I must admit, the flight in DARPA’s private jet was pretty darn cool. It was still a long flight, but it was way more comfortable than flying commercial. Follow that up by having the freaking President of the United States of America call and I challenge anyone to not feel a bit stressed. Even more crazy was his advisor’s idea that I should be able to qualify for a JROTC scholarship to pay for me to go to Whateley and even College if I wanted to. I just want the crazy days to end so that I can relax. I am so not looking forward to all the tests that they want to run on me over the next few days, but I guess that the sooner I get them over with, the sooner I can go home.
I am surprised by how normal and hotel-ie ( if that is even a real word) that the Air Force’s Temporary Bachelor Officer Quarters look like. Just like a normal hotel, there is a front desk with a small lobby area complete with a big TV showing the news. I catch the tail end of the story they are calling “Terror in the Skies!” and briefly wonder what that is all about. Fortunately, I spot a few leftover newspapers stacked on the front desk with a picture of a Virgin Atlantic plane on the front page. I decide to grab one to read in the room; If I get the chance. I briefly consider scanning it while waiting to be checked in, but that process goes much faster than I expect. I guess that having Mr. Reilly and Langley’s commanding General make your room arrangements can make things go smoother than normal.
“Finally!” I say as my mom and I enter a normal looking hotel styled room. Based on the movies, I expected to see a highly polished floor, footlockers and industrial gray metal beds. Instead, the room looks exactly like a regular hotel room complete with carpet, two queen sized beds, mini-fridge, microwave and 27 inch TV. I detect an open wi-fi access point, but with Nikki’s warning, I’m not even going to look at it. If it weren’t for the uniformed and very polite Air Force Staff Sergeant who is assisting us with our room, I would think we were in a regular hotel.
“Is there anything else that I can help you with, ma’am?” Sergeant Rawlings asks my mom after he insists on helping my mom with her monster suitcase. He tries to help me, but I just smile at him as I easily put my smaller suitcase on the suitcase stand.
My suitcase is super light and it’s not because of my newfound strength. It’s only half-full, or empty, depending on how I think about it and that makes me a little concerned that my mom has plans to fill it before we leave. I’m not going to worry about that right now because it’s Sunday, it’s late and I’m starving, again. So, unless the good Sergeant can cook or drive us to a restaurant; I doubt that he can really help us. I look at my mom with my best “I’m starving” expression.
My mom turns to Sergeant Rawlings. “Yes, thanks for your help, but do you know where we might be able to find a decent restaurant that might be within walking distance?”
I think that I’m getting better at my non-verbal communication skills. Maybe I should try working on my increase-my-allowance expression next.
Sergeant Rawlings shakes his head ‘no’ and I start to get worried. “I’m sorry ma’am. There are none that are really within walking distance, but the General did leave a driver and a vehicle for you to use while you and your daughter are staying with us.”
Like, OMG! I could kiss the dude, but not, because that would be yuck and I’m still not used to be referred to as a “daughter”. That noun is unsettling.
My mom smiles at the Sergeant. “I didn’t realize that he was going to leave a car for us.” She pauses for a second and looks at me with a thoughtful expression. “It is a shame that it is Sunday and that it is so late. I would love to be able to take you to a mall for some shopping.”
Yep, I was right. She does have plans to fill my suitcase with more girl clothes. “Yeah mom, what a shame.” I say with maximum false enthusiasm. “But, on the plus side, I’m sure there are some restaurants that are open.” I helpfully offer as a food friendly alternative.
My mom laughs at my not so subtle attempt to get her mind away from the shopping trip. I am positive that I am going to hate my first mall shopping death-march experience. Going from store to store and trying on thousands of outfits while only buying one or two items is not my idea of a constructive use of free time. I don’t even want to think about the inevitable first salon trip that I am sure my mom and sister are already planning for me.
Sergeant Rawlings chooses that moment to make a strategic withdrawal from our room. “Ma’am, if you don’t need anything else, I will go let your driver know that you will be heading down soon so that you all can get some chow. I mean food.”
“Oh thanks, umm, Sergeant Rawlings. It will probably take us a few minutes to get ready.”
As soon as the door closes on his retreat, I turn to my mom. “A few minutes?” I ask, concerned that my mom has plans that will delay our eating plans. I can’t think of any reason why we can’t leave right now.
“Yes dear. I need to freshen up my makeup and change out of my travel wrinkled clothes. It wouldn’t kill you to put on a fresh top, too.”
I don’t see what is wrong with our clothes. They aren’t ‘that’ wrinkled. We flew on a private jet. It’s not like we flew commercial and had to sit all jammed together and stuff. Plus, my mom’s face looks perfect to me. “Ummm, okay. I don’t really have that many other clothes to wear. Wouldn’t it be better if I just went with what I have on already?”
“No, Bree. Your jeans are fine, but that top is out. Just grab a fresh top from your suitcase while I freshen up in the bathroom.” My mom extracts her full size makeup kit from her suit case and some fresh clothes before she walks into the bathroom.
Ten minutes later, I have three different tops spread out on the bed and I’m feeling thoroughly confused when my mom walks out of the bathroom ready to go. There are only six different tops or shirts or whatever girls call them in my suitcase. Of the three tops that survived the cut, two of them are short-sleeve and one of them is actually a tank top. I know that we are in Virginia and it is warmer here than it is at home, but it is still winter so I don’t understand why I don’t have any more long sleeve shirts. Do girls just expect to be cold all the time? Maybe a shopping trip isn’t such a bad idea.
The one tank top is in the running only because it is black. The other two tops have a v-neck and I am not too sure I want to expose that much of my chest. Aaaah! This modesty crap is getting on my nerves. I never worried about this kind of crap when I was a boy.
Seriously, as a guy, I could walk around with no shirt on at all and not have a care in the world. Well, except for sunburn. Why in the hell should it matter if I’m wearing a shirt, but showing a little bit of the very top of my chest? Millions of girls across the world wear this kind of clothing every day and they look hot. Maybe that’s the problem. I don’t want to look hot and grab the attention of every guy, but I also don’t want to stick out. If I want to fit in and not be noticed, I need to wear what everyone expects girls to wear. Maybe I will feel better about it if I think of the clothes as girl camouflage.
Okay. Camouflage. Black tank top with black bra and I saw a spiffy looking black zip up sweatshirt in my suitcase. I pull out the sweatshirt and place it next to the tank top.
My mom chooses that moment to weigh in on the issue. “That is a good idea Bree, but you should wear the navy cami with that sweatshirt instead of the tank top. Black is good, but there is such a thing as too much black.”
“Cami? Navy? Why would I want to wear some navy clothes on an Air Force Base?”
The look on my mom’s face would be extremely funny if she wasn’t trying to not laugh at me. “Oh Bree, I’m sorry.” She gives me an affectionate hug. “I just forgot how much you don’t know about women’s clothing.” She reaches into my suitcase and pulls out a dark blue silk thing with strings for shoulders. “Okay, this is called a ‘camisole’ and the color is ‘navy blue’. You don’t need to wear a bra with this because there is a built in bra, plus, you will be wearing your sweatshirt over it.”
Ooohh, no bra! That sounds like a win to me. My chest could use the break, but why would I even need to wear the camisole thing when the sweatshirt thing will just cover it up? I shrug and re-remind myself. Camouflage.
The cami thing feels nice against my skin and my breasts, umm, girls, umm, never mind, I like the less restrictive feeling up there. The cami thing hugs my stomach and falls to about mid-hip on me. I do like what I see in the mirror and I can’t stop the self-satisfied smile that sneaks out of me.
My mom sneaks in another hug and hands me the black sweatshirt to wear over the cami. The sleeves only come to just above my elbow and the waist stops at my belly button, but at least it zips all the way up to my neck. My mom steps in and adjusts the zipper down until it is in the middle of my chest so that the top of my cami shows. She runs a brush through my hair a few times and gives me a critical once over. Satisfied with the results, she gives quick kiss on the forehead. “Almost perfect. All you need now is a little lip gloss.” She hands me a tube of some lip balm stuff. “Here, put this on.”
“Camouflage.” I mutter to myself as my new mantra for girl clothing acceptance.
“What was that Bree?”
“Oh, nothing. Just reminding myself not to worry about how I look.”
“Oh, that’s good, because you look lovely. I’m feeling kind of hungry now too. So, let’s get out of here and find our ‘driver’.”
As we enter the lobby, a cute woman with short brown, I mean brunette hair and sparkling hazel eyes wearing a completely unflattering camouflage uniform perks up and walks towards us with a friendly smile. I feel surprised when what I just thought about her uniform registers with my conscious mind. As she approaches, my ever helpful HUD identifies her as:
“Hi! I’m Airman First Class Jessica Reynolds. You must be Mrs. Peters.” she says she shakes my mom’s hand before she turns to me. “And you must be Miss Peters.”
“Umm, Brianna or Bree. You can just call me that.”
“Okay ma’am, oops. Sorry, habit. Bree it is then.” She smiles at me. “I’ve been tasked to be your driver this evening. You can just call me Airman Reynolds,” she looks around and changes her voice to a whisper, “or if we aren’t on base and surrounded by other military people, ‘Jessica’ will be good too.” She returns to her normal voice, “So. Where do you two wanna go?”
I beat my mom to the punch. “Food! I’m starving!”
Airman Reynolds giggles before she looks to my mom for confirmation. “Ma’am?”
“Oh, yes. The nearest good restaurant would be nice.”
“Okay. There are few just outside the gates. What are you two hungry for? There is a good Thai place nearby and the usual large chain restaurants. Oh yeah, and a good sushi place if you’re into that too.”
“Bree? What do you think?”
With that question, I am reminded of my new taste in foods. I would’ve loved to try that sushi stuff that John and Lisa seem to gush about every now and then. “I dunno mom. As much as I hate to admit it, it needs to have a good vegetarian menu.”
“Hmmm, did you say that the Thai place was good?”
“Yes ma’am and friends who know what real Thai food is supposed to taste like say that it is good, too.”
“Okay, why don’t we try the Thai place then? Thai food is mostly veggies and it has been awhile since I’ve had some good Thai food.” My mom turns to look at me. “What do you think, Bree?”
I’m so hungry now that I would be willing to try choking down a burger. “Umm, okay?”
As I step outside, the cold air hits my mostly open and thus non-functional sweatshirt. Thankfully, the nondescript government car is already warmed up. That makes the short ten-minute ride to the restaurant much more bearable. I really wish I were wearing Jessica’s warm looking uniform right about now. She drops us off right at the door so that she can park the car. I get out of the car first while my mom turns back toward the car. “Are you going to be joining us, Jessica?”
“Thanks Mrs. Peters, but I already ate and I wouldn’t want to intrude. I will just wait with the car so that you two can eat in peace.”
As we enter the restaurant, the complex spicy scents of Thai food hits my nose. I smell curry, coconut and other yummy food scents. My mouth starts to water and my stomach growls at me. I look around and there are only a few tables that are full. The electronics are pretty minimal too. I only “see” a couple of cell phones and no wi-fi. An empty restaurant is normally a bad sign, but it is kind of late to be eating dinner, so the lack of customers is probably normal for this hour.
I notice the hostess’ eyes widen with surprise when she spots me. I wonder if she heard my stomach growl or if she spotted my ears as the wind from the door blew my hair around. She doesn’t say anything about it and sets us promptly at a semi-secluded table. While I like the fact that we have some privacy and from my seat, I like being able to keep an eye on the front door. I can’t help but wonder if she seated us here due to my appearance. It would really suck if the staff here hated mutants.
I look at my mom and I am about to ask her what she thinks about it when she stops me with a gesture. “No, Bree. The hostess doesn’t dislike you. She was just surprised by your appearance.”
Geez. She’s positively spooky now with her Jedi mind tricks. I start to look over the menu when an older oriental woman approaches our table and gives us a slight bow.
“Greetings, honored guests. I am Mali Tojirakarn. My husband and I own this establishment. How may we be of service to you this evening?”
The owner is waiting on us? Does this place treat all their guests like this? Maybe that is why Jessica said the place is so good? My voice stress gauge isn’t helping. The woman’s voice was in the green zone except for a slight spike when she said ‘honored’.
My mom looks a little confused by the treatment too. “Um, yes? Can I have an iced tea?”
“Certainly ma’am.” Mrs. Tojirakarn says with nod of her head before she turns to me with a smile. “May I also ask what the young lady would desire to drink?”
I am beginning to think that we are getting special treatment for some reason. “Can I have some ice tea too?” I ask with a great deal of hesitation in my voice. I swear that I must sound like I am ten years old or something.
“Most certainly. I will have it brought out. Is there anything else that I can get you right now? An appetizer maybe?”
My mom glances at the appetizer section of the menu for a second. “Oh! Spring Rolls. Can we get an order of Spring Rolls please?”
Mrs. Tojirakarn smiles at my mom. “Yes. I will get that right out for you.”
“Thanks.” My mom says, returning Mrs. Tojirakarn’s smile.
Mrs. Tojirakarn leaves us and disappears into the kitchen where I hear some yelling in what I assume is Thai. Hopefully she is just calling out our order and not angry at the chef back there. I wouldn’t want the chef mad while he is cooking our food.
My mom distracts me from my thoughts. “So, Brianna? What do you think about starting at this Whateley Academy in a few weeks?”
I shrug my shoulders. “I dunno, mom. It seems kinda sudden, but it also sounds like my magic could be kinda dangerous if I’m not trained.” With that thought, I am reminded by what the President and everyone else said on the plane. I sigh with exasperation. “Heck, everyone else seems to think that I should already be at this Whateley school.”
My mom tilts her head slightly to the side with a curious expression. “But?”
“Well, everything has been happening so fast and I’m scared. I wouldn’t really know anyone except for Nikki and Sara and I would be away from home and I’d be doing this JROTC army stuff.”
My mom looks confused. “Sara? Who’s she?”
Oops. I am about to reply when a different waitress sets our drinks down along with the Spring Rolls. She shyly smiles. “Sorry to interrupt, but are you ready to order now?”
Perfect timing! I smile at the sight of some food to eat. It’s just an appetizer, but finally, food! I’ve never had a spring roll before, but if my mom likes them, then maybe I will too. I hear my mom say “I think that I will try the Shrimp Pad Thai, please.” to the waitress as I reach for one of the spring roll things. There is some sort of brown colored dipping sauce that I decide to try with my first bite.
I’m just about to take my first bite when I hear, “and for you ma’am?” It takes me a second to realize that it is me that she is referring too.
Crap, I didn’t even look at the menu and I have zero idea what to get. “Umm, Pad Thai, but without the shrimp?” I have no idea if I will like or not like the shrimp, but why take chances? Maybe my mom will let me try a bite of hers.
“Sure. Anything else?”
The waitress returns to the kitchen. Finally! I can take a bite of the spring roll thing.
OMG...so good! I scarf down the spring roll while my mom works on hers at a more civilized pace. Hopefully, she will forget about my little Sara slip-up before she finishes. I suck down some of my iced tea as my stomach grumbles some more. The spring roll only seems to have teased my appetite.
My mom pauses before she takes another bite. “Sara?”
Crap! She didn’t forget and I am sure that she knows that I am hiding something. Oh well. I might as well get it over with. “Sara is sorta Nikki’s sister and she’s a demon or something, but I think that she’s a nice demon.” I lamely finish. I probably gave her too much information with that admission.
My mom’s expression is somewhat hard to read. She has stopped chewing and is just looking at me. I’m going to go with “shock” as her expression. She swallows her bite without completely chewing it and sputters a bit. Yepper. She is definitely a little shocked by my revelation. She takes a sip of her iced tea as she holds up her hand for me to wait.
“Umm, Okay. And how do you know this Sara, person?”
“Well, she sorta helped Nikki visit me when I was doing that re-org thing up here.” I say, pointing to my head.
“But Nikki didn’t think that it would be good if everyone knew that Sara was involved...and she was super nice and helped me a lot and well, Nikki trusts her...”
“Welllll...maybe? I dunno. She just looked kinda like a demon when I first saw her with Nikki. I mean, I thought that I was dead and that Nikki was an angel, Sara was a demon and that they had come to take me to heaven or hell.”
“Hmm, okay. I am a little concerned, but I guess it’s not that important right now and as a plus, you would know two people at Whateley, so that’s good. Right?”
“Yepper!” I am so glad that the Sara issue seems to be over. My mom finishes her spring roll just before our meals are delivered to our table. Oh man. It smells so good. I take a tentative bite and my taste buds decide that this Pad Thai is the best thing since sliced bread. I wonder what was better than sliced bread before sliced bread was invented. Oh well, I dig in as my mom eats a bit slower.
I’m half done with my meal when I remember to ask about trying her shrimp. She gives me one and it tastes pretty good to me. Awesome! Now I can almost be an omnivore again!
My mom pauses before she continues with her meal. “So, what did you think about the idea of a JROTC scholarship at Whateley and his asking you to help investigate GEO? I noticed that you looked excited about the JROTC idea, but you were very nervous about the GEO investigation thing.”
She resumes eating while I gather my thoughts. “Well...It sounds like Whateley is expensive and I don’t think that you and dad can afford to send me there, so the JROTC scholarship would be perfect for that. I’m glad that Nikki was there to help negotiate that extra uniform allowance due to my clothing allergies.”
My mom looks concerned with my reminder. “Yeah, I was a little shocked by how eager and willing his staff was to get us to accept the idea. It almost sounds too good to be true.” She trails off with that though before she snaps back. “Okay, so you like the JROTC idea even though you would have to serve in the military afterwards?”
“I think so, yeah. I mean it’s not that big of a deal. I’m a girl now, so it’s not like they would send me to Afghanistan or something where I could be shot at, right?”
“Hmmm, hard to say. You are a mutant now too though and there are different rules, but I’m not as worried about that. Actually, being in the Army would probably be safer than being a superhero.” She finishes with a small laugh that makes me smile at the irony of the idea.
We both eat more of our meals to help us gather our thoughts. I finish my food while she is only halfway through. I’m still hungry, but decide that it might help if I let my meal settle before I ask if I can have seconds.
My mom breaks the silence first. “And GEO?”
I take a deep breath and sit back in my chair as I look up to the ceiling for inspiration for a second. “I dunno, Mom. That game scares the ummm, poop outta me now, but if I can help the President figure out what kind of danger GEO might be to our country...I kinda have to help. Don’t I?”
“I don’t know hon, maybe? But not if it is going to be a danger for you though.”
Before I can think of a good reply to that, I notice a smiling Mrs. Tojirakarn heading toward our table. My mom follows my gaze and hurriedly swallows her bite just as Mrs. Tojirakarn arrives at our table.
“Pardon the interruption, but I just wanted to make sure that you two are enjoying your meals.”
My mom smiles at her. “Oh yes. This is the best Shrimp Pad Thai that I’ve had in a long time.”
“Excellent!” Mrs. Tojirakarn smile grows even more pleased when she takes in my empty plate. “And you, honored lady?”
I’m not sure why she called me an “honored lady”, but maybe it is a cultural thing? “I’ve never had Pad Thai before, but it was awesome.”
“Good. I am glad to hear that we could provide satisfying nourishment this evening. Is there anything else that I can get for you?”
I could use another serving. I give my mom a pleading look. “Can I have some more, Mom? Maybe with some shrimp this time?” Mrs. Tojirakarn looks a little surprised.
My mom just sighs with resignation. “Sure. I guess if you can’t eat it all, we can bring the leftovers back and store them in the fridge.”
After Mrs. Tojirakarn leaves, my mom looks at me and laughs. “You know? I was really hoping that one benefit of you being a girl would be a lower food bill, but you eat more now than you ever did!”
I find myself giggling with her, but I’m still glad that I have more food coming. She takes another bite of her Pad Thai and stops as if struck by a good idea before can take another bite. “You know...one more benefit of you going to this Whateley place is that they would have to feed you.”
“Mom!” We both break down and giggle over her joke. A plate of Shrimp Pad Thai with what looks like twice the serving size arrives and helps to break up our laughter. I manage to eat just over half of it before I start to feel full. I’m pretty sure that I could finish it, but I decide to save the rest for breakfast in the morning.
It is pretty dark outside of the restaurant, but with my new vision tricks; I spot the car with Jessica just as she looks up from something and notices us exiting the restaurant. It feels even colder outside now.
She pulls the car up and I am so relieved to jump into a nice warm car. As I jump in, I notice some sort of book or manual lying half open on the front seat.
“What were ya reading, Jessica?”
“Oh, I was studying for my promotion exam next week. If I do well enough on it, I should make E-4 in a month or two.”
“Oops, sorry. See my rank here?” Without taking her eyes off the road, she points to the funny looking patch that has two stripes with a star in the middle sewn onto her uniform’s sleeve. “I’m currently an E-3 or Airman First Class, but if I make E-4, than I will be a Senior Airman and have more responsibility. On the plus side, I will make a little bit more money too.”
“Ahh.” I look to my mom. She seems pretty interested in what Jessica is telling us. “Umm, Jessica?” I ask, hesitantly.
“As a girl, what do you think about being in the military?”
“Hmmm, It can be kinda tough having to do what people tell you all the time and deal with the horn...” she stops herself with a blush and I see her look back at my mom via the mirror. “Umm, guys sometimes, but at the same time, it’s better than working at some fast food joint flipping burgers or waiting tables.”
“Well, I like my job and feel like what I’m doing is actually important. I’m making a difference and as a bonus, if I decide not to be a lifer, my current job pays pretty well in the civilian world, too!” She laughs for second. “Oh. My. Gawd. Don’t I just sound like a Recruiter now? Why are you wanting to know?”
“Well, I was offered a JROTC scholarship at an expensive school and I’m just not sure if I’d make a good military person.”
“Well, Bree. You sound like you have a good head on your shoulders. You just gotta play it smart and learn to not take things personally. Most of what looks like Military BS has a good reason behind it. Accept that fact and it’s a piece of cake.”
“Plus, I think that if you join up from a JROTC program, you get to enter as an E-4. I certainly wish that I would’ve done that now! If you go to college, you come in as an officer. Then, you don’t have to put up with nearly as much BS.”
“Hmmm, thanks Jessica. That’s good to know.”
“Hey, no problem.” She smiles and gives me a quick glance while navigating onto the base. “Besides, we girls got to stick together. Ya know?”
Well, I don’t really know, but I guess that I should agree with her on that. I return her smile. “Umm, yeah.” I look over at my mom and she’s not helping any. She’s just has an amused little smile on her face. We arrive back at our building a minute later and after saying our goodbyes to Jessica, we head back to our room for the night.
We find a note that Mr. Reilly slipped under our door. It lists the plan for the next day and I am surprised to see that it starts nice and early at 0700hrs and it doesn’t end until 1800hrs. He even suggested that I wear athletic wear due to some of the physical tests. It sounds like it is going to be a long day for us tomorrow.
It’s only 2100hrs and I’m not a bit tired yet. My mom claims first dibs on the bathroom so that she can get ready for bed. I am not sure how long she will take, so I decide to scan the newspaper while I wait for my turn. That way, I can read it later and find out what has been going on in the world. Since there was something mentioned about a mutant, I am especially curious about that plane thing.
I finish the scan and decide to turn on the TV. Maybe I can find some cartoons to watch while I wait. Unfortunately, I manage to find the cartoon channel just as my mom exits the bathroom. I sigh with frustration as I flip it back to the channel guide channel for my mom to pick something to watch.
Getting ready for bed is pretty easy, but once again, it’s my hair that gets in the way of drinking directly from the faucet like I normally would. I debate putting my hair up with a clip thing, but decide that using a drinking glass will be easier. I’m just glad that they have real glasses in the room instead of the normal plastic ones. Other than the hair, my body, sitting down to go to the bathroom, my pa-underwear and the silk pajamas, getting ready for bed is completely mundane. I mean, I still brush my teeth with a toothbrush, so everything’s normal, right?
I rejoin my mom to see that she has the “Princess Bride” playing and I can’t stop myself from laughing with her as we enjoy the movie together. It’s older than I am, but it’s still pretty darn funny. During a commercial break, she sets the alarm for 5am. I almost ask her why we need to get up so early, but just thinking about my new morning routine stops that thought in its tracks.
I look over at her during the next commercial break and she has already fallen asleep. I decide to turn the TV off and play the parent by tucking her in. She sleepily mutters her thanks, turns over and promptly falls back asleep.
I’m not really feeling tired, but I decide to at least lie down and give it a try. It still feels a little weird to be wearing silk pajamas to bed. I guess I could try wearing just my underwear to bed, but since I’m in kind of a strange place, I don’t feel comfortable dressing down that much. Before I can banish the thought, I wonder about the nightie that Nikki wore and what I would look like if I wore something like it. Oh yeah, I’d look hot and I’d feel embarrassed as hell about that fact. Plus, there is no way that I can justify wearing something like that as “camouflage”.
I sigh with frustration as I lay my head on the pillow to try and make myself fall asleep. I eventually manage to clear my head enough to relax and fall asleep.
I wake up feeling completely rested and ready to go 1.5 hours later at 2334 hrs. Crap! And, I have to pee too. For the record, cold toilet seats suck. Grrr.
Now, thanks to the cold toilet seat, I’m definitely wide-awake and bored. I decide to read the newspaper and maybe other book. After that and if I have enough time, maybe I will play around in the VR range.
I prop myself up against my bed’s headboard with some pillows and get comfy as I enter my VR living room. After setting up the room monitor in case my mom wakes up, I sit on the couch and open up today’s newspaper. I skip the article I want to read so that I can read the comic section first. I could use a good laugh and Dilbert delivers as usual. I don’t even have a job, but I still think that the strip about non-essential workers being allowed to leave work early so that the boss can figure out who to lay-off was hilarious. This one was about performance reviews and I didn’t understand it completely, but I still thought it was funny.
I skip over the Sports section, meh, and read the Entertainment section. Mostly for the car and tech article, because I really don’t care about what some blond bimbo does in some fake real life show. The Business section has something about Goodkind Industries posting above expected earnings due to some new military contract they won. I only notice that article because Goodkind is rumored to be anti-mutant and that is now kind of important to me for some reason.
After reading the news, I make it 30 pages into a new book when I just can’t read anymore. I feel the need, the need to blow stuff up!
I switch back to my Selene kick-ass, take names vampire outfit, and enter the range again. I start with one gun until I get bored and decide to play around with a two-gun style. I’m surprised to discover that with the fire control thing-a-ma-jig, the two guns actually work pretty well. Until it is time to reload anyway.
It proves to be much easier to reload and maintain a steady rate of fire with just one gun, but two guns are hard to beat when I need to put down some serious firepower. Plus, it just looks cool. I could just carry two extra guns if the reloading thing became a problem. It’s hard to believe that I could shoot thirty bullets or rounds as my system calls them, and still need to fire more, but oh well. There is no such thing as too much firepower, is there?
After forty-five minutes of playing around and firing off over five-hundred rounds in the plain target range, I decide to try the “Hostage Rescue” scenario. It ends up being a normal pop-up thing. It’s still fun though.
Targets pop up with bad guys, good guys and bad guys holding good guys. The goal is to not shoot the good guys and that proves to be a little tricky until I learn to look for the bad guys by how threatening they look or when there is a hostage, who is holding the gun. I started the scenario all conservative by using just one gun, but that got boring so I added the second gun and set it for two-player mode. After an hour of that, I had the difficulty level set so high that if I wasn’t careful, I would run out of bullets in both my two main guns, but also the two extra guns I added for backup. I’m really into it and having a blast when I hear someone clapping at the end of a 100% successful mission. “That was awesome, Bree!”
Ambush alarms start to sound and threat screens start to flash in my HUD. I spot a human shaped target as I desperately spin around. In just 0.0103 seconds, my system automatically cycles through all of the hostage target parameters.
The hostage jumps back and raises her hands. I am confused. How did a target get behind me, how did it know my name and why is it moving? The target is wearing a cute little school girl uniform and none of the other hostages in the sim have looked like her.
What’s going on?
Somehow, the hostage speaks. “Bree?”
I blink my eyes and realize just who I am pointing a pair of loaded guns at.
“Whoa. Bree.” Sara smiles, drops her hands and steps forward. “Ya scared me there for a second. I almost thought that you were going to shoot me.”
I suddenly realize that I’m still pointing my guns at Sara. I feel myself blush with embarrassment as I quickly lower and holster them both. I could’ve shot her. I almost knock her down when I rush forward and wrap my arms around her. “Sara! What are you doing here!?”
“Whoa kiddo! Not so rough.” She laughs and I feel her kiss the side of my head before her voice slips into an octave that makes my body tingle. “Yer looking good enough to eat in that outfit...oops. Sorry.”
Confused by both what my body is feeling and her apology, I pull my head back and look into her face. I am surprised to find that I’m an inch or two taller than her. My breath catches in my throat. She’s so beautiful and her lips look so kissable. I move to kiss her, but she gently pushes me away. I don’t understand why she is pushing me away until I suddenly realize that I wanted to kiss her and not a just a friendly little kiss either.
I feel so many shades of embarrassment flash across my face. “Oh-my-god Sara. I am so embarrassed. I dunno what came over me.”
“Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s part of my nature.”
My insides are still tingling a little bit. That reminds me about my dinner conversation with my mom. I want to ask her what she is, but I don’t want to sound like I don’t trust her. She’s Nikki’s sister or something. Except for some minor differences like the fangs and Goth makeup, she looks a lot like Nikki. “Umm, I’m sorry Sara, but I don’t know how to ask this without sounding rude.” I watch as her eyebrow arches inquisitively as a playful little smile forms on her perfect lips. I’m starting to feel distracted by her again. Oh, crap. I just need to say it. “What are you and why am I having such a hard time here?”
She giggles at me and even that sounds seductive to me, but at I’m glad because it doesn’t look like she’s mad at me for asking the question. “Well...I suppose that since, according to Nikki, we are now cousins and all that, you are entitled to know. It’s a little complicated, but the simple answer is that I am a demon of sorts.” She looks at me and studies my reaction. For some reason, I know that I should be screaming in panic right now. I’ve seen plenty of horror movies. Demons are bad. Nothing good can come from associating with a demon, but I just don’t feel that way about her. She nods and continues. “As to why you are feeling so attracted to me, one of my demonic powers is lust. That is what has been affecting you. I’m sorry, but I can’t turn it off completely. However, now that you know, you will probably have an easier time resisting it.”
Well, that sort of explains a lot. “Ummm, okay...”
Sara tilts her head to the side. She looks a little surprised by my calm acceptance. “That’s it? Okay? You do know that demons are evil, right?”
“I know that Nikki trusts you.” She snorts at that one, but she doesn’t deny it. “Maybe ignorance is bliss?” I hopefully finish with a shrug of my shoulders. She frowns at me as she places her finger to her lips as she thinks something over. “Hmmm...maybe there is something to that, but are you strong enough?”
“Strong enough for what?”
My question galvanizes her thoughts. “We will have to find the answer to that question some other time.” She saunters past me and gives my virtual range a quick visual inspection.
“I like what you have done to the place. Having a simulator like this could come in handy for you.”
The abrupt change in topics confuses me at first. What question? She’s hiding something from me. I want to ask her what I might not be strong enough to handle. I’m sure that if I can handle being turned into a girl and having my life turned upside down, then I can handle anything else. Wait a second. What did she just say? “Huh?”
She giggles at me. “I said that this sim you have could be handy for training.”
“Oh, yeah. It is kinda fun.”
“Well, I’ve seen a few sims and yours looks pretty good. Basic, but still good. Can you do anything else with it?”
“There is a custom option that I haven’t tried yet.”
Sara bounces with excitement. “Oooh...try that!”
“Ookaay...” I switch it over to the custom setting and everything in the room disappears. We are in a flat and featureless space that seems to be endless. “Ummm...this seems a little too basic?”
“Do ya have any additional options to pick from now?”
“I dunno. Lemme check.” I think ‘options’ and a window opens up with a few additional menu choices. There are things like ‘Weather’, ‘Terrain’, ‘Enemy’ and ‘AI Level’. I start to relay the choices to Sara, but decide that it might be better if I can just show her what I see.
A holographic display appears beside me and mirrors everything I can see for the options. Sara looks at it hesitantly touches the ‘Terrain’ option. Addition choices open up in a sub-menu. She picks ‘Urban’ and another sub-menu opens. She picks ‘Inner-City/Slum’ and the next thing I know we are both standing in the middle of a street. We are surrounded by run-down buildings on both sides with a few broken down cars sitting on blocks.
We both spin around and examine our surroundings a little closer. Everything looks very real, but at the same time I can tell that it isn’t real due to how clean the street looks, how perfect the buildings look and how eerily silent it is. I walk over to one of the cars and touch it. I’m not sure what I expected. Maybe that my hand would pass through it or if it is solid, that it wouldn’t feel real, but the car feels very real to my touch. I tap on the hood and it sounds like I am tapping on a metal car hood. “Wow...this is so cool.”
I turn back to Sara and I see her selecting more options using the floating display. I hear her muttering to herself, “Nope”, “Yep”, “Not that”, as she selects different items on the menu. She stops selecting items. “Okay...that looks good.” She turns and looks at me. “Are ya ready?”
I’m a little surprised. “Ummm, sure?”
Sara pushes one final option and the street comes alive with sounds, people and cars. I think that she is a little surprised too. Her eyes widen as she turns and smiles at me with pleasure. She’s still standing in the middle of the street as a low-rider custom car cruises past her and the driver honks his horn at her.
“Yo, chica! Outta the street! I don’ wanna ruin my paint if I hit ya!”
She flips him off and casually joins me at the side of the car I was testing. Her eyes are shining with excitement and I can see her fangs showing. “Wow, Bree. This is pretty damn cool! Once you know what you can do and we have more time to play around with it, I think that you will be able to use this for some good training without having to worry about using the Whateley Simulators.”
I can only nod in agreement. “This is cool, but I still haven’t decided if I am going to go to Whateley.”
Sara looks at me with surprise. “What do ya mean?”
I’m about to reply when I am rudely interrupted when I hear a wolf whistle from behind me. “Nice ass, chica!”
Startled, I turn to face the source and I feel myself blush from embarrassment as I realize that it is just a random NPC. I turn back to find Sara not even trying to swallow her shit eating grin. “Sara! It’s not funny!”
That just causes her to laugh out loud at my reaction.
“Yo, chica! How about you and me,” I turn back to see the NPC approaching me as he pantomimes something with his hands that I can only assume is rude. “Ya know?”
Oh. Two can play at this game! I whip out my Berretta and aim it at his face. “How about no?”
The NPC’s eyes widen with shock as he raises his hands and backs away. “De nada, chica. Ya don’t have to be such a [beep] about it!”
Yes, my system censored the bad word and no I’m not going to repeat it. I shake my head with amusement and re-holster my gun, I can hear Sara laughing at me. I spin back to yell at her too. That emotion dies as soon as I see how down-right cute she looks as she laughs at me. It is just so not fair. I can’t help myself. I feel my cheeks stretching into an involuntary smile.
She brings her laughter under control, but still manages a giggle or two. “Oh my god! You shoulda seen your face!”
More NPC’s and traffic are passing by our place on the sidewalk. It’s a little distracting. I think “pause” and everything except for Sara and I freeze in place. “Sara! That was soooo not funny!”
That stops her giggles for a second as she pretends to give it serious thought. “Oh yeah it was. Plus, ya gotta admit. With that outfit on, you do have a nice ass.”
I can only gasp with surprise. That causes her to laugh at me even more. “Sara! You. Are. So. Evil. Evil with a capital ‘E’. Evil.”
That starts her laughing again and it takes her a little while to get her laughter under control while all I can do is stand there with my arms crossed, trying and failing to achieve a murderous glare at her. I finally give in and twist around to take a quick peek behind myself. “Okay. Yeah. I do have a nice, umm, ass. Thank you very much for pointing that out.” I hope that the sarcasm levels in my voice are high enough.
Sara simply smiles at me as she saunters past me while I turn my head to keep my eye on her. She uses that opportunity to sneak a playful slap on my ass. “Psshhta! Ouchie...so hot!”
She barely touches my leather-clad butt and my momentary shock dissolves into helpless laughter as she pretends to be hurt by sucking on her finger. She even does that seductively. “You’re impossible, but I don’t think you came all this way to just tease me.”
She smiles demurely at me. “Did I?”
“Sara!” I will the sim to go away and replace it with my virtual living room. My outfit morphs into a comfy pair of sweat pants with a matching and loose fitting sweat shirt. No more shows for Sara.
“Party-pooper!” She pouts.
I ignore her obviously fake pout and cross my arms while I tap my foot. “Well?”
She is such a drama queen. She switches to mock fear. “Okay, Okay! I’ll talk! Please don’t spank me!” She stops for second and I just know that she is going to say something “evil”. I can see it written all over her face just before she looks down at the floor with a shy and innocent schoolgirl expression. “Well, if you put back on your vampire outfit, maybe you can spank me just a little?” She says as she looks up expectantly at me.
It isn’t easy, but I manage to maintain my tough girl facade. “Sara...”
She sighs with defeat and plops herself down on the couch. “Okay. I just wanted to see how you were doing and what you thought about coming to Whateley.”
I didn’t think that she would give up that easily. I walk over and sit down next to her. I give her a hug and ignore all the tingly feelings that touching her is causing me. “Oh, Sara. In spite of your teasing and maybe even because of it, I’m glad that you’re here.”
I feel her squeeze me in return and it feels like she has more than two arms for a second, but when I pull back and look, she is just sitting there trying to look innocent and failing miserably. I just shake my head. “I think that I want to go to Whateley, but it would be a big change for me.”
She just smiles and points at me with her eyes. “Even bigger than what you’ve already had?”
“Okay, but I’d be away from home and it is a JROTC scholarship so I would have to do Army stuff.”
“I can’t really relate on the ‘away from home’ thing, but I can understand how that could be hard on a person. The Army thing...I’ve worked with some of the folks on that team. They are pretty good kids.” She pauses for a second in thought. “Just don’t let ‘em know that you’re friends with me.”
“What? Why not?”
“Well, some of them are still a bit upset with me for beating them in a battle sim run.”
“As a matter of fact, you should probably pretend to not know me at all when you get to Whateley.”
I get the feeling that she is pushing me away. Like maybe she doesn’t like me. “Huh? Why would I need to do that?”
She just looks at me with a sad expression and sighs. “Because of what I am. There are a lot of folks who would try to hurt you just to get back at me. They would consider you “tainted” if they knew that we were friends.”
I notice that she called me her ‘friend’ there. That makes me feel better. “What about Nikki?”
“Oh, you can be friends with her, but my advice would be to take it slow at first. In public, I’d pretend like you don’t really know her either. She’s very popular at school and getting too close to her right off the bat could cause you some troubles too. Team Kimba seems to be a lightning rod for trouble too, so until you’ve had a chance to learn the terrain, the more distance you can keep between them and you, the better.”
“Yeah, that’s the umm, training team that Fey belongs to and I’ve had a relationship with.” She stops and studies me for a second.
I look down and stare at the couch to help remove the distraction that she can cause. I think that she can tell that I’m feeling a little lost. I thought that going to Whateley would be easier because I already had two friends there, but now it sounds like that might actually make things harder for me.
Sara reaches out and grabs my hands. “Look, Bree.”
I initially try to keep looking down to help maintain my distance so I won’t start crying. She reaches over with her hand and gently lifts my chin up. “Based on what Nikki has told me, I firmly believe that you should be at Whateley right now.”
I can see the concern on her face and that causes me to feel a lump starting to form in my throat. I am so close to crying now it isn’t funny.
“I don’t even want you to go through powers testing down there, but...” She pauses as a pained expression crosses her face. “...but I think that things will be okay since you’re going to be there under completely different circumstances. Plus, you have Mr. Reilly and the President behind you.”
I can feel the fierce concern in her voice and body language. “You’re still worried though. What happened?”
She sighs and shakes her head. “It’s a dark story and I don’t think that now would be a good time to go into it. It’s done and over. Time to move on instead of reopening old wounds,” Her body begins to change as her mood darkens. An inky black miasma pools around her and forms tentacles. Her eyes become bottomless pools of an inky black color that tug on my soul while her voice takes on a hollow timbre that causes every hair on my body to stand on end. “...but if I ever find the scum who caused the pain that my friend suffered; I will happily drag him to hell and torture him myself!”
I find myself rooted in place. Conflicted over what I am seeing and feeling. My monkey brain is telling me that I need to run as far away from this demon creature thing as I can possibly get, but the part of me that knows that it is Sara just wants to give her a hug.
This whole hug instinct is so out of control. I swear that I have hugged and been hugged more in the last two days than in my entire life. A hug just always seems to make things better somehow. I don’t understand why I didn’t know this fact sooner. I beat down the fear and before I can think about if I’m doing something stupid, I close my eyes and throw myself at Sara, wrapping my arms around her body.
Initially, she feels all wrong. My skin crawls from the contact with her body. It feels like I am hugging worms, maggots and all sorts of creepy crawly things. Horrible nightmare things that should never see the light of day, but I tell myself that I’m hugging Sara. I hug her tighter and the wrongness fades. See? A hug does make things better.
I feel Sara return my hug and am surprised when I feel her shudder. I tilt my head back to look up at her face and I am relieved to see that her eyes have returned to their normal blood red color. I am further surprised to find that I think that blood red for an eye color is normal and reassuring.
She smiles and gently kisses my forehead. “You’re one tough cookie. Methinks that anyone who tries to mess with you will be in for an unpleasant surprise or two.”
I can’t stop a nervous laugh from bubbling up from my throat. “Oh? If that’s true, then why does the idea of my mom taking me shopping at the mall scare me so much?”
I cringe as Sara squeals with girlish excitement as she bounces up and down on the couch. “Ooohh, shopping! I can’t wait to see you in a little black dress with some three or four inch heels. Hubba hubba!”
My head is spinning now. Where in the heck did that come from? It’s like the Exorcist. Sara went from full on spooky, to serious and mature, to giggly school girl in less time than I care to measure right now. I fully expect her head to start spinning around any second, but as a demon, maybe that would be normal for her? That mental image makes me laugh.
Sara tilts her head to the side and looks a little unsure about my reaction. I think that she expected me to resist a little more. “Okay, girlfriend, what’s so funny?”
There she goes again. She really missed her calling. She should’ve been a shock jock DJ. “Say huh?! Girlfriend?”
Sara smiles again now that she is back in control. Oh, she is most definitely evil, but I am not going to let her get away with it. I affix my best stern glare and point my finger at her. “I’m on to you!”
She looks back at me with a shocked and obviously fake innocent expression. “Who, moi?”
“Oh, don’t play the sweet and innocent girl with me. I know better and I know what you’re really trying to do.”
She leans back with a very cute smirk on her face. “You do?”
I stand and turn my back to her to keep from losing it. Against her mad skills, it’s really hard to maintain my mock anger. I’m pretty sure that she’s trying to help me and I am grateful for it. I’ve really only known her for a total of 47 minutes, but I feel so close to her. I decide to attack. I spin in place and level my best accusing look at her. “Of course! You’re here to turn me to the girl-side and I don’t care you have cookies! It’s not going to happen, not on my watch!”
Sara’s eyes widen with surprise. She pouts at me as she stands and walks toward the center of the room. “Oh shucks. Defeated by a newbie.” She spins back to face me. “Or, am I?”
I watch as she begins to grow taller and her clothes morph into a witch’s costume, complete with pointy hat. She points her finger at me and cackles. “So, you think that you have defeated me? I’ll show you. I’ll get you my pretty...muh ha ha ha ha!”
Oh, so now Sara is the Wicked Witch of the West. Well, two can play at that game. I switch over to Dorothy’s blue checkerboard dress with poofy sleeves, white socks, ruby red slippers, pigtails tied with blue bows and a wicker basket holding a stuffed dog.
Sara, I mean the Wicked Witch, just smiles at me. “That’s a very yummy look for you my pretty, but nothing can save you and your mangy dog now! Muh ha ha ha ha!”
Okay, it takes everything I have not to burst out laughing. Sara is so over the top, but I think that I have something for her. I summon a nice, tall glass of water to me and give her a pleased smile.
Sara licks her lips and looks a little nervous.
“Poor poor Wicked Witch. You look a little thirsty. How about a little water?” I say just before I splash it on her.
“You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Oooooh, look out! I'm going! Oooooh! Ooooooh!” says Sara as she melts into a puddle on the floor just like in the movie. Impressive. She even managed to quote the Wicked Witch’s line exactly.
I walk over to the Sara puddle. “Sara?” I’m starting to get a little worried when I feel her sneak attack hug me from behind.
“That was pretty good, Bree, and you look absolutely to die for in that little dress, but I think you would look better if you shortened the skirt, a lot. Added some knee high socks and dropped the neckline, a lot.” Sara whispers in my ear.
I can’t help it. I find myself imagining what I would look like as she suggests it to me.
She chuckles softly and steps back. “Oh, yeah. Now that is the right look. If Dorothy had worn that in the movie, the Wicked Witch wouldn’t have stood a chance!”
I look down and realize that I’m now wearing a naughty version of the Dorothy costume. Just above the knee white socks with little blue bows on the top. The skirt part is now a very short mini-skirt and I can now see right down to my cleavage. I feel myself start to blush.
“Oh, don’t feel like that! Just look at yourself in the mirror! You’re beautiful!”
I turn and face the mirror. I do look pretty hot and for some strange reason, that makes me start to smile. I can see Sara’s pleased grin behind me. I spin around. “You sneaky little devil, you, you...”
She stops me with a pleased laugh. “Just admit it, Bree. You’re a girl, you’re beautiful and you like how that makes you feel.”
Damn it. She’s right. “Well...maybe a little.”
Sara gives me another hug, stands on her tiptoes for a second and gives me a quick kiss on my forehead. “See, that wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
I try to resist. I really do, but it sneaks out. I start crying. I can’t help it, but it feels like every dream I had as a guy has been crushed. I can no longer dream about being the star quarter back on the football team, the dashing fighter pilot or the super suave spy who gets the girl in the movies. Now, I can only be the bouncing cheerleader who cheers on the football team, the clingy girlfriend of the dashing pilot or the helpless girl that the suave spy rescues. It’s just not fair!
Sara just holds me as I cry my eyes out on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Bree. I know what you’re feeling. But, you can still be the person that you wanted to be. You just have to take a different path.”
I lean away from her so that I can see her face and try to slow down the wet works. “Huh?”
“Just because you’re a girl now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be what you wanted to be when you grew up. There are women astronauts and CEO’s ya know?”
Damn it. She’s right. She’s making it harder to feel sorry for myself. “Well...”
“And...did you ever think that you could do half of the wicked cool things that you can do now?”
She is right about that. I fantasized about being able to shoot guns and cast spells at bad guys, but I never actually thought that I would ever be able to really do it. “Nooo....”
Sara smiles at me. Even with her fangs showing and her scary Goth demon girl look, I just feel like she cares for and maybe even loves me. She feels like a sister to me. A very sexy and attractive sister who I will have to constantly remind myself that she is a “sister” to keep from thinking dirty thoughts, but that’s okay. I’m glad that she’s in my life. “Thanks, Sara.” I say in a low tone of voice.
Sara pulls me forward into another hug. “See? Now that wasn’t so hard was it?”
Dang it, she’s right. “Nooo” I reply with just a hint of hesitation. I can’t let her think that I am completely defeated.
“Okay then. I need to be going. I’m not sure if I will be able to visit you again before you get to Whateley, so how about a little hug and a kiss for me before I go?”
I start to tear up again as I give her big hug. I move to give her an affectionate kiss on her cheek when she turns her face at the last second. I end up kissing her on the lips instead. Her lips feel good to kiss. Real good. I feel my body responding.
I jump back. “Sara! You’re evil!”
She just smirks at me. “I know, but ya love me anyway. Right?”
I can’t help it. She’s just so darn pretty and cute and evil and nice all rolled up into a confusing ball of friendship. “Yeah, but don’t think that I’m going to be going all soft on ya now! Remember, I’m on to you!”
“Oh, I hope so, girlfriend. I. so. hope. so!”
What did she mean by that? Now I’m confused again. “What?”
She fades away with a wave and a smile. I hear, “Ciao!” just before she disappears from view.
It takes me a few minutes of just standing there trying to figure out how I am feeling before it really sinks in that she has left. That makes me start to feel a little lonely. So, I decide to switch back into some comfy sweats and distract myself by finishing the book that I tried to start earlier.
After I finish the book, I have just over half an hour before the alarm clock wakes my mom up. As uncomfortable as Sara’s teasing makes me, I can’t stop myself from feeling grateful for her help. I also miss her and find myself looking forward to her next surprise visit. I wonder if there is something I can wear that might surprise even her? I cycle through a large variety of movie costumes that might do the trick, from Trinity all the way to Cat Woman. I even try out the ‘5th Element’ cloth band outfit that Milla wore.
I’m in the middle of testing out a very revealing little black dress with some three-inch heels when the alarm clock wakes my mom. I sigh with regret. Not only does the alarm clock surprise me, but my feelings about my dress-up session being cut short surprises me even more. I’m about to exit when she hits the snooze button. Awesome!
Besides the kick-ass Selene vampire cat suit, this is the first outfit I have tried that somehow ‘speaks’ to me. Once I saw myself in the dress, I just had to add the heels and some jewelry. With the heels on, I feel like I am standing on my tippy-toes, but I guess that my reflexes are pretty good because the first few steps that I try, I feel surprisingly balanced. I end up feeling more than a little embarrassed when I fall on my butt after I catch a glimpse of how sexy I look as I strut my stuff. Once I get my feet back under me, I check myself out in the mirror and wonder how I would look with just a touch of makeup. Maybe I can use my illusion magic too for that in the real world?
What a minute! What in the hell am I thinking?!
I am spared further girl angst by the sound of the snooze alarm blaring. My mom’s sleepy voice calls to me. “Bree? It’s time to get up, dear.”
I feel pretty good when I sit up and smile at my mom. “Morning, Mom!”
She just looks at me like I’ve grown two heads. “Okay. Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”
I hold back a giggle as I pretend to be exasperated. “Mooomm. I’ve only been waiting for you to wake up for the last 5.3 hours! About time you woke up, sleepyhead!”
That causes her to sit up with alarm. “What? You couldn’t sleep again?”
“Well, I slept, but I only needed one and a half hours. I’m wide awake and don’t feel a bit tired.”
She turns on the lights and as my vision settles, she scoots over, tests my temperature, and looks at my eyes to see if I am sick. “Well, you don’t feel like you’re running a temp and you look healthy to me. Maybe one of the doctors will have an idea?”
“I dunno, mom. I feel fine and if this is now normal for me, think of all the extra study time I will have for school.”
She laughs. “Nice try, Bree, but I know that having extra study time is not something you would look forward too.” She stands and points to the bathroom. “Now, hop in the shower. Don’t get your hair wet and I’ll pull out something for you to wear today.”
My mom pops in to use the bathroom right after I get the water started. “Make sure you brush your hair and your teeth when you are done in there, hon.”
I wonder what she is going to pick for me to wear today. “Okay, mom...”
The shower goes pretty fast without having to go through the complex wash and condition process. I’m not used to not getting my hair wet. As a guy, I always washed my hair. I step out of the shower and I am surprised to see a pair of the silk panties sitting on the counter. They taunt me with their blatant femininity, but I...
Oh well. Camouflage. I slip them on and I have to admit, the silk feels nice against my skin. I quickly brush my teeth and trying to emulate Nikki, I calmly exit the bathroom wearing nothing but the dreaded silk panties and a smile. Camouflage...be the girl...na na na na.
My mom tosses me an athletic looking bra thing. I’m guessing that it is one of those ‘sports bra’ things. She helps me put it on and I think that it is more like a tight t-shirt than a bra. I am pleasantly surprised by how comfortable it feels on my shoulders and around my chest, but it does squish my boobs a bit more. Rut Roh. Why did I just call them that?
My mom distracts me from that question. “I set the rest of your clothes out on your bed. Go ahead and get dressed while I take a quick shower.”
I find a set of black sweat pants matched with the black sweatshirt I wore last night laying on my bed. The sweats pants are not the loose fitting pants I expected them to be. Instead, they are a curve hugging stretchy piece of clothing that do nothing to hide my figure and if it wasn’t for the silk panties, I’m sure that people would be able to see the lines of my panties too.
Oh, isn’t that just awesome! Now, I’m glad to be wearing the silk panties due to a concern about VPL’s. I wonder if I am starting to take this camouflage idea too close to heart and if trying out all those costumes for Sara was such a good idea. My male psyche seems to be suffering a serious smack down here.
That question is answered when I put on the sweatshirt and realize that it is too short. It wasn’t an issue when I wore it last night due the cami, but now I have an inch gap between the top of my sweat pants and the bottom of the sweatshirt. I’m showing off my belly button. The hell with camouflage! I storm into the bathroom. “Mooommm! What is up with this?”
She pokes her head out of the shower. “What?”
I point to the obvious deficiency in my skin coverage. “This! What is wrong with girl clothing?”
She just smiles. “Oh Bree, that is just how it fits. It looks nice on you. Go put your shoes and socks on and I will be out in a few minutes.”
“Grrrr” I am more than a little frustrated after I put on my new girl tennis shoes. The damn mirror isn’t lying to me. I do look pretty damn cute and Sara is right. I do have a nice butt. I debate trying to find some cartoons on the TV, but the risk of being exposed to one of those feminine hygiene product commercials is just too much for me to bear. I decide to sit on my bed and meditate until my Mom is done getting ready in the bathroom.
I find my center pretty fast this time. I think the exercises with Sir Wallace helped. It’s like flipping a switch. Suddenly, I can see the magic in the air. The room isn’t full of it, but there are small traces of it just randomly floating around. Due to the ward thing, I didn’t get a chance to experiment with it yesterday, but I want to see if I can use the ‘free’ magic instead of the pool inside of me.
I begin by pulling up the blur spell icon again and will the magic to activate the icon. It proves to be harder to use the free magic than I expected. When I had to use my own magic it just popped out, but the free magic is resisting me. Maybe it is harder because the magic is more dispersed and in raw form? I dunno, but I guess it doesn’t matter because the initial resistance just disappears as the magic fills in the icon and my blur spell activates.
I walk back over to the mirror and try to look at myself. It’s not easy. I’m all blurry. What a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure how well this effect will work in real life. If someone is going to shoot me, they would still just aim for the center of the blurry girl target instead of the not blurry girl target. Maybe it would help more with hand-to-hand combat? I cancel the spell and that reminds me of my magic makeup idea.
I pull up the alter-self spell icon and concentrate on what I want to look like. Once again, I will the magic in the room to fill it. This one is a bit harder and I gasp from the effort when the spell activates. I don’t know why I’m so surprised by what I now see in the mirror. I’m starting to get used to seeing a pretty elf girl in the mirror now. What I am not used to seeing is a pretty human girl wearing light makeup and small diamond stud earrings in her normal human ears staring back at me.
I’m still me. Well, the new girl me, but I look human now. Actually, I look like Whisper used to look like before she was changed by the Font. That makes me really worry about why my first thought wasn’t to try and look like my boy self. It makes me start to cry, but I manage to stop it before I go full on water works.
My mom exits the bathroom with a concerned look on her face. “What’s wrong...” She falters as I look at her. “Bree?” She looks a little confused. “How? Why do you look like that now?”
“Umm, well, I was just trying to see if I could do some make-up tricks with my magic and this is how it turned out.”
She looks worried now. “You didn’t actually change yourself did you?”
A slightly hysterical laugh escapes me. “Oh, no. This is just an illusion.” I cancel the spell and I feel the magic fade away as my mom’s eyes widen with surprise. “See?”
“That is pretty neat, but why are you so upset, honey?”
“Why did I imagine myself as a girl, when I could’ve made myself look like a boy?”
“Would that have worked?”
It’s a good question and it should be possible. “I think so.”
“Oh, but it wouldn’t have been real, right?”
“Noooo.” She hits the nail right on the head as to why I’m feeling a tad upset with myself.
“So, not that I want you to try right now, but if you made yourself look like a boy, underneath, you would still be who you are, right?”
“Well, yeah, but...” Oh, I see where she is going with this. My mom smiles and gives me a hug.
She hugs me for a few seconds before she steps back with a stern look on her face. “Okay. Well, I’m glad that you’re okay, but please don’t try that again until it is safer for you.”
I feel a little disappointed, but she’s right. “Okay, Mom.”
“Oh, I know honey. It’s cool, but I just want you to be safe.” She gives me an encouraging smile.
“I know.” I really do, but I still can’t help feeling a little dejected.
“Okay then. I just need to put on my clothes and we can head down to meet Mr. Reilly in the Lobby.”
I am a bit surprised when my mom puts on workout clothes too. “Umm, Mom? Why are you wearing workout clothes too?”
“Oh, they want me to test, too, and I agree that it would be a good idea now that my power seems to be a bit stronger since your transformation.” She shudders. “And I wouldn’t want the MCO coming after me for being an unregistered mutant.”
“Oh.” I never really thought about the MCO. My social studies teacher spent a week going over mutant history. I never expected any of those lessons to apply to me. I learned that except for first emergent exemptions, being caught as an unregistered mutant is a minimum five-year federal prison sentence.
The ride over is nothing to write home about and I am a little disappointed that we didn’t get Jessica as our driver. I am a bit surprised when we pull into the base hospital’s parking lot. I look over at Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson for confirmation that we are in the right place. I expected something a little cooler and secret looking. You know, like some cool underground bunker thing complete with a big vault door and lots of armed guards standing by.
Mr. Reilly just smiles at me.
Okay, I guess that I will just play along then. As we enter the hospital, my system automatically alerts me to the hospital’s Wi-Fi system and I am surprised to discover that there is a node to the C3 thing. I quickly try to login and I feel relieved when I am successful. I am just about to explore what is on the local node here at Langley when we are greeted by an attractive woman with short brown hair wearing some colorful hospital scrubs. Hmmm, I decide that I probably should not play around with that right now. I minimize the C3 thing so that I can pay more attention to the lady that is attempting to greet us.
Her brown eyes smile at the sight of us. She walks over to our group and looks at Mr. Reilly. “Hi, I’m Barbara Townsend. You’re Deputy Director Nicholas Reilly and Dr. Edmundson, right?” She asks as she shakes their hands and receives confirmation.
She turns her attention to my mom and I. “And you must be Jennifer Peters.” She shakes my mom’s hand before turning to me. I watch as her eyes widen with surprise as she focuses her attention on me. “And, oh my, the General never told me that you would be so pretty. You must be Brianna?” She smiles at me with genuine warmth as she holds out her hand for me.
I tentatively shake her hand and smile. “Umm, yes ma’am. I’m Brianna or Bree if you like.”
She looks surprised and turns to my mom. “Oh, you have such a lovely young daughter, Mrs. Peters and she is so polite, too!” I start to feel a little embarrassed when she continues. “Well, I certainly look forward to spending more time with you two, but I need to get you all to the testing facility so that we can get started. Please follow me.” She turns and heads for the elevators.
The hospital is kind of big, but it doesn’t seem big enough to have some super cool mutant testing facility in it. As we enter the elevator, I wonder which floor we will be going up to. The elevator’s control beeps as Barbara waves her name badge over a proximity sensor embedded in the elevator’s control panel. After that, she pushes and holds the basement L2 button until it dings.
As we descend, I lean up against the side of the elevator and I can sense the electronics for the control panel. In addition to the obvious video camera in the corner, I also feel some audio and video feeds hidden in the walls. I just start to get a feel for the special security circuitry for the badge reader when I am interrupted by Mrs. Townsend. Oh well, it is probably a good idea to not mess with that stuff in here.
“So, Bree. Is this your first powers testing?”
“Umm, yes ma’am.” We have definitely gone past the 2nd basement floor. “Umm, how far down is this place?”
She smiles at me and holds her finger over her lips. “Shhh, that’s a secret. Not allowed to tell.”
“Almost there...I think you will like this place. It’s all new and way better than the last testing facility that I worked at.” A barely detectable grimace flashes across her face as my voice stress gauge spikes there at the end of her statement. I am about to ask her where she worked before when the elevator stops and the doors open with a ding.
“Okay, follow me. I’ll get you two started on the dreaded paper work,” She nods toward my mom and I, “while I take Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson to meet General Adams.”
We pass a small guard station where we are required to sign in before we are allowed to continue down the hallway. At the end of the hallway, we enter a small lobby area with a woman dressed in hospital scrubs sits behind a short receptionist’s station. She glances up and smiles at us as we enter the room.
“Hey, Barb! Are these two ladies the ones that are going to be tested today?”
“Hey Jane, Yepper. Can you get them started on the paper work while I run Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson to the General’s office?”
“Sure! I have everything ready right here.” She reaches down and pulls out two clipboards with some forms and a pen on them. She hands my mom and me a clipboard.
“Thanks Jane. I’ll be back in 10 to 15 minutes to help get Mrs. Peters and Bree started with their tests.” Mrs. Townsend calls over her shoulder as she leads Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson away.
Jane smiles at Mrs. Townsend as she leaves before she turns back to my mom and I. “Let me know if you have any questions or need any help filling those forms out.”
The medical forms seem pretty normal to me. I stumble over the race and ethnic group section. Sidhe/Caucasian? Is that a valid option? Height? 5’ 4”, damnit. Weight, 110, crap. Now I have to worry about strong winds. For Sex, I briefly toy with the idea of putting “Occasionally”, but I know that my mom wouldn’t find that remotely funny. Sex, Sigh, Female, Check. Allergies? Umm, man-made synthetic fibers and cold iron? How weird is that? I haven’t personally tested the iron thing, but I will take Nikki’s word for it since she was right about the clothing thing.
Mrs. Townsend returns just as I finish with my forms. My mom finished a few minutes before I did. I guess she just knows herself better than I do. She outlines all of the tests planned for today and then she explains that the final test of the day is the big one.
“Since this facility is so new and we wanted to come up with a faster, minimally invasive and more accurate way to measure powers.” She looks at each of us with an excited gleam in her eyes. “We have a new powers testing module that the DOD has in the final acceptance testing phase.”
I nervously glance at my mom as she glances at me.
“Is the machine dangerous?” My mom asks.
Mrs. Townsend laughs and places her hand on my mom’s shoulder to reassure her. “Oh, no. It’s perfectly safe. We have run tons of volunteers through it already. All it does is scan you. No poking, prodding or anything dangerous.”
“Why do we need to do the old tests?” My mom asks. I nod my head in agreement. I would much rather not have to go through a bunch of tests if a single test would work.
“Well, since it is still officially in testing, we need to perform the standard tests as a control result to compare against what the test module reports.”
“Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense.” My mom says with a smile.
With that issue resolved, Mrs. Townsend leads us to a lab station where a nurse takes a few blood samples. It takes me twice as long due to the nurse needing to use a new main needle thing after what is left of the needle falls out halfway through the second sample. She is a little perturbed at that, but I guess my nanites like the taste of stainless steel. On the plus side, I heal up faster than she can grab a new needle to stick into me. That irritates the nurse more. She has to re-find my vein each time.
The urine sample, everything comes out just fine there. I have that test down cold. It’s still a yucky and messy pain in the rear though. Can I say again how much I hate having to sit down to pee and wipe? It’s just so damn inconvenient. I do like my silk panties though. They are so damn comfortable. Wait a minute, what did I just call them and what did I say how they felt?
Crap, I’m doomed.
The first real examination is the full body MRI. I’ve seen MRI machines on TV and they look cool. The images that they can get of the inside of the human body are pretty darn incredible. I was looking forward to it, until they tell me to strip down to my underwear and put on one of those flimsy hospital gowns that are open at the back. I am really starting to dislike hospital gowns. Follow that up with the uncomfortable sliding bed thing that they use to feed me into the MRI, and I decide that getting an MRI sucks. To top it off, due to the magnetic fields and the nanites, Dr. Edmundson isn’t sure if it is a good idea for me to be scanned at all. Eventually, he decides they can try if I start out feet first with the operator holding his hand over the emergency stop button in case something goes wrong.
“Just let us know if anything, umm, weird starts to happen, Bree.” Doctor Edmundson says, looking a little worried.
As the machine starts, I can feel my legs and feet start to tingle.
The error messages kind of worry me, but I don’t feel any pain so I decide to just let it go, for now. Besides, the MRI machine itself is distracting me. It is so cool! I can see inside the machine and watch it as it scans me. The electronics and programming is so complex, yet simple at the same time. I sort of get lost just watching all of the commands that the main control system is issuing to the scanner part and the information that the scanner is passing back to the control system. That reminds me of Nikki’s warning, so I back out the MRI machine and starting paying more attention to my own, umm, systems.
“Umm, my legs are feeling weird and I’m getting some error messages.”
The bed thing stops moving me closer to the scanner, but it doesn’t shut down.
“What kind of error messages and are you in any pain?” I hear Dr. Edmundson over the intercom speaker.
“Something about a ‘Communication Channel Error’ and no, it just feels funny.”
“Can you wiggle your toes?”
I try that and they do wiggle, but they feel a little disconnected somehow. It’s weird. I guess that they see my toes wiggle in the control booth.
“Okay, we are going to start it back up. If you feel any pain, let us know immediately.”
“Okay...” I say as the bed starts to move again. I’m not sure if this is really a good idea. As more of my body begins to pass through the scanner, the Communication Channel errors overwhelm my little status display window. The tingling sensations also increase, but it still doesn’t hurt so I don’t say anything. As the scanner get closer to my head, that is when I really start to feel funny and not funny-ha-ha.
That message doesn’t sound good and now my HUD is acting all crazy. It is like a bad TV picture as it distorts, scrolls and loops back around. That makes me start to feel dizzy. I do not like this ride anymore.
“Looking good Bree. Almost done.” I hear Dr. Edmundson say from the control room. He sounds so far away and distorted.
I barely understand him and I try to say something, but I am having trouble getting the words out. Any word really. I try to say “Help” or “Stop”, but nothing even remotely intelligible comes out of my mouth. I don’t even know if my mouth moves. This is totally not good!
Umm, MRI Machine. STOP!
Red emergency lights start flashing as the MRI Machine shuts itself down. My HUD snaps into focus, completely empty, except for a single window open, displaying the following message:
I can only lie there as the system counts down to reboot. I have no idea what that is going to do, but I am not looking forward to it.
I breathe a sigh of relief when the countdown stops, but my body doesn’t seem to want to obey my commands. I try to wiggle my toes again, but instead of my toes wiggling, I feel my arm try to move. I also get blasted with error messages again.
Lots of them.
I can hear people saying stuff and I can see movement, but nothing is making sense. Okay, okay, I get it. I need to let my system reboot.
Well, isn’t that just peachy? Everything stops and I can hear, see and move again, but all my senses feel muted.
“Is she going to be okay?” I hear my mom ask from somewhere nearby.
I turn my head and I see Dr. Edmundson at my side. He is helping the other people lift me out of the MRI machine and onto a rolling bed of some kind.
“Wha...What happened?” I ask, feeling woozy and strangely detached from my body. There is no way that I am going to admit that I shut the MRI machine down. I hear that those things are expensive and I do not want to be stuck with the repair bill if I broke it.
“We’re not sure, but the scanner shut down just as I was getting ready to hit the emergency stop button. Are you okay?” Dr. Edmundson asks as he peers into my eyes with concern.
“Not really. I feel, umm, muted and I think that I am rebooting right now or something.”
Dr. Edmundson’s eyes widen with surprise before he looks around to see how much attention the other medical folks are paying to me right now. “Hmmm, That’s interesting Bree. Let’s go over that when we get you to a more secure location.”
In other words, I think that he is saying, “Ix-nay on the top secret-nay” but I know that he wouldn’t actually say it that way. I just think it’s funnier and a giggle escapes from me before I can stop it.
Dr. Edmundson expression turns more serious. “We are taking you to a room right now. I want to go over your observations and monitor your condition as soon as results are available a little bit later.”
I think he looks a little worried about me. Aw shucks, I didn’t know that he cared. That makes me giggle again. “Ya know Doc; you should take a vacation or something. You’re looking pretty stressed out right now.”
There is a wheel on the bed that is squeaking. That is so annoying. Hey! Why are the lights in the hallway blinking? Is this magic carpet thing speeding up and why does a magic carpet have wheels.
“Whoa, Nelly. Can someone please stop this hearse, I mean horse?” Oh man, that’s funny. I wonder if they noticed the play on words there? I laugh at my joke, but everyone else just gets more serious.
Say what? Where did that come from? Oh yeah, that thing in my head. That’s so cool. Does it do that all the time?
Wow! That’s a lot of memory. “Hey, Doc? Did you know that I have Physical Memory?”
He doesn’t look amused, but think it’s hilarious and I giggle some more.
Oh, that’s not funny. Why did I think that having Physical Memory was funny? Oh god. Hearse? That is so lame. What in the hell was I thinking?
“Umm, Dr. Edmundson?”
He leans over my bed and begins to check my vital signs. “Yes, Bree?” He says with a guarded, yet patient tone of voice.
I think that he is expecting me to say something dumb again. “Sorry. I don’t know what came over me back there.”
He looks relieved as he smiles at me. “That’s okay, Bree. I wish that I could hook you up to a computer so that I could run a diagnostic on you, but I guess that will have to wait until we figure out a way to do that and we get back to the labs where I have the computers to run a diagnostic. How are you feeling?”
I am not going to mention that I can probably just give him what he needs by touching his laptop, but maybe I can offer something else instead. “Umm, I’m feeling much better now.” I say, still feeling a bit embarrassed about my walk on the silly side. I perform a quick check on the C3 thing and discover that it is active. “Ummm, Dr. Edmundson?”
Dr. Edmundson looks expectantly at me. “Yes?”
“I can connect to the C3 thing. Maybe I can use that to download some diagnostics for you. Would that help?”
“Hmmm, you know, that might just work.” As he thinks it over, he begins to look excited. “Actually, you were showing up as a node back at the labs. Stay online. I will be right back. I need to call Major Thole and Dr. Johannson.” He quickly leaves the room with a spring in his step.
Mystified, I glance over to my mom and all she can do is smile and shrug. She walks over and holds my hand. “You had me worried there. How are you feeling?”
“Okay now Mom, but that was a bit scary. I guess that I should have complained a little more about the funny feelings.”
“Yes, you should have, young lady! You need to notify people as soon as anything out of the ordinary happens.”
“Yeah, but what is ordinary now?”
My mom smiles affectionately at me. “Anything that seems strange or not right, no matter how small, you need to tell someone. Okay?”
Dr. Edmundson chooses that moment to rush back into the room. He’s carrying his laptop and he looks pleased about something. He sets it on a table and makes a call using the room’s regular old-fashioned hard-line phone.
“Okay, Dr. Johannson. I’m here and my laptop is booting. See if you can ping her.”
That makes me sit up and pay attention. Dr. Edmundson looks over at me expectantly. I wonder if he is expecting a light bulb or something to light up on me.
I quickly accept it on the assumption that it is Dr. Johannson doing that ping thing on me. “I think Dr. Johannson just, umm, pinged me.”
Dr. Edmundson smiles with satisfaction. “Did it work? It did? Good. Let me get connected here, then I want you to try running the standard health diagnostics package on, umm, Whisper.”
Oh, so he’s going to try running something on me. “Whisper?” I ask, both pleased and alarmed at the same time. It’s one thing to play Whisper and now look like Whisper and have some of Whisper’s powers, but now I am being called Whisper too?
“I’m sorry, Bree, we just assumed that you were going to use Whisper as your alias for your MMID.”
“Oh.” I never really thought of that, but I guess it makes sense. I will need to have an alias for my MMID card. “Is Whisper available? I’ve heard that it can be hard to get names due to other heroes using them already.”
“Mr. Reilly and I checked the database this morning and reserved Whisper for your MMID. Is that okay?”
I feel conflicted about that decision. “Can I change it if I decide that I don’t like it?”
“Of course, but you will need to make that decision before we leave today. All of your test results are currently being entered in using the Whisper alias, but I think you can change it later too. It is just harder and takes a lot more paperwork.”
“Oh...okay. I will think about it and let you know before we are done today then.”
His laptop beeps and I watch as he logs into it. I really want to know what he is doing, but his screen is kind of hard to see from where I am sitting. With that thought, something inside of me just clicks and I can somehow see the inside of his laptop. Almost like I was able to do with my parent’s PC, but not as immersive, it feels more passive and view only. I am able to easily catch his login ID and password as he types them using his keyboard. I kind of recall hearing about the Russians capturing keystrokes at an Embassy by listening to the electronic signals of the keys being pressed. I can feel and see everything that he is doing on his laptop and what his laptop is doing internally, but I can’t change anything. I guess I have a range and I have to touch the computer to really do anything with it. Hmmm, that could come in handy, but, per Nikki, one more discovery to keep to myself.
He connects to a shared screen that must be Dr. Johannson’s computer back in New Mexico. I watch as Dr. Johannson clicks on an icon that looks like my health system icon.
It’s real weird watching what Dr. Edmundson is viewing remotely on Dr. Johannson’s computer while I monitor what information that Dr. Johannson is pulling down from me.
After five point two minutes, I start to get a little bored watching Dr. Edmundson and Dr. Johannson watch me. I decide to take a look at the C3 thing again. I wonder if there are any games that I can play?
Umm...sure, I mean Yes.
A window opens up in the middle of my vision that displays a huge map with divided mostly in half by a jagged line. One side is red, while the other side of the map is blue. The blue side has a few spots where the red is deep inside its territory. Who is playing who?
A small window overlays the map that displays:
Ummm, I guess I can see what the good guys are up too? I pick Server 2 and watch as the red side disappears while the blue side of the map zooms-in. I see lots of symbols that represent all of the different units available to the blue force commander. I ‘touch’ each of the funny symbols to find out what they are and as I do that, information floods in telling me what they represent. He’s got artillery; air support via A-10 Warthogs and Cobra gunships, armor units with M1-A2’s supported by mounted infantry in Stryker vehicles and supply units.
It’s all pretty cool, and I’m no Patton, but it looks like Colonel Ashton is getting his butt kicked. His units are reacting too slowly to his commands. I can see him issue a command, but it is taking the system between 1000ms and 3000ms to parse a simple command before it initiates the command. That’s some serious lag.
Additionally, his recon units are calling in movement reports, but by the time, they are parsed by the system, the enemy has already moved out of the area. I check my latency and discover that I am sitting at 147ms. Not too bad. It looks like I have a pretty good connection to the server. Hmmm, it is just a game. I wonder what would happen if I tried to help him out...
Major Tom Hanson sat on his ergonomic ‘command’ chair working on his weekly status report while the soldiers under his command monitored data center’s servers. The school was running another battle sim and it was his responsibility to make sure everything ran at peak performance. The officers using the servers to hone their command skills were going to be Generals some day and Major Hanson wanted to make Lt. Colonel. A server crashing in the middle of a sim would not look good on his fitness report.
That is why he took it seriously when Sgt. Anders knocked on his door and reported, “Sir, we might have a problem with Server 2.”
Major Hanson looked out of his office window and down to the server floor. He spotted Server 2 with its blue card on top that denoted its force status. “Great, Server 2 is running the Blue force.”
In this scenario, the blue force was an U.S. Army unit being run by an American commander against the red force, a make believe enemy force being run by one of the school’s instructors. It was the Army’s version of the famed, scenario that Captain Kirk cheated to win. In other words, the blue force was supposed to lose to the red force, but it was how the blue force commander responding that would be graded. If the blue force commander lost even worse due to a server glitch, there would be hell to pay.
“What is the problem, Sgt. Anders?” Major Hanson asked, fearing the response.
“It’s kinda hard to say sir. I just noticed that Server 2’s CPU utilization is down to 63% while Server 1 is still pegged at 100%.” Sgt. Anders said with a puzzled expression.
“Huh? How is that even possible? What’s the server’s latency up to?” Major Hanson expected to hear that it was up from the normal 2,000-3,000 ms range and into or beyond the 7,000ms range.
“Umm, that’s the weird part sir.” Sgt Anders sighed, scratching the back of his neck as he thought about how to explain it to his boss. “It looks like the server is still running all the sim processes, but the latency has actually dropped. It’s now averaging 300ms and appears to be getting better.”
Major Hanson had a hard time believing that. He typed a few commands into his terminal. “And no one has called down here to scream yet?” He asked with disbelief after viewing the server performance monitor. If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t believe that an active server could appear to be running at less than 90% utilization without anyone from upstairs calling to yell at him.
“No sir.” Sgt Anders said, looking equally puzzled.
“Hmmm, I guess I will call upstairs and face the music.” Major Hanson said with resignation.
“Yes sir, lemme know if you need a fire extinguisher to help put out the flames.” Sgt Anders said with a grin as Major Hanson shooed him out of his office.
Major Hanson sighed as he picked up the phone and hit the speed dial for the War-game Controller’s Office. “WCO, Lieutenant Harper. How may I direct your call, sir or ma’am?”
“Lieutenant, Major Hanson from the server room. We might have a problem with the Blue force server. Is the General available?”
“Yes sir. He is currently hovering over Colonel Ashton’s shoulder and watching his sim. I will go let him know you are on the line.” Lieutenant Harper said before he set the phone down on a hard surface.
Major Hanson feared the worst. If the General was “hovering” over someone, then it probably wasn’t a good sign. His thoughts of doom were interrupted when he heard General Roskaft pick up the phone 20 seconds later.
“What did you do to the Blue server Major Hanson?” General Roskaft asked, without a trace of the expected anger in his voice. “Colonel Ashton’s sim has been running better than ever for the past ten or fifteen minutes. It’s almost spooky how well the system is running for him.”
“How so, sir?” Major Hanson asked, confused as to why the General wasn’t chewing his ass out.
“It looks like that new Speech Recognition module you were talking about last week is working like a charm. It’s instantly recognizing every command that Colonel Ashton is saying and Colonel Ashton has a pretty good southern accent.”
“We never got a chance to install that module sir.” Major Hanson said.
“Then what is making the system run so well?”
“I don’t know sir. I called you because I thought the server had crashed.”
“Oh, hell no! Like I said, the server is responding almost instantly to Colonel Ashton’s commands and is even starting to anticipate his commands as the battle progresses.”
“It is?” Major Hanson asked, mystified by what was happening.
“Yes, Major Hanson. Hell, if this keeps up we might have the makings for a first ever Blue Force victory.”
“We will?” Major Hanson asked, concerned. In his mind, that would be worse than the server crashing. There would be at least a week’s worth of paper work to fill out and Power Points to create.
“I want you to find out why and make it like this all the time.”
Major Hanson watched as the server monitor showed the CPU spike back up to 100% and the latency go back into the 3,000ms range again. “Oh crap!” He said as he felt his face drain of all color.
“What was that Major?”
“Sorry sir. The server just returned to normal operation.” Major Hanson said, hearing the sound of swearing in the background.
“Major, find out why. I expect an answer by 1300hrs today. Call me ASAP if you find out something sooner!”
“Yes sir!” Major Hanson said as he braced to attention before the line went dead.
“Sergeant! Better bring me that fire extinguisher! Start pulling the server logs for Server 2. I wanna know everything that’s happened over the last hour.”
“Brianna! Honey, are you okay?”
I hear my mom ask me with a chipmunk voice. Oh no! I was paying too much attention to the game. I quickly disconnect and pay more attention to what my mom is saying.
“Sorry Mom, I was kind of zoning there. What did you say?” I ask, turning my head to look at her.
“Dr. Edmundson was starting to get worried about you.” She looks over to Dr. Edmundson standing on the other side of my bed.
He’s staring at his laptop with concern evident on his face. “Bree, what were you doing?”
Oh crap. I think I might be in trouble now. I probably shouldn’t have been playing with the system like that. “Ummm, I was just playing a game that I found online.” I hesitantly say.
“What kind of game?”
“Well, I found some game called ‘Red on Blue Force’. Boring title, but it had lots of cool tanks and stuff. I joined the Blue Force-”
I am interrupted when Mr. Reilly and some Air Force officer with two stars on his shoulders enter the room.
Oh crap! I don’t think that they are in here to just say “hi”. I’m in so much trouble. Mr. Reilly looks at me with what I interpret to be a stern expression. The General is harder to read. He just looks ready for whatever happens.
“So, Brianna, you caused Dr. Edmundson and everyone a scare there when you failed to respond. What happened?” Mr. Reilly asks.
“Umm, well, the MRI machine kinda messed me up?”
Mr. Reilly just looks at me expectantly. “We know about that. What happened just now?”
Oh yes. I am in trouble. “I got kinda bored while Dr. Edmundson was running the diagnostics thing, so I found a game and sorta started playing it?” I kind of ask and say in an attempt to make it sound like it wasn’t really a big deal.
Mr. Reilly looks from me to Dr. Edmundson. I glance over and Dr. Edmundson shrugs his shoulders. “I’m not sure sir. I am glad that Bree had the idea about using the Land Warrior System to run health diagnostics on her and that it worked.” He looks at me and smiles encouragingly before he frowns. “However, If Bree was a computer; I would say that she was at 90% CPU utilization and close to crashing.”
Oh, that sounds bad.
Mr. Reilly looks worried now. “From sorta playing a game, Brianna? When was the last time you just sorta played a game?” He looks expectantly at me.
Oh yeah, he’s a little upset with me. I don’t even need the voice stress monitor to tell me that. I feel like I am ten inches tall now. I want to pull the covers over my head and hide. I am so close to crying and I hate that.
Mr. Reilly sighs with frustration. “Please say that it wasn’t called ‘Global Thermo-Nuclear War’.”
I instantly get the reference and I panic a little. What if I was playing a real war? Real people could be dead right now and I could be responsible. I don’t think that we are fighting the Chinese, so maybe it really was just a game, but I that worry pushes me over the crying edge.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Reilly, I didn’t mean to. I thought it was just a game and I was only trying to help.” I say as tears stream down my face and my nose starts to run. Geez, how pathetic and wussy can I get here?
I am a little surprised when Mr. Reilly walks over to my side and hands me a tissue. “Shh, it’s okay Bree. The President hasn’t called me yet, so I’m sure that it was just a game.” He says with a hint of a smile. “Tell us what happened.”
I dab my eyes with the tissue. Hmmm, maybe there is some advantage to this crying problem I seem to have. “Well, I found this game called ‘Red on Blue Force’ and it had one guy playing the Chinese army, umm, Colonel Adams and Lt. Colonel Ashton was playing the U.S. Army as the Blue Force.”
“Okay, and?” Mr. Reilly asks as he glances back to General Evans.
“Well, I noticed that Colonel Ashton was getting his butt, I mean, he was going to lose, but mostly because his computer controlled commanders were taking too long to understand and respond his orders. He was also missing some reports from his scouts. So, I, umm, sorta helped the computer with his commands.”
“Helped?” Mr. Reilly asks.
“Umm, yeah. It was taking the computer a super long time to understand even the simplest command from Colonel Ashton; he has a pretty bad accent. So, I just told the computer what he was saying.”
Once again, Mr. Reilly looks back at General Evans. “Sir?”
He frowns in thought as he rubs his chin. “Hmmm, it could be the war game training sim that the Command and General Staff School runs. It has been a long time since I attended that school, but that was one of the games we ran.”
“Isn’t that in Virginia somewhere?” Mr. Reilly asks.
“There are some satellite schools in the state, but the main school is in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.” General Evans says.
Mr. Reilly turns back to me and sighs with frustration. “Okay, it sounds like you probably didn’t start a war, but it also looks like I have a few calls to make.” His voice thing is in the green, so I guess that he’s not mad at me anymore. He looks down a little and directly into my eyes. “And you, until we get your access levels ironed out, again, you need to not play with anything else in that system, okay?”
“Yes sir.” I say, glancing up to meet his gaze and still feeling miserable about what I did.
Mr. Reilly turns to General Evans. “Sir? I’m going to need access to a secure phone.”
“Of course, sir. You can use the one in my office.” General Evans says as he and Mr. Reilly exit the room. Mr. Reilly gives me one last sort of stern gaze before he leaves.
It takes a few seconds before Dr. Edmundson or my mom decide to say anything. I think that they are both still processing how much trouble I might be in and what to do next. My mom looks expectantly to Dr. Edmundson.
He clears his throat. “Yes, well, umm, where were we? Oh yes, your monitor. Well, until you zoned out on us, everything was responding normally and everything looks good now too.”
“Okay...” I say, weakly nodding my head.
“So, I’d like to monitor you for another twenty or thirty minutes, check out a few things. I think that having this monitor will help with your testing.” Dr. Edmundson says, sounding a little excited about that last thing. “Well, I think that I will let the test administrators know that you’re okay. Do you feel up to continuing with the testing in, say, thirty minutes?”
“Umm, sure?” I say, confused about why he would be asking me, but grateful at the same time.
“Great!” Dr. Edmundson smiles affectionately at me. “Plus, that will give Mr. Reilly a chance to make his calls. I am going to recommend that we just do a CAT scan on you next and I want to see if the MRI got anything before it shut down. I will be right back.” He says as he affectionately pats my leg once before he turns and exits the room.
My mom replaces Dr. Edmundson’s place at my side. She gives me a hug instead of an exam though.
She releases me. “I was a little worried there, honey. Okay, more than a little worried. You’re not going to play around with any more games, right?”
“I’m totally sure, Mom!” I glance down at my hospital attire. “Ummm, would it be possible to get my clothes back now?”
My mom laughs. “Sure. I will run down the hall and get them for you.”
I never felt so glad to get out of that darn gown and put on my umm, underwear and regular clothes. I know, I know. They are called panties, but I’m having trouble with that word.
One of the staff doctors stops in after only ten minutes to do a check-up. I guess that is just so that the facility can CYA. Mr. Reilly doesn’t return or call during my thirty minute downtime, so Dr. Edmundson lets the facility know that I am ready for more testing and after a quick jaunt down the hall, I get to strip down and wear a gown again for the CAT scanner.
The CAT scanner is boring, but I’ll take boring to the crazy MRI scanner any day.
After the CAT scan, they make me keep the gown on for my very first pelvic exam. Well, I get to watch my mom get examined first. Since we both need exams for our records, Dr. Howards, our gynecologist, asks who wants to go first. My mom volunteers to go first. I think she does it so that I won’t have an excuse to be a wuss about it. On the plus side, there aren’t any needles involved. On the negative side, there is this big clamp thing that I am not looking forward too. Maybe my nanites will eat it.
Dr. Howards does seem to be a nice guy though. He is very professional and gentle with my mom. He makes sure that she knows exactly what he is going to do, when he is going to touch her and where. That is a little reassuring for me.
My turn at the table proves to be, umm, not fun. Dr. Howards uses some of the CAT scan imagery to try and reassure me that my hip structure looks perfectly healthy for a girl my age. Based on that, I don’t think that he knows about my medical history. I take a peek at his terminal and spot that my sex is listed as ‘female’, so I guess that he really doesn’t know. I just smile and thank him for his observation. My mom elects to remain silent, but I think she knew I wasn’t really thrilled with that bit of knowledge.
He also decides that during his exam and while my feet are strapped to his torture table stirrup things that it would be a good time to educate me on my new plumbing.
“So, Brianna, have you had any abnormal flows during the past six months?” Dr. Howards asks as sets a new, plastic wrapped speculum on his instrument tray. That’s the clamp or spreader thing that I hope my nanites eat.
“Umm, no sir. I did not.” While I try not to laugh at my own joke, my mom frowns at me, but sort of smiles at the same time.
I am also able to honestly answer “No” to his question about me being sexually active or using contraceptive medication. He elects to helpfully remind me that if I do decide to take birth control pills, that I should still insist that my partner wears a condom due to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. TMI! Nothing like a captive audience, I guess. I just wish we could skip right to the new powers testing module thing and avoid this pelvic exam entirely.
Other than the impromptu sex-ed class, I learn that “Everything is normal.” I really don’t like that speculum thing, but when my nanites detect and helpfully ask if I want the foreign metallic object eaten; I reluctantly tell them to stand-down. I’m not sure why they asked about that and not the needles. Maybe it is because the needles actually cause a wound and the nanites are programmed to respond more aggressively in that situation.
Oh yeah, and once again, I really don’t like being a girl. Why can’t the girl exam be like the boy exam? You know, just turn your head and cough? Girl plumbing is way too complicated. It is a miracle that the human race has survived for as long as it has and if girl parts are so complicated and need regular invasive checkups; why do women live longer than men?
In the end, I still feel pretty damn violated. On the plus side, Dr. Howards informs me that I shouldn’t need another pelvic exam until I turn twenty-one. Now that would be one hell of a way to celebrate my twenty-first birthday, not. I am very glad that my mom was there with me. All of the strange sensations were incredibly overwhelming to me. Her calm, reassuring, everything is normal smile is the only reason that I didn’t cry. Well, that and the fact that she went before me and there is no way that I am going to make a big deal of something if my mom doesn’t.
I do wish that I could take a shower to clean the slimy feeling that the lubricant caused down there. My mom gives me a few of her wet wipe things that she always carries in her purse. I never understood why she needed those things, but the last few days are helping. I almost feel normal after a few wipes. Well, I feel a lot less yucky, but I still feel a little out of sorts down there. On the plus side, I am able to ditch the gown.
The allergy tests go pretty well. Surprise, surprise, I’m allergic to iron and man-made, artificial fibers. I don’t understand why I’m not allergic to steel, since steel is really iron, but I guess that steel is just more refined and that removes the allergic bits.
My mom gets called away during the allergy test to start her testing. That causes me a little concern, but Dr. Edmundson stays, so I guess I still have someone I can trust.
The vision test is a bit of a challenge for the testers. The standard eye charts can only measure to 20/5 vision and that is where they are stuck until they have the bright idea to move the chart into the hallway so they can get me 40 feet away. 40/5 is easy, so they ask me to just keep walking backwards until I can’t read the bottom line any more. 200/5 is where I end up and that is only because we run out of hallway.
Using his laptop, Dr. Edmundson is able to see what I see and hear what I hear. I can see how this system would be nice on the battle field. It would be like that Aliens movie, but better since the images aren’t all grainy and there aren’t any aliens trying to eat me.
My hearing ends up testing out mostly normal human baseline. Mostly. I test out at 20 Hz to 40,000Hz. Baseline is 20 Hz to 20,000Hz. A dog can go up to 60,000 Hz. So, I have above normal hearing, but not freakishly above normal. That’s cool. Maybe when I get a new cell phone I can put in that mosquito ring tone and jack it up to 30,000Hz so no one else can hear it.
Dr. Edmundson also uses his laptop to monitor me during the physical tests. The first physical test is the strength and endurance test. The strength one is some electronically controlled weights, while the endurance part is some super-sized tread mill thing. For the strength test, I manage to bench press 400 lbs pretty smoothly, but my max press ends at 500 lbs. As expected, my max press wipes me out, but less than twenty seconds later; I am able to do it again. Followed by another twenty second rest and again. I feel like I could keep doing this max press thing over and over again all day, but Dr. Edmundson stops me.
I’m amazed and even Dr. Edmundson is impressed. “Based upon your results and the monitor here.” He points to his laptop. “It appears that the medical nanites, in concert with your natural regen, are allowing your muscles to metabolize their energy supplies much faster than I would expect.”
“Oh, that’s cool.” I say, but I remember doing my max press in gym class and feeling spaghetti armed for at least five minutes and not being able to do hardly any lifting for almost thirty minutes. On top of that, as a guy, I was only able to max press 150 lbs and that was on a good day. I’m pretty damn strong for a little girl!
The treadmill is just boring. After fifteen minutes of running at a normal pace, it seems like I can just go all day. I try a sprint, expecting to feel the burn and stop after only a minute, at best, but instead, I feel perfectly fine after ten minutes of flat out running. I do end up sweating. I’m not sure if it is proper, but I decide to take off my sweat shirt, because I don’t really need to sweat more and I’ve seen plenty of women wearing only a sports bra in the gym. Oh wait, I mean I, umm, glow, because girls don’t sweat, they glow. Yeah, right. I am dripping wet, but feeling perfectly good to go when Dr. Edmundson signals me to stop after thirty minutes of full speed running. He hands me a sports drink and a towel. I smile at him and he quickly looks back down to his laptop display.
“Thanks Dr. Edmundson, how did I do?” I ask as I slow to a walk to help slow my breathing and cool down gently while I take a few sips from the sports drink. I know better to just stop and sit down after running. I am glad that he gave me a towel. I can’t believe how much I am sweating and how much that I want to rip off my sports bra right now.
Dr. Edmundson looks back up. “Excellent! I don’t know what to credit more for your performance. The nanites helped by boosting the oxygen supply to your muscles and improving your lung efficiency, while I think that your natural regen helped remove the fatigue toxins in your muscles. I stopped you because you were beginning to get dehydrated. So, that is something you will need to pay attention to during extended exercise.”
“Oh, that’s good to know, but I feel fine.” I smile at him as stop walking and step off the treadmill while I wipe the sweat out of my eyes with the towel. I think that my glamour is working on him again, because, once again, he quickly returns to looking at his screen. My current state of undress probably isn’t helping him any. I feel so embarrassed. I pat my neck and upper body down with the towel and throw my sweatshirt back on in an effort to help poor Dr. Edmundson.
“Yes, I know, but I thought that it would be safer to stop you before you hurt yourself and I’m sure that you will want to, umm, freshen up a little before we head for lunch.”
Crap! I forgot to bring my purse. I bet that my mom stuck a comb or something in there for me. Oh well, what I really need is a set of spare clothes and I am sure that my mom couldn’t fit those in my purse. I guess that I could splash some water on my face and fix my hair a little before we leave for lunch. “Hmmm, I think you’re right. I’ll head to the bathroom.”
Major Tom Hanson was a happy man. It took Sgt. Anders and himself less than thirty minutes to trace the log files and find out what happened with Server 2. As a bonus, they were able to do that without needing to shut the server down. Thus, he was ahead of schedule with the General’s Power Point After Action Review (AAR) briefing.
He was amazed by what they had discovered. He knew that the server’s OS was a multi-processor system designed to hyper-thread and parallel process within itself. But, what he didn’t know, until he cracked open the manuals, is that there was also code and procedures built-in that would allow the server to off-load processing to external systems, but those “grid-computing” procedures and code had never been utilized since it was envisioned to only be used with a hardwired connected system.
Following the log trail, at 1003 hours, a super-computer called “Whisper” connected from the DARPA network connected via mil.net. Then, five minutes later at 1008 hours, Whisper, as a trusted peer, engaged the server’s grid-computing procedures and assisted it with processing the natural language commands given by Lt. Col Ashton. Even with the network latency, the Whisper super-computer was able to process and return the commands insanely fast. Finally, at 1028 hours, Whisper disconnected without warning.
Based upon its node designation and raw speed, he could only assume that it was a super-computer. After all, what else could it be? DARPA was well known for experimenting with cutting edge stuff.
The idea actually made him a little excited. While in college, he had read about some research into human speech recognition and he knew it wasn’t easy. Human speech is capable of so many different tones and meanings that it was almost impossible for a computer to one hundred percent recognize and interpret human speech. Word Error Rate (WER) is generally higher when speed is a requirement. Take the phrase “Get out of here!”. Is that a simple command to leave or is the speaker expressing surprise? It all depends on the speaker’s tone of voice and inflection.
Granted, it was only a short period of time, but Whisper managed to make those distinctions with one hundred percent accuracy. Her voice sounded a little young to be used as a computer voice, but she sounded friendly and was easy to understand. An important consideration in a high-stress situation. Yes, just like ships and cars, all computers are female. Hal 9000 ruined that area for male dominance.
She knew when to ask for clarification when Lt. Col Ashton used too many acronyms and she even started to predict future requests based on past requests. She was almost human, except not even a human would’ve been able to talk directly to the server and respond as fast as Whisper did. She had to be some sort of AI, but not a full AI since those were banned.
One of his recommendations was to see if the Army could purchase or share time on the Whisper computer when it is completed. Near real-time human speech recognition could lead to the sci-fi Universal Translator that could save soldiers’ lives in foreign theaters of battle.
Major Hanson was deep in thought imagining some cool phone or PDA app when he heard one of the Specialists from outside his office yell, “Attention!” He looked up as he automatically rose from his chair and spotted General Roskaft entering the data center.
Crap! I’m not done yet, but it’s not 1300 hours yet. He must be really anxious to find out what happened.
“As you were, as you were.” General Roskaft said, waving his hands dismissively as he stalked towards Major Hanson’s office.
The General didn’t look pissed or impatient as he approached Hanson’s office. He actually looked more perplexed than anything else.
“Sir? I am just finishing up my Power Point now. Would you like to see it?”
General Roskaft shook his head ‘no’. “That won’t be necessary Tom. Who else worked with you or knows about this, umm, intrusion?”
Major Hanson struggled to control his confusion and fear. He wasn’t sure about what was going on. Considering the subject, the fact that General Roskaft used his first name only confused him even more. If he was in trouble, General Roskaft would be addressing him by his rank and last name only. “Sgt Anders is the only other personnel who was involved or has any detailed knowledge of the incident. He helped me pull and analyze the log files.”
“Okay. I need you to call him in here then. What I have to say will apply to both of you.”
“Yes sir!” Major Hanson said as he opened his door, stepped out and motioned for Sgt Anders to come over. He looked a little anxious about it too. Major Hanson could only shake his head to Sgt Anders inquisitive expression as he cautiously approached and entered his office. Major Hanson followed behind and softly closed his door as he looked to General Roskaft for clues to how he should proceed.
As his door closed, General Roskaft gave them both a quick smile to help reduce their fears. “You two can relax. I’m not here to bust your balls for not having the report done. I just got off the phone with the SecDef.” He paused as the importance of that statement sunk in for his audience. “Yes, he called me after he got a call from his boss. Need I say more about how high up the flag pole this thing goes?”
Major Hanson and Sgt Anders both looked at each other with shocked expressions before returning their gaze to General Roskaft.
“Apparently, this intrusion was an accident and a pretty damn highly classified accident at that. Well above my pay-grade. None of what happened today is to be ever mentioned to anyone outside of this room. Full need-to-know and national security are in effect. Got it?”
“Yes sir!” Major Hanson and Sgt. Anders chorused.
“Additionally, I need you to extract the relevant portion of the log file and send it, along with your report using the following instructions. Don’t lose it and shred it when you’re done. I have already securely deleted this from my inbox.” General Roskaft said as he handed Major Hanson a print out.
Major Hanson quickly glanced at it and recognized that it was a printed email and that the sender address belonged to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Not from the man himself, but definitely from someone in his office. Probably an IT guy.
“Once that is done, you need to delete and umm, over-write the log and report to ensure that it cannot be recovered from your systems. I’m assuming that you will know how to do that?”
“Good, and if you have the report on any removable media, that needs to be destroyed as well.”
“Yes sir. I don’t have it on anything other than my workstation here.”
“Excellent! Email me when you are done.”
“Yes sir!” Major Hanson said while cringing a little at the thought of emailing something that was supposed to be so top secret.
“Other than that, excellent work, you two, and sorry Tom, I was looking forward to that report, but now, no matter how curious I might be about it, I don’t want to know.” General Roskaft relaxed and smiled that the two of them. “But, if DARPA has another test accident, I don’t think that I will complain.”
The test facility doesn’t have its own cafeteria so we have to ride the elevator back to the surface world to use the hospital’s cafeteria. Surprisingly, that cafeteria has some pretty good food. The burgers and pizza look so yummy, but the smell of cooked grease makes my stomach turn. I sigh as I load up my tray from the salad bar.
Apparently, all the weight lifting and running not only dehydrates me, but it also makes me hungry since I demolish my salad. I am about to get up to get a second salad when my HUD alerts me to the arrival of Mr. Reilly and my mom. I wave to catch their attention and I get a little worried about how serious Mr. Reilly looks as he scans the room and spots us. He nods at me as he points to my mom.
They both walk over to our table and join us with my mom sitting beside me and Mr. Reilly sitting next to Dr. Edmundson.
My mom looks at me with a critical eye. “Why do you look so bedraggled?”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard my mom use that term and I’m not sure what it means, but I’m guessing she’s upset about my appearance. I know my hair is a little out of place, but it’s not that bad. I did the best I could using my fingers and I thought I did an okay job. “I had a bit of a workout on the treadmill.”
“Hmmpphh, I put a small brush and some extra scrunchies in your purse. Did you forget to bring it with you?” My mom asks, while knowing the answer already.
“Ummm, sorry. I forgot.” I really did forget, but I’m surprised that she forgot to remind me about it before we left the room this morning.
My mom digs into her purse and pulls out her hair brush. “Here, why don’t you go fix your hair?”
I run to the bathroom and out of habit, I almost enter the wrong door before I make a rapid course correction. I quickly glance around, but it looks like no one noticed my almost goof. My first venture into a women’s public restroom is anti-climactic and I’m surprised by how much nicer it smells compared to the men’s room. It’s not that it’s cleaner, but the lack of urinals might have something to do with it. It is the lingering smell of perfume in the air. Just enough to drown out the normal bathroom smells.
I notice that one of the stalls is occupied, so I have that to worry about. Well, I guess not worry. I am a girl, but I still feel like an intruder. I smirk at the idea of whoever is in the stall coming out and yelling at me for being in the wrong bathroom.
My hair isn’t that messed up, but it does look a little worse for wear. A few swipes with the brush, a little water to help tame the worst and my hair is back to looking almost pristine. I am glad that Whisper had such an easy to manage hairstyle. I am just finishing up when the toilet flushes and a woman exits her stall. She smiles at me as she steps up to the sink to wash her hands.
After fixing my hair and washing my hands, I return to the table and give my mom her brush back.
“Much better.” She smiles at me appreciatively.
“Thanks. Sorry that I forgot my, umm, purse. I’m just not used to having one.” I blush from a mixture of shame and more shame. Shame for forgetting it and shame for having one.
My mom smiles at me. “It’s okay dear. Just be more careful in the future.”
“Yes, Mooomm.” I smile at her as brightly as I can manage while inside I cringe a little at myself because I sounded just like Lindsay there. “Ummm, can I go get some more food now? I’m staarrvving!”
She just laughs and waves me away from the table.
Once again, I load up my plate with rabbit food, but this time I receive a few strange looks from the people running the kitchen. I don’t think that they are used to seeing people load up on the salad bar more than once. I agree with them, rabbit food is so inefficient. A fat, juicy burger would fill me right up and probably make me barf. I sigh with frustration, but I’m hungry and what can I say, the salad does look good.
“So, umm, Mr. Reilly?” I ask after I near the end of my plate and slow down enough to speak as I chase a slippery cherry tomato with my fork.
“Umm, am I in trouble with that ‘game’ thing?” I ask, trying not to sound too pathetic and girlie, but it’s a little hard to not cringe at the sound of my voice. By girlie, I mean, “In need of protection” even though I know that I would’ve asked the same exact question if I was a guy, but I don’t think I would’ve sounded so “dependent”.
Mr. Reilly surprises me with a smile. “Actually, I was very worried. I started at the top with you know who. Then, I spoke with the SecDef, who then spoke with the school’s commanding general. Then, the SecDef called me back a few minutes later laughing about the whole thing.”
“What?!? But...I...” I say, stuttering with confusion. I fully expected Mr. Reilly to say that I was going to end up in a jail somewhere. Is this girlie thing really that effective? I know that Lindsay could sometimes get away with murder just by sounding so pathetic, but really?
“I was able to read through the school’s report on the incident and the General in charge of the school and his IT staff were very impressed with our little experiment. The Major who wrote the report suggested that the school and the DOD buy DARPA’s new Whisper super-computer when we are done testing it.” Mr. Reilly says with a grin.
“Really, they think I’m a super-computer!?” I ask, stunned that I’m not in trouble and by the fact that my alias is probably going to end up matching my GEO character name. I am spared further top secret embarrassment by the arrival of Mrs. Townsend.
“Do you all mind if I join you?” Mrs. Townsend asks.
My mom looks up and smiles warmly at her. “Not all, here, let me move my tray and make some room for you.”
“Thanks.” Mrs. Townsend says as she settles into the open spot. She turns to me and smiles warmly. “So, Bree. You are such a pretty and polite young lady. I’m sure that you have all the boys in your school acting crazy.”
I almost choke on the cherry tomato that I just popped into my mouth when she says that. I glance at my mom and she’s not helping. She just has a mischievous little smile on her face. Almost like she is passively confirming Mrs. Townsend statement.
“Oh dear, are you okay? Did something go down the wrong pipe?”
I cough a few times just to help buy me some more time to reply. A little help here, mom! “Umm, yeah. Sorry about that. I’m just not used to thinking of myself as pretty. I’m kinda new to all the attention.”
Mrs. Townsend has a knowing smile. “Ah, so you were kind of a late bloomer then? I know how that is. My daughter was the same way. One day she was little Miss Plain Jane that no one paid any attention to and the next day, none of the boys would leave her alone.”
“Umm, yeah. That’s kinda how it is.” If she only knew.
“So, What do you think of our little facility here? It’s all new!” Mrs. Townsend says with conspiratorial whisper.
Does that have something to do with what Nikki and Sara warned me about? “New? Why is it all new?”
“Um, well, the DoD wanted a different test site so they decided to build it here.”
Mrs. Townsend’s voice stress meter is in the upper yellows, edging into the red zone there. I wonder if I should keep pushing. I am kind of curious. “Why did they want a different test site? Where was the old one?”
Her eyes look haunted and I feel my mom’s fingers dig into my leg as a warning. “The old site just wasn’t in the right place. I can’t really say more than that.” Everything she just said was in the red, but she tried to shrug it off with a smile.
Time to change the subject. She looks pretty tan for it being the middle of winter. “Did you recently have a vacation?”
My mom’s fingers relax as Mrs. Townsend’s happy smile returns. “Oh! Yeah. I somehow won a trip to Disney World for my family. We just got back from spending a wonderful week down there. Have you ever been to Disney World?”
I find myself returning her smile at the memory of the family trip that we took to Disney three years ago. “Yeah, it was fun. I was a little disappointed with the roller coasters though.”
“Well, I kind of expected them to be bigger or something. More scary.”
“My daughter and I thought that they were more than scary, but my husband and my son kind of said the same thing. Oh well, I guess you must have a little bit of a tomboy hidden inside of you.”
It takes all of my limited self-control to not laugh. “Yeah, maybe.”
I think that I was too subtle there, because she looks concerned. “Not that I don’t think that a girl like you can’t have a little tomboy inside them. I hope that I didn’t upset you there.”
“Oh no, it’s okay, Mrs. Townsend. I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed by all the attention, that’s all.”
“Oh. I am sorry to hear that dear.” She then turns back to my mom and engages her in small talk. They talk about things like gardening, fashion and even the weather. I tune it all out as I work on my salad.
Dr. Edmundson excuses himself and heads out. He wants to see if the techs were able to recover any imagery from the MRI before it shut down.
Lucky guy. I wish that I had a good excuse to leave the table. Mrs. Townsend keeps trying to pull me into their conversation about clothes and fashion. She also mentions that her daughter likes this and her son likes that more than once. I hope that doesn’t mean that she is thinking about trying to set me up with her son or something. My mom smiles patiently at me when I respond with simple “yes”, “no” and “I don’t know” answers. Well, more “I don’t know”, because, honestly, I don’t. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to faze Mrs. Townsend. She’s a one woman conversation machine. So chipper and up-beat that it’s almost criminal.
I feel relieved when Mrs. Townsend glances at her watch. “Oops, it looks like it is time to get you to your next test there, young lady.”
“Which one is it?”
She frowns for a second. “It’s not really one of my favorites, but we rebuilt it from the old facility here. It’s the reflex test, but once that one is done, than you will just have a magic powers test and finally, the new super machine test, machine thing. After that, you are done for the day. I think that they want your Mom to at least get a CAT scan done and maybe an MRI while you are doing your magic test.” She turns to my mom. “Is that okay?”
My mom gently laughs. “Sure. I completed my empathy testing while Bree was lifting weights and I was wondering when they would want me to try the machine that Bree broke.”
Mrs. Townsend laughs at my mom’s joke, but I can’t help feeling a bit nervous about that. What if they figure out that I did it on purpose?
“Oh good. Okay, are you both ready to head back into the dungeon?” Mrs. Townsend asks.
We both laugh and nod affirmatively to her. Once we descend back into the hidden facility, she leads us into a control room where a guy dressed in a lab coat sits facing a giant console of some kind.
Mrs. Townsend introduces him as, “Joe the Great Ball Cannon Dude”. The room over-looks another room that is about the same size and shape as a racquetball court. Except this racquetball court has a big red circle in the middle of it and the walls and ceiling have what look like baseball pitching cannons sticking out all over. The circle looks like it is about 10 feet in diameter. I wonder what it is for. The floor looks like it is slightly angled and there is a trough at the end. That must be to help collect the balls that the machines fire?
Joe notices my curiosity. “Okay, this isn’t as bad as it looks. Trust me; the new one is way better than the old one. This one only shoots tennis balls at people, not medicine balls and bowling balls like the old one did.”
Bowling balls!?!? Why am I not reassured by that statement?
“The object of this test is to stay in the red circle and not get hit by a ball for as long as you can go.”
“How long do most people make it?” I ask him.
Joe smiles nervously. “Well, we haven’t actually had a chance to test anyone like you in this one yet. It’s all pretty new, but we had a pilot volunteer to test it for us and his best time was 21 seconds. His results matched up pretty well to what we expected from a baseline human subject.”
21 seconds? That doesn’t sound very long. “Oh. Okay. So, if I last more than 21 seconds, can I have a ride in a F-16?”
He laughs. “I’m not sure that we can authorize something like that, but if you last more than 10 seconds on your first try, I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
“Hmmm, that’s not as good as an F-16 ride, but I guess I could accept an ice cream until the authorizations on the F-16 comes through.” I laugh and I am relieved when everyone laughs with me. I still would rather have an F-16 ride though.
Mrs. Townsend shows my mom and I out of the room, down a flight of stairs and into a small locker room area. Well, more of a changing room really. There are bins holding a few different sizes of padded head protection. It looks like the head gear that we have at Jujitsu. There are also a few brand new plastic safety glasses sitting there. That’s not a good sign. Not good because they think I will need it and not good because I bet I can’t wear it.
I inspect the head gear and as I expect, it is a padded foam covered with red plastic. I can’t wear that. Ditto for the plastic safety glasses. “Umm, Mom. Mrs. Townsend, I can’t wear this stuff. I’m allergic to the materials.”
Mrs. Townsend looks worried. “Oh dear, I’m not sure if we can let you do the test without it, but it is just tennis balls. Would you be willing to give the machine a try without?”
“I’m game. Mom?”
“Are you sure?” She asks as Mrs. Townsend looks at us expectantly.
“Sure, not a problem. I’ve played baseball with less and those balls hurt.”
“Okay hon, but I want them to stop the test if they start hurting her, Barb.”
Mrs. Townsend nods her head. “Of course, Jennifer. You and I can sit up there and watch. At the first sign of trouble, I’ll hit the emergency stop button myself. If you don’t beat me to it!” She finishes with a laugh.
My mom looks back at me. “Okay, Bree. You be careful in there. Don’t be afraid to yell out if things start hurting.”
I’m not sure exactly why she is telling me that. I will have zero problems with telling them to stop if it starts hurting me, plus I am betting that she will be able to tell them that it’s hurting me long before I could yell for help.
Mrs. Townsend points to a door conveniently labeled, “Test Area - Do Not Enter without Authorization”. I turn the handle, open the door and enter the room. It seems so much larger from down here. The cannons are very intimidating.
“Just stand in the middle of the red circle Bree and don’t leave it. If you exit the circle, then the test will stop and that will be counted as a loss.” Mrs. Townsend says.
“Okay.” I say over my shoulder as I enter the circle. I turn back to see the door close and hear the door’s lock click into place.
Rut Roh! This is it...
A few seconds later Joe’s voice comes over a PA system. “Okay. Test run one. Starting in T-minus 10,9,8,...”
I start looking around. I wonder which cannon the first ball will be fired from. Those cannons really look intimidating. I really hope that tennis balls are all that they can fire.
I activate my targeting systems and maybe a few more things that I don’t really need, but there is no such thing as overkill in this kind of situation.
“...4,3,2,1 and go!” Joe says, finishing the countdown.
An alarm klaxon sounds.
I’m surprised when the first cannon fires a ball from the control room wall behind me. I was expecting the first few to come from the front wall. I manage to dodge it, but it was close. The second ball comes at me from the front wall, but this time I’m watching my tracking system a bit better and easily dodge it. The third ball is fired exactly at the three second mark, but the fourth ball comes only half a second later. Then, the fifth ball comes at me half a second after that. The next five balls follow that pattern, until the ten second mark. At the ten second mark, two balls are shot at me from two different spots in the room. Whoa! That’s a surprise. Half a second later, two more. At the fifteen second mark, three balls are fired at me from three different spots in the room. This is starting to get a little tricky, but at least I have an ice cream coming to me now. At the twenty second mark, time seems to slow down a little bit for me when my targeting system detects four balls coming at me from four different directions. That slow down effect makes the four even easier to dodge than the three ball test sequence.
At the twenty five second mark, it jumps to five balls and those also prove easy to dodge.
By the forty five second mark, I can’t just dodge the balls. I have to start deflecting some of them with my hands and feet. I am glad that my hitting the balls on purpose doesn’t count against me. Especially when I start using one ball to knock another ball off trajectory.
By the time the sixty second mark comes along, I’m starting to get a little frazzled. I am jumping, ducking, twisting and deflecting my little heart out, but the circle is just too small. I am tracking the trajectories of twenty different balls and I can predict their paths perfectly, but there are just too many balls to dodge and stay in the circle. I finally get hit in the back by a ball at sixty two point thirty four seconds.
The test stops with a loud horn sounding. I spend a few seconds gasping for air as I watch the tennis balls continue to bounce around the room as they slowly dribble to a halt and roll down the floor to the collection trough.
I hear the excited voice of Joe, the dude who owes me an ice cream, over the speakers. “Excellent job, Whisper! That was amazing!”
I turn and look up to the control room with a smile. “I’ll take an extra-large banana split, with an F-16 ride on top please!”
I hear everyone in the control room laugh in the background as Joe replies. “Umm, I’ll look into the F-16, but I think that bananas are all I can afford right now.”
I glance up and pretend to give it serious thought. “Hmmm, it is a shame that I forgot my purse. I think I have at least five dollars in there. Do you think that would help with the F-16?”
Joe laughs. “Okay, I’m opening the door for you.”
I am guessing that a five isn’t enough for an F-16 ride. I hear the door click and I see it open a crack. I give my audience a wave and exit the room. My mom and Mrs. Townsend greet me a few seconds later.
“That was amazing Bree!” Mrs. Townsend says, excitedly. “I watched the pilot they tested and you were like watching the Matrix or something with how you moved!”
“Oh, thanks. It was actually kind of fun too.” I say as my mom sneaks in a quick hug on me.
Mrs. Townsend grins at me. “We can go back to the control room and watch the replay while Joe analyzes the data if you want.”
As we enter the control room, Joe starts the replay in super slow motion on the big high definition monitor. I am amazed when he spins a knob and the view rotates around me to capture the action from every angle.
“Wow! How did you do that?” I blurt out as I walk over and look over his shoulder.
Joe pauses the replay and turns to me with a shy smile. “How I did that is nothing compared to what you just did in there. You were absolutely incredible!”
I can’t help it, I blush. “Umm, thanks? But, really. How are you doing that with the replay?”
“You’re probably going to think I’m a geek or something, but...” He stutters to a stop and looks embarrassed about something.
I glance over and realize that I have my hand on his shoulder and my face is just inches from his face. I can’t believe that I just got all touchy-feelie there. I bet that my glamour is hitting him full force and I must stink from my latest workout. I jerk my hand back and blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...” I can’t believe that I just worried about how I smell to a guy.
He glances back up at me with a puzzled expression and smiles. “What? Oh, that’s okay. I’m just not used to other people being, umm, techie enough to even pretend to understand half of what I am saying.”
I think that he was going to say “nerdy” or maybe “geeky” there. “Well, umm, I think it’s awesome! It really looks like that ‘bullet-time’ camera system they used in The Matrix.” Oh gawd. Now I’m being all geeky on him.
His jaw drops. Well, it doesn’t actually drop, but he sure looks surprised by what I just said. “Exactly! I know I shouldn’t be, but I am surprised that you would know about that! I actually umm, borrowed, the idea from that movie.” He explains the entire system to us and while I find it very interesting, Mrs. Townsend interrupts him just as he starts to get into how the digital processing system builds the interactive video that he has paused on his screen.
He blushes again when he realizes what he was doing. “Sorry about that.” He spins back around in his chair and restarts the playback. “So. Your performance was great, but it looks like we caught you by surprise with the first ball. Based on that, I think that we can eliminate ‘pre-cog’ from your abilities, but your recovery and reaction speed was nothing short of amazing.”
He restarts the playback and everyone in the room “ohhhs” and “ahhhs” over it. Even I am amazed by it and I was there. He pauses it once again at the thirty second mark and hits another button on his console. The video is overlapped with a computer diagram of all of the ball’s trajectories. He then advances the video frame by frame, watching the trajectories and my reactions to the objects that I shouldn’t have been able to see.
“Actually, I think that your reflexes are almost as good as having a ‘pre-cog’ ability. How were you able to spot all the balls without seeing them with your eyes?”
I glance to my mom. Without Dr. Edmundson or Mr. Reilly here, I’m not sure how much I can admit too. “Ummm, I think that it’s classified?” I say, hesitantly as Joe and Mrs. Townsend look at me like they are expecting more of an answer. “I guess that I could kinda sorta see the balls all around me without, umm, looking?” It doesn’t look like they are buying my story. “Maybe Dr. Edmundson or Mr. Reilly would have a better idea?” I practically squeak out at the end.
I don’t know why I am so paranoid about the top secret stuff. I think that everyone in here is cleared, but without Dr. Edmundson or Mr. Reilly, I’m just not sure. Maybe I have seen too many spy movies or something, but I just don’t know if everyone here has that ‘need to know’ thing that they mention all the time about Top Secret stuff. I do know that I suck at lying still.
Joe looks at me dubiously. “Hmmm, maybe we could see if Dr. Edmundson or Mr. Reilly is available?” He looks at Mrs. Townsend. “Barb?”
Mrs. Townsend briefly frowns at me and I try to look elsewhere. She grabs the phone and makes a few calls before she is able to track down Dr. Edmundson. From the side of the conversation I can hear, it sounds like he is initially confused about the question regarding my ability. After Mrs. Townsend explains the test and the results, she smiles and sets the receiver down.
She turns and looks at me. “Dr. Edmundson is on his way. He was looking over your MRI results and sounded very excited about something. He said he will find Mr. Reilly and bring him along.”
We watch my video a few more times from different angles until Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson arrive. Dr. Edmundson has his laptop and a folder with a bunch of printed images sticking out of it. I guess that they are my MRI pictures.
Mr. Reilly looks more amused than worried. Based on the excited expression on Dr. Edmundson’s face, I guess that he might have had to listen to Dr. Edmundson rave about whatever it is on my MRI pictures. “So, what is the issue?” Mr. Reilly asks.
Joe looks a little nervous now that Mr. Reilly is here. “Umm...Director Reilly, sir. We completed Whisper’s reflexes testing and while I was trying to figure out how to best classify her power level, I needed to know how she was able to see the balls without looking at them.”
Mr. Reilly glances to the monitor with the paused test replay. “Can you show us the test from start to finish?”
“Umm, yes sir.” Joe says as he turns back to his control board. “First, if it is okay with you, I will show it in normal speed.”
“Sounds good.” Mr. Reilly says with a nod of his head.
“Okay, here it goes.”
My test starts over from the beginning and the minute goes by way faster than it felt to me. I’m almost a blur during the last half of the video. Even I am amazed by what I can do.
Dr. Edmundson’s looks pretty impressed. He pulls out one of the MRI pictures and studies it for a second before looking back at his closed laptop. He briefly frowns. “Based on what the MRI captured before the emergency stop, I can see what is boosting your physical abilities.”
Dr. Edmundson glances around the room. “Is it okay to go over it here, sir?”
“Yes, if will help to further our understanding of Whisper’s results here.”
I glance over to my Mom. “Whisper?” I ask, silently.
She just shrugs her shoulders.
I decide to raise my hand. “Umm, sorry, but Mr. Reilly?”
“Umm, why is everyone starting to call me Whisper now instead of using my real name?” I ask.
Mr. Reilly grimaces for a nano-second. “It’s more for your safety. Now that we are getting into the more sensitive portions of your powers, I think it would be wise if we followed the standard protocol and only addressed you by your code-name. We probably should have been following that protocol since we arrived. Sorry.”
“Oh.” I say, feeling a little unsure of myself.
Mr. Reilly smiles reassuringly at me. “It’s only while we are testing. None of the personnel who view your test file has your real name. It only displays your code-name, so using your real name is probably just confusing them anyway.”
I feel a bit embarrassed for not figuring that out myself. “Oh, okay. Sorry.”
Mr. Reilly smiles at me. “Not your fault Whisper, like I said, we should have started it from the beginning. Is Whisper okay? It was the first name I thought of when they asked for a code-name for you.”
I really don’t know what to think about the name. Obviously, I like the name, since I picked it for my character, but I just don’t know now. “Umm, yes sir. I think.”
“Well, if you want something different, let me know before end of day, tomorrow, so we can get it changed in the system before it is committed.”
I nod. “Yes sir.”
“Okay, so, Dr. Edmundson. Do you believe that the MRI images will assist us with this assessment?” Mr. Reilly asks, returning back to the original subject.
Dr. Edmundson nods. “Yes, sir. I believe it will help.”
“Okay, then, go ahead.” Mr. Reilly says.
“Okay, umm, Joe. Can you access Br...umm, I mean Whisper’s MRI images from here?”
Joe nods his head yes as he spins around and accesses his computer again. “Which image do you want me to start with sir?”
Dr. Edmundson looks at the printed image in his hand. “How about image 0012a?”
That image displays on the big screen monitor and it doesn’t make much sense to me. I think it is one of my leg muscles, but I’m not sure because it looks like I have geometric patterns inside of me and I don’t remember ever seeing that in biology class.
Dr. Edmundson walks over to the display and points to the patterns. “This is Whisper’s muscle tissue and that pattern is not normal. Her muscles, supporting tissues and skeletal structure have been reinforced by the nanites. That is why she is displaying such excellent physical abilities. Add that to her sensor package and that explains how she was able to provide us all with such a stunning performance down there.” He says with a quick glance to the ball pit area.
I can’t help it; I think that it’s flipping cool. A little scary, but cool because I only look like a weak girl while I am really more like my hero, Spiderman. Now, if I could only stick to walls and shoot webs from my hands.
“Thank you.” Mr. Reilly says with a smile. “Now, is there anything else, Dr. Edmundson?”
“Well, I do wish that I had been here and running the monitor on Whisper when she did the test. I bet we would have got some good data. Can we run the test again?” Dr. Edmundson asks, hopefully while glancing between Joe and myself.
The test was kind of fun. A lot less stressful than the weight test, but I am not looking forward to doing it again. “Umm, I was running stuff. Maybe the monitor captured what I did and saved it somewhere?” I ask, while I start to quickly search through my head to see if I can find or build something real fast.
Dr. Edmundson looks surprised while Joe and Mrs. Townsend just look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. “Oh! Excellent idea, Whisper. I’ll login and check.” Dr. Edmundson says, opening his laptop and booting it up.
Everyone else just kind of waits for his laptop to boot and I used that time to build a log using the replay of my sensors. As I monitor myself, I also watch Dr. Edmundson’s laptop and shadow along behind him to see where he would expect a log or something to exist. His slow click navigation through the system allows me to keep ahead of him and as he moves to click on a “logs” sub-folder, I move my file into that folder for him to find.
“Ahh! Here it is. We got lucky. It looks like your system did create a log of your test.” Dr. Edmundson says, happily as he clicks on it to open the file. When he does that, his laptop opens the file and feeds it to some replay utility that builds him a video replay of what my sensors captured.
I feign surprise at him finding the file, and I think that I am even able to fool my mom because I really am surprised. Surprised that what I did actually worked.
Joe glances over at Dr. Edmundson’s laptop and then he gets that geek expression that tells me he might have a cool idea on how to use the data. “Umm, Dr. Edmundson?” He asks.
Dr. Edmundson looks over at Joe. “Yes?”
“I think that, if you can give me a copy of that file, I might be able to merge it with the video and give you all a wicked cool replay. I mean, a very informative system analysis.” Joe says with a hint of embarrassment as he catches himself there going overboard on the geek factor.
Dr. Edmundson glances to Mr. Reilly, who just nods his head yes and smiles. “Umm, Joe? Do you happen to have one of those USB memory card things?” Dr. Edmundson asks.
“Oh, yeah! I mean, yes sir. Lemme get one for you.” Joe says as he turns and digs through a drawer. He quickly finds one and gives it to Dr. Edmundson. A few clicks and seconds later, Dr. Edmundson hands the USB stick back to Joe. Joe quickly slots it into a port on his system and goes to work without a word. It’s like everyone else in the room ceases to exist for him.
Yep, he’s a true geek and I can’t help myself. I find myself hovering over him again. He is so into what he’s doing that he doesn’t even register my presence. To avoid leaning on his shoulder, I casually rest my hand on the console. That contact opens up his system to me and I can see what he is trying to do. Unfortunately, matching the timestamp and sensor data from my system to the video doesn’t look simple, for him. He has some video syncing programs that he is trying to use and I can see that they are close to working, but the format those programs are expecting, doesn’t match my log file data. It will take a lot of manual labor and time for him to convert the data.
I decide to help things along by giving his program a tweak. I anxiously watch as Joe selects a filter option on his conversion program that based on my interpretation, sounds like it would do what he wants it to do. It wouldn’t have worked, but my tweak makes it work. I just hope that he doesn’t notice my tweak to his code.
“Ah ha! I knew that I could get it to work!” Joe says as he points to his monitor as it builds the video with the sensor overlay.
Color me impressed. I gasp and take a step back to view it on the big screen. “Wow! That’s awesome Joe!”
We all watch the replay once again and I have to admit, it is pretty darn cool to see the video with my sensor overlay showing trajectories and analyzing evasive pattern options. Mr. Reilly stares at the finished replay for a few seconds as the rest of us wait for him to reach whatever internal decision he needs to make. “That was very interesting, but what is your assessment for Whisper’s rating?”
I decide to use the current distraction to rest against the console again and now that the conversion is done, I remove my tweak from Joe’s program. I’m not sure what he will think if he tries to run the conversion again, but at least now, there won’t be evidence for him to find.
“Based on these results, I would put her at a solid Physical Exemplar 4 rating, Sir.” Joe says.
“Okay, Thanks Mr. Engstrom.” Mr. Reilly says as he glances at his watch and frowns.
Wow, I never knew that Joe’s last name was Engstrom.
“I think Whisper is running a little late for the magical testing station, right?” Mr. Reilly asks, looking at Mrs. Townsend.
She nods her head at Mr. Reilly before she glances at me. “Shall we get you over to Dr. Remus for magical testing, Whisper?”
“Sure?” I ask since I’m not really the one in charge here.
Mrs. Townsend nods her head and smiles. “Great! Let’s go.” She looks at Mr. Reilly and Dr. Edmundson. “And, I will check on his schedule for tomorrow for you.” She turns and motions for my mom to follow her with me. “I can show you the way to your test station after we drop Whisper off.”
We follow her out of the control room and I hesitantly glance back to Mr. Reilly. I feel somewhat reassured when he smiles at me.
Mrs. Townsend silently leads us down the halls until we arrive at a nondescript door. She knocks and I hear a booming voice call out. “Come in!”
She opens the door and motions for me to enter ahead of her while silently asking my mom to stay out of sight. Sitting behind a large and expensive looking wooden desk, I spot a man who looks to be in his forties. He is wearing an expensive looking suit and I can’t help but think that he looks a little snobby.
He sniffs and gives me a look that tells me he is not happy about me being late. “Well, I can see that you ran a little over on your last test, but I am not about to let that make me late for my tee time with the General.”
He pauses for a second and looks to Mrs. Townsend as if he is surprised that she hasn’t already left. “Thank you for bringing her, Barbara. I can take it from here.” He says, dismissively.
She looks startled by his rudeness and glances to me for a second. I smile at her and reassured, she looks back to the jerk. “Yes, Dr. Remus just let me know when you’re done with Whisper and I will come fetch her.”
“Just return in...” He glances at his expensive looking watch. “Say, thirty minutes. I shall be done with her by then, if not sooner.”
“Yes, Dr. Remus.” Mrs. Townsend says, softly closing the door behind her.
Her voice stress hit the upper yellows there. I decide that I don’t like this jerk. Why couldn’t we have just used Sir Wallace’s assessment? I turn away from the door and look back to Dr. Remus. He intensely stares at me for a minute. His stare is starting to creep me out. I nervously fidget a little before I start to feel a little pissed off. Just who in the hell does this jerk think he is? I switch over to my magical sight and I can see that he has a few items on him and in the room that radiate a little bit of magical energy. I spot a heavy looking wooden door off to the right of his desk that is glowing with a magical protection ward. The ward looks sloppy and I think that I could easily disarm it if I wanted too. Sir Wallace’s quickie ward at the lab looked stronger and better designed than what this clown has on that door.
“Hmmphh.” He finally breaks his stare. “My Inner Sight shows me that you have some weak magical potential. Probably more of a result of your Sidhe nature than anything else.”
Yes, he said Inner Sight as if it was some important magical ability that only he can have. At least, that is how I’m interpreting it.
Reaching a decision, he rolls his executive leather chair back, stands up and heads toward to the door with the sloppy ward on it. “Let’s get this test over with, shall we? I have an area setup inside the next room here.”
He looks a little out of shape to me, but I guess that round is a shape too. He looks back to me, seemingly surprised that I’m not jumping at his command. “Nothing to fear girl, the area is perfectly safe. I’ve built the strongest protections into this area.”
I just nod at him and let him lead me into the other room. I don’t trust myself to not say something that would really piss him off. If I was surprised to be called Whisper, being called ‘girl’ is even more surprising and irritating. Once we pass through the door, I’m caught off guard by how large the testing area really is. It looks like a firing range to me and maybe it was originally designed to be one. He has some dummies set up against the far wall and a large pyramid structure made out of chrome tubes with some sort of crystal on top of it. The crystal has some weak magical residue inside of it. There is also circle of some kind scribed into the floor off to the side.
He points to the pyramid thing. “Stand in the center of the Pyramid of Ra so I can take a magical energy reading of you.”
“Okaay.” I say. I feel a little dubious about this so called Pyramid of Ra thing. It looks so cheap and phony. Where did the DOD get this guy from? I just decide that it will be easier if I just do what he asks. No matter how dumb it makes him look. He probably can’t tell anyway.
He takes out some wand thing with a crystal that looks the same color as the one above me. He mutters some words that sound like Latin as he waves his wand around in tiny circles.
I expected him to say something like “Abbra Ca-dabra” and have some plastic flowers shoot out of his wand, but there must be some magic involved in this farce because the crystal in the pyramid begins to flicker and glow.
He makes a big production out of it by screwing up his face like it’s costing him a lot of effort to maintain his magical investigation of me. After thirty seconds, he exhales a mighty breath and drops his wand to his side as the glow in the crystal above me fades.
“Okay girl, you can come out now. It is just as I thought. You have some magical energy, but nothing dangerous.”
I am really starting to dislike this ‘girl’ crap of his. I expect him to want me to stand in the circle next so he can fake another test for me, but when I start to head for it, he stops me and points to the center of the room. “Stand here, while I enter my Circle of Protection. I don’t expect any danger from your attempts at using magical energy, but better safe than sorry.”
The jerk. I watch as he enters his circle and makes complex hand gestures while saying something that once again, sounds a little like Latin to me. I’m completely surprised when a magical barrier springs to life around him. It only takes me a second of looking at it to realize that it sucks. It has more holes in it than a slice of Swiss cheese.
He looks at me with a satisfied smile. “Okay, girl. It is quite safe for you to show me what magical energies you think you can harness.”
I feel half tempted to try that high level Phantasmal Killer spell on him, but decide that wouldn’t be too smart. No matter how deserving he might be.
He takes my hesitation for fear or lack of ability. “It’s okay girl. Just give whatever you can do a try. You may aim it at one of those dummies against the wall there.”
“Umm, Dr. Remus, sir?” I ask, adding extra hesitation and uncertainty into my voice. I pull up the icon for my fire mage’s fireball spell and consider trying to cast it, but I don’t want to try that in this place. As weak as the protections in this room appear to be, if it worked, I might accidentally blow something up.
“Yes, girl?” He asks, impatiently.
“Well, I don’t really have any spells or anything that I can cast at a target. I have some illusion spells that I can cast on myself though.”
“Fine, then. Cast them and show me your parlor tricks.” He gestures with his hand impatiently.
I really don’t like this guy, but I do what he asks. I start with my Blur spell and after thirty seconds, I drop it when I notice him looking impatient again.
“Is that all you can do?”
“Umm, no. I can cast an illusion that will make it look like I have makeup on.”
“Bah!” He dismisses his flimsy protection ward and steps out of the circle. “I think that we are done here girl. Let’s step back into my office so I can fill out my assessment before I am late for my tee time.”
I can’t say that I’m not happy to be done with this test. Dr. Remus is an idiot and the sooner I can be out of his hair, the better. I drop my magical sight when we walk back into his office. He returns to his overstuffed chair while motioning me to sit in one of the cheap plastic things he allows visitors to use in his august presence. I’m very careful as I sit so that I don’t accidentally touch any skin to the chair.
He pulls out a form of some kind and begins to write on it with an expensive looking silver pen. It takes me a little effort to read his writing upside down, but he checks the box for “Wizard Rating” and writes a one in the open box next to it. I’m actually a little shocked that he would rate me so low. Especially after Sir Wallace and Fey’s assessment yesterday. That just reinforces my low opinion of this charlatan.
Dr. Remus writes in the comments section, “Examination indicates that subject contains some inherent magical energy, but that reading was at best, low. Subject might achieve a level two rating after years of training and dedication.” He looks at it for a few seconds before he signs the form with great flourish and hands it to me. “Take this with you and give it to Barbara. Don’t lose it. I will be most displeased if I am forced to fill out another one for you.”
I stand and take the offered form from his hands. “Umm, thanks?” I say, not really feeling it, but saying it only out of habit.
“Fine. Now go, girl. Find Mrs. Townsend.” He says as he rummages through his desk without even looking at me. “Now, where did I put my golf shoes?” I hear him mutter as I leave his office.
I lean against his door and sigh with relief after I close it behind me. After a few seconds, I pull up my internal mini-map and head towards the administrative section to find Mrs. Townsend. I find her just as she exits an office a few meters ahead of me, her back to me.
“Mrs. Townsend?” I say, lifting my voice to carry down the hall.
She stops and turns around with a confused look on her face until she spots me walking towards her. “Oh! Br...Whisper! I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Did Dr. Remus finish already?”
“Ummm, yeah. He gave me this to give to you.” I say, handing her the paper form.
She glances at it curiously for a second. “Okaay. I guess I will add this to your file. Do you want to follow me or wait here in my office?”
I look at her helplessly and shrug my shoulders. “I dunno?”
She smiles. “Follow me then. After I put this in your file, we can hunt down your mom before we venture into the new test machine area.”
She leads me down the hall and into a large records room. A woman sits behind a desk there with a brand new looking computer with dual screen LCD monitors. I itch to touch it and take a closer look at it, but Mrs. Townsend just hands her my test sheet.
“Mary? Would you mind scanning this into Whisper’s file please?”
This Mary woman smiles as she takes the sheet. “Sure Barb. Not a problem.” She turns to me and whispers conspiratorially. “Was the noble Dr. Remus being his normal difficult self?”
I’m a little shocked that I’m not the only one here to thinks he’s, ummm, not nice. I just nod my head affirmatively and return her smile, glad that I am not alone in my assessment.
“Well, don’t let him bother you. You won’t have to see him again.” Mary says with a smile.
That makes me feel happy and I return her smile. “Thanks, ma’am!”
Mary surprises me by getting up and giving me a quick hug. “Oh, you are just so precious! Do you have a boyfriend?”
Mrs. Townsend gasps. “Mary!”
I don’t know what to think. My mind goes blank from the shock of the idea that I would (a) have a boyfriend and (b) want to have a boyfriend if I didn’t have a boyfriend. I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised that other people would wonder about my single status. I know that if I had seen a girl who looked like I do now, I would be wondering if she was single too. Does John count? He is a boy and he is my friend, but I’m pretty sure that Lisa would kick my ass if I tried to claim him as such.
“Ummm...” I about all I am able to get out as I search for some way to answer her question. I can feel my face burning up from the embarrassment too. That only makes me feel even more confused and awkward.
“Oh! I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I was just thinking that my son would probably like you.” Mary says as an apology.
Crap. My glamour must have hit her. I really need to figure out how to shut that thing down. I feel a little better and that makes me laugh. “Oh, that’s okay, umm, Mary. It’s my fault.”
Mary blushes and nervously laughs, trying to wave off my objections. “It’s totally my fault! I shouldn’t have put you on the spot like that.”
“No, really. It’s my fault. I have something called a ‘glamour’ that somehow makes people like me more and I think that it might have hit you.”
Mary waves my explanation off, like it doesn’t matter. “Oh no dear, totally my fault.” She turns to a smiling Mrs. Townsend. “Barb, don’t think that I don’t know that you’re already scheming for a way to introduce her to your son!”
Mrs. Townsend smiles at Mary with a satisfied smirk. “Maybe. I might have to bring him along to help carry stuff when we go to the mall tonight with Amanda.”
Now they are both ignoring me, which is good because I’m entering panic mode. The mall!? Who’s Amanda? Does Mom know about this? She has to know about this. I rewind the lunch conversation that I mostly ignored and search for keywords like ‘shopping’ and ‘Amanda’.
I play back the first and discover that my mom agreed to go to a shopping mall with Mrs. Townsend and her daughter, Amanda, tonight. I even answered ‘uh huh’ to the idea. Shows how much I was paying attention. That rewind causes me to I miss the rest of Mary’s and Mrs. Townsend’s conversation. I guess that they resolve their fight over me amicably since their laughter causes me to focus on the real-world again.
Mrs. Townsend checks her watch. “Well, I think it’s time to get you down to Aladdin’s Lab.” Mrs. Townsend smiles as she uses air quotes around Aladdin and Lab.
I barely even notice her attempt at humor. I really really hope that her son doesn’t go. I was only tricked into helping my mom and Lindsay shopping once. I hope her son is smarter than I was and says “no!” to the entire idea. I mean, it would be like some blind date thing, but not a date, because I am not a date for some dude! That would be gross.
I end up obsessing about that all the way down to entrance to the test area. I’m startled out of my thoughts of doom and gloom by the arrival of my mom.
“Bree? What’s wrong honey?” My mom asks, looking concerned.
“Oh, umm, nothing. Just worried about going to the mall tonight.” I say, trying to shrug it off with a smile.
“Why would you be worried about that? We need to get you some more clothes and since we don’t really have a car, Barb has graciously offered to show us around.”
“Oh, no reason, I guess it’s okay.”
Mrs. Townsend briefly frowns at me before her expression changes to alarm. “Oh, no dear, I didn’t mean to intrude. If you’re worried about having Amanda and me, we could skip. I just mentioned the idea to your mom and I thought it might be helpful for you since she mentioned that none of your old clothes fit you.” Mrs. Townsend says, trying to make me feel better.
That just makes me feel worse. Like I am now being the difficult one. “Oh, no, that’s okay. I was just surprised and I’m not sure how everyone will react to me at someplace like a mall.”
“Oh dear, you’ll be just fine. You’re beautiful.” Mrs. Townsend says, totally not getting how I’m not a normal teenage girl who would consider that a positive.
My mom grabs my hand and gives me a quick squeeze. That keeps me from really panicking over the idea of being seen in ‘the wild’ by hordes of other teenage girls and, shudder, boys.
Mrs. Townsend uses my lack of further protests as an excuse to wave her card over the door access pad. It beeps, turns green and the door unlocks as Mrs. Townsend turns the metal handle. We enter another high-tech control room that overlooks a giant human sized egg shaped device attached to the floor with masses of wires and conduits leading into it. The ‘egg’ is hinged on the left side and open, displaying a padded bed that is canted at a forty-five degree angle.
I am guessing that I will have to lie down inside that egg thing and probably be sealed into it. That does not make me feel too excited, but this is the last test of the day and once it is done, we can go shopping. I wonder if I can ask them to put in some overtime and run more tests. Maybe even redo my magic test since the dude was such an idiot.
“Whisper, this is Aladdin. He designed the tester.” Mrs. Townsend says, bringing my observations to a halt.
I look to the casually dressed man standing next to some LCD screen. He smiles at me. “Hi. Pleased to meet you. Don’t let that thing down there scare you. It’s perfectly safe. No intense magnetic fields to worry about like the MRI.”
“Oh, thanks.” I say. Darn. I was kind of hoping it had magnets in it. Maybe it would knock me out so I don’t have to go shopping.
I knew there was going to be one of those.
“I do have a special suit that you will need to change into so that the sensors can monitor you while you’re in the nest.”
Oh, that’s good news. I bet that I can’t wear that due to the man-made fibers, but if that is the case, then I won’t have any way out of going shopping tonight.
“Oh yeah, I saw the note in your file about your allergies, so I modified the suit to be made out of silk instead of Lycra for you.”
Crap. This Aladdin dude, if that is really his name, is way too helpful.
“Oh, thanks.” I say, smiling at him politely. “What about my mom? She needs to be tested too.” I’m hoping that he won’t have one that she can wear now and we will have to stay late so he can make something for her.
“No problems, she can wear the original suit.”
Darn it! This guy is good. “You just made a new suit out of silk? Just like that?” I ask, incredulously.
“Oh yeah, I was able to use your measurements, so it wasn’t that hard for my rapid proto-type system to put it together for you. You’re lucky; it just got done five minutes ago. Sorry, it took a few hours.” Aladdin says, smiling apologetically as he begins to hand me a plastic wrapped item.
Yes, he really is too helpful, but I think he forgot about the plastic wrap. I bet that I can delay things by a few minutes with an allergic reaction to that.
“Oh, wait. Sorry, almost forgot.” He laughs as he rips the plastic off and gently hands me the folded silky suit thing.
I instantly feel the sensors and circuits woven into the fabric. There are millions of tiny sensors embedded in the suit. Realizing that I could spend minutes studying the suit’s electronics and that people might get worried if I just blanked out on them, I force myself to not look at them right now. “Oh, thanks.” I say after what I hope was an unnoticeable delay.
“Do you wanna go first, or shall we have Psyche go first instead?”
I jump at that question. “Psyche?” I ask, looking back at my mom with confusion.
Ah, no. That’s okay. Thanks.
She grins shyly at me. “Well, I needed a name for my MID, that one was available and I didn’t know what else to pick.”
“Oh, well, it’s kinda cool. Is Dad Cupid?” I ask, smiling mischievously.
She just laughs. “To me, he is.”
I look back to Aladdin and he’s just standing there looking a little confused. I guess he didn’t know that we’re related. Maybe he still doesn’t. “Umm, I can go first. Since I have my suit already.” I say, regaining his attention. I really hope that this suit thing doesn’t fit.
“Oh, good!” He points the door behind me. “That leads to the changing room and to the, umm, Nest. If you don’t mind, we can get this started.”
“Okay!” I say with a smile as I clutch the suit against me to keep it from slipping out of my hands. Maybe, if I hold it too tight, something will break.
Mrs. Townsend helps me find the changing room. “Umm, Mrs. Townsend, do I need to strip completely down for this suit?”
She nods her head yes and smiles reassuringly at me. . “I’m afraid so dear. Here, lemme close the door for you and give you some privacy.”
It takes me a few seconds of just standing there before I get the courage to get this over with. I nervously take a quick glance around the room to make sure there are no hidden cameras and finding none, I quickly strip out of my clothes. As I slip my legs into the suit, I feel the embedded circuits of the suit. There are tons of nano-scale sensors built into the suit and I analyze them as I slowly pull the suit up. They appear to be passive and need some external power supply to get them to work. Maybe the egg generates a field that interacts with the suit’s sensors and creates some sort of super-duper powers map thing-a-ma-jig. Or, maybe this Aladdin dude just makes stuff up after hacking into the manual test files.
Once it has reached my neck, I zip it up via the helpful plastic zipper. Hah! I knew that Aladdin wouldn’t be able to make it completely allergen free. I feel a slight tingle in my finger, but it quickly fades. I guess he knew about it because there is a silk layer under the zipper that keeps it from making contact with my bare skin.
Darn it. This guy is good.
To make matters even worse, the suit fits like a glove and leaves nothing to the imagination. I guess that it is really like wearing my skin-tight workout clothes, but I just feel more exposed since I don’t have my underwear on. Realizing that I am just being silly, I force myself to open the door.
Mrs. Townsend smiles at me. “Ah, there you are. I was just getting ready to knock on the door to see if you were having any problems.”
“Nope. All good.”
“Great, let’s get you into Aladdin’s machine and get this test done with. I can’t wait to go shopping tonight! It’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to just go and have fun at the mall.”
“Oh, okay. Are you sure that this thing is safe? I mean, I wouldn’t want to get sick and not be able to go to the mall tonight!” I say with maximum false enthusiasm levels. I’m not sure what I am more afraid of right now. The machine or the mall. Pretty silly, huh?
“Perfectly safe. Nothing to be afraid of. Aladdin knows what he’s doing.” Mrs. Townsend says as she leads me to the egg and motions for me to step into it.
I gingerly step in and carefully lie down on the foam padding. It’s a good thing I have this silk suit on.
“Don’t forget to pull your hood on dear.” Mrs. Townsend says.
Oh, yeah. There is a hood built into this suit. That might help with the padded head rest. I pull it over my head and tuck my hair in. The hood is pretty tight and it also has all those sensor things built into it.
“Don’t worry, it’ll all be over before you know it.” Aladdin says with a chuckle. “Okay, closing the hatch. Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle until this ride has come to a complete stop.”
That makes me laugh as the egg vibrates a little and I hear the door begin to swing shut. My visual world turns completely black as the lid softly closes and locks with a click, but my new found computer world is getting rather busy.
“Test sequence Alpha beginning in five, four, three, two, one, and blast off!” Aladdin says.
I feel the egg power up and the sensors in my suit spring to life. They aren’t capturing anything yet, but the egg is still going through its power-up phase. I can see all of the diagnostic self-checks it is running on itself in preparation for the main test sequence.
I flinch as the world turns white as I am bathed in light. My flare compensation kicks in, but it doesn’t seem to really help since the light is so over-powering. That distracts me and I lose .5 seconds of my own analysis of what the sensors and the egg are capturing from me.
This machine is bleeping amazing. Somehow, the light waves and their reflections from the cells in my body are being detected by all of the nano sensors in the suit and the sensors in the egg itself. The light signatures of my cells are apparently unique enough to somehow give the machine a read on what my powers might be. Well, that or like I thought earlier, Aladdin is just doing a lot of smoke and mirrors while hacking my test files.
Regardless, it is still generating a massive amount of data for someone or something to read and figure out. I follow the data trail back to a high powered super-computer. I watch the processing for a few seconds before I realize that it’s going to take it a few hours for it to finish all its calculations and there is no way that I can or should try to help it along. It is going slow because it is referencing each data point with some huge genetic database that is located on a different network. All I have is the IP address and a quick who is only makes me more worried. The database server IP address looks like it is coming from the NSA.
I want to take a closer look at the database, but the data suddenly stops coming into the system. I back out and open my eyes. The light has stopped and Aladdin’s egg is done with its scan of me. I’m a little surprised. It only took thirty seconds and now that I took a peek at the database, I am a little worried about what it might find about my powers. What if it discovers my computer powers? Will Nikki’s and Sara’s fears become real? Will the government try to kill me?
My fears are brought to an end when I hear the egg’s door click and a motor start to raise the door. The light from the room streaming in makes me blink my eyes and that surprises me since I just had thirty seconds of super-bright light rain down on me from every angle.
“That was great Whisper! We will have you out of there in a jiffy.” Aladdin says over the egg’s intercom.
“Umm, okay. Thanks.” I say.
Mrs. Townsend helps me back into the changing room and I have never felt so glad to see my sports bra and panties. I mean underwear. My mom trades places with me and I walk back upstairs to the control room to watch her enter the egg. Dr. Edmundson is there, but he doesn’t look happy.
“What’s wrong Dr. Edmundson?” I ask.
“It’s nothing. I was hoping to monitor you during the test, but we lost connection with your system when the egg closed.”
“Oh, okay. I don’t think there was much for it to report anyway. All it did was shine a real bright light at me. It didn’t hurt, but it was pretty boring.” I say, trying to sound like Lindsey when I try to talk to her about video games.
I’m now worried about my mom and what this thing will find out about her. What if she has some super dangerous power that the government doesn’t like?
I wanted to play with Aladdin’s system like I did with Joe’s, but I have a feeling that he might notice, especially since there isn’t a cool video monitor to distract everyone. He’s also paying very close attention to every gauge and status display, so any blip that I might cause would be instantly noticed.
My mom’s test only takes thirty seconds, too. I breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of her blinking her eyes as she exits the egg. Since it looked like the computer would take a few hours with my data, maybe it will also take a few hours with my mom’s. That would give us four to six hours to plan our escape. Where would we go? Maybe we could hide in Canada? How would we get there with all the helicopters and dogs that would be hunting us down? Is that the real reason that Mrs. Townsend offered to go to the mall with us tonight? Is she really a super-secret assassin with orders to kill us if we try to run?
I’m really starting to panic and feel super paranoid about everything when my mom, still in her suit, barges into the room and hugs me. “What’s wrong, Bree?”
I can’t really tell her, not here anyway. “I was so worried about you!”
“Bree?” My mom asks, standing back so that she can look directly into my eyes. She’s not buying my explanation.
I purposely move my eyes to indicate the other people in the room. “Really. When the egg closed on you, I just got so worried for some reason.”
She seems to get it. “I love you too hon. We can talk about it later, okay?”
“Okay, Mom.” I say, somewhat sullenly for the audience.
“Well, now that I know you’re okay, lemme go get out of this cat suit so we can get outta here and go shopping!” My mom says with an excited grin as she looks over my shoulder at Mrs. Townsend before turning to Aladdin. “Do we need to stay for anything?”
He smiles and points to the cabinet full of blinking lights that is the server doing all the work. “Oh no, it will take more than a few hours to analyze all the data, so I won’t have anything until the morning.”
“Oh, okay. Well, then, I will go get changed so we can get out of here.” My mom looks back to Mrs. Townsend. “Umm, Barb, was there anything else we needed to do today?”
Mrs. Townsend warmly smiles at my mom. “Nope...just the most important thing, shopping!”
Maybe she isn’t really a super-secret assassin, but now, I am kind of hoping she is so that I will have a reason to ditch the shopping. My mom laughs as she heads back down to change into her real clothes.
Once we get back to the room, I notice that the beds are made and even though I know that they are supposed to be, my paranoia level raises back up to the max setting. I scan the room and I am only slightly relieved when I don’t find any electronic things that I didn’t know about.
“Bree? What’s wrong? You’ve been acting jumpy ever since the test.”
I debate telling my mom, but I don’t think that she will understand. “I’m just worried about the tests and what happens after that.”
“Why would you be worried about that?”
“Well, I’m going to be leaving home and I’m just not sure if I am ready for that.”
My mom hugs me. “Bree, I know that it won’t be easy for you. It won’t be easy for your Dad and me either, even Lindsay, but I firmly believe that going to this school will be the best for you.”
“Yes Mom, you’re probably right, but I’m still worried.” I reluctantly agree with her and even though it wasn’t really what I was worried about, I was worried about the school thing. So, I hope that I fooled her lie detector power.
She smiles. “Well, Barb will be here in less than forty five minutes and we both need to get ready. Hop in the shower and let’s get ready, okay?”
I give her a quick hug before I run into the bathroom. “Thanks, Mom!”
She smiles at me, but still looks a little concerned.
The hot water feels great! I try to, umm, multi-task, but that just makes me need to wash my legs, twice. That is one more item for the girl con column. Since I was a little active today, I decide to risk it and wash my hair. I am ashamed to admit that I like the way the smelly shampoo makes my hair smell and feel. As soon as I am done, my mom hops into the shower. It feels a little weird to be sharing a bathroom with my mom.
This time, even though I forgot to bring in my clean underwear, I do remember to wrap my towel around my chest, girl-style. I am rather proud of myself when I manage to dry and style my hair without any assistance. My mom even compliments me on it when she gets done with her shower. Once again, I am glad that Whisper had such an easy to manage hairstyle.
“Okay, go get dressed while I dry my hair.” My mom says as she wraps her towel around herself.
“Yes, Mom.” I say as I try to ignore the fact that I just saw my mom naked and she didn’t react at all like she would have if I was still a boy.
I rummage through my suitcase and pick the blue silk underwear things because I think that they will match my blue jeans better. Yes, I know, I know, but it’s bad enough that I picked them and used that matching thing as an excuse. I still refuse to call them panties.
I struggle with getting my new jeans on. Well, not struggle, but I do have to give them an extra tug to get them past my butt so that I can snap them shut. Thank god for the silk panties, umm, crap.
Anyway, I grab my dark green sweater shirt top thing and the white bra. I’m not sure if the white bra is the correct color, but I am pretty sure that the black one is not and my beige one is dirty. I decide to try on the girlie black flat shoe things and inspect myself in the mirror. I kind of like how the tapered jeans with the open on the top shoe shows off my ankles and make my feet look so, umm, sleek. I mean, I know that I thought girls wearing jeans with these kind of flat things looked hot, but I have to admit, I like how they look on me too. I know that they are not the best choice for winter and walking through a mall so I sit down to exchange them for my sneakers. My mom chooses that moment to step out of the bathroom.
“Oh, that looks nice Bree. Good selection with the shoes too.” She says with a pleased smile.
Crap. “Oh, thanks, but I was just going to put my sneakers on.”
“Oh no. Keep those. Your sneakers wouldn’t look as nice.”
“Okay.” I say while cursing myself for being so foolish. It’s winter and these shoes have zero support or insulation. I’m sure that my feet will be both frozen and then, killing me at the mall.
My mom doesn’t say anything about the white bra, so I guess I did okay and it only takes her a few minutes to get dressed. Unlike me, she actually has some clothes that look both warm and comfortable to wear. Maybe going shopping isn’t such a bad idea.
As I head for the door, she sighs and hands me my purse. Crap, I keep forgetting the darn thing and she keeps remembering it.
We only have to wait in the lobby for three minutes and twenty-three seconds before Mrs. Townsend pulls up. I sigh with relief that it’s only her and a teenage girl sitting in the back seat, and not her son. I bet that the girl is her daughter, Amanda. As we walk up to the car, I study Amanda as she studies me. I’m a little nervous about this. My mom grabs my hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze just before she slides into the front passenger seat, while I jump into the back seat with Amanda.
“Amanda, this is Brianna or Bree. Bree, Amanda.” Mrs. Townsend says as she spins around to look at both of us.
“Umm, hi?” I say with a small wave. I feel so out of my depth.
Amanda flashes me a smile. “Oh my god! You’re so beautiful! I’m so glad that you could come! I’ve been dying to go to the mall, but my parents...”
“Amandaaa.” Mrs. Townsend says, warning her daughter to change the subject. Satisfied, she spins back and looks at my mom. “Amanda, this is Bree’s mother, Mrs. Peters.”
My mom laughs. “Oh please, it is nice to meet you Amanda. Please, just call me Jennifer. Mrs. Peters makes me feel so old.”
“Hi.” Amanda smiles and waves one of those cute girl style waves.
Introductions complete, Mrs. Townsend puts the car in gear. “Girls, seatbelts.” She says.
Amanda and I buckle in and as soon as hers snaps, she spins to face me. “So, Bree, what is your favorite store?”
I was kind of hoping that the seat-belts would force us to sit facing forward and keep conversation to a minimum. I have no idea what to talk about or even what she expects me to say. I’m pretty sure that if I said Gamestop or Barnes and Noble, that she wouldn’t know what to think. “Umm, I’m not sure? What does the mall have?” It does not escape my notice that my mom and Mrs. Townsend are silent and pretending to not be paying any attention to the back seat conversation.
“Oh, well, there is a Macy’s. A bit pricey, but they have the best shoes! And then, there is Dillard’s and J.C. Penny and there are few other really nice stores there too. I can’t wait! How about you?” Amanda says as she looks at me expectantly.
I have been through a Macy’s, on my way to the game store. I kind of remember that it had a lot of expensive looking stuff. I would replay my memories, but that would take too long. “Umm, Macy’s is nice.” I say with a hesitant smile.
Amanda takes that as my secret handshake for the girl club and breaks into explaining all of her favorite sections of Macy’s. I notice my mom and Mrs. Townsend grin at each other and begin their own discussion. Amanda continues to extol the virtues of Macy’s before she branches out to include all of the stores at the mall, while all can I do is smile and say, “oh yeah, I like that too.” or “really? I didn’t know that.” I really have no idea what to think. A part of me can’t help but be impressed by her shopping acumen. She really knows her shopping-fu and I find myself starting to get excited about this shopping trip.
“It’s a shame that we have to eat dinner still and that the mall closes at nine. That will only give us, maybe three hours to find the perfect outfits for you!” Amanda says with what looks like genuine sadness to me.
I can’t believe that she thinks that three hours isn’t enough time. I mean, how long can it take to buy a few clothes?
We decide to eat first and I’m glad, because I’m hungry for some real food. Well, something other than salad anyway. I order a salmon fillet with extra steamed broccoli, while Amanda orders a salad. It is nice to not be the only rabbit food eater. My mom orders some crab legs after raving about how hard it is to find fresh sea-food in New Mexico and Mrs. Townsend, or Barb as she wants me to now call her, orders a small steak. It looks so yummy, but the smell of cooked meat just turns me off. My salmon is the bomb though.
After I finish my dinner, I realize that I have to go to the bathroom. “I gotta go. I’ll be right back.” I say to my mom as I move to get up.
“Oh! Me too!” Amanda says as she slides out of the booth after me.
“Bree, don’t forget your purse.” My mom says before I can escape.
Oh man. Why can’t girls just use wallets and what is it about girls having to go to the bathroom together? “Okay? Let’s go.” I say, smiling back at Amanda.
She is kind of hard to not like. She’s older than me by one year and she’s very pretty. I think so anyways. Most of all, she’s just so darn friendly. I don’t get it. Why couldn’t I have met her before I got turned into a girl?
I still find it weird to not see any urinals in the bathroom. Just a couple extra stalls where the urinals should be. I inspect the seat and quickly wipe it down out of habit since men’s seats can be extra nasty from guys thinking they have good aim. I start to do the pee-pee dance due to all the extra steps and time it takes to pull my pants and underwear completely down almost makes me have an accident. I really miss just being able to unzip and go. The toilet paper here is a bit cheap too.
“Umm, Bree?” Amanda asks from the other stall as I finish up and open the door to my stall.
“Yeah?” I say, pausing so I can hear her over the sound of my toilet flushing.
“I’m sorry, but I’m a bit early. Do you have a spare pad that I can borrow?” Amanda asks, sounding mortified.
Heck, I’m mortified too. I did not need to be reminded about that little problem. I don’t even know if I have one of those tam...tamp...umm, things, but I bet that since my mom packed my purse; I probably do. “Umm, I think so. Lemme check.” I say as I zip open my purse and spot both a pad thing and a tampon thing.
“Yeah, I have a pad and a tampon. Which one do you need?” I ask, trying to sound casual about it while on the inside I am hoping that she will say that it is a false alarm so that I won’t have to touch the things in my purse.
“I have just a little spotting, so I think that just a pad will be enough for now.” She says, casually, like bleeding while going pee is normal.
Crap, I’ll have to touch the dreaded object. I grab it and she opens the door so that I can hand it to her easier. I was wondering how I was going to get it to her. “Thanks! You’re a lifesaver!” Amanda says as she takes it from my nerveless fingers. “Oh! We even use the same brand! Awesome!”
She even leaves the stall door open as she finishes up. “Umm, I’ll just go wash my hands.” I say to her.
“Okay! I’ll be right out!” Amanda sings as I sneak away.
I am just finishing up my hands when Amanda joins me at the sinks. She gives me a quick hug. I guess she’s thanking me again for my mom making sure that my purse was stocked.
“You’re so beautiful! I’m jealous and you don’t even have any makeup on!” Amanda says as she looks at herself in the mirror and begins to dig through her purse for something.
“Umm, you’re very pretty yourself.” I say with complete honesty as she starts to touch up her eye shadow.
“No way! My nose is too big and my boobs are too small, while you, you’re perfect. Even your hair is perfect. I wish that you went to school here. That way, we could be friends, but you would probably never hang out with me.”
Now I’m really confused. Didn’t I just tell her that she’s pretty? She is. I don’t understand why she would think that she’s not and that I wouldn’t like her if I went to her school. “Umm, no. Your nose is not too big and your boobs are not too small. You’re beautiful. I don’t understand how you could think otherwise.”
She turns to look at me and I almost think that she expects me to kick her or something. “You really think so?”
“Of course, why would I lie to you?” I ask, cocking my head to the side with confusion.
She smiles the biggest and happiest smile I have seen on a girl in a long time as she returns to touching up her eye shadow. “You know, if you had just a little color around your eyes, they would be deadly gorgeous. That green is so stunning. I wish that I had eyes like yours.”
“Umm, I didn’t really have time to mess with that before we left the hotel.” I say while praying to god that a) I don’t have some makeup hidden in my purse and b) if not, that she doesn’t offer me hers. I get brave and take a peek inside my purse. Whew! No makeup. I guess finding all natural stuff is hard, even for my mom.
She notices my failure to find any makeup in purse. “I would offer you mine, but you’re not really supposed to share eye makeup. Infections.”
“Oh that’s okay. I don’t really need it and if I had to, I could probably magic something up.” I say feeling momentarily relieved about the infections excuse.
“Magic? You can do magic too?” Amanda asks, sounding very interested and excited.
Oh crap. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that. “Yeah. Some.”
“Show me! Pleeaasse!” Amanda begs.
I never could turn down a pretty girl. I’m so weak. “Umm, okay. I guess that it can’t hurt.” I say while inside I am praying that someone will walk in and interrupt us so that I won’t have to do anything. No one does. Sigh.
I concentrate on a simple eye shadow with a hint of lipstick illusion as I call up the icon for Whisper’s self-illusion spell. I am pleasantly surprised by how easy it is for me to draw upon the magic and make it happen.
Amanda gasps and leans forward, inspecting my face. “Oh. My. God! Bree! That’s soooo cool!”
I take a look at myself in the mirror and I have to admit that the little bit of smoky eye shadow illusion with the light hint of lipstick really does make my eyes stand out. “Umm, yeah. It is kind of handy.”
“Can you do that for me, too?” Amanda says while looking at me with a hope in her eyes.
Damn it. Now that I’m a girl, aren’t I supposed to be immune to her powers of persuasion? “I think so?” I say without any confidence what-so-ever in the hope that she will change her mind.
“Okay! Can you make my eyes blue and my hair short like yours, except blond instead of this yucky brown?” She asks as she drags her fingers through her hair with frustration.
Her request is a tad more, using the term loosely, complicated. How did she jump from a simple makeup effect to a full alteration? Okay, ‘just’ eye color and hair, but seriously? Even worse, why am I trying to figure out how to make it happen? Please, can someone please walk into the bathroom right now?
“I can try.” I say. Why can’t I just say no? Instead of doing the smart thing, I imagine her with bright blue eyes and shiny blond hair in my style as I bring up Whisper’s higher level ‘seeming’ spell. I never actually got Whisper high enough to cast this spell, so I am a little worried, but it’s only an illusion; So, it shouldn’t do anything bad. The magic is a little hard to reach for this one, but not so hard that I wuss out. I hear Amanda squeal with delight as my spell finishes. I hope it is delight anyway. I look at her studying her new look in the mirror.
Amanda seems a little confused by her hair. “This is so cool! I can still feel my hair, but when I look at myself, I can’t see it!”
An older woman decides to enter the bathroom. Thank god! She frowns at the two of us for what reason I don’t know. Probably because we are hogging the mirror and making noise. Well, Amanda is making noise anyway. Amanda pretends to get all serious until the woman enters a stall. Then, Amanda breaks down and giggles into my shoulder in an attempt to not be heard by the lady.
“Umm, we should get back to the table and I should cancel these things.” I say with a whisper.
“Do you have to? I want to see if my mom recognizes me.” Amanda pouts.
It’s not going to work on me this time. “I’m not supposed to be doing this. If my mom found out, I would be in big trouble.” I say with a whisper just before I cancel both the eye shadow illusion on me and the bigger one on Amanda.
“Ahh. I’m sorry, but that was so cool!” Amanda says as she gives me an excited hug.
Both of our parents look a little bemused as we walk back to the table, best of buds, I mean girlfriends after our joint trip to the bathroom. I can’t help noticing the looks that I get from the guys and other girls as we walk past some tables with people closer to our age. The guys, those looks I can totally understand. I’m not comfortable, but they think I’m hot. The girls, I don’t understand. Some of them look a little angry to me. Why? Amanda seems oblivious to all of the attention, even though she was getting a share of the looks.
“Now that you two are done in there, are you ready to go shopping?” My mom asks with a smile.
“Umm, sure?” I say, noncommittally.
“Oh yeah! Let’s go!” Amanda says, practically dragging me out of the restaurant.
Now, I’ve been in malls before, so I am not a stranger in a strange land, but the mall is a very different place when your target destination isn’t the game store. The only thing that keeps me from running away is the fact that I am being dragged by a pretty girl, my mom is trailing behind to make sure I don’t desert and the realization that I kind of do need more clothes.
I try to look at the mall map to see where all the gaming and electronics stores are and if they have a book store, but Amanda pulls me right past it before I get the chance to study it.
“Come on! No need for that silly, I know where everything’s at!” Amanda says with a laugh.
Fortunately, a glance is all I need to view the map and cross reference it with the store list below it. Crap, no book store, but there is a Game Stop and Radio Shack. I think the plan is to go to Macy’s first and Game Stop is even on the way. Yeah!
As we near the game store, I veer in the store’s direction so that I can go in and browse for a few minutes.
“Hey! Where are you going, Bree? Don’t you see Aerie’s over there? They have some of the cutest bras!” Amanda says as she tugs on my hand, easily pulling me away from gaming nirvana.
With my super-strength, I guess I could just drag her into the game store, but my mind short-circuits when she says the “B” word in the same sentence with “cutest”. Also, why would we stop there? I thought we were going to Macy’s. If we stop at every little store on the way, we might never get to Macy’s. Girls just don’t know how to shop.
I guess it could be worse; it could be a Victoria’s Secret store.
“Bree, Amanda, wait!” My mom yells over the busy sounds of the mall and people shopping.
Her voice snaps me out of my feedback loop and I stop moving towards the girl store.
Amanda stops and looks curiously back at me. “What’s the matter?” She asks.
“My mom just yelled for us.” I say, looking back at my mom and Barb as they approach us. I hope that she is going to stop us from going into Amanda’s store. I know that we are heading to Macy’s, but I kind of want to see the new games and any extra girl store will just make us take longer. It’s only going to take me five to ten minutes, tops, to look at the new stuff, but I just know that if we go into Amanda’s store, we will be there for more than thirty minutes, easy. That’s just how girls shop. It’s crazy.
“Hey, Amanda. Sorry. I see that you have Aerie picked out, but I kind of need to talk to you and your Mom about a few things before we go in there.” My mom says.
Crap, it sounds like we are still going in there, but now it’s going to take even longer and I will never get to check out the games.
“Oh, okay? What’s wrong, umm, Jennifer?” Amanda asks as Barb looks at my mom with some concern.
My mom laughs. “Oh, nothing super critical, but I just needed to talk to you about Bree’s allergies so that we will know what kind of clothes to avoid. I meant to do that during dinner, but we kind of got side-tracked. Sorry.”
Amanda gives me a sympathetic look before turning back to my mom. “Oh, no! I didn’t know that Bree was allergic to stuff.”
“It will probably take a few minutes.” My mom smiles at Amanda before turning to me. “Bree? I noticed that you wanted to check out Game Stop, why don’t you head in there while I go over your allergies with Barb and Amanda?”
And angels sing from up on high.
“Really?!? Thanks Mom! It won’t take me long. Just yell when you’re ready.” I say, grinning from ear to ear. I ignore Amanda’s slightly concerned expression as she takes a quick peek inside Game Stop.
Smiling while entering geek heaven is probably a mistake. There is one other girl in the store, but she’s following a guy and looking bored. I guess that he is her boyfriend and not his sister because I know Lindsay would never have followed me around this place. The two sales dudes instantly lock on to me and their obvious interest kicks in my targeting and tracking system. Lacking the military ID cards, I am able to track and identify them by their cell phones. Well, their phone numbers anyway.
I should be scared, but when my system tags the two sales dudes as “Enemy Target 1” and “Enemy Target 2” while tagging the boyfriend and girlfriend as “Enemy Non-Combatants”; I can’t help myself, I laugh. Does the Army really view everyone else as “enemies”?
“Umm, is there something that I can help you find, ma’am?” Enemy Target 2 asks, sounding confused by my behavior.
Still smiling at the thought that game store dudes can be enemies, I turn and face the guy. I am surprised by how tall he is compared to me. I know that I only shrunk an inch, but facing him, I feel smaller than that. How tall is the guy?
He has dark hair. I’m not sure what color exactly, but it’s not black and it’s not brown. His eyes are hazel. Yes, I know that brown and green equals hazel. I’m not that bad with girl colors. His skin is a little pale, but that’s normal for a gamer. His teeth are straight. He must have had braces or something. Oh gawd, now I sound like I am sizing him up or something.
“Oh, hi, umm, Gary?” I say while making a show of reading his name tag.
“I’m sorry, I’m just browsing.” I say as I look past him and at the Xbox game wall. That always gets the sales dude people off my back. That is gamer code for, “Dude, I don’t have any money” and I do not want his help.
“Oh? Are you looking for anything in particular, maybe something for your boyfriend?” Gary asks, still smiling at me.
What the hell? Boyfriend? Can’t girls like video games too? Luzer! I debate correcting him, but I doubt that it would help. I also debate playing the ditzy girl and waste his time asking him all the dumb questions I can think of, but I only have a few minutes and that would waste more of my time than his. He’s getting paid by the hour here.
“Grrrrr! Don’t make me frag you.” I say as I make it a point to ignore him and walk past him to view the Xbox display. The girl hanging out with her boyfriend gives me a sympathetic smile while Gary remains rooted in place. Shocked, I’m sure.
As I walk across the store, I notice Enemy Target 1 behind the counter struggling to contain his laughter from watching his wing-man get shot down so spectacularly. I look back to my mom, Barb and Amanda chatting outside the store. Amanda smiles and gives me a cheery little wave.
For some reason, that makes me feel better. I could get used to that. It’s always nice when a pretty girl smiles at you, but it does make me wonder exactly what my mom is telling them. Is she telling them that I was a boy? That would suck, I think. I don’t know. Would Amanda think I’m a freak? Heck, I’m surprised that she hasn’t mentioned my elf ears.
I give Amanda a quick smile and wave in return before I study the game selection. Now that my rig is toast, I have zero desire to rebuild it just so that I can play GEO; I think it is time to play something safer, like Halo 3. I know that it has been out for months now, but my GEO, umm, habit kind of made me not worry about buying it.
I note that Enemy Target 2 is on the move again. He is on an intercept course with me. I decide to ignore his approach and pull down the box for Halo 3 so I can read the back. The plastic makes my fingers tingle a little bit, but it doesn’t burn me like the vinyl chair did. I wonder why. I know that I am allergic to the plastic, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering me as much. Am I building up some immunity? That would be nice, because it would really suck not being able to hold the controller and play the game. Those thoughts are interrupted by Enemy Target 2. I refuse to think of him by his name.
“Umm, hey, look, I’m really sorry about what I said back there. I can’t believe I was such an idiot.” Enemy Target 2 says.
Ah man, now what do I do? I can’t just ignore him. He really does sound sorry and his voice stress gauge even matches up with that. Well, he is stressed anyway, but then again, so am I. He’s only saying that he’s sorry because I’m a girl, but at the same time, that is also the only reason that he has to because he would have never said what he said if I was still a boy.
Just go away dude. I don’t have any money and I don’t plan to buy anything.
That is what I want to say, but instead, I laugh a little due to all the conflicting thoughts racing through my head. “Oh, that’s okay dude. I’m used to it.” I say as I continue to pretend to read the back of the box. What the hell? I am definitely not used to it, but it seemed like the right thing to say.
“Maybe you are, but it still wasn’t right for me assume that just because you’re a pretty girl, that you aren’t a gamer.”
I can’t help it, I flinch when he calls me a pretty girl. Crap, he’s attracted to me. I’m practically every geek’s fantasy girlfriend now. I’m a girl who enjoys playing video games. Hell, when I was a boy, the girl didn’t even have to be pretty. Just the fact that she liked video games was enough to make her cool and attractive. I reflexively look for my mom and I see that she is not only watching me, but she is moving to get up from the bench she and Barb are sitting on to come to my rescue. She has that Mom on a mission expression.
Having my mom come rescue me from some dude would be even more embarrassing. I quickly put the game back on the shelf and turn to face him. “Umm, that’s okay. Really. I was just looking. My Xbox is back home in New Mexico right now, so I can’t really buy the game right now anyway.”
My mom slows her advance as Barb and Amanda now turn to try and find what interrupted my mom. They both look a little confused. Based on my mom’s initial reaction, I think that they were expecting to see me being assaulted or something.
“Oh. Hey, like, if you want, I can load that one,” Gary says, pointing to the Halo 3 box. “, up on our store demo system for you to try. I mean, I’m not really supposed to do that, because we are trying to promo the new Ghost Recon AW2 game, but since I was such a jerk and all that...”
He really is trying to help and now I’m starting to feel a little sorry for him. Not only that, but Gary’s mentioning of the new Ghost Recon game has got me curious. It’s not due out for another couple of weeks, but I’ve heard good things about it. I take another quick glance at my mom and she is starting to relax, a little. She turns back to Barb and Amanda with a smile and says something.
“Umm, I’m not sure if I have enough time for that. My mom and a friend are staying, umm, safely outside the store waiting for me so that we can do some clothes shopping.” I laugh a little at my joke and he laughs with me. The tension I felt melts away and I see my mom return to the bench. Amanda gives me a quick smile before she returns to paying attention to whatever it is that my mom is saying. Now I’m really starting to feel curious about what she is telling them.
“I think that I’d like to see Ghost Recon, but first I need to check with my mom. Do ya mind?” I ask, slightly distracted by my curiosity over what my mom is telling them.
Gary laughs. “Oh no, not at all. I’ll go guard the system for you, just in case! It’s wicked cool.”
“Thanks.” I say, actually meaning it. Now that I have sort of established my, umm, gamer cred, he’s not that bad of a dude.
As I approach my mom, she perks up. “Hey! How did it go? I noticed you talking to that guy and get a little upset.”
Amanda peers behind me and into the store with a look of speculation for a second before returning to study my face.
“Oh, it was nothing. He just sorta thought that I was in there trying to find a game for someone else.” I say with a laugh because now that I think about it, it is kind of funny. I mean, really? Me, have a boyfriend?
“So, umm, I was wondering. Can I check out the demo for a new game real fast before we go to, umm, that store?” I ask, pointing with my eyes to the Aerie store across the way.
My mom laughs and glances at Barb and Amanda for a second. “See? I told you. A total tomboy!”
I start to blush as I wonder how much of a “tomboy” she said I was. It doesn’t sound like she told them I was really a boy, boy. Amanda isn’t looking at me like I’m some sort of freak or anything. If anything, I think that she actually looks a little excited. Oh gawd, I hope that she doesn’t think that I need to go uber-girlie to compensate now. Now I know that my mom is going to tell me no about trying the demo.
“Sure! I think that we can spare another five or so minutes, right?” My mom asks Barb and Amanda.
Barb smiles as she nods her head, while Amanda answers by grabbing my hand and pulling me back into Game Stop. “He’s a senior at my school! He’s cute. What do you think about him?” She whispers with a giggle as she sneaks a glance at Gary.
Yes, what do I think about him? Well, he’s not a complete jerk like I thought he was. He is kind of tall and I did notice his eyes and teeth for some strange reason. That realization shocks me into a completely different line of thought. What if I like guys now? Does that make me gay? How can I be gay if I still think Amanda is attractive? She has such pretty and expressive eyes. She smells nice too. Well, I am a girl now, so I guess that technically, if I think that Amanda is attractive, then I must be lesbian.
“Earth to Bree, Earth to Bree. Hello.” Amanda says snapping her fingers in front of my face to get my attention.
I didn’t realize that I had stopped walking. “Umm, what was your question?” I ask.
“Nevermind! I can see that you have the hots for him too.” Amanda says with a giggle.
“Huh?” I ask, with a quick glance into the store.
Gary is guarding the system and he looks a little nervous at the sight of both of us standing outside the store, giggling and sneaking glances at him. Well, Amanda is anyway.
“Amanda!” I say with exasperation as I shake off my confusion and enter the store with Amanda still finding my predicament funny as she follows me into the store.
Gary is watching us with a stunned expression as we enter the store. I think that he’s a) surprised that I came back and b) surprised that Amanda came with me. “Oh! Hey, umm, I got it all ready for you.” He says with a blush before he quickly recovers his poise and hands me the controller. Is noticing that he blushed a bad sign?
As soon as the controller hits my hands, all thoughts of boys and girls, birds and the bees are forgotten. My system alerts me to let me know that I am allergic to the plastic, but just a little.
Okay, how long is prolonged?
Oh, that’s good, sort of. I know that when I play; I can play for hours at a time, but maybe a break every forty-five to sixty minutes would be a good thing.
There is one additional thing that I notice while holding the controller. Just like when I almost died playing GEO, I am totally connected to the game, but now that I am aware of that connection; the connection feels safer to me. I feel more in control.
Gary takes my inadvertent pause as a sign that I need some help navigating the menu to start the game. “You just select....” He says, trying to help me before trailing off as he notices me rapid fire selecting from the menu items.
I barely pay attention to him as the Xbox opens up for me. I notice that the game disk is almost full, which seems strange for a demo. Why would they waste so much data for just a small playable demo of the game? I back up in the menu and I notice the game program check the system time and return a false value.
Hmmm, I wonder...
I tell it to return a true value and the “Play Demo” menu option changes to read, “Play Game”. I quickly select that.
“What tha?” I hear Gary say from behind me.
Oops. I just hacked the game to play the real version. I back up and pretend to hit some complex sequence of buttons on the controller while I set it back to false. The menu changes back to “Play Demo”. “Umm, I heard somewhere that the demo game is really the real game, but they disabled it until the release date. There’s a cheat code you can enter to enable it though, so I just tried that and it worked.” I say, looking back at what are now two incredulous “Enemy Targets”. Even Amanda looks a little impressed.
I can’t rewrite the game disc, but I can change what is in memory. I modify it to accept my made up cheat code so that Gary can play with it. Well, until they shut the Xbox down, but by then, I will be long gone. I show them my made up cheat code and the menu changes back to “Play Game”.
I really like this game. It’s so realistic and I’m totally owning it. Being hardwired to the controller almost feels like cheating. I just think and it happens. Plus, my own HUD is helping too, but I am not cheating. I am not altering or reading the game data before it displays on the screen. My mom’s arrival in the store tells me that it is time to go. I hand the controller back to Gary.
“Thanks! That was awesome!” I say as I quickly wipe my hands on my jeans. Even though it was only ten minutes, they were starting to itch. I guess the one hour estimate is just until my skin starts to burn or something.
Amanda even pouts a little. “Ahh, Bree was awesome! Can she play just a little bit longer?” She asks as I look at my mom with my best hopeful expression.
My mom and Barb exchange smiles. “I’m sorry girls, but we need to get some clothes for Bree, remember?” Barb says.
Amanda quickly regains her enthusiasm for shopping. “Oh yeah! Come on Bree! We need to find you some clothes!” She says, motioning for me to follow her out of the store.
I shrug and look back to the still stunned guys. “Sorry, I’d love to stay, but I gotta go.” I say, turning to follow Amanda out of the store.
“Wait!” Gary says, I look back and he is digging out his wallet.
Oh crap. He is going to try and give me his number or something. “Oh no, that’s okay. I don’t need your number.”
“What?” He asks, looking genuinely confused for a second before it dawns on him what I must be thinking. “Oh! No! Not that, I just wanted to give you an employee’s friends and family discount card.”
Now it’s my turn to feel really embarrassed. “Oh, Thanks.” I manage to squeak out as I take his discount card. I’ve never been given one of these before and I’ve spent a lot of time inside the Game Stop back home. Don’t tell me that I might have something to add to the pro girl column.
“Hey, no problem. See ya at school tomorrow, Amanda.” Gary says with a mischievous smile as he turns to look at her.
Damn, he knows her. I turn back to Amanda and she looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Now it is my turn to smile. “Oooo, Gary and Amanda sitting in a tree...” I mock sing to her in a whisper as I walk past her, tucking the card into my purse.
“Hey!” Amanda says as she takes a couple quick steps to catch up with me. “Umm, do you think that he likes me?” She asks, suddenly looking vulnerable.
I turn my head to look at her. “Well, you knew he went to your school, but did you know his name?” I ask.
Amanda looks slightly ashamed and even a little depressed as she considers my question. “Well, no.” She says.
“But, he knew your name, right?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.
“Yes...” She says.
“Well, then he likes you and probably has for awhile now.” I say, matter-of-factually.
Amanda looks stunned. “What?!?! How can you think that?” She asks.
“Look, it’s easy. He’s a guy and he knows your name. Guys don’t take the trouble to find out and remember a girl’s name unless they like her.”
“Really? I guess that kind of makes sense, but how do you know that?” Amanda asks.
Now I know for sure that my mom didn’t spill the beans. “Oh, I dunno, but it’s true, right?” I ask.
“Maybe?” Amanda sounds a little dubious now.
“Oh, it is. Trust me.” I say. All this sort-of girl talk totally distracts me and I don’t even realize that we have entered the girl store until I hear some woman’s voice. “Welcome to Aerie, I’m Cindy, can I help you ladies find anything?”
Amanda grabs my arm in a sort of friendly hug thing, but I think that she really does it to keep me from running. “Bree here, recently, umm, grew and none of her old clothes fit her anymore, plus she is allergic to some stuff, so we need to get her some new clothes.”
I glance back to my mom for help and she just smiles at me. Giving me that, everything will be okay look.
The sales lady blinks with surprise as she takes in my appearance. I’m half expecting her to give me the sign of the cross to banish me like I was a vampire, but instead she smiles at me. “Oh, you’re an elf. That’s cool. What are you allergic too?”
“Umm, synthetic fibers.”
“Hmm, how about the natural man-made fibers like Modal?”
“I dunno?” I say with a shrug as I consider the natural and man-made conflict.
“Well, let me show you our thermal crew line over here.” She says, leading Amanda and me to a rack of warm looking long sleeve shirts near the front of the store. “They are cotton and modal blend that should be okay for you, but if not, we have some 100% cotton tops and sweaters too.”
It feels really really weird walking into a girl’s clothing store as a customer because I remember the last time I was dragged into a girl store, as a boy. Like all the other girl stores and even girl areas of less specialized stores, this store has a mannequin setup to display a matching bra and pantie set. I know that I shouldn’t even think twice about it, but I clearly remember thinking, “Wow! That would look so hot on a girl!” Now, it is me that I think it would look hot on and that is confusing, to say the least.
I also never really noticed just how many different colors and styles there are for girls to choose from. I feel overwhelmed by all of the variety.
“What size are you?” Cindy asks.
“Umm, I dunno. Sorry.” I say, feeling super embarrassed and out of element here.
“Hmm, well, I think that you look like a small or extra-small.” Cindy says as she looks me up and down with a measuring expression before she touches a red shirt before ultimately selecting a blue with white snowflakes shirt from the small section of the rack and hands it to me. “Here you go. I think the navy is more your color. Red is definitely not you.”
I am surprised by her assessment of my color preferences. How did she know? The fabric does feel nice and best of all, no reaction detected.
Cindy also grabs an extra-small and hands it to me. “Do you like?” She asks.
I nod. “Yes, and I don’t think I’m allergic to this.”
“Excellent! Why don’t you go try them on and see which size fits you the best. Then, we can go from there?” Cindy asks, pointing me to the changing rooms located in the back of the store.
Amanda follows me and as we pass the underwear section, she points to a bra that matches the shirt I am going to try on. “Oh, that looks cute and hey, there are even some matching panties! What do you think?”
“Umm.” I say while struggling to come up with an answer. There is no way that I am going to try on a bra in a store. Talk about embarrassing.
“Oh, all of our bras have a least a little spandex in them. She might not be able to wear them.” Cindy says, coming to my rescue. “I hate to say it, but you might have to hit Macy’s or even Victoria’s down the way.” She vaguely points down the hall and deeper into the mall.
“Macy’s!” I say, desperate to avoid the mecca of all things girl. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t have all those awesome angel commercials on TV. Wow, talk about a good reason for the pause and rewind button on the remote. Just walking past the store is enough to get a guy excited. As soon as a guy knows that a girl has been to Victoria’s, they are mentally undressing her and wondering what they’re wearing. Not that I ever did that or anything. No way, not me.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Last time I thought to look, their bras were made out of the same stuff as ours. Macy’s might actually be better for you.” Cindy says as I sing her praises in my head. Best sales lady evah!
While Cindy saves me, I notice some underwear that looks a lot like my old boy briefs, but definitely all girl and cute with bows on the front. Some even have lace trim, talk about crazy. Unfortunately, I stare at them a little too long.
Amanda follows my gaze. “Aren’t those just the cutest? Hey! We should see if you are allergic to those.” Amanda says.
“Those are our new line of boy brief panties. They are mostly cotton, but they do contain some spandex.” Cindy says, trying to save me again.
Yep, spandex, can’t wear those! Can sales people get tips?
I half expect Amanda to follow me into the changing room and she does not disappoint me. What is it with girls? Do they have no privacy expectations amongst themselves? Guys do not “help” each other out when they are trying on clothes.
“Here, lemme hold these for you while you take your top off.” Amanda says, gesturing at the two shirts in my arms.
I hand them too her. “Okay. Umm, thanks.” I say, trying to sound casual about her being in here with me as I am undressing. I am wearing a bra, so I guess I’m not really getting naked in front of her. It still seems wrong for some reason. I mean, there are hooks to hang stuff off of in here. She doesn’t really have to hold them for me.
She pulls the extra-small off the hanger for me and hands it to me with the front facing out so that all I have to do is slide it over my head. It’s still a little strange, but having her in here with me could be kind of handy.
The extra-small is definitely too tight across my chest. It bunches up at my boobs and before I can force it past, Amanda stops me. “Nope, too small. Let’s try the other one.” She says as she helps me get the extra-small off before handing me the small.
The small shirt also is tight across my chest, but not restrictive. I don’t like how it shows off my boobs and hugs my tummy though. Why does everything have to show off my body so much?
“Umm, I think this one is too tight too.” I say, pointing to my obvious display of hidden cleavage and stomach.
Amanda examines me. “Nope! It’s perfect. You’d be swimming in a medium.”
“Is it supposed to be this tight?” I ask while tugging on it to try pulling it off my skin in the hope that it is just bunched up in back or something.
“Boy, your mom was right, you really were a tomboy.” Amanda says smiling at me encouragingly before she turns an opens the door a crack. “Umm, Cindy? It looks like she is a small. What else do you have in that size that she might not be allergic to?”
We end up spending 45 minutes in that store. I looked at and tried so many different outfits. They had some cute, umm, I mean cool looking cotton t-shirts, but they were also made with 40% polyester. My medical system listed my allergic response as “moderate”, but I started to itch almost as soon as I touched it. That was kind of a bummer because I liked some of the less girlie shirt designs. We did learn a lot about what I can and cannot wear.
We discover that clothes that contain 10% or less fully synthetic fibers, like spandex, do not trigger an allergic response, but anything more than that, does. That discovery proves to be a double edged sword because we, meaning Amanda, also discover that the boy briefs only have 7% spandex in them, so Amanda insists that I buy some. I try to refuse, but I think she can tell that I kind of like them. By the time the dust settles, I have half a dozen new pairs of boy brief underwear of various colors. No reds or girlie lace trimmed ones though. Happy dance.
Out of the dozen different colors and patterns for these things, they only have one pair that is just white. Amanda only “let” me get two pairs of the plain white boy briefs. She claimed that I couldn’t just get white because I needed some to match other outfits. My mom wasn’t much help there either. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Amanda is right dear.” I decided to not ask why matching your underwear is important. All of my old underwear were white, well, mostly white, and no one ever said anything about those needing to match anything, ever. Plus, except for me and maybe my mom, who is going to be seeing my underwear? I’m just glad that health department regulations prevented me from having to try on and model the underwear like I had to for all the other clothes. Even if there weren’t regulations about trying on underwear, who would want to? Gross.
I feel relieved, but at the same time, a little sad when I walk out of the store holding a giant paper bag full of new clothes. It was kind of fun trying on all of the different outfits and my mom seemed to enjoy it too. There were a few times that she got that fond and “I’m about to cry” look in her eyes.
The total damage ends being three of the thermal crew shirts, one sweater and two more cami tops. I also got a super comfy loose pair of grey cotton PJ bottoms with a matching PJ top and rounding all that out were the boy brief underwear.
Cindy was also very nice to us. She gave me a whopping 20% discount using some bogus “Recently Emerged” discount program and even said that she was sorry that they didn’t have more natural fabrics for me.
Macy’s proves to be a bust in the bra’s selection. No pun intended. All of their stuff is nylon and spandex blends.
Amanda finds me an awesome pair of black leather, ankle high boots with a sturdy two and a half inch wedge heel in Macy’s. Awesome is how Amanda referred to them. Me, I just think they look warm and the wedge heel might not suck as much as my first pair of ankle breaking shoes.
I really like how they make me look and Amanda thought that they match my jeans and top perfectly. They also make me look and feel taller again. My legs look so long and I like that. It is amazing what the right pair of shoes can do for a girl. Maybe I will need more than two pairs of shoes. That thought shocks me a little, but I really can’t help it. I really like these boots and how tall they make me look and feel.
I use the, “my feet are cold” excuse so that I can wear them out of the store. As I walk, I can’t help but notice how they have changed my gait. They are making me walk just a smidgen more smoothly and that surprises me because I didn’t expect them to be so easy to walk in. I sort of expected to wobble, a lot, but I guess my super reflexes and the VR time helped.
My mom looks at her watch as we leave Macy’s with another bag. “Well, I almost hate to say this Bree, but I think that we will have to go to Victoria’s to see if they have any bras for you.”
Amanda struggles to contain her enthusiasm while I struggle to not panic. Me, walking into the Victoria’s Secret store and looked at as a customer instead of a perv? Oh, wait a minute. This shopping spree is costing my parents a ton of money. How can my parents expect me to learn how to be responsible with my money if they spend tons on me for clothes?
“Umm, Mom?” I ask, trying to buy me more time to think of a good and responsible sounding excuse as to why we shouldn’t go to ‘that’ store.
“Yes, Bree?” She glances at me with a slightly amused expression.
Ut oh, that doesn’t bode well. “Isn’t, umm, Victoria’s kind of expensive?” I ask.
“Yes, yes it is, but where do you think that the bra and panties that you’re wearing came from?” She asks with a smirk.
I’m wearing a Victoria’s Secret bra and panties, and I have more in my suitcase? I kind of forgot about my underwear, but now, I am suddenly very aware of the fact that I am wearing a bra and silk panties, umm, underwear. I recall how pretty, no, sexy I looked with just those two items of clothing on and that Amanda saw me wearing them while trying on various outfits. Holy crap, I’m wearing the same kind of underwear that the VS angels wear while prancing around on TV with fake wings. Thinking about that is kind of making me start to feel like I did before my shower last night.
“I am so jealous! Mom, can I get a bra from Victoria’s too?” I hear Amanda ask Barb while all those thoughts crash through my head.
My mom grabs my hand. “Bree?” She asks, sounding concerned.
That snaps me out of my thoughts. “Umm, what?” I ask.
My mom studies my face for a second. “Are you okay?” She asks as Amanda and Barb look at me with concern.
I smile and nod my head. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I was just worrying about tomorrow’s tests.” I say. I know my mom doesn’t believe me.
“Okay then, let’s go. A few more bras would be good for you to have.” My mom says, smiling back at me as she ignores my lie.
Amanda does an excited little clap, gives me a quick hug and grabs my hand, dragging me ahead of our parents and towards my doom. “Come on, slow poke!” She says with an infectious smile.
Helpless to resist, I look back at my mom and wanly smile. She just smiles and mouths, “It’ll be fine.”
I sure hope so.
We both attract more than our fair share of second and third glances by the guys. Not just the guys our age either. Older guys too, real old, like maybe thirty or so. I blame Amanda for being so outgoing and bubbly. Her “Ooos” and “Aaahs” over random items in the store windows as we pass just attracts attention. She comments about how that top would go my jeans or with some skirt along with that necklace and those earrings. She even instructs me on makeup tips by pointing out all the other women, what they are wearing and how their makeup works or doesn’t work to enhance their look. I don’t know if it was her intent or not, but I do learn a lot.
Just before we enter “The Store”, I point out a girl wearing a light green eye shadow that really makes her eyes look clownish.
“OMG! You’re right. How can she not know?” Amanda says, out of the side of her mouth so that it looks like we aren’t looking at or talking about the other girl.
“Beats me.” I say.
Amanda giggles. “It’s a good thing that you can do that thing, ya know?” She says, hinting at, but not really saying that I can cast illusionary makeup on myself.
“Yeah. I will have to practice with that a bit more.” I say with a whisper to prevent my mom from overhearing me as we cross the threshold of all things sexy and 100% girl.
If I thought Aerie’s displays were sexy, Victoria’s totally takes the win. I am still a little apprehensive about going inside the store, but Amanda’s excitement is a little infectious and I am having a hard time coming up with reasons to not go inside. This time, I spot the sales person before she surprises me. She looks exactly like I expected a Victoria’s sales person to look like. Model tall, pretty and professionally dressed, but with a hint of sexy. “Hi, Welcome to Victoria’s. I’m Amy. How can I help you ladies this evening?” She asks, stumbling a little there at the end as her eyes grow large with surprise.
I hold back when I notice that her voice stress meter is in the red. Especially there at the end, after I turned to face her.
Amanda doesn’t seem notice Amy’s hesitation. “Oh, hi. My friend,” She gives me a quick hug as she calls me her friend. “, needs some new bras. Do you have any made from natural fibers, like cotton?” Amanda asks, smiling happily at Amy as Amy’s gaze seems locked to my face.
Amy looks extremely uncomfortable to me and my mom confirms my assessment when she places her hands on my shoulders from behind and pulls me closer to her body. “Is there something wrong?” She asks.
Amy jumps from my mom’s question and looks nervously around the store. She spots another sales person and heads toward her. “I’m sorry, but I just remembered that my manager needed me to unpack some new items. I’ll get someone else to assist you.” Amy says as she hurries away.
Her voice stress meter is all in the red. What is her problem? She is walking a little stiffly. Does she have to go to the bathroom real bad or something?
She briefly speaks to the other sales person while glancing back to me a few times. The other sales person laughs and heads toward us with a smile on her face as Amy hurries out of sight towards the back of the store.
My mom’s grip on my shoulders relaxes as the other woman approaches us. She has long straight blond hair that extends just past her shoulders. She’s not as model tall as Amy, but she is still taller than me. I think that she is prettier than Amy due to her natural and friendly looking smile. Like Amy, she is also wearing professional clothing and it somehow looks sexy on her. I am not sure how that is possible.
“Hi, I’m Katrina. Sorry about Amy, but she, umm, had some stuff to do. How can I assist you today?” Katrina asks with an embarrassed smile.
Oh, wait. I can see a hint of her bra from underneath her button down shirt. Is she wearing Victoria’s Secret underwear? Is that her secret? Maybe she’s wearing one of those thong things I’ve heard about, but never actually seen. Well, not in person anyway. Those are definitely sexy, but I can’t see how having a string up my crack could be comfortable or make me feel sexy. Not that I would want to feel sexy or anything.
Katrina, that’s a nice name. Very exotic sounding. I start to imagine her as Nikita, the sexy female assassin from that TV show.
“Bree? Bree? Hello, are you there?” Amanda asks.
Oh my god. Busted. I can feel myself turning beet red. I was doing exactly what I was worried that I would do. “I’m sorry. This is my first time in here and I’m so embarrassed.” I say while wanting to just crawl in a hole and die.
Nikita, I mean Katrina laughs. “I totally understand! My first time here I was petrified and you should have seen me on my first day working here!”
She has such a nice laugh.
“So, I take it that this is your mom?” Katrina asks, looking back to my mom.
“And this lovely lady is your BFF?” Katrina ask while looking at Amanda.
Amanda laughs and hugs me. “She is now!”
“So, what are you looking for?” Katrina asks.
“Umm, I’m looking for some bras.” I say, trying hard to not mumble and look her in the eyes.
“Oh great! I think I can help. Since this is your first time, we should start by getting you fitted.” Katrina says as she turns to Amanda. “Should we get you fitted too?”
Amanda looks at Barb with the best puppy dog expression that I have ever seen. Lindsay has nothing on Amanda. “Fine, we can get you one bra too, but don’t tell your dad.” Barb says.
Amanda gives Barb a quick hug before turning to me with a giggle. “This is going to be so much fun!”
“No, it’s not. We can’t do that. I might see your boobs!” Well, that’s what I want to say.
“Yeah.” Is what I really say as Amanda gleefully pulls me along as she follows Katrina to the dreaded fitting rooms..
I am surprised, pleasantly, when Katrina motions for Amanda and me to enter our own fitting booths. “Okay, who’s first?” Katrina asks as she takes a tailor’s tape of her pocket.
Amanda looks at me as I look at her. She looks nervous and that makes me feel better. I thought that she would be a pro at this and think nothing of it, but if she’s actually nervous, then I’m not alone. She giggles as we both look at each other and hope the other volunteers to go first.
“I can.” I say, surprising myself as I raise my hand.
“Great! Go on in and let’s get you measured.” Katrina says with a smile.
Katrina follows me into the fitting room and closes the door. I feel a little self-conscious as I take off my top.
“Oh, you’re wearing one of our new cotton bras. How does it feel?” Katrina asks.
“Umm, okay, I think.” I say.
“Does it bind or pinch anywhere?” Katrina asks.
“No, not that I have noticed.” I say.
“Hmm, it looks a little tight on your shoulders. Turn around. I’ll try adjusting it a bit.” Katrina says.
I turn around and watch her in the mirror as she makes some minor adjustments to the shoulder straps. The pressure on my shoulder blades ease and I feel pain that I didn’t even know I was feeling, fade away.
“Oh, wow. Thanks, that feels much better.” I say, smiling into the mirror.
“No problem. I think this one fits you pretty much perfectly. I think that we can skip the fitting. Unless you want to make sure?” Katrina asks, looking concerned.
I laugh, feeling relieved. “Oh no, that’s okay. I’m sure Amanda is sweating bullets over there.” I say as I tap on our shared wall.
“Hey! I am not!” Amanda says before breaking down and giggling. “Well, okay, maybe a little.”
My mom and I hunt down the cotton bra rack while Katrina fits Amanda. So many colors and patterns. I discover that my “beige” bra’s official color is called “nude”. How can “nude” be a color? The cheetah and leopard print just confuse me. What can you match them with? The two shades of pink is just bleh. I end up grabbing another nude, hehe, and white bra. I get a little risqué by picking a black with kind of cool white dot flower pattern for my final pick. I think that six bras should be enough. I wonder if I can wear them two or three days in a row like my jeans.
“Oh my god, Bree! You have just got to get this white with roses one!” Amanda says as she sneaks in and pulls the offending bra off the rack.
“Umm, why don’t you get it?” I ask.
“Silly, I can’t.” Amanda says with a pout.
“Okay, why?” I ask, tentatively because I know that she’s faking it.
Amanda grabs the pink leopard print bra. “Because I’m totally getting this one! What do you think?” She asks as she holds it up over her chest and strikes a pose.
“Amanda Lynn Townsend! You are not getting that bra.” Barb says, using the full name parental authority mode.
“But, Mooom, I liiiike it.” Amanda says with a foot stamp and a pout as she struggles to not laugh.
Yes, she’s totally faking it.
“Amanda...” Barb says with exasperation.
“Okaaay, How about this one?” Amanda asks after grabbing the solid dark pink colored bra.
I’m sure that there is a special name for that specific shade of pink, but to me, it’s pink. Maybe dark pink, but it is still pink. I accidentally catch the name of the color from the bin label. Pink soda, really?
“We also have these in demi, push-up and unlined full coverage. Would you like to try any of those styles?” Katrina asks.
Oh crap. What the heck is a demi bra and do I really want to know? Is that named after Demi Moore or something? Push-up? Heck no! These things are pushed up enough, thank you very much.
“Oh! I wanna try the demi bra.” Amanda says, quickly putting the pink soda colored bra back.
I catch a glimpse of Amy, the grumpy sales lady, glancing at me a few times as she assists another customer. “Umm, Katrina?”
“Yes?” Katrina asks.
“Why did, umm, Amy not want to help us?” I ask.
Katrina glances over to Amy before looking back at me. “Honestly, I don’t know for sure. I’ve only worked here for a month now and I’ve only worked with her once before, but I have heard that her brother was accidentally killed when some super hero group was called in to defeat a super villain that was robbing a bank.”
“Oh, that’s bad.” I say, feeling sorry for Amy. I can see how that could make you not like supers, but she doesn’t even know me. How can she not like me?
I catch up with Amanda just as she finds one of those demi bras in her size and in that pink soda color. She holds it up for her mom to inspect. Barb just nods her head yes to approve it. Maybe a demi bra isn’t that bad. I debate caving under peer pressure and trying one myself, but I’m pretty happy, relatively speaking, with my current full coverage bra style. Need to keep these aliens fully covered, yes sirree!
Amanda grins with delight and bra in hand; she heads back to the fitting rooms. I’m a little surprised, but I don’t know why, when Amanda stops after a few meters and looks back at me. “Bree? Come on. I need you to tell me how it looks!” She says, waving me over.
Of course, she wants my opinion. How could I have not anticipated that? Why can’t she want her mom’s opinion instead? I know that is who I would ask about bras and once again, why does how it looks matter when no one is supposed to be able to see them? Isn’t it supposed to be about how comfortable it is?
Barb follows us, while my mom stays behind for some reason. Amanda enters a changing room and I stand guard outside her door. There is no way that I am going to follow her inside and thankfully, she doesn’t appear to want me to.
“Oh my gawd! This bra is sooo cute! Ooohh, and comfy too.” Amanda says from the other side of the door.
I hear the door unlock and Amanda steps out wearing only the bra up top. “Well? What do you think?” She asks.
It definitely exposes more of her boobs and they look a little bigger than mine. I’m not jealous am I? Nope, not at all. I like my ‘girls’ just the way they are. OMG, this is taking the camouflage idea a bit too far now. I can’t believe that I just thought that. Why can’t I still be a boy? I should feel like I have died and gone to heaven, but it’s more like hell because I know that she is only showing me because she thinks I am a girl, just like her.
“Oh, it’s, umm, cute, but it shows more, umm, side boob. Is that the right way to say that?” I ask, feeling embarrassed again because it really does look nice on her. Very sexy even and I’m not supposed to think that about her.
Amanda giggles. “Of course, that is what it is supposed to do. This bra is for when I am wearing something low cut and I don’t want my bra to show.” She says.
“Okaay, but...” I say, but decide to stop myself before I really make myself sound like a prude.
Amanda doesn’t buy it. She puts her top back on, but pulls it down in the front to show how the bra is hidden and her boobs are tantalizingly on display without really being exposed. “See?” She asks.
“Oh yeah, that looks very nice.” I say, trying not to blush or stare.
Amanda turns to her mom. “So, Mom, can I get this one?” She asks.
“Well, if that is the one that you really like. I guess so.” Barb pauses as she looks at Amanda critically. “And, it does look like it will go with some of your other outfits.”
Amanda is pretty darn happy and I can’t help myself. I laugh from the pleasure of seeing her look so happy and proud of her new bra.
As we exit the fitting rooms, I see my mom waiting for us at the cash register, bag in hand. As Barb steps up the register, Katrina hands her a bag for Amanda’s old bra.
“Thank you for shopping with us tonight.” Katrina says with a smile for Barb and my mom before she turns to Amanda and me. “I hope that you two were able to find everything you wanted.”
I manage to smile while Amanda can barely contain her enthusiasm over her new bra and the subtle sculptured increase under her shirt. Barb tries to hand Katrina her credit card, but Katrina holds up her hand and refuses to take it. Barb turns to my mom with shock. “You didn’t have to pay for Amanda’s bra too!”
“Oh yes, I did. With all the help Amanda was with Bree, she earned it!” My mom says.
I can see that this is going to take a minute or two as they debate each other, but in the end, I know that my mom is going to win. This time, it is me who grabs Amanda’s arm and pulls her out of the store as the two adults continue to mock argue with each other over the bill.
It only takes 25.6 seconds before Barb finally gives in and joins us outside the store.
“Seriously Jen, you didn’t have to do that.” Barb says, giving it a last ditch effort to change my mom’s mind.
My mom laughs. “Nope, all done. Too late! Okay then, how about if we head back to the car so that we can all get our beauty rest?”
I feel pretty happy as we walk back through the mall. Now that the shopping is done, I can kind of just relax. Plus, I have Amanda by my side keeping me company and I find her presence comforting for some reason. She chats about a million things. Like my new clothes and how nice they will look with this or that item and accessory. I’m not really sure about accessorizing yet. I don’t even have my ears pierced, but I only know that is not normal because of Amanda.
“Oh my gawd! Bree, Mom, Mrs. Peters.” Amanda says, full of excitement as we near a jewelry store.
That’s not good. She’s using my mom’s proper name. I wonder what Amanda is so excited about.
“Can we stop and get Bree’s ears pierced? It will only take a few minutes and the store is right there!” Amanda asks.
“Amanda, I’m not sure if Bree and her Mom planned on getting that done today.” Barb says.
I notice that she didn’t say no. She’s leaving that up to my mom and I.
My mom looks at me. “Bree? What do you think?” She asks.
Amanda can’t contain her excitement. “Oh please, please, please? I have the perfect pair of studs to go with that green outfit of yours and I wanna give them to you tomorrow or before you leave.” Amanda says, practically begging me.
I’m not that keen on getting both of my ears pierced, but I’m not opposed to it and Amanda looks so excited about the idea. “Umm, I guess so. Will it hurt?” I ask, instantly regretting it.
What a dumb question. Of course, it’ll hurt. They only stick a big needle through your ear. I wonder what my regen will do. I seem to heal pretty fast. Will they even be able to get the studs into my ears before I heal? What about after? Will my nanites eat the studs and heal me anyway.
“Silly! It only hurts for a second!” Amanda giggles as she drags me into the store.
My mom has to sign the consent form and just before the lady with the piercing gun punches holes in my ears. Getting the studs isn’t cheap and I don’t want my mom to waste her money. So, I notify my ears to not eat the studs. I think. Five minutes later, we walk out of the store and I have a small pair of silver studs in my ears. I guess that my nanites listened to me. The lady instructed me on proper care and cleaning of my new wounds, but I’m not sure that I am going to need to worry about it. My medical system reports that my ears are 100% healed before we leave the store and an experimental tug on my stud confirms that with zero pain or discomfort.
“I think that my ears are healed already.” I say to my mom with a whisper.
“I’ll have to take a look at them once we get back to our room.” My mom says as she drops back to allow Amanda to resume her position at my side.
“Oh wow Bree! Those look so cute on you! I can’t wait to give you my set. I hope that you will like them.” Amanda says, sounding a little worried that I might not like her set.
“Oh, I’m sure that I will like them.” I say, but I really don’t know if I will or not. I absently tug on my ear from the unaccustomed feeling of having something in my ear.
Amanda bats my hand away. “Don’t touch them! You don’t want to get them infected.” She says with a concerned tone. “It took my ears almost a month before they really healed up.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her that my ears are already healed. “Oh, yeah, that would be bad.” I say.
Amanda smiles at me before she restarts the conversation from where she left off from before she spotted the piercing store. She’s pretty amazing. I am surprised when she tells me about her school and how much she wishes that I could go to her school too.
I’m surprised by her sentiment because I think it could be fun too. I really like her, but not in a boy likes a girl way. She just makes me feel welcome and that makes me feel warm inside. Is this what it feels like to have a girlfriend who isn’t really a girlfriend, but is really a friend who is a girl? I know that I never felt like this with John. Sure, we are buds and all that. We would both probably be willing to help the other hide a body for each other, but we never had this kind of relationship.
“Hello! Earth to Bree!” Amanda says, impatiently to regain my attention. “Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“Umm, sorry. I was just thinking about how nice it is to have you as my friend.” I say with total and complete conviction.
Her eyes get a little moist as she smiles warmly at me. “Oh, Bree.” She says before she turns back to yell at her mom. “Hey Mom, can we trade Bree for Jason?”
Her mom and my mom are keeping pace with us, but about three meters, I mean ten feet or so, behind us. I guess they are giving us some space or something. They both laugh at her question. “I don’t think so Amanda. I doubt that your brother would be willing to move to New Mexico, plus you would miss him.” Barb says.
“Totally no!” Amanda says with a giggle as she turns back and gives me a quick hug as we continue walking.
The parking lot is pretty dark and empty when we leave the mall. Well, not dark for me, but I’m sure that it is dark for everyone else. Our car is almost three hundred meters from the doors and there are only a few cars still parked near it. I notice a late model Cadillac Escalade parked and idling a few rows over, but closer to the entrance. The windows are tinted in the back, but out of curiosity, I decide to play with my thermographic vision mode. That allows me to easily see that there are two dudes up front and three in the back seat. The bass is cranked up so high that the entire car is vibrating. I’m surprised that the wheels and doors haven’t fallen off. To make matters worse, the song sucks.
Something about them worries me. Why are they just sitting in their car? Are waiting for someone to get done shopping so that they can give them a ride home? That’s got to be it, but where would another passenger sit? I must be paranoid. I start to ignore them, but I notice my mom tense up as we walk past their car.
“Just keep walking. Get your keys out, Barb.” My mom says with a tense whisper as she grabs my hand.
Now my targeting system kicks in and I realize that except for the other car, we are the only people in the parking lot right now. The Escalade’s sound system turns off as its lights snap on. It slowly begins to move forward.
Amanda isn’t sure what is going on, but she looks pretty nervous by both our mom’s tense and protective behavior. “Amanda, come on. Let’s get to the car.” Barb says to her suddenly nervous daughter.
“Mom? What’s wrong? You can’t think...” Amanda asks as she looks behind us and notices the Escalade creeping up behind us.
Amanda’s nervous glance behind us must be their cue.
“Hey! Ladies! Were you going? Maybe we can like, give you a ride!” The eighteen’ish year old boy driving the car yells from twenty meters behind us while leaning out of his window.
I hear the rest of his friends laughing pretty hard.
“Oh yeah! I know how to give them ladies a ride they’ll never forget!” I hear a muffled voice say from inside the car.
“Keep walking, don’t look at them. It’ll only encourage them.” My mom orders under her breath.
We make it another twenty meters closer to our car and safety, but we still have one hundred meters to go and the big SUV is now only ten meters behind us. “Yo! Bitches! Didn’t you hear my boy axe you a question!?” The front passenger yells from half in and half out of the passenger side door. All of the boys in the car think that is the most hilarious thing they have ever heard as they all break out into laughter.
“Oh fuck yeah! Them are some fine looking MILFs! Just look at their hottie daughters!” The driver yells back to his buds in the back seat, not caring if we overhear him or not.
“Yo, which one’s the mutie, cause they’re both pretty damn hot?!”
“Barb, Amanda, Bree. Run to the car, lock the doors and call the police!” My mom says as she stops walking just as the Escalade’s tires squeal under acceleration.
Barb pulls Amanda into a run, while I hesitate. “Mom?”
“Bree! Come on!” Amanda yells at me.
“Just go! Bree! Now!” My mom yells as the Escalade skids to a stop beside her and the doors start to swing open.