May 18, 2021 2:42 AM
Teddy, recent orphan*, works through new powers, a new school, and grief.
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Zafira starts loping down the hall. "Yeah, the Crystal Hall is the cafeteria. A place of many wonders, by all accounts. I only eat every week or so, which means I'm not as into it as, say, an Energizer would be, but they get good quality meat in for me, and that's really all a girl can ask for."

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"Isn't it!"

Teddy is usually the one loping. She could get used to this.

"I'm catching myself wondering why the cafeteria is called the Crystal Hall."

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"You'll see when we get there - it's a giant geodesic dome, it's really cool."

They exit the building and head toward the center of campus, where there is indeed a giant geodesic dome. It was not featured on the school's website, which is weird considering it's a giant geodesic dome in the center of campus.

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"Well that wasn't on the school website. Maybe it doesn't show up in photos!" She's pretty much joking. She's heard weirder things in the past five minutes.

Teddy isn't quite taking the lead, because she isn't actually sure where she's going, but she has a task to focus on. She beelines for the nearest entrance, walkng backwards.

"I can't wait to run circles around this thing."

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"Oh, yeah, the website on the normal human internet is a decoy so baselines don't think it's a good school and try to send their kids. If you access it from the school intranet you'll get the real site, which you'll need to register for classes and stuff. And running around the Crystal Hall is a time-honored tradition! I run a parkour club, we do it all the time."

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!!!

"You do parkour?" Teddy has stopped, gripping the doorframe, door propped against her back. Multiple people on this campus do parkour regularly. And this was still New England?

But then Teddy smells food, and so she is forced to waft inwards on the fumes like a cartoon character. But she's not dropping this whole jock vibing moment, mark her words.

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Zafira follows her into the cafeteria sedately. "I do! It's a lot of fun, especially when everybody has different powers they can use to cheat. F'rinstance, I run at about 60 miles per hour on all fours, and Sylvia's a Paragon so she gets intuitions of the best thing to do at a given moment, and Jesse's an energizer so she's really fast even without being a quadruped."

The cafeteria is grand and lovely and absolutely fucking ridiculous. It has a bunch of different buffet lines. "Have fun figuring out the categorization system," Zafira says cheerfully. "It's supposed to be pretty straightforward, but I never bothered, because the obligate carnivore lane is where I can acquire most of a cow, and that's all I really need. Speaking of which, off I go to acquire most of a cow."

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     This is a good world that Teddy's stumbled into. Superpower sports! Competition, for once! There are a few outstanding thorns that have stuck in her side (there's supervillains here? and a secret intranet? and tons of white guy statues?), but taken all together, Whateley seems like it's the new horizon she desperately been wanting. She thought she needed something to get her back on track after Dad, but there's a sneaking suspicion unfurling somewhere low in Teddy's chest that she's been stuck for a lot longer than that. She feels like one of those captive killer whales would, if it somehow made it into the ocean.

     ....

     Teddy has, as it turns out, wandered over to some seafood. She's thoroughly ignoring any posted signage, since she has at least five senses that are gonna give her better feedback on how to find what she wants. She's got a grilled whitefish fillet with some kind of lemon situation involved, two considerable salads that are sort of blurring together at their edges, some golden, peppery rice, and a bucketful of ice water before she stops to think about what she's doing. She agrees with her choices, in retrospect. It takes her about twice that long to decide on a dessert, partially out of choice fatigue and partially because Teddy only rarely goes for sugar-bombs in her diet. But ooh, her heart says, they have parfait.

     With the help of a tray that seems ingeniously designed for this exact purpose, Teddy maneuvers her quite-large lunch selection to wherever it seems like Zafira will be able to find her. Teddy's a little unsure if this means that Zafira will be, say, showering her with gore, or if there's a separate area where she eats cows, or what, but you don't get anywhere in school by opting out of hanging out with cool upperclassmen. Teddy will sustain some bloodstains if it's necessary to maintain a friendship. In the meantime, she begins zesting some tiny limes with her (admittedly very useful) fingernails, dropping the fragments in her tureen of ice water and occasionally eating some fish. Are there, like, other students around? She realizes she wasn't paying attention to that until just now. She must have been hungry.

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There aren’t a ton of other people in the cafeteria; there’s still a few days before school starts, and most people haven’t yet arrived. But there’s an old lady with ram’s horns picking at a plate of fried rice, and a middle-school-aged boy eating a very rare steak, and a girl who appears to also be a dragon tearing into a very well-done steak.

Zafira appears to have beaten her to sitting down. She waves at Teddy with one of her claw-arms, as the lesser arms rapidly feed meat and bone into her mouth. It’s a surprisingly neat process, really; there’s hardly any blood dripping down her chin, and there’s no indication that Teddy will be spattered with gore if she sits opposite. 

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Everybody in this cafeteria is going to get heart disease except Teddy and maybe Zafira. She feels that this is true even though she knows nothing about most of their digestive systems. Old habits!

Teddy sufficiently limes her water and then tucks in, eating slowly enough for a standard person and glacially next to the industrial pace that Zafira is setting. The fish vanishes square-by-square. Her war-of-salads is slowly drained of troops. The parfait never even stood a chance. Teddy, who is used to great food, is impressed. She chomps an AWOL radish thoughtfully when she's done, and contemplates Zafira's teeth. Pointy. She wonders how they stay so sharp.

Once Zafira's done, Teddy wants to get cracking. She'll go back to her dorm hopefully supplied with knowledge of what school tasks (registration, signups, textbooks, uniforms, the usual) she can currently knock out, and which she might have to wait a few days for. And, if Zafira seems down, also supplied with an email or phone number so that they can stay in contact. No pressure.

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Zafira’s happy to answer any questions Teddy chooses to pose, once she’s done with her meal, which doesn’t take long. Registration can be done via the school intranet; the system will suggest classes for her to take, and she should probably pay attention to it, because it’s very smart. Textbooks will be listed in the course descriptions when she signs up; she can buy them from the campus store, or the teachers will have used copies to hand out on the first day. The uniform is not strictly mandatory except on special occasions, but can be purchased off-the-rack at the campus store or tailored by Cecilia Rogers in Dunwich. She’s also happy to provide her email address and cell number, along with the email for Alice Carver, a senior and Devisor, “for those nail covers we talked about, she usually does power armor but she could get you fitted for some metal covers and machine them like that, and then you don’t have to worry about scratching stuff up unless you’re trying to.”

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Yay! Friend achieved. Objective completed. School intranet made just a hair creepier.

Teddy texts Zafira so she'll have her number ("Hey! It's teddy"). Then she sends an exploratory email to Carver; typing on the glass screen these days means acting like she's just had a manicure, but it's managable. Still, she's heading back to her dorm for her laptop. Trying to do a whole class schedule on her phone would be hazardous and tedious, which is a bad combination.

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Zafira texts back a smiley face. Alice emails her back within a couple of minutes, expressing slightly awkwardly that she would be delighted to work with Teddy to find a solution to her issue as soon as she gets back to campus the day after tomorrow.

When she gets back to her dorm, her bed has on it 1) a copy of the student handbook, which is not quite novel-sized but comes close, and 2) another laptop, this one larger and boxier than her own.

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"As soon as", huh! People around here were really helpful. As evidenced by all the loot that's been deposited on her bed. She tucks the book into bed, so she'll remember to read it later, and then checks out the new laptop. What are its strategic advantages? Is it rigged to explode? Can it play solitaire. Regardless, Teddy's sticking with her little notebook comp for now.

Teddy theatrically pops her knuckles in the empty room, and gets to registering. She is going to take all of the most wonderful classes.

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The new computer's main advantage is that it is proof against a frankly absurd amount of physical and electromagnetic punishment, according to the system spec document on the desktop. One such laptop is distributed to all incoming freshmen, but if she has her own computer she can feel free to return this one to Schuster Hall.

There are many wonderful classes available to her! Required classes are Intro to Superpowers (Powers Lab and Powers Theory) and either Basic Martial Arts or Survival. (The description of Basic Martial arts specifies, in bold: Yes, you have to take this before other martial arts classes, no matter your level of martial arts experience.) Recommended classes include a college-level lit class offered Saturday mornings, AP Calculus, AP Physics, Mutants and World History, Costume Shop 1, Intro to Mystic Arts, Intro to Psychic Disciplines, and a wide variety of physical activities including but not limited to gymnastics, mountain climbing, and ballet. Somewhat concerningly, the system seems to know which physical activities she's already taken classes in, offering more advanced versions of these classes.

She has eight available class periods in a day, plus the Saturday morning slot. She is not required to fill all of these class periods, but she is encouraged to fill at least five.

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     It's nice to have some proof that Whateley is, like, a real school, like for classes. Teddy takes Powers, Martial Arts (if they insist), AP Calculus, AP Physics, Mutants and World History, Costume Shop, and... hm. Psychic Disciplines. Teddy doesn't want to wear a pointy hat, and if psychics are going to be in her life she'd like to know more about them. She tacks the literature class onto her Saturday slot.

     For her last little treat-yourself slot she goes with Gymnastics. She's happy to just climb stuff on her own time, and she's got a few bad memories associated with ballet. Gymnastics will probably the most social option, too, and she'd love to get back into it where she won't be gently encouraged to leave for being too big.

(It probably wouldn't be wise to just take as many phys-ed classes as she can cram in. Even if she's supernaturally fast at recovering from physical strain now. Maybe next semester.)

     Teddy confirms all of this, and then take out twenty minutes or so to put it in a little planner she brought with her. It's a pleasantly full schedule, although there's a little voice in the back of her head going Wow that's a lot of math huh. She shushes it and closes the journal.

     Armed with the knowledge she needs to get some textbooks*, Teddy gets up and heads out to the campus store. She makes sure her planner is tucked in, next to the student handbook.


*She is also armed with The Sword now, wrapped up in its blanket. She's pretty sure she saw a kid with some kind of cannon, earlier, so that's a thing, and she never really gets to show this thing to people anyway.

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The first thing she may notice is that the campus store has a prominent display of scabbards, one of which - a belt scabbard made of lightly embroidered brown leather, angled so that it won't drag on the ground despite its length - is sized perfectly for The Sword.

The second thing she may notice is that the Campus Store is enormous, and contains far more varieties of thing than seems in any way reasonable. The textbook section is clearly marked, and she can find her assigned readings there. It's just that if she wants anything else - and it seems like she could get anything else - she may have to go exploring.

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Was every student life building on this campus retrofitted from being a wacky derigible hangar? Signs point to yes.

Teddy puts The Sword in the scabbard. She takes it back out. Back in. What. This sword is from some obscure metal refinery in France, she thinks, made to a style that's so irrelevant that it mostly shows up in video games and at Renaissance fairs. But here, in a secret mutant school in New Hampshire, there's a sheath for it. A nice sheath, too, with bronzey thread whipping its way up the length in curlicues.

She'll be wearing that out. The blanket goes in her bag.

Teddy dutifully selects the appropriate books, also snagging a trail map for the area. She manages to find a truly mythical clothing section, and plumbs its depths for a while. She emerges with a powder-blue WHATELEY ACADEMY baseball cap, some gymnastics-and-martial-arts-specific clothing items, and a red hooded sweatshirt with a shockingly yellow banana emblazoned on the chest. She pointedly ignores the uniforms; they'll have to lead her to that particular water before she drinks it.

Teddy pauses. She could honestly peer through this place for hours (and she has the time), but where to go next? She's gonna get some snacks, probably, so she doesn't have to leg it to the cafeteria every time she wants a bite to eat, but those seem mostly closer to the entrance, so she'll do that last.

Where seems the most edifying?

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There's sections for cookware, art supplies, various toiletries, knives, dorm furniture, posters, semi-precious stones, and pet supplies (though they're labeled "familiar supplies" for some reason).

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     Teddy has literally always wanted a pet, but she doubts she'll have the time to learn how. Especially with how complicated the familiar supplies seem to get, the longer she examines them. May she never be asked to feed an aardvark, apparently.

     Wandering, Teddy manages to find a rather sizable, sturdy picnic basket (it's over in the biology section, for some reason, and it has a little sheath for a knife?) and begins placing her stuff into it as she goes. She dawdles in the knife section. They have daggers here, actual full-sized ones, many of them creepy and ceremonial-looking to Teddy's more practical eye. She selects one that looks A) useful, B) similar-ish to her estoc, and C) less arcane than the median. She also snags a multitool and a little hunting knife that fits in the basket-sheath. She caresses a few Chinese combat knives but ultimately stops herself. Let's be practical.

     Teddy would love to add additional surfaces and seats and decorations to her dorm room but decides to wait for her roommate to actually exist first. She does end up picking up a few good-quality markers and things; she knows from experience that she needs fun colors and various tactile experiences to stay engaged with math for very long, and she's gonna give herself the best chance. On top of that, some towels, a box of tissues, and a personal-size whiteboard are crammed into the slightly-protesting wicker basket.

     Then: snacks. a bushel of granola, in both loose and bar-form, spicy chips of variously Korean or Guatemalan origin, and a wholesale-sized package of dried orange segments. Teddy parks everything at the checkout, pays, and shall head dormwards to read her student manual attentively and do some calisthenics. Then: sleep.

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The student manual explains many things, such Whateley's hero-villain neutrality policy, the reasons for said policy (villains would destroy the place if it was just a superhero school, and it was deemed better to have a school for mutants that maintains a neutrality policy than to have a pile of rubble), the fact that threatening other students' families is expressly forbidden even beyond the degree to which threatening other students is forbidden, and the fact that while uniforms are not required on a day-to-day basis, they will be required at certain formal events.

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Books can't tell Teddy what to do!*

Teddy completes a vigorous series of exercises and then, downing water and supplements and a handful of kiwi rice crackers, hits the hay. As she's drifting off, she considers that having completed all of her important tasks today might leave things a bit boring until people start actually arriving on campus. She plans to spend tomorrow exploring the grounds (and getting some proper running done) unless anyone demands anything of her.


*She probably won't threaten anyone's families.

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Tomorrow goes approximately as she plans; nobody demands anything of her yet.

The day after, there's a little shuttlebusload of freshmen shuttled in from Dunwich. They're all in Poe Cottage, for some reason. A couple of other folks trickle in too, but not many.

The day after that, it's a fucking three-ring circus. Kids! Parents! Luggage! Professor Wolfgang is outside with her clipboard, greeting cheerfully until her smile looks like more of a rictus. The cottage is loud; the campus is louder. The Crystal Hall is packed all day.

A girl opens Teddy's door toward lunchtime, dragging a rolling suitcase behind her. She's got a jeweled bindi on her forehead and luxurious-looking black wings folded across her back. "Hi! You must be Teddy, right?"

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She's caught Teddy in the middle of an unlikely-looking stretch (her legs really can go so much farther up than they could before the whole Mutant Thing). A mix of exercise and camping equipment litters the floor, stopping self-conciously at the dorm room's midline. A picnic basket (with a knife!) overflows with multiplicitous snack foods.

Teddy shakes one earbud out of her ears, leaving it to dangle with the other.

"Ye-e-es?" she replies, ratcheting her raised leg downwards with each syllable. "Are you–?" Part bird? Capable of powered flight? Going to yell at me for hoarding food in here?

(Teddy contemplates the new horizons of fitness that come with additional limbs.)

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"Your new roommate!" the girl chirps. (Not like that. She's just cheerful.) "Parvati Deval. Maan, Paapa, andar aao-"

Her parents enter the room, looking around. "Bigger than my old dorm," her father rumbles.

"Mine too," her mother murmurs. "Talk about accommodations, they gave you a room you can fly in!"

"I couldn't fly in here," Parvati laughs. "Um, I'm just going to - okay, your stuff is all on your side, cool - I'm gonna leave my stuff here and we'll get lunch. Do you want to come, Teddy?"

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