- LI: Sophomore Year #1 – Rags to Rags Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #2 – Rags to Rags Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #3 – Rags to Rags Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #4 – Rags to Rags Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #5 – Rags to Rags Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #6 – Rags to Rags Part 6
- LI: Sophomore Year #7 – Gnome and Goo Part 1
- LI: Sophomore Year #8 – Gnome and Goo Part 2
- LI: Sophomore Year #9 – Gnome and Goo Part 3
- LI: Sophomore Year #10 – Gnome and Goo Part 4
- LI: Sophomore Year #11 – Gnome and Goo Part 5
- LI: Sophomore Year #12 – Gnome and Goo Part 6
- Liedecker Institute Annual #4
‘Morning’ in summer meant some time after noon for thirteen year-old Virginia Russo. There was a month left before she started her last year of Junior High and her only responsibilities were babysitting the Eddings twins down the block twice a week or little Bobby Kenyon on Thursdays. Staying up late and sleeping in was her standard mode of existence.
Except this morning. It was around ten when something in the back of her head roused her from a dead slumber with the realization that something was wrong.
It didn’t take long to notice that the bed and the light sheet she’d thrown over her were unpleasantly damp. So were her pajamas. When she was little, she wet the bed like a lot of kids, but whatever this was, it was all over and it wasn’t just damp, it was a nasty slick dampness like a slug’s skin.
The cheerful and in-no-way-nauseating thought was enough to bring her to full wakefulness, throwing off the covers and hurling herself out of bed.
Her foot slipped when she hit the floor and after a brief moment of confusion and pain, she found herself lying face-first on the equally damp, equally slick carpet with the mucus-like gunk matting not only her clothes, but her long, blonde hair.
She tried to crawl, but it was as if the stuff was everywhere; too slippery for her to get to her feet or to make good progress across the floor. Calling for help brought none: both of her parents were usually gone to work by the time she was awake and the Russos didn’t even have an unusually heroic dog to come to her rescue.
It wasn’t until she reached out to grab the leg of her desk that Virginia finally saw it: the rest of the room wasn’t covered in the horrid slime; she was. It was a thin sheen that covered her like sweat, but didn’t seem to rub off so much as spread to whatever she touched. With a squeak of terror, she mashed the offending hand into the carpet, scrubbing for all she was worth.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she worried that she might rub her skin raw before the stuff came off. The slime responded by hardening into a thin, clear shell around her hand, protecting it from all possibility of carpet burn.
By dint of the surreal sensation alone, Virginia froze, staring at the affected hand. The slime was still there, but locked into a rigid shape around her hand. Scenarios ran wild in her head: would it come off? Would her parents need to get someone to come cut it off? Was the rest of it going to harden and cocoon her?
Praying to God that none of that would happen, she tried to wiggle her fingers. The hardened stuff gave way just enough to allow movement. She tried to move her hands more. The material again allowed her motion without losing its strict cohesion. Making a fist yielded the same result.
Some kids would have thought it cool, exciting or fun. Virginia Russo wasn’t the kind of kid. Even at thirteen, her own father considered her a ‘neat freak’. Dirt, grime and especially anything that could be considered slimy had no place in hero world as far as she was concerned. All she could think off was the slithering, snot-like feeling in her clothes, hair and on the carpet beneath her.
“Please go away.” She whimpered in a small voice, praying that somehow the disgusting stuff might listen.
Her prayers were answered, though for the next few years, Virginia would privately doubt that it was the almighty that gave the final reply.
The ooze moved, the shell around her hand losing consistency while the stuff soaked into her hair and clothes started to thin. Then it receded. She felt it do so, carrying the chill of the room’s air conditioner—into her pores. Within a few minutes, every drop of the goo was gone—returned from whence it came.
And Virginia Russo curled up into a ball in the middle of her room and wept.
She knew about psionics. Her mother said there was something wrong with them. That she wasn’t going to speak for God, but they were either a symptom of a sick world, or a scourge to punish it. Either way, it was clear that they were a blight. After all, look at people like Arjun Ravvi, who killed so many in so little time. Truly they were a bane of mankind.
All of them.
Including the frightened girl who now knew that evil in it concentrated form lurked just beneath her skin.
“So? Let’s see it.”
Virginia stared at the girl before her, struck by her bluntness and the flat out demand she’s just issued to see Virginia’s powers.
She didn’t know this girl. She hadn’t even been in the school a full hour yet! Was that really how things were done among psionics? They just went around displaying their…mutations to one another?
Not that the girl who called herself Rapunzel had any choice in the matter, what with the some ten to fifteen feet of honey colored hair that thrashed and swished around her like a live animal. Certain braids reminded Virginia of a cat’s tail just before it pounced on a mouse.
Still, her father said it was best to fit in. He said ‘descendants’ were just people whose great-grandparents had things done to them back in the Second World War. That they weren’t a blight or a scourge, but humans just as worthy of God’s love as anyone else. That last part might have been a factor in the divorce. Virginia was sure that she herself definitely was—her mother said so during the proceedings.
“Um…” Virginia said, trying to think of a way out of the situation. Rapunzel and another girl with a French accent had sort of cornered her in the stairwell and there wasn’t anywhere to run.
“Look, it’s not hard.” Rapunzel huffed, a few of her braids lightening to blonde. “If your power is going to blow up the school or something, just say so. Otherwise, there’s no reason to be such a bitch about it: just show us your power.”
Were there people at the school whose power could blow it up? Virginia had assumed so from the very moment she’d heard of the place. She’d seen enough news reports about the goings-on in Mayfield. If her mother was right, it would be Mayfield, not the Tel Magiddo where the Wrath of God would eventually be spilled.
Virginia wasn’t sure she agreed, but she was sure that Mayfield was pretty terrifying.
More of Rapunzel’s braids had gone blonde. Virginia did not want to find out what that meant.
“Okay…” she said, head bowed.
Unlike her mother, her father made an effort to learn more about her condition. That came out in the divorce proceedings too. That’s how Virginia knew how to use her powers at all: they set aside an hour every day for the past eight months for her to practice with her powers—with a tarp on the floor, of course.
Thanks to Rapunzel’s interrogation, her palms were already sweaty. That helped a bit. It just took a conscious effort to open the other glands in her skin, careful only to open them in her hands. As Rapunzel and her friend watched, the stuff pooled in Virginia’s cupped hands, thick and unpleasant to the touch.
“Ugh. It is supposed to look like that?” Rapunzel asked, recoiling from the sight. The tips of some of her hair turned gray. Her friend gave a frown of disgust and said something in what Virginia took to be French.
“It comes out like that, but—” Virginia started.
“I’ve seen enough.” Rapunzel waved her off. “That’s an awful power. Just… eugh. You should have just lied and said your powers could kill us or something. I don’t even think Akagi would hang out with someone who can generate snot.”
Before Virginia could argue her case (assuming she might try), Rapunzel turned in a riot of thrashing hair and headed up the stairs in the same direction she’d been going when she first spotted the new girl. Her friend gave Virginia an odd look through hooded eyes, then followed after.
Neither of them saw the puddle twist and flux in time with Virginia’s consternation.
“It’s… just to do with my powers.” Virginia said once it became clear to her that she’d been silent too long after The Gnome’s question.
She expected more questions, but The Gnome just hummed his understanding and fell into step walking beside and slightly behind her. “Rapunzel went to the Academy.” He suddenly said. “She believes that we should all have codenames. The Gnome agrees.”
“You do?” asked Virginia, who didn’t want to go through the next few years being known as ‘Goo’.
“Indeed. Codenames are just more exciting. But Rapunzel likes giving people codenames and that doesn’t make sense.”
Since classes let out well before rush hour, the streets were quiet and even traffic on the sidewalk was light. Virginia cut across the street from the Institute’s main gates and headed for the commuter pod station.
Despite not being prompted to, The Gnome exposited on his view. “The reason regular names are boring is because your parents pick them and most parents have no imagination. Codename though, that’s something you get to pick so you can make sure you get something good. If you let Rapunzel pick though, it’s the same thing as letting your parents pick.”
Virginia led them to a pod kiosk and input her destination and a request for a two-seater with good storage space. The Gnome kept talking.
“Rapunzel though… she has long hair and calls herself Rapunzel. That’s not imagination. That’s just as boring as Betty Sinclair—that’s her real name, by the way.”
“Oh.” Virginia said with a shrug.
The Gnome stroked his meager facial hair. “So what you ought to do is come up with your own name.”
“I’d really rather not.” said Virginia. “I’m not a prelate and I hope I’m never one.”
“You don’t want to fight crime?” The Gnome asked, scandalized. His voice bounced off the hard floor and concrete walls of the station, drawing looks from passersby.
Virginia cringed at the attention, face reddening. In a desperate attempt to get him to keep his voice down, she gestured franticly. “No!” She said in a hushed tone. “Of course not—why would I?”
After giving her an odd look for her gesticulations, The Gnome looked around to see who they were directed at. Seeing no one, he chose to ignore them. “From the videos I’ve seen online, it looks both exciting and useful. People love prelates—even more than Columbian descendant power-fighters.”
Virginia gave up trying to get him to quiet down and just opted to get him to change the subject. “Power-fighters?”
“Probably not the right translation. The Gnome does not know the language they speak in Columbia—he just watches the matches. Two descendants enter and try to knock one another out of the ring with their powers.”
Their pod arrived and they got in as The Gnome continued. “The best of course is El Ratton Negro, he’s a protomorph with no ranged powers, but he’s fast and agile enough to dodge anything!” Snatching his hat off his head, he fished out his palmtop. “Would you like to see?”
‘Ratton’ sounded suspiciously like ‘rat’ and Virginia wanted not truck with anyone who could honestly name themselves after that, but there wasn’t anything else to do on the way to their stop. “Um… okay.”
The Gnome grinned and called up a video. The announcer on it was speaking in Spanish, but with just a single year of the language, Virginia couldn’t pick out more than a handful of words.
The view panned over an arena of some sort. It looked like an elevated circle of rough stone about three feet of the ground, surrounded by about five feet of open, padded flooring before being ringed by a thick, concrete barrier about twenty feet tall. There were stadium-style seats set up above the barrier behind a clear plastic wall set atop it.
As Virginia watched, two forms emerged from openings n the barrier and headed toward ramps set up on opposite end of the platform. She immediately knew which one was El Ratton Negro, even if he didn’t look anything like she expected.
He was wearing nothing but a set of tiny, red trunks, which being a heterosexual sophomore girl, Virginia wouldn’t have normally minded regardless of her earlier up-bringing, but el Ratton was covered in hair. Well, not hair, but fur, sleek brown-black fur that covered his entire body. His face was human, if a bit flatter than anyone’s she’d ever seen, but his eyes were huge and golden brown. Stiff, white hairs stood out from the black around his over-sized, slightly pointed ears, in place of his eyebrows, and on his knuckles. His fingertips were noticeably thicker than normal, but not clawed like her imagination suggested they might have been.
On the other side, a dark skinned woman wearing a domino mask and a dark blue business suit and tie strode up her ramp. As she came, she shook her hands out to the sides, causing glittering yellow and orange sparks to arc from her fingertips.
“Who’s that?” Virginia asked, intrigued in spite of herself.
“The Gnome has only seen her once before. She’s called Agua Callente; a plasma thrower.”
“Plasma as in…”
On the video, Agua Callente answered her question by clapping her hands in front of her, causing a bolt of orange-red matter to boil through the air and smack into the barrier on the other end of the arena in a pyrotechnic flash.
Virginia settled in to watch, but in the back of her head, she wondered what would happen if she clapped her hands like that with her ‘goo’ in her hands.
To Be Continued…