"Scarlet, what's the point?" Gina stripped off her gym clothes and put them in her locker.
"About?" I followed suit. I wasn't really worried that her mom would have cameras here, and even if she did I had fur that covered everything, unlike her own daughter.
"Surely what we do in gym can't count as exercise for you, if you're really as strong as people say you are?"
"Have you ever worried about opening a door and finding you've crushed somebody behind it?" I smiled at her. I used the teeth. I felt she wouldn't report me.
"How - How do you keep from crushing all the ordinary things you touch?"
"It's careful control. Just as you can turn pages in a book without ripping them out. Hence I need physical practice. Not for the big things, but for the small."
"Oh." She turned and followed the other girls into the showers, then looked back at me as I followed her. "You just brought shampoo?"
"I've got hair all over, more or less. What else would I clean that with?"
"Let me help you with that." She turned on the shower briefly and I turned under it. Then she started shampooing my back. "This really is animal fur all over. Is it the same for my Cub?"
"And Shiro too." I nodded towards my cousin who was alone in a corner.
"Let me see." Another girl walked over and helped spread the shampoo over my fur as she ran her fingers through it. "It is real. It's all real."
"Really?" Another girl joined in, and then another.
I froze under their wandering fingers, afraid what my strength might do in the confusion.
"I'm sorry about what my brother has done." One of the girls whispered in my ear. "He hardly seemed to notice when I mentioned that I'd seen you at orientation."
I looked up to see which girl had said that, but I got shampoo in my eyes.
After we'd all rinsed off, the girls took turns rubbing towels over my body, then they had me turn in place as three of them directed their blow dryers at me.
As we all dressed afterwards several of the girls came over and tied tiny bows in the longer hair that grew from my head. It reminded me of the larger bow that mother used to put on me, I guess to mark me in her style.
Shiro left the girl's changing room first, apparently happy to have been left alone.
Amazingly the black limo wasn't waiting for us at the end of the schoolday. Gina looked around for it then turned to us. "My Cub, I saw the strangest thing at the toy store. It had all kinds of dolls."
"It must have been a very special store. I've only seen dolls that weren't pandas or princesses in books.
"That's all you had?" He asked.
"Isn't that all anybody had? Oh, here's my ride." She leaned over to kiss him on the cheek then skipped off to the limo. She stopped just short of it to wave back at us, or more likely just him, then she got in and it drove away.
"Shiro suspects why Ms Morebucks never got her daughter any polar or grizzly bears."
"She missed out. It's not for nothing that we're the model for the teddy bear." I bowed to my cousins.
"Even with those bows in your hair you still look like a killing machine, just a little more tragically comic."
"Hi Larry." I turned to face him. "Thanks for reminding me. I need to return these bows to the girls tomorrow. Which one is your sister's?"
"How would I know? I don't go through her stuff." Larry walked off with his friends.
As we three bears walked to the Presidio BART station, Cub turned to me. "Scar, what is it with all the bows?"
"It's a way for the girls in my class to mark me, as a strange new thing they've touched. As Aunt Buttercup warned, we're valued as exotics. Give them a few weeks and we'll be accepted as people, just like back in Townsville. Did you catch that about Gina's dolls?"
Cub raised a paw to his chin. "Yeah, that was strange."
"It's been training."
"Huh?" He turned back to me.
"Gina's been taught all her life that the only partner for a princess is a panda, and you are the only panda in all the world she can legally marry. No wonder she fell for you on first sight. You are what she has been trained to look for."
"Then what am I supposed to do?" He shrugged.
"Shiro thinks that Regina Morebucks is useful, for now."
When we got off the train at the Mill Valley Bart station we saw that the bus wasn't scheduled to come by for another thirty minutes.
Shiro looked over at her father's empty parked car then turned back to us. "Cub will call Shiro when parents arrive?"
"Sure, uh." He watched the white blur speed up the hill. "Where is she going?"
"How far do you think those two have gotten?"
"Oh! Well I don't know." He sat down on a bench. "I Just got here a day before you. I wonder why she doesn't just run home from school?"
I sat down next to him. "Fewer people watching out here? I wonder if Uncle Ice would let us borrow his car? What's the age limit for a California driver's license?"
"I'll look into that. I could use it as I don't have your and Shiro's mobility powers."
"Aunt Buttercup is right, I've got a lot to learn before I can just jump around like that."
"What's to learn? You just jump around and hit things. Isn't that easy enough?" He made punching motions at the air.
"I've got a world of stuff to learn. Our moms showed that in our fight."
"Didn't you take on all three of the Powerpuff Women for an hour?"
"Only because they were taking it easy on me. I never even dug my claws into them once."
"But all that blood."
"They didn't?" He looked at me.
"No, I did. I kept ripping my own limbs open with powerful blows that they evaded. I healed up right afterwards, but I'm glad I don't remember that kind of pain."
"I've watched the videos over and over. Like one of the few times I managed to draw blood from our moms was when my mom was arguing with Buttercup about something and I managed to backhand her so hard that it scratched her cheek and spilled a few drops of her blood. Looking at it frame by frame you can see windows explode as the shockwave reaches them."
"Really? Sounds like something that should have taken her out of the fight."
"You would think that anybody would have their head torn off, or at least stunned by that, but not Blossom. The frame before contact she's already turning her head with the blow, like she sensed it. Then Mom grabbed my paw and threw me over her into the ground and went back to yelling at Aunt Buttercup."
"Well at least those two helped stop you. All my mom did was fly around."
"No, Bubbles had the most important job of all. I really owe your mom."
"Huh?" Cub raised an eyebrow.
"For months I thought Bubbles was just flying around. When I studied the tapes I saw all those windows breaking behind her and thought she was causing it, but something wasn't right."
"What was it?"
"Finally I plotted out the destruction on a map of Townsville and saw that the windows weren't breaking in a V-pattern behind Bubbles, they were breaking in circles around me. She was surfing the shockwaves to listen for heartbeats. She saved at least a dozen people. I doubt we'll ever catch up to the Powerpuff Women."
When we got home Cub helped me carefully remove the girls' ribbons from my hair and put them away in a box. Later I was reading my textbooks in the front room when Shiro arrived and went straight to our shared room. A moment later I heard her father's car approaching.
Must be convenient for her that he has to drive past the ranger station.
I opened the door for him and saw that he was carrying two large Teppan Yaki bags. "Dinner?"
"Ice Bear will wait until Ice Bear's mate arrives. Are Scarlet's cousins at home?"
"Shiro is here", she called from our room, "Charles also."
"That's everybody then," Aunt Buttercup said as she opened the door. "Can we have dinner early? I was too busy for lunch."
"Dinner is when Buttercup says it is." Uncle Ice put the bags down on the kitchen counter and started setting places.
After dinner as Ice cleared away the dishes I went back to my room, removed a baggy from my backpack and emptied it on the table. "Somebody's bugging us at school."
"You really made a mess of this pen, Scarlet." Buttercup examined the evidence. "I just see yours, Shiro's and Chloe's fingerprints on it. These parts seem fairly generic also. Ice?"
"Ice Bear could buy these parts at twenty stores nearby. Ice Bear does much more precise soldering that this."
"Where did you find this, Scarlet?"
"Shiro spotted it in Ms. Park's office."
"Oh, how did you do that?" Buttercup turned to her daughter.
"Shiro saw one big pen and a bunch of slender pens. Chole Park has tiny fingers."
"That's my girl. Now what were you doing in her office?"
Cub explained his supervillian theory, but he left out the recruitment of Gina.
Wednesday morning I carefully tied Mom's ribbon around my head hair and put the box with the other girls' ribbons in my backpack.
When we got to school after the huge limo dropped Gina off to fly to Cub's side, a merely large black car with equally dark windows pulled into half of the same space to drop off an Asian girl of around our age that I hadn't seen at the school before.
We were turning to go into the school when the Asian girl shouted out: "Charles Bear, can you help me?"
He turned back to her. "Hello, have me met?"
"Hello, I am Ju Hua." She bowed to him. "I am a new student here so I was hoping that you could show me where the office is?"
"Well it's just down the corridor."
"Could you take me there please? I am new to this country and just finding my way around."
"Sure, I don't mind. You girls get to class and I'll meet you there." Cub turned to Ju Hua and smiled.
She stiffened for a moment and said something in Chinese.
"What effect is stronger than you were expecting?" He asked her.
"You speak Chinese?"
"Yeah, my father said I picked it up quicker than when he was a cub."
"That is so interesting. I hope that as fellow Chinese we can help each other adapt to this new school." She grabbed him by the paw and led the way to the school office.
Shiro glared at the new girl's back while Gina stood stunned.
"Come on you two." I nudged them forwards. "Off to class."
The next time I saw the new girl was when she took the seat next to Cub in third period history, with Gina in her usual seat on his other side.
"You're taking this class, Miss Hua?"
She turned back to me. "Principal Park graciously allowed me to take all the same classes as Charles, in case I needed something translated. It's Miss Ju, but you can call me by the English translation of Hua, if you like."
"Prosperity?" Cub suggested.
"Hua it is then."
"No Scarlet, it's Hua, not Hua. You're pronouncing it like 'Blossom'."
"If we're going to play at translations, then you can call her Scar and me Cub, and we'll all call you Chris." Cub smiled at her.
Hua started to frown at this, but then she went a little slack jawed and finally smiled back. "Chris is fine, Cub."
"I don't get it."
"Scar, if we used your mispronunciation then my full name would be 'Chrysanthemum Blossom'. Chris is an amusing nickname to be used among friends. Now, why are you 'Scar'?"
"Class is starting. You can have the full story at lunch."
As promised I showed Chris the video on my phone at the start of lunch while Cub had turned away from her to open Gina's milk carton.
"Very interesting." Chris handed my phone back. She hadn't seemed at all surprised to watch the video of my rampage. "So you have scars all over your body under your fur?"
"No, none at all." I brushed back the fur on my left arm. "There ought to be scars all over, but I have none. Hence it's ironic to call me Scar."
"Do you have nightmares about fighting your mother?"
"Not that I recall. No memories at all until after the fight was over."
"Scar you truly do have powers that are just as amazing as those of your cousins."
Cub turned back to her. "I don't have any powers."
"Oh?" That seemed to surprise Chris. She studied Cub's face for a few seconds, blushed, looked at me and then Shiro who was seated next to me. "Very interesting."
"I'm sure my Cub will develop great powers someday."
Chris started to frown at Gina, but hid this behind her hand as she passed her own milk carton to Cub. "Could you please open mine as well, my Cub?"
At the start of the next period Coach Vasiliev looked up from his clipboard, "Miss Ju Hua?"
"What's your background in athletics?"
"I have taken some Gymnastics."
"Would you mind showing us?"
"As you wish." She did some jumps and tumbling on the mats.
"She's very graceful." Gina hugged her knees.
"Let me show you something that blows that away." I raised my paw. "Coach, there's something I've been wanting to try."
"Very well. You can take your seat, Miss Ju."
"No, I need her." I walked forwards and held out my paws, pads up.
"What is this?" Chris asked.
"Use my paws as a springboard. I'll boost your jump then catch you afterwards."
"Very well." She ran forwards, cartwheeled, jumped up and spun around to land with knees slightly bent on the pads of my paws.
I tossed her halfway to the thirty foot ceiling.
She rolled in midair, recovered and was coming down feet first.
I ran forwards and caught her feet on my outstretched paws, then tossed her up again, but lower this time.
She flipped over me and I reached out one paw to catch her by one foot then tossed her over me again.
As she passed over me from paw to paw, Chris reached down and yanked my bow off. She waved the red ribbon around in midair.
I figured that was enough so I held out my arms and caught her by the back, then lifted her to her feet.
Chris bowed to our classmates, who clapped, even Gina.
"A little rough, but you two are promising."
"For what, Coach Vasiliev?" I asked.
"Do you mean Acrobatic Gymnastics?" Chris asked.
"The rest of the team I practiced with remains in China, but if you think Miss Bear has promise then I can train with her. If it is okay with you, Scarlet?"
"I've been looking to show off my agility."
"Alright. You two rest up while the rest of you run five laps to warm up."
She sat down and stared puzzled at me.
I sat down next to her. "What's the matter Chris?"
"Scar, may I ask how much you weigh?"
"Two hundred and twenty pounds."
"Impossible. You can't be just one hundred kilograms."
"Well, I could have added a few pounds since last I checked. I'm still growing."
"No, it's that you didn't fall over when you caught me at arms' length. You'd have to weigh at least a few tons to match that impulse within your stance."
"It's super strength. It doesn't work the same way that normal strength works."
"Oh, how does it work then?"
"I exert my muscles to focus and then I think about the extra effect I want like picking up a bus or throwing a mega punch. Mom says it's related the 'color force' she and her sisters use."
"When they surround themselves with glowing shapes?"
In the showers after gym Chris was the only girl to join Gina to help shampoo me this time. While Gina simply washed, Chris probed at my joints and muscles with her fingers. I was tempted to ask her to tell me if she found any weak spots, but I held my tongue.
After the showers I took out two boxes while Chris redid Mom's bow on my head. "Girls, I brought back your ribbons and I have a thank you treat for each of you from Teppan Yaki."
Each of the girls thanked me in turn, but I wasn't able to figure out which one was Larry's sister.
Gina saw that the big black limo was waiting after school. "I'll see you tomorrow, my Cub." She leaned over to kiss him on his right cheek then walked to her ride and turned around to wave back at us.
Chris leaned over to kiss Cub's left cheek. "I look forwards to your help also, my Cub." Chris walked down the steps and then past Gina to her own ride.
Gina stood there for a moment until her driver got out, opened the door and beckoned her to get inside the limo.
When we got to the Mill Valley Bart station Shiro ran off, presumably to go see her boyfriend.
I had Cub all to myself for the next twenty minutes so I decided to tease him a bit. "So which of the two spies sent to seduce you are you going to take a tumble with? Will it be the sweet and innocent Gina or the amazingly agile Chris?"
"Chris is a spy?"
"She's way too well briefed on us, but unlike Gina she's got a double mission. Smuggle you back to China and find out everything about the Powerpuff family."
"Why were you so friendly with her then?"
"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Do you think you can flip this spy like you did Gina? She really seems to like you. It doesn't feel like it's all an act. What do you bet that she only had panda dolls?"
"China? I don't know."
"Of all eleven members of the extended Powerpuff family, only one of us has lived in China for any length of time."
"Aunt Bliss visited twice after you two left Townsville. She seemed a bit freaked out that her sisters had married bears, but she was friendly enough to me and Dad."
"Oh yeah. Well I guess I'd better call my dad."
"Have fun talking in Pandaese." I walked over to a car that had stopped to watch us again, as they had on Tuesday, but they sped off before I got to them.