Hurt & Comfort

Book 11: Creating Comfort

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Chapter 16: Remembering Ending

"What are we doing now?" Slash asked cautiously as he looked around the group.

"Andrew said that he was going to find Matt and send him down here to help us. I guess we should wait around for that." Beau said uncertainly.

"I'm interested to see what Lisa can do with the equipment they have in here." Seth said frankly.

"I'm interested to see what you can do with it." Lisa said with a teasing smile in his direction.

"I'm probably not strong enough to even turn it on." Seth said with a self-deprecating laugh.

"Nobody is turning on anything until someone shows up who knows how to use this stuff." Slash said firmly.

//Who put you in charge?// Jesus asked curiously.

"My friends and family live and work here. I don't want to mess things up for them by acting like an ungrateful little punk." Slash said seriously.

//Okay. I guess I can see that. Besides that, it's not like I really had my heart set on wrecking the place anyway.// Jesus said with a note of humor under his words.

"Brian, have you got a minute? I've got an idea." Beau said slowly.

"Sure. What can I do for you?" Brian asked attentively.

"Slash, I'm going to need you, too." Beau said thoughtfully.

"What are you up to, Beau?" Lisa asked cautiously.

"Hold on. Let me see if we can make this work before I tell you about it." Beau said seriously.

Lisa watched with concern as Brian, Beau, and Slash huddled together to talk quietly amongst themselves.

* * * * *

"Is everyone here? Andrew said that you guys were ready to start your training." Matt asked as he walked into the Danger Room.

As Slash was about to answer, he saw Clark, John, Trey, Ronny, Bobby, and Robert filing into the room behind Matt.

"Yeah. We finished our meeting. What we do next is kinda up to you." Slash said frankly, then cautiously asked, "What's everyone doing here?"

"Clark, John, and Ronny came in with me earlier to help me with your evaluations, but we've got everyone here now because it's time for all of you to be in class." Matt said simply, then added, "Actually, we're a little past time."

//Professor Xavier asked me to tell everyone that Lee and Quaid are on the way to the Danger Room.//

"Why wouldn't he tell us himself?" Matt asked cautiously.

//The first reason is that he and I can talk together easily. It's like the difference between talking normally and screaming across a crowded room. The second reason is that he knows that there are people among us who don't trust telepaths in general or him specifically.//

"I never thought that there was anything wrong with telepaths." Seth said honestly.

"Some of my best friends are telepathic." Louie said with a grin.

Seth glanced at Lisa, then focused more on Brian.

"I've honestly never had a reason to worry about a telepath before. As far as I know, my power works on them the same as everyone else. So if I ever felt threatened by them, I could just make them forget me." Brian said simply.

Seth looked to Slash inquiringly. The look in Seth's eyes was one of trust and admiration, but there was also a certain measure of fragility.

Slash was very aware of his next words, being extra careful not to give a false impression.

"I think I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I have never once had the slightest problem with any telepath."

"You can stop guessing. He was talking about me." Matt said informatively.

"We're new here and we don't know who to trust. If there's a reason that you don't trust the professor, we'd like to know." Beau said frankly.

"It's nothing you need to worry about." Matt said in prelude, then explained, "I'm from a parallel dimension. The Charles Xavier from my world was a homicidal monster. Even though I know this isn't him, I'm still not comfortable with him rooting around in my mind."

After a long moment Beau finally said, "That actually sounds pretty reasonable to me."

//Unless there is a pressing need to do otherwise, the professor intends to contact our team through me.// Jesus informed the group.

"Is there a way for you to link us up so that the team can hear each other telepathically?" Lisa asked thoughtfully.

After a long moment, Jesus finally answered, //The professor assures me that what you're describing is a legitimate psychic technique, albeit a high-level one. In time, it is possible that I may be able to master it. The professor wants to work with me to help me develop my abilities to their fullest.//

"Yeah. That sounds like 'im." Matt said frankly.

* * * * *

"Are we late?" Lee asked as he hurried into the room with Quaid following a step behind.

"No. You're right on time. I was just about to explain that the teacher isn't here yet." Matt said as he looked back toward the door.

"Aren't you going to be teaching us?" Clark asked cautiously.

"I will for driver's training and self-defense. But your teacher today will be the one evaluating your academic grade level so that we can be sure that each of you will end up in the right classes." Matt said informatively.

"Who's going to be our teacher then?" John asked cautiously.

"Mad Mordigan." Matt said simply.

"Who's that?" John asked, even more slowly.

"She's an education expert from the Wagner Institute. That's all I know about her." Matt said simply.

"And her first name is 'Mad'?" Clark asked uncertainly.

"Maybe it's short for Madeline." Lee suggested.

"Or maybe she's a villain who's going to try to make us her henchmen or mind slaves." Louie interjected.

After a long silent moment, Slash quietly said, "Probably not."

"I think with a name like 'Mad Mordigan' that she pretty much has to be a bad guy." Louie said firmly.

"It'd be nice if it was that easy to tell who the bad guys were." Matt said wistfully.

"You know, sometimes being the 'good' guy or the 'bad' guy comes down to what you believe is right and wrong." John said firmly.

Ronny glanced at him for a moment, then continued the thought, "If you fight because of a 'truth' that other people are too stupid to see, that doesn't make you a bad guy. You're trying to do the right thing, even if you may be doing it the wrong way."

"For some, it would appear that there is virtue in defending such a truth from the tyranny of the majority consensus." Trey quietly added.

"That may be true of the 'bad' guys, but just remember that sometimes a person who seems to be the good guy was really just going through the motions, basing all his decisions on what felt good to him in the moment and doesn't really care about how anyone else feels." Bobby said regretfully.

All the Meerkats noticed as Robert put an arm around Bobby and held him tenderly.

"So what are we supposed to do until the teacher gets here?" Slash asked into the silence that followed.

"Did you have all the time you needed for your team to talk?" Matt asked curiously.

"Yes. Thanks for letting us talk for a few minutes. It really helped." Lisa quickly confirmed.

"Yeah. We're more of a team than we were when you left us." Seth said confidently.

"Okay. Let's see about that. While we've got a few minutes, why don't you show me something?" Matt asked with a grin.

"Meerkat three!" Beau called out to the group as he took a sudden step backward.

Matt readied himself for an attack, although he didn't go so far as to extend his claws.

There was an explosion of darkness to his left which immediately engulfed Seth, Slash, and Beau.

To his right, an unstable black blur appeared for only an instant before moving in a dark streak into the rafters.

A movement out of the corner of Matt's eye drew his attention for less than a heartbeat. Lisa's oval, fur-covered face was timidly smiling at him, before fading away into an abyss of half-remembered nightmares from his past.

Matt blinked as he was brought back to the present, standing alongside the former Xavier students, Lee, and Quaid.

"How was that?" Slash asked from behind him.

Matt extended his claws as he turned to assess his situation.

The Meerkats were standing together, waiting for his evaluation.

"You threw me off, no doubt. I expected the speed and the dark, but I didn't know that you'd be playing mind games with me." Matt slowly admitted.

"We can't be sure of how effective it's going to be in every situation, but with all the other distractions going on, it's like it gives us another avenue of attack." Brian excitedly explained.

"You did good." Matt said, mostly to Brian, sensing that he needed to hear it the most.

"Until we can learn how to do some damage when we attack, that's about the best we can do." Slash eagerly explained.

"Let's see if we can't get you a few more 'combat avoidance' strategies worked out before we devote too much time to attacks." Matt said seriously.

"'Combat avoidance'? Is that the part where we run away like scared little kids?" Beau asked curiously.

"We'll work to develop your strengths a little more before we worry too much about your weaknesses." Matt said diplomatically.

"And our strength is running away like scared little kids." Slash pressed.

"Yeah. Pretty much." Matt finally confirmed.

"I can accept that." Beau said frankly.

A glance around the rest of the group found them to be in agreement.

* * * * *

//The professor is asking us to go upstairs. He would rather not invite the visiting teacher into the inner sanctum of the X-Men until he knows her a little better.// Jesus told all those present.

"How much do we have to keep hidden from this new teacher? I mean, is she a total normie? How much does she already know about us? How much does she need to know about us to do her job?" Slash asked Matt firmly.

//It seems that while Ms. Mordigan couldn't be counted among the mutants or witches, neither could she be described as anything resembling normal.// Jesus said slowly.

"So how much should we tell her?" Louie asked cautiously.

//Some people have obvious mutations, so of course such people will acknowledge those. Anything else will be left to your own discretion, for the most part.// Jesus said seriously.

"Does the professor say how we are to explain being Borg?" Trey asked curiously.

//Tell her the facts that she needs to know to do her job in regard to you. Leave the rest vague and allow her to fill in the blanks with assumptions and speculations.// Jesus responded simply.

"Wait. Is this teacher just coming here to do this evaluation? Because if she is, why are we even worried about what she thinks about us? Once she's done we'll probably never see her again." Ronny asked suspiciously.

//She's on staff at the Wagner Institute and will be playing a major role in providing the proper instruction for all the different educational levels of all the incoming pre-college students.//

"So there's a chance that she'll be one of our teachers?" Lisa asked speculatively.

//Yes. And even if she isn't, she'll probably have frequent contact with all your instructors so that she can coordinate their teaching strategies in regard to you. For that reason, it might be a good idea to consider how you want to present yourselves to her from the very beginning.// Jesus carefully suggested.

"Why don't we just get to know her as our real selves?" Seth asked cautiously.

"I guess that depends on how weird you want to feel around her. If you pretend that your horns are all that makes you different from regular people then that's probably how she'll treat you." Slash said simply.

//I don't know about that, but it might be good practice for you to have to be discreet. If nothing else, it will give you a chance to get your story sorted out before you're in a situation where it really matters.// Jesus quietly suggested.

"He might be right about that. You'll be surprised at how fast you run out of different ways to say 'it's none of your business'." Slash said frankly.

//She's being taken to the library to wait for us.// Jesus said informatively.

"All of us?" Clark asked uncertainly.

//Yes. All the students who have arrived in the past few weeks need to be evaluated to determine who needs testing. Your group will be evaluated together and the Xavier students will be evaluated separately.// Jesus said seriously.

"What about me?" Quaid hesitantly asked.

//No final decision has been made regarding your education. Perhaps if you discuss your situation with Ms. Mordigan, she might recommend one school or the other as being better suited to provide for your needs.// Jesus carefully suggested.

"Was that you saying that, or the professor?" Quaid asked dubiously.

//Mostly him, but it sounds like a good idea to me, too. As much as I want you and Louie to be together and be happy, what I want more is what's best for you.// Jesus said frankly.

"We should be going or Ms. Mordigan will have to wait for us." Trey said to the group.

"Do you know where we're going?" Clark asked curiously.

"Yes. In fact, I know of a way to get there using secret passageways. Would you like to do that?" Trey asked with a mischievous grin.

"Will that take a lot more time than just going up in the elevator?" John asked cautiously.

"Approximately two point three additional minutes." Trey answered matter-of-factly.

"Is there going to be a lot of climbing or anything dangerous?" Bobby quietly asked as he looked at Robert with concern.

"Nothing more strenuous than traversing a secret staircase." Trey assured him.

"Sounds good. Let's go." Clark said happily.

"Mr. Logan? Would you prefer to lead us?" Trey asked respectfully.

"I'm not from here, remember? Even though our universes have some of the same things, there are still some differences. If you know the way, it's best if you lead." Matt said frankly.

"This way." Trey said as he led the way deeper into the Danger Room.

* * * * *

The group watched as Trey expertly keyed in a sequence on an invisible keypad on a nondescript wall.

"How did you ever find that there?" Ronny asked curiously.

"I sometimes do maintenance work in the mansion and have been given access to the various service crawlways." Trey said as the hidden door revealed itself.

Without further explanation, Trey led the way through the doorway and into a hidden hall.

"It has its own light!" John said with surprise.

"I turned the light on when I opened the passage. That was what one of the numerical sequences did." Trey said informatively, then thought to add, "I can turn off the light if you would rather."

"No! I wasn't complaining. I was just surprised that the secret passage you were taking us through had lights. The last time I..." John trailed off, then looked back at Matt regretfully.

"You know what I was just saying about not being from this universe?" Matt asked John seriously.

John hesitantly nodded.

"If something happened between you and the other me that you feel bad about, you don't need to suffer over it with me. You and me, we're good. We got no problem. Right?" Matt asked to confirm.

"Right." John said quietly, then finished with an appreciative smile.

Ronny couldn't help but smile at their exchange.

* * * * *

"Jesus, can you tell where the teacher is in the library?" Seth asked cautiously as he stopped at the door.

//Yes. She's sitting at one of the tables at the side of the room, opposite where we will be entering.// Jesus said simply.

"Is there any way for us to get out of this tunnel without her seeing us?" Seth asked seriously.

//There is an access point located in the hallway. We'll have to backtrack two rooms, then take a left at the intersection.// Jesus said informatively.

"Hold on. Give me a second." Seth said before disappearing in a flash of darkness.

"Okay... Um, does he do that often?" Bobby asked uncertainly as he looked around.

"Yeah." Slash said simply, then added more urgently, "He's really new to being a mutant, so take it easy on him about how enthusiastic he gets about it. I think he desperately wants for us to think he's as good as the rest of us, even though he's so inexperienced."

"I can relate." Ronny said simply.

"I found a shortcut!" Seth said as he appeared in their midst.

"This is a big group. Can you get everyone at once?" Slash asked cautiously.

Seth looked around and considered for a moment before finally responding, "Yeah. No problem."

"Okay. Then let's not keep the teacher waiting." Beau said with a grin.

Rather than respond verbally, Seth loosed his power and the world seemed to dissolve around them.

* * * * *

"Right through here." Seth said as he led the way.

"He likes to take charge when we cross dimensions. It's kind of his thing." Slash quietly explained to Bobby and Robert.

"Among the Borg, no one takes pride in their work. Likewise, none would step forward to demonstrate their expertise." Robert said simply.

"So you're saying that it's a good thing and we should just leave it be?" Slash asked, mostly rhetorically.

"Yeah. And if he turns out to be good at it, you might even decide to give him support and encouragement." Robert added with a smile that could be interpreted as being teasing.

Before Slash could think how to respond, Seth was quickly and efficiently guiding the members of their group through a fleshy blue-gray curtain.

* * * * *

Once the group was assembled, Seth let loose a single blinding burst of his power and all present were suddenly standing in the hallway outside the library.

"Um... okay..." Bobby said with astonishment as he looked around.

Two girls, one fully teenage and the other on the cusp, were standing in the hallway, watching the group with wide-eyed expressions of awe.

"So much for keeping secrets..." Clark trailed off with a slight grimace.

The younger girl timidly waved at Lisa before taking the older girl's hand. As everyone watched, both girls suddenly vanished.

"...Or maybe not?" He added uncertainly.

"That was Kitty and Clarissa... basically Kitty Junior. You don't have to worry about them. From everything that Lance told me, they're good people. They're some of the people around here that you can trust if you need to." John said seriously.

"Robert, what is the status of your womb?" Trey asked firmly.

"All systems functioning within normal parameters. Don't worry, Big Brother. I've been monitoring." Robert assured Trey quietly.

Trey gave a single nod to convey his approval of his brother's response.

//Ms. Mordigan is waiting.// Jesus reminded them.

"Yeah. We're going." John reluctantly responded, although he didn't go so far as to actually start moving.

"C'mon Quaid. Let's show 'em how it's done." Lee said as he extended a hand in Quaid's direction.

After a moment of hesitation and one desperate look back at Louie, Quaid finally went to his grandfather and accepted his hand.

It was easy for all to see that Quaid was as proud as he could be to lead the group into the library.

* * * * *

"Sorry to keep you waiting. The kids kind of gathered into two separate groups and it took a minute to get them together." Lee fought to explain.

"The kids? How old are you? Sixteen?" The woman asked as she stood.

"I'm old for my age." Lee said dryly.

"I don't care what class you put me in, I just want to be with Louie." Quaid announced firmly.

"And you are..." The teacher said in a leading tone.

"I'm Quaid Summers and no matter where you put me, I'll do a good job. So you don't even have to worry about that. All that really matters is that me and Louie get to go to class together." Quaid said firmly.

After looking at her legal pad, then looking at the second page, she finally looked at Quaid and said, "We've started off on the wrong foot. My name is Ms. Mordigan, some people call me 'Mad' Mordigan. I'm here to discover what each of you know and what you don't know, then develop a strategy that makes sense for each of you individually and also for you as a group."

"I want to be with Louie." Quaid said firmly.

"Sometimes you don't get what you want." Ms. Mordigan said sagely.

"You get it even less if you don't ask for it." Quaid countered as he matched her gaze.

"True enough, I suppose." Ms. Mordigan said with a quick smile, then added, "I'll keep your wishes in mind as I make my decisions."

"Thanks. That's what I was really asking for." Quaid said seriously.

Ms. Mordigan gave Quaid one last look before addressing the entire assembly.

"Since it seems that you have naturally formed into two groups, perhaps you could sort yourselves into those groups for me now so that I can see any commonalities that you might be using as a sorting criteria." Ms. Mordigan said seriously.

The Meerkats automatically pulled together. Everyone else formed their own group, pretty much by default.

Quaid stood with his grandfather, unsure of what to do. Lee didn't make any move, silently lending his support to whatever Quaid ultimately decided.

"I just want to stay with Louie. I don't really care about all the rest of this." Quaid told Ms. Mordigan seriously.

"Don't you want to get the best possible education, tailored just for you, so that you can get a good job and whatever kind of life you decide that you'd like to have?" Ms. Mordigan asked with concern.

"No. Not really." Quaid said honestly.

"Education and stuff is important, but you've got to decide what's most important. Right now, for me the most important thing to me is being with all my new friends, not just because they make me happy, but also because I feel safe with them. If you want me to learn new stuff, I can't do it when I'm scared and worried and always watching my back."

"That's a good point. And you are..." Ms. Mordigan said in a leading tone.

"Louie." He answered shyly.

"Of course you are." Ms. Mordigan said with a smile and a barely restrained chuckle.

"Can I be in Louie's class?" Quaid asked hopefully.

"You know what? Why not! We'll find a way to make it work. Get over there with Louie so we can get this evaluation going." Ms. Mordigan said with amusement.

As Quaid happily hurried to join the Meerkats, Lee walked in the opposite direction to stand with Matt.

"And you are?" Ms. Mordigan asked firmly.

It took a moment for Lee to realize that Ms. Mordigan was talking to him.

"I'm just here to help out with the kids. I know that I may not look it, but I've already graduated from high school." Lee assured her.

"And you are?" Ms. Mordigan asked again, this time even more insistently.

"Lee Wells." He finally answered.

Ms. Mordigan looked over her legal pad of notes for a moment, then looked back to Lee and carefully said, "I was told that I had one teenager who was attending with a full regimen of college classes that wouldn't be you, by any chance, would it?"

"No. That's Beau." Lee said as he pointed.

In response, Beau raised a hand.

"Oh yes, here it is. Beauregard Murdoch Collins... what a solid name. May I call you Beauregard?" Ms. Mordigan asked with a smile.

"Why?" Beau asked dubiously.

"I like the feel of it. Besides that, the name is so... I can't come up with another word for it, 'solid' is the best way that I can describe it. I feel like when I call you by your name, I'm investing in your strength, lending to your stability." Ms. Mordigan fought to explain.

"Sure. If you want to call me that I have no problem with it." Beau said uncertainly.

"Excellent! Now, Beauregard, let me see here... you're in entry level college classes with a focus on pre-med... you seem to be doing exceptionally well with things being as they are. I see no reason to try and fix something that already seems to be working, so I suppose I'll just ask if there's anything you can think of that would make your learning experience more productive." Ms. Mordigan finished professionally.

"No. I don't think that things could have worked out more perfectly for me. I was able to get used to things on my own and develop a good work routine. Then these guys showed up so I won't have to worry about stressing out from studying all the time." Beau said frankly.

"And may I presume that the students that you've grouped with are those who just arrived?" Ms. Mordigan asked uncertainly.

"Yes. I mean Clark and the guys are great, but they've already made their place here. They have their friends and families and each of them have a complex history of relationships. The rest of us need to find our own ways. We're developing this new thing that's all our own." Beau said thoughtfully.

"Well, isn't that lovely. Yes. I think you'll do just fine." Ms. Mordigan said happily, then looked back at her legal pad for a moment before cautiously asking, "Slash?"

"Yes ma'am?" Slash hesitantly responded.

"Does that mean that you've decided that you'd rather not use your formal name?" Ms. Mordigan asked curiously.

"Yes ma'am." Slash said hesitantly.

"Would you tell me your real name? I don't need to know it, but I think it will help me to understand what you find objectionable." Ms. Mordigan explained.

"I've had my name officially changed, so it's better than it used to be, but the name I had when I first arrived here was Josiah Andrew Hailey-Keith." Slash said quietly.

"How... pastel." Ms. Mordigan said with a slight cringe.

Slash nodded in whole-hearted agreement.

"If you'll tell me one thing, I think I'll have a pretty good idea of what I should do for you." Ms. Mordigan said in prelude.

"What's that?" Slash asked cautiously.

"What's your favorite color?" Ms. Mordigan asked curiously.

"Right this minute it's electric purple, but my favorite usually changes a couple times a year." Slash said honestly.

"Excellent. I like that answer." Ms. Mordigan said with a smile, then added, "I can see by these transcripts that you shouldn't require much testing to see that you are placed in the proper classes to provide you the best opportunities. May I assume that you would like to remain grouped with Beauregard, Quaid, and Louie?"

"Yeah. It makes sense because we're getting used to helping each other. I think that we can accomplish a lot more as a group than each of us could on our own." Slash said frankly.

"You know, that's the same thing I was telling Dr. Hoffman. Although I don't know of any surefire way to inspire such a group dynamic, I recognize the advantage of it. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help you, or your group, to achieve that unity." Ms. Mordigan said seriously.

"Honestly, I think you're doing it right now by listening to what we want before deciding things for us." Slash said as he met her interested gaze.

"Tell me Slash, would you rather put in a little extra work to be included in the high school junior level or would you rather set things on cruise control and take the easier classes at the sophomore level?" Ms. Mordigan asked curiously.

"I don't mind doing a little extra work if there's a point to it." Slash said honestly.

"Remember that you'll have help whenever you need it." Brian said from the group.

Ms. Mordigan looked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then slowly said, "I didn't see you there."

"Yeah. I get that a lot." Brian said easily.

"And you are?" Ms. Mordigan slowly asked, appearing to be strangely uneasy.

"Brian Nassar." Brian answered in a neutral tone that seemed to evaporate once heard.

"You know that feeling you get when you encounter someone that you've met before but you can't quite place where from?" Ms. Mordigan asked somewhat distantly.

"Oh? Do I remind you of someone?" Brian asked with a slight smile.

"No. Quite the opposite. You don't remind me of anyone. Ever. It's the strangest thing... I don't know how else to describe it." Ms. Mordigan said anxiously.

"Don't worry about it. I'm just a painfully average kind of a guy." Brian said with a benign grin.

After another anxious moment, Ms. Mordigan looked at her legal pad and said, "You are listed here, even though I would have sworn that you weren't."

"Does it say if they were able to get my transcripts from Oregon?" Brian asked curiously.

"Yes. Of a sort. We have a list of grades, but nothing more. There aren't any conduct or achievement evaluations of any kind included for you." Ms. Mordigan said uneasily, then added more quietly, "Would you feel comfortable picking up where you left off with high school senior classes?"

"Not really. I mean, I'd like to continue being a senior, but the schools where I'm from were really crap. I mean, ask anyone. They're some of the worst in the country... in fact, I think they're even ranked below a few of the third-world countries." Brian rambled.

Ms. Mordigan made a note before saying, "We'll have you tested and see that you get put into appropriate classes for your education level."

"Thank you." Brian said with a slight smile of accomplishment.

"You're welcome... I can't believe this, I forgot your name." Ms. Mordigan finished with astonishment.

"I'm Brian. Thanks again." Brian said before taking a step back to disengage from the conversation.

After a moment to see if anyone else was going to volunteer to go next, Lisa finally quietly asked, "You already know about Marc, don't you?"

After a look at her legal pad, Ms. Mordigan asked, "Marc Stanton?"

"Yes. I just wanted to be sure that he wasn't going to get too far behind in his school work because he was hurt." Lisa said timidly.

"I've been told that he won't be physically able to do any type of school work for at least another week, so I thought that I'd get everyone else situated, then come back to him when he's ready to face some new challenges." Ms. Mordigan explained.

"Thank you. I just wanted to be sure that he wasn't forgotten." Lisa quietly responded.

"I'm guessing that you're Lisa Brogan." Ms. Mordigan asked with an inviting smile.

"Did someone warn you about me?" Lisa asked anxiously.

Ms. Mordigan shook her head, then explained, "You're the only girl in the class. I was just using my astounding deductive reasoning skills."

Lisa giggled despite herself, then said, "Okay. I just thought someone might have told you to watch out for the rabbit monster girl."

"No one said any such thing." Ms. Mordigan assured her, then gently asked, "Has anyone been giving you any trouble, dear?"

"No. When someone did try, everyone stood up for me. It was really great!" Lisa quickly assured her, then added, "I'm worried because I'm just not good at meeting new people. Sometimes I can't help but automatically think that no matter what I do, the worst is going to happen."

"I'd call that a very healthy and realistic defense mechanism. Just so long as you can accept it when your preconceived notion isn't true, I think it should serve you well." Ms. Mordigan said seriously.

Lisa timidly nodded to indicate that she had heard.

"According to what I have here, it looks like you've been homeschooled for the past three years. Is that right?" Ms. Mordigan asked seriously.

"Yes ma'am." Lisa timidly acknowledged.

"Well, it looks like they did a pretty good job of it. If these grades are representative of your ability, you should fit well into high school junior classes." Ms. Mordigan said pleasantly.

"You should know, during those three years, I wasn't ever really around... anyone... I mean strangers. I stayed at home, in our basement, mostly." Lisa timidly admitted.

"Have you been having any problems since you've been here?" Ms. Mordigan asked with concern.

"No. Not at all. I mean, everyone's been so nice to me. I just don't know how I'll handle it if one of these days they're not for some reason." Lisa hurried to explain.

"I'll tell you a little secret." Ms. Mordigan said as she leaned nearer to speak more quietly, "You're not alone. All of us have to face rude and abrasive people occasionally and each of us deal with them the best that we can. All I can tell you is that for me, personally, I find it better to try to endure and overcome such situations rather than avoid them."

Lisa thought about the words for a moment, then slowly nodded her acknowledgement.

After a glance at her notepad, Ms. Mordigan looked at the Meerkats speculatively for a moment, before focusing in on Seth and asking, "Seth Oronokos?"

"Yes?" Seth asked cautiously.

"By the look of this, you've just started high school as a freshman. Is that right?" Ms. Mordigan asked cautiously.

"Yes. But I stopped going when my mutation got so that I couldn't hide it anymore." Seth said frankly.

"I assume that you won't have a problem like that here, will you?" Ms. Mordigan asked curiously.

"No one here cares if I'm a mutant or not. Even though I still feel a little weird about it, I don't try to hide it anymore." Seth explained.

"Good. As I understand it, that's exactly the effect the Wagner Institute is trying for." Ms. Mordigan said pleasantly, then looked at her legal pad before continuing, "Your school records are a bit vague. I think, to err on the side of caution, that we'll have you go through the academic grade level testing, just to be sure that you get properly placed."

"Sounds good. Just let me know what you need for me to do." Seth said happily.

"If you'd like to have a seat at one of the tables, I'll bring you a placement test as soon as I've finished my assessments." Ms. Mordigan said as she indicated the tables to her right.

"Me too?" Brian asked uncertainly.

Ms. Mordigan looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then down at her pad, to help jog her memory.

"Yes, Brian. Go ahead and take a seat and I'll be right with you." Ms. Mordigan said uneasily, then turned her attention back to the Meerkats and asked, "Before I move on, did I miss anyone?"

//I don't need to be tested, but you should probably know that I'm here. I'm not always the most pleasant surprise.// Jesus quietly said into her mind, as he pushed out of the backpack and peered over Louie's shoulder.

"You're a..."

//...Telepathic rat.// Jesus helpfully supplied, then added, //Or you can think of me as Louie's emotional support companion, if that makes it easier for you to handle.//

After a moment to consider, Ms. Mordigan finally said, "Yes. Thank you. That actually does make it easier."

//Good. My name is Jesus. It's an absolute pleasure to meet you.// He said with practiced formality.

"Yes. For me as well." Ms. Mordigan sputtered at the unexpected courtesy.

Without further conversation, Jesus ducked back down inside the backpack where he could relax until he was needed for some reason.

"Quaid and Louie, why don't you go ahead and take seats? I'll get you placement tests as soon as I'm done talking to your other group."

Quaid and Louie smiled at each other, then went to the nearest table to sit together.

Ms. Mordigan watched them go, then turned her attention to the remaining people in the room.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I was hoping for another chapter, and it was a very nice surprise to find one.

I can't quite get my head around Ms. Mordigan. She seems to be a bit skittish, That word popped up when I tried to use what I thought was a better word. Since I thought that skid was the root word, rather than skit. That was my synonym for nervous.

She definitely found Brian a little strange, but then he does tend to use that power of his to his advantage. I also noticed that he didn't explain his ability to her.

It does seem that everyone is able to find a way to work with her, in one way or another.

I am glad to see people reacting to MM's stories and giving him feedback, as well.

I am hoping for more chapters soon.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher