off the page and handed it over to her. “This will be all, thanks.”

    She looked the list over, but made no move to get up. Dad raised his eyebrows but said nothing. I waited. After about thirty seconds, she looked up and pretended surprise that he was still there. “Yes, can I help you with something else?”

    “No, I’ll be fine once you fetch Taylor’s things for us,” he replied imperturbably. “Taylor needs to get to class as soon as possible. She can’t do this without school supplies and books. You’re the one holding her up. Do you really want to be that person?”

    She glared at me and Dad. I would have bet a lot of money that she was trying to figure out how to tell us to go away and come back tomorrow, but it just wasn’t coming to her.

    Dad cleared his throat and took out the piece of paper he’d produced before. “If you want us to go away, all you have to do is sign this, and take responsibility for Taylor’s absence.”

    She didn’t like that option, either. Finally, she got to her feet and headed into the inner office. I didn’t hear any of what happened next, except for Blackwell’s raised voice at the end. “Just get them the damned supplies!”

    Miriam opened the door and came out, giving me and Dad a Look along the lines of ‘if you laugh, I will kill you’. Dad gazed back with a straight face, and I covered my grin with a cough. She passed us by, steam all but leaking from her ears, and opened a side door. Now it was Dad’s turn to cover a chuckle with a cough, and it was all I could do not to burst out in giggles. Of course, as I was holding the Decoy, I couldn’t do anything so undignified so I kept them in.

    Dad’s eyes wandered to the copier beside Miriam’s desk, and he turned to me. “Give me the paper for a second.”

    I saw what he was up to, but I would never have dared myself. Of course, this being Dad, he went straight past ‘never dare’ and went for the burn. Taking the folded sheet from me, he flattened it out on the copy machine and ran off ten copies. The original, folded, went into his wallet, and he handed me the rest. Those went into my backpack just as Miriam emerged from the storeroom with the textbooks.

    I had to hand it to her; she’d gone all-out to find the shabbiest, crappiest returned copies that she could locate in there. They weren’t quite falling apart, but signs of wear and tear were obvious. I glanced at Dad and he shook his head very slightly. It wasn’t worth complaining about, not right now. Besides, free books were free.

    She’d had a harder time finding old pencils and pens and the like, but everything I needed was there.

    “Thanks,” I said, stuffing them into the pack on top of the sheets of paper already there.

    “Did you use my copy machine?” she asked suspiciously.

    “Only to get backup copies of an essential document,” Dad replied imperturbably. “Come on, Taylor. Let’s get you to class.”

    I led the way out of the office and waited until the door closed behind us before I started giggling. Dad shook his head. “That’s what you get when power goes to your head. Taylor, don’t ever get like that.”

    “I’ll try not to.” I did my best to smother my giggles. “Just get them the damn supplies!” I quoted, then snorted with laughter. “Not gonna lie, this made my whole day.”

    “Just remember, you’ve still got to get through the rest of today,” he said seriously. He nodded to the Decoy. “Don’t let anyone else take it off you, and don’t put it down where anyone can just grab it.”

    “Theft? In Winslow?” I tried to sound shocked. “How could anyone think such a thing?”

    “I’m not even going to touch that one.” He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked. It felt warm and comforting. “You’re strong, Taylor. We both know that. You can get through this. All of it.”

    “Thanks, I appreciate it.” I indicated the classroom we were coming up to. “This is Mr Gladly’s classroom. World Issues.” From inside, I could hear Gladly himself expounding excitedly on some topic or other.

    “Okay, then. I’ll leave you here.” He gathered me in for a quick hug. I won’t lie; it felt good. “See you tonight.”

    “See you then.” I dug in my backpack for one of the sheets he’d copied off for me, hitched the pack up farther on my shoulder, made sure the Decoy was firmly tucked under my arm, and opened the door.

    As I stepped inside, I was thoroughly aware of every eye being turned in my direction. When I’d first gotten my powers, this alone could’ve caused a panic attack that would have triggered my Change. But now it was a lot easier to push through. I’m a hero. I’ve beaten up villains. I’ve saved lives. Could any of them say that?

    “Taylor,” said Mr Gladly, looking a little confused. “I see you’re back.”

    “Yes, Mr Gladly, I am,” I replied, pitching my voice so the whole class heard it. “I apologise for missing the last couple of days, but someone filled my locker with crap and then it blew up. I’m just glad I wasn’t here for it.”

    “I see,” he said dubiously. “What’s that under your arm?”

    “Ah, yes, this,” I said, holding the Decoy up and turning it so that the stickered warnings were visible to one and all. “As I’ve been getting bullied over the last year and a bit, I’ve decided to be proactive about it. The microphone’s good to about three yards. It is recording right now, and will continue to record until I leave school grounds. Any questions?”

    Gladly took a breath. “I don’t—”

    “Consent to being recorded, I get it.” I held out the sheet of paper. “Neither did Principal Blackwell. She changed her mind.”

    He took it and read it, then frowned. “That can’t be right. Privacy laws …”

    “The Supreme Court says that there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in the classroom,” I said, trying to repeat what Dad had said, in the same bored-but-confident tone. “I’ve made everyone here aware that we’re being audio recorded. That satisfies the letter of the law.”

    “Oh, uh …” He paused and looked at the paper again, then nodded sharply. “We’re doing a class project.” Big surprise there. “Go and sit with …” He looked around the room. “Greg and Sparky. They don’t have a third member.”

    I nodded. It could’ve been worse. I might have been told to sit with Madison and Julia. As it was, I watched them track me with their eyes as I cross the classroom. I made sure not to go too near where they sat; if someone stuck their leg out to trip me, an audio recording wouldn’t prove who did it.

    Pulling a spare chair over to where the two guys sat on their own, I put my backpack down and got out the textbook and an exercise book. When I went back for a pencil and looked up again, I saw that Greg had picked up the Decoy from where I had put it on the desk and was looking at it.

    “Greg, give that back,” I said, holding my hand out. Dad’s words, don’t put it down where anyone can just grab it, came back to me. “That is my property, and I want it back right now.”

    “I was just looking at it,” he said defensively. “It’s really solidly built for a tape recorder, isn’t it? What sort of batteries does it use? How long can it record for?”

    “Heavy ones, and long enough,” I told him. “Now—”

    “Hey, Greg, can I have a look at that?” asked Julia, who had somehow materialised at Greg’s side. “Pretty please?”

    “No!” I snapped, loudly enough that heads turned. “Greg, hand my property back to me right now.”

    “Geez, overreact much?” he mumbled, giving the Decoy back to me. “It’s just a stupid tape recorder. Nothing to get bent out of shape over.”

    I breathed in through my nostrils and out through my mouth, trying to calm myself down. Before I could speak, Mr Gladly had come halfway down the classroom, irritation etched on his features. “Taylor, why are you shouting in the classroom?”

    I pasted a smile on my face. “Ah, Mr Gladly. Good to see you’re paying attention. Greg just took this without my permission and then was going to give it to Julia.” I tapped the sticker on the side. “As you can see, it’s very clearly marked ‘Property of Taylor Hebert’. Perhaps you should speak to them about the impropriety of taking other peoples’ property without first asking permission?”

    Irritation was rare on his features, and a frown was downright unheard of, but there one was, right on his face. He looked down at me and the Decoy. “I understand that you’ve been having problems, but disrupting the class is not the answer. Perhaps I should take that—”

    I stood, suddenly enough that he took a step back. Mr Gladly was about my height, or maybe a little shorter. “So when other people want to take my property and I make a fuss about it, I’m suddenly the problem?” I shook my head. “I’ll be quiet. So long as nobody else tries to take my stuff.”

    He hesitated, clearly not wanting to escalate matters, until I sat down. Then he headed back up to the front, doing his best not to make it look like a retreat. I didn’t care. While I was fully aware of the glares of Madison and Julia—who had managed to slide back into her seat while Gladly was occupied with me—I didn’t care about that either.

    What I did care about was what the rest of the day was going to be like. I didn’t have any of the bullies in my art class, which helped, but Emma shared Mr Quinlan’s math class with me. By then, I knew for a fact, Madison would’ve given her chapter and verse on the Decoy—what she knew of it anyway—and as the daughter of a lawyer, Emma was going to come in firing on all barrels. Or was that cylinders?

    Either way, they weren’t just going to roll over and leave me alone. Not that I’d ever thought they would.

    I could only hope that Mr Gladly’s brand of help-without-actually-helping was the worst I’d get from the teachers. If he’d pressed the issue, it wouldn’t have been Greg and Julia who needed rescuing from an angry wyvern. How could an adult be so blind to what was happening right in front of him? To what he was enabling to happen? I noticed he hadn’t spoken to either Greg or Julia about trying to take the Decoy. Because of course he couldn’t let go the façade of being Mr G the cool teacher.

    With my elbow resting firmly on the Decoy, I turned to Greg. “So now we’ve got that settled, what are we actually working on?” I could see he had about a quarter page of notes, but I couldn’t read his chicken-scratchings upside down, while Sparky was drawing doodles of what I presumed were electric guitars. So, par for the course.

    Greg blinked at my mild tone. “Uh, we’re supposed to pick an Endbringer and list ways they’ve affected world markets, and define whether those ways are positive and negative.”

    “So, not just how many people they’ve killed, then.” Which was where most discussions of them went.

    “Well, yeah, but only in terms of how it’s affected how people spend money,” he corrected me. “The death tolls themselves aren’t what we’re looking at here.”

    “Ah, okay.” I figured I had an idea of what we were supposed to be doing. “So who did you and Sparky pick?”

    “Behemoth.” He frowned. “We wanted Leviathan, but too many people picked him.”

    I could see why. Most people seemed to think Leviathan sank ships willy-nilly out in the open ocean, but Dad had told me this wasn’t the case. The shipping trade was down because Leviathan tended to attack port cities, which affected the trade going in and out of those ports. “Well, this means we have to think in different ways.”

    “Yeah, but what’s Behemoth done to hurt the economy, really?” He ran his hands through his already-disarranged hair. “The Middle East oilfields suffered a lot from his first attack, but that’s about all I can think of.”

    “He’s given the coal industry a boost,” I suggested.

    Greg frowned, looking at me. “How do you figure that?”

    “Since what happened in Russia, everyone’s scared of him coming up in the middle of a nuclear power plant,” I explained. “Not that it really means anything, because he’s a walking nuclear disaster, with or without a power plant. But radiation is a scary buzzword, and people react en masse to stuff like that. So nuclear power plants are becoming less popular …”

    “… so coal is becoming more popular.” He scribbled frantically on his page. “That’s great. Got anything else?”

    “Uh yeah.” I leaned back in my chair, slowly flipping the Decoy over and over in my hands. “The construction industry. Dad once told me that buildings weren’t made as solid as they are now, before capes and Endbringers showed up on the scene. And Leviathan might knock a few buildings down, but Behemoth is the all-time champion for it.”

    “And Endbringer shelters, too.” Greg nodded energetically. “That’s all construction as well.”

    I blinked. “Oh, yeah. I didn’t think of that.” I had no idea how many shelters there were around the US, but if Brockton Bay was any indication, there were a lot.

    “This is good stuff,” Greg said happily. “What else?” He’d gone from bored and detached to focused and engaged. I would’ve been impressed, if I hadn’t also seen him go the other way at the drop of a gaming reference.

    “Computers,” I said, trying to stretch my brain. “Seismic sensing. Research and development. The earlier they can predict his movements and decide where he’s coming up, the faster they can get heroes on site to fight him.”

    Which made me wonder in turn whether I’d end up fighting Endbringers. I’d done okay against Stinger and Inago, but something like Behemoth would be a whole other level of terrifying.

    Sparky dozed, and Greg and I swapped ideas (or rather, I came up with ideas and Greg wrote them down). A few of Greg’s ideas were a little on the tinfoil-hat side of things so I vetoed them, but overall we came up with a good list.

    I started writing them down when we had ten minutes to go, so I was finished by the time Mr Gladly announced the end of the class. We had until Monday, he said, to flesh out the ideas we’d come up with and present them to the class.

    His words only vaguely registered on me, because I was once more focused on Madison and Julia. Seated with Greg and Sparky, I wasn’t where either of them could walk past and dump stuff on me without a good excuse, and I’d already shown that I was willing to raise my voice a lot more than I had in the past. This meant they hadn’t been able to harass me past the initial effort to steal the Decoy, but it didn’t mean that they were about to give up. All the way through the class, Madison had been sending off texts right and left; I had precisely two suspects as to who the recipients were.

    With that in mind, I hitched my backpack onto my shoulder and headed for the door. Normally I would’ve tried to find some out-of-the-way place to eat my lunch, but today I didn’t give a damn. If I could make it to the cafeteria before the main crowd arrived, I could be well situated in a corner table by the time Emma and Sophia arrived to back up Madison. And if I knew Emma, she would be throwing out every half-assed legalism she’d ever heard her father say, whether it applied to the situation or not.

    So, of course, Gladly stopped me.

    “Taylor, before you go, can I have a word?”

    Sure. How about ‘incompetent’ or ‘counterproductive’? But I didn’t say what I was thinking. “Sure. What’s up?”

    He assumed what was probably intended to be his ‘concerned adult talking to troubled student’ expression. It made him look like he’d just realised he’d left his oven on. “I can see you’ve been having problems, Taylor.”

    Really? What gave you the hint? My locker being trashed and then exploding, or me walking into class with a recording device I could use to beat Inago to death with?

    I took a breath to chase away the things I wanted to say. “I’m glad you’ve finally noticed. What do you intend to do about it?”

    My response, probably a little sharper than I’d really intended, put him on the back foot. “I, ah, well, if you wanted to come to the office and supply a list—”

    I cut him off with a sharp chop with my free hand through the air. “Already done. Now, if you wanted to supply a list of your own to Principal Blackwell, I’m sure it would be well received. But right now, this little impromptu meeting is cutting into my lunch schedule. Was there anything else?”

    “I … no, Taylor. That will be all. You can go now.”

    I wasn’t sure if he’d said that last part to me or for his own benefit, because I was already halfway to the door. Then I stopped and turned. “Oh, there is one thing you can do for me.”

    “Yes?” I hadn’t addressed him as either ‘Mr Gladly’ or even the ‘Mr G’ he preferred, but he turned back toward me, ‘cool teacher’ mode ready to roll.

    “If you see me, or any other unpopular kid really, being bullied … fucking do something, instead of asking them if they want to go to the office and name names. You’re the adult here. You’re the teacher. It’s your responsibility. Live up to it.” Shutting my mouth before I could yell at him anymore, I turned and headed for the door.

    “Taylor,” he said to my back. I ignored him. He tried again. “Taylor!” I stepped out the door and left the classroom behind.

    He didn’t call out again. Which, all things considered, was probably a wise move. I was in just the right mood to rip him a couple more brand-new assholes if he kept getting in my face.

    Fuming, I headed off down the corridor toward the cafeteria. Maybe there was still time to line up and get something to eat before shit went down, but I doubted it.

    A group of people blocked my way.

    Called it.

    Emma stepped to the forefront. “Hello, Taylor.” Her voice was deadly sweet. “I haven’t seen you around school, the last couple of days.”

    The words were undoubtedly supposed to put me on edge, awaken terror in me. All I could think of was how I’d faced far worse than her in the last forty-eight hours.

    Inhaling deeply through my nostrils, I fancied I could smell smoke, way back up in my sinuses. My eyes slitted as I looked at her. Not as prey, but as a predator.

    Let’s do this.



    End of Part Fifteen
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2020
  9. HereticZAKU

    HereticZAKU [worried ultraman noises]

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    LET’S FUCKING GO!
     
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  10. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    One thing to be aware of is that a lot of the rulings on recording are relatively recent. I can't seem to find the ruling on personal recordings in a school mentioned here, if it is not something you just made up.
    I do know that until Illinois' anti-eavesdropping law was struck down in 2014, doing what Taylor is doing was illegal in Illinois and had been since the 1960's. I believe it had a ripple effect on other two-party consent States.
    If this is following the canon timeline, the ruling you cite probably hasn't happened yet as those came AFTER this:
    https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-supreme-court-strikes-down-eavesdropping-law/
    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news...e-court-eavesdropping-law-20140320-story.html

    In any case, I got in trouble over such recordings in the mid '90s when I had the same problem with evidence as Taylor in this story.
     
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  11. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Evil cliffhanger is Evil!

    Especially when it's likely to be almost a year before we get enough votes to see the next chapter.

    Unless you decide to do another chapter of this on your own.

    Please decide to do another chapter of this on your own...
     
  12. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It has been ruled that a school classroom and public areas do not hold any particular expectation of privacy.

    So long as all interested parties are aware of an ongoing recording, especially audio (recording video of kids is a can of worms) unless the school authorities themselves do not state that no recording can go on, it's effectively legal.

    Covert recording is definitely a crime, though. This is why she's going over-the-top overt. Giving everyone a chance to watch what they say.
     
  13. Dudedude123

    Dudedude123 Your friendly neighborhood deathclaw

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    Depends on what state Brockton Bay is in.

    CT is a one Party consent state, as is RI, and New York, and New Jersey.

    Massachusetts is two-party, and ignores that whole expectation of privacy thing. It's just strait up illegal


    So, as usual for Worm, laws have changed significantly from Real Life.
     
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  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    NH is all-party.

    But privacy laws only abide (as far as I can tell from my research) where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    You can record outdoors all day long, in a public place, and nobody can complain, so long as you're not getting too intrusive.

    Even in all-party states, schools have been deemed locations where there is not a reasonable expectation of privacy.

    So, so long as you're not actually hiding the fact that you're audio recording (and not doing it in the bathroom, say) the law doesn't actually say you can't do it.
     
  15. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    Carol's real superpower is lawyering.
    Probably not the word you're looking for, unless Blackwell has strong feeling on copyright laws.
     
  16. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    That just means it's time to brigade over to the vote thread.

    Which seems to have failed to alert me to the last few posts.
     
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  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Basically she means, don't hand it out to the papers.
     
  18. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    Then it should just be 'release it to the public'.
     
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  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She said what she said. People do that all the time.
     
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  20. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    I am not doubting that, I was pointing out that I can't find any evidence of such rulings before 2014 with Google. Especially in 2-party States.

    I can find the 1986 ruling about security cameras in schools, but that is different from a student carrying a recording device.
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    When you can Google Earth Bet's legal system, let me know.
     
  22. SMDVogrin

    SMDVogrin Getting sticky.

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    Point: We know Bet does not have the same legal system we do.
    Point: The legality of the recording has been addressed, in fic, by a lawyer.
    Point: We thus assume that it is legal, and arguments about how the laws work here are pointless.

    So who cares about what you can find about rulings here?
     
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  23. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    I'm surprised Gladly did back down and not try to confiscate the tape recorder "For safekeeping, since obviously it is causing a disruption in class" or respond to her challenge that "YOU are the one disrupting class. I did not see them trying to do any such thing, only you causing a disruption. If it is such a temptation for theft, maybe you should not bring it to class and display it so openly.". I'm wondering how the "disrupting class" argument would play out with written permission from Blackwell.
    Both of which are tactics I've been on the receiving end of, although neither time was the item a tape recorder.
    I did try a mini-cassette recorder (this was mid '90s and the tape recorder belonged to a relative and was not new) and that just got confiscated with threats to have me arrested and charged for violating Illinois wiretapping law (which was not struck down until the 2014, almost 20 years later) if I made too much of a fuss. I never did see the recorder again.

    I just had another thought. The line with Blackwell saying "You may not release this into the Public Domain" instead of "release it to the public" means that they could release it to the public with the Creative Commons License. If she protests, they can play back her saying "public domain" and show that they used the CCL instead, which is legally NOT public domain.
     
  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Legally she has to prominently display it so that nobody can claim they didn't know they were being recorded. That is in direct opposition to "not display it so openly".

    Mr Gladly has the moral spine of wet tissue paper. He does whatever he has to, to remain as the 'cool' teacher. That does not include confiscating stuff by force.
     
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  25. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    Sorry, it's just honestly the stuff I had to put up with in real life. Including the contrived excuses and victim blaming of "If it's going to cause a disruption by people trying to steal it, you should not bring it to class. Leave it at home next time. You don't need it.".
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2020
  26. SotF

    SotF And Away We Go!

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    That's actually gone both ways in different states, and sometimes in the same state with different judges.

    One of the people I work with has hearing issues due to something that happened when he was a kid, in the 80's he ended up in court over recording lessons...if it's something for a disability, there can be a major mess because of it, and simply publicizing what happened there can do even more damage to the school than them going to court.

    It also might bounce off several federal laws in some places depending upon how the courts handle it.

    Or if there's damage and your parents are backing you, if it's destroyed/confiscated, you can target the teacher and file theft/destruction of property charges...which has led to some interesting fun times with this kind of thing, such as it being in small claims and escalating to putting a lien on their property and eventual reposession for sale to recover damages
     
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  27. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Damn, Danny the Union Man is here to lay down the law!

    I'm always a fan of an effective Danny, and it's great seeing how the bureaucratic barriers that cannot be blasted away by wyrmfire fall beneath the boots of organized labor!
     
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  28. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    In my case there was the very real threat of me violating the wiretapping law that I mentioned being struck down in 2014, a law I'd never heard of until that point but a trip to the library (no internet access at home in those days. My dad was either out of work or just getting a job after a couple years of sporadic unemployment and my only computer was an obsolete Apple IIGS, This was around the 1994/95 school year and while the school and library had just added internet, access and availability was limited) verified it's existence. We couldn't afford an attorney due to having been on hard times since 1992.
    Don't underestimate the problem and impact of not having money to throw at attorneys for problems like this. Lots of things are illegal, being able to hire an attorney to help you get things accomplished in court is another. Especially when researching the law and grounds for lawsuits isn't as simple as doing a quick Google search for information, but you have to delve into law books at the library.
    I recall it took me days (researching after school before dinner, or after dinner until closing, which amounts to about 3 hours/day) to piece together how to get a restraining order in 8th grade, but I figured I could not because nobody would stand up and testify on my behalf as to the fact that yes, I am indeed being harassed, so I had no evidence to present beyond my own version of Taylor's journals, and like in Worm, those alone amount to Jack Schmidt as evidence without something to corroborate it.

    Sorry, but a lot of people talk about legal solutions, but poor people don't have that kind of access to the legal system for school stuff.
     
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  29. Threadmarks: Part Sixteen: That Went Places
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wyvern

    Part Sixteen: That Went Places

    [A/N: this chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]



    As satisfying as it would have been to smack Emma around the head with the Decoy, I managed to refrain from doing just that. Neither did I allow myself to wallow in my anger at the three bullies. That way led to the possibility of an involuntary Change, thus outing myself to not only the three people I least wanted to know my deepest secrets, but also a good chunk of Winslow’s students. This would almost certainly lead to potential ‘recruitment’ attempts by one gang or another, with Dad in danger as a result. Precisely the situation I’d been trying to avoid since I first became the wyvern. No thanks.

    So instead I kept my face blank of all emotion and turned the Decoy so they could see the stickers emblazoned on it. “Hello, Emma. Hello, Sophia. Madison, you already know this, but the others don’t. You’re currently being recorded.”

    Emma, predictably, opened her mouth. “I don’t—”

    Normally, I would’ve let her dominate the conversation. This time, I didn’t give a shit, so I raised my voice over hers and kept talking. “Yes, I get it. You don’t consent to being recorded. That doesn’t actually change matters. You’ve been informed. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get to the cafeteria before the mystery meat is all gone.”

    Of course, Emma couldn’t let it go. “Seriously, Taylor, you’re breaking the law so badly there. Do you really want to be arrested? My father—”

    I couldn’t help but laugh in her face. It was too funny. “Emma, your father has boasted about how he can make or break a divorce case on recordings that were taken without the other partner’s knowledge. So, don’t tell me about breaking the law. Now, as I said, I’m going to the cafeteria. You can follow along if you like, but whatever you say to me will be recorded.”

    “Illegal recording is a felony,” Emma stated brightly, and a little too loudly, probably to ensure her voice made it to the microphone. “If Taylor’s committing a felony, we can perform a citizen’s arrest and confiscate it.”

    Huh. So that’s their angle. I shook my head. Carol Dallon had briefed me on this one. That didn’t count if the person recording was party to the conversation; then it was only a misdemeanour. Citizen’s arrests couldn’t be performed for a misdemeanour. “No, it’s—”

    I didn’t get past two words into the sentence, because Sophia glided in and unloaded a powerful blow into my solar plexus. If I’d been holding the Decoy two inches lower, she would’ve hit that instead, but as it was I felt every molecule of air rush out of my lungs. As if they’d rehearsed it (and who knew? They may have) Emma and Madison stepped in and took my arms. Not to hold me up, but to pry my fingers from the Decoy. I tried to protest, but right then I couldn’t make any noise past a pained, breathless squeak.

    “What’s that, Taylor? Can’t think of what to say? Oh, well, you’re a boring conversationalist anyway.” Emma smiled at me as she dug her nails into my wrists to make me let go. I tried to hold on, but with three on one, Sophia wrenching at it as well, it was a losing battle.

    Besides, it was taking all my effort not letting the wyvern rise to the top. For the first time I could feel it, just under the surface, bubbling with rage. It was almost like a separate entity or another personality, one that would quite happily burn the school to the ground.

    I was more or less in agreement with it at this point in time, but I had another agenda.

    My fingers lost their grip on the Decoy and the girls pushed me against the wall and stepped back. Emma waved it tauntingly in front of me. “You deserve to lose this,” she said. “You deserve to lose everything.” Then they ran off down the corridor, laughing.

    I stayed where I was, half slumped against the wall, until I could breathe properly again. It was entirely possible that I could’ve recovered a lot more quickly if I’d allowed myself to give in to the Change, but that wasn’t the plan. The deeper I allowed Emma and the others to dig themselves into the hole, the better.

    A couple of minutes passed before I was able to push myself to my feet. My stomach still hurt, but that would pass. I looked at my hands, where Emma and Madison had gouged at my sensitive points to force me to let go of the Decoy. The marks were nice and red, which was good. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a bruise from Sophia’s punch, but it was always worth a shot. Briefly, I thought of getting a can of soda from the vending machine to hold against my stomach and ease the soreness, but I decided against it. I could hack it.

    As part of the plan, I headed for Principal Blackwell’s office. As another part of it, I pulled out the cell-phone Dad had bought for me and dialled his number.

    “Hello?”

    He would, I knew, be recording. An ordinary hand-held tape recorder, this time.

    “Dad, it’s me. Can you come to the school, please?” I put a quaver in my voice.

    “Taylor? What’s up? What happened?” I had to admit, his ‘concerned parent’ voice was spot-on.

    “I was attacked. Three girls stole my recorder. It’s the bullies that have been doing it all the time, Dad. They aren’t going to stop. They’re never going to stop.” I didn’t go so far as to pretend to sob—those sound horribly fake to me, even when they’re not—but I let the quaver continue.

    “Goddamn it. I’m on the way. Are you hurt? Did they hurt you?”

    “Uh huh. I’m okay, but they punched me in the stomach and scratched up my hands trying to make me let go of the recorder. Dad, can you come here quick please?”

    “I’ll be there soon. You just hang tight.”

    “Okay, Dad.”

    We ended the call, and I found an out of the way place near the main entrance to sit and wait. In scripting this scenario, we’d considered having me go to Principal Blackwell so I could have a rejection under my belt before Dad arrived, but Carol had rejected the idea on the grounds that it added too many random factors. Besides, Dad wanted a recording of the second meeting. Every little bit of supporting evidence helped.

    When he arrived, I got up and showed him my hands. He frowned as he looked them over, and carefully took photos, front and back, with his phone. This wouldn’t mean much on its own—after all, I could’ve done it myself—but it would add up with the rest.

    We agreed that my potentially bruised stomach could be left for a medical professional to examine. Then I pulled out the other electronic item that Carol Dallon had given me, and checked it. It was getting a nice strong signal, which was good. We wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in Arcadia, with the Faraday cages around the buildings.

    Of course, in Arcadia, we wouldn’t have had to pull this off at all.

    Blackwell’s secretary looked up with surprise as Dad stomped into the front office, jaw set and head down like a bull. “Where is she?” he demanded. “This is the last goddamn straw!” He was doing all but snorting steam and pawing at the ground. I wasn’t entirely sure it was an act.

    “Oh, ah,” she said. “You’re back. Why are you back?”

    “Because my daughter was attacked in your goddamn school, and three of your students stole the device she was carrying to make it harder to bully her!” he yelled. “You’re really, really not improving my view of your school here. Just saying.” He held up his hand-held tape recorder, showing that the reels were winding slowly over. “I’m recording this, by the way. It seems to be the only way to get things done around here.”

    “They, uh, said they were confiscating it because I was committing a crime with it,” I ventured. “Has it been handed in?” I knew it hadn’t, but this was yet more evidence.

    The secretary stood up. “I’ll just go and—”

    Principal Blackwell opened her door and stared at us. “You, again,” she snapped. “What is the meaning of this? Why are you creating a disturbance in my front office?”

    I took a deep breath. “I was cornered after World Affairs class by Emma Barnes, Madison Clements and Sophia Hess. Sophia punched me in the stomach, then the other two ripped the recording device from my hands, after I informed them that they were being recorded. Then Emma said something very hurtful and they ran off laughing. They also said something about a citizen’s arrest and confiscating it for committing a felony, but they haven’t handed it in yet, have they?”

    “Well, I’d have to check—” Blackwell made a motion toward her office.

    “Don’t bother,” Dad said briskly. “I’ve already called the police. They should be here in about five minutes.”

    Blackwell stared at him. “The police? Why?”

    He put the tape recorder on the desk and ticked off points on his fingers. “Because one, my daughter was assaulted and robbed and neither one of you has yet to show even the slightest sign of concern for her well-being or the property that was stolen. Two, I want the people who did this to actually pay for their crimes, not take a gentle slap on the wrist as a suggestion not to do it again. Three, I don’t trust you one inch where it comes to doing anything for Taylor that you aren’t being forced at gunpoint to do.” He raised his eyebrows in Blackwell’s general direction. “Have you even looked at the list of their crimes so far? It’s pretty extensive. You might want to get to it.”

    “I was going to do it tonight,” she gritted. “As you may have noticed, it’s not a small document.”

    “I know,” I replied flatly. “I compiled it. Remember?”

    As a verbal gut-punch, it went across pretty well. Blackwell deflated somewhat and retreated into her office, mumbling something about writing up an incident report. Dad and I waited in the outer office, much to the secretary’s discomfort.

    About seven minutes later, the police showed up. Far from the single officer I’d expected, there were four of them, all in body armour. Winslow, I realised belatedly, had something of a reputation. I sat meekly in the background as they spoke to Dad, then the sergeant—it was only when she spoke that I realised she was a woman, so bulky was her armour—asked to see my hands. She examined them and took more photos, then wrote down my statement.

    “And you’d be willing to testify in court to all this?” the sergeant—her name was Gainsford—asked for about the third time.

    I nodded. “Absolutely. These three and their hangers-on have been making my life hell for the last year. If you think I’m worried about repercussions, that’s not a thing. They already blew up my locker. What are they going to do, blow it up again with me inside it?”

    “Oh, it was your locker that blew up?” She raised her eyebrows. “I heard about that. I also heard …” She stopped talking. “Sorry. Never mind. I just wanted to make sure you were okay with testifying. We have enough hoops to jump through with minors giving evidence that I wanted to make sure from the start.”

    “Oh, that’s totally okay,” I assured her. “So, can we go and find my stolen property now? I mean, if one of them has it on them, that will really make this thing open and shut, right?”

    One of the other officers must have overheard me, because he cleared his throat. “Uh, kid, this isn’t the movies. We’re not gonna be able to find it in half an hour. I mean—”

    Sergeant Gainsford waved him away. “Ignore him. The trouble here, Miss Hebert, is that Winslow is a really big school and something like your recorder isn’t that big. We’d need to get warrants to search anywhere that’s not a trash receptacle or a public area.”

    “What about Emma, Sophia and Madison?” I asked. “What if one of them’s got it in her bag?”

    “Well, if it’s the size you say it is, we can do a feel check on the outside of the bag and if we have a reasonable suspicion that it’s in there we can then have them empty the bag,” she said carefully. “I doubt they could conceal it on their persons, which dodges a huge bullet about searching minors.” She mimed wiping sweat off her brow for my benefit, and I smiled slightly.

    “I can have them called to the office,” Principal Blackwell said hopefully. “This should clear the whole thing up.”

    “Not a good idea,” said Dad. “It would be the easiest thing in the world for them to dump it on the way. We want to catch them red-handed.” He smirked at that, as did I.

    Sergeant Gainsford looked at me, then at him. “I’m missing something. What am I missing?”

    I pulled the remote out of my back pocket. “Well, for one thing, what they took is a decoy, a remote microphone. The real recorder's right here. Also, it's got a tracking beacon which works like so.” Pressing the appropriate button, I brought up the status light (still glowing green for ‘operational’) and a compass-like needle. “Shall we?”

    “Oh, definitely,” Gainsford said with a smirk of her own. "Lead on."

    <><>​

    Class had gone back in by the time we set out. Principal Blackwell came with us, while one of the officers remained with the secretary. In the meantime, the secretary had been tasked with calling the parents of each of the three girls and asking them to come to the school as soon as possible. I personally was not a fan of giving them a chance to give their kids a parental heads-up, but I wasn’t in charge of that detail.

    As we headed down the corridor, I still had the remote, but I was flanked on one side by Sergeant Gainsford and on the other by a guy called Callan. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist.

    Gainsford, however, was. “So this whole thing’s a sting operation? Where’d you get all this tech from?”

    “Carol Dallon,” Dad supplied. “Taylor knows her kids.”

    “You mean Brandish.” Gainsford looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You’re besties with Glory Girl and Panacea?”

    “Vicky and Amy,” I corrected her. “I’m hardly the type to put on a cape and go flying off to stop a bank robbery. And Mrs Dallon is a lawyer too, remember. She uses this sort of thing to make people entrap themselves. According to her, it’s amazing what people will admit to if they think it’ll never get back to them.”

    “Ah.” Sergeant Gainsford nodded sagely. “Legally obtained recordings are hell to get hold of, but so worth it. And juries love video evidence.”

    “Tell me about it.” I rolled my eyes. “The number of people who’ve told me just today that they don’t consent to being recorded was amazing.” I glanced at the remote. “And it looks like we’re here.”

    ‘Here’ was a locker, one among dozens of others. I waved the remote back and forth several times, and it stubbornly pointed to the metal door. “It’s in there.”

    “Whose locker is that?” asked Gainsford, looking at Principal Blackwell.

    “Uh … I’m not sure.” There were beads of sweat on her forehead, and her eyes were flickering everywhere as if seeking an escape route. She knew damn well whose locker it was.

    Gainsford keyed her epaulette microphone. “Gainsford to Henderson, come in?”

    A moment later, the officer who had been left to watch the office replied. “This is Henderson, any problems?”

    “Not yet, but I need you to find out who’s using locker number two six five seven. That's two six five seven.”

    There was a long pause. Blackwell sweated some more. Henderson came back on the line. “Two six five seven, please confirm.”

    Gainsford rechecked the number stamped into the metal. “Yes, that's right.”

    “Okay, it's owned by one Sophia Hess.” He paused. “Wait, is that …

    I barely refrained from performing a high-five with Dad but if the look in his eye was anything like mine, we didn’t need to.

    We had her.

    Callan stepped forward and rattled the handle on the locker, then he tugged on the padlock. “Locked,” he reported unnecessarily. “We have direct indication that there is stolen property in that locker.” He reached into his belt—he had everything on that belt; I wanted one for my costume—and produced what looked like a short metal bar. “I figure I can get the padlock off with this.”

    Gainsford shook her head. “Let’s do this by the book.” She keyed her radio again. “Henderson. Instruct the secretary to call Sophia Hess to her locker immediately.”

    “Ten-four. Sophia Hess to report to her locker.”

    A moment later, the aged PA system crackled to life. The secretary’s voice came across with the precise instructions that Gainsford had given, then lapsed into silence once more. We looked at each other.

    “Think she’ll run?” ventured the fourth officer, a man called Peterson. He sounded supremely uninterested, as if watching an uninspiring crime drama on TV.

    Callan shook his head. “Doubt it. That sort of person, been getting away with this for so long? Chances are, she thinks she’s untouchable. I’ve seen it a dozen times before.”

    I caught Gainsford’s eye and gestured with the remote. “Uh, there's one more thing I forgot to mention.”

    “I’m listening.” I got the impression she really was.

    “The other end of this has a UV lamp.” I switched ends and showed her how to turn it on. “We sprayed the Decoy with a non-toxic UV-reactant dye before I came to school.” Pointing it at my own hand, I showed her how my fingers glowed.

    She caught on fast. “So it’ll be all over the lock and her hands, if she handled it. You really wanted to catch her at it, didn’t you?”

    I shrugged and handed the remote over. “Well, wouldn’t you?”

    “True.” She took the remote and pressed the button to activate the lamp. Bright fingermarks clearly showed up on the padlock and hasp, and on the edge of the door. “Well, well. That’s interesting. Callan?”

    “Getting photos now,” Callan reported, carefully aiming his phone. “Pretty tricky, kid.”

    “I’d love to say it was my idea, but it really wasn’t.” I shrugged. “Mrs Dallon’s been doing this for awhile, I guess.”

    “That she has.” Gainsford looked around and shut off the UV light. “Hello. You’d be Sophia Hess?”

    Sophia approached, eyeing the police with extreme suspicion. “Who wants to know?” She shot a side-glance at me, which I returned innocently.

    “Sergeant Gainsford,” the police officer replied, holding out a card with her name on it. I already had an identical one. “Are you Sophia Hess, and is this your locker? The school says it is. We’d just like confirmation.”

    Reluctantly, Sophia nodded. “I’m Sophia Hess. That’s my locker. What sort of bullshit story has Hebert been telling you? Because she’s been trying to make trouble for me for the last year, all because her best friend likes me better now.” She snorted in derision.

    “This best friend would be Emma Barnes?” I had to hand it to Sergeant Gainsford, she could make a leading question sound utterly harmless. Just the facts, ma’am.

    Sophia shot me another suspicious look. “Yeah, that’s her. Her dad’s a lawyer. What do you want with my locker, anyway?”

    “Well, we have reason to believe there might be stolen goods in there. Also, may I see your hands, Miss Hess?”

    Now she looked downright paranoid. “My hands? What for?”

    Gainsford closed for the kill. “The stolen item had been coated with a UV-sensitive dye. Whoever stole it opened this locker. This is your locker. May I see your hands, please?” Her voice became harder, more commanding as she spoke.

    Sophia put her hands behind her back. “I don’t have to show you—”

    Dad pulled me back out of the way as both Callan and Peterson pulled their sidearms and aimed them at Sophia from a distance of five feet.

    “Show us your hands!” shouted Callan. “Now-now-now!”

    “Slowly!” warned Peterson.

    Blackwell let out a little shriek and I nearly screamed myself as my heart rate suddenly tripled, or so it felt. Would they actually shoot Sophia over something like this? I didn’t like her, but I didn’t want to see her dead either.

    “Hands,” repeated Sergeant Gainsford. “Slowly.”

    With exaggerated care, Sophia brought her hands around in front of her again. They were empty but, as Gainsford shone the UV light on them, they glowed brightly.

    “Okay,” I said. “That’s proof she handled it.”

    “It is indeed.” Gainsford nodded at the locker. “Miss Hess, open that, right now.”

    Even looking a little shaken, as I was willing to admit she had a right to be, Sophia was still a hardass. “You got a warrant for that?” she asked.

    Callan put his pistol away. Peterson didn’t, but he lowered it to point at the floor when Gainsford gestured to him. She turned to Sophia. “The stolen item has an electronic tracker in it. Miss Hebert?”

    I held up the remote, activated the tracker, and waved it around. The needle remained pointing steadfastly at the locker. “It’s in there,” I said.

    “Which is all the reason you need to open your locker right now, Miss Hess,” Gainsford said. Her tone hardened. “Or you can refuse, we can put you under arrest, and we break the lock. Your choice.”

    “Fine,” she muttered. “But when you see there’s nothing in there, I’m gonna laugh my head off when Emma’s dad sues your department and Hebert’s dad, for pulling this shit on me.” Leaning over the lock, she fiddled it for a moment, then opened it. Swinging the door wide open, she stepped back. “Read it and weep, assholes.”

    I looked into the locker, along with everyone else. The hanging space, with a few sports shirts. Shoes and other paraphernalia in the bottom. On the other side, shelves, but nothing stuffed so deeply that the contents could hide the Decoy.

    It wasn’t there. I began to have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The locator had brought me directly to this location. How could this be? It was Sophia’s locker.

    Callan leaned in, a small but powerful flashlight illuminating all the way to the back of each shelf. “I can’t see it.” He knelt down, bringing his face up close to each one, nudging items aside with the metal bar from before. “How big was it again?”

    “Six inches by four by two,” Dad recited automatically. “Bright yellow. Reflective stickers all over it. It should be lighting up the inside of that locker like a disco ball.”

    “Wait a second.” Gainsford looked at the remote, showing a steady bearing toward the locker. “Turn that thing sideways.”

    “What, like this?” I brought it around ninety degrees, to point at her. The needle still pointed at the locker.

    “No, no, give it to me.” She snapped her fingers and gestured.

    I handed it over willingly enough. “What have you thought of?”

    “This.” She pointed it at the locker then rotated her wrist so the remote was on its side. The needle angled upward slightly, so she lifted it until it was level with the top, largest, shelf space. Also, mainly empty. A few small items, deodorant and other toiletries. Certainly nothing big enough to conceal the Decoy.

    “I still can’t see it,” I said doubtfully. Is it invisible somehow?

    “Me neither.” She turned the remote around. “Let’s see if this gets anything.” The light clicked on, and a faint glowing rectangle sprang into existence on the back wall.

    I stared at it. Six inches by four. “Do you see that?”

    “I do.” She swapped ends on the remote once more. “Signal’s definitely coming from there.” A frown creased her brow. With her gloved fingers, she prodded the glowing area. Metal flexed slightly, but held strong when she pushed harder. “What’s going on here?”

    “Wait, wait, what if it’s behind the locker?” I asked. “Some kind of secret hatch? She rested it against the back wall for a second which made the imprint, opened the hatch, and put it back there?” It sounded thin to me, but it was the best explanation I could think of that fit the facts.

    “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time I heard about something like that.” Gainsford turned to Sophia. “How about it, Hess? Want to get yourself some leniency by coming clean and opening the hatch? Because there’s no way on God’s green Earth that you set this up just for that one thing. We’re getting behind there and accessing your stash one way or another, and whatever it is, you’re going down for it. So, make it easy on yourself. Cooperate now and I’ll have my captain put in a good word with the juvey court. Reduce your sentence.”

    Right then we were lucky that Sophia wasn’t some sort of laser-vision cape because if she was, we would’ve been dead on the instant. She gave me and Dad a searing glare, then turned to Gainsford. “Need to talk to you, privately,” she said. “You and me. Nobody else.”

    “What about?” Gainsford raised her eyebrows.

    “What’s behind that locker. Trust me, you want to hear what I have to say before you open this can of fucking worms.” Sophia tilted her head, indicating a spot a ways down the corridor.

    Gainsford looked at her, then at the locker. “Figure out how to get it off the wall, but don’t actually do it. I’ll be back in a moment.”

    She handed me the remote back, and I watched as she headed off down the corridor with Sophia. Peterson also kept an eye on her. I noticed his firearm was still in his hand, aimed at the ground rather than holstered or pointing downrange. His finger was outside the trigger guard, but that could change in an instant.

    “What do you think that’s about?” asked Dad quietly.

    “Not a clue,” I responded just as softly. “Some sort of bullshit story about how I’m always bullying Emma or something, I bet.”

    “From what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised.” I looked around to keep from staring at Sophia and Sergeant Gainsford—now would be a great time to know how to read lips—and spotted movement at the other end of the corridor. Very familiar looking red hair, even. Emma. “Shit.”

    “What?” Dad looked up the corridor as well, but Emma had ducked back around the corner. “I don’t see anything.”

    “I’m pretty sure I just saw Emma,” I said. “I’m going to go see what she’s up to.”

    We’re going to see,” he corrected me. “There’s no way I’m letting you wander off on your own.”

    I didn’t argue with him, and we headed up the corridor. As we got close to the corner, I heard Emma’s voice in an intense whisper. “Dad, shut up and listen! There are cops at Winslow, and it looks like someone’s trying to frame Sophia for something! You need to call the PRT and—”

    PRT? What the fuck? This was getting weirder by the second.

    Just then, Emma stuck her head around the corner, more or less right in front of us. She let out a little shriek and nearly dropped the phone; in the smoothest move I ever saw, Dad reached out and plucked it out of her hand.

    “Alan?” he said conversationally. “Yeah, hi, it’s Danny. Yeah, I’m at Winslow with Taylor. Yeah, we called the cops on Sophia because she helped Emma and that friend of hers? Madison? Yeah, her. Well, they ganged up on Taylor and beat her up because she had the absolute gall to bring a recording device to school because people were bullying her. I mean, how unfair is that? It’s like she doesn’t actually want them to bully her or something.”

    Emma made a grab for the phone at this point, but his arms were about a mile longer than hers and he fended her off easily.

    “So hey, I couldn’t help but overhear Emma telling you to call the PRT about Sophia. What I’m curious about is why. What possible interest could the PRT have in an ordinary high school student? Actually, I’ll tell you what. I’m just going to go back down the corridor to where the nice officers are investigating Sophia’s locker, and I’ll give the phone to one of them, so you can explain to them why Emma was trying to use you and the PRT to circumvent their investigation. That okay with you? Excellent.”

    He held the phone up over his head where Emma had zero chance of reaching it, and started back down toward the police officers. Faintly, I could hear the tinny sounds of Alan Barnes babbling questions, but Dad wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. Farther down, I saw Sergeant Gainsford returning with Sophia, her brow furrowed with some kind of problem. From what I’d just heard, I thought I could make an educated guess, but I had another fish to fry first. Emma was still making futile jumps to grab her phone, and I stepped up alongside her. As she held her hands up, I shone the UV light on them. They glowed brightly, of course.

    “What was that?” she yelped. “What did you do?”

    “UV light,” I explained cheerfully. “That thing you stole from me? Coated in UV dye. It’s gonna take a couple of days to wear off. The inside of my bag’s gonna be glowing like that forever. Proves you helped steal it. I bet Madison’s hands are the same as yours.”

    She stared at me, then at her hands, then shoved them under her armpits. “You can’t shine that at me without my permission!” she declared. “That’s illegal search and seizure!”

    “No, actually, it isn’t,” Sergeant Gainsford corrected her as we got back to the group. She nodded at Emma’s hands. “Got the dye on them?”

    “She could help planes land at the airport,” I confirmed.

    “So, introductions,” Dad observed. “This phone belongs to Emma Barnes, this young lady. Looks like she sneaked out of class to come see what was happening. Then she called her father, Alan Barnes, and told him to contact the PRT about something. Does anyone want to talk to him about that?”

    “Absolutely.” Gainsford took the phone and held it to her ear. “Good afternoon. Sergeant Gainsford, Brockton Bay Police Department. Am I talking to Alan Barnes? Oh, good. If you could just help me clear some things up …” She wandered away, still talking.

    I had to admit, this was getting to be a lot more exciting than I’d expected. Sophia was glaring at me—well, that part was quite familiar, to the point that I could look back at her without much in the way of worry. It gave me time to think.

    Sophia was athletic as hell. The star of the Winslow track team, she was a minor celebrity within Winslow. It didn’t hurt that she was also friends with Emma and Madison, the most popular girls in my class (and who held a certain amount of influence with the freshmen as well). She was also a sadistic bully who enjoyed inflicting pain, and looked at me with a level of disdain that I had trouble understanding. It wasn’t like I’d ever done anything to her.

    So was the situation what I thought it was, or was I totally on the wrong path? If I was right …

    I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be right.

    “What are you looking at, twerp?” she snapped. “Take a photo, it’ll last longer.”

    “Huh,” said Callan. “That’s how.”

    “What’s how?” asked Peterson.

    “The bolts holding the locker to the wall. Someone unscrewed the nuts then screwed them back on. The paint on them’s all scuffed. I figure I can get this off pretty easy with the right socket set.”

    “I got a multitool with a crescent wrench on it,” Peterson offered.

    “You really don’t want to do that,” Sophia warned. She nodded toward where Sergeant Gainsford was still talking on Emma’s phone. “You watch. She’ll come back and tell you to leave it all alone.”

    “It’s really not on you to make that call, miss,” Callan said bluntly. He held out his hand and Peterson slapped a frankly impressive multitool into it. “Yeah, this’ll definitely do the job.”

    “Whatever this is about,” Emma said, “Taylor’s lying. She always lies about stuff, trying to get me or Sophia or Madison into trouble.”

    “Well, so far, miss, everything she’s said has panned out.” Callan loomed over Emma and she shrank back. “I’ve got to ask, why are you out of class right now?”

    Emma’s mouth worked as she tried to generate what was likely to be a phenomenal lie, but some level of self-preservation kicked in, possibly because she didn’t know for a fact what I’d told the police. Or, likely more important, what Sophia had told them. Truly, it was an unfair world when she had no idea what lies she should tell next. I almost felt sorry for her.

    Well, almost.

    Just as I was about to say something, Dad nudged me and shook his head. A moment later I got it; Officer Callan knew damn well what was going on but was trying to get her to admit it herself. Belatedly, Emma seemed to realise this, and shook her head. “My Dad says I shouldn’t talk to police when he’s not there.”

    “It’s a simple question, Miss Barnes.” Callan had a fairly good fatherly tone of voice. “You’re supposed to be in class. Why aren’t you?” He raised his eyebrows. “You do know that interfering in a police investigation is a crime, right?”

    “I-I needed to go to the bathroom,” she blurted. “Then I heard voices, so I came to see what was happening.”

    “Hmm.” He looked at her and then at the locker. “Do you know Miss Hess, here?”

    The two girls glanced at each other, then at Callan. Finally, Emma looked at Officer Peterson. “Can you make him put his gun away? He’s making me feel nervous, holding it like that.”

    Callan’s mouth twitched. We could both see the obvious power play for what it was, but he nodded to Peterson anyway. The pistol went back into its holster. “Answer the question, please. Do you two girls know each other? Are you friends?”

    Cautiously, Emma nodded. If she’d tried any other tack, I would’ve called her a liar to her face. More to the point, Sophia was right there. “We’re friends, yes.”

    “Good, good.” He made a note in the pad he was holding. “So, do you have any idea why she might have hollowed out a space behind her locker, and how to get into it?”

    “She hasn’t got any space hollowed out behind her locker!” Emma’s tone was strong and confident, and if I hadn’t seen the locator signal myself, I would’ve believed her. “Why do you think that? Did Taylor tell you? She’s always lying about us, trying to get us in trouble.”

    Once again, I wanted to speak, to rebut her, but Dad nudged me and I stayed silent. Emma hadn’t dug her own grave yet, but she was definitely playing with the shovel.

    “Ah, whose phone was this again?” asked Sergeant Gainsford, rejoining the group. “Mr Hebert, didn’t you say it belonged to Miss Barnes?”

    Dad nodded. “I did, yes.”

    “He stole it!” Emma exclaimed, finally spotting a way to get us in trouble. “I was talking to my dad and he stole it!”

    “And promptly handed it over to me,” Sergeant Gainsford reminded her.

    “But theft is still a crime!” Emma was on a roll now. “I want you to arrest him for that!”

    Sergeant Gainsford clearly restrained herself from sighing. “Miss Barnes, theft is the act of taking something with the express intent of permanently depriving the owner of its use. He handed it straight to me, identifying it as yours. It is now back in your possession. You can have him charged with theft, but it wouldn’t even make it to court. Now, you’re absolutely certain you have no knowledge of any empty space behind your friend Sophia’s locker?”

    “If Taylor says there’s an empty space behind Sophia’s locker, then Taylor’s lying,” Emma said boldly, but avoided Dad’s eye as she spoke. I was reluctantly impressed; faced with authority figures as well as my father, she was setting her course and sticking to it. It was a given that she would no longer be able to pretend to her parents that she was still friends with me, and she was owning that.

    For Dad’s part, the look on his face showed that he was finally starting to assimilate the new truth in his life, that Emma had chosen to reject me altogether in favour of Sophia. From the tic in his jaw, I could see that he was doing his best to hold his anger in now that he was incontrovertibly faced with it, but it can’t have been easy. Emma and I had been best friends for a good twelve years, and then she’d chosen to throw it all away for no reason either of us could see.

    Sergeant Gainsford made a note on her own pad, then turned to Sophia. “Principal Blackwell knows?” She didn’t say what it was that Blackwell was supposed to know.

    “Yeah, she knows.” Sophia didn’t ask.

    “I see. Well, we’re still going to look.” Gainsford turned to Callan. “Undo the nuts and help me move the locker.”

    “But you can’t!” For the first time, I saw actual alarm on Sophia’s face. “At least wait for the—” She paused and leaned in close. We all heard her whisper anyway. “For the PRT.

    “The PRT has no jurisdiction over a simple case of theft, and I’m sure Principal Blackwell is interested in finding out exactly what is being stashed behind one of her lockers,” Sergeant Gainsford said firmly. She raised her eyebrows. “Unless you’re trying to tell me a cape’s involved? A supervillain?”

    By now, I was definitely sure a cape was involved. Unless I was totally barking up the wrong tree, in the wrong forest even, Sophia was a cape, and there was something behind her locker that would out her. Which cape she was, that was more of a puzzler. I couldn’t see her as a hero, and the largest villain gang in Brockton Bay consisted of white supremacist neo-Nazis, so she wasn’t Rune or Purity.

    (Though it would’ve been hilarious for them to find out after all this time that Purity was actually black, I’m not gonna lie).

    I knew she couldn’t be a member of the Merchants, mainly because she was a good athlete. That sort of thing doesn’t mix well with recreational drug use.

    (Maybe she should’ve started. It might have mellowed her out).

    The only other gang I could think of was the ABB. I was about to nix them too, given that all of the gang’s cape members were male, but then I had a second thought. Inago was Inago. She couldn’t pass for him without Hollywood levels of makeup (also, she had both arms). But Oni Lee … nobody had ever seen his face, had they? What if he wasn’t Asian behind that mask? What if he wasn’t even male behind it? She was athletic, he was athletic. She was a vindictive bitch, he was a teleporting serial suicide bomber.

    The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Though what didn’t make sense was why Sophia was insisting that the PRT be present. Maybe she wanted to surrender to them? I didn’t get it.

    While Sophia tried to argue with Gainsford and Blackwell looked on with what seemed to be paralysed apathy, Officer Callan worked away on the nuts holding the locker to the wall. Eventually, he finished the last one and stood up, dusting himself off.

    That was about the time Alan Barnes came striding in, accompanied by a contingent of PRT troopers and none other than Miss Militia. Her weapon of the moment happened to be an elaborate compound bow, which she held with competent ease.

    (Her action figures sold more weapon accessories than any Tinker in the Protectorate. Just saying).

    I wondered where Armsmaster was. His absence suggested to me that whatever plan he’d cooked up, he hadn’t cleared it with his superiors, so he wasn’t automatically assigned to the case. And a call regarding Sophia Hess might not have pinged his radar, where a call about an enraged wyvern destroying the school would have.

    “Okay, what’s going on here?” asked Miss Militia, singling out Sergeant Gainsford by way of some kind of officer radar.

    “She—” began Sophia.

    Miss Militia waved her away. “Miss, you will have to wait until I have spoken to the police officer on site.” Leaving Sophia fuming, she walked a few steps away and they had a quiet conversation. In the meantime, the four PRT troopers (two holding foam sprayers) merely stood there and loomed at us. They were fairly effective at it. Callan and Peterson tried to look professional in return, in a kind of silent dick-measuring contest. They were outclassed, but they did their best anyway.

    I glanced at Dad and he shrugged. Neither of us had any idea how this would turn out, but it was getting more and more complicated by the second. And I still had no idea who Sophia was as a cape, unless she really was Oni Lee. Baggy clothes were easy to hide a gender identity under, after all.

    “Danny.” Alan Barnes didn’t look happy.

    “Alan.” Dad looked even less so.

    “What’s going on? Why is Taylor accusing Emma of bullying her?”

    Dad gave him a level stare. “Maybe because she is.”

    Mr Barnes shook his head. “I have trouble believing that.”

    “Believe what you want.” Dad turned his back on his old friend.

    “Well, then.” Miss Militia had returned. “We have a case of theft, and the stolen item traced to this locker. Specifically, a space in the wall behind this locker.” She looked at Sophia. “I understand this locker belongs to you, miss?”

    Sophia nodded. It wasn’t like she could deny it now. “Yeah, but I need to talk to you.”

    Miss Militia exhaled through her nose, as if to say, ‘You’re not doing your secret identity any favours,’ but she nodded. “We can talk.”

    So then they went and had a quiet chat. Or rather, Miss Militia was quiet, while Sophia became more and more animated. She kept her voice down, though I heard the occasional word. Nothing that made sense, unfortunately.

    Finally, I’d had enough. All this dancing around was getting up my nose. “Seriously?” I asked out loud. “Is everyone going to just keep ignoring the elephant in the room? Is that what we’re going to do?”

    Everyone looked at me. Dad nudged me again, but I ignored him. The wyvern was getting more and more pissed off, and I got the impression that if I didn’t do something, it would. Miss Militia’s expression was hard to read from just her eyes, but Sophia’s was outright rage. The wyvern had her beat, though.

    “Taylor, I think—” began Mr Barnes.

    “No!” I snapped. “It’s past time for thinking! Thinking got us into this. Me thinking that Emma might still be my friend again someday. Emma thinking that she can get away with anything. Sophia thinking that she can hide whatever’s behind that damn locker. Everyone thinking that they’re the only one who knows Sophia’s a cape. We all know it. Just admit it. Now can someone move the locker so we can prove that Sophia stole my property? That way, we can arrest her and Emma and Madison, and I can get on with my goddamn day.”

    Silence fell after my little outburst. Everyone looked uncomfortably at each other. Then Sergeant Gainsford pointed at the locker. “Callan, Peterson. Move the damn locker.”

    “Sergeant, there’s still—” began Miss Militia.

    “We’ll all sign NDAs,” Gainsford interrupted. “We’ve wasted far too much time catering to the wishes and desires of a teenage delinquent who may or may not be a member of the Wards for me to give a shit anymore. Move the damn locker.”

    “Sergeant,” responded Callan, and he and Peterson took hold of the shelves. A bit at a time, they edged the metal box out from between the lockers on either side.

    At the same time, I was re-evaluating my entire thought process. Sophia wasn’t Oni Lee. She was a Ward. Holy shit, it all made sense now. This was why she wanted the PRT in on it, to cover up for her. How long had she been a hero? Which one was she? Frantically, I tried to go through the roster in my mind, but I kept hitting blanks. Vista? No, she was too young, and too white. Maybe Clockblocker? Nobody could see his face, after all. No, Sophia was too, uh, feminine to fit into that costume. Dammit, who else is in the Wards?

    Finally, the locker scraped free and was pulled to one side, and I leaned over to look. Sophia tried to dart into the space just revealed, but Miss Militia snagged her shoulder. And then I saw it. Them, rather. There was indeed a set of crude shelves hacked out of the wall. On the top one sat the Decoy. It had suffered some damage; there were chips in the industrial plastic, and someone had tried to scrape the stickers off, but enough of them remained to be still readable.

    But it was the lower shelves that caught my attention. A bundled piece of dark cloth, with a black-painted metal hockey mask. And a pair of hand-crossbows, with a bunch of very sharp-looking arrows.

    “Well, fuck,” I said, as the name finally popped into my head.

    Shadow Stalker. Sophia Hess is goddamn Shadow Stalker.

    It explained so very much.



    End of Part Sixteen
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2020
  30. One-who-reads

    One-who-reads Illuminatus

    Joined:
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    Ooh, sophia is triple f'ed. Outed to Taylor as Shadow Stalker, caught red (glowing) handed with stolen property, and caught breaking her probation by none other than Miss Militia.

    Go directly to juvie, do not pass go.
     
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