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Jun 18, 2019 1:17 PM
a Margaret in Whateley
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Her parents have already handled her transferring out of the public high school, albeit probably in a way that left them thinking she's getting sicker, so she has a while at home to think about her new body and what she wants to do with it.

It's a better body than her old one, that much is obvious. She still needs to sleep, but she doesn't feel exhausted anymore as long as she plugs into a wall occasionally to recharge. But more than that, she's made of stuff she can understand, gears and motors and batteries with none of the noisy complexity and grossness of biology. It already fits her like a favorite shirt, better than the last one did even before the illness. With enough time and materials, she could build a form that anyone would envy.

And she does have time. It's not just that the ticking clock of her disease has been removed; she can keep existing as long as she can keep maintaining her hardware and software. She could live longer than a normal person, maybe a lot longer. That much future dropped on her all at once is a bit overwhelming--so many things she might have time to do someday!--but it's a good overwhelming.

With thoughts like these, and other thoughts involving a lot more schematics and part numbers, she passes the time waiting for Whately to call.

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Whateley contacts her and lets her know that she's been accepted for the spring semester, which starts in a few weeks. She's also eligible for a substantial scholarship on the basis of her "GSD," which is apparently how they've chosen to refer to her android body. Also, in a weird coincidence, it turns out the Academy is about twenty minutes away from her.

Time passes quickly when there's something to look forward to. It's not long before she's on the train to the town of Dunwich, and then the shuttle bus to the Academy.

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Margaret gets off the train with a bag full of clothes and toiletries (soldering iron, wd-40, screwdriver . . .) and a couple of classic novels and follows the current of other students onto the campus. Does she know her dorm assignment yet?

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She's in Whitman, but before she can get to the dorm, she and a handful of other students are picked out of the crowd and herded into a group.

"You are all new to Whateley Academy," says a cheerful elderly woman in a long black dress. "Welcome! I am Gertrud Wolfgang, one of the instructors here. Before we start our tour, let's go around and introduce ourselves: name, power, and what you hope to accomplish with your powers and your education at Whateley."

The first to speak up is a British-sounding girl with a long bronze sword sheathed at her waist. "I'm Riya Chaudhri, and I've chosen the codename Claymore," she says proudly. "I'm the bearer of the Blade of Hrothgar, and I can project lightning and manifest a suit of plate armor that protects and strengthens me. I'm going to use my powers to get rich."

Going counterclockwise, a boy wearing camo speaks next. "I'm Tohji Maruko. Don't have a codename yet. I can manifest guns, and slow down my perception of time to aim. I'm gonna be a superhero."

"Sean Liam Carter," says a boy hugging himself to stay warm despite his thick sweater. "Or Liam Sean Carter, I haven't decided. I... used to be twins. I don't really know who I am anymore. I can project a phantom body and use it to manipulate objects, and I can see out of its - well, not eyes, but I can see from it. I want to learn more about what happened to me."

Then, a girl in a surgical mask with withered, papery skin speaks. "I'm Lucy Xiao," she rasps. "I'm a bio-devisor, according to the powers testing I underwent back in California. I hope to restore my body to how it was before my GSD took hold."

The buck passes to Margaret.

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Margaret has made a few more improvements to herself since the police station--her voice is less tinny, her knees are sturdier--but she still looks a bit like a walking junkyard.

"I'm Margaret Perry, I'm a gadgeteer, still need a codename. I built this body because my old one was kind of garbage. I want to become an engineer and invent more things! Starting with a nicer chassis."

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“Well, I wish you all the best of luck,” Professor Wolfgang says. “Now, let’s begin our tour. First, we’ll head to Schuster Hall to examine the Homer Gallery...”

The kids follow her as she talks about the history of the Academy, how it was founded in the 1960s by a group of superheroes and supervillains hoping to create a safe place for young mutants to grow and explore their powers.

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Margaret is kind of surprised that people describing themselves as superheroes and supervillains can cooperate on anything, but she can see how this would be the thing they would try. 

She's mostly listening to the tour, but she does look some more at the other kids. Riya sounds like the only one who got as good of a deal on the manifestation front as Margaret, though Tohji  also seems pretty happy with his thing. She doesn't think she can imagine what Carter is going through, but she can certainly feel sympathetic.

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When they reach Schuster Hall, there's a bust of Homer in a recessed nook, which Professor Wolfgang pulls like a lever to reveal a keyhole. She inserts and turns a key, and the wall swings open.

Within the gallery, there are various significant items. There's a wax figure of Champion, wearing his original costume - "And it is the original, Champion II was part of the founding association!" - a metric ton of gold ingots donated by Gabriella Guzman, an alumna who became outrageously rich, and a massive portrait of Lord Paramount, mutant overlord of Wallachia.

"We're required to show this portrait to all incoming freshmen. Now, as I mentioned, Whateley is neutral in the constant battle between superheroes and supervillains. We are not a 'superhero school', and Lord Paramount donated this portrait in part to remind you all of that. It is also partly due to his massive ego. Don't tell him I said that." Professor Wolfgang winks.

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Oh wow, secret door in a wall that you open by pulling a thing, that's neat.

Margaret treats this gallery like every other museum exhibit she's been to: reading all the explanatory plaques as fast as possible with one eye on the teacher to make sure she doesn't get left behind.

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Champion, as she probably already knows, was the first true "superhero" back in the 30s, but what she may not know is that he was in fact an Avatar who combined various spirits he encountered into a powerful energy called the "Champion Force". The Champion Force was sundered in the 2008 Detroit Event, and many of its fragments found their way into various other Forces; the Magus Force, the Blizzard Force, and the Umbral Force, to name just a few.

Gabriella Guzman, donor of the metric ton of 16kt gold, was born to a family of poor Mexican farmers, but attended Whateley on scholarship when her precognitive powers manifested. She flourished at the Academy, joining the Alphas in her senior year, and after graduating, proceeded to beat the stock market with a stick until money came out, leaving her richer than God. 

Lord Paramount's portrait has only a placard detailing the title of the portrait (Paramount in Glory) and the name of the painter.

She's halfway through the description of Professor Ripper's infamous Quasar Gun (thus named for confusing and intricate reasons) when Professor Wolfgang starts back up the stairs, leading the other students behind her.

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Using your powers to get richer than God sounds pretty neat. Margaret pulls herself away from the Quasar Gun description and follows the tour along.

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"So you're saying that supervillainy is condoned by Whateley Academy?" Riya asks, her eyes lit up.

"We do not take a stance on your activities once you graduate," Professor Wolfgang says neutrally. "However, if you are caught doing anything which would constitute 'supervillainy' while a student, you will face consequences up to and including expulsion."

"Aw," Riya pouts.

"What about superheroics?" Tohji asks.

"Also mostly forbidden," Professor Wolfgang clarifies. "You'll receive a handbook containing Whateley Academy's rules and regulations, but for obvious reasons combat between students is forbidden, with... certain specific exceptions. And fighting is most of what being a superhero is, so." She shrugs.

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Margaret thinks "no violence" is a pretty sensible policy! Hopefully the exceptions, whatever they are, can be avoided and she can  build stuff in peace.

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"What kind of exceptions are there?" Sean Liam asks suspiciously (and conveniently).

Professor Wolfgang winces. "Well, self-defense... there are some dispensations for the defense of others, as well... martial arts practice, including officially sanctioned duels... and, of course, Combat Finals."

"Duels?" Sean Liam squeaks.

"Combat Finals?!" Lucy says, her jaw dropping almost enough to dislodge her surgical mask. She quickly adjusts the mask.

"You don't have to accept a duel if you don't want to," Professor Wolfgang reassures Sean Liam. "But yes, Combat Finals and martial arts classes are mandatory. Usually you would learn about this a bit later, but the fact of the matter is, mutants are not widely accepted in baseline human society, and even if you have no intention of being a hero or a villain, you will most likely eventually be forced into situations where you must preserve your own life. That is simply the state of the world as it is. And it would be a shame, not to mention a waste of valuable resources, if we released our alumni into the world completely unequipped to protect themselves and they were inevitably torn to pieces by angry mobs."

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That's not great, especially if her grades depend on it, but it's better than there being circumstances in which it's acceptable to jump someone in the hallways. And at least she has a chance at not being totally hopeless at all things physical, now. She moves "better motors" and "titanium everything" up her mental queue of upgrade projects.

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The tour continues. Professor Wolfgang shows them the locations of the dorms and class buildings, as well as the medical center and the underground tunnel system. Finally, the tour concludes with a trip to the Crystal Hall, the school's fabulously overdone cafeteria. Professor Wolfgang explains the many and varied options to the four members of the group who eat food. Then, as they scatter, she turns to Margaret with an apologetic smile. "I'm afraid this part of the tour is probably wasted on you. You've been awfully quiet, dear; do you have any questions?"

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Margaret hasn't given up on being able to taste food ever again, but her list of long-term project ideas puts it somewhere between "360° vision" and "pogo-stick feet???".

"That's alright. I do have a question, though. What's the best way to get access to engineering facilities and materials outside of class assignments? Are there clubs with lab space I can join, on-campus jobs I can use to get spending money . . . ?"

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"Oh, of course! The Workshop for Devisors and Gadgeteers has materials and facilities available for both school and personal projects as long as they don't break the law and as long as those privileges aren't abused. That means that for materials like steel or titanium, you can get a pretty much unlimited supply just for being a student. Now, if you want osmium, or gold, or adamantium, you'll have to submit an itemized request and pay for it. Not the full price of the material, but even at a significant discount the costs stack up, so as you mentioned you may want a job on campus. There are plenty of on-campus jobs; the highest-paying jobs tend to be unpleasant in some way, whereas comfortable positions like librarian's assistant tend to pay a lower wage. You can find a list of open positions on our website when you receive your Whateley laptop."

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Free titanium?! Best. School. Ever. She'll still want a job since she's going to be fabbing her own chips, but visions of arms and legs dance in her head.

"Oh, that's excellent! Speaking of which, when and where do I get my laptop?"

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"Right after lunch, we'll go back to Schuster and get the laptops and your ID cards printed."

The other students approach, carrying trays of food. Riya and Tohji are arguing with each other about whether Deathlist is "cool". Lucy and Sean Liam are staying out of it.

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Margaret finds a convenient outlet under whichever table they're converging on, grabs her cable out of her cargo shorts, and plugs her ankle into it. Might as well refuel when everyone else is doing it.

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It turns out Lucy keeps her surgical mask on while eating, lifting it up slightly to raise the food to her mouth. Despite this, it remains spotless.

"What's up with the mask?" Riya asks.

"My GSD has disproportionally affected my mouth," Lucy says between bites of pasta. "I can assure you that you would rather not see it, especially during a meal."

"You're probably right," Riya says. "I meant the 'no mess' part, though."

"Oh. Superhydrophobic coating."

"Nifty."

They continue eating.

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Margaret turns toward Lucy and tries not to either stare or avert her eyes. "So what's being a devisor like? I've heard it's like being a gadgeteer except also completely the opposite?"

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"It's interesting," Lucy says. "I have enough medical knowledge to know that the things I do should be impossible, yet they happen. I mean, I gave a rabbit functional wings for God's sake. Through a retrovirus."

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"Wow! I don't have any extra bio knowledge at all but I know that's pretty far out. Also that sounds adorable, do you have pictures?"

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