October 3, 2012 by Lyn
Monday, September 29, 2003
Timora was on a roll.
There were a lot of things Gar didn’t really enjoy about his current situation. He didn’t like the things he didn’t understand between his Keeper and her crew. He didn’t like the history between Sylvia – said Keeper – and Arundel, the fair haired angel-boy who had been her Kept last year. He wasn’t sure what to think about Porter, who seemed one detective agency shy of a film noir movie, albeit one starring tigers. And he sure as hell knew he didn’t like the collar Sylvia had tricked him into wearing, or the Keeping the damn mind-control collar had forced him into.
On the other hand, he thought Timora was kind of awesome. He thought watching Porter and even stupid-bird-brain Arundel coax her out of her shell was kind of entertaining, and when he wasn’t feeling particularly pissy and Sylvia wasn’t feeling particularly controlling, he liked helping with that process. And when she popped out of her shell – which she did at random moments, in full force – he loved watching her somehow run all over her Keeper – and sometimes, by proxy, over his Keeper too. The totally lost looks on their faces when she did that were worth a little bit of aggravation.
He’d only been part of their Crew, however unwillingly, for just over two weeks, but it was already clear that, when given her head, Timora had schemes. Wild plans, even. And nobody seemed willing to rein her in.
(Least of all Gar. He liked the chaos she caused. He really liked the way it irritated Sylvia).
But this latest scheme –
Her latest plan involved her deep-set belief that Porter, the fifth wheel in their happy little dysfunction, really needed his very own sixth wheel, and her equally strong belief that she was the one to pick that girl out. To that end, she had instituted Date Night.
Gar was behind the idea of getting Porter a girlfriend. It only seemed fair. He was behind Timora picking out the girl, too, because Porter didn’t seem like the type to pick his own girl with any sort of luck, Arundel couldn’t find his wings with both hands and a map and Gar had walked into a trap with a girl who passed out sentient necklaces.
This artifact is neither sentient nor truly a necklace. It is a repository of information, a database, set into a chain collar.
It was snotty, too. He tugged on it, even though he knew it would do no good and the collar might somehow report to Sylvia that he’d been fiddling again. Timora. Girlfriend. Porter. Maybe the eavesdropping thing could be of some help, if it stayed on topic.
The nature of the Addergoole facility suggests that Porter will, indeed, need a female companion at some point. The genetic match between Timora and Porter would be… the collar provided graphs and maps, but it was both beyond Gar and nothing he really wanted to think about.
Getting Porter a girl wasn’t an awful idea, that was the point, not the sort of kids Timora and Porter could make (Zebras? Gar was betting on zebras. Her hooves, his stripes). Timora picking her out, that didn’t seem too bad an idea, either. The first one – Cynara, a mink-like Sixth Cohort – had been a dud, but that was more Porter being a wuss than there being anything wrong with the girl.
Gar had kind of liked her. They’d shared a look, she’d looked at his collar, he’d shrugged, she’d shrugged, and he was pretty sure they’d said about a thousand words of maybe another time. Then again, from the uneasy way Sylvia’s tail was moving around (if there was a thing he liked about being Kept by Sylvia, it was that she had a tail. Of course, so did Cynara), the book had been one she could read, too. Oh, well. If she wanted willing, happy Kept, she shouldn’t have resorted to magical mind control and sentient shut up collars to do it. Bird-brain was happy enough with Timora, and vice-versa.
Porter had been flat-out intimidated by her. And he wasn’t going to pursue anything if he was too scared to look the girl in the eye. But she was a Sixth Cohort, in her last year at the school. Tonight’s was a Seventh Cohort, same year as Sylvia and only a year above Porter and Arundel. Maybe this would go better.
“What do you know about Adelheid?”
“Mmm?” Sylvia spent a lot of time ignoring him to read. Then again, she spent a lot of time ignoring everyone and everything. If it weren’t for the nights, Gar wouldn’t have any idea what she wanted a Kept for at all.
And the nights… well. He wanted to get her a dog, or a large cat, or something. Maybe a teddy bear with heater up its ass. Since all she ever did was snuggle him. It was nice snuggling and all, most of the time, but it was nothing to do with him.
“Gar, what is it?”
Damn. He’d been doing that too much, lately, thoughts wandering. He blamed the collar, which would often present somewhat-related images when he thought something too pointedly. It was like web-surfing in his head, with no minimize button.
His Keeper was staring at him. Frowning, and not in the good way. “Adelheid. Sorry. This collar thing you ‘gave’ me, it’s distracting sometimes, you know.”
“I am certain you will grow used to it. It is a useful learning tool, and you have a great deal to learn.”
“It’s a school. I’m in classes.” It was an argument they’d been having for weeks already. Gar was pretty sure they’d keep having it until she took the damn collar off of him.
Not tonight, apparently. “You wanted to know about Adelheid?”
“Yeah. I mean, anything I shouldn’t bring up, any rough spots, bad times?” Lots of people at Addergoole had those. “Embarrassing Changes, teachers she hates, mortal enemies?”
“It’s probably best not to bring up Anwell, although you wouldn’t know him to bring him up.” The collar provided an image of a lean, nervous-looking boy with pale skin and a shock of green hair; his tongue was long and serpentine. Gar ignored the small data sheet that popped up to focus on the rest of what Sylvia was telling him. “She’s not an A-plus student by any means, but she doesn’t have any major rivalries or hatreds still in the school, and she is generally a neutral party, not interested in any of the campaigning that this institution sometimes indulges in.”
“So she’s a wallflower whose… what, Keeper? Graduated.”
“Kept. It’s complicated, as many of these things are. Not a wallflower, just not one of those with a clear agenda.”
The collar knew nothing about Sylvia, and would not tell him things about her like who was her Keeper, if anyone? Who are her mortal enemies? Sometimes he could pick something up from the way she talked about other students, though.
“Campaigned? Like…” The knock on the door interrupted his fishing expedition.
“Get the door, Garfunkel.”
“Why? It’s not like I can let them in anyway.” One of the things the collar had informed him of early on: It is against the Law to enter another’s Home without their invitation had quickly led to a less-helpful piece of information: Those who Belong to another have no sanctity of the threshold themselves. He couldn’t invite people over Sylvia’s threshold, and he didn’t have any of his own to hide behind.
“Because that is the way things are, and Timora is not available.”
Pretending that made sense, Gar opened the door. Much to his no surprise at all, Adelheid was standing in the doorway.
The strawberry-blonde girl was smiling at him. It was a rather intimidating expression considering the spiral horns jutting back from her forehead. “Gar, right? Arundel invited me over for dinner?”
“Right.” Why was he having trouble talking? Her lineage runs to warriors of both genders, the collar provided. Well, that would do it, the terrified urge to run running up and down his spine. He cleared his throat, and glanced over his shoulder. There was supposed to be some stupid telephone game here or something…
“Heidi! Come on in!” Birdbrain rescued him from the repeating-the-computer moment. Hating feeling grateful to the stupid twit, Gar got out of the way ungraciously and let Adelheid enter. “Timora will be right out; she’s having a wardrobe crisis.” Arundel shrugged, as if to say “what-do-I-know?” and gestured at the fully-set table. “Have a seat. Ah, Gar, do you mind…?”
“Do I mind what?” He sure as hell did, whatever he was supposed to be minding or not!
“Garfunkel, get Heidi a drink.” Oh, now Sylvia was going to talk. To order him around. Of course.
“So, uh, what would you like to drink?”
The probably-a-warrior-woman looked sympathetic, which just made him more embarrassed. Feel bad for the poor little slave, that was great. “Some sort of juice?”
“OJ should work with the dinner,” Gar decided, and, the press of the order making him want to rush, got three glasses of orange juice. He served one to Adelheid, who gave him another infuriating pitying glance, and then put the second in front of Timora’s seat and the third in front of his own.
“Water for me, please.” The please didn’t make it any less of an order and, grumbling, Gar went back to the kitchen to get her a damned glass of water. She hadn’t said iced, but he’d just have to go back again if he didn’t put some stupid ice in it. Ice it was.
“Water’s good, thanks, Gar.”
Knowing he was being petty and not caring, he gave Porter his water first, and ignored Arundel altogether. The bird-brain didn’t seem to notice, and helped himself to a glass of orange juice. Good. That way Sylvia wouldn’t order Gar to wait on him, too.
Porter and Adelheid were making uncertain faces at each other, clearly knowing that this was a set-up. Two couples, if you could call Keeper-Kept pairs couples, and then the two of them.
Timora came out just then, smiled at their guest, and held up a sign that said [Welcome.]
Gar was glad for the sign. Her voice was getting better; she could carry on a short conversation without making everyone run screaming. (Except bird brain, who didn’t have enough mind to want to flee.) But it still wasn’t any sort of pleasant.
Adelheid had been briefed, it looked like. She grinned back at Timora. “Thanks. I hear this was your idea?”
Timora didn’t seem like she wanted to add more. Gar glanced at Arundel; nope, nothing there. Porter? Of course not. Sylvia? Doubly of course not. Did she even speak to strangers?
Just Gar. Her crew, and Gar.
And there was just Gar to answer their guest. “So, ah, Timora thinks Porter needs to get out once in a while. She thinks he’s a cranky kitty, I guess.”
“Thanks so much, Gar.” Porter rolled his eyes. “It’s a crew outreach program, talking to beautiful women in other crews.” Corny line. Then again, all of Porter’s lines were corny.
Adelheid graced them both with a knowing smile. “I see. Well, your outreach program smells delicious, at the very least.”
“Timora made dinner,” Gar volunteered.
“Gar helped.” That was bird brain, not being helpful at all. “I can cook, but not great. Porter likes his meat raw or something.”
“And thank you so very much, Arundel.” Porter shot a dour look at his why-were-they-even-friends friend.
Adelheid cleared her throat. “Seems like the year is off to a good start. Did you hear about Brenna and Tess in the Dining Hall?”
Gar tried to pretend he wasn’t listening. Noam had gotten caught just after he had, but they’d been decent friends until their Keepers started running their lives. Now? Now they really didn’t get to have friends.
“In the Dining Hall? Porter leaned forward. “That’s off limits.”
“Not if all you do is snarl.”
“Man.” Bird brain mantled, nearly knocking over Porter on one side and Timora on the other. “I wish Tess would just leave her alone. That girl’s gone through enough.”
Adelheid just smiled. “That’s the fun thing. Without doing anything more than talking, Brenna got Tess and Lucian to flee.“
“Hunh.” Arundel settled down. “Well, good for her.” He looked disappointed. Gar was a bit disappointed, too. People shouldn’t just get people as birthday presents.
Giving people as gifts has been common in several periods of Ellehemaei culture, as well as willing them to an inheritor…
Not what he wanted to know right now, thanks. The important part was that the little bitch of a dormouse could make people run away.
“That’s boss.” Porter leaned forward, grinning. “I always wanted to see her really use that Change. She’s really sharp.”
She couldn’t be a banshee like Timora or people wouldn’t have been so surprised by the whole thing on Hell Night. How did she do it? “How…?”
The room fell quiet. “That’s her thing.” Porter looked down at his plate as he said it, his ears moving but not with any clear purpose or emotion. “If she wants you to know – if she wants Noam to know – she can tell you, and him, herself.”
“So it’s like that, is it?” He looked around the table. “None of you hide your Changes. Was I supposed to start hiding mine?” He ran his fingers along the rock ridges on his arms.
“There’s no need, if you are comfortable with the way you look.” Sylvia imitated his gesture, brushing the soft fur on her wrists. “I don’t need to hide you.”
Great. She didn’t need to hide him. She didn’t need anything at all, except to cuddle him.
“Some people hide because they can’t get used to the idea of not being human.” Adelheid, consciously or unconsciously, touched her left horn near her temple. “Some like to be mysterious. Some just don’t like their change.”
“Like Cartimandua.” Porter’s helpfulness would have seemed more sincere if it didn’t sound like he was trying really hard not to change the subject. “She doesn’t let anyone at all see her Change, now that she has a choice. And some people love their change. Like, I dunno…”
Timora held up a sign: [You?] She really ought to get some sort of flipbook, instead of these flashcards. The flashcards were getting silly.
Porter laughed. “Well, yeah. Me. I think being fluffy is kind of boss. Um. I’m pretty sure some of the Boom crew are in love with their Changes, too.”
That was a new term for Gar, and if they wanted him to change the subject from Brenna’s Changes, well, this one looked interesting. “Crews have names? Or is that a description?”
Adelheid laughed. “Yes. Some crews have names. Like our Crew, the Elf-get. And some crews are just described. So-and-so’s Crews sort of thing. ‘Those crazy people.’ Boom is sort of both.”
“Boom.” Gar thought about that, and couldn’t help smiling a bit. “Sounds, uh, explosive.” He wondered if they were taking applications for new members. He did pretty well at explosions.
“They are. Hey, I hear Calvin challenged Leo last week.”
“Calvin?” Timora leaned forward, ignoring the wince from four-fifths of the rest of the table. “Leo…” She frowned, and mimed a pair of antlers by putting both hands to the sides of her head.
To her credit, their guest didn’t laugh. To no-one’s surprise, Arundel did. “The one with the antlers, yeah. The blonde one?” Timora nodded, still looking worried. “Yeah, he’s a nice guy. Is he okay, Heidi?”
“That’s the amusing part. You didn’t think I’d be smiling if he’d gotten into trouble, do you? I’d be out there dealing with family business.”
Gar barely knew who they were talking about. Calvin had to be the jerk that had been after Timora until Hell Night. Leo – from the conversation that had to be Leofric, a tall blonde Sixth Cohort with, of course, deer antlers. Gar hated to agree with Arundel on anything, but Leo had struck him as a decent guy, if a bit flakey.
Tall… blonde… with horn-like things…. He glanced at Adelheid again, squinting. Her nose was a bit smaller, maybe, and the horns were totally different…
She smirked back at him. “Yeah. Turns out I have a lot of family here. Arnbjörg, Leo… Aelgifu and Yngvi graduated last year, but we’ve got Vi’s former boyfriend in our crew. Kees.”
“That happens a lot around here. You come in, find out someone you never met is your half-brother or sister or both, and bam, instant family. Or instant animosity, that happens sometimes too. It’s…” She trailed off, glancing at Sylvia.
“I don’t mind him receiving information.” There she was again, sounding so damn cold, and so much like she was in charge of his life. Of course, she was in charge of his life.
The collar was already telling him things, anyway. The nature of the program Director Regine engaged in and is still engaging in meant that many participants parented children with multiple partners, who were then raised by one parent, two parents, or sometimes an entirely unrelated foster-family. He was pretty sure the collar paused for breath or something after that, and Adelheid was talking. She was a lot more fun to listen to than a piece of metal, so he focused on her.
“Regine was doing something with genetics. Some people – like my father – just seem to make kids wherever they go, so I don’t think she had to do much there. But some people, she bribed or blackmailed or just hired to have children for her. And here we are.”
Gar coughed. She’d what? “She bribed our parents? That… that sound ridiculous. That’s really not a load of bullshit, is it? I mean, even though it sounds like a conspiracy theory?”
Sylvia turned her gaze on him. She only had one expression, but this variation seemed to be something like you moron, why in the world would you think that? Gar struggled against a frustrating urge to apologize or just vanish (or explode. He really didn’t want to explode again), and looked back at Adelheid.
Once again, she didn’t laugh. He could kiss her for that. She did smile, though. “I know, right? That’s what I thought at first. Well, what I really thought was ‘My big brother has a kid, what the hell, is Rory insane?’ but it comes down to pretty much the same thing. I have a full brother here, too,” she added, misinterpreting Gar’s confused face.
No. He shut the collar down before it could explain. He had no interest in knowing right now. He wanted to listen to the pretty girl in front of him.
“So, she was trying for… otters and tigers…”
“And bears, oh my.” Bird brain grinned like he was being clever or something. Gar didn’t break his face, or even explode just a little bit on him. He didn’t want this date to go to hell, even if Porter was letting him monopolize the conversation.
Timora covered that one for him; she scribbled up a sign with her noisiest marker, directing attention away from him. He peeked sideways to read it while pretending to focus on his dinner. He really did work well with her, when he was allowed to.
[Are you saying there’s no conspiracy theories here at all, Adelheid?]
“Oh, come on.” Porter looked like he was trying to laugh that off. “There’s always a mystery somewhere.”
“There is.” Finally, their guest shared a warm smile with her intended target. “There’s always a secret somewhere, too. But there’s always people who want to look mysterious, too, and people who want to pretend to have more interesting secrets than they do.”
Timora nodded, and began writing again. Gar felt better about the older girl for the fact that she waited patiently for the note to appear.
[And then there are people who just make mysteries. Silly stuff on the walls, creepy music playing, etc.]
“Yeah. That’s a bit strange.” She shared a look with the rest of the table that seemed to exclude Gar and Timora. “I mean, yeah, there’s always a bit of the weird pranks – last few years, at least. Some of the Fifth and Fourth Cohort I talked to seemed to think it came in with the Sixth. But by this point in the year, the really bad-horror-movie stuff is usually done. And the whole handprints-on-the-walls and creepy-graffiti thing is new. I wonder if it’s an Eighthie?”
“Not me.” Porter grinned. “I probably could do it, too, you know. The cameras would still catch it, whoever was doing it. I’m surprised Luke hasn’t done anything.”
Cameras. Gar wasn’t surprised. He was even less surprised when his collar provided a map of known cameras, and extrapolated a few blind spots. But he hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to the graffiti. He’d been too busy being pissed off, if he was going to be honest with himself.
“Luke’s been really grumpy.” There went Bird brain, stating the obvious.
“Luke’s always grumpy,” Porter countered. It wasn’t just Gar, then.
“No, I mean, grumpier. Angry, really angry. It’s screwing with his flying, and that’s a pretty impressive feat, to mess with Luke’s flying.” Gar hated the way Timora ducked out of the way of Arundel’s mantling, like she barely even noticed that she had to watch out for her own Keeper anymore. Wasn’t he supposed to be taking care of her and stuff? “Something’s on his mind, and he’s staring at the cameras a lot.”
“Creepy stalker demon.” Gar muttered it under his breath, but it didn’t stop Sylvia from Looking at him. “What? Bat wings, stares at camera footage of his students. Creepy stalker demon.”
“My Mentor is not creepy. He’s not a stalker. And he is not a demon!” Arundel was half out of his seat, screeching.
“Woah, woah.” Adelheid set a hand on the bird-brain’s arm. “Calm down, man. You have to admit, if you don’t know Luke, he can come off a little bit…”
Slowly, Arundel sat, patting at Timora as if to smooth her back in place after he’d knocked her with his wing yet again. “Dour, maybe,” he allowed. “Come on, people say all sorts of things about your Mentor.”
“Most of the things people say about Lady Maureen are true. Just like most of the things people say about any of our Mentors are true. Come on, Arun.”
“There’s no need for him to be such a little shit all the time.”
Yeah, there was. Gar met the taller boy’s glare with one of his own.
“Boys.” Sylvia’s tone never changed. “Perhaps it’s time for dessert, Arundel, if you don’t mind?”
“What did… sure. Coming right up, Sylvia.”
Gar did his best not to gloat as bird-brain served dessert. This whole thing was supposed to be about Porter and Adelheid, not about his justifiable prickliness and just-as-justifiable dislike of Arundel. With that in mind, he stayed out of the conversation and let them talk about school stuff he didn’t get over the chocolate mousse he and Timora had made.
“She’s a nice girl.” Porter’s final decision came not seconds after the door had closed behind her. “We ought to invite her and her girlfriend over sometime.”
The expression on Timora’s face looked nothing like defeat. Gar wondered how many more of these dinners they were going to have to go through.
September 29, 2003 – evening
Sylvia was frowning as they got ready for bed. Gar wouldn’t have noticed it, but he sneaked a peek while she was sliding on her nightshirt. She always asked him to turn around when she changed, every time. She always turned her back when he changed, too.
He liked the way her tail looked, her tail, and the butt it mostly covered, though, so sometimes, like tonight, he peeked. She was facing him today, so he saw the frown instead, and most of the rest of her. He focused on his own pants for a while, tying the drawstring on his sweats into a knot.
She cleared her throat, the noise seeming far too loud and close. He glared at her for bringing his attention back to her, and for breaking her routine. She didn’t break her routine. She’d made that very clear very early on. She did not break her routine, and she did not accept other people breaking it, either. Her lines were unbendable, but at least he always knew where they were.
“I have been endeavoring,” she began. Gar cringed. That wasn’t a good start. And there was going to be more, wasn’t there? You didn’t just end with “endeavoring.”
“To not anger you.” See? He’d know she was going to go on. “I have been trying to placate you when necessary, despite the fact that such burden traditionally weighs on the possession, not the possessor. Yet you still seem quite angry, and consistently so – although I do appreciate the fact that you have not, since I brought you into my home, exploded again.”
It felt nice to be appreciated. Gar didn’t like how nice it felt. The collar had explained it, several times: the bond between Owner and Owned is such that the Owned is driven to please its Owner. The Law provides positive feedback for such behavior, just as it provides negative for displeasing the Owner. It didn’t make him like being turned into an overeager puppy-dog to her occasionally-attentive pet-owner.
He’d said that once. She’d been so angry he’d fled. He hadn’t dared come back in the room until she forced him to – and then she hadn’t explained a damn thing. Of course.
“Well, what?” He snapped it, thinking about the fit of anger that had her hissing out soft invective at him.
“Well, why are you persisting in being angry?”
It was such a her question, such a stupid question, that he couldn’t even yell at her. He stared at her instead, trying to figure it out, figure her out. Did she really mean it? Of course she did; she didn’t say anything she didn’t mean. She’d told him that, too.
“You tricked me into being your slave.” He said it slowly. He was sure he’d said it before, not out loud. “You don’t even want to date me, like bir- Arundel.” He wasn’t allowed to use the bird-brain thing out loud. She’d been very specific that she would not order his thoughts around. He thought that was a bit weird. “Like your roommate and Timora. You just want a teddy bear. You tricked me into being Kept so you could have a teddy bear.” His voice was rising, going from cold and annoyed to hot and really, really angry.
Angry. Shit. Angry was bad.
Gar took a few long, gulping breaths, reining in his temper, thinking about water, and quiet places, and things that weren’t going to send him exploding shrapnel all over the room. He still could see, clearly, bloodily clearly, what she’d looked like after his first explosion. He didn’t want to do that to anyone ever again, not even her. Maybe especially not her.
“You took all my freedom away, and you wonder why I’m angry?” He said it carefully, measuring the space between words. He could still tell he’d gone too far, though. She was looking at him, her lips pressed tightly together.
“If you would like to see ‘all of your freedom taken away,’ I can oblige you. But I have been attempting to give you the room to get used to the bond and all it entails. I have been trying,” as her voice rose, for the first time Gar realized what she looked like angry, actually angry, “to give you as much freedom as I could. To give you time. And you have given me nothing but anger and more anger.”
He looked at her, feeling furious and helpless and miserable, all of those feeding into the next and threatening to make a tornado in his mind. “I want my life back.” It was small thing, a useless thing to say. But, of all the things, it made her smile. What the hell?
“We all do, Garfunkel. That’s the horrible secret of Addergoole.” She hugged him, and he didn’t see any way or reason to stop her.
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST.
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