May 18, 2021 4:38 AM
Teddy, recent orphan*, works through new powers, a new school, and grief.
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Teddy, at fiteen years old, has come a little unstuck.

Ever since kindergarten, she's known where she was going. She led recess-wide war games, learned how to read faster and louder than anyone else, lined up first at the door. She taught herself long division the summer before she was supposed to learn it in school, tried out for every team and joined a shocking number of them. She's always had a drive to be better, not better than anyone else, specifically, but just to exceed. When she learned the word 'superlative' at age 11, she wrote it on her arm in Sharpie every morning for three straight months.

And if people at her schools thought she was being too loud, too proud, and too present, then that was on them. Teddy figured that every dirty look or locker room snub was unavoidable, anyway; she was one of four or five black kids any given year, and usually the only mixed-race one at all. Connecticut could be like that, and Connecticut private schools almost had to be. If Teddy had to stick out, then she was going to stick out the best she possibly could. And if, over the years, there were one or two fistfights, and a couple of fencing intructors who told her she'd be better off taking a boxing class if she was going to act that way, then fine. She'd take fencing and boxing and track and debate, and anything else that would keep her occupied.

Home was... tough. She had the live-in staff, a busy dad, a distant and idle mother, and not much else. Teddy took pains to not appear to be filthy rich in public, and endeavored to spend as much time out of the palatial house as possible.

That's how Teddy lived for the first fifteen years of her life. The past four months, though, haven't followed the tempo. Her dad died, first of all. Suddenly. One day he was complaining of a headache, the next he was being helicoptered to a hospital and the next a funeral was being arranged. Her mother had gone, too, although she hadn't left anything as permanent as a corpse. She had just vanished, with some clothes and some petty cash and without one Teddy.

The months since had been spent almost enitrely at home. Teddy had never really memorized the wallpaper until recently. Everything felt delicate, like it might shatter into a thousand pieces if she breathed or thought too hard. Something lawyer-related was happening with the money and the house, but nobody really seemed to want to involve a teenager in those discussions. There was a palpable sense of definite wrongness to everything that felt like nothing Teddy had known.

And then she got powers?

Fever. Awful chest pains. At one point, her vision had turned upside-down for three hours. Doctors had been rushed in, which brought back a lot of freshly-set-aside memories, which didn't help. It hadn't been whatever mystery illness that had taken Dad away, but, somehow, almost comically, superpowers. It was like someone had sent her a unicorn named Sorry For Your Loss. Teddy didn't want a unicorn. She didn't want to suddenly grow four inches in one week, or for her fingernails to suddenly start growing in transparent, or gold eyes, any of the other fantasy nonsense that sat in her grief like marhsmallows sat in gruel.

She just wanted to know where she was going again.

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The doctors talk to the lawyers. The lawyers talk to the staff, who talk to her.

She’s going to boarding school. If she cares to look up the boarding school in question online, it looks unobjectionable; lots of diverse students in fancy black-and-white uniforms on the front page (surprisingly diverse, actually, given it’s a New England boarding school), lots of cruft about giving a quality education to the leaders of the future. The tuition is exorbitant, though not a problem for Teddy.

There’s no page for famous alumni, which is a little weird for a site like this.

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Teddy's been using the internet almost exclusively to look at websites for prestigious institutions for half a decade, and this one is definitely very weird. Neat, though. She's been worried, dimly, about her powers meaning she'd either have to quit sports or do weird ones, neither of which is an appealing concept, but the vibe she's getting from looking around is that they'd account for that somehow at this school. Teddy's willing to take handicap pills or whatever if it means keeping extracurriculars. She's willing to  do anything, really, if it means getting her life back on track.

When the head of staff, a kind Belgian man name Gerard, sits Teddy down and explains things, he seems kind of strained. She guesses that he's not used to his employers dying and vanishing (she sympathizes), but one way or another he's lost a bit of his consumate professionaliism. He's acting a bit like he won't see Teddy again, like she's going to a foreign country instead of a few hours away, and so Teddy engages her Assuring Adults She Can Handle Things subroutine and applies herself towards making this thing go smoothly for everyone else. Lourdes, the cook, sees through it immediately and tells her to watch her mouth and to make sure she eats enough, and they both depart from each other grinning and close to tears. Jean-Paul, who is on paper the gardener and in practice Teddy's martial arts intructor, tells her gruffly to take her sword with her and to not take anyone else's shit. Teddy flushes slightly but makes the promises.

Now she's staring at the application, online if at all possible, and mentally pacing. She can definitely bring her sword, apparently? Otherwise she a little stymied. This application is less personal essay than she was expecting, and more 'detailed medical chart'. She's able to fill in her name (Dorothy Ntkima Terentin) and so on, and her 'date of manifestation' comes easy enough (it's been aa few weeks), but this form seems kind of obsessed with a lot of things Teddy has never even thought about. There's an outside chance she'll need to weigh herself? But then, there's also a button she's afraid to click that appears to auto-populate info from Teddy's general practicioner? What is with this school?

It doesn't help that the application deadline is, from some conservative angles, already past. And the lawyers are being very vaguely intimidating to everyone about Teddy's 'educational needs'. She needs to get cracking on this.

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She can definitely bring her sword. The auto-populate button, while convenient, is not mandatory. The form would also like to know a tentative list of powers, any changes her mutation has made to her body, and her sexuality and gender identity (with a disclaimer about their tolerance policy, which states, somewhat unusually, that no person will be permitted to use this information against her).

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Uhhh. It is at this point that Teddy would choose a different school, if she had any control over that. Your gym looks fantastic, Whateley, but this girl's gonna go to high school with her friends and sleep under the bleachers, thanks, really. Please expunge all medical records and never ask me about sex again!

But lawyers. And responsibility.

She clicks the incredibly creepy autopopulate button, because why not. Disappointingly, this does not give her plausible deniability by filling in the sex and gender questions. For sexuality, she very quickly indicates heterosexuality (which could even be true for all she knows) and that she's a girl. There, simple enough. The auto-populate did manage to fill in a little bit about her superpowers, but not much, so she fleshes it out.

Teddy is strong, and tough, and fast. The powers made her significantly more of all of those, and she heals faster now, besides. This was tested for at the doctors' but became practically apparent later, when she kept nicking herself with her newfound, sharp fingernails. They'd begun to grow in slightly jagged, or faceted, at their bases, and they were constantly snagging on fabric or scratching Teddy's face. Attempts to file them had ruined emery boards and several metal rasps. Altogether, her doctors had seemed poorly equipped to explicate exactly what was happening to her, and they were somewhat confused about where Teddy's baseline abilities had been, thinking that she was either exaggerating them or that she had gotten some of her powers earlier than she was admitting. Mostly they were only successful in confirming something about her chromosomes being active and her being an exemplar. What that meant was unclear and difficult to research. Was this place some kind of... mutant school, like how there were historical women's colleges? Weird to think about.

Teddy writes all of this down, and formats it as nicely and neatly as the text editor allows. First impressions. When she's done, she submits the whole thing and goes to lie down.

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The next day, a letter arrives. The letter states that Dorothy Ntkima Terentin has been accepted as a student at Whateley Academy, and will start in fall of 2012, the semester beginning in one week. She is encouraged to arrange transportation to the Dunwich, New Hampshire campus at any point before then; if she does not, transportation will be arranged for her. The letter encourages her to pack whatever she may need: they include a suggested checklist, including personal weaponry, any tools required by a Gadgeteer or Devisor student (“as school-supplied equipment may not be removed from the Workshop”), and toiletries rated for whatever combination of skin, hair, scales, or dermolith a student may happen to have. All of these are also available at the campus store, however. 

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Okay, acting shocked is going to get old fast. Get used to the new normal, Teddy, and then go past it. Should be easy enough.

Packing. Packing, packing, packing. There's an immediate problem to tackle; Teddy has never actually has cause to transport The Sword (that's how it sounds in her head) out of the house before. She's been to fencing meets, but The Sword isn't precisely standard-issue. Jean-Paul gave it to her a couple of years ago, after Teddy had been kicked out of her third or fourth fencing class. He called it an estoc, and called the art of modern fencing several rude and disparaging things while he was at it. That guy had a lot of opinions for a drunk gardener. Essentially, The Sword was a three-foot-long pyramidal steel spike mounted on a sword hilt, weighing nearly five pounds despite its slender profile. The blade itself is unsharp, but leaving the point naked would be asking for punctured luggage or worse, and Teddy doesn't really have a scabbard for it. She wraps it in an old blanket she was going to pack anyway, and binds it up with twine from the kitchen. The whole thing goes in a very practical-looking leather Sunday bag that her dad used to golf with, along with a more standard (and sharp!) rapier in-scabbard. Is this what they meant by personal weaponry? Was she supposed to have a handgun?

She'll be bringing her tiny laptop and her phone, as well as a stylish little fitness watch. And her sewing kit? A thimble was a tool, she guessed. This really was nothing like summer camp. In a fit of pique she threw in all of her professional climbing equipment, as well.

She contemplates the word 'dermolith' throughout. It would be nice, she thinks after Googling, to stop accidentally leaving scrapes on every surface she puts hands to. She gingerly handles an old, golden medal she had borrowed from her dad's office, months ago, before he died. Somehow, she had never found the time to put it back. It goes between a pillowcase in her luggage for safekeeping. The gold is soft and delicate, and she feels protective of her dad's things.

Goodbyes, variously tearful or back-pounding as appropriate, are made to the house staff. Teddy tends to a flock of conciliatory emails to send to friends that she is now, she guesses, abandoning. It should be harder to do this, but it isn't. The same proves true of carrying her gigantic sports bag of luggage one-armed to the front step. She really has gotten stronger.

There's a taxi, then a bus, then a train. Then, eventually, creepy New Hampshire countryside. Yay! She'll be arriving a few days early, all told. Nervousness is a black dog chasing Teddy, and she is outrunning it.

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When she arrives, she's greeted by a sharply dressed woman with a white streak in her black hair. "Hello, Dorothy. You are Dorothy, right?"

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"Yeah, Teddy, short-for, y'know," Teddy stumbles.  She's wearing athletic wear, and no makeup. Was she supposed to dress up? This woman's pretty. Nothing for it, smile engaged.

"Yes! I'm assuming you're from Whateley Academy? What with the clipboard and everything?" She grins and holds a hand out to shake.

 

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The woman smiles, amused, and shakes her hand. "Yes, you're in the right place. I'm Professor Gertrud Wolfgang, the housemother of Whitman Cottage. Now, you've arrived a bit early, before the crush of inrushing students, so you've got a few days before the official tour and welcoming assembly. That's good, it means you'll have a bit of time to settle in, and you can visit the campus store if you're missing anything without having to brave the crowds. If you have questions, though, they may have to wait a while, because I'm a very patient woman but I'm not patient enough to explain the intricacies of Whateley to every freshman individually." She lowers her voice conspiratorially. "I'm not patient at all, actually, I just say that so I can then say this conspiratorially.”

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Oh, Teddy would immediately die for this woman. Nice.

"Yeah, I didn't have much holding me back, as it turns out! You can only pack so much," she says, indicating the behemoth bag under her arm. "I'll leave you alone, Houseprofessor Wolfgang."

Dorm time.

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"As you arrived early, you can pick any unoccupied room on the second floor," Professor Wolfgang tells her as she leaves.

There’s a bust of someone, presumably Walt Whitman, to the side of the entrance hall. There's a large common room, past it, and a stairway leading both up and down. The common room contains a basket full of campus maps, plus sofas, chairs, a large TV, and several enclosed desks.

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Ah, empty public spaces. This reminds Teddy of unsanctioned freeweight training in middle school. Good times. She snags a campus map and tucks it into her headband. Disarming people is the order of the day, and her actual clothing doesn't supply many pockets.

If nothing is too weird about New Hampshire then the second floor is presumably the second floor. She picks the farthest room from the stairwell she can find, as long as it isn't clearly worse than the others.

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It's not! It's not the size of her room at home, of course, but it's a perfectly respectable dorm room.

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Get some rugs in here, some paintings, it'll be great. As-is it's a place where she can sleep where she's never been tucked in by anyone, which in Teddy's current frame of mind is a big plus!

She feels confident enough to take the bed she prefers, which is closer to any windows. Her bag goes under it, the bed gets dressed, and then Teddy steps back out, leaving the door ajar and reaching for her map to find where to get some food around here. The number of granola bar wrappers in her bag right now can't be credited.

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As she reads her map, she may notice a girl looking at her appraisingly. The girl is dark-skinned, agonizingly thin, about eight feet tall but hunched slightly, with long arms tipped with savage claws extending from her shoulders and a secondary set of more normal arms extending from her chest. Her legs are digitigrade, and she has a long barbed tail. She has spikes running down her spine, and coming out of the backs of her knees, and on both sets of elbows. Her eyes are solid red.

She grins, revealing a mouth filled chaotically with needle-sharp teeth, and says in a pleasant Midwestern accent "Hey! Incoming freshman, right? Need any help finding your way around?"

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Oh! Oh, okay! It's like this!

Teddy schools her expression while also reangling her entire concept of what being a student at this school might imply. These things are going take a lot of her available brainspace for the next several moments. Luckily, the philosophical underpinning of being othered her entire life rears up and grabs the reins.

"Hi! I'm Teddy, it's nice to meet you." She puts out her hand (angled somewhat upwards, after a quick correction) to shake, not quite beaming but returning the smile.

"I am new here, yeah. Watch my nails, they're sharp and I haven't figured out how to fix 'em yet." They glint like rock candy under the flourescent lights.

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The girl shakes her hand, using the more human of her right arms. "Maybe you could get a Workshop kid to make you some nail covers? It'd be a shame to grind them down, they're really pretty, but if they're that sharp- you know what, you should talk to Alice Carver, I'm sure she can machine you something, she's great with small parts."

She slightly belatedly lets go of Teddy's hand. "Sorry, I'm kind of doing the Fixer thing on autopilot. I'm Zafira - I'm the Fixer for Whitman Cottage, it's a semi-unofficial position that basically means, if you're having a problem, especially with a dormmate, come to me first and I'll try to solve it! And it's nice to meet you. I got that interaction totally backwards, sorry." She laughs.

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"Oh, like an RA? That's so cool. I'll do my best to keep things from getting that far, anyway."

Beat.Teddy's missing something.

Oh, wait.

"So like. Yeesh. Sorry to dump this on you but  I actually have just no idea what's going on around here. I barely know what being a mutant means? I mean..." She does a sort of broad gesture encompassing the two of them. "Obviously, but other than that I'm lost."

It's so nice when authority figures want to help.

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"Oh! Yeah, that totally makes sense - so, basically, Whateley is a school for mutants. It's not a superhero school - you can learn to be a superhero here, but you can also learn to be a supervillain, or a scientist, or whatever you want, really. But because the world at large is pretty hostile towards mutants, there's a certain amount of emphasis on self-defense; everybody has to take at least Basic Martial Arts, and most people do more than that. My boyfriend and I have a team in the Combat Sims, which is the sport du jour for most Whateleyites. Oh, and Whateley is also kind of - a weird fusion of high school and college? You can get out of here with a standard diploma, but you can also take a lot of courses for college credits, especially if you're an Exemplar, which I'm guessing you are, stop me if I'm wrong."

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Normally Teddy would immediately latch onto the concept of intramural sports but there's new bait on the line. She could be a superhero. Up until now she's been thinking of her powers as a condition, or as some weird consequence of her dad's death. She never thought that she could... go out and punch bad guys really hard? Or something? This would bear further thinking-about. Perhaps there would be a guidance counselor,if they hade those at weird mixed-use futuristic mutant school.

"I've been told that, yeah. The doctors didn't really seem to know what was up, though. I think they were confused by, well, I do a lot of sports and I got the feeling they thought I shot up a lot more than I actually did."

...

"That explanation was incredibly helpful, actually. You're good at this. I think I sort of got pushed out of the nest and you're..."

"...okay, I am not going to call you the wind beneath my wings. Because we literally just met. But thanks."

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Zafira grins again. "I'll take it as a compliment! I try to help people when I can. And yeah, baseline doctors kinda suck at diagnosing mutations. Oh, and, word to the wise, you should come up with a codename. Even if you're not planning to do the super thing, they get used for a lot of stuff around here. Mine's Urchin."

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This is all being noted. Teddy has never once come up with a cool codename. Yet.

Teddy wonders if Zafira is named after the sea urchin and, if so, if Zafira can breathe underwater. Teddy wonders if it's rude to ask that kind of thing.

"Are you hungry?" Teddy is hungry, and feels like she could find the dining hall either way.

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"I could eat, sure! Want me to show you to the Crystal Hall?" 

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"If... that's..." She consults her map. "Yes, please."

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