"You left Laura down there?"
"The juniors needed more convincing than expected. I had to put the fear of me into them."
"Don't you see? Juliana left willingly."
"Fine, I'll shut up. But only if you let me sleep late tomorrow morning."
The Great Jennifer Round-Up
Chapter 5 - Early Morning Shenanigans
Caitlin danced in the ballroom, both her and her partner looking resplendent in their full dress uniforms. The band played a jaunty tune, one that fit a time immemorial than any dance music could ever hope to fill. Caitlin's partner pulled the redhead in close. She gazed into his soft brown eyes. "Oh, Alex," she murmured, for his ears only. "This could be our last night together. We need to do something more than just dance." Caitlin pressed in on her gallant escort's body, her head raised, eyes closed. Explosions boomed outside.
Caitlin jerked her eyes open, only to find herself in her dorm room at the Academy. She groaned, then turned over on her side. The booms repeated, this time more a hammering than explosions. Biting back choice commentary about the parentage of the person at the door, Caitlin rolled out of bed. She pulled on a dark red bathrobe before shuffling to the door. Another series of pounding got cut off as Caitlin yanked the door open. "What is it?"
Vamsi stood out in the hallway, a jade green robe over her beige pajamas. "Caitlin, problem."
"I should hope so. What time is it?"
"Three-forty or so. The Jennifers are attacking."
"How would I know? The Headmistress cancelled the tagging hunt several years ago."
Caitlin closed her eyes. "It's too early for sarcasm. Where are the Jennifers now?"
"I've got reports that the second year dorm took the brunt of the hit. I've got Flora and Fawna checking."
"You didn't send them, did you?"
Vamsi laughed. "I'd send Cassie first. No, one of them has drones, the other has, well, less I think about it, the better I sleep."
Caitlin nodded. "Let me know what you find out. Who else knows?"
"I've got Claire out rousing the seniors. Felicia's gone to warn the juniors."
"Good. Let Claire finish with the seniors. I need to know what the twins find out as soon as possible."
"Be findable." Vamsi took a few steps back to her dorm. "Caitlin, if things go south here, I'm bailing. I can't have the heat here."
"Let me know before you leave." Caitlin returned inside. She clapped her hands. "Skye, Autumn, get up!"
Autumn stirred in her bed. "Go 'way, Caitlin. It's still dark."
Skye flipped over on to her stomach. "Never had to toss people twice in one week, Caitlin."
Back at her bed, Caitlin started putting on her clothes. "Emergency, ladies. We're under siege."
"Hated that movie," Autumn mumbled.
Skye pushed herself up. "Siege? By who?"
"Whom," Autumn corrected.
"The Jennifers." Caitlin pulled on her black leather boots. "Get up! Skye, I need you and Autumn to check on Laura."
Skye swung her long legs out of bed. "What are you thinking, Cait?"
Caitlin walked over to the whiteboard. "I don't have enough information yet. I need to know if it's the missing Jennifers returning or the remaining Jennifers rioting."
Autumn peeked out the curtain above her bed. "No fires. And no alarms going off."
Fully out of bed, Skye adjusted her night shirt. "Jennifers aren't quiet, Cait."
"I know. That's what has me concerned."
Laura woke up to a persistent shaking. She opened her eyes and looked down at her legs. "What?"
"Jenn says we have to find a safe place for you," Kristie whispered back.
"Good luck with that." Laura closed her eyes and let her head fall back on her pillow.
"Let's go!" Kristie grabbed Laura's foot. "It's going to be dangerous here!"
"If you don't let me sleep, I'll guarantee it."
Kristie locked her arm around Laura's leg. With her free hand, she began tickling the older girl's bare foot. "We need to go, now!"
Laura fought to free her leg. "I'm up! Someone better explain to me why I'm not sleeping in."
"Jenn told me to get you someplace safe." The young brunette tried to grab Laura's arm. "We've got people invading."
Laura rolled out of bed, landing on her feet. "Why didn't you tell me that?"
"Jenn told me not to frighten you." Kristie started walking to the door, checking over her shoulder to make sure Laura followed. "I know of a safe spot, but we have to hurry. The second years' dorm has been taken."
"Taken? Laura smoothed out her rumpled clothes. "Taken by who? Taken where?"
"I don't know! That's what I was told. Jenn needs you safe. This way!"
Laura looked around the dorm room as she followed the younger girl to the door. "Where is Jenn?"
"Busy getting the other girls rounded up and moving to safety, too. My job is to get you out of here."
Kristie stopped at the door. She felt around the door jamb for a length of string. Following the string, the young brunette disabled the trap on the door. Kristie looked back at the chaotic mob of young girls. "Hey, Jessica, reset this once I'm out!" She waited for Jessica to yell back before opening the door. Kristie paused, looking down the hallway before setting out.
The overhead lights flickered. Some flashed once, twice, then died. Kristie broke into a run, forcing Laura to rush to keep up. Pipes rattled, echoing off the walls. Steam rolled across the hall, blocking the view beyond to the running girls. A hiss came from the other side of the steam. Laura put her hand on Kristie's shoulder to slow her down. "Wait," the older girl warned. She sniffed the air. "We don't want to go that way."
Kristie looked up at Laura, her brown eyes wide. "Why?"
"It's not quite tear gas, but it's close."
"You can smell it?"
"I've got a good sense of smell." Laura looked around. "We need to go another way."
Kristie closed her eyes for a moment. She pointed back towards her dorm. "That way. We passed a side corridor." The young brunette took the lead back.
Laura kept an eye on the steam behind them, making sure it stayed where it was. "Is there a washroom the way we're going?"
"You have to go now?"
"No, but what I have in mind will be easier to do there."
Kristie turned down the side corridor. "Do I want to know?"
"It's a way to deal with the gas. It worked in World War I. Soldiers there peed on a cloth that they then tied around their nose and mouth."
"I didn't want to know!"
"Do you have a better idea?"
Kristie stopped at a set of emergency stairs. "Up! Don't open any of the doors. That will set off alarms."
"Wouldn't that be a good thing if we're being invaded?"
"If it was, we'd be hearing alarms by now." Kristie waited for Laura to start climbing the stairs before following.
In the darkness, Laura felt her way up the stairs. She stumbled at the landing, reaching for a step that didn't exist. Behind her, Kristie progressed at a slower rate, taking her time to make sure there was a place to put her foot before committing to the step. Laura lost count of which floor she was on, but Kristie pressed the older girl to keep going. After what felt like a dozen stories, Laura couldn't find any other stairs up. Kristie joined her on the landing. "There should be a door here."
"Where? I can't see a thing."
Kristie snapped her fingers. A mote of light formed, dim at first, growing quickly to become as bright as a candle. The young brunette held the light over her head. "See it yet?"
Laura saw an outline in the candlelight. "Over here!"
"Move. Jenn said there's a trick to this one." Kristie brought the light to the door. She felt around the edges, trying to find the trick. She worked her fingers on a bump, hearing a faint crack as she dug in. "That must be it." Kristie opened the door. Light from the hallway banished the shadows around her and Laura. "This way."
Laura followed the younger girl into the hallway. She didn't recognize the rooms they passed. "Where are we?"
"Fourth floor labs."
"Labs?" Laura peeked into a room as the two girls ran past it. "What sort of lab?"
"Safe ones." Kristie stopped in front of another lab. She pulled out a key from her blazer pocket. "Just don't touch anything inside." The brunette unlocked the door and ushered Laura in. She took one last look up and down the hall before following the older girl.
Skye led Autumn through the halls. Unlike Caitlin, the only part of the Academy's uniform they wore was the deep red blazer. Autumn managed to grab a floor-length robe to put on over her purple baby dolls. Skye had a pair of gym shorts on, peeking out from under her night shirt. The Asian kept directly behind the taller girl, trying to hide. "I don't like this, Skye."
"So you keep saying." Skye paused at an intersection of corridors. She peered around the corner. "Clear." Skye continued down the hall. "If you hadn't left Laura behind, you wouldn't be here."
"If I left? Who left me down there in the first place?"
"Cait. I'd be going down now to check on you both if you were still there."
"I feel so relieved."
"You're cranky in the morning." Skye stopped at a stairwell door. She checked through the windows to make sure the way was safe. "Let's go." Skye slipped through the door. The tall girl was far quieter as she climbed down the stairs than anyone could imagine.
"Cranky," Autumn grumbled. "I need my eight hours of sleep."
"Tell that to Cait, not me. Or, better? Tell it to whoever kidnapped the Jennifers."
"Great. And the more you complain now, the more likely a Jennifer will hear us. I'm sure I can handle myself if there's a fight, but I don't know about you."
Autumn opened her mouth to reply, then shut it again. She glared at her tall roommate.
Skye kept the lead as the two girls crept out into the Jennifers' dorm. Autumn remained as close as she followed her roommate down the hall. Lights popped as they went out, plunging the corridor into darkness. Autumn shrieked, then clung on to Skye. The tall girl rolled her eyes, then pointed further down the hallway. "Look."
Autumn peeked around Skye. Down the hall, light broke through steam. "That's not normal, Skye."
"Where else do we-" Skye broke herself off. "Did you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Autumn listened. "I don't hear anything."
Skye pushed Autumn against the wall. "Voices."
"Echos?" A hint of hope threaded through Autumn's question.
Skye shh'ed the smaller girl. She held her own breath, waiting. "I think we're surrounded."
Autumn's eyes widened. She covered her mouth, not wanting to make a noise.
Lights shone on the two. "Are you two kidding me?" Jenn stepped into the light. "We don't want her back."
Skye breathed out in relief. "We were looking for you."
"Technically, we found you."
Autumn slipped out from beneath Skye. "What do you mean, you don't want me back?"
Skye grabbed her roommate's arm and pulled her away from the leader of the Jennifers. "Ignore her. Where's Laura?"
"Someplace safe," Jenn answered. "We were about to see what's happening."
"You don't know?"
"If we did, why would we go look?"
Skye shook her head. "When did it become sarcasm o'clock? Don't answer. What I've heard, it's a Jennifer revolt. Autumn, don't you dare say anything."
Autumn mimed zipping her mouth shut. "Not a word."
Jenn glowered at the two seniors. "It's not us up there."
"Where is Laura?" Skye persisted.
"I had one of my girls take her up to the fourth floor labs where it'll be safe."
"Safer than what?" Autumn tried to escape Skye's hold. "Safer than being on the the table of a mad dissector? Safer than jumping out of an airplane without a parachute? Safer than being left tied on the tracks in front of a GO Train?"
Jenn stared at Autumn. "You have issues."
"Skye, let me at her!"
"Guys, as much as I want to hit someone right now, we need to get Laura back."
"I told you, she's not here." Jenn pointed at the ceiling. "She should be with Kristie in the fourth floor labs. The rest of us are going to take a look. If it is my year, it might be the missing ones and I need to know."
"No way, Skye," Autumn interrupted. "I am not going to look for Laura in the fourth floor labs. That isn't how I want to die."
Skye spun the Asian girl around. "What I was about to say was, go tell Cait what's happening and where Laura is. The goth twin can look for her instead. I'll stay with these Jennifers and try to get Cait her info."
"Oh. Anything else?"
"Get the coffee brewing. It's going to be a long morning."
Caitlin knocked on her neighbour's door. After a few moments, it opened, revealing Cassie's beaming smile. "Kitty-Cait! Vammie said you'd be coming over. Come in, come in!" Cassie swished back into the room.
The redhead followed the blonde inside. "Good morning, Cassandra." Caitlin looked around the room. One bed had a duffle bag on it, open with several articles of clothing already inside. "Is there anyone else here?"
Vamsi emerged from the bathroom. "Caitlin, good. Get comfortable. Want a tea?"
"I'd like a status report."
"Right." Vamsi sat down beside the duffel bag. "Drones are showing movement outside. I've got video if you want."
Vamsi got up to retrieve her laptop. She set it down on the table to let Caitlin watch the video feed. "I'll need that back before I leave."
Caitlin watched as dark humanoid forms crawled through the long grass of the Academy's grounds. "Satellite feed?"
"Drone, like I said."
"And they're not looking up?"
Cassie trilled a laugh. "Oh, Kitty-Cait, who looks up these days?"
"Cassie has a point, Caitlin," Vamsi said. "I think the drone is just under radar detection, so maybe three hundred metres. I got the twin a good remote camera with zoom function, which you didn't hear from me."
"What about the other one? The goth?"
"Funny thing." Vamsi's expression did not show any humour. "She's getting Quoth to take a look around."
"Quoth? I don't think I know the name." Caitlin got out a notepad and jotted the word down. "Who is Quoth?"
"Her bird," Cassie answered. "Black, and just stares and stares at everyone except Goth Girl. Creepy. It's like walking down the street at times." The blonde shuddered.
"A bird? What kind of bird?"
Vamsi smiled. "I was hoping you'd ask. It's a raven."
Caitlin added the info then stopped. "Quoth, the raven?" She tossed her notepad on the table in disgust. "Vamsi, really?"
"I didn't name the bird, Caitlin." Vamsi continued her packing. "Both have radios, but they're keeping quiet. The Jennifers might have walkie-talkies for all I know."
"You're not listening?"
"I am, but the channel's clear. Doesn't mean they're not listening. Caitlin, they know this place as well as we do. Better, maybe. They know where their traps are."
Caitlin began pacing. "We need to lure them back. Now's our best chance."
"Lure them how, Kitty-Cait? Those dreadful Jennifers are just so alien."
Caitlin eyed Cassie. "We could use a certain blonde as a stalking goat. Vamsi, do you still have ropes and a way to drive pitons into rock?"
"Oh, Kitty-Cait, you like me." Cassie poured a cup of coffee for herself. "You have such a strange way of showing it."
"Oh, I am so tempted, Caitlin." Vamsi zipped up her duffle bag. "However, I am out of here. Things aren't improving. The second years are being held captive, and the Jennifers are moving on to the minor niners. I can't take the risk."
"Just how are you getting out of here?" Caitlin demanded. "The main gate's closed."
Vamsi looped the duffel's strap over her shoulder. "I have a route, Caitlin. It's been a pleasure doing business with you, but I need to get out until the heat's died down."
Over the walkie-talkie, a voice said, "Vamsi? Vamsi, are you there?"
"It's for you, Caitlin. That's the drone twin calling."
Caitlin picked up the radio. "This is Caitlin. Vamsi's not available. Report."
"Are you watching the video feed?" Flora asked.
Caitlin sat down at the table to watch the video on Vamsi's laptop. "I am now."
"Lower left corner. Let me zoom out a bit." On screen, the view widened, showing more of the grounds. "There's a new group coming in."
Caitlin peered at the scene. "Can you zoom in on them?"
The picture focused on the new group. Caitlin recognized the tall girl leading it. "Keep an eye on them."
A pounding came from the door. Vamsi ran over to open it. "Good morning, Autumn." She moved aside to let Autumn enter.
The Asian girl ran over to the table. She braced herself on the back of a chair. "Caitlin, Skye says she's trying to get you information." Autumn panted, trying to catch her breath.
"I know." Caitlin turned the laptop to let Autumn see the video.
Autumn let her head fall. "I ran for nothing."
"Fourth floor labs."
Cassie set her coffee mug down hard on the table. "Up there?"
"Are you insane, letting her go up there?" Caitlin said.
Autumn held up her hands in surrender. "Hey, not my idea. She was already on her way when Skye and I met the Jennifers. They had one of their own take her there."
"I need someone up there with her, Autumn."
Autumn sat down. "It's not me. Caitlin, I just ran from the Jennifers' dorms to get here. I'm not leaving unless there's a fire."
Caitlin grabbed her notepad. "Give me a moment. I can figure out something if I get enough time."
The fire alarm blared.
"If I burn to death, I am so haunting you."
"Caitlin, if the Headmistress finds out, I am toast. I don't want to go to North Korea!"
"Juliana, you scream and I will let not only let Sasha know who swapped out her bath oil but I will also tell your mother what you did."
"A booby trap."