Due Process

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Chapter 15

The Operation

Dun dudda da dunn dunn dunn da dunn daada duun dunnn dunn

The staircase was dark that next morning, but enough light came through the windows to let us see our way. We had both snuck out of our rooms and met at the main building at 2:00, and had carefully made our way to the tower where the office was. We were both jumpy and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, I had never done anything like this before. If only I had been able to make an invisibility talisman as well, I thought I would be breathing a lot easier right now. I hoped this worked, I didn't want to get Veta in trouble, though as I had talked her into it, most of the blame would fall on my shoulders. I wanted to ask Kat to use her precognition to see if my efforts would be successful, but Osman was sleeping, and I couldn't wake her without waking him, so I was on my own.

"So how do we know the office isn't warded against this sort of thing?" asked Veta in a whisper, as we crept up the stairs, having made it without being spotted.

"I suppose we don't," I whispered back. "But really, I don't think he bothers too much with that."

"Why not? That would be pretty stupid, wouldn't it?"

I shook my head. "Think about it. Someone breaks into his office, right? He just goes and asks a Seer who did it. They grab him out of class and ask him if he did it. That person lies, the Seer says 'you're lying' and that's the end of it. But we aren't going there to cause trouble or steal stuff, we just want to prove this Jonathan guy shouldn't be here and that he's messing with people. So even if we do get caught, we can tell the truth which looks good for us and a further investigation will be started, which is what I want to happen anyway. They might question my methods, but I'm confident of the result."

"Oh." she said.

"So are you with me?" I asked, holding out my hand and pointing, as we were now standing outside the door to the office.

She nodded tightly and grabbed it. Her palm was hot and sweaty, and I figured mine was too; rationalizing this was all well and good, but what we were doing still could get us in trouble. Veta was taking a lot on faith, given how poorly she knew me. Maybe I just had an honest face? She had earlier argued she could use her own talisman to breach the door, but I argued one was less likely to be detected then two, which she agreed with, so we both used mine. I gestured off to the side, and she nodded, so we took a step to the left and passed through the wall, which I figured wasn't as warded as the door would be.

We passed through with no trouble and were in the office in an instant. We both held our breath waiting for alarms or monsters or something to happen, but it didn't so we just looked at each other with a little triumph in our eyes. I let go of her hand (after making sure she was not touching anything at all) and got out the flashlights and the case of disks she had me put in my pouch before we left. After all, it's one thing to be caught in the halls with a girl, but quite another to be caught with a girl who had a bunch of hacking type CDs. At least I assumed that's what they were. She made her way over to the computer and selected a disk.

"I'm going to boot the machine into Ubuntu," she said quietly, making sure the speakers that were sitting there on the desk were switched off. "Hopefully the student list is just a spreadsheet or something and not a proprietary app."

"You do what you have to do," I said, not knowing what the heck she was talking about. She powered the machine on and opened the tray, slipping the disk inside. She hurriedly tapped a key, then selected the CD drive from a list on screen of possible boot devices.

"This way, even if his account is password protected, we can still get into his data and he'll never know we were here," she further explained, hitting the enter key. I nodded.

We waited.

And waited.

"How long does this take," I hissed. "Will it happen any time soon?"

"Sorry, this PC is a piece of junk, and booting from CD always takes longer, just be patient."

"Humph, in movies when someone hacks a computer they just smash type the keyboard a little and it's done in two seconds."

"Well, I'm sorry this isn't a movie," Veta snapped. "At best it's a crappy novel by some J. K. Rowling wannabe that the writer's mom buys but no one else bothers to."

"Please, this is my life we're talking about here." I protested, insulted. "At least make it a campy broadway musical that gets terrible reviews and only lasts two weeks onstage."

We both tried hard to not break into fits of giggling, it seemed now that we had made it this far, some of our nervous energy was leaking out. Finally the machine booted up.

"Okay, let's see what we have here," Veta said, becoming serious again. "Good, at least he doesn't use full disk encryption, probably doesn't even know it exists." She clicked through a bunch of things and said "Yup, here it is." She opened it and a program called OpenOffice showed on the screen, finally displaying a list of students. We scrolled through it and found our names, so it was the right list, but we found no student listed by the name of Jonathan. She slipped a flash drive into the USB port and copied it off, "We can print it out and bring it to someone," she said, then asked if there was anything else.

"We've been here too long already," I answered. "We have the proof that something weird is going on, let's not push our luck."

She nodded, and started turning the machine off. The disk slipped out and she put it back in the case, closed the drive, took out her flash drive and hit the power button. I put the case back into my pouch, along with the drive. "I'll get this back to you after I've printed it."

"We better split up after we get down the stairs."

I nodded. "You won't have any trouble getting back?"

She smiled. "With the talisman you made me? No door or wall can bar our way now, right? I should be fine."

"Okay. Thanks for your help, I would not have been able to do all that."

She shrugged. "It's okay, I hope it all works out for you."

We joined hands again and I gave it a little squeeze in thanks as we slipped out of the office. She squeezed back and once down the stairs we stealthily made our separate ways back to our dorms. I had to dodge through a wall to avoid someone seeing me, but the space I entered was empty, so I just waited a moment and he was gone again. He was patrolling for demons of course, you can't be too careful when your school sits on a demon gate, but finding me would also have raised unfortunate questions. I got back to my room, through the door, and found Osman sitting up waiting for me.

He jumped a little, his eyes widening. "Did you just walk through that door without opening it?" he accused.

"Yes, I made myself a new talisman. Seems to be pretty handy."

He paused. "You were out an awful long time."

"I had to get something done. You weren't actually worried about me, were you?"

"Worried you were getting into trouble, yes. What's going on with you lately?"

"Aarg! Look, Osman, whatever you think you remember about my behavior is wrong. That Jonathan guy, he just showed up yesterday and all of a sudden I'm the bad guy. He's messing with your memories, ask Kat, she'll tell you."

Katrina appeared in the room with us in illusion form. "It's true, I wasn't affected because he doesn't know about me, but when you saw him the first time you asked who he was, then suddenly you were all buddy-buddy with him."

"That's impossible. I've known him almost as long as I've known Dean."

"I felt him use memory alteration on you Osman."

"That's crazy, why would he do that? He's a good guy!"

"Oh this is pointless," I said, exasperated. "Look, you want to know where I was? Getting the evidence against him. He's not a student here, the student list doesn't show anyone by that name, and I can show it to you if you want."

"That won't prove anything, you could easily have modified any records to say whatever you wanted."

"Stop it, Osman, he's telling the truth," wailed Katrina, grabbing his arm.

"No, it's okay," I sighed. "This is why I went for the evidence first rather then trying to convince you all I'm right. Obviously a person is going to trust their own memories over the word of someone else, and this Jonathan knows his stuff if he can tamper with the memory of the principal and get away with it. Or maybe what Osman thinks about me is true, maybe I'm a horrible person who's been implanted with the memories I have now. I can't know at this point."

"But-"

"I only have my memories to fall back on, same as Osman does. But I'll make you a deal," I said to him. "You give me the benefit of the doubt until I take what I found to Mr DeLefeu and if there's just been some mix-up and I'm the one going nuts, you can say I told you so and that'll be the end of it."

"Fine," said Osman shortly. "I just hope you're right."

I had forgotten to reset my alarm after my early morning jaunt so I woke up late, which was fine as it was a Saturday. However, Osman was gone and I didn't see him in the cafeteria, so I went looking for him. I needed Kat's testimony when I confronted the principal about Jonathan, as I figured his reaction would be nearly the same. I had the fantastic idea to use a spirit clone to help me look, so we could cover more ground. Soon enough I got a sending from my clone that my friends were all out behind the swimming pool, talking to Jonathan.

Oh crap, I sent back.

Yeah, you better get over here.

I took off running, activating my phasing talisman so I could get there more directly, and then ran around the right side of the pool building to where my clone was. I dismissed him and was surprised to learn that I knew everything he had heard them discussing. Have to ask Yasui about that later, I thought. It seemed bad to me, he was trying to convince them I was the one who didn't belong, not him, and that they should bring me in to get to the bottom of it. The trouble was- they seemed convinced. I had to get that evidence to the principal before things got even more out of hand, so I turned to run back the way I came and saw Yasui standing there. But she was there talking- oh, a spirit clone, great, I thought to myself.

"He's here all right." she shouted, grabbing me. "Just like you said, Jonathan. Spying on us."

She marched me out to where the others were standing.

"Dean, Dean, Dean, what are we going to do with you?" asked Jonathan.

"What have you done to them?" I demanded.

"Me?" he asked innocently. "We're all just concerned about you, that's all. My friend Osman here said you gathered some fake evidence that I wasn't a student last night? Is that true? Tell me what you did last night."

"I don't have to tell you anything."

Jonathan looked surprised. "Don't you? It really would be best if you told me."

"I broke into the principal's office with Veta and looked at the student list. You aren't on it." What am I saying? I asked myself. Why am I telling him this?

Be careful, said Kat in my mind. He's using compulsion on you right now.

"Oh yes, you have some ESPer skills, don't you?" asked Jonathan. "But don't bother sending to anyone, I've taken steps to make sure we won't be disturbed here. I should have guessed you'd look into things immediately, but breaking into the principal's computer? Brilliant! I applaud you, Dean."

What? I thought to myself. Oh, right, he doesn't know about Kat, so he sensed someone using sending and thought it was me. Got it.

"So what are you going to do now?"

"Oh, just what my master commands, is all. Please don't resist, it'll just be that much harder for you."

I tried to resist, but I felt his will clamp around mine, and although I could escape easily by activating my phase talisman, I was helpless to do anything that would be considered "resisting". I did mentally activate my regeneration talisman, as I thought I might need it very soon.

"I had hoped to play with you some more," Jonathan sighed, "But I guess it's not to be."

"Wait, what are you-" Christina started to ask, but she didn't get to finish as Jonathan simply touched my head with a single finger, said "Your parents say 'hi'."

And killed me.

My head literally exploded, I barely had a chance to even register the pain, which was tremendous, by the way, before everything went dark.

In my Paranormal Studies classes we had talked a little about death, and what happens to a soul when it dies, so in the back of my mind I had this idea of dying that would lead me to either waking up being tortured by Cruciatus in the demon world or floating in the heavenly realms as a being of pure spirit. Neither happened. I woke up to find Yasui bawling her eyes out over me, as Osman and Christina tried to pull her away, probably to go get someone to clean up my remains. I made a gurgling sound trying to reassure her I was all right, which caused her to bolt upright and scramble away from me. She watched, horror on her face, as things became clearer and clearer, until finally I felt well enough to sit up, which I did.

"You're dead," she stammered, "Your head exploded like a grape, I saw it. You can't be here. What are you?"

I looked over to find Christina standing over me with an arrow drawn, and her arms were trembling a little as she sighted down the arrow towards me.

"What happened to Jonathan?" I asked. Osman pointed past me, and there was a body, with what looked like both energy bolt wounds and crushing damage, no doubt Yasui's work. But it wasn't Jonathan. I looked back at him. "Who-"

"He turned into that when he died. It must have been a ward or something to disguise his appearance."

"Oh," I managed. "I was really hurt that badly?" I asked to Yasui.

They all nodded, causing me to shrug. "I did have my regeneration item active, that might have done it."

They all shook their heads, but didn't say anything.

"Come on," I said, getting annoyed. "Christina, either shoot me right now, or accept what happened and let's figure this out together."

She stared hard at me for a moment longer, then released the tension in her bow and made the arrow disappear. "Care to explain?"

"I'm not sure I can. If you say I was that badly injured, my regeneration shouldn't have saved me, it's not fast enough. But here I am, and I feel fine, so there must be another explanation. What did that guy do to me, anyway?"

"He just touched your forehead, and your head just sort of burst like a grape. I was horrified, and something in me snapped, and, Yasui went nuts as well..." she glanced over at the Jonathan's body.

"What kind of person can just kill somebody by touching them like that?"

"Someone who's an Unholy Chosen," said a familiar voice from around the corner. We all jerked our gaze in that direction and several teachers came around the corner. "Nicely handled, everyone."

"A what?" asked Osman.

"Just like there are Holy Chosen, people able to wield the power of heaven on earth, there are unholy chosen, made to do the opposite. Our Seers, when they were not having bizarre visions of Charna, saw his arrival at the school and moved to prevent it. However, Mrs. LaRoche continued looking into it, and found that he somehow related to you, Dean, and that letting him stay here would reveal a great secret that related to you. I guess we know what that secret was- tell me, do you have the egg on you?"

I think I was still moving a little slowly, what with my brain having regrown just a minute ago, so it took me a second to figure out what he was talking about. Suddenly it clicked and I undid the string on my pouch and stuck my hand inside. "Blue Egg," I said, and the familiar feel of the egg came into my hand, so I pulled it out. It was glowing.

"I thought so. May I see it please?"

I wordlessly handed it over and he concentrated on it, then looked to the other teachers and nodded.

"Now that it's active I can feel it, it's a Soul Transfer alright." He shook his head. "What were they thinking?"

He handed it back to me and the glow began to subside, until about twenty seconds later it had faded altogether.

"Apparently," he went on, "when you were a baby your parents placed your soul, at great risk I might add, into that egg, which is also a talisman designed to make sure it's not recognized as such. It's probably also been made nearly indestructible, if what I'm feeling from it is correct. Still, I would keep it with me or hide it very, very well, because if that egg does get destroyed, you die. As your body was just killed, it activated, keeping your soul on this plane rather then letting it migrate to wherever it was going, and letting me feel it for a few seconds. So now you know what it is, and probably why your parents disappeared- they went on the run after performing an illegal soul transfer. What bothers me is that they went to such great lengths to hide it, so afterwords why run away? No one would have known unless you were killed, it's all very odd. Oh, and I'm guessing it does at least one other thing, so your mother really put a lot of effort into it."

"What's that?"

"It makes you age. See, normally people go around putting their souls into something so they won't get any older. In your case, you were a baby, so you would have been stuck like that forever. Naturally they didn't want that, so this makes you age too. She must have spent months, or worked very, very fast. I suppose she could have have the transfer done, then worked on it, then left, she might have specified that time in the contract. If I see her some time I'll be sure to ask her."

"Wait, that guy, before he, well, killed Dean, he said 'your parents say hi'," said Yasui. "What does it mean?"

"I'm not sure. I'll have the Seers look into things more for you, Dean, you can be sure of that. I'm sorry for putting you through all that, but we were pretty sure no harm would come to you, Mrs LaRoche asked "Will he come through the experience unscathed?" and she didn't get a negative answer, so we figured the risk was minimal.

"Wait, didn't get a negative answer? That's a weird thing to say."

"Usually when a Seer asks something like that they get a answer, as they are technically asking "the future" or something. In any case, something answers them, and it's usually right. We didn't get an answer in your case, and decided to take that as a yes."

"That was quite the risk," said Christina coldly, "You put us all in danger to find this out, serious danger. If he had touched one of us- we aren't so lucky as be immortal."

Mr Pearson, her Spirit Energist teacher stepped forward. "You do realize we're at constant war with the demon world, right?" he asked. "They outnumber us thousands to one. Out of the 134 million or so people born every year, two hundred might have powers. That's so small it might as well be zero percent.

And those two hundred people have to keep those 134 million safe from demonic influence as best they can. So did we put you in danger? Yes. Because we are mean? No. Because we want you dead? No. Because we want, no we need you to be the absolute best you can possibly be? Yes."

Mr DeLefeu lay a hand on his shoulder. "Now, now, it's not as bad as all that. We were right here, after all. Our methods may seem harsh, but he is right. We do need extraordinary people to graduate from this school, and people's abilities are usually tested to destruction, so it's better to see who has the stuff early on versus who doesn't. You've proven yourself well this time, but your battles will only get harder from here. I hope you realize that."

Christina grimaced.

"So these memories are false?" Osman asked, confused.

"Yes. Whatever he put in there, just try to ignore it, Dean here is the same hard working, polite kid he was before."

"I'm sorry," whispered Yasui. "I should have put more faith in you. But I didn't, I thought you had said some- some awful things about me and the others and I just got so mad."

"He was probably doing that too, with emotional influence. He seemed to have a very through mastery of mental powers. It's a shame he was picked to do such evil work." said Mr Nesbitt, an ESPer and the third teacher that had arrived.

"Oh," she said even more softly. I walked over and hugged her.

"Don't worry about it, everyone got taken in by him, that's why he was sent. We'll get to the bottom of this, don't worry."

"That we will!" said Mr DeLefeu brightly, and putting his arm across my shoulder. "Now, if you could just explain how you got into my office..."

Wonder if I should tell him I made that phase talisman for Veta too, I thought to myself.

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