70: Second and third thoughts
Jade reminisces about life before Whateley - she liked a pretty girl called Ashleigh and often helped her tie ribbons in her hair, but couldn't pluck up the courage to tell her she wasn't very good at makeup. When she started hanging out with a guy called Mark, Jade's dad continually tried to encourage her to beat up Mark to prove she was a 'real man'. After a week of evading them, Jade's dad demonstrated by beating her up. But then she explains that it was no big deal and it wouldn't bother her now, as courtesy of acquiring Billie's regen and sparring against other Whateley students in BMA, she's taken much harder knocks. She then starts fretting about the Combat Finals.
When morning arrives, her anger at her doctor's refusal to do any more for her is interrupted by an invite from Thuban, so she sends the reply over with a pixie (actually one of the J-Team as a six foot length of thread surrounded by a Nikki-conjured pixie body), who carries on the rest of the note exchange while dodging various missiles and items of food. Later, at BMA, Ito-Sensei explains the purpose of the Combat Finals.
The following morning, Thuban picks her up in what appears from the outside to be an ordinary grey Mercedes. But the inside turns out to be space warped 12x to 40' across and 20' high, containing five floors, a medical wing, an armory, an APC, another limo, a few motorcycles and a couple of jetpacks. "Quite modest, really"(!) She's wearing an outfit borrowed from Ayla and has left a triple-charged Jinn behind. Thuban reveals he's a space warper (although tries to keep it secret) and can temporarily change the size/volume of himself or other objects for a few hours, or "with considerable expense and effort" make the effect permanent. He also reveals he's created other chambers for Lord Paramount (who the car was built for), the CIA, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Meanwhile in Arena 77, Lily and Bunny prepare the arena for Jinn and Hank to practice sparring, because both could go full strength without seriously injuring the other. Jinn tries every trick in her book but still gets (literally) torn to shreds, while Hank reveals the latest weapon in his arsenal - paper swords.
72: Blinded me with science
Back to Jade, and the car pulls up outside the offices of a new biotech firm (Bio-Regenetics) in Berlin, which are still under construction. Upon meeting Dr. Gellmar, he immediately asks Jade to strip and don a hospital gown, while Thuban explains it's an attempt to do something about "her situation". Dr. Gellmar then proceeds to mutilate her arms in various ways to test what her regen is capable of, before ordering blood tests and a tomography scan.
That evening, the cafeteria staff decide to show off and serve Filet mignon, but possibly regret it when the first students to arrive are the Bricks who order them by the dozen and ask about the availability of chips and mayonnaise.
Over at Team Kimba's table, Ayla enlightens them on the name and cost of their meal, before attention turns to asking Jade how the Hank vs Jinn match went (Jinn lasted a few minutes, but Hank was just goofing around and managed to cut one of Jinn's arm 'bones') and 'date'. After explaining what Dr. Gellmar did, conversation turns to whether it hurt, how long the anaesthetic lasted, and if he wants to do more experiments. Jade reveals that there's a meeting that night for her, Billie, Thuban, Dr. Gellmar and a few others; while Sara points out that meditation is a much better pain relief technique than hypnosis, and the team suggest three possible teachers: Ito-sensei, Chou, and Rebecca Stone (Chou's new mentor).
73: If I were a rich man
That evening, Jade and Billie head to the meeting, and are joined by Raphael, Knick-Knack and Kew. Inside the Faction 3 room they meet Thuban, Carapace and Dr. Gellmar. After explaining "Sneeze-ix" (a compound that eliminates all the major symptoms of the common cold) he then announces that the BIT-slicer experiment, although not achieving their main goal, achieved a "magnificient, unplanned, unantipated accident." He goes on to show slides of a normal cell (actually one of Jade's taken on intake), one of Billie's (ring shaped chromosomes with additional organelles - a complete enigma as they're too advanced for science to comprehend), and a sequence of images showing one of Jade's cells post-BIT slicer reverting - with the exception of the regen. After comparing the 'before' and 'after' maps of Jade's DNA, he announces that the cell samples demonstrate the exact genetic map of changes needed to activate human Regen-5. Thuban then announces that as a consequence, he's ploughed the majority of his personal and family assets ($73m) into a new company called Bio-Regenetics. He and his family will have 40% ownership of the company, Dr. Gellmar 10%, the students involved 2.5% each and Carapace 0.5%, leaving 36% of shares available for raising further capital. Further work in advancing the project, such as Jade's volunteering as a test subject and the devisors helping to create medical instrumentation, would be rewarded with additional stock grants (as long as any patent rights on the instruments were granted to Bio-Regenetics). He rounds up by explaining that the five students' shares are worth about $1.8m, but it's only theoretical (on paper) and he advises them not to sell any stock unless absolutely necessary.
En-route back to Poe, Jade and Billie muse over the implications - they'd eventually become rich, but not for several years, and immediately after going public, they'd be a pair of giant targets as they wouldn't be able to afford protection until the dividends started arriving.
74: Big guns and other weapons
On Sunday morning, Billie's woken up to the sounds of her roommate chortling over her laptop. Jade, hoping to get a loan from Dr. Gellmar, is examining the online catalogue of Sin d'Rome's Mercenary Emporium (which includes such delights as a tripod-mounted Gatling laser, nerve gas grenades, a napalm moat and a napalm-based ground interdiction system). Billie advises Jade to "do something innocent and happy or something" while she checks out the details of the Combat Finals, reassuring Jade that they can't possibly be as bad as they sound.
Jade sends three spy-specks out in search of Chou's mentor, and almost as soon as she's stepped out of her door memories flood back indicating one's found her. She meets up with Rebecca, who is relieved when Jade explains her reasoning for wanting to learn meditation, as most people want to meditate for philosophical or religious reasons - and Jade's one of the least suited for that undertaking, as enlightenment requires the meditator to rise about all their needs and desires (in Jade's case, two all-consuming needs - to be a girl and to protect Billie). But as Jade's reasoning is different, Rebecca will teach her.
Rebecca starts off by explaining the three types of meditation: movement (e.g. the Tai Chi Ch'uan Chou performs each morning), samatha (the type "most Westerners typically see as meditation - silent, still, indrawn...It is a concentration, a focusing of awareness, and at the same time, a sort of enforced tranquility."), and vipassana (the most difficult to teach and learn, it "attempts to get you to think in ways you never have before, to open you to insights which are unthinkable and unimaginable...as if you were looking into reality from outside"), before asking Jade to show her some aikido moves.
Meanwhile, as Billie is having breakfast in the cafeteria, Jinn (in the form of Billie's cabbit) grabs a pencil, paper and phone, and starts researching what the devisors have for sale. While Jinn's on the phone, Billie enters the room, raises an eyebrow at seeing her cabbit on the phone, and murmurs "It's my own fault for having a pet that's a part-time interstellar battleship."
Simultaneously, a copy of Jinn (as girl) pays a visit to Dominique to talk about combat finals (Dominique's got an excemption due to having a 'major life change' at the end of November), but Dominique's more interested in playing dress-up.
Over on the outskirts of campus, Rebecca comes to the end of her explanation, and Jade reluctantly asks if she could help her learn the 'immersed in the Tao' and 'anticipate the attack' stuff she did with Toni.
75: Combat Finals
Jade and the rest of TK follow the Sophomores through the maze of underground passages to Arena 99. After taking their seats (Jade noticing that they'd be easy to clean), Mrs. Carson walks to a dais in the centre of the arena and introduces the Combat Finals, before walking off-stage so the arena can configure itself to the 'Doomsday Device' scenario. She then explains the scenario and assessment criteria, as well as announcing that due to the large number of froshes and sophomores (327), she expects the tests to last all week (41 hours). Sensei Ito then appears and after mocking anyone who didn't take BMA, reminds them of the rules before announcing the first match: Kismet vs Charmer. After discussing the abilities of the opponents, Charmer's card changes to Bogus.
Kismet is initially cautious, but 'Charmer' fools her by announcing they've turned it into a three way versus Nex. As soon as Bogus distracts Kismet by getting her to look in another direction, he knocks her unconscious with a Blackjack, before snapping restraints around her wrists and ankles, saunting over to the spindle, and completing the questions.
76: Keep them in stitches
That afternoon, over at Bio-Regenetics, Dr. Gellmar photographs the various arm implants, before saying he'll only put her arms back to normal after he's finished his tests - which today include testing for eight messenger proteins and inducing a large trauma to see if he can trigger 'system reset shock'. Since she's being experimented on anyway, she wonders if he could implant various weapons into her arms. He dismisses all her suggestions with reminders that (a) there are better versions available in hand-held models, (b) any bionic implant requires extensive training to trigger it, and (c) due to her regeneration, they can't be wired into nerves, so would require an unusual biofeedback method or learned muscle patterns, which would again take extensive training to learn.
As her left leg is tightly clamped down on the examination table, she asks if she can try that night's experiments without anaesthesia, saving it for the worst stuff, since it doesn't last long. As the doctor and his nurse insert numerous metal probes into her foot, she experiments with meditation, hypnosis, and casting before experimenting with a partial casting. Noticing that the nurse is fretting that her vital signs are dropping, she calls two Jinn's and asks them to help her heartbeat and brain stem (breathing etc.) Once all the probes are in (apparently hooked up to her nerves), they induce frostbite trauma by pouring 500ml of liquid nitrogen onto the area of foot where the probes have been inserted. Eventually Jinn contacts her telepathically to let her know they've finished, so she falls back into her body, opens her eyes, and notices that all the probes have been removed and the clamp being disconnected.
She announces to Dr. Gellmar that she feels fine and is ready to proceed with the cosmetic work, then limps to the nearby surgical room, where after settling onto a gynaecological examination / surgery table, he explains what they intend to do. She's then introduced to Dr. Ingraham, who'll be doing the work, and prepares herself by casting one Jinn into a speck (to fly around and observe), another into her skin (to reach in and control her heart), then partially casts herself out and begins the meditation. Dr. Ingraham opens up an incision behind the testes and through the perineum to the cavity beyond, stretches Jade's testes with a 5 kg weight before slipping them through the incision and stitching them into place. Finally Dr. Ingraham uses a new material called dermaform to stretch Jade's skin in anticipation of forming a labia in the next session, before announcing to Dr. Gellmar that she's had an idea for an alternative to breast implants that may just work...
As Jade wakes up, she asks if she can come back tomorrow, and isn't put off by Dr. Gellmar's comment that the next session will be even more painful.
77: Devil & the dead
Mid morning at Arena 99, and Toni and Chou are fighting over the radio - apparently they've discovered Whateley Academy Radio Station has been providing play-by-play and colour commentary for every match since the first. After the rubble is cleared away from the third match, the fourth is announced - Shroud vs. Tisiphone (the victim of Ayla disruption-phasing through her during Revenge of the Alphas, who after being dropped from the Alphas ended up joining Faction 3 and attempting to compete with Jinn and Demona for the affections of Thuban).
Jinn walks down to the arena wearing street clothes and an old skin, after handing her valuables to Jade, and receives a death threat from Alexis before Ito reiterates the rules. As the match starts, she launches into the air, and releases a cloud of liquid nitrogen to cover up her transformation into Shroud. This time, she's added 'jerky slurry' to her costume - "a pulpy mixture of desiccated meat in a toughened gelatinous suspension" to which she's also added live mealworms. As Jinn can't see flame, she hones in on the ripples of heat distortion the flames create to see what Alexis is up to. Alexis fires a flameball at Jinn and threatens to roast her to ash, but Jinn counters by flying through her flame cage and using a blast of liquid nitrogen to both extinguish the flames and the fire on her left arm. After darting out of Jinn's reach, Jinn starts spinning her chains and releases the discs on the end at Alexis, who flaps and heads to the edge of the city to re-group. Meanwhile, Jinn drops down to the spindle, enters her code, and furiously starts typing away. Alexis reappears 18 seconds in and slams Jinn into the keyboard, but mercifully both Jinn and the machine survive. As Jinn exits the console, Alexis hovers overhead, which turns out to be a mistake because Jinn fires three chains at her, which puncture her wings, then with the aid of her cloak, trusses Alexis up before returning to the console to finish the sequence.
78: Purse your lips
That afternoon at Bio-Regenetics, they study her reaction to necrotic poison on the other foot - the setup being similar to the previous day's experiments. She again uses her "out of body" meditation combination to ease the pain, then practically flies onto the other examination table for her next surgical step. After explaining the procedure and giving her numerous chances to back out, the surgery is performed, this time redirecting her penis (again with Jinn as a speck monitoring proceedings).
Later on, Billie is absent-mindedly floating about a foot above her bed while musing on her situation and what going home at Christmas will be like now she's transformed. She realises that she's made a habit of not thinking about her change - for example her ballroom gown she treats as just another weird costume, she works on noticing Harry as a werewolf and not noticing he's a boy, and isn't ready to deal with a variety of issues including the fact she's not turned on by the sight of all the other girls in the showers.
Just then, Jade bursts in and excitedly shows off her new profile. Billie hugs her while reminding her not to get her hopes up too high, in case she spontaneously reverts, then asks if Jade's still planning to come over to her place for Christmas so she won't be outnumbered by her brothers. Jade not only replies that she really wants to, but quips "With Jinn along, we'll outnumber them!"
At breakfast the next day, Jade is torn between happiness at her new profile and fear of what may face her in the combat arena. Hank and Billie discuss tactics - Hank will use his new paper swords, while Billie jokes "First, I ask what’s the maximum damage level the arena can support. Second, I offer them a chance to surrender." After announcing she doesn't care about the civilians - she feels she deserves a little fun after a long, hard semester, Toni and Nikki decide that when it's her turn, they'll grab the highest, farthest seats in the arena and sit behind Hank.
By lunchtime Jade is a nervous wreck, worried both that her hair hasn't grown and that she could face some really tough opponents but hasn't been able to afford to buy anything extra other than three shots for her gun. The others reassure her that she'll be fine, and with her regen should be able to pick up a decent survival score if nothing else. They are only interrupted when Toni arrives, showing off by approaching the table with all her dishes and cutlery stacked on top of each other, then in feigning a trip, everything arranges itself neatly on the table.
79: Smash Brothers
Mid afternoon in the arena, the Thuban vs Slab contest is announced. Thuban sequentially unleashes an increasingly powerful set of gadgets on Slab, who just absorbs all the energy and shrugs it off. Unsuprisingly, after causing much chaos in the city, Slab wins.
Later on at Bio-Regenetics, Dr. Gellmar announces that in today's experiment, he'll be removing the skin from one calf, as they need it as well as to study the chemistry as it regrows. Dr. Ingraham cryptically announces that "they" are approaching in a plane and should be here soon, and she'd like to try an experiment.
She leads Jade into a briefing room, and explains that part of the reason she specialised in SRS is because of her own. Jade's the first regenerator she's worked on, which brings up both challenges and the possibility of opportunities for others. Conventional surgery doesn't work in quite the same way as non-regenerators, as although healing is faster, the healing often returns to the original structure. However, whereas other high-level regenerators have exhibited a process called 'System Reset Shock', where under extreme damage there's a dramatic restoration of the entire body; Jade appears to have something different which Dr. Gellmar has named 'Broken Record Syndrome', which both operated long before she became a regenerator, and is sometimes triggered by very modest changes to her body. This is also different from System Reset Shock as she spontaneously reverts back to the exact form she had at age eleven. Stretching, flexibility improvements, memory, hair length and style, plus piercing holes are retained, yet exercise doesn't. Normally muscle stress tears muscle fibres, and when they heal they grow in more densely, so normal regenerators can have a single gym session and walk out significantly stronger - but this doesn't appear to be happening with Jade.
She then goes on to describe the problems of regenerator blood transfusions, which only work in about 10% of cases. About 20% heal into a clone of the donor and do OK, 10% heal into a clone of the donor but their brain gets wiped in the process - so they have the mind of a newborn baby, and about 60% get super cancers, extra limbs or organs, or even two or more bodies trying to grow in the same space.
She then explains that regenerator milk is interesting as somehow the mother's body senses the baby's needs and tailors her breast milk accordingly. But as it's tailored to the biochemistry of whoever's being nursed, it can't be duplicated in an industrial process.
To wrap up, she mentions that women can be triggered to lactate, and as Jade has a female mind and has been taking hormones, Dr. Ingraham wants to try triggering her - and does so by the rather unconventional means of opening a door to a slender black woman holding a tiny, sickly baby, and issuing the ultimatum "Unless you can feed this baby with your breast milk, he will die!"
81: Eat or die!
After initially mounting a protest, Jade is encouraged to hold, kiss and even change the baby before attempting to breast feed. Initially, despite the baby sucking for all it's worth, nothing happens so Dr. Ingraham paints a sugar water mix on her chest. That doesn't work, so she arranges a bottle of milk with a couple of tubes ending just above Jade's nipples, so the baby drinks regular milk but thinks it's suckling on Jade's breasts. After trying for 15 minutes, she's called by Dr. Gellmar for his experiments while her nipples and chest ache. She slips into her 'out-of-body' trance almost immediately, her thoughts distracted from the pain by thoughts of the baby and not being able to feed him.
An hour later, Dr. Gellmar has finished and she's taken back to the baby by wheelchair as her leg is too sore to walk on. When she slips the hospital gown off for another attempt at breast feeding, she notices that her nipples and areolas have grown, and there appears to be a hard disk of callous under the areola. As the baby's brought back to her, she looks down in puzzlement to see a tiny drop of milk emerge from her left nipple. As he suckles, she becomes aware, at least partially through stabs of pain in her chest, that she's developed milk ducts and is producing milk. The realisation grows as she switches sides, then back again, and imagines having a child of her own - perhaps not in the normal way, perhaps via adoption, but she would be able to feed it.
82: Call for a nurse
Back at Poe Cottage, she explains her experience with the baby to Nikki and Billie, who, only just getting used to being female and having breasts, have now got other scary thoughts to comprehend. Added onto which, getting lectured by someone who looks like a pre-pubescent 11 year old...
Morning arrives, and Jade still can't get over her new breasts, and can't resist showing them off to Billie, Nikki and Toni. She then gets ready for a trip to Dunwich to give the baby a morning feed. After debating whether to wear her Utility coat, she decides to go for the standard Whateley uniform, plus her bracers and Cobra 250, then calls Bio-Regenetics for a car to pick her up. After hugging Dr. Ingraham and Mrs. Jimoh, she prepares to breastfeed little Alhaji, using a cast of Jinn to rearrange her clothes. As she feeds him, she feels the milk spurting through her nipple in response to his suckles. After suckling for 20 minutes, she hands him back to his mother so she can feed him a little and asks Dr. Ingraham if she can cure him. Dr. Ingraham responds that they should know in the next day or two, but she'd like Jade to continue breastfeeding for the next week until the end of term.
Later at Arena 99, it's time for Jade's final - against Jackie (a sophomore from Poe). She decides that it's better facing another girl, especially a T-girl, and that even if she lost, it would be a good fight. Although she could have cheated by sending a charged glove into the spindle while her physical self distracted Jackie, she decides instead to play for points and sends the mini-missiles after Jackie. Jackie deflects them easily, as with the loads from Jade's linear induction pistol, but Jade sneaks a missile of knockout gas into the spindle entrance. As Jackie climbs into the spindle, Jade releases the gas, but is knocked unconscious when Jackie recovers almost instantly and fires an arc of electricity into her chest.
83: Post-game analysis
After the final, she heads over to Bio-Regenetics to feed the baby again. She asks what will happen to her breasts afterwards, and is told they'll probably shrink unless she continues to breast feed. But as international law prevents her from feeding anyone unless the mother signs numerous legal disclaimers, she'll have to express it using a breast pump and dispose of it safely, as it's classed as a biohazard so can't be mailed anywhere.
Back at Whateley, she cuddles up to Thuban who lets slip that while is fight against Slab wasn't choreographed, he'd found out beforehand who he was up against and they shared their limits, so they could show each other's abilities off and pummel each other without any danger of causing lasting harm.
She returns to the cafeteria, and tells the team she was given a straight B for not tying Jackie up with webbing when she was briefly taken down. She was originally going to be given a C, but was upped when she explained why she didn't just charge up Jinn and type in the code that way. Toni then gives an exasperated sigh and announces she got a B as well, despite facing three random opponents. Apparently Ito's justification was that her form was sloppy.
Sara then joins them, clutching a copy of Rankings, an underground student publication listing relative rankings of the students, in the opinion of the compilers. Risk and Scramble appear near the top, Jinn comes in at 115, just below Bogus; further down there's Bugs, Ebon and Vox, before reaching her own entry at 263. Skids comes in at 266 (Erin provides the background), whereas at the bottom there's Glass at 312 and Lightweight at 316. Billie comes in at a provisional 49, but it will change once she's fought the next day.
Toni suggests that if she wants to ascend the rankings, she'll need to stop being "too nice to people" and be a "good bully" dishing out "casual cruelty". Unsurprisingly Jade's not convinced, and doesn't see the point in punching someone because they've accidentally bumped into her.
En-route back to Poe, she meets Gabriel in 'dark angel' mood, who announces he's 91 in the rankings so she'd better step aside. Considering his powers, she realises she could only beat him if she came up with a really clever trick, but she's not in the mood so lets him past.
84: The last fight
Mid afternoon on Friday, and it's time for the last fight - Billie. By this time, numerous Juniors and Seniors have also appeared, curious about the recipient of the Section 33 injunction. After mumbling that the antimatter elements in her blood and CIA affiliation, which were supposed to be secret, have made it onto her MID, she heads down to the arena while Mrs. Carson explains about the few students who have to learn to throttle and control their abilities, citing the example of Neurox, whose body gradually mutated into an organised, coherent cloud of nerve gas. She then explains that Billie's "spent much of the semester on security's watch list. Not because of any particular problems or issues, but simply because her powers tend to leave a lot of damage."
Mrs. Carson then explains why the Section 33 was imposed - the "Death Blow" strike was accidentally used while Billie was defending herself against attack, so therefore, not only will she not instigate fights, but no student should attack her, even by proxy or by using hidden traps. "What I’m saying is, if she doesn’t destroy you, I will."
She announces that Billie's test is based on ideas they've had for the Spring finals. Her challenge is to survive while using minimal powers. The scenario, "All you zombies", starts off looking like the same city from the rest of the challenges, but at the busy time of 3pm rather than 10am. And this time, the crowd are a mob intent on attacking Billie - first with bare fists, then with bottles and rocks, then as she takes to the skies, live ammunition.
Meanwhile, in the stands above, Jade and Jinn both announce "They shot her!" and prepare to intervene; while below Billie decides she's had enough of the gentle approach and starts slinging energy balls at the mob before heading inside the spindle. As she types in the answers, a sniper bullet rips of a chunk of her shoulder.
Jade immediately fires off a round of tear gas grenades, while Jinn prepares for action.
Meanwhile darkness appears to wrap itself around Billie, and she launches a volley of larger energy orbs out of the console into a nearby SUV, which covers it in blue fire and wraps it in on itself to form a barely recognisable 5' wide lump of semi-molten metal.
As she does this, Hank, Toni, Nikki and Sara restrain Jade and Jinn while capturing the launched missiles.
Back in the arena, Billie considers launching the orbs, but decides against it - "No! You can't make me do that!" - and instead creates a warp shield which redirects oncoming fire. As she types in the answers, a tank and fighter jets approach, before the simulation ends, revealing the robots under the holograms.
Mrs. Carson then appears, announces "Thus ends the last fight", and advises everyone to think about what they just saw. "We're considering this for our spring test - putting every single student through that scenario, one by one. What will you do? Could you survive?"
85: Curly and Shemp
Billie and Nikki join Jade for the walk into Dunwich so they can meet Mrs. Jimoh and Alhaji and watch Jade breast feed. Billie asks how Jade's feeling, and she explains that she'd never really noticed before, but she feels like there's something almost watching her, both close and far away at the same time, that also feels both like part of her and not part of her at the same time.
Meanwhile, she's relieved that "Broken Record Syndrome" doesn't appear to have occurred yet, and Billie reassures her that her morning nursing session will help beat it this time. She asks how Billie is, and can't resist having a dig at the administration for making her look like a monster, using live ammo, not rushing a medic out as soon as the test was over, and only giving her a B.
Billie responds that they probably didn't send a medic out because they probably realised her shoulder would already have healed, and she was downgraded because (a) too many innocents were hurt in the panic fire, (b) she took too long to realise the simulation would just keep escalating forever, and (c) she should have used more power, sooner. Although they said "minimal power", it still means "enough to finish the job fast" rather than trying to just keep one power level above the crowd. She was only raised to a B because she kept her flash bangs secret and no-one knew she could angle her warp shield like that to deflect incoming fire, until after the test.
Billie then advises Jade to show a little more backbone so she doesn't become the designated punching bag for the rest of the year, to which she responds that she doesn't want to beat people up. Nikki asks her if it's a pattern she learned from her father's abuse, to which she responds maybe, but it feels like the right thing to do. Nikki points out that if the little stuff gets out of control, her friends will want to step in, and the bully's friends likewise, and soon it degenerates into team versus team. Jade responds that if things got bad, she would stop it - after all, she's the one that shot Tansy...
They decide to head to Myrtle's Diner before calling in at Roger's Fabric Boutique - and discover a couple of hapless villains in the middle of the intersection, asking for directions to the drugstore, which they've been asked to rob as an initiation test for The Syndicate.
Podcast (a slightly overweight chap wearing a skin-tight white costume with a logo of a winged medicine capsule) and Blinder (a Scottish chap wearing a skintight costume in green-dominated plaid, coupled with a red-and-orange plaid kilt, black beret and mask, and a set of blinders) then conveniently demonstrate their powers - Podcast's seems to be a short-range object teleportation, whereas Blinder forces people to look in a certain direction.
As everyone looks at the drugstore, Billie whispers to Jade that she's the only one that can deal with them. Jade casts Jann so she can benefit from the 360° vision, then with her head still turned, starts to walk to the villains. She sends a Jann-charged grapple towards a nearby water tower, then fires the gas grenade and web shot from her Cobra 250 at Blinder before being yanked up and forward by the grapple. Blinder is engulfed in sticky strands before the orange smoke hides him from sight, so Podcast teleports her gun to him and fires the single remaining shot (taser) wildly at her. She jumps down onto the ground, while the taser shot hits the Dunwich Arms, and launches tear gas, flash powder and explosive missiles at Podcast. The combined effect knocks him back ten feet and stuns him. Meanwhile Blinder has recovered from the orange cloud and has forgotten his Scottish accent. He forces Jade to look at her friends, but having the benefit of a Jann cast, she uses a taser on her left bracer to incapacitate him. Podcast has recovered and teleports away her bracers. She taunts him while he launches four mini-dynamites at her, and TK-leaps around three of them. The fourth, however, explodes in her hand as she pulls it out of her blouse. Having shut off the pain, she then uses her Aikido to knock out Podcast before ordering Kitty Compact to guard them and kill any that try to get away.
Jade then collects her gear, while Billie and Nikki saunter forward. Jade's worried that she's not going to be able to take care of the baby while her hand's in a mess, as even with Regen-5, it would normally take hours to heal. Nikki invokes a spell that causes sparkles to condense around Jade's hand, then Podcast asks "Who are you people?" to which the townspeople, now emerging from their buildings, reply "We warned 'em that students was going to be coming!". Podcast then passes out.
86: Life's goal
Later on, the three sit in the back of the diner while Jade nurses Alhaji. It will still take an hour or two to regrow her fingers, but her hand's now strong enough to hold the baby. In response to Nikki, she announces that she hasn't changed her mind about standing up to the students in school, although she's noticed she's got a bit of a temper - perhaps from her partial Irish ancestry. Meanwhile, Billie is still freaked out by what appears to be an 11 year old girl nursing a baby, while Nikki asks about the reset thing. Jade's not sure whether it was the fight or getting to nurse Alhaji in time, but whereas the reset was looming before the fight, it's now faded away. She feels incredibly good about breastfeeding, and is sure Mrs. Adetoun would allow Nikki and Billie a go. Both go pale and press as far back in their seats as possible, not wanting to contemplate the thought, but Billie at least has a semi-decent excuse - "Might not be a good idea you know. Alien physiology and all. It might actually hurt him."
She then takes a deep breath and changes the topic, by announcing she's decided on her goal in life - to become a mother and a nurse / nanny / wetnurse. She'll fight as hard as she needs to, to protect the innocent, but also needs to make sure she doesn't get angry or violent when small problems and tantrums come up - or if little baby-girl Billie accidentally blows up the kitchen or cuts her arm off with a tiny plasma sword. Nikki responds with "that makes a disturbing amount of sense."
Later on, back in Poe, Sara visits Nikki and silently leads her down into the Lovecraft Room. After explaining she's announcing her revelation in her room because the wards and protections prevent anyone from overhearing, she reveals that Jade has a demon mark. After loudly insisting that (a) it isn't her mark, and (b) she can't break it, Nikki asks if she's positive and who's it is. Sara responds that she's taken steps to confirm it - the mark itself is on her left buttock - a thin triangle trailing a dot, then hints as to the owner: "You were at the end of combat finals. Jade and Jinn reacted in the exact same way, at the exact same time. Who? That should be obvious."
- Ashleigh (Mentioned. Girl from Jade/Jared's past.)
- Mark (Mentioned. Ashleigh's boyfriend from Jade/Jared's past.)
- Mr. Reilley
- Dr. Igor Gellmar
- Rebecca Stone
- Mrs. Carson
- Dr. Ingraham
- Mrs. Jimoh / Mrs. Adetoun