Copyright 2013 - Allison R. Warn
Prologue: Arrivals and Introductions
A sage-colored Subaru with Wisconsin disabled parking plates, a Sevastopol High School student parking permit, and a large assortment of bumper stickers drove past the large stone sign through the main entryway to campus, pulled off the road out of traffic flow, and stopped, turning on its hazard lights.
Reaching across in front of her passenger, Carlie opened the glove box and pulled out a folded map. "Man, never would have guessed we would miss the rush in both Milwaukee and Chicago," she laughed. "Still, better early than late, I suppose. Let's see here – if this is the entrance... I think we need to go here. What do you think, River?"
"I concur," Carlie laughed, putting the map away and scratching the dog behind the ears. "Don't worry, girl, we'll get you out of the car soon." While the dog enjoyed car rides, it had been a long trip, and the energetic young Labrador-Husky mix was antsy for some open space to stretch her four legs. Meanwhile, Carlie was going stir-crazy for a conversational partner who could actually talk back – she talked to her dog all the time as a matter of course, but the twelve hour drive had been the longest she'd ever made solo, and the inescapable feeling that she was carrying on a conversation with herself was beginning to take its toll. Turning off her hazard lights, she shifted back into drive and made her way to the parking lot shown on her map.
Pulling into the priority space, she turned off the ignition and then removed the harness which secured River to the passenger side seat belt and opened both the dog's door and her own. "Come here, girl – let's get you dressed," she laughed.
Tail a-wagging, the big brown and white dog bounded around the front of the car to her favorite human. "Wo-of."
"Here you go, Rivvie," Carlie nodded, first putting on the dog's bracing harness, followed by her service dog ID vest. Satisfied that her faithful companion was squared away, she grabbed her fish-painted crutches from the backseat and got to her feet, wincing a bit – the long drive had her fatigued, and that never did her joints any good.
River cocked her head to one side, looking at Carlie with concern in her big blue eyes – she knew very well when her human was hurting. She ran around to the trunk and pawed at the latch. "Woo-woof!"
"Yeah, dogger, I think you're probably right. Better not go off-roading until I've gotten some rest. Not wearing my braces right now anyway." Pulling her key fob back out of the pocket of her cargo shorts, she popped the trunk and made her slow way around. She walked with pigeon toes and a scissor gait, and no small amount of flinching. "Frankenchair it is, then." Bracing herself on the bumper for balance and pulling down a small folding ramp, she got out a wheelchair with brightly colored daisies painted all over its blue frame. She checked the messenger bag hanging from the back of the chair for a water bottle, a dog bowl, and IDs for both her and River, then closed the trunk, dropped her crutches in the holder mounted to the chair's frame, and dropped gratefully into the seat. "Much better," she nodded.
"What is it, girl? Timmy fell down the well again?" Carlie laughed. "Seriously, Riv – what's got you all worked up?" Though she remained at Carlie's left wheel in a proper heel, the dog replied only with further barking. However, the question presently answered itself nonetheless.
A large red fox came out of a nearby wooded area. A large red fox, wearing a floral bandana tied back behind its ears and a blue saddlebag. Sitting on its haunches, the vulpine raised one front paw, as if to say 'one moment, please.' It slunk its way out of the saddlebags and looked around surreptitiously. Seeing no one around but Carlie and River, the fox... nodded. Its form began to shift, and a moment later, there was standing there, not the red fox from previously, but a... bipedal fox-y young woman. She still had a mostly vulpine-shaped head, though her muzzle had noticeably contracted, and she had an orange coat with white chin and belly, black paws, white tail tip and a nearly flat chest. Behind her pointy vulpine ears, her coat grew into a shoulder-length mane, now held back by the bandana. She stretched on two digitigrade legs, arching her back with an audible pop rippling down her spine. She was technically decent, courtesy of thick fur covering anything that might otherwise be considered indiscreet, but was otherwise nude aside from her bandana – a not-unheard of trick among shapeshifters. "Sorry about that," she laughed, her tail waving merrily. "I prefer the fox shape for traveling, but the mouth isn't so good for talking."
As River stopped barking and sat staring at the newcomer, her head cocked to one side, Carlie blinked. "Um... did I just see what I think I just saw?"
"Probably," the fox-girl smirked as she nonchalantly reached into her saddlebags and extracted a green t-shirt with yellow polka dots and a pair of denim overall shorts, then set about getting dressed. "If you think you just saw a common fox shift into a furry's wildest dream, then yeah," she giggled. She gave a momentary yip as her tail caught whilst she was threading it through the slit in the back of her shorts. "Most of the time, people don't get to see the shifty parts," she chuckled. "This place might be an exception to that, though," she smirked.
"Okay, just checking," Carlie grinned, relaxing. "I thought twelve hours on the road might have been playing tricks on my eyes. Please tell me that didn't hurt as much as it looked like it ought to."
"Fortunately, no, it didn't." the fox-girl assured her, fastening the last of the overall straps. "I think my brain must automatically flood my system with endorphins when I shift, or something weird like that." She grinned, extending a paw. "I'm Taybree O'Malley, by the way," she added. "Pleased to meet you."
"Likewise," Carlie grinned, shaking hands. "Carlie Eisen. And the pup is River. You an incoming freshman too?"
"Yep," Taybree nodded. "I only live about 85 miles away, so I decided to ship all my stuff ahead and take a week and make a nice little backpacking trip out of it. I was just digging the chance for some solitude and nature, you know? And there's some really pretty country between here and Spruce Point." She paused – River still seemed wary, her tail tucked and her ears slightly back. "I know touching service dogs is usually a no-no, but do you mind if I make a proper formal canine introduction to River, Carlie?" Taybree asked. "I'd rather she not be afraid of me."
"Me too," Carlie agreed, giving her dog the hand signal for 'break'. "Go right ahead. I'm actually pretty flexible about letting her take five in the vest anyways, long as folks ask first."
Taybree nodded. "Fantabulous," she grinned. "All right, River, let's do this right." Getting down on all fours, she extended a closed fist towards the dog, letting her sniff. Once the dog seemed calmer, she approached closer to sniff noses, tail a-wagging. Once the ritual sniffing of butts was complete, fox-girl and dog were happily rolling in the grass as though they'd been best friends since puppyhood. "Much better," Taybree laughed, finally getting to her feet and plucking a dandelion out of her hair.
"Nice," Carlie giggled. "River – on me," she instructed, whereupon the dog promptly returned to heeling at her left wheel.
"Do you know where Orientation is supposed to be?" Taybree asked, taking a shoulder strap from her saddlebag and attaching it to convert the luggage into a messenger bag.
Carlie extracted a folded piece of paper from the cargo pocket of her olive green shorts, squinting at it for a moment before reaching into her shirt pocket and swapping her prescription sunglasses for untinted lenses. "Let's see here – Davis Student Union, room 204," she nodded. "I think that building there is Davis," she grinned. "Hope so, anyways, or that is the worst use of priority parking tags ever," she laughed. "One way to find out."
"So, my schtick is pretty obvious," Taybree remarked as they headed toward the red brick structure suspected of being the student union. "What is it you do, if you don't mind my asking?"
"I do this," Carlie grinned, extending one hand palm up. Atmospheric water began to coalesce into a tiny cloud, raining into her hand where the water froze into a simple ice sculpture of a turtle. She waved her free hand over it, and the ice melted, then evaporated and condensed back into a cloud. She blew on it, and it dissipated, the last wisps swirling away into nothingness.
"Whoa," Taybree grinned. "How do you discover a trick like that, anyways?"
"I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool as a kid," Carlie laughed. "I actually knew how to swim, but I panicked, and without realizing it, I kind of, um, parted the pool."
"You mean, like Moses?" Taybree asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yep," Carlie nodded. "No staff required. How do you discover a trick like that?"
"This is actually the shape I was born in," the fox-girl grinned. "I discovered the others later – even now, though, I can't actually tell you how I shift. I just concentrate, and somehow, it happens."
"How many shapes do you have, anyways?"
"Four – fully fox, fully human, and two in between. There's this one, and there's one that's mostly human but with fox ears, paws, and tail. I very seldom use the fully human form, though – I guess I've just had a tail so much of my life that it just doesn't feel right not having it, and the human's ears and nose don't work as well as the others, either. Also, shoes are of the devil. The two hybrids are the ones I use the most."
"That makes sense," Carlie nodded as they reached the building, which a 'Welcome Incoming Students' banner stretched across the entrance and a black address marker with a multicolored hexagon out front helpfully confirmed to be Davis Student Union. "River – open," she grinned, pointing at the button for the automatic door opener.
Tail a-wagging, River trotted up and nosed the button.
"What kind of dog is she?" Taybree asked. "She's seventeen shades of adorable, but I don't think I've ever seen one quite like her."
"Half chocolate lab, half Siberian husky," Carlie grinned as they made their way inside. "She is a cutie, but she can be a bit of a handful. I think that right there may actually be a four-legged perpetual motion machine. And she's even more hyper than usual after the long drive."
"How long a drive, out of curiosity?"
"I left Sturgeon Bay at five am this morning – stopped a few times to get gas and walk the dog."
"Ouch – I can't say that I blame River any for being antsy," Taybree nodded sympathetically. "Two hours in a car is about my limit. And do not even get me started on the subject of airplanes – how my parents survived the flight with me when we moved here from Dublin when I was four years old is a mystery for the ages."
"Yikes," Carlie laughed. "Hmm... Room 204 should be on the second floor. There's the stairwell, but stairs and I don't get along so well..."
"Are you ladies trying to get to Orientation?" asked a voice from behind with a slight British accent.
Both girls turned to see a man, clearly more than old enough to be their grandfather, leaning on an intricately carved wooden cane. He wore a newsboy's cap, a bow tie, and a tweed jacket with a daisy in his buttonhole. "Yes, Sir, we are," Taybree nodded.
The old man smiled kindly. "Please, everyone around here just calls me Ben. Old Ben, if they're feeling particularly precise," he chuckled.
"Surely it must be Young Ben," Carlie grinned. "You don't look a day past sixty."
"That's very sweet of you to say, my dear," Ben laughed. "Quite untrue, but very sweet nonetheless. I haven't seen sixty since well before either of you was a twinkle in your Grandaddy's eye. I fear ninety shan't be calling around again, either," he chuckled. "The elevator is just down that hall there," he said, pointing. "Orientation will be the second door on the left as you come off."
"Thank you, Ben," Taybree nodded.
"Any time, my dear," Ben smiled. "I believe Dean Henderson is already up there – she'll be the one with the shoulder length black hair. Could you tell her I'll be along in a few minutes, please? I seem to have forgotten something."
"Sure thing," Carlie grinned. With that, they headed for the elevator.
"Leah, we seem to have a bit of a snag," Cam said, stepping into room 204 with her husband Toby following close behind. "Our babysitter has the flu, and Nick and Eliza are out of town until tomorrow morning. I know your boys said they'd watch the older kids, but I don't want to saddle them with a newborn as well."
"You can just keep Rosie with you, if that works for you," Leah shrugged, turning to the two doctors. "She's two months old, it's not like she's big enough to cause much trouble yet."
"I wouldn't count on that," Toby laughed, making kissy faces at his baby daughter where she was chilling on Mommy's chest in a carrier. "Rosie can about wake the dead when she puts her mind to it," he smirked. "Right about 3am, usually – but that works. If she gets fussy, one of us can just step out with her."
"Definitely," Leah agreed. "No beard, Toby?" the dean asked. Her friend's usual ponytail remained, but his goatee was nowhere to be seen.
"Nope," he laughed, shaking his head. "Rosie didn't like it – I think it was too scratchy, maybe. Given the choice between epic beard and kissing my baby girl, it's not much of a contest," he smiled, kissing the baby's forehead.
"Can't say that I blame you any," Leah chuckled. "Of course, now any hope Glenwood ever had of telling you and Nick apart is officially gone," she smirked. "I swear that you two do it on purpose."
The man grinned impishly. "I can neither confirm nor deny that statement, Leah."
From the hall, there could be heard a rapid pattering of little feet, closely followed by parental voices. "Zanni, Pippi, this is not the playground. Walk, girls, don't run."
"Sounds like the Beckersons are approaching," Cam snickered. "I wish I had half of Zanni and Pippi's energy."
"You and me both," Leah laughed. "Hell, I'd settle for a quarter."
Presently, the door opened and in charged two identical little girls, about four years old. They looked mostly human, but with feline ears, paws, and tails. Their parents followed close behind.
"Esme, Jules," Leah nodded to the two federal agents. "Did Des get a hold of you before he left?"
"Yep," Jules confirmed, running a hand through his blond hair. "We've got the briefing under control. Man, I gotta feel sorry for whichever young sailor the navy needed him aboard a ship to chew out, though. He was fit to be tied."
"If naval command was hauling Des out there, I think we can safely assume that they deserved it," Esme observed wryly. The neko's tail twitched. "They don't call him out unless there's major hazing going on between paranormal and mundane crew, and routine ship discipline protocol isn't solving the problem. I'm sure he's currently putting into them the fear of whichever god or gods they believe in."
"And probably a few that they don't," Jules agreed. "Never mess with a retired SEAL."
"Sage words to live by," Toby chuckled.
Suddenly, Esme cringed. "Uh-oh – did anyone check the licorice status of wherever they sent him? Some things, not even bigots should have to deal with..."
"Daddy, did Uncle Des hafta go and Keel-haul someone?" one twin asked.
"Yes, Zanni, he did," Jules nodded. "Where did you even hear that word, anyway?"
"I heard you and Auntie Astrid talking," the girl giggled.
"Does that mean someone was naughty?" Pippi asked. "Is Uncle Des gonna kick their butts?"
"Very naughty," Esme nodded. "And no, not really kicking – that isn't nice, and two wrongs don't make a right. But he will ground them and put them in grown-up time-out. They'll get some extra chores, too."
"They need to learn to be good and not act up," Zanni said sagely.
Toby laughed. "Can we get these two to go and lecture AAPT and CCOMEPAS?"
"Man, I wish," Jules snickered. "It'd certainly save us a lotta trouble."
"Zanni, no pouncing anyone but your sister. And Pippi, you are not to go invisible, do I make myself clear? If I have to come and sniff you out, neither of us will enjoy it." Esme's tail twitched as though it had a mind of its own.
"Yes, Mama," the twins nodded.
"Good," Jules grinned. "Now you two go have fun with Jonah and Christian."
"Callum, Mark, Zoe, Zanni, Pippi – who wants to go to the playground?" asked a dark-haired teen, perhaps fifteen years old at a guess. "Mabel said she'd bring hot dogs for dinner!"
"YAY!" the gathered children squealed.
"Let's go," nodded a lighter haired teen, perhaps seventeen or so. "Come on, Jonah."
"On your six, Christian," the darker haired guy laughed.
Carlie had to back up quickly as several small children charged out the door she'd been about to enter by, closely followed by a couple of teenage boys. The boys gave her and Taybree brief looks of apology before chasing after the youngsters, laughing all the way. "Youth," she laughed as she, Taybree, and River made their way in.
"Ah, Ms. Eisen and Ms. O'Malley, I believe?" a black-haired woman grinned. "Welcome to S.U.P.E.R. You're a little early – the bus meeting students at the airport and train station hasn't arrived yet – so go ahead and make yourselves comfortable. Help yourselves to something to eat if you'd like," she added, nodding to the buffet set up along the back wall. "Your dog is welcome to a snack too, if you'd like, Carlie," she added.
Carlie nodded. "Thank you. I was just realizing that packing the dog food into the trunk was a mistake – it's buried under 35 pounds of computer equipment," she laughed wryly. She glanced around at the various other adults in the room as she made her way to the buffet – though not nearly as old as Ben, they were clearly all well past college age, most likely faculty. The woman who'd spoken to them when they'd entered – she looked maybe 45ish, with black hair. The others looked somewhat younger. A very tall couple with dark brown hair, both cooing over a baby. A guy with white-feathered angel wings, munching on a sandwich. A darker-skinned young woman whose black hair somehow seemed to evoke the image of a bird's feathered crest. A tall – quite tall – blond guy. And... well, a cat-girl. At least, Carlie assumed that the french-braided mane and silver hoop earrings at the base of her ears indicated that she was a girl – there certainly wasn't much else to indicate one way or the other. The seventh faculty member was a cat-girl, in the same way that Taybree was currently a fox-girl – bipedal, about five feet tall, but largely cat-shaped. Siamese colored, for the most part, with brown tabby stripes on her face and tail. Doubtless the more feline parent of those two little girls who'd charged past earlier. The door opened and in walked... a very pregnant woman with red skin reminiscent of a bad sunburn, a pointy tail, yellow and orange eyes reminiscent of Sauron, and ram's horns? Carlie bit her tongue to keep from blurting out something impulsive – the faculty members in the room didn't appear perturbed, so she likely had no reason to be either. More... unusual looking paranormals got enough crap without that sort of thing.
"Sorry I'm late," the newcomer said sheepishly. "This heat wave is really getting to me – I make enough heat of my own without the small onboard furnace..."
"Say no more, Sal," the woman wearing the baby nodded sympathetically. "It's brutal."
"Makes me glad mine have spring birthdays," agreed the older women.
"Pick up some FroggToggs," the cat-girl winked. "I wouldn't have survived the summer without them the year I was carrying the twins."
"First thing tomorrow," Salome nodded. "Thanks, Es."
"Hydrate, Salome," the dark-haired ponytailed man said, pointing at the buffet table.
"Yes, Doc," Salome chuckled, lurching over for a Gatorade and a cookie.
"You all right, love?" asked the man with the angel wings.
"Fine, Raffi," she chuckled, pausing to knock back a quarter of the sports drink. "Just hot and tired."
"Um, Dean Henderson?" Taybree said hesitantly. At the older woman's nod, she continued, a bit more sure of herself as far as having addressed the correct person went. "We ran into Ben downstairs. He asked us to tell you he'd be right up – he said he forgot something."
"Did he now?" Leah laughed. "Thanks for the heads-up, Taybree."
Pulling a chair away from one of the tables, Carlie parked herself in the resulting empty space and unwrapped the two sandwiches she'd grabbed. Checking one for any ingredients unsafe for puppy dogs and finding none, she slipped the turkey and cheese sandwich under the table, where River happily chomped it out of her hand. "Dinner is served, girl," she laughed, adding tomatoes and mayo to the roast beef sandwich before picking it up and munching on it.
"River, I love you, but you are just too damn big to be a lap dog," Carlie said to the panicking Labrador-husky mix who had jumped into her lap, and was now trying to bury her face in Carlie's armpit. "It's okay, Rivvie, no one here is going to hurt you," she cooed, scritching the pup behind the ears before at last gently nudging her to the floor, where she hid behind Carlie's left wheel, still whimpering slightly. Like most service dogs, River did not rattle easily, and it took a lot to get her to break heel, but animal-form paranormals sometimes proved a bit much for even the best-trained dogs, and were uncommon enough that it often proved difficult to train a dog to – the fact that many animals had an instinctual fear of snakes certainly wasn't helping here. "Sorry about that," Carlie said to the twenty foot long lime green snake with arms who'd just slithered in, triggering the dog's panic. "She's a little spooked."
The snake tapped at an iPad, from which a voice subsequently emanated. "Don't worry about it – frankly, I would wonder more if she didn't do that. Most dogs take a while to warm up to me. I am a huge-ass snake, after all," the iPad said, while a decidedly laughter-like hiss emanated from its user as the snake coiled around and arranged herself into a tidy stack. "I'm Josephine, by the way, but everyone calls me Jojo."
"I'm Carlie," Carlie grinned.
"Taybree," the fox girl nodded.
At that moment, the door opened, and twenty or thirty people made their way in – apparently, the bus had arrived. No sooner had the door closed behind them than it opened again, and in walked Ben.
"I do believe that's everyone," he said cheerfully. "Get a bite to eat, find a seat, and we'll get started." Stepping up to the podium, he rested his cane against it and waited for the newcomers to find dinner and seats. At last, he tapped at the microphone, finding it dead.
"Here, I'll take a look, Chancellor," Dean Henderson said, approaching the podium.
"Oh, never mind that, my dear," Ben replied cheerfully, waving her away. "I'll just speak up. Cheers, everyone, and allow me to be the first to welcome you to Samson University for Paranormal and Esoteric Research. In answer to the obvious, yes, the acronym was deliberate," he chuckled. "I am Ebeneezer Samson."
An audible gasp could be heard from the back of the room. "Eon."
"Ah, Mr. Parker, is it?" Ben smiled. "It is a very long time since anyone's called me that, but yes – I was Eon once, many, many years ago. Nowadays, to most people, I am simply Old Ben, but if you would prefer an alias, Father Time will do just fine," he chuckled. "I realize that most of you are well aware of the nature of this place, but there are often a few individuals who had to make... last-minute changes, shall we say, to their college plans, so please bear with me a moment while I get everyone caught up before handing the podium off to Dean Henderson." He coughed slightly, clearly out of necessity rather than for dramatic effect, then, clearing his throat, resumed speaking. "All of you are here today because you have some sort of unusual ability. Something which you can do, but which most others cannot. Some of you are here because you want, or, in some cases, need to learn how to control those abilities. Others of you are here because you want to learn to use those abilities to make this world a better place. I hope that most of you are here because you wish to do both. The simple answer is that S.U.P.E.R. is a program run with the goal of helping young paranormals to reach their full potential in all aspects of their lives. We operate under the auspices of both nearby Kensington College, with whom we collaborate to offer the more traditional academics – reading, writing, arithmetic, and the like – and the federal government, who have a very real need for talented, dedicated young people like you, and who help to provide us with funding, equipment, and logistical support. What we at S.U.P.E.R. provide is the training and expertise to help you to discover for yourselves just what you are capable of and a place where you have the freedom to be yourselves. S.U.P.E.R. students graduate with a joint degree – the baccalaureus superno conferred by S.U.P.E.R. will see you through any superhero work you choose to do after graduation, the baccalaureus artium conferred by Kensington will be an excellent foundation for whatever else you may choose to do with your lives. I founded S.U.P.E.R. some years before any of you were born, because I saw the need for the next generation of passionate young people with the skills and the drive to stand up to the bullies of the world, and the need for those same passionate young people whom society does not always understand to have somewhere they had the freedom to be themselves. I ran the program for many years, but, alas, age has caught up with me, and I now remain the Chancellor mostly as a figurehead, though I do still see to some of the financial matters of the school. Dean Henderson is in charge of day to day operations – with that, I'll let her take over."
"And I think that I will actually begin by giving some of our other faculty members an opportunity to introduce themselves," Dean Henderson nodded. "Drs. Finley, perhaps you'd like to start?" she suggested, figuring it would be prudent for them to go first lest baby Rosie necessitate a hasty exit.
"Sure," Toby nodded. "Good afternoon," he grinned as he and his wife stepped up to the podium. "We're Dr. Finley. But we don't much stand on formality, so in the interest of minimizing confusion, I'm Toby, and this is Cam." He was interrupted by a thoroughly adorable yawn. "And this is baby Rosie," he chuckled.
"Between the two of us, Toby and I run the clinic on campus," Cam continued. "He's a family practitioner with a subspecialty in paranormalism, and I'm primarily a para-psychiatrist with a secondary specialty in GYN work as well as a strong dose of general practice." Rosie started fussing. "Come on, Rosie – give Mommy and Daddy five minutes," she chuckled, fishing a pacifier from her pocket and popping it in the baby's mouth.
"Speaking of the clinic, we'd like to see each of you in at some point this week," Toby said. "A lot of us defy what the medical textbooks say are supposed to be normal vital signs, so we need to have a baseline of what's normal for you, preferably before you come down with the campus crud."
"And if you're ever having a crisis, or just need to talk, my door is always open," Cam nodded. "24-7, no exceptions."
"The clinic does have a small on-site pharmacy – we mostly stock antibiotics and other commonly used prescriptions, but if you're on any maintenance meds, let us know," Toby went on. "We can get those in and save you a trip into town every time you need refills. Does anyone have any questions for us?"
A hand went up in the back of the room. "Are you paranormals as well?"
Cam nodded. "Nearly the entire S.U.P.E.R. faculty is – paranormal academia is something of a niche field that doesn't typically attract a whole lot of mundanes," she chuckled. "Both of us are high-level telekinetics, and Toby also has a healing factor."
"Unfortunately, given my line of work, it's of very limited use to anyone but myself," Toby added.
Carlie raised her hand. "What all is the clinic equipped to treat?"
"An excellent question," Toby nodded. "We're equipped essentially as urgent care – we have x-ray and CT equipment, allowing us to diagnose and treat minor fractures as well as diagnosing concussions, kidney stones, and so on. If you need a specialist, we'll have to write you a referral, and emergency cases, we're mostly equipped to stabilize for transport to the nearest ER. Any other questions?" When none were forthcoming, he glanced over his shoulder. "Cait, Monty – you guys wanna take it from here?" he grinned.
"You bet, Toby," a woman with slightly greying red hair and glasses sliding halfway down her nose nodded, setting aside a cup of tea as she stepped up to the podium. "Want to tag-team, Monty?"
"Sure thing, Cait," a man in corduroys and a rugby shirt agreed. "Hi, I'm Monty Peterson," he said, joining her at the podium.
"And I'm Cait Llewellyn," the woman added. "We teach the freshman fall term classes here on campus, so we'll be seeing each of you this term," she continued cheerfully. "I'm the instructor for Paranormal History."
"And I'm the instructor for Paranormal Law," Monty nodded. "I also represent the school in any legal matters that come up and am an advisor anytime student heroes get subpoenaed when a perpetrator winds up on trial." He glanced over at two younger women in the corner. "Think that's your cue, Professors Strider," he grinned.
"Hi, I'm Diana Strider," the woman with the crest-like hair waved, stepping up to the podium. "But everyone calls me Dani. I'm affectionately known as the gymnasium overlord – technically, I'm an athletics trainer and physical therapist. I do some work with Toby on injury rehab, and also work with a number of folks with more physical power sets. I coordinate the schedule for intramural sports, am technically the boss for the lifeguards at the campus pool, act as belay for the rock climbing wall – all kinds of fun stuff," she laughed. She glanced over her shoulder. "Come on, Sis – you're not getting out of this one."
A young woman with black braided pigtails stepped over – the family resemblance between the two was striking. "Sorry – little shy," she chuckled. "I'm Annabelle Strider – everyone calls me Belle. In answer to the obvious, yes, we're sisters. I teach Paranormal Arts and Literature. So, um, if that interests you, I'll see you in class," she grinned. The two sisters looked toward the woman with the ram's horns. "Reverend Salome?" Belle laughed. "If I gotta, you gotta."
"Fair enough." Setting her Gatorade down, Salome made her way up to the podium. "'Evening, folks," she said cheerfully. "I'm Pastor Stephens, better known to all and sundry as Salome – campus chaplain, and living proof that God does have a sense of humor," she smirked. "Like Cam, my door is open 24-7 if you ever need to talk, and I've got a permanent stash of cookies on my desk. I also teach religion and organ, so if either of those interests you, I may see you in class as well. Between S.U.P.E.R. and Kensington, we have Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious services every week, if you're so inclined. Christian services are here, Sunday evenings at six; Jewish services are Saturday at six, Muslim services are Fridays at six – those are both over at Kensington." She grinned at the clustered group of faculty. "Who's next? Agents Beckerson?"
The neko and the blond stepped up to the podium. "In the same vein as the Doctors Finley and the Professors Strider, we're Agent Beckerson," the neko said, her tail twitching good-naturedly. "I'm Esme, this is Jules."
"We work for the federal alphabet soup," Jules said. "I'm with the FBI, primarily in forensic analysis, and Esme is CIA with extensive background in cryptography and linguistics. Now, before anyone starts worrying, we are not here to keep tabs on any of you. The federal government, despite what certain conspiracy theorists and comic book plotlines would have you believe, does not keep any sort of master list of those with paranormal abilities. Rather, we, together with Commander Desmond Keel with the US Navy and Deputy Astrid Bjorklund with the local sheriff's department, run the Paranormal Active Response Task Force, or P.A.R.T. Unfortunately, Des and Astrid had prior commitments and were unable to be here tonight."
"P.A.R.T. is the classic 'caped crusaders' branch of our organization – rest assured, spandex is optional. Our mission objective is two-fold," Esme continued. "The first aspect is that it is a basic fact of human nature that people, whether paranormal or mundane, fear that which they do not understand. This fear can manifest as anger and hate, and can and has led to terrorist attacks on paranormals. One of our objectives, therefore, is to respond to these attacks when they occur and apprehend those responsible. Several of our colleagues back in Washington are responsible for locating these terrorist cells before they act, as well. Our other objective is, as it were, the flip side of that coin. No man is above the law. What happens when a paranormal decides that the law no longer applies to them? Depending on their power set, the only feasible way to stop them without a lot of collateral damage is sometimes another paranormal. We are responsible for apprehending rogue paras. Additionally, local law enforcement sometimes calls us in for search and rescue work in difficult-to-reach areas, or any time they could use a few extra hands and a superpower or ten."
Jules nodded. "P.A.R.T. is strictly a volunteer organization, composed of students, and in some cases, alumni and faculty. If you're interested, I promise, whatever your abilities are, we can find a way to put them to good use. If you're not, that's completely fine. You don't have to decide immediately – you can join at any time, leave at any time. We'll make sure everyone has all the necessary training and equipment. If you're interested, drop by our office in Davis for a chat."
Esme grinned. "With that, Leah, I think we'll hand the podium back over to you."
"Thank you kindly," Leah nodded, stepping up to the podium. "I am Dean Henderson, but everyone on campus calls me Leah – you are freely encouraged to do likewise. I am responsible for the day to day logistics of S.U.P.E.R., from academics to residential life. Our academic course load is divided into two categories. Paranormal-specific courses, from the basics of Paranormal Law and Paranormal History required for the degree to electives and ability-specific advanced courses are designated with an 'S' both in the course catalog and on your schedules and meet here on our campus. Traditional academic courses such as chemistry and calculus are designated with a 'K' – these courses are offered through our colleagues at Kensington, and are held on their campus. It's about two miles away, a moderate bike ride, but if that doesn't work for you, there is a free shuttle that runs between the two campuses and the village of Glenwood, about five miles away, every fifteen minutes from 8am until 7pm Monday through Friday, and hourly on Saturdays and Sundays. The Kensington and S.U.P.E.R. libraries operate off a shared catalog. Your S.U.P.E.R. Student ID card will work just fine in the Kensington library, or you can request a title from the Kensington library online and it will be brought over here within 24 hours. Because all S.U.P.E.R. students are inherently also Kensington students, it's taken as a given that you'll often be on the other campus during the day - S.U.P.E.R. meal plans can be used for lunch in the Kensington dining hall. Both academic institutions maintain a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination of any sort, including on the basis of paranormal abilities or lack thereof. If anyone at Kensington gives you any kind of trouble over your abilities, or, for that matter, race, religion, nationality, disability, sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, please let me know immediately so that I can work with Kensington's administration to put a stop to it. In the same vein, if I hear that any S.U.P.E.R. student has, in any way, for any reason, used their abilities to bully anyone on the Kensington campus, if I may be perfectly frank, there will be hell to pay. However, I am sure that we won't have that problem. All of you should already be registered for your first term's course-load; I will be handing out the schedules with the room assignments shortly." Pausing, she picked up a cup of water from the podium and sipped it.
"There are three dorms on campus, all of which are co-ed. While all meals are provided in the dining hall, each floor in the dorm does have a communal kitchen should you wish to bake cookies or make a batch of your favorite comfort food from home. Pets are not only permitted in the dorms but actively encouraged – anything up to the size of a large dog is fine, provided that it is non-venomous and non-aggressive, and your roommates don't have an allergy or phobia to it. In an effort to minimize the isolation that often comes with paranormal abilities while still respecting everyone's need for personal space, all campus housing consists of suites designed for four students apiece – each suite will have a bathroom and a large central living area, with an individual bedroom for every student. We have tried to match compatible personalities and, for that matter, compatible power sets, in all of the suites. As in all situations involving people living in close proximity to one another, conflicts can arise, and we ask that you attempt to resolve these like the adults you all are. If necessary, I will be happy to assist in mediation. You will have the remainder of this week to get settled into the dorms, meet your fellow new students, and learn your way around campus. Classes start, both here and at Kensington, a week from today. Without further ado, I'll hand out the schedules, room assignments, and maps of campus, Kensington, and the nearby village of Glenwood. Kensington's student orientation will be tomorrow evening – all of you are requested to attend," she said, picking up a large stack of envelopes bearing the school's multicolored hexagonal insignia. "So, without further ado… Welcome to campus."
Opening the envelope with her documents, Carlie flipped through to find the housing assignment and grinned at Taybree. "Looks like we'll be suitemates along with... Gracie and Lexie. Hmm... Alexandria Candlewyck... I wonder if that's who I think it is..."