A Whateley Academy Independent Fiction
December 24, 1987
Hanford Nuclear Facility, Tri Cities area, WA
Doctor Malcom Jenkins turned and smiled as a pint sized brunette flew into his arms, hugging him tightly. He was of middling size and build, with fading black hair and glasses atop his long lab coat. "Bea! How was the gymnastics meet?"
"Pretty good, I got silver in the all around. Liz Peters edged me out by a tenth. Had a few interviews, I know at least three recruiters were there." Beatrice Jenkins was small, very small. Just a hair over five feet tall with slight traces of her father's Chinese ancestry, Bea's build was of natural benefit in the world of gymnastics.
"That's good news though. That's why you stayed in High School and are taking courses at the community college instead of just graduating early. Have any problems with your car on the way over?" Malcom pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose as he spoke. His daughter had just turned seventeen that year and hadn't been driving very long, but with her academic course load in both the high school and community college, plus athletic events, it was a necessity that had to happen.
"The passes were pretty clear. We got out early enough that it wasn't too bad. So, you ready to show me what you and mom have been working on?" Bea looked about at the lab she had been shown to, noting the various beakers, expensive computers and microscopes, as well as tanks of small animals. The lab was fairly empty, what with it being Christmas Eve, but there were still enough scientists that lived with their work to make having it open worthwhile. Technically it was one of the labs that didn't exist, however Malcom and Clarissa Jenkins used a few favors getting her in from time to time. Moonlight streamed in from the massive overhead skylight. The night was clear and stars shone down from the cloudless sky, twinkling merrily away like a seasonal postcard.
"I can show you some of it. Let's go over and say hi to your mother and take a look at what she's doing." Malcom put an arm around his daughter and led her across the lab to his wife, Clarissa. Clarissa Jenkins was about 5 and a half feet tall and was a red haired Irish-woman to her core. Clarissa smiled at their approach, giving her daughter a hug. "Seeing the lab, are we? Wondering what's about with all the bees and frogs?"
Beatrice nodded as she peered around. "I remember the two of you were talking about that new PCR technique and how it could help your research, but that's not something that's come up in classes before."
Clarissa smiled at her daughter. "It's pretty ground breaking actually. It wouldn't surprise me if someone wins the Nobel Prize for it one of these years. The short version of what we're doing is testing the effects of prolonged radiation exposure on animals sensitive to ecosystem changes. We're working with bees since they're natural pollinators and interact directly with flowering plants, and frogs since they're amphibians who are sensitive to pollution in water systems. We thought they would be relatively good indicators of what kinds of effects and mutations we can see in the natural environment from radioactive materials."
She paused to ensure her daughter was following her, then continued. "The longer version is that polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, is a remarkably easy method of replicating DNA in large batches from relatively small sample sizes. This lets us take DNA of successive generations of creatures in order to track the effects of radiation mutation over time within a sample pool. It's not quite exact yet, we haven't cloned the frogs or bees in order to test the differences between exposure and non-exposure upon the same exact creature, but the ease of getting large DNA samples for analysis from small doses of say, blood, means we can run more tests than we would otherwise."
Beatrice looked over at her parents. "So you're tracking mutations along gene pairs then? Seeing what sort of effects and changes are cropping up that might be caused by mutation from the radioactive materials? I mean you can't say conclusively it isn't just a random mutation from breeding, but it'll let you identify areas of possibility for future research."
Malcom smiled at his daughter. "Exactly. Between my nuclear physics and your mother's work with cellular biology we've been able to find several interesting finds already. We also hope that this research might one day pinpoint what's going on with the mutants as well. Why do only some change, is it genetic? Random? Triggered by something else? So many possibilities that science has yet to answer."
"We've already noticed some signs of changes, particularly with the bees. This latest round seems even more hive oriented than normal. It's almost like the queen is utilizing some sort of mass control. I'm not sure if it's pheromones or some sort of instinctive telepathy." Clarissa looked over some of her sample hives and the attached notes before continuing. "It also hasn't triggered among all the samples either, only one queen seems to be able to do this. I'm working on isolating her DNA and comparing it to DNA samples from the other 'mutated' queens to see if there's a difference genetically between them, as well as comparing them to the DNA from my control groups."
"I wonder what could..." Bea broke off what she had been saying with a scream as the skylight above suddenly shattered, a glassy cloud falling downwards followed quickly by two very large, metallic humanoid figures which landed with a booming echo. Bea's hands flew to her ears and head, ducking instinctively as the sounds of Gatling weapon fire began to fill the void of silence. Malcom shielded her as he hurried her behind some lead sheeting walls used with some of the radiation equipment.
"Wait here, I'm going to get your mother!" he told her before heading back into the firestorm, moving in a crouch behind desks and tables.
Bea remained on her knees, crouched down while covering her ears and looking down. She could hear the shattered sounds of breaking glass, sparks and equipment being destroyed, the cries and screams of scientists and researchers being hit. Somewhere she smelled smoke, and shortly thereafter the automatic sprinklers were tripped. A symphony of chaos destroying everything around her. She hoped her father would return, that there would be a way out of this disaster for her family. In the distance she could hear warning sirens echoing their refrain of alarm. Perhaps help would come, someone would save them somehow.
It was short lived hope.
"Ah, Doctor Jenkins, and Doctor Jenkins. So nice to finally meet the two of you in person." A human voice spoke as the gunshots silenced. "I see you've met my two associates. My father's work was impressive before time caught up with him. He would have loved your research, it has so much potential."
"What do you want with us? Do you have any idea what you've done?" Her mother's voice. She was still alive.
"Want with you? Nothing, nothing at all. No, it's your findings that are so intriguing. So much potential to further the family business." The strange voice again. Bea knelt down and peered under the lead sheet, seeing her parents kneeling next to each other. A pair of boots, well made and black leather. Then two pairs of massive, huge, metallic feet. Robotic feet?
"And what business would that be, villainy?" Her father's quick retort probably didn't help what would come.
"Why yes, what other kind is there? I should be sporting I suppose and offer you a chance to join me...”
"Go to Hell!" Her father again, Bea could almost see his glare in her mind's eye as well as her mother's cold, icy fury.
"A pity. Well since you will not cooperate willingly..." A single shot echoed throughout the room followed shortly by a thump.
"MALCOM!" Clarissa's scream filled the room as Bea's world began to crumble.
"Clarissa... don't let him... I... don't let him... I love... you...”
"Perhaps now, Doctor Jenkins, you'll be more cooperative. If you'd kindly...”
Her mother spat, presumably into his face before the sound of breaking glass, accompanied by a large amount of buzzing. A scream of rage, a second shot, a second body hitting the ground.
"Now all my little bees have flown away... flown away to safety...” Clarissa said softly.
The tears ran freely down Beatrice's face. She barely noticed the cuts on her knees and legs, the shards of glass and debris around her. The water spraying from the ruined ceiling, sparks of electricity here and there from destroyed equipment. She could smell fire and smoke even now, now when everything she cared about in the world was dust.
"Ignorant fools! At least their notes could prove useful. Is there anyone else here?" Sounds of movement, rustling of papers and folders. Sounds of machinery and whirring.
"No other life signs detected." A hollow metallic voice. Presumably one of the robots. Later Beatrice would wonder if the lead sheet had somehow shielded her from whatever equipment the robots had. At the time she could only crouch on the ground, silently sobbing in wracking heartache and grief.
"Well, then there's nothing else for us here. It is time to depart." Footsteps echoed onward, leaving a life in shambles.
Minutes seemed like hours while she waited. Eventually she peered from behind the curtain, too destroyed to worry if the villain had left or not. Suddenly she winced in pain and swatted at her arm. The bees... the bees her mother had freed rather than let be taken. The lab was destroyed; fire, water and electricity arced in a deadly mix. She had to leave before the last remaining reactor had a fault. She staggered somehow to her parents, kneeling and crying over them.
Eventually even that came to an end. The fires were spreading, the warning klaxons growing louder as more alarms were tripped. She kissed her parents on their foreheads, closing their eyes and arranging them together. A Celtic cross necklace that had belonged to her mother, a pocket watch from her father, and their dying love was all she could take with her now.
Beatrice grabbed as much cash as she could find from various wallets and lockers. She felt empty, but, somehow sick and as if her insides were on fire. She began to pant as she stumbled about, winded. She had to make it outside, outside to her car. The money would last her a while, long enough to figure out something. She was so hot. Not even the blast of the winter chill would cool her as she stepped outside. Outside, away from everything she had ever known...
December 26, 1987
"Dude, Conner, check it out!"
Conner wiped a lock of hair from his eyes as he looked over at Sam and Frank. The three boys were a trio, even now a year and a half after high school. Winter break had them all out of classes from college and wandering amuck down by the piers and Pike Place Market. Frank was pointing at the headlines of one of the Seattle Times.
"Isn't that where you did your Senior Paper on a few years back? Hanford?"
"Yeah, it is." Conner dug a few coins from his pocket and purchased the paper from the vending machine, reading further. Sam and Frank crowded around him as they all looked over the cover story.
"Whoa... dude, this is tense. Fire, over twenty dead. Some missing, dude, they're closing down the reactor over this!"
Conner peered closely at the picture of the story. It was a long range shot, taken in the early morning gloom by helicopter. It almost looked as if... "Hey, guys. Do you see a person there?"
"What, that? Nah, that's just a blur. Next you'll be telling me you've seen Sasquatch in the Cascades. Come on; let’s go get something to eat. I could go for a fish and chips."
"You and your stomach, Sam. Might as well though, it is noon. Come on, Conner. You coming?"
Conner shook his head as he peered at the paper while the other two walked away. He could swear that there was a person moving away from the plant in the shot. Small and blurred, in the corner. Just a few specks of a grainy photo. He folded the paper under his arm and ran after his friends. "Yeah, I'm coming." He'd look into it later. He'd taken a large interest in Washington's nuclear history and had done a great deal of research on the Hanford facility. It was almost as if a part of his life was dying with it being closed down...
January 1, 2007, Breakfast
"Max! Claire! Anna! Breakfast!"
Conner Jeremy Fox, put the last sprinkles of freshly chopped green onion on the plated scrambles, putting the four plates onto the kitchen table. A relatively simple dish (most of his cooking was of simple, tasty food as opposed to excessive elegance for little purpose) of potatoes, sausage, onion, mushroom, egg and cheese it was still somehow one of the family favorites. Having been a father for the past twenty years there were a few tricks he'd picked up and used along the way.
Claire was first, as she usually was when food was involved. Claire Elizabeth Westbrook was not his daughter by birth; she was in fact the younger of his two step-children. At 22 she was a Senior at the nearby University of Washington, majoring in pre-Med. Having done a lot of work in the UW Hospital she had gotten into the habit of eating quickly whenever food was available, as she never knew when a disaster would strike and postpone her lunch hour. Beautiful, tall, and slender she most resembled her mother down to the shoulder length styled brunette hair and delicate seeming glasses. She was dressed down for the day in sweat bottoms and a comfortable t-shirt. "Good morning, Dad. Scrambles today?"
"Yup. Go ahead and start, I'll get juice for everyone." Conner smiled as he poured orange juice from a pitcher, returning it to the refrigerator. His own hair was more of a sandy blonde, with a lock that constantly ran down over his eyes. His wife, Jennifer Claire Fox, insisted that he leave it alone and not cut or style it, so he had simply learned to deal with it instead.
Max entered next, just in time to help his father with two of the juice glasses before sitting himself at the table. Maximillian Alexander Westbrook IV was the eldest of the four children. He actually possessed a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and was studying at the UW for his Master's. Twenty three years old, very much the eldest and responsible leader that one would expect. He was tall, broad of shoulder, brown haired and looked like a football linebacker. He played for fun and had been offered an opportunity to walk on at the college level which he had turned down, preferring to concentrate on his academics. Dressed in a long sleeved hoodie, cargo shorts, socks and sandals, he had a typical Seattle approach to fashion at the best of times.
"Anna will be right in, she's just finishing up in the bathroom," Max said as he sat down. He took a long breath, inhaling the smells coming off his plate.
"I am not, and you're an ass," Anna said as she sat at the table. Anna Ophelia Fox was the youngest of the four children at 17. Her hair was short and messy, sandy blonde like her fathers with lavender dyed frosted tips. She had a tasteful diamond stud in her nose, a mismatched collection of earrings, and was currently in a black tank top and shorts.
Max grinned and winked at her as everyone took a moment to eat and enjoy their first meal of the New Year. While their father was not as grand a cook as their mother, he could manage a few good meals.
"So Anna, how's school? Enjoying that private school on the east coast?" Conner asked.
The three children exchanged a momentary glance before Anna answered. "It's going pretty well. Learning a lot, a few of my friends are going through the normal things. Made a few breakthroughs myself in one or two of my classes I've been struggling with."
"That's good. Any thoughts as to what you'll do after you graduate?" Conner looked at his youngest daughter inquisitively. She was a Junior this year, so a question or two about graduation wasn't entirely out of place.
"I've been thinking about Archaeology or History," Anna said. "I've been getting intrigued about the past after all, museums are interesting places."
"You could almost say the artifacts talk to her," Max said with a wink at his sister. Claire smacked her brother across the shoulder. "Be nice," she chastised. "Just because Will isn't here doesn't mean you have to crack jokes in his place."
William Bradley Fox was the third born. He was 19 and currently away as an apprentice stage magician on tour. He had been home for Christmas but flew out a few days afterward to Vegas.
Conner nodded, "Always good to have an interest. Knowledge gained is never wasted, and history has a tendency to repeat itself. Knowing what happened before is a good way to guess what might happen now. Heaven knows we can keep your room here if you wanted to study at the U when you're done."
"I'll think about it. I've still got some time before then, and my grades are good enough that I have some options."
"Well the offer is open, should you want. I just want to make sure you're thinking about your future." Conner wiped his mouth on a napkin and set his silverware on his cleaned plate. "Now if you kids will excuse me, I'm going to go pay a visit to your mother. I'll be back in a few hours; I have my phone with me."
The three children looked across the table at each other, waiting for the front door to close before resuming speaking.
"I'm worried about Dad," Claire said with a frown. "He's..."
"Not all here," Max nodded in agreement. "He's just going through the motions. It's good for him to have us here, but what'll happen in a week or so when Anna's back to Whateley and we're in classes again?"
"Mom's worried about him too, she told me," Anna added. "I talked to her a few weeks ago."
Max nodded. "I'll take your word for it," he said. "It's nice to still hear from her in a way, but..."
"I just wish we could tell him," Claire said. "I feel horrible keeping everything a secret."
"We have to; it's the only way to keep everything safe. Even mom kept everything secret for the entire time they were together."
"I know, Max. I just don't like it." Claire frowned as she finished up her own food. "There has to be a better way."
"If there is, we'll find it. Until then, we have to keep going," her brother replied.
Their mother, Jennifer Claire Fox, also known as Lady Briar, had been dead for just over a year.
January 1, 2007, Early Morning
Tap... tap... tap...
The sound of a cane on wood added a slight percussive beat to the symphony of the waterfront of Seattle. Sounds of automobiles from Alaskan Way and the Alaskan Way Viaduct met with some of the streetcars that occasionally passed by, buses, pedestrians, and ships from Elliott Bay. Gulls cried as they circled the waterfront and flocked among the piers. The smell of the sea came in over the breeze, layering everything with a slight tint of ocean.
Conner walked towards a bench, easing himself down into it as the cane supported his weight. A small paper bag was in his other hand, which he opened to reveal a fresh batch of powdered sugar donut holes purchased from a vendor in the nearby Pike Place Market. He sighed for a moment looking at the pastries then began to eat, gazing out over the bay at nothing and everything as he did so.
"Mind if I join you?"
A voice distracted him from his mental wanderings sometime later. He looked up to see an older woman, her hair a silvery grey color standing next to him. "Please, go right ahead," he answered as he cleared away the paper bag from the bench next to him. The woman sat gracefully. She was not overly tall nor short, and while it was clear she was older from her demeanor she possessed a timeless quality. He would guess Asian ancestry in part, but given Seattle's melting pot nature that would not be surprising.
"Thank you. The other benches are full with the children, and I don't do so well sitting on the ground anymore." Sure enough Conner could see a field trip from a school or some other organization was taking a lunch break nearby.
"I can understand. My leg has made its opinion clear lately as well, especially in the winter."
"Oh? An old injury?"
"Life." Conner chuckled as he found himself talking to this unknown woman. "I met my wife during college, and after graduation we got a place nearby. Nothing too fancy but big enough for us and our kids. I ended up working for one of the dot com startups. Life was good for a while, paid off our debts, started getting things tucked away. Then the bubble crashed and everything went downhill. I began taking whatever jobs I could to keep money coming in, but after I lost the good job I lost my medical. It was during a warehouse job I was working I got hurt. A pallet rack was coming down and I tried to be a hero. Suppose you can say I did, but it cost me my knee. Won a settlement claim, but there's nothing much to be done about it for another ten or fifteen years when I'll just get it replaced."
She nodded in understanding. "Sometimes what will be, will be."
"Exactly. And well, it needed done. I couldn't stand there and do nothing. It's certainly made things interesting since then, but I don't regret it. Life doesn't always go according to plan. All we can do is adapt and deal with the hand we've been dealt."
"Wise beyond your years as well. A rare thing nowadays" She smiled in an amused fashion.
Conner chuckled. "So I've been told from time to time. I simply listen and pay attention. Try to understand what is going on and adapt to the world instead of trying in vain to force it my way. Too many people struggle for control over everything, they don't understand sometimes the only way is to let go."
The unknown woman nodded sadly before gesturing towards Conner's left hand. "How long has your wife been gone?" she asked.
Conner blinked, then realized he had absently been rubbing his thumb across his wedding ring. He smiled sadly. "A little over a year. She used to love the water, we came down here often. It's been very hard since..." he trailed off and shook his head. "I can't bring myself to take it off yet. I miss her terribly. Thankfully the children are all grown, our youngest is seventeen now. She's a junior so she'll do okay. The others are all either in college or employed."
He looked over at the old woman, tilting his head slightly. "If you don't mind my asking, how did you know? I didn't think I said anything..."
"You are not the only one who chooses to listen. Though I think a more important question is what is going on over there?" Conner followed her finger as she pointed inland, quickly forgetting their conversation.
A man was running towards the docks, sliding over the hoods of cars all Dukes of Hazzard style as he looked behind him. That was not entirely unusual (It'd be a stretch to say you saw it every day), but doing so while carrying a brown paper bag and a handgun while there were sirens dimly in the background was. Conner looked about quickly and swore as he saw the group of children still eating. The runner was wearing a long sleeved, grubby, black leather jacket and tattered blue jeans. Both articles of clothing had seen their better days long before now. Ducking behind one of the pillars holding up the viaduct, the thug dropped his brown bag for a moment while he ejected the ammo clip from his pistol. He looked at it for a moment before popping it back into the gun, retrieving his bag, and moved towards the street.
Conner moved up to a corner of one of the nearby buildings and took out his camera phone from his pocket. Snapping a few pictures of the man he assumed was a crook, he then dialed 911. "911, state the nature of your emergency," he heard the operator say before he set his cell phone to speaker and slipped it inside his pocket. "Quick, get those kids out of here! He's got a gun!" Conner yelled, pointing at the thug running towards the water.
That managed to get people's attention. Conner moved towards the perp carefully as the running man made it across Alaskan Way to the piers proper. "What the fuck are you doing on the piers with a gun, dude?" he asked loudly enough to be heard hopefully by the phone operator.
The thug looked at Conner in a perplexed fashion, bringing the gun up and pointing it directly at him. "The fuck?" the man asked as he sized up Conner, taking in the middle age appearance and cane. The fellow wasn't young, perhaps in his late 20's or 30's, and had the scruffy look of a professional ne'er-do-well. "Get out of my way before you make me angry, old man."
"Look, just let the kids get out of here. You want a hostage I'll play, you don't need them."
"Why would a cop care about you? No, I think you'll just be getting out of my way now." The fellow snarled at Conner, seeming to loosen up his arms. Suddenly the man dropped the bag he had been carrying, a selection of rock crystals shining within the brown paper as it fell onto the docks. The crook's left arm shot out with a blinding speed and a whirring noise, sending Conner flying while his cane dropped to the ground with a clatter. Conner flew perhaps twenty feet before landing on his back, his cell phone falling out of his pocket and landing a few yards away.
"Sir? Sir! Are you alright?" The operator's voice was audible from the phone. Apparently somehow the call had stayed on speaker and not hung up during the scuffle. The dirty rascal's attention was drawn to the phone for a moment before he looked over at Conner with disgust.
"Why you little shit... I'm going to enjoy this," the tough said while tucking away the pistol. He leaped through the air and landed with a metallic thunk next to Conner. The phone flew with a crashing sound as it was kicked away. Suddenly Conner was lifted through the air and thrown into a wall as casually as if he were a Frisbee.
Conner coughed, spitting up a bit of blood as he lay on the ground. He pushed himself up to his feet and turned to look at the crook, clutching his stomach. "That all you got?" he said with a half-chuckle.
"Oh aren't we the wise guy?" replied the crook, dashing forward suddenly and throwing a punch that landed into the wall, Conner managing to dodge out of the way. "Got some moves, pop? Not bad ... for a norm. But not good enough."
The fight wasn't much of one, nor was it that long. Conner knew he was being played with. He could hear his bones being broken, the world going hazy and dim. After a few minutes he was slumped against the wall, struggling to breathe with cracked ribs, maybe even a punctured lung while the crook wasn't even winded.
"Go ahead and finish it then," Conner said. At least he had kept the children safe. His own kids would be alright.
"Not bad, old man. You never had a... fuck! Fucking Squires!" The crook scowled and paused in his beating. "Well then... let's give them something else to be worried about other than me."
The sound of the first gunshot rang out across the pier like a cannon. The rest of the clip followed in short order before the nameless villain took off running, bag of loot in hand. Conner gasped for breath, barely hearing the call of "Dad!"
"Max?" Conner whispered. He felt someone grabbing him, holding him up in a sitting position.
"I'm here Dad... it's going to be alright. Minerva, here!!"
"It's alright Dad, everyone else is gone."
"Gladius, what's the... Dad!" A female voice, familiar and nearby.
"Claire? What are...? I'm sorry..."
"Dad, stay with us... no. No. Not my father!"
"Claire don't... shit, she's committed now. Quick, help me lift them...”
Conner closed his eyes, everything going black...
It's hard to say where, or for how long. I imagine this would be what a sensory deprivation tank would feel like. No real sights or sounds, just alone with my thoughts in inky mental blackness.
For whatever reason memories were what came to me. Of meeting Jen and our life together. We were both attending the UW; I had helped her reach a few books on a top shelf in the library. I wasn't that much taller than her, but sometimes that extra four inches comes in handy. Always with the carrying and lifting things.
She was beautiful. Fairly tall at about 5'8", slender with long, straight brunette hair. I hadn't been looking for anyone or anything in particular. Just felt like cruising to the library. She was standing on tiptoe trying to reach a large book on the top shelf of the mythology section while the pile of books she already had was threatening to fall all over the place. "Here, let me get that for you," I had said.
"Thank you," she said. Her voice was always melodic; I never got tired of hearing it.
"Should probably have gotten a basket, want mine?" I offered the carry basket I had grabbed out of habit on the way in. She smiled and took it, putting her books in one at a time.
"Class work I assume?" I asked, looking over the titles. Ancient Celtic works for the most part, with a few histories for good measure.
"You could say that. I've always had a bit of an interest.
"Me too actually, I'm fond of the history behind the Roman settlement of the British Isles and the native resistance. Not many cultures were able to resist enough to result in the Romans just building a wall and calling it good. My name's Conner, Conner Fox."
"Jennifer Rose, nice to meet you." She put an almost strange emphasis on Rose remembering back. It was just after her divorce after all, but I wouldn't learn that until later.
Beeping... hospital beeping. I was in a bed. Ventilator tube, pulse monitor... Claire writing on a chart. Max and Anna nearby. It hurt to keep my eyes open so I didn't bother.
"He's getting worse. I can't figure out what's wrong," Claire said.
"Claire, you've done all you can. If you hadn't been right there... the fact he's alive is a miracle." Max there, ever the balanced one.
"Miracle isn't good enough!" Claire snapped. "I will NOT lose him after coming so far!"
"Claire, you can only do what you can do. You've tried everything..."
"No we haven't." Anna broke in now. "He's losing blood from internal bleeding, give him mine."
"Anna, we can't do that! Just because you're only a minor level regen...” Claire began
"Why can't we?" Anna argued. "What's the worst that's going to happen, it kills him? He's already dying! Besides, you're not technically a doctor and we're not even in a hospital right now, who's going to know?"
The silence was palatable. The last thing I heard as I faded out was Max.
I had been making pancakes that one morning. Pancakes and sausages. It was over breakfast, I think it was Claire reading the paper, perhaps three or four years ago.
"There was another demonstration about mutant rights yesterday. It looks like there's something that might be gaining traction." She said.
"That's bullshit," I exclaimed from the kitchen.
Everyone fell silent and looked at me. I looked back at them from the kitchen. "What? We are all entitled to rights by being alive, aren't we? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Why the hell should there even have to BE demonstrations for rights that all of us have? They're people, just like us. All of us have rights and we shouldn't have to keep fighting the same battle over and over. First it was skin color, now its gay rights and mutants. Mark my words, give it ten years, fifteen at most and half the country won't give a damn if you're black, white, gay, straight, mutant or not."
The silence lasted a few more heartbeats then Jen smiled and got up. She came over and gave me a hug and a kiss, positively beaming.
"What?" I asked her, confused.
"You said us," was all she said.
Fire. I was on fire. Someone was holding my hand... Claire. Anna was crying in the corner. Max was trying to comfort her.
I looked around, eyes wide as I tried to figure out what was going on.
"Shhh... don't move, Dad. It'll be alright. You're doing fine," Claire said in a calming fashion. I suddenly felt a little better, more calm and peaceful. Sleepy. It must have been some medicine in the IV.
But there was so much pain. It just hurt everywhere. They continued to talk as I faded out.
"He's deep in Burnout," Claire murmured to the others, letting go of my hand. "I'm helping keep him under while we wait this out."
"It's all my fault!" Anna cried. Her face was buried into Max's shoulder.
"You had no way of knowing, none of us did. Claire even said this was all strange, didn't you, Claire?" Max replied.
"I have no idea what's going on. He's not himself anymore, but he's not Anna either. I don't know if her blood or genes activated a BIT or what, but something is happening. Whatever it is, Dad isn't dying anymore."
There was a fourth person in the room. None of the others seemed to see her, standing at the side of the bed. The Asian woman? From the Pier? What was she doing here?
The silver haired lady smiled down at me, touching me on the forehead. "Awaken," was all she said.
Everything faded again to black.
I was lying in a bed then too, my left leg wrapped in bandages. Max was sitting next to me, watching as I winced and moved the ice back onto my knee.
"What will you do now, Dad?" He asked. I had just hurt my knee, I still remember. He was still in football then, doing very well. I was fairly sure he had a few scholarship offers if he wanted to go down that road.
"Max, I'm going to tell you something important," I had said. "You need to remember this. Never let yourself be defined only by what you do, because one day you won't be able to do it anymore. You might get hurt, you might get old. The job you had might not exist anymore. There's no way of knowing exactly what will cause it, just that it's going to happen. On that day, you need to be defined by who you ARE. Just make sure who you ARE is always someone you can face in the mirror and be alright with."
I didn't think he'd understand, not then. It was something that took me a long time to understand myself, and he was still a boy. Not quite a man, almost. But if he was old enough to ask, maybe he'd understand one day.
He nodded, committing it to memory. He was a good son, and I was very proud of him. After all, it wasn't his fault who his sperm donor was.
Silence. I woke up and everything felt off. A slow monotonous beeping was in the room. Heart monitor. I was alone. I blinked and tried to look around. I was off the ventilator, but still in a bed. Something was wrong. I eased myself up slowly, as a lock of deep red hair ran across my vision. Red hair with white tips.
I was a blonde.
I looked down at myself and saw a pair of breasts sticking from my chest. Looking from side to side I saw that I had a tail. In fact, two tails. Two fox tails. A mirror was across from me over a sink and I saw a young girl, mid-teens, with a pair of fox ears, a pair of fox tails, and chin to shoulder length red hair with white tips, matching the color of her ears and tail.
I had no words. All I could do was stare, then look down at myself, then stare back at the mirror. Finally, I had something to say. Two words at least came out.
January 28, 2007
I sipped from a mug of hot apple cider as I lay in the hospital bed, clad in what I could only assume was someone's forest green T-shirt. It was huge on me, even with my generous breasts, so mostly I was trying not to think about how small I must be now.
"So what happened" I asked my three children. My voice sounded wrong, alien in my own head. Thankfully I had what I would have called before a sexy lounge singing contralto as opposed to some high bimbo-ish soprano sound. The only problem was I wanted to listen to someone else speak in those tones, not myself.
Max looked over at Claire. "Well, Dad," she said, "You had multiple fractures over almost your entire body, multiple gunshot wounds to your chest, and massive internal bleeding. You were in a coma for about a month."
"That crook at the docks. Who was he?" I looked over at Max.
"Ferrous. Petty crook, well what passes as petty for a mutant. He's got some basic physical enhancements, then he's actually got cybernetic limbs to repair old injuries. We were able to recover some of the video from your phone and ID him."
"And you all are mutants too? He said something about the Squires."
Max sighed regretfully and nodded. "Yes. Claire and I are members of the Seattle Squires. We're affiliated with the Seattle Knights; it's sort of an internship Super Hero Group."
"So what, the second string understudies? The JV team?"
"Something like that. It's really a way to allow college aged mutants who want to learn how to be a Super a chance to get some street time in under the supervision of an established super group. Most of us are also studying at the University of Washington, but there are some members from other local colleges. We've also worked a bit with the Seattle Supers here and there but mostly just the Knights."
The greater Seattle area more or less encompassed everything from Everett to Tacoma, and the population was always growing. Having two prominent super groups helped with a lot of things such as the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma and Sea-Tac International Airport. Not to mention the Canadian border as well as the large number of military bases. I always leaned towards the Knights ironically, mostly due to color. Blue and green was much more Seattle in my mind than reds and grays.
"So who are you all then? I mean your hero names and such."
Max sighed. "I'm Gladius. I'm a Physical Exemplar with a degree of force field manifestation and manipulation." He must have seen a blank look on my face. I'm not stupid or uneducated by any means, but well being a full time working father I didn't have a lot of time to keep up on all the modern mutant lingo. Thankfully he started dumb-ing it down for me. "I make a sword, shield and armor that I can use, and I'm exceptionally fast and strong. Claire's name is Minerva. She's a PDP, or a classic psychic. She can use telepathy or telekinesis, and also has the ability to accelerate healing in others."
Claire blushed at this a little. "I've theorized it's something about dealing with telekinesis on a microscopic level," she explained.
"And Anna?" I asked.
"She sees dead people," Max winked.
Anna let out an exasperated sigh. "I'm a medium. I see and speak to ghosts and spirits."
"Will is always telling her she should tell people she's a necromancer," Max continued with a chuckle. "Her name is Requiem."
"Will?" I asked. "Him too?"
"Will-o-Wisp. He's an illusionist, as in full scale images and sounds out of thin air."
"Figures he'd go for something obvious and showy. That explains the stage magician job though." I fell silent a moment and took another drink of the cider. Hot Apple Cider was really the best part of winter as far as I was concerned. "So what happened for... well... this?" I gestured at myself.
"Given how your body... reacted to Anna's blood... well the theory is it's something from your line that explains everything," Claire said. Minerva. I needed to start thinking of my children as who they decided to be as well as who they were.
"What do you mean by reacted?" I asked. This was obviously the part she was least comfortable with.
Claire paused, pursing her lips a moment before starting. "Anna has a very minor level Regen talent. Max does also which is pretty common for an Exemplar, but we always thought Anna's was a little unusual. I was able to keep you stabilized enough to get to our hideout here, but there was just too much damage to..." She trailed off, wiping her eyes. Max took over for her.
"She couldn't stop the internal bleeding fast enough. It was just too much for her. Since Anna is a match for your blood type and genetically related to you, Anna suggested using some of her blood as a donor."
Claire wiped her eyes and continued. "Well... your body had some sort of reaction to Anna's blood, but not by becoming Anna. Regen blood is technically a bio-hazard; it was risky but we didn't want to lose you. I don't understand exactly what happened. It's almost like you had a BIT of your own that got activated by the regenerating blood from Anna with some common gene."
"So I'm a latent mutant all on my own, and you all just... turned it on, somehow."
"Something like that," Claire said. "Even professional geneticists don't really understand all that's going on with mutants yet. I'm giving you my best guess but honestly, I just don't know."
I didn't mention the strange Asian lady. They were feeling bad enough as it was, there was no reason to trouble them with more things. I had plenty of time to try and work through that on my own. I finished off my cider and leaned back in the bed.
"I think we've troubled Dad enough for now. Call if you need anything, we'll be out in the other room," Claire said. She and the others went out, leaving me to my own thoughts. At least they meant to; either they didn’t step far enough away to avoid me overhearing them or my hearing was better than it used to be.
Max’s voice was the first I heard. "I wish I didn't feel like such an untrustworthy criminal. I've hated lying to Dad, and now it’s worse."
“At least you're not the one that did this to him," Anna replied.
"None of us did this, it just happened," Claire insisted, probably physically inserting herself between them if I knew my children. "More importantly, is now that we know Dad will live, what do we do with him... her... Dad? Publicly none of us are mutants, and how is he going to live if everyone knows he's well, her now?"
"I'm not sure, but I think I know who we call." Max paused a moment, probably fiddling with a phone. "Yes, this is Gladius with the Seattle Squires; may I have Agent Klein please? Yes, I'll hold. Agent Klein? Briar Rose has one last favor to call in. Yes, tomorrow would be fine. Any time will do, whatever is convenient. Yes, you'd be correct. Thank you, we'll speak then." There was another pause before he continued, "Cavalry is coming, now we just wait and see what he comes up with."
January 29, 2007
It felt like the man who walked in to see me was eight feet tall. I knew that wasn't the case, that intellectually I was simply still considering myself being about six feet tall and therefore a person who was more than a foot taller than me was obviously pushing between seven and eight feet. In reality it was just that I still wasn't used to being five foot two.
Yeah, I was the same height as a twelve year old, how wonderful. It was high on my list of things I loved about myself, right after being about a hundred thirty pounds soaking wet most of which was in my bra. Yet another thing I wasn't happy about; the presence and existence of my bosom, as well as the fact that I was now one of those lucky girls who got hit in the chest by the boob fairy. Yay me. I had, after all, worked so hard at it.
Admittedly I really wasn't abnormally shaped, they just felt ginormous. The fact I was so short didn't help any; really it was reading the 32DD tag on the inside and knowing that I was wearing it that caused the mental pain. The only comfort (if one could call it that) was that my boobs were smaller than my ass by an inch or two. Joy.
The government spook (because really what else do you call that outfit, complete with the earpiece and sunglasses, particularly sunglasses in winter in Seattle) was built like a linebacker and moved with a comfort and ease that said athlete. I was sure he was realistically only about six foot six or so and probably a good two hundred fifty or two hundred seventy five pounds. Buzz cut blonde hair, square jaw; he looked like the stereotypical superhero posing as a Blue's Brother. I was sure he was carrying, but being as I was still sitting in a hospital bed in the hideout of the Seattle Squires I wasn't worried about it. Go JV Supers. I was just a bundle of happiness today.
"Roswell division?" I asked the man as he came in. Yes, I was snarky. No, it wasn't that time of the month. Apparently I had already done that in the coma as part of my body losing nearly a hundred pounds of excess mass. I was told it was quite messy.
"More or less. Agent Robert Klein, Department of Paranormal Affairs. Conner Fox, I presume?"
I nodded. "Nice to meet you, Bob," I said, gesturing towards a nearby empty chair. "Please have a seat if you don't mind. Particularly since you aren't a little short for a Stormtrooper."
Bob nodded himself, taking a seat in the chair and removing his sunglasses revealing a pair of very piercing blue eyes. "I can imagine this is very confusing and disconcerting for you," he began. "Much of what I am about to tell you is classified information. The reason I am here is because of favors owed to your late wife, Jennifer Claire Fox, who we knew as Lady Briar. She worked with the DPA for just about twenty years before being declared MIA and KIA over a year ago. Her superhero identity, and involvement with the DPA, was strictly confidential for her protection, as well as the protection of yourself and your children."
My mind was working on overdrive. "Wait, so you’re telling me I was married to a government superhero spy for two decades?" Floored was not the adjective to describe what I was feeling.
"That's correct. Before you ask, no your marriage was not a sham, nor was it a cover. She actually began working for us after the two of you were together, and she insisted on protection for you and her then two children before signing on. In point of fact we still are looking after all four of your children, particularly since they have all manifested mutant abilities. I am able to provide evidence of this timetable should you wish."
I leaned back in the bed, gesturing a negative with my left hand while blinking and staring at the ceiling for a moment. Perhaps a minute passed while Bob let me think before I replied. "Protection how? From the MCO? Humanity First? People who might make whatever remains of my life a living hell?"
"All of your children have MMID's, due to the fact that when they manifested your wife was an employee of the DPA. This grants them some safety from MCO records and a bit more privacy. In addition, we've gone to great lengths to ensure their civilian identities remain safe and secure. This was in part to keep your wife's service as safe and confidential as possible. Your children were protected until they ceased being dependents. What we have done for Max and Claire is employ them as an official consultant of the DPA. I call them once a month and get their opinions on things for an hour and they get paid for it. This technically makes them employees which allows us to keep their MMID status current. Your younger children will receive the same deal when they are of age, as per our agreement with Jennifer when she signed on."
I was surprised. Not that Jennifer wouldn't be looking out for our children, but that so much had been done, was being done, with me completely unawares. I expected government secrecy; it's the nature of governments to have back room dealings. What surprised me was the level of involvement my entire family had in it all. Part of me felt betrayed, balanced by part of me being proud that my children have accomplished so much, my wife had accomplished so much. That in a way, she was still looking after them.
"Only my little problem has thrown a great big wrench in the works now. People just don't manifest at my age, it's unheard of. It would bring too much attention to everyone, and the whole screen unravels." I was an analyst first and foremost. Even angry, upset, betrayed and having a piss poor couple of days couldn't turn my mind off.
Bob nodded. "Exactly. However, there is something that we can do that would keep all this protection in place as well as provide you with an identity that wouldn't be out of place as well as a livelihood. Before implementing it I wanted to talk it over with you. Whatever you answer will affect you, as well as your children. I believe it is in your best personal interest. I'm speaking to you as a friend of your wife, and of Max and Claire."
I was suspicious to say the least. Government spy comes and tries to tell me it's all entirely in my best interest and he has no personal agenda at all? Right. "Go on," I replied. I'd humor him.
"My suggestion is that Conner Fox dies. Officially you were taken to a private hospital from the scene. Not coming out of a coma is not unheard of, nor is death from major trauma and injury. The family has a small, private funeral with only 'close family and friends' in attendance. You have very little to no extended family so this would not be difficult. Your children receive whatever inheritance and benefits as are available, and your existing home is sold with the proceeds being split among Conner's beneficiaries."
That wouldn't be horrible. Jennifer and I had planned for our children to be alright, and there were things in place to let them be secure in their own lives. I considered for a moment before replying. "How exactly does that help me have a livelihood? It's hard to get paid when you're dead," I asked sarcastically.
"We would create an identity for you as Conner and Jennifer Fox's fifth child. You had been home schooled for the last fourteen years. You would have to begin attending a public or private institution in order to help build a paper trail of your existence and to help acquire certifications or degrees later. You would get an opportunity for a new adult life, though it would take a few years to get there."
I blinked in silence for a few moments. As an agent of the Government, creating identities and the corresponding records was something that could be done, particularly in the modern digital age. It was... unexpected to say the least. It would solve some problems, mostly the fact that it would be near impossible to convince people I was actually a thirty eight year old man. "What's the catch?" I asked. Everything has a price and there's no such thing as a free lunch after all.
"No catch. Like I said, this is a last favor to your wife. I would like to offer you a job, but that has no bearing on the offer. I took the liberty of pulling your transcripts; you're thirty eight years old, trained and educated as an analyst with decades of life experience. There are all manner of things you are mentally suited for and trained for that an actual child matching your apparent physical age would never notice or catch. I think there's great potential for you, even not knowing what manner of powers you may have. Mostly I'm trying to help. Your family has put in decades of service to your country and your wife gave her life for it. Now we're trying to return the favor. For you and your children."
I leaned my head back against my pillow, looking up at the ceiling. In reality there was only one real decision, with four excellent reasons for it. I was their father, how could I not continue protecting them? Even if it meant I had to die.
"Alright, but just the offer. I'll have to think about the job a while."
February 1, 2007
"Dad, where do you want the TV?"
Max's voice carried across the living room towards where I was busy packing books into boxes. I looked over and he had the large screen plasma casually held with one arm. I guess one benefit of being in the know now is that he didn't have to hide any more around the house. Granted he had already taken over most of the physical labor chores when he was home anyway, but now he quite literally could do them with one arm tied behind his back.
"Might as well move it into the sale pile. It's not like it fits in the condo and it should fetch a couple hundred at least."
He thought about it for a moment and nodded. "Makes sense. Once you get your own place again there'll probably be better stuff out anyway."
I winced inwardly, but he was right. I tried to simply keep focusing on what I was doing at the moment. To just keep moving. Packing had to be done, after all, and it wasn't going to simply do itself. Well, unless you were Claire.
Watching mountains of dishes, silverware, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, boxes and packing paper move about in a levitating symphony straight out of The Sword in the Stone was something I'd never get used to. She claimed it was good practice for her, and while I suppose that made sense I don't think I'd ever prefer doing something other than with my own hands. Well... at least these hands I had now which were small, girly, and petite. None of which were adjectives that actually described MY hands.
Anna came down out of her room with her two suitcases as I was closing the box I was working on. The bags were already packed for her return flight tomorrow out east, to where ever that Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters she went to was. She looked over at me with eyes filled with tears, and she dropped her bags and ran over to give me a hug, burying her face on my shoulder. I should mention it was more she grabbed me and pulled me into her chest for a hug, since I was smaller than her. Both my girls had the height of their mother's and my ancestors, where I was now positively elf-like by comparison with the exception of my bust. I'm the bear currently known as Not Amused. "Dad, I'm so sorry! It's all my fault! I should have..."
"Anna, stop! It's alright." I hugged her back then struggled to get out of her grasp enough that I could look at her. "It's NOT your fault. I'm ALIVE. I'm alive because of what you did, okay? Sure, it's different, but half the planet are women so it can't be that bad." I gave her a wry smile. "It's going to be fine."
Part of me felt like I was completely lying to her; I certainly didn't feel fine. It was more important that She did though. I would always put my children first. She sniffled and nodded slightly, eyes downcast. Maybe one day she'd believe me.
Suddenly a chorus from Weird Al's "White and Nerdy" rang out from Max's phone. I looked over at him in confusion as he answered. "Hey Will, lemme put you on speaker. How's London?"
"How's London? Fucking wet and miserable, just like home, only with less news! The fuck, man? How much out of the loop are you going to keep me by not answering your damn phone?"
"I know, I know... look, we've been busy, but it's handled. Uncle Bob's got this one, like I told you a couple days ago."
"That's the only reason I'm not reaching through this phone to wring your neck. I had someone send a copy of the paper in the mail so I could read the story after it broke New Years, but right now I need you to read my lips. What. Is. Hap-Penning?"
I couldn't help it at that point. I giggled and soon enough Anna and Claire were joining me. I could almost feel Will's glare from across the Atlantic. His tour had flown out from Vegas for Europe if he had stayed on schedule. Max had tried to keep him in the loop but obviously that didn't go so well.
"Chill, Rimmer," Max replied. "Look, you remember the last time we watched Alice in Wonderland?"
Now I was totally lost. The boys didn't do Disney cartoons as a general rule. Will getting a copy of the paper for news seemed odd, but children's movies?
"The Tea Party? How's the White Rabbit doing?" Will seemed to grow more calm and intent on exactly what was being said.
"ALICE is doing as well as can be expected. She's starting to figure out how Wonderland works after all." Max's emphasis was audible. Apparently the boys had some sort of code in play.
"That... explains some things," Will answered. "Are all the... girls there?"
"We're here Will," Claire spoke up. "We're packing the house up before Anna goes back to school."
"That must have been an interesting call," Will said wryly from the UK.
"It wasn't so bad," Anna piped up. "Uncle Bob had already talked to the Headmistress, so she knew what was going on."
"All of it? Hunh... so... what's the plan?"
"Your youngest sister and I are still discussing a few alternatives," Claire said elusively.
"And um... how's she doing?" Will asked in a leading fashion.
"I'm... doing alright," I answered. "It's as hard as can be expected, but everyone's been helping a lot."
"That's... that's good," Will said. "Listen, I'll be home as soon as I can. Two or three weeks, probably. Contract rules and things. But I'll be home as soon as I can."
"That'll be fine, Will. You take care, we've got things here," Max said.
"Alright. Listen, I've got to go, curtain's in an hour. I'll be thinking of you all. Laters."
"Bye Will." Max hung up the call and put his phone back in his pocket. Life certainly had become interesting.
February 3, 2007
I woke, remembering vague dreams again. Something with red fur, running. It was in woods, which could be anywhere really in western Washington. I mean, we built an overpass in Seattle just to put a park there, lined most of the streets with trees, and it was nick-named the Emerald City. Environmentalism was part of the character of the area to some extent, and so was keeping trees and greenery around the state. It was irritating that whatever the dreams were was just out of reach. It also probably didn't help that so much else was on my mind.
Everything about my world had been shaken and turned topsy-turvy. I had read my own obituary. Not much will mess you up like seeing your life and death summed up in a local newspaper. The worst part being the lie 'survived by five children.' I was survived by myself, isn't that ironic? Lick me, Alanis Morissette! Writing an entire song about a word and still missing the point of said word, almost the definition of irony in and of itself... anyway...
We girls had finished the move from the Squire's HQ and home into Claire's condo in Seattle, where Max was still helping tie up loose ends and do more investigation at the HQ. He had thrown himself into it with a vengeance; I think he was taking the entire incident as a personal affront. The house had been systematically cleaned and cleared out, in fitting with Agent Klein's recommendations. Some small, valuable possessions had come with me to the condo; Jennifer's and my wedding set, my musical instruments (violin, mandolin, electric keyboard, and recorder), some choice books. Some possessions (mostly other books, movies and the like) had gone into storage, while all the large furniture and such had been sold off. The same exact things that would have happened if I really had died.
And in a way, hadn't I? My old reality was gone, broken into shards that could fit through the eye of a needle. I hurt; a dull aching throb inside me. I was currently curled up on a bed in the spare room. My legs were under the covers, my arms wrapped around a pillow as I sat and watched Ranma 1/2 episodes in a massive binge on a laptop. I was up to season 5 now, if that tells you how long I've been just floating in a pool of depression and daze. It really didn't match the weirdness I was going through, but it was closer than nothing. Being able to disconnect, to try and just not be was something that I needed right now.
Claire and Anna tried to help as they could. Thankfully being married for so long and having two daughters I wasn't totally clueless, so the basics went pretty easily. I knew they were both almost as torn up as I was, especially Anna. She still felt guilty and responsible, like somehow I would have been better off had she not chosen to try and save my life. Max and Agent Klein had contacted her private school out east, some Whateley Academy and informed them of the family emergency and the public story. They assured us that it would be taken care of and she should come back when she was ready. She had left yesterday out of SeaTac. All of her things from the house were in a storage unit, and between Max, Claire and the HQ she would have somewhere to stay over the summer.
As for me, now I lived with Claire. Only instead of the father, I was now officially the younger sister. Which so far meant I lazed around the house in a depressed daze, ate ice cream and watched anime. Suddenly a knock on the door broke me from my reverie. "Dad, it's Claire. I'm coming in."
Obviously a private inner sanctum wasn't high on the priority list. It was a two bedroom, one bathroom condo though, so it really wasn't that bad of a setup. Particularly for just the two of us.
Claire slipped inside. She was up to something. Ever graceful, like her mother, they each had a way of moving when they had a plan or a purpose they were getting to. I had always tried to be observant of people, just watching and learning how they worked. You never knew when those little notes and observations would turn out to be important.
"I think you need this," she said as she brought out a Celtic (with a K sound! None of that S sound nonsense) Crann Bethadh amulet that I knew very well and fastened it around my neck. The Celtic Tree of Life medallion that I had purchased and given to Jennifer so long ago...
"It's the Crann Bethadh, the Tree of Life. Since it meant rebirth to the Celts, wisdom, strength, balance and harmony, I thought you could use it."
She had just finished wrapping up her divorce and legal battle with her ex-husband, Maximillian Alexander Westbrook III. Turns out he was the CEO of a major corporation and all around tool, what she had been doing with him in the first place I never understood. I also never understood what she saw in a simple working man after that, but I was happy she saw something.
She smiled at me as I put it around her neck. "It's to remind you that you are your own person. You're not trapped by him or defined by him, but by who you chose to be. It's a fresh start, Miss Jennifer Claire Rose."
"Thank you," was all that she said. I saw far more in her eyes though, and even more in her kiss.
The World Tree, Yggdrasil to the Norse, was a part of many cultures of northern Europe and Asia. The Vikings, the Finns (my own ancestors), Siberia. Jennifer's Celtic roots as well. The tree that held up the world, as well as the upper world and the underworld. Seeing it brought tears to my eyes and I began sobbing. Claire simply held me for many moments until I could get myself more under control. "Thank you," I said simply.
"We're going out today," she announced. "You need to move, you need air and to breathe outside. We're going to the market." (By which she meant Pike Place Market, for those out of towners).
"I can't go out like this," I said gesturing to myself. "The ears and tail are a bit of a dead giveaway."
"It's winter. You can wear a long coat and a scarf with a cowl. Women do that, and it should hide most of your problem. I think I even have some in the closet that will fit. No buts now, get up!"
I sighed and shook my head. It wasn't worth the argument and it might be good to do something, I suppose. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
Pike Place Market is one of my favorite places. Honestly it really is. Admittedly it's not much to look at from the outside, because all of the Market proper is indoors. The street level on Pike Street is the farmer's market and agricultural shops, as well as several restaurants. It's arranged in sort of an L shape with the long end of the L along the waterfront, and the shop where they throw the fish is at the corner of the L right by the giant pig sculpture. Pike Place Fish Co., for the curious. Yes, they throw the fish for entertainment. It's Seattle, we're different here.
There are several stairwells going down two or three floors, where it's more of a Mall effect. Wide and relatively tall there are shops lined up on either side of a central walkway. It's just a wide variety of neat things, and you can easily make a whole day trip of just browsing the Market, especially if you take into account the sheer number of restaurants up on the street level or down on the piers on the bottom side. Frequently with lots of street buskers (musicians who are playing for tips, I almost always tip them if they at least play well enough to make me turn my head.) and people just wandering about, it's a good general taste of the eclectic nature that is Seattle. I mean, who else has the Market Theater Gum Wall?
The tan scarf and long brown coat worked better than I had originally given Claire credit for. Seattle folk are generally fairly tolerant (which is a distinct difference from local law enforcement as you've probably read or seen on the news) so even if it looked a little suspicious, compared to the other ethnic wear I must have fit right in. People just weren't giving me a lot of attention, and Claire got a great deal more looks than I did. At least I like to think most of the admiring male glances were at her. Thinking back on it I probably had received a decent amount myself. I was now a young, attractive, shapely red head with a darling dusting of freckles across my face and bits of red hair with white tips peeking out from my scarf and cowl and was anywhere between fourteen and twenty in appearance after all. I still prefer to think they were looking at my daughter instead of me. Let that ironic sentence that most fathers never think they're going to think sink in for a moment before I continue.
I was dressed in a long sleeved green tunic (with what Claire called a "cute little leather belt"), a darker green pair of leggings and calf height brown boots with fluffy tops. I did have a purse worn over one shoulder but under the coat (take that, pickpockets) mostly due to the fact that Claire's choice of clothes left me distinctly without pockets. Personally, I think it was part of a grand feminine conspiracy. The purse didn't have much in it; keys to the condo, about fifty dollars cash in assorted small bills and coins, some pocket handkerchiefs, notepad and several pens, MP3 player and headphones (old school style that I could wear around my neck since ear buds that fit my new ears probably weren't really on the market), my cell phone so the other kids could get in touch with me. The blue-green jade crann bethadh on silver chain around my neck under the tunic, and a watch on my left wrist. Yes, I liked to know what time it was without having to whip out a phone, so sue me. As I mentioned before the scarf with cowl was tan, and the long coat was awfully brownish in color. If you don't get it, go watch science fiction shows of quality and get back to me. There's a reason I claimed this leather coat of Claire's for myself and she let me without a fuss.
Claire and I were walking down the road by the piers chatting away on general nonsense. It had been a day to just relax and to not think, for which I was grateful. It hadn't really fixed anything. I still felt destroyed and betrayed by life and people in general, but I felt a little less horrible. Being outside helped, something about the fresh air and sea breeze was uplifting. Salt water has a distinctive smell and it calls to the soul, and the evening sunset lent a wonderful quality of light to the whole thing. As we were walking I was treated to one of the more unusual scenes I'd seen to date. A woman was at one of the piers signing autographs.
I suppose that statement doesn't seem so unusual, but this wasn't just any woman. She was of mixed heritage and very young looking (high school-ish to co-ed range), partially Asian (what it was with Asian women and my life lately I don't know) with tanned skin and dark hair in two schoolgirl braids tied with yellow bows. She was wearing a headset and had a pair of goggles on her forehead. Dressed in a yellow corset with black trim and little black bows on the front that left her back and shoulders exposed, a yellow skirt with a black band and a large black butt-bow (that's what it is!), black and yellow stripped thigh high socks, black and yellow stripped elbow length finger-less gloves of sock material, black boots, a belt with numerous little pouches, a coil of rope and a tai-chi sword with yellow tassels on the tip of the scabbard and the back of the hilt. Oh, and she had fairy wings. You know, pixie wings that looked like they belonged on a dragonfly or something. She was short, probably about five feet tall based on the height of the children and parents standing around her, only she was wearing two or three inch heels on her boots (Jennifer had tried to get me into heels, I had refused).
"Who is that?" I asked Claire.
"Oh! That's Meliferra. She's one of the local independents. She's pretty famous actually, been a teen role model for ages. Anna is a huge fan, she got an autographed poster back in Middle School, remember? She's been active for fifteen or twenty years I think. Makes a big production of being a positive role model for tween and teen girls."
The signed poster sort of rang a bell. Anna had been on a super heroine kick, which thinking about it must have been ironic for my wife. I nodded, "So... bee theme?"
Claire smiled, "Well with the wings I'm not sure she had much of a choice. You have to admit it's distinctive."
It was distinctive and memorable. Really wasn't that bad looking actually; not a lot of people could pull it off but she seemed to have enough flair and charisma to roll with it. I approved of the manner she used while interacting with the children (mostly girls). She actually got down to the children's level so she could speak to them face to face and not down at them, and treated them with a lot of individual care and attention.
I don't blame her for what happened next, it was just a bad set of circumstances that spiraled out of control. Something tickled my senses, then I saw it. A young girl of perhaps four years old saw a celebrity across the street and without thinking ran away from her partially distracted mother who was chatting with the other adults in their party and started running across the road. The only problem being it's a four lane road or so and a large city bus does not brake quickly. It was all happening not thirty or forty yards away.
I don't know how I spotted it so quickly, after all Claire was the super hero of the two of us. Just as she was raising her hands I lunged forward...
And was suddenly right in front of the girl. The air whipping from the traffic blew the cowl down from my head without me noticing, exposing my quite non-human ears. Wrapping my arms around the girl as I caught her I knelt down, shielding her with my body from the bus (like I would be able to stop it somehow) and closing my eyes braced for the impact...
That never came. When I looked up the two of us were somehow back on the sidewalk. Claire was running towards us from one direction, as was the girl's mother from the other.
"Are you okay?" I asked the girl as I looked down at her.
"Kitty!" she said with a smile and giggle, one hand reaching up to touch my red furry ear.
"You need to be more careful!" I admonished her before handing her back to a very gracious mother. The poor woman was crying and bowing at me, obviously thanking me in a language I didn't understand.
"It's okay, don't worry about it," I told her with a smile. I ruffled the girl's hair as Claire was tugging me away, rapidly trying to get us out of sight.
"How did you do that?" she asked me looking around. "Do you realize what you did? You warped!"
"I don't know," I said honestly. "It all happened so quickly I wasn't thinking about it. I don't remember doing anything."
"I just hope no one... shit!" she cursed (which was a rare event in and of itself). Sure enough a pair of cops were trotting in our direction from over by the Market. "Dad, you have to go! You don't have an MID, your ears are out and everyone saw you just do that. Run!"
"Oh bloody hell..." I said with a grimace as I took off south.
I was glad I had argued for flats. I never would have pulled this off had I been in heels. What happened next was a harrowing frame of time I don't remember clearly. Lots of running. The two cops had obviously called for backup or something, because suddenly there seemed to be lights and sirens everywhere I turned. I don't know which organizations they were with because quite honestly I wasn't stopping to ask them. I'm sure I was "blinking" around as well, because there was no way I should have covered as much ground as I did.
It had been years since I'd been able to run, and in a sick twisted way it felt good. It felt so good to move, to really Move. This was masked by the stark feeling of fear and adrenaline at the whole thing. I did notice that I seemed to be in fantastic shape, considering it'd been years since I was able to really exercise appropriately. At least when becoming a curvy little thing I didn't lose any speed or endurance. Indeed, it was almost the opposite.
What really struck me as odd (like anything about the evening at this point was odd) was at some point, I had turned into a fox. I think it was when I turned a corner and saw a badge waiting for me. Suddenly I was past him, but I was very short and on four feet, weaving around people's legs on the sidewalk. I was on pure instinct at this point otherwise I'm sure I would have completely lost my mind.
After what seemed like an hour or two I noticed a distinct lack of sirens or lights. It was night now instead of evening and I had absolutely no idea where I was. I padded next to a dumpster in an alley and sat down, suddenly a girl again. Seeing that the coast was indeed clear, I sat and tried to catch my breath. Pulling my cell phone out of my purse I looked at it...
Only to see that during the evening the battery had died.
I dimly remember letting the phone slip through my fingers back into the purse. I now had no ID, no idea where I was, no knowledge of if authorities were still looking for me, and no idea where Claire was or ability to contact her. I leaned back, letting my head rest against the wall as I closed my eyes and cried.
I gave myself a good five minutes of crying, then wiped my eyes and stood up. Putting my scarf and cowl back over my head I began walking out of the alley. I needed to try and get a grip of where I was, then I could figure the best way to get back to Claire's condo... home.
No, I'm not a cold emotionless automaton. Sisu. I am Finnish-American after all. What's Sisu? That's actually a hard question to answer since it doesn't translate directly. Having guts or grit, tenacity, determination. Of sticking to your course no matter the difficulty and succeeding. Of having an inner reserve of strength, bravery, toughness, that allows you to simply keep going after anyone else would have quit and still having the will to win throughout. Of having a house burn down and simply grabbing a shovel, cleaning the lot and building a new house. You just find a way, because quitting or stopping isn't an option. Goonies never say die. Just do it. Never give up, never surrender. Sisu.
In my flight I had somehow veered Southeast instead of just South and made it to the International District. Many of the signs were completely illegible, the architectural influences were definitely from the Far East (despite it actually being the near west for us here in Seattle) and the smells were glorious. No, the food smells. I mean really...
My stomach reminded me I hadn't eaten for some time. As I wandered the street I kept a sharp eye around for the SPD. There were at least two or three squad cars patrolling the area, and while they weren't quite going door to door, I was decidedly uncomfortable. That was when something rather unexpected happened; an older man noticed me hiding from the cops and gestured me into his house.
Ordinarily I would be solidly against creepy old men gesturing teenage looking girls into their homes, but under the circumstances...
The home was small and very well kept. A woman was in the kitchen, you could just see her from the living room. The two conversed for a few minutes after he moved me inside so he could close the door. The man gestured outside as they talked, and the woman peered at my face. She must have caught a glimpse of my tails or something from within my coat, because she moved my scarf down from my head. Her eyes widened slightly and said a single word. "Kitsune," she called me.
The two kept conversing for another short moment before my stomach rumbled, audibly. They stopped and smiled at me, gesturing for me to take a seat at the table. "Thank you," I told them as I took a seat, careful to ensure I didn't sit on my own tails. After a few moments the woman brought me a bowl of some sort of noodle soup, with absolutely delightful deep fried somethings floating in it. It was, in a word, perfect. Warm, filling, and exactly what I needed apparently. The man began to watch out their window from time to time, speaking to someone on a cell phone while I ate. I wasn't too worried about him trying to turn me in or anything; if that had been the case he wouldn't have brought me inside in the first place.
As I ate and rested a strange sensation began to come over me. It's hard to describe exactly; the closest I can come up with is I began to feel like the ghost of Jacob Marley. These people were taking a risk onto themselves for me. They were sheltering me and feeding me, with no thought to reward or payment. As far as I was concerned it was more than just a favor; it was a debt and it almost seemed like I could feel its very existence weighing on me. As Marley was chained to his boxes of coins in A Christmas Carol, so the unpaid debt was chained to and tugging on me.
When I finished the soup (and the absolutely delightful fried things) I thanked them both and began to head for the door when the man stopped me. He had finished on his phone and was seeming to gesture for me to wait longer. I tilted my head at him, confused but did as he bid. Perhaps five minutes later there was a knock at the back door of their kitchen.
Peeking out the front window to ensure the coast was clear, the man then went to the back door and opened it. Imagine my surprise when the person who entered was actually the pint sized super heroine from earlier in the day, Meliferra.
She bowed and spoke with the couple for a few moments then came in and walked towards me. I stood up as she did so (not wanting to appear rude after all) and noticed to my consternation that with the inch or two of her heels she was my height. I really had to get used to being so short.
"Hello, I'm Meliferra," she said, with what actually sounded like a bit of an Irish flair. That was certainly unexpected. "You're the girl from the docks earlier aren't you? I saw what you did, that was very brave of you."
I shook my head, "It's just what anyone would have done."
"No it's not, more's the pity. Especially for folk such as us. The SPD aren't exactly among the more friendly folk of the city. Fortunately, most people are like Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe here. They called me to help you get back to your home without alerting the police."
"Not if it's any trouble, I mean, I should be able to...” I began before she interrupted me with a Look.
"Nonsense, I insist. She was only at risk because she was trying to get to me, if you hadn't needed to save her you wouldn't have been noticed in the first place."
I sighed and nodded. Obviously she had already made up her mind on the matter and arguing wasn't going to solve anything. As we headed for the back door Mrs. Watanabe stopped us. She offered me a red bandanna. I looked over at Meliferra, who explained.
"She noticed that you did not have one. As you saved the small girl at great risk and cost to yourself, you must be a Kitsune in service of Inari. According to legend they often wear a red scarf or bandanna. So in thanks of your actions from earlier this evening, she would like you to have this."
"I... thank you," I said, taking the bandanna from her. I carefully tied it as best I could on my head, where it sat snugly just atop my ears. "How did she know about that?"
"You made the news. Just a small snippet, local mutant saves girl before being chased by Police. I wouldn't worry too much about it." Meliferra turned and spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Watanabe who both smiled and bowed to us both.
As we turned to leave I just couldn't take it anymore. I put $40 in cash on their back counter on our way out of the house when they had turned the other way. It gave me such a relief; it was it a giant weight had been lifted from my heart. As we closed the back door and stepped into a back alley I looked over at Meliferra as I put my scarf and cowl atop my head and bandanna. She was glancing at what seemed to be a bracer on her wrist with a few display screens. "How are we... oof!"
Apparently we were going to fly. Without much warning she picked me up in her arms and was airborne. "Don't worry," she said as my arms flew around her neck and I buried my face in her shoulder. "The Police quit the search and called their units back. We shouldn't run into any news choppers or anything so it'll be smooth flying."
To her credit, she did fly very smoothly. The problem was I was still hundreds of feet off the ground being carried by one of the smallest women I now knew. After a few minutes I was able to glance around carefully and almost began to relax a little.
Almost, but not quite.
After telling her the address of Claire's condo she flew me all the way to the back patio. We were on the twelfth floor, so it was fairly easy for her to land and for me to get down. After I had done so, she handed me a business card. "Just in case I can help with anything," she said by way of explanation. "It's not often I get to meet a Huli Jing. I'm known as Meliferra, but you can call me Bea."
"I'm um...” Shit. I couldn't very well tell her to call me Conner now could I? My mind blanked for half a second before it grasped onto the only name or word I had been called recently. "Kitty. Kitty Fox." Well that sounded much worse out loud than I had intended.
She blinked and gave me a look like she thought I was joking. "My last name really is Fox," I said with a sigh. "Kitty is a nickname."
She nodded. "Well then, Miss Fox. Have a good night and remember, call me if you need anything!" She waved and took off into the night sky.
In the end, despite the fact she had insisted on bringing me home and that I wasn't to worry about it, I began to feel a small weight building anyway.
February 5th, 2007
I felt like Luke Skywalker.
Let me be a little more specific in that I felt like Luke Skywalker on Dagobah being tortured by a little green Muppet. This was bullshit, being that I wasn't even given a lightsaber for my effort. At this point I would have taken a gold star sticker on a report card or even a cookie.
I was currently doing a one handed handstand with Tome standing on one of my feet, while simultaneously trying to dodge tennis balls by leaning one way or the other without dropping him and attempting to draw magical energy and using it to levitate stack and balance a small collection of round rocks.
In a leotard, after having ran an obstacle course. While being ogled by the Seattle Squires along with Agent Bob in the Seattle Knights training center. Yeah, peachy.
The scary part was that I was actually able to accomplish it.
Claire had driven us to the Seattle Knights complex once my ID had come in. Rather, she drove us after a small break during which I broke down crying over what my name actually was now. Catherine Jennifer Fox. Claire had explained that Catherine was simply the logical extension of what the little girl had named me when I saved her. Kitty to Cat to Catherine. But Jennifer... Claire had said since she had Jennifer's middle name as her first, I could have my late wife's first name as my middle name. Another something to remember and honor her by. I had lost it for a bit, but in a good way. I had of course already declared that I was never to be referred to as Cathy... I just don't like the sound of it. Cat or Kitty I could live with, but Cathy was right out. I somehow had managed to come through this with the same initials I had before which amused me to no end.
The scarier part is I was now officially fifteen, with a 'birthdate' of January 1st, 1992. My birthday was the day I got shot, or rather the day my 'late father' got shot. I had a background, transcripts, social security number, the works. Bob over with the DPA did good work, even if he did have sort of a twisted ironic since of humor. Granted I did too, so I could appreciate it.
I do have to say that an official, sanctioned Super Hero HQ in a tech happy place like Seattle did not fail to disappoint. My personal favorite was the three dimensional HUD holographic rotating map display in the central meeting room. With picture in picture no less. Computer screen displays everywhere, robotic assistants and maintenance staff, I was sure the food replicators and transporters were only a few years away. Granted even if they became available I wouldn't use them... there's something about making and crafting the food from fresh ingredients you hold in your hands, or about the physical journey to your destination that was more important than where you were arriving.
Anyway, Claire introduced me to Tome, who was helping oversee a great deal of my testing. Tome was a dwarf. In that he fit all the physical definitions of a little person, save his head was a good extra four to six inches of cranium tall. It was fairly easy to see where he chose the inspiration for his own codename. He fit all the stereotypes of a bookish wizard straight out of fantasy novels, with the added bonus of being of similar size to Warwick Davis. He even had a beard and magic staff... though his was a highly ornamented cane. Tome was a Wizard and a Package Deal Psychic according to Claire, and highly intelligent. He read voraciously and had a near perfect photographic memory for written words and events. He didn't go into the field as much as the other members of the Knights but was highly valued for his wisdom and counsel. I mean, imagine how many books one can read with Exemplar intelligence in a lifetime, and then to be able to recall all of them on top of accumulated natural wisdom and experience?
I almost felt a presence laughing at that thought when I had it originally, but I dismissed it to nerves at the time.
The physical tests were relatively simple. Jump here, dodge this, lift that, run in place, do the splits, how many cartwheels and handsprings can you do (a surprising amount apparently), etc. My body may be pint sized and stacked but apparently I could perform as well as an Olympic Gold level gymnast. As long as it was a question of agility, flexibility and speed anyway. Strength-wise I certainly wasn't out of proportion, though my endurance was remarkably good. I also was a low level Regen, which made sense given that was how my own 'potential' was unlocked anyway.
My Warping talent I had already uncovered by accident. I could move myself and approximately one other person-ish a distance of about thirty to fifty yards tops. So not only was I a stacked walking anime wet dream, I also was part Nightcrawler.
I also apparently had low levels of ESP. I wasn't a mind reader or clairvoyant, but apparently I had remarkable intuition and danger sense. It wasn't anything to rely on, but at least I knew I could trust my instincts when it arose.
The biggest difficulty as far as I was concerned was testing what magic ability I had. Learning that I had some was a large shock; the problem was in trying to measure it. Tome was very irate in that his own method appeared entirely logical, based upon so called magical rules, theories, regulations and principles much like physics and the rest of the universe. Apparently, I couldn't work that way at all. I seemed to be one who sensed and felt things more than imposed a series of equations upon it all. Wasn't the whole point of mysticism and spirituality working with things from another realm that didn't work the way ours did? Why not just accept that something is so and adapt to it as opposed to trying to impose your own sense of order or control over it?
While the physical tests were relatively easy to quantify, the ESP and magic testing were more difficult and 'fuzzy'. The current exercise was to test my ability to gather energy and utilize it amidst distractions. Thankfully Tome seemed to eventually be satisfied and floated down, letting me relax myself with a roll and get to my feet. The stones ceased their pretty little stack and clattered to the floor, the laws of gravity and reality once more being imposed upon the supernatural.
"Well done, Miss Fox," he said. "I believe we have enough to fill out your MMID now."
I wondered if I would ever be used to being called Miss Fox. As I followed Tome and Agent Klein over to yet another series of computers I heard one of the Squires heckling.
"Man, your dad sure is a Fox."
"Dude!" Max sometimes could say a lot with so little.
"I'm just sayin’..." replied the first voice.
Tome seemed unfazed as he began filling out the card on the screen, with Agent Klein apparently providing some authorizations to make it a MMID as opposed to just an MID. The man was as good as his word, which helped earn him some points back in my mind.
"All we need now is a codename for you. Something descriptive but simple. Remember it's very difficult if not impossible to change later," Tome said. He didn't have to explain, I had done the reading over the weekend. In fact, I already had what I wanted to try. With any luck...
"Kit," I said.
"Kit?" he asked again for confirmation. At my nod he typed it into the computer and for once my luck seemed to be with me rather than against me. Agent Klein looked at me with an eyebrow raised.
"It's the word for a baby fox, as well as a small violin," I provided helpfully. Claire and Max smiled though no one else seemed to get the joke.
"Well Kit, here you are. Officially I put you down as an Avatar 2, ESP 1, Exemplar 1, Regen 1, Warper 2 and Wizard 3. There are a few fuzzy areas in there but I've erred on the side of caution and the fact it can always be reclassified later if need be. Your Exemplar level is one example. While you could be classified as at least a 2 if not a 3 in some areas such as your agility and response time, your strength is no more than one would expect a fairly fit athletic adult woman to be. You will not be flipping automobiles or hurling boulders. Your body appears to be more or less post puberty, although given your small size it's hard to tell. In addition, I am not sure how much of your response speed is innate agility versus some of your ESP assisting you. Likewise Wizard talent is notoriously difficult to quantify, particularly since you are also an Avatar. Whatever spirit is residing in you has some power of its own and it's difficult to say how much of your abilities are actually enhanced by its presence. I feel safe placing these ratings and should you actually perform higher than you are rated for, that should not be a difficulty."
I took the offered MMID, looking down at it. This was who I was now.
"Thank you Tome, Agent Klein," Claire said for me. "I think the Squires can take it from here. We'll be in touch if there are any problems."
"It's no trouble at all, Minerva. In fact I'd like to see her as she can for additional magical instruction. While she does not practice the same style of magic as myself, some instruction is better than none. I think it would be helpful for us both to see what we can discover."
"I'd like that, thank you," I offered the diminutive man. He was trying to help and teach; the least I could do was attempt to learn. Knowledge gained was never wasted, and if I helped him understand or learn something new, so much the better.
Claire moved me over towards the Squires while Tome escorted Agent Klein out of the building. Robert was obviously welcome, but it was clear that the Knights preferred others to keep out of their business as much as possible, perhaps especially the Government.
"Well Kit, let me introduce you to everyone," Claire said. "You know your brother obviously."
Max chuckled at the joke. The Squires had all been there when I had been wounded and were aware of our subterfuge, but Claire was attempting to remind them that officially I was now just their youngest sibling.
"Hola, Chicka. You're looking Hot!" With a snap of his fingers and a short burst of flame the smooth looking Latino next to Max spoke before Claire could introduce him. He looked like he had just walked right off of the set of Grease.
Claire rolled her eyes, obviously this was nothing new. "That's El Fuego, who needs to remember to keep it in his pants. He's a low level Speedster and a moderate Pyrokinetic. He's also a Gadgeteer, though mostly he just likes to work on cars."
"And bikes, planes, boats, anything with a motor," El Fuego added with a grin. "I like 'em fast and loose."
The giant next to El Fuego rumbled (alright, I suppose he just growled, but I shook in the same manner as a VW Bug being passed by a Semi on the freeway) which quieted the Latino. He then looked down at me and inclined his head slightly, offering his hand to shake. I shook it gingerly and smiled up at him cautiously. I say giant in that he was roughly seven feet tall and probably weighed in the neighborhood of four hundred pounds, and had a distinctly Italian nose. How many people get to meet a giant and a dwarf wizard in the same day? I might be the first.
"Mister Fox, it's an honor to finally make your acquaintance," he said formally. "I am known as Gigas."
"I can see why," I replied with a slight surprise. Gigas seemed to imply he had heard about me already before...
"He's kind of been dating Anna the past year or two," Max explained.
"Ohhhh! Wonder Wiener!" I exclaimed to the vast surprise and amusement of everyone not in the family.
Claire put her hand over her mouth at Gigas's surprise and explained. "My other brother, Will, nicknamed you that since you'd not been around the house ever. Anna didn't show you to anyone for a long while, so Will being a joker talked about wondering who the wiener she was seeing at Whateley was. The name just kind of stuck, I hope you're not offended."
Gigas smiled and shook his head. "My father runs the docks down in Tacoma," he explained. "I'm used to strange nicknames."
I was going to pretend I didn't just find out my daughter was dating someone with mob connections.
Lastly was someone I could only describe as a bubble head. Blond hair, chewing gum, dressed in a light blue crop, hip hugger jeans with a belly piercing and shoes.
"Hi, I'm Ratchet!" she exclaimed as she waved at me.
"She's our techie. She's a Gadgeteer and Devisor. She keeps everything running." Max explained. "For a group of students with a lot of in and out every few years we ended up with a very balanced group right now. Fuego and Gigas are Freshmen this year; they each graduated Whateley last year. Ratchet is a Junior."
"Well it's very nice to meet you all," I said with a smile. "Thank you for helping take care of me the last month or so, I'll try to make it up to all of you."
Fuego and Ratchet nodded and smiled. Rather Ratchet smiled like a bimbo, whereas Fuego smiled and gave a clicking noise complete with finger-guns gesture in my general direction. Gigas merely shrugged. "Family is family," he said.
I considered the stories I had half gathered about Wonder Wiener and the fact that Anna was happy overall with her life. "Gigas, it's nice to put a face with a name now. I'm alright with you dating my daughter." I looked up at him with a smile, before my face turned icy cold and serious. "If you hurt her, I'll kill you." I smiled again before winking at him. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go change."
I turned and walked away towards the woman's showers and bathing area, twin tails swishing and flicking behind me. I did recognize the whistle from behind me as I left.
"Damn, Holmes. I'm gonna go take a shower myself. A nice, long shower."
Great, now I had to add a hormonal Fuego to my list of things making my life complicated.
"Better be a cold shower," Claire muttered.
February 7th, 2007
"You're up early. Coffee?" Claire asked me as she came out into the common room.
I shuddered in response, shaking my head. "No thank you. And no, don't go babbling something about new taste buds, it still smells horrible. I am not putting that into my mouth."
She chuckled, shaking her head amused. She still didn't understand how I was one of the few people we knew that simply didn't like coffee. Give me tea or cider any day, or a marvelous hot chocolate. But coffee? No thank you. I didn't even like the use of coffee in desserts.
Claire came over to the table with a mug of coffee for herself and a croissant with cream cheese. I had gone with the ever solid choice of orange juice, English muffins and butter. I had my laptop open and was researching on the internet, taking notes on a yellow legal tablet with pen. Another thing that amused my children to no end... I still preferred to actually write things down as opposed to simply typing in electronic format on the laptop. Some habits were hard to break, and well to be honest I just preferred to be old fashioned about some things.
"What're you working on?" She asked finally.
I saw no reason to be secretive. It's not like it was confidential and if we wanted to be technical, she was officially my parent now. In order to make paperwork work out I had been adopted legally by my own daughter. Anna was old enough to be declared a legally emancipated minor at 17 (especially with most of her 'room and board' costs being taken care of by Whateley) but my official persona was legally too young at 15 to avoid having a legal guardian. Thankfully courts had precedent of older siblings taking care of younger ones in this sort of situation.
"I'm doing research on foxes and fox spirits in mythology and taking notes as to what powers they were attributed in stories and folklore. Since I've been working with Tome it seemed like having something to go off of would be handy, especially since he is positive I'm also an Avatar. Apparently it's difficult to determine how much of what I do is me, versus what is coming from the spirit that I seem to have picked up."
There was quite a list to be honest. Foxes were present in the folklore of a great deal of the world, and most of their characteristics were the same. They were always attributed great intelligence and cunning, and were often tricksters. Many cultures attributed them magical powers of illusion and enchantment.
The Finnish name for the northern lights "revontulet" has ties with foxes. According to tales an arctic fox is running in the north and when the mountains are touched with its fur sparks fly off into the sky as the northern lights. Another version says the fox is throwing the northern lights into the sky by sweeping snow with its tail. Misdirection and trickery, cunning and craftiness are hallmarks of the fox.
The Celts believed foxes were shape shifters, able to go between human and fox form. They were possessed by intelligence and wisdom, the ability to think quickly and to observe without being noticed themselves. Frogs and toads, adders, otters and foxes all carried magical objects; the fox was said to have a magical pearl that would bring luck to people that found it.
A lot of Asian cultures had fox spirits as well. Kitsune, Huli Jing, Kumiho, numerous other names in various countries. Again they were tricksters but in several myths they were also friends to man, or guardians against evil spirits. Japanese Kitsune were said to serve Inari, one of the major deities of the area. Apparently foxes were said to have such power over evil that the mere statue of one could ward away evil energy. Some myths also involved a pearl that was said to be a physical manifestation of a Kitsune's soul.
Personally I certainly didn't have any pearls that suddenly appeared, but I had been seeing trends in terms of the powers Tome said I had and what legend and folklore attributed to foxes. Magic could certainly create illusions and invisibility, I had already transformed into a fox while running, and again under Tome's supervision. My warping certainly could be attributed to elusiveness and avoiding trouble.
In fact Tome said I often seemed to be using some sort of glamour of non-detection. It wasn't true invisibility; I didn't disappear to the naked eye or cameras. Mostly it seemed to let people's eye glance over me without staying. As long as I didn't draw attention to myself or focus people's attention on me it let me stay in the background. They saw me, but they didn't really see me so to speak. Personally I thought it would be incredibly useful; you'd be surprised how often you can learn things simply by shutting up and listening.
The biggest problem was that in almost every culture foxes were also associated with seduction, charm, and sex. Female foxes were often portrayed as wives and lovers, and their children were often attributed with magical powers. Some of the Asian myths actually had Kitsune gaining some energy they needed to live by sex with men. I fervently hoped that wasn't the case, I don't think I was quite ready for anything of that nature. Tome had explained about using energy to create magical effects and fueling powers, but so far any energy I had expended over the last several days of practice had come back fine on its own with simple rest.
Trying to understand Tome's viewpoint of magic was... trying to say the least. His view was very logical, very scientific. It was as if he was explaining a bird’s flight with diagrams and equations, measuring specific variables like air pressure, wind speed, angle of the wing. My own view seemed to be more instinctive. I just flew the way a bird does, or a sailor adjusts his sail and rudder by feel and intuition.
In my mind we were all of one planet, and this energy flowed between everything. The very essence of life. As a stone tossed into a pond created ripples that touched everything else in the pond so too were we all connected. Have you ever walked into a clearing in a forest and just felt that it was special? Or some places that just felt sad and wrong, as if they were crying? Same thing. So his assertion that magic flowed along specific ley lines was one I accepted readily. A lot of his efforts to quantify things that just... were... my mind just didn't work that way. Sometimes you just had to accept that something was, whether you liked it or not, and simply adapt to it. Trying to put control and defining that which by its own nature was undefinable... that seemed to be just an exercise in futility.
Claire read down the list, her eyebrow quirking as she got to the last section about the sex myths. I'm sure that wasn't on her list of mental images either.
"Ultimately I think I'm going to have to try and figure out more about the Avatar bit. I have to try and figure out how to really talk with the spirit. I've had dreams a bit, and it's fairly obvious it's a fox from my ears and tails, but it hasn't really talked to me at all. In a way I just have to take his word that something is there." I frowned and chewed on the end of my pen a bit. Odd... that didn't used to be a habit of mine before my change, but at the moment it did give my mouth something to do.
"He does know what he's doing.” Claire said with a nod. “Tome is one of my favorites among the Knights; he's helped me a lot with my own psychic abilities. If he says you're an Avatar I wouldn't doubt it."
"Well you do know what this means don't you? I need to go to the sauna."
There's something relaxing and refreshing about sitting naked in a room of superheated, 200-ish degree steam (or löyly, which was a different word from regular steam). Sauna steam is special. In my mind it's the water of life. The word löyly is closer to meaning 'spirit', 'breath' or 'soul' than steam. Water infused all living things. Warmth was essential for life, particularly in northern climes. The sauna was both. It was a place to clean, historically a place for births, one could cook or live in one, a place to relax physically and spiritually. In short, I could think of no better place to try and commune with a spirit I was apparently hosting.
Many cultures have their own equivalent to a sauna. Sweat lodge, places of meditation, places of ritual and mysticism. The best solution to communing with a spirit would be a shaman of course. I had considered trying to speak with some of the local tribes, but being as I wasn't of Native American or tribal membership I sided on that being a bad idea. Flying to Finland was right out unfortunately as a fifteen year old mutant. Research and reading would only get me so far, assuming the information was correct in the first place. Ultimately, I had to just go with what felt right and natural (which is what I would imagine a shaman would tell me anyway).
In the end Ratchet ended up coming with Claire and me to the sauna. One would wash oneself, strip naked (it was very impolite and wrong to wear clothes in the sauna) for the heated room and stay as long as one felt comfortable. Sometimes one would use a bunch of leafy branches to lightly slap the skin to help stimulate muscles and promote circulation. Eventually one would go out to cool down for a few minutes (wrapped in a towel) then get in a pool or shower. Rest, relaxation, a snack of sausage and beer, and the cycle would repeat again. Traditionally this was usually done on a Saturday (I imagine as that's the day that historically wasn't part of the work week or church services).
Ratchet and Claire were out in the cool down room, while I was still relaxing in the steam room. Eyes closed, body stretching as I relaxed. This was something I needed, a chance to just... be. Concerns gone, worries elsewhere. Here I just was; everything was simple. I could almost feel myself drift off...
"I had hoped you would be able to speak with me, cousin."
I was still in the sauna, although I did not notice the heat now. Still naked, not that it really mattered much. I was, after all, in a sauna. Sitting next to me was a twin-tailed fox. She (somehow I knew it was a she) sat on her haunches on the bench. We were roughly the same size as we looked face to face at each other.
"Cousin?" I wanted to be sure I heard and understood her correctly.
"Yes. Your great great great something grandmother dallied with a mortal after giving birth to my mother. There are numerous removeds involved." She almost seemed to grin before looking back at me. "My name is Siona, and no, not That Siona. I simply was named after her. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Kitty. As you have chose to be called, of course."
I considered for a while. There were so many questions I had, so many things to ask. Ultimately I suppose one question won over all the others. "Why?"
Siona tilted her head in thought before replying carefully. "You were broken in both body and spirit. I was asked to help heal you. You are family, and I have not yet been able to interact with your world before now. There are things that need done here after all. So I have joined with you to help heal you and to do that which needs doing."
Her words seemed to match what some of my own research had uncovered. While a great deal wasn't written down where it was easily accessible on the internet, early Finnish paganism believed that a soul was made up of multiple parts. More that a soul was a collection of different spirits, some of which could become lost. Henki was the life force, breathing and heartbeat. That which made one not dead. Luonto was a guardian spirit or protector, a sort of haltija (local animistic deity). People with a great deal of luck or talent were said to have a strong haltija that helped look out for them and helped them accomplish their tasks well. Itse was what made up one's personality and what made one a person instead of just a living thing.
Both Itse and Luonto were able to become lost without leading to death. States such as addiction, alcoholism, depression, or major illness were attributed to losing Itse or Luonto. Shamans were supposed to help bridge the gaps between worlds and help recover lost bits of soul. Did the strange Asian woman call upon Siona to help 'fix' me? Was she now the lost parts of my soul? Or was this early paganism wrong and what I was encountering now just coincidence?
"So it's your doing then that made me look... well... like this? The reason I have these powers now?" I asked, gesturing down to myself. My own body and voice still felt a little alien. I was growing more used to them, but it's hard to eliminate thirty nine years of experience in just a few weeks. In a sense it's the most intimate betrayal possible, to have your own body change against your will.
"You are of the blood of foxes! Your powers are your own; I merely help strengthen that which you already possess." Siona did pause and contemplate before continuing. "It is true that were you not of our bloodline I most likely would not be able to assist you in this way. With the blood of your daughter combined with my presence your body did change, though it might have without my influence on its own. I helped direct its change to be more beneficial."
"Beneficial to whom?" I asked.
"To you, of course. You were dying. Without any aid you would not have survived. To help heal you I had to be able to exist inside you. We share bodies now in a sense. When you have taken my shape you are as I am, else you are as you are. Perhaps it may seem as if I turned you into your current, very attractive if I may say so, form on a whim or to suit my own fancy but it was all done with your own long term interest in mind. Which would be better, a second chance at being alive, or being quite dead and unable to help your family and children?"
The question that need never be asked as far as I was concerned. I merely nodded. "You are correct, and I am grateful. It's just a lot to take in at once."
"You've been doing alright so far. You know much and have learned much before, and will now have the opportunity to learn and do more. Many forces are at work in this world, some here in this city. Not all are good. You understand that people with the means to act must do so for the good of all. This is part of why I am helping heal you; you are worth saving and can do much good."
I arched an eyebrow at her. "So I'm what, a teen-aged Tiresias turned superhero?" The comparison of my own life and experience to the legendary Greek prophet could not be denied. Perhaps it was the source of fox spirits in legends appearing often as old men or beautiful women.
She smiled a toothy grin. "Well if the shoe fits. Do not be afraid and do not be a stranger, Kitty. I am here to help you, not control you. But ultimately it is up to you. This is your world, after all, not my own. You should be going back now; your family will miss you."
"And she didn't mention anything about what those things that needed doing are?" Claire asked over dinner. Fried sausages over noodles with a homemade red sauce, with a sprinkling of various Italian cheeses and sides of baked bread. Simple but filling.
"Not a word. She did imply that some of the forces at work were here in Seattle, which does make me think it's local."
"That isn't very reassuring. Max has been trying to figure out what Ferrous was up to, but he hasn't ran into any more clues yet. Ferrous has been laying low since the last incident."
"Whatever it is, I would think it's more than simple larceny. Crystals aren't exactly lucrative. Why not rob a museum or a bank if all you wanted was cash? Ferrous is most likely working for someone else, but who would need crystals of all things?"
We ate in silence for a few minutes more before I continued. "I think the immediate problem is pretty simple. I need to go shopping." I frowned, followed by glaring at Claire as she giggled at me from behind a hand. "I know, I know. But if Siona seems to think things need doing and I'm supposed to help do them, I need clothes to actually go out in the world in. I also need to start training somewhere. Do you think I could borrow the Squire's gym?"
Claire smiled as she looked across the table at me. "I think they'd be offended if you went anywhere else," she said.
February 9th, 2007
It felt good to run. Granted it was now with slightly bouncing globes of flesh strapped to my chest, my hips and legs were wrong, and having tails made things interesting, but it felt good to run. To have my leg actually move the way it aught was part of what made me happy about my change. Being alive certainly was a plus, as was being able to still see my children grow old, marry even if I wasn't going to be giving them away and in fact probably forced into a bridesmaid dress, to look forward to having grandchildren... well... nieces and nephews now I suppose. But really, I could run again. Even when I tried a brace the inside of my knee never was right and I simply couldn't run as it wouldn't take the motion and the stress.
The treadmills in the Squire's gym were pretty top notch. They weren't as expensive as a more formal full-time super hideout like the Knights had with full immersion VR hats and holographic terrain, but they were more than enough for my purposes, especially with movie screens to watch while running. My endurance was decidedly better than it used to be, and it really hadn't been that bad before. I had ran marathons once or twice before my knee went, at a relative good time. Just under 3 hours wasn't bad for a late twenty something year old male that wasn't a full time athlete. Granted that was a good ten years ago, but still.
The shorts and tank top number was well... flattering with my new figure. We'll go with flattering, especially if the reactions from Gigas and El Fuego were anything to judge off of. One day I might grow used to the reactions I seemed to get from men I wasn't related to, but it wasn't today. At least Fuego seemed to be keeping up on his personal hygiene with me around, though I was trying not to think about that as well. He did smell nice, which I was chalking up as a good thing. Granted so did Ratchet though I still couldn't place that since she didn't wear a lot of obvious perfume. Did I just like grease smell now? Perish the thought.
Eventually I moved from the treadmills to a heavy bag. One of the biggest things I had noticed that I would have to get used to were boobs. Fantastic to look at, even if they were on my own chest, fun to play with (hey, I wasn't dead after all), pain in the posterior as soon as I have to move my arms around them. Moving my arms was another thing, my elbows weren't the same. A lot of the motions I had grown used to just didn't work anymore, and well, that meant work at the pell.
It was part way through a punching workout that Max came up behind me. I felt him before I heard him. He wasn't trying to be especially quiet, but I've started to discover I could ... sense or feel things. I wasn't sure if other little spirits beside Siona were talking to me or what, but sometimes you can just sense something, at least I could.
"Here, you know you'd rather be using this."
I turned around in time to catch the wooden waster that Max had tossed to me in my right hand. I allowed myself a small smile as I looked over at my son. He certainly had turned out handsome, with good muscle tone and... ew! Ew ew, where the hell did THAT thought come from? I could almost hear Siona's laughter in my mind as I mentally glared at her.
Max had tossed me my favored hand-and-a-half sword. This one was a little shorter than I had used previously, but being as I had lost about a foot of height and some reach it showed a lot of forethought on his part. For himself he had picked a smaller one handed sword and a medium sized tower style shield. I was willing to guess he didn't pick the name Gladius at random.
He was right, I much preferred swordplay. The biggest problem was my new size. I was just so tiny by comparison that I hadn't thought to really practice that. Adjusting twenty five years of muscle memory wouldn't come overnight, and even then... if he was now super-human...
Fuck it, why not?
I saluted him with the blade before bringing it up in a casual en guarde stance. He raised his shield and put his sword over one shoulder behind his head in a fairly traditional ready position. Boxing obviously had its roots in swordplay, as I had long argued. Granted there's really only so many ways for a human body to move so some crossover was to be expected. Until they invented people with four arms or extra joints...
Hunh... wonder if they covered that at the school my children attended. Something to ponder later...
I attacked with a two handed parry four-ish motion aimed at his head, which he predictably blocked with his shield. Switching and re positioning the sword to a parry eight strike at his forward leg, Max dropped his shield and swung his sword at my four arc. Bringing my waster up into a parry one I rolled around his shield, letting it guard my back as I looped my blade around his torso, which he blocked by bringing his sword back towards his head and rolling to his right. Parry six strike at his right leg, blocked with his sword since the shield was too far back, parry four strike to his head blocked by the shield as he finished the turn to face me, preemptively blocking his sword attack at my torso.
Most people would assume that not having a shield was a large disadvantage. I disagree. They're big, they're bulky, they get in the way, you can't see past them, and you can't move well. At least I didn't like them. The trick to having only one weapon is that your offense was your defense and your defense was your offense. Most people with two weapons or a weapon and a shield used one weapon just for blocking and one just for attacking; when using one weapon you had to attack and parry at the same time. I could have just parried without trying to counter-attack, but if you can accomplish two things with the same motion to not do so would be wasting energy and time. It was about efficiency of motion and grace. Ya pick up a few things with twenty five years of fencing. My favorite part was the realization when I was younger that I did have a shield, Max's. He couldn't strike through himself and his shield prevented his own blows as well as mine.
Grace was one thing my new form had in abundance. I was more graceful, agile and flexible than I had ever been. Even in my teen years and my peak early twenties I couldn't do half of what I could now. My instincts and predicting where my opponent would move were good before, and I was happy to find that if anything they were a little sharper. More than once as we dueled Max would miss by as little as an inch or less as I deflected his waster or twisted my torso to be just out of the way. Throughout it all I was able to maintain control of my center line and cone of defense, though I had to admit that Max was good. Very good. If we had bouted before my change I wouldn't want to place a bet as the odds were too murky. I had experience but he was far quicker than I had been. If he actually had employed his Exemplar strength he could have tossed me around the gym before.
Thankfully age and treachery still defeated youth and inexperience any day of the week.
It was a variation of the booga booga booga. One of the finer points of the mental duel and positioning between opponents was that the entire match was about control and initiative. He that controlled the flow and pace of the bout would eventually win, as he was making the opponent play his game. The trick was the realization that you could control your opponent by being passive and reactionary instead of just dictating. By creating an opening, by setting a bait you can control your opponent's move while simultaneously letting them think they are in control and initiating an action. I didn't think Max had really come to that realization yet, though I haven't fought him in quite some time.
I chose to leave myself open. Letting my waster slip slightly out of position after a long exchange, Max saw what he thought was an opening and lunged forward with a thrust at where my torso had been.
I say had been because during his thrust I did a split and held my sword out towards his chest, letting him impale himself on it as his waster passed right over my head.
"Oof! Touché," Max said as he winced, rubbing his stomach.
"Fuck me!" I heard El Fuego's voice from the side of the gym. Turning my head I saw him reaching into his pocket and passing a pair of bills to Claire. Gigas was shaking his head from her other side, but he too passed her a pair of bills. Apparently dumb and young was still a thing, that or the boys had a firm grasp on Max's skill compared to most people. I gave her a wink and a wave with my offhand.
"What you boys didn't know is that Kitty has been fencing for twenty five years, and taught Gladius everything he knew before he went to Whateley," Claire said with a smile towards her victims. "Only now, she has her own Exemplar nature as well."
"Imagine what she can do after Mrs. Beaumont and Laird Fitzgibbons get a hold of her," Max added.
"Or she takes Exemplar Grace," Claire piped in.
Max offered me a hand to help me up. I took it; no sense in being impolite. "You've gotten really good yourself," I said with a smile at him. "Your defense is very solid. You've gotten a lot better since last time."
"Practice and good teachers," he allowed, though I could tell he still liked the compliment. He had earned it, so it was worth giving to him.
"Coffee?" Fuego offered as we got off the mats.
I couldn't help but shudder. "God no, though I'll take some of those pickles." There was nothing like cold pickles after exertion and exercise. I think the brine helped replace a lot of electrolytes and such not that the body expended. I found myself sucking the juices off of the whole pickle itself graphically and enthusiastically before taking a large bite out of it. The shudder all three boys gave was simply priceless.
I will admit, messing with their heads was a lot of my fun these days.
February 11th, 2007
I was putzing on my mandolin in the Squire's HQ taking a load off. I could have just as easily done this at home (Claire's condo, as the house was in the process of being sold off) but I just felt like being not at home today, and without really knowing anyone or having much of a life this was the only other place to really be. Half the Knights were up in Vancouver, BC with the other half down in Tacoma assisting with some major operation or other, something to do with international shipping from Asia. As such the Squires were helping to field some of the local assistance calls, though most of those were being routed to the Seattle Supers. There was only so much a group of college student interns could pull off, after all.
Since they were more or less in uniform whenever they weren't being themselves, I had put on my green tunic and tights combo, including my over the shoulder purse from when I had the run in with the SPD in Seattle. It wasn't anything remotely resembling a super hero outfit, but it was the right colors at least. I had the red bandanna tied around my left upper arm. Call me superstitious, but I'd taken to trying to wear it somewhere on all my outfits lately. If Inari was an active force in the world and Kitsune of a good nature were his servants and generally went around helping things not suck, well best to cover my bases and stay on his... her... it's good side.
Besides, it was a nice reminder that most people in Seattle didn't hate mutants.
Ratchet was nearby working on what as far as I could tell was some sort of radio or phone something. After a while it was all Star Trek or Star Wars to a point. Science Fiction was in the steady process of becoming Science Fact even for everyday folk, let alone Devisors and Gadgeteers. She was pretty engrossed in her work. Ratchet was pretty, cute in a "I just rolled out from under a car" sort of way. A little absent minded, she tended to focus on whatever little project was consuming her attention in a fairly common lab rat fashion. I could sort of follow enough to have an idea of what she was usually working on, but I couldn't replicate what she did myself. Knowing a bit about electricity and maintaining a basic computer network didn't turn one into a Gadgeteer after all. I did have to say that her green jumpsuit with pockets, goggles and a tactical harness fit her figure QUITE well. Could almost gobble her up... damnit! There I went again. My mind had been floating to the gutter a bit lately, personally I blamed Siona. I wasn't sure exactly why, but something was telling me she was responsible somehow.
Personally I was perfecting Fur Elise on the mandolin. Yes, it's normally a piano number but after all this is Seattle. We're fairly musical here; deal with it. Anyway, the violin (or fiddle depending on style) always would hold a spot in my soul but mandolin was easier to pick up and tinker with. It also let you talk or sing at the same time so there was something to be said for that. Thankfully the strings, fingering, and tuning was the same between the two so it's pretty easy to switch between them.
Max was in class, Claire was working a shift at the UW Hospital. Fuego and Gigas were working a call down by the docks which left Ratchet and me (though I wasn't an official member of the Squires) sitting at HQ. It had mostly quieted down for the afternoon, when suddenly the phone rang with a blaring siren and a blinking red light. That was a new one.
"Ummm... Ratchet? What's that?"
"The Action Alarm. It means there's an ongoing emergency somewhere that needs immediate attention as opposed to a non-emergency call."
"Alright then... shouldn't you be doing something about that?"
"Oh.... OH! Right!" Ratchet quickly buttoned up her phone gizmo before attaching it to her belt and skipped (ugh) to the phone to answer it. Yeah, cute or not that would get irritating after a while.
A minute or two later she hung up the phone and looked over at me. "Alright, we have to go! Killer robots!!"
I'm not sure which was more frightening. The fact she said someone was being attacked by killer robots, or the look of excitement on her face that killer robots was a thing and she got to see them. What was definitely frightening was riding passenger on the neon green crotch rocket piloted by a Devisor/Gadgeteer bimbo in a pink helmet weaving in and out of traffic doing a good twenty or thirty over the speed limit while hanging onto her for dear life wearing a helmet that only mostly fit because they don't come with proper ear holes.
Amazingly enough we survived, and I will say they were definitely killer robots. Six of them, which as far as I was concerned was six too many. And here I was armed with only my good looks and sparkling personality. Thankfully there didn't seem to be too many civilians left on the scene which was now a fairly ruined street; one or two burning cars, overturned box van, sparking street lights, fire hydrant spewing water. All in all what I would imagine was a pretty usual scene for killer robots (a matter which I obviously had massive amounts of prior experience with).
Unfortunately for us the robots noticed as we pulled up and opened fire. I warped from the back of the bike to behind a dumpster and ducked while Ratchet bailed; sending the bike into a skid as she rolled then ran for cover behind a parked car. Red laser beams were being shot at us from the robots, a quick glance from around the corner of the dumpster showed they were coming from what seemed like some sort of Gatling-style cannon in place of the robots right arm. That made for three things that weren't on my daily goals list so far: motorcycle death wish races, killer robots, being shot at with laser beams.
As I looked around the scene my eyes fell on a pile of pipe from a plumbing job and I couldn't help but remember a conversation I once had with Max...
"Dad, why don't you own a gun?"
I stopped washing the dishes for a second, looking over at Max. He was thirteen then, and in the course of being in Junior High he obviously had started thinking for himself. I couldn't complain; it was a trait that I encouraged along with Jennifer, and I was happy that he was one that could think and ask questions. Seeing he was quite serious, I turned off the water and dried my hands on a towel. After I turned and looked at him I asked, "Why would I need to own one?"
"For protection from burglars or criminals. They usually run around with guns, why don't you have one too? That way you have a weapon to use against them."
Ahh... Second Amendment. Should have seen that coming with the US History class. Ignoring for a moment the whole violence feeding on itself conflict escalation argument that Max wasn't ready to grasp, I went for the reason he would understand. "Alright... take a seat at the table there and give me just a minute."
Max looked curiously at me but did sit at the table as I went into the living room and picked up the small hatchet from the woodpile next to the fireplace. I added a broom from the hall closet, a cooking knife from the butcher's block in the kitchen and a large pan from the sink. Placing all of these on the table I looked at him. "When you can tell me the thing that makes a weapon different from these tools you'll understand my answer."
He spent the rest of the evening looking over the four assorted objects before asking me what the answer was. I gave it to him, and he spent the next twenty four hours thinking about it. The next evening he told me he got it, and the matter never came up again.
The difference between a tool and a weapon is simply the will to use it as such.
Three or four foot metal pipe, check. I certainly wasn't going to take the time to measure it exactly. I figured the robots were made of metal so it's not like I could bruise them to death, but there's a reason a heavy mace or hammer was the weapon of choice against armored knights. You beat on joints of plate armor enough they warp, when they warp they don't articulate correctly any more. You mess up a visor and they can no longer see. While the robots didn't have visors as such they did appear to have some sort of 'eye', most likely an optic sensor or something. I probably wasn't going to 'kill' them, but I could disable them and render them non-effective.
From the sounds of things Ratchet was returning fire. A second quick look confirmed it; she had her own laser pistol. Of course she had a laser pistol, she was a Devisor and a Gadgeteer right? I mean, what self respecting mad scientist didn't have a laser pistol? Her own red laser beams were just single shot, but she had managed to take out one robot already before she had to switch to a different car for cover. Time to give her a hand.
I warped directly in front of one of the killer robots and gave it a two handed thrust to the glass 'eye'. It shattered with a very satisfying crunch and I pulled the pipe back and took a low swipe at the same robot's right knee before I warped again. This time I was behind the robot and took a second shot at the same knee then warped about ten feet away to take three shots at the gun arm of the neighboring robot. I then warped behind a third robot and took a large two handed swipe at the back of its 'head' and neck, hearing a large kaboom as the gun arm of the neighboring robot exploded, sending pieces of robot flying around the area. Apparently Gatling lasers don't work well with bent barrels. The original blinded robot staggered around as it limped, trying to keep up with me just in time for Ratchet to nab it in the shoulder which sent it to the ground.
Yeah, my way isn't exactly very sportsmanlike but it works, doesn't it?
Rather I should say it worked until robot number four caught the pipe in its hand and threw me flying to one side of the street. Mental note, killer robots were stronger than humans. I bounced a little before getting up to my feet, shaking my head to clear it. Thankfully I managed to notice and roll out of the way of the laser blasts being send toward me as I ran behind the overturned box truck. Westco, something about that brand name jogged my mind but I couldn't remember what it was at the moment. More importantly was the fact that now I'd lost my pipe.
Ratchet was still exchanging fire with a pair of killer robots from behind her car when I looked about in a panic. There should still be... "RATCHET LOOK OUT!"
Ratchet looked to her left and let out a shriek as the third killer robot had flanked her. Reaching quickly into her pocked she took out a small remote, pointing it towards the robot and pushing a button. The robot fell apart. No, seriously, it fell down into a bunch of component limbs right before she ditched the remote, which began sparking on the ground. Okay, one shot would be the reason not to use that from the get go.
I warped over to her, wrapped my arms around her tightly and warped the pair of us behind yet another vehicle. We had to keep moving before... the whirring noise as I looked up into laser barrels would be the fourth thing on my things to do list.
I do have to admit the sword blade that suddenly erupted from the chest of one of the robots was an unexpected bonus. That robot began sparking and smoking as a blue plasma looking blast hit its neighbor and dropped it, revealing our savior.
"Need a hand?" asked Meliferra with a grin on her face as she sheathed her tai chi style sword.
Being further in debt to Miss Bumblebee... that'd be number five.
"Thanks," I said with a slight smile as I glanced around. The street was a mess, but all the robots were now inactive. I looked over at the pistol looking thing in her left hand. She must have caught my glance because she started explaining.
"Invention of mine. A new prototype I just started field testing. It works by firing a charged mass of plasma that disables electric systems and synaptic nerves of organic...”
"Soo... stun gun?" I summed up before she really got on a roll into techno-babble.
She stopped talking, sighed a little then nodded. "Stun gun."
"Works nice," I said with a smile. "Organic nerves... so it paralyzes people like a Taser?"
"That's the idea, but I don't have a lot of volunteers to use it on. Seems to work just fine on these robots though. Any idea where they're from?" Meliferra asked.
"Not a clue, we just received a call about a killer robot attack," Ratchet pipped in from where she was looking at some of the robot wreckage. She was currently removing what looked like some sort of power supply from the stunned robot before it could turn itself back on.
"It's a good thing you were flying by," I said as I bent over to pick up a discarded robot foot. It was fairly heavy, it looked like these things were somewhat armored and designed for combat. "Everyone seems extra busy today, almost a perfect time for something to have gone wrong." I looked over at Meliferra again when I caught her staring at the metal foot. "You alright?"
"Yeah... no, I was just reminded of something," she replied. She brightened quickly and offered me the stun blaster. "Here, you should probably hang onto this. I'll make another one. Just be sure to charge it each day. Here's a charging cable." She pulled a cable out from one of her pouches and handed it to me along with the pistol. I took them, putting a smile on my face as I felt the little chain growing heavier in my head. "Thank you," I said as I let her take the metal foot from me.
"Well, you two be more careful! Stay safe and remember to call me if you need anything, Kitty." With a wave she took off and flew away.
"That went well," Ratchet said with a grin as she finished removing the power supply. "Got it!"
Somehow I was less enthusiastic as I looked around at the destruction. I had a bad feeling about all of this.
February 13th, 2007
"How are you doing?"
Claire handed me a mug of hot chocolate as we gathered ourselves in the main meeting room of the Squires HQ. The hot steamy aroma was simply bliss upon my senses. People could talk about coffee all they wanted, there was nothing quite like hot cocoa with little floating marshmallows in it.
"Could be worse, I could be from Pittsburgh," I replied. She smiled slightly at our little family joke. The game had simply been a travesty of officiating, made me wonder what the payoff of the ref's had been. People had long memories when it came to sports after all.
Truth be told, I wasn't doing that great. Despite all our hopes the robot attack hadn't been an isolated incident. There had been seven robot attacks so far that we'd responded to counting the first one, all at various points around the city. The Seattle Supers had also reported responding to nine different attacks. Combine all of that with as much training as I was putting myself through before the robots and I was starting to feel a bit drained. I could tell that it was starting to show by Claire's face before she nodded at me.
I turned back towards the map I was looking at. Unlike the Seattle Supers, the Squires were well... on a training budget. I literally was looking at a large fold out map of the city with spots marked in blue X's or red X's. Blue for us, red for them, X's for spots we'd fought killer robots. There had to be some sort of pattern or something behind it, I refused to believe that it was all random coincidence.
Max and the boys were watching me look at the map; Ratchet was still analyzing the killer robot we had brought back from the first attack. Max put a lot of faith in my ability to plan and strategize, and apparently he was good enough himself that the others put faith in whoever Max said was better than him. Kind of nice to be looked up to by your children, even if you were now at the level of their armpit on a good day.
"Alright, the attacks seem to be spread all over the city, in little to no discernible pattern. This means what?"
"Random terror mongering?" Max suggested.
"With robots? Granted whoever is controlling them might be going for an emotional response, but the robots themselves sure aren't. If they were going for fear and terror don't you think whoever it was would have introduced themselves by now? No, I think it's more subtle than that." I smiled slightly. I think I had it.
"Like what?" Fuego asked.
"It's a booga booga booga," I stated. Max nodded, while Gigas just watched us all silently.
"A what now?" Fuego asked again, looking even more confused.
I sat my mug down before turning to look at Fuego. I began waving my right arm and hand up in the air. "Booga booga booga! Booga booga booga!" As he turned to look at the motion I kicked him in the shin with my left foot. He winced and bent down to rub his leg while I returned to my hot chocolate. I think he got the point now.
"They're trying to keep us moving, wear us down, distract us and draw us away from what they're really after. We don't want to look at where they've been, we want to look at where they haven't been, which is there." I pointed at a spot on the map that wasn't near the pattern of X's. A sort of void in the chaos, if you will. "What's around here that someone might be interested in? Banks? Any major businesses? Trade secrets?"
All of us were scratching our heads trying to figure out, when the answer came from one of the more unlikely sources.
"Art museum," Gigas said with a rumble. We all turned to look at him. "Art's a good haul if you can unload it, granted it's pretty well known so you can't just auction it off, but it could be a good payday if you're going after something specific."
I had forgotten about the hammering man and the art museum. For the most part going to a gallery to look at a painting wasn't normally something I'd do for fun. Something about Giga's comment though...
"That's it," I said with absolute certainty.
Max just looked at me. "Are you sure? That's not a lot to go on."
"That's it. I can't explain why, I just know that's the next one."
"What, like foresight? You some kind of fortune cookie, Chicka?" Fuego cracked a grin at his own joke. I gave him a death glare and eventually he stopped.
"Alright. Let me contact the Supers and let them know we're going to check it out and to cover any major incidents while we're gone." Max turned and activated the communications panel. This was one of the few fairly modern and super hero high tech pieces of equipment in the HQ, mostly due to needing to communicate with the Knights and Supers. It was a combination speaker phone/skype like/holographic projector unit. Pretty cool and looked like something out of Star Wars only with better graphic displays that used color.
"Oh boy... I hope it's not 'her' that answers," Fuego said nudging Gigas with his elbow. Gigas chuckled lightly and nodded.
"Who?" I asked, looking over at Claire.
"Crucibelle," she replied. "Max kind of has a thing for her. The last time she asked us for a favor, he was bending over backwards and agreeing without even thinking or worrying about what it was. The Supers had captured a corporate thief, but the thief ditched the evidence and stolen goods in a passing garbage truck. They needed our help searching trucks to try and find the goods. Do you have any idea how many garbage trucks there are in the greater Seattle area? And we were looking through them all by hand!"
The three Squires shuddered at the memory. I began to grow concerned myself when I heard a female voice answer Max's call. "Good morning, Gladius. What can we help you with today?"
She was a looker, I'd give him that. A handful of years older than Max by appearances (which didn't necessarily mean a lot with Supers from what I'd gathered) she was fit, trim and athletic. Shoulder length blonde hair that wasn't too far from my old Nordic heritage and a face that was stern but kind. Truth be told the two of them looked like a pair of Olympic athletes that had just walked out of a stadium somewhere to grab a bite to eat and forgotten to get out of uniform along the way. That or a pair of heroes that had flown out of a comic book; they both had the very traditional 'strong yet moralistic lead' vibe going for them.
"Thank you for taking the call, Crucibelle. We've a favor to ask if you wouldn't mind. I mean, if it's not a bother."
Oh boy... back peddling already and he hadn't even asked yet. I looked at Claire with a raised eyebrow and she nodded grimly. The boy had it bad.
"We'll certainly help if we can. What do you need?"
"We've got a lead on what the actual target of the robots is. We'd appreciate it if you could handle any disasters that come up while we check it out."
"You do? What sort of lead? How reliable is it?" She was excited now, apparently the Supers were just as in the dark as we were.
"My younger sister."
"Requiem? I thought she had gone back to Whateley?" Crucibelle pursed her lips thoughtfully.
"No, my other younger sister. You haven't met her yet, she manifested right after the docks incident. She's had... a trying couple of weeks." True enough without lying, well played Max.
Crucibelle nodded sadly. "I can imagine. You all have gone through enough and then to be newly manifested on top of that? Poor girl."
"Well, Kitty is positive she figured it out from the pattern of the previous attacks. She's also got traces of ESP and foresight according to Tome."
"None of us have ever beaten her at chess, and that was before she manifested," Claire added helpfully. "Or go, Stratego, checkers, Risk, the list goes on."
Thanks Claire, way to make me feel like a nerd. Granted I was one, but still...
Crucibelle looked over in my direction as I was pushed towards the 'camera.' I held my chin up and curtsied slightly. "Pleasure to meet you, Miss 'Belle."
"Likewise," Crucibelle added. "My deepest condolences on your loss. If there's ever anything we can do to help, you just need to ask."
"Thank you," I replied. Apparently my wife and children were well thought of in the Super community, which while a surprise still made me proud of them.
"You're positive you know where they're aiming for?" She was back to business now, but she did have a heart inside her as well. I began to see Max's reasoning.
"Yes. I'm fairly sure that they're drawing us all away from their actual target. I'm sure it's the art museum."
"Paintings? They're after paintings?" She blinked incredulously at the suggestion.
"Or an exhibit. Perhaps some ancient artifact or something that's actually magical in origin. There's more there than paintings." Accuse me of being foolish will you...
"I've never beaten her," Max added, putting a hand on my shoulder supportingly.
Crucibelle was silent for a moment, then inclined her head. "Alright, let us know what you all turn up. Good luck." The call terminated and a collective breath was released around the room.
"That went surprisingly well," added Gigas as he chuckled.
"Hey everyone, I found something!" Ratchet's voice from across the room came as a shock, as was the piece of metal she tossed towards Max and me. It was from inside the killer robot somewhere, and seemed pretty unremarkable save for the name on the label.
"Positronic?" I asked out loud as I read.
"They're out of Taiwan," Ratchet said although that statement wasn't really unusual. Wasn't everything made in Taiwan?
Claire was frowning as she ran the name through the computers. Something wasn't good. "What's wrong, Minerva?" I asked.
"They're owned by WestCo," she said. Max was frowning now also.
"Which means we're really up against our father," Max added. "Maximillian Alexander Westbrook the Third, owner and CEO of WestCo. What is less well known is that he is also the third bearer of the codename Overlord. Continuing a long family tradition of villainy."
"Well fuck." Unhelpful I know, but what else did I have to say?
The Seattle Art Museum is located on the corner of 1st Avenue and University Street, and has a giant (about 50 feet tall) mechanized sculpture of a man hammering on some machine part outside on the street corner. The arm with the hammer moves every fifteen seconds or so in an up and down motion. The statue itself was built back in '92 and is supposed to commemorate and celebrate the workers all around the world. There's a series of them internationally in many different cities, and while I could appreciate its sentiment I really wasn't that interested in the Hammering Man today.
The roads themselves had a fairly regular mix of automotive traffic and pedestrians, though they were less populated than they were a few days ago. Enough killer robot attacks have happened that many people that could afford to stay home did. Otherwise it seemed like your stereotypical Tuesday in downtown, only I was here in a green knee length dress (edged with Celtic knot work, with long sleeves and split on one side up to my hips), black skin tight leggings, knee high brown boots, bright red sash around my stomach and leather messenger bag across my chest. Honestly, I thought I looked like I was probably skipping class from somewhere because school was boring and played dress up to follow the heroes (which unfortunately wasn't that far off from the truth). At least I didn't have to suck on a lollipop with what I had sort of gotten used to as my super hero outfit. The other nice part as far as I was concerned was the carefully tailored hole in the butt of my dress and leggings to let my tails out. Trying to hide them under a skirt was fine for traveling incognito but it wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world.
It did help that the rest of the Squires were present also which lend some credence to the fact I wasn't being truant. I really didn't want to have to explain to some police officer who may have seen me on TV from a few weeks ago that I had actually already graduated college and no, he didn't have to call my mother who technically speaking from a sheer legal standpoint is that lady in the smashing blue spandex right over there.
The Squire's uniforms were primarily variations of blue with green trim, sashes, cloaks, et cetera. Patches were present on the shoulder (or chest in Gigas's case as his had more of a wrestling singlet look) with symbols for their code names. An owl for Minerva, a sword for Gladius, a flame for El Fuego, a clenched fist for Gigas, and a ratchet for Ratchet (obviously a play on words). All in all they actually looked pretty professional, which was good because that's what they were going for.
I did feel woefully under gunned for killer robots mostly because my only real piece of offensive firepower was the stun gun from Meliferra which was strapped to my right thigh. It had seen plenty of action over the last day or two, and I had even remembered to charge it this morning before we left as well as carrying a few spare clips in my bag. No more dead batteries for this fox!
Minerva and Gladius were inside the museum itself, while Gigas, El Fuego and Ratchet were roving the streets nearby. I was sitting on a bench swinging my feet at the intersection playing look out and location coordinator. We had been at this for several hours and I was beginning to worry that we were going to be made to look the fool in front of Miss Nordic Sassypants and her Reds. Apparently I had a vested interest in the Red vs Blue debate now, go figure.
It is with great irony that I can say I was almost relieved when the killer robots arrived. Normally I'd never say I was happy to see some sort of VTOL hover vehicle drop down in the middle of the intersection and belch out a bunch of Saturday Morning Cartoon tin can soldiers with pew pew guns. I can say I was less than thrilled to see that also hopping off the flying bus with them was none other than my old acquaintance, Ferrous.
I'd like to say I was a brave bad-ass of a woman (heh) who drew and downed him with a single shot to the head then calmly called for backup. I'd love to say I took cover smartly behind a bench and dug in for a shoot out. The reality is I did neither of those things. As soon as my eyes saw Ferrous the entire world seemed to cease to be. The only things that existed were me, Ferrous, and the two facts that I couldn't breathe and that I had to get away. I had to simply not be here anymore.
I bolted. Or rather, I started to bolt in some direction somewhere when I heard Siona's voice in my head. "Oh no, we don't have time for this right now." Then there was a sort of strange wrenching feeling and suddenly it was if I was a passenger inside my own head. I had almost sort of shrunk into a corner of my own mind and was now observing my body move on its own watching through a pair of windows instead of my eyes.
Looking back on it, it was fairly clear that Siona had taken over our shared body while I was mentally incapacitated. It's actually a fairly strange experience probably best compared to a wonky dream or a funked up Trip (No, I haven't done that, I just know some people.). I wouldn't recommend it, but at the time it was for the best and I don't fault her for having done it.
Siona hopped behind a trash can and brought my pistol out and began taking a few shots at the robots. She managed to take out a few robots before others began firing on her position and she had to blink away just before the trash can went up in smoke. We were behind a bench now, where she kept up with her shoot 'n scoot. I still wasn't contributing much at all, being only a few steps above shuddering in a pool made up of myself in the corner.
I was enough of myself to see the car flying through the air towards us though. Apparently Ferrous decided to pick up a car and throw it at our head right after we un-poofed, the walking shithead. It's very eerie seeing something like that flying towards you and literally having no control over your own limbs, not even the ability to scream. If only there was a knight in shining armor to come save me...
No, seriously, at that moment a blur of blue flashed in front of our eyes and batted the car away with a glowing shield of force. The car deflected off of Gladius's shield and slammed into the side of a building as he stood between us and Ferrous. He looked like some sort of Jedi with a shimmering force blade and shield, billowing green cape and all. "You alright, Kitty?" he asked without looking back.
"I am now, thanks!" Siona replied in my voice. I could almost feel her mental purr as she stared at Gladius's ass though. I think that more than anything helped shock me out of the panic I was in. I would NOT check out my own son's ass! "EW!" I thought internally. "Oh shut up, he's got a fantastic ass," Siona replied with a mental lick of her lips. "I wouldn't mind... anyway, you back with me again? Here, you take over. I can't keep this up very long, or rather I shouldn't."
Suddenly without much of an explanation I was back at the helm so to speak. "I'll handle Ferrous, go help the others," Max said as he and Ferrous charged towards each other. The speed and power the two of them had in their ensuing melee was breath taking. My earlier thoughts about Max's Exemplar nature tipping the odds? There was no way I'd be able to keep up with what he was doing right now, at least not yet. He was polished, he was controlled, he was an athlete in his prime who apparently finally got the chance to let loose and not hold himself back.
Unfortunately so was Ferrous. Physical strength had been replaced by cybernetic enhancements. Lack of armor had been replaced by small force field generators in his arms that acted like small shields or bracers. I could have spent all day just watching the two of them exchange blows like that, if it wasn't for the army of killer robots.
The other Squires had all shown up. Gigas tossed robots around like rag dolls, Minerva was using telekinesis to accomplish much the same thing and El Fuego was everywhere, a blend of speedster talents with pyrokinesis. I caught a glimpse of Ratchet running into the museum after a pair of robots got inside, she should be able to handle them with her toys. I joined in much the same way Siona had been, blinking about and using my pistol from point blank range. It was hard to miss from a yard away when the bad guy wasn't even aware you were behind them. Yeah, I didn't fight fair; deal with it.
All in all it was a giant stalemate. The robots weren't really able to get inside, but we weren't making a lot of progress against their numbers. Gladius and Ferrous were evenly matched. There weren't any civilians around at this point, so I suppose that's a win. Suddenly what seemed to be an armored shape blasted out of the roof of the museum and took off in a pillar of fire into the sky. The remaining robots began to fall back into their transport. I could see Gladius and Minerva run into the museum as Ferrous hopped into the VTOL at the last moment before it flew away.
I blinked into the museum to see Gladius, Minerva and Ratchet talking. Two disabled robots were on the floor, still sparking. "What happened?" I asked.
"Overlord," Max said. "He must have been here in the museum the whole time, waiting. When we exited to fight the robots he grabbed what he wanted and took off." Ratchet nodded in confirmation.
Even sometimes when you guess right you're still not fast enough.
February 14th, 2007
It was sometime the morning of Valentine's Day. I don't remember my first Valentine's Day after Jennifer's death. I imagine I was something like a drunken zombie in grief; I owe a lot to my children for getting me through that first year. This year was a bit better in that I had something to distract me from thinking about it too much, namely the pair of tits now permanently attached to my chest and all that came with them.
My token effort to care was that I was drinking hot chocolate out of a heart mug with little marshmallows, whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles in it. Turns out that Overlord had stolen some stick with a snake head on it which belonged to some ancient pharaoh with a name I couldn't pronounce. The extra super special stick in question had been on display in an Egypt exhibit at the museum. Why someone who obviously leaned towards technology had an interest in a petrified tree I had no idea, but the results were sure to be not good.
I hadn't slept well at all. I kept waking up from some dream that I couldn't quite remember. Nightmare would probably be more accurate. I thought I had bags under my eyes, and had an overall worn out feel. It was probably just lack of sleep and too much action over the last few weeks.
My brain kept going in circles trying to figure out what it all meant. Overlord obviously had gone through a great deal of effort acquiring this stick, which meant it was important to whatever his plan was. I just couldn't figure it out.
After the umpteenth time looking over the same photos and online articles I began pacing about the room of the Squire's HQ. Sunlight was coming in through the window as dawn hit. I was debating trying to go back to sleep when El Fuego came in from outside. He was carrying what appeared to be the morning coffee and donut run.
"Hola, Chicka! What's happenin'?"
I looked over at him and shrugged. "Still trying to figure out what Overlord is playing at. We're missing some of the pieces and it's irritating me."
He nodded as he set down the coffee and donuts. "You were apple fritter, right?" He tossed me a donut at my nod. Thankfully he didn't bother asking about the coffee, they all knew the drill by now. He began downing his own giant cup of overpriced bitterness with fancy cardboard dressing to make you think you were someone important with a glee that was almost unholy.
Luis (Which I had come to learn was his actual name. Luis Montoya, Freshman at the UW studying Mechanical Engineering on an academic scholarship. He was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for.) shrugged and looked over at the collection of printed pictures and maps. "Sometimes evil just is, Tails. You don't have to understand it to know it's there."
He'd taken to calling me Tails periodically as well. Apparently I reminded him of some video game character, only 'way sexier' which I suppose made sense. When I still turned myself on by my own reflection (which is also an experience with mixed reviews) I couldn't fault a barely legal male from thinking I was all that. Video games were one of the things I had missed out on while working to support my kids; I didn't know much about any of them or what was current. I had promised myself at some point I'd figure out who he was talking about.
Claire and Max came in behind him as I frowned, munching on my fritter in what I have been told is a very unladylike fashion. "It's not about understanding him; it's about being able to figure out what he's doing so we can stop it."
My children predictably attacked their own cups of coffee. Claire couldn't breathe in the morning without her coffee with her work schedule, and Max wasn't much better. "Ratchet's running late but Gigas should be here any minute," Max relayed as he ate. "With any luck we'll figure out what Overlord is up to in time."
My train of thought was completely derailed at that point by all three of them suddenly dropping their cups of coffee. The two boys went rail stiff while Claire cried out, dropping to her knees and clutching her hands to her head. She was gritting her teeth and sweating in effort with something, where the boys...
Had now turned and began walking towards me.
Luis suddenly was next to me, an unexpected punch leaving me gasping for air. I had enough time to blink away before Max was able to grab me. "Alright, not funny!" I let out. A blast of flame seared where I had been as I blinked again, all thoughts of what Overlord was going to do were suddenly gone as they had been replaced by sheer survival.
I will just say things were not going well. The room was in shambles and half the equipment was now broken. I was rapidly running out of places to hide and couldn't keep this dodging up forever. Max and Luis were capable of a large degree of damage, and Claire... well she had gotten to her feet but she was still clutching her head with both hands and had her eyes closed. It had to be some kind of finger waggling mind control or something, but why had it gotten them and not me?
Suddenly I knew. The coffee. It was in the fucking coffee!!
"Sorry I'm late; boy I could go for a cup of... the fuck?"
"Frankie! Don't drink the coffee, it's a trap!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. The last thing I needed was Gigas after me as well. "They're not themselves!"
Gigas (Francesco Capello, also a Freshman at the UW, but an Accounting major of all things.) stormed into the room. Even in street clothes he was still an intimidating sight. With a single backhand he sent Luis flying into a sofa and was able to grab Max and put him into a choke hold. The man was a giant, and if he responded this quickly to a feminine scream I suddenly felt a lot better about Anna's well-being.
"Got it!" Claire said as she finally dropped her hands from her head. A sort of sense of calm was flung around her as the two boys began to blink and come back to themselves.
Now we just had to figure out what was going on, as we were obviously out of time. Thankfully I had an Ace in the hole so to speak, so I went to pay her a visit.
"You're right, there's definitely something in the coffee," Meliferra said as she bent over a microscope in her secret lab. "I think what you've found are nanobots."
"Nanobots? Where on earth would Overlord be getting nanobots?" I replied with raised eyebrows.
Turns out that Claire had been able to block whatever was going on with her telepathy and empathy. She could generate a bubble about forty feet in diameter which seemed to protect whoever was inside it. The downside was it was all she could do with her psychic potential right now. All of her powers were going to maintaining that bubble. Thankfully Frankie could move normally as he hadn't drank any coffee today, but Max and Luis were effectively chained to Claire.
I didn't want to have to, but the only thing I could think of was taking a sample of the coffee to Meliferra, and had called her from my cellphone. She actually had come to the Squires HQ to pick me up and fly me to her hilltop residence/secret laboratory, which was an experience in and of itself.
Her own lab easily competed with the Seattle Knights building in terms of high tech. The best part was that she had built it all herself over the years. Apparently while vigilantism didn't necessarily pay well, being a genius Gadgeteer did.
"Do you remember the incident with the Syn-gate Research Facility back in November? Over on the peninsula?" she asked as she looked over at me. Her eyes had a sort of quiet intensity and focus while she worked.
"Wasn't that the one where some Goodkind Company blew up and everyone died?" I asked as I peered around at her lab and its decorations. She had been examining the sample of coffee I brought in a petri dish held in place with some sort of electromagnet gravity field setup that I didn't understand. It sounded highly technical and probably had gotten her quite a few patents.
"Officially yes. Unofficially the facility was actually a cover for research into nano technology. What if the explosion was due to a break in to try and steal nano technology? It wouldn't be the first time that Overlord did something like that after all."
I frowned and looked over at her. Something had been niggling at my mind since I had called her. There wasn't really any reason for it, but... "Beatrice Jenkins."
She blinked at me as her mouth opened wide. "How did you..."
"I didn't 'til just now. I won't tell a soul without you saying it's okay. I promise," I said. "I remember reading about the incident at Hanford twenty years ago. I thought I saw you in a photo, but my friends said I was crazy. You were there... Overlord was responsible wasn't he?"
"One of the Overlords, yes. I've been trying to keep tabs on them ever since," she said quietly. "My mother was doing research with bees and radiation exposure. I wasn't sure what technology he was there to steal, but paired with these nano bots and what you described I'm guessing it was the mass control one of the hive queens had that my mother talked about."
"That must be what he needed that pharaoh stick for, some sort of woojuuwhatsit to control all the nanobots. How better to spread them than by putting them in everyone's coffee." I frowned and glared at the coffee sample.
"Lucky for you I drink tea," Meliferra said wryly.
Before I could offer a retort my phone began ringing. Taking it out of my bag I answered. "Hello?"
"Kitty, you've got to get back here," Max said. "The Supers are calling for our help. They got our message about the coffee in time, but there's trouble. Big trouble. All hands on deck time."
"Alright, I'm on my way. I'll be back shortly," I said before hanging up the call. "Gotta run, trouble in Seattle," I said to Meliferra.
"I'll keep working on this. If there's a signal being sent logically we have to be able to block it out or trace it or something. Maybe some sort of kill code..." she trailed off and shrugged.
"Good luck, keep me posted!" I waved as I ran outside and began working my way back to Squire's HQ.
Sometime later I was just about to go inside the building when I saw a curious sight. One of Seattle's homeless was pushing his shopping cart filled with belongings down the street. He was dressed in several overcoats and worn out clothes, including fingertip-less gloves to help protect from the cold. The only real unusual piece of clothing was the aluminium foil hat wrapped around his head. "You better be careful miss, the zombies are out!" he warned as I was running by. "Saw 'em all up and down today, it's the government mind rays! I warned people over and over, but no... Said I was crazy, they did. That's why I'm wearing my helmet you see, keeps the rays out!"
I stopped and looked over at him closer. I would have said he was crazy too before earlier today, but mind rays was a good enough explanation as any. I was about to make a sarcastic reply when I noticed something very alarming.
He was drinking coffee. Starbucks coffee right out of the paper cup with the little cardboard ring holder. Yet he had kept his mind, perhaps due to his shiny hat.
"Well son of a bitch..." was all that came out of my mouth.
Later I stood on the upper deck of the Ship Canal Bridge looking south towards downtown, and the army of lights marching north along I-5. Sadly those weren't car lights coming towards us. A wave of robot soldiers stomped along the pavement in ordered lines, an ominous tide of villainy.
"So... we're standing here forming a wall of six people between everything north of us and all of that, because some blonde batted her eyelashes at Max?" I asked no one in particular.
"Yup," Claire replied. "We're used to it. Thankfully she usually only does this once or twice a year."
Overlord was making what felt like a final push. We didn't have much of a chance of defeating his numbers, not with the citizenry of Seattle as unwilling weapons. Crucibelle opted for a containment approach or as I called it, stalling and hoping for some miracle of figuring out how to turn off the nanobots.
The Squires were to hold the northern Ship Canal Bridge and try to keep the robots from crossing over into the University District and north towards Shoreline and Lynnwood. Tome was going to hold the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (Route 520) and keep them from going east into Bellevue. The Supers took the hardest job and were going to hold the I-5 and I-90 interchange area and keep them from heading south.
Personally I was putting my money on Meliferra finding out what the solution to deactivating the nanobots was before we suddenly got reinforced by someone, but no one was asking me.
"Man, this hat is lame. How am I supposed to look epic for the publicity photos in this?" Luis whined.
"You are more than welcome to take it off if you want to turn back into a human zombie," Claire retorted.
The aluminium foil hats on Claire, Luis and Max had actually worked, which meant Claire could now use her powers for something other than just shielding their minds. Gold star for the crazy, homeless guy. This was also information we passed along to the Supers. Unfortunately finding enough aluminium foil for the entire city would most likely prove a bit problematic, especially since most of them currently wanted to kill us.
Frankie had flipped cars and trucks to build barricades of the lower express lanes of the bridge, and combined with some technowhatsits from Ratchet we only had to worry about guarding the upper portion. It would make clean up hell later, but it was better than risking the surrounding cities. All in all there was nothing else for us to do but wait and prepare for the worst.
After what felt like hours I was dodging yet another laser blast and returned fire from behind an overturned van. Meliferra's pistol had ran dry, so I loaded my third power pack of the night while Luis flung a burst of fire at the offender. Claire lifted and flung a car towards the line of robots with her telekinesis. I was panting and out of breath, and the others were about as bad off. An oncoming rumble was enough to break us out of our daze, as what seemed to be some sort of armored vehicle was coming towards us. The giant cannon on top was enough to be alarming even without the metal plating or escort of robots marching alongside. It opened fire without warning and Claire switching to a shielding dome of force, causing the incoming projectile to explode harmlessly instead of on us.
Frankie and Max were busy some fifty feet away with a horde of foot sloggers backed up by Ratchet, leaving me to swear while Claire kept up her shield. I honestly had no idea how we were supposed to deal with a tank. Luis popped his head over the van and looked for a moment before turning towards me. "You up for some fun, Chicka?" he asked with a grin.
I looked at him blankly and blinked, having no idea where he was going with this.
"There's a little plate on the driver's side there. Think you can blink over and flip it open then blink back?" He asked, pointing at the vehicle.
I popped my own head up and peered towards it. There was a good five or ten feet between the vehicle and the nearest robot. "I think so, if I'm quick," I said.
"You just have to flip the plate open, I'll do the rest," he promised. I nodded at him and blunk away.
The plate looked like a gas tank lid to be honest, and I swear my hair was as little singled from a stray laser beam from the second or two I was next to the tank, but soon enough I was back behind the van.
Luis smiled, popped up and let loose a blast of fire at the tank from his right hand.
I honestly had no idea what he was doing. Even at his best he only could handle about 800 degrees, and plating that thick would be just fine at that point. But he kept going, bringing up his left hand and letting loose with a second jet. Sweat beaded from his brow, and just as I was about to tell him to give it up, the armored weapon exploded.
Pieces of shrapnel took out all the robots nearby, and the shock wave was even enough to send as of us to the ground for a moment as most of the army attacking us was knocked clean off the bridge. Claire and I looked at Luis in amazement while he just smiled a shit eating grin.
"That was really just a normal civilian grade frame and parts with armor plating," he explained. "Most every kind of plastic melts at 'bout 500 degrees, 700 tops. Even gas caps is just zinc plated plastic. That melts at 787 degrees. They don't make cars like they used to, Chicka. Es no bueno."
So it passed throughout the evening until a sudden streak of red whizzed by my head heading towards Max during a lull in the fighting.
"Gladius! A message from the Supers!" Witchling, one of the members of the Seattle Supers had flown in personally. Granted it made sense, it wasn't like it was really a time for cell phones. She rode her broom side-saddle (because that's what all the girls are doing these days, going retro like it's the Dark Ages) and was dressed in the same scarlet and gold as the rest, though she did have a much nicer hat. I was a bit jealous of her hat, ever since my ears had shown up hats and I had more or less had to part ways.
"What is it, Witchling?" Max asked, coming over to speak with her flanked by Frankie. Ratchet, Luis and Claire stayed in position further down the freeway to ensure no robots got past them. I eased my way towards Max to better hear what Witchling had to say.
She hovered her broom closer (she did have remarkable control over that thing) and tilted her head to look over in my direction. "Curious, a Fox-spirit. Are you sure she's really on your side?" She looked back over at Max.
"That's my youngest sister, Kitty."
I smiled a bit of what I acknowledge was a fake smile (call me a spy you little...) and curtsied. If she wanted to be all Dark Ages I was game. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Witchling," I said formally before standing on the opposite side of Max from Frankie.
She looked me over and nodded curtly. "Likewise," she said before turning back to Max. "Crucibelle sends word. She regrets to inform you that the southern holding action is proceeding less well than she would like. She estimates you will need to hold for at least another hour before we can reinforce you."
"She needs us to hold another hour? For her, we'll hold two," Max said in a serious deadpan.
Witchling's eyebrows raised in surprise but she nodded again. "Very well, I will let her know. We will come north as soon as we are able." Turning her broomstick around, she took off towards the south side of Seattle. Max watched her depart with a stoic look, but I knew him well enough to see the buried sadness in his eyes from unrequited love.
"Crucibelle has no idea, does she?" I asked sadly.
"Probably not," Max said.
"Doesn't make a bit of difference, does it?" I said with a wry grin.
"Not even a little," he replied with a sad smile.
I put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed reassuringly before giving him a sad smile. Frankie did the same from the other side and for one brief, shining moment in all the chaos nothing else mattered: my change, the city at risk of being destroyed, or western Washington potentially overrun and under the thrall of Overlord. For one brief, glorious moment we were simply three dudes who all knew what it was to be a man in love with a woman.
In a blessed, sad sense we didn’t have long to ponder it or dwell on it. The action picked up again shortly thereafter.
"How long has it been now?" Luis asked as he dodged a punch from a robot and knocked its head off with a metal bat.
We had gotten lucky in that we apparently got the army of robots, leaving Tome and the Supers to deal with the zombie horde that you didn't want to actually destroy. I was down to my last power pack, we were all showing physical signs of fatigue, and I could really go for a drink (Something I had to wait six years for now, thank you very much Agent Bob.).
"Um... an hour, twenty six minutes and... forty seconds," Ratchet replied after looking at what I could only assume was an enhanced wrist watch.
"They won't be coming any time soon, look." Frankie pointed at the horizon where several new drop ships were depositing their cargo at the southern end of downtown Seattle.
Max frowned. "That doesn't make any sense... why not fly over us or encircle around?" he wondered out loud as he sliced an attacker in half casually. Yeah, so wouldn't win in an actual fight.
"They're not trying to advance, they're reinforcing their position. He's defending something," I said as I blinked behind another robot to shoot it from point blank range. Just then my cell phone rang. I was confused a moment before I took it out and blinked behind an overturned car before answering. "Hello?"
"Kitty? It's Bea. There's definitely some sort of radio wave controlling the nanobots, but I can't pinpoint its source. I don't..."
The memory of a bag of crystals strewn across the pier suddenly flashed into my mind unexpectedly. "So like a backwards crystal radio? It has to be."
"Crystal what?" Luis asked.
"Crystal radio. They used them in World War II. Relatively short range AM radio receiver that couldn't be located. Which means he's transmitting from an anten... I know where he is!"
"I'll meet you there," Meliferra said as she hung up.
I turned to look at Max, and he nodded at me. "Don't let her down," I said.
"We won't. We're the Seattle Squires. Sometimes things just have to be done and you pony up and do them. It's what dad would have done." Max gave me a quick salute with his sword before turning back and rejoining the fray.
I fought back a tear as I felt myself smiling before I turned south and ran towards the city.
Ran isn't really the best word to describe what I was actually doing. I suppose my physical body was running (Thank goodness I bought the best sports bra on the market, geez!) but doing so while simultaneously blinking fifty yards a pop as soon as I had someplace I could see to blink to. Vision really seemed to be key on that, if I couldn't see it I couldn't go there. I was blinking on top of cars, rooftops, anything that would get me across the city the fastest.
I could feel the drain of my actions and knew I was getting tired but it had to be done. We were out of time. Every so often I would have to shoot a robot or stun a zombie (I did like this omni-stun gun Meliferra made, even if I did have to carry spare battery packs) but I was making remarkably good time all things considered. Before too awful long I was at my destination.
Seattle Center and the Space Needle.
The Space Needle was built in 1962 as part of the World's Fair and is probably the only landmark of Seattle that most people know. It's also 605 feet tall at the top of its antenna. If I was going to try to mind control the entire city of Seattle with radio signals, that's what I would be working from.
I assumed the elevators to the rotating restaurant and observation deck wouldn't be running, which left blinking my way up the structure itself. Thankfully it had enough things to grab onto and perch that given a lot of care and it was doable. Alright, I'll be a little more honest, in any other circumstances I'd never try it, but I was a little desperate.
Eventually, I managed to climb up onto the roof. Predictably, there in front of me was the one responsible for all of this recent reign of terror.
Overlord. Cape, helmet, boots. Posing dramatically overlooking his diabolical scheme as some sort of Devise was attached to the roof of the Space Needle, connected by a cable to the antenna of the building. I shot him in the back.
Okay, I attempted to shoot him in the back. I certainly pointed my pistol at him and pulled the trigger a good four times. He had some sort of force field or ray shield or who knows what sphere of "Ha ha, fuck you, Kitty!" or something. Suffice it to say it didn't damage him at all, so he was able to turn around gradually at his leisure, point some sort of remote control at me and press a button.
While it didn't seem to do anything the pistol quit shooting at that point as whatever gizmo he had drained the battery remotely. It wouldn't surprise me if my cell phone was flat now, too. Kind of a dick move; useful and well played, but dickish.
He was wearing blackened power armor with a crimson red cape. The helmet was open faced with sort of a Judge Dredd feel, only with a stylized crown built into it. He was wielding some sort of mace which crackled with blue energy in his right hand. I imagined it would hurt. His belt kind of resembled Bat Man's, which was certainly filled with all sorts of tricks and things to ruin my day.
"In the back, Conner? I would expect better from a would be hero." Great, so Overlord knew who I really was. Granted he was apparently some CEO uber-villain, so I shouldn't be too surprised.
"Yeah well, I'm not feeling exactly merciful at the moment," I retorted snarkily.
"A bit bitchy and snippy as well. Is it that time of the month already?" He chuckled with an oh so superior expression. I was beginning to personally see why Jennifer divorced this tool.
"Not like you'd ever have a chance at finding out."
"That's quite alright; I don't date little girls. How does it feel, Conner? Becoming a pitiful wisp of a school girl instead of a cripple? Give up. You have no weapons. You're alone with all your allies busy fighting my army. You are small and weak. Kneel; serve me and I'll let you and my children live."
"They quit being your children a long time ago."
"They never quit being mine!" he thundered at me. "My children are great and powerful! They should be ruling over mere humans by my side! I will empty their heads of whatever filth you and my former wife put into them and they shall be the dark prince and princess of my new realm. Your children are pitifully weak; barely better than human themselves. But Maximillian the fourth and Claire? They are mine."
I spat in his general direction. It didn't really do much but I was kind of low on options right now.
He chuckled darkly. "So be it," he said while raising his left hand. Suddenly a blast of energy flew towards me. I dodged to the side as it exploded on the roof. I tried to blink away... and couldn't. I was simply too tired. He fired several more shots as I scrambled away from him. My mind was threatening to panic as I tried to think of some way out of this.
"You have nothing, Conner," Overlord taunted. “There is nothing you can do to me to save you now."
Suddenly an eerie calm came about me as I thought of one final thing. "Please spirits," I murmured. "Any of you that are listening, please help me. I need just a little more, please..."
I reached deep inside myself as I physically jumped towards Overlord. He smiled as he raised his left arm at me and shot an energy blast in my direction. Grasping at what felt like straws I suddenly felt a surge of power as I blinked out of existence...
Animism is essentially a belief that spirits are everywhere. Trees, rocks, buildings, cities. They fill the world around us and among us. The realm of life and that of death are separated by but a hair's breadth. I am not saying I or my actions deserved the attention of some powerful divine spirit. But here I was asking for help from whatever spirit could hear me, on an object that has been considered the heart of an entire city of millions that was recognized by the entire world. I don't know from where exactly the energy came, or what exactly heard me, but something did.
I reappeared about a foot away from his strange Devise as I body checked into it full force. At that moment, whether it was my weight and momentum, the winds at the top of the Needle, or the bolts connecting it to the roof breaking, the Devise and I both went over the edge of the roof and tumbled towards the ground.
It was during the falling that I lost consciousness.
Gradually I awoke to the feeling of moving wind on my face and a faint humming sound. I groggily opened my eyes to see Meliferra over me, or rather carrying me through the air. "How..." I said softly.
"I told you I'd meet you there. Didn't you believe me?" Meliferra asked. "I caught you on the way down. Overlord flew off but the Devise was destroyed in the fall. Looks like the city is waking up and they're not happy with the robots."
"We've got to stop meeting like this..." I said. If she replied I didn't catch before falling off again into unconsciousness.
When next my eyes opened I was laying on a bed at the Squire's HQ. Bea must have dropped me off here before heading home. Max and Claire were sitting nearby. At least this time I wasn't connected to any medical machinery. "'ow long?" I murmured quietly to them.
"What?" Claire asked as she moved towards me intently. "You've been out for..."
That was not what I meant. She stopped as I waved my right hand to stop her and tapped my left wrist a few times with a finger. "'ow long?"
"Two hours, seventeen minutes and twenty three seconds." Max supplied the answer I was looking for with a grim pride. Then again, he deserved to be proud for what they had done. When push came to shove they had stepped up beyond their years.
"'s m' boy," I said with a smug smile. I had a million questions I wanted answers to, but I had simply done too much. There wasn't time to ask any of them before I trailed back off to sleep.
Claire shook her head as she pulled a blanket up over the now sleeping Conner... no... Catherine. "I'm just glad she's okay."
Max nodded. "She got lucky, but it worked. Whatever she did worked. They found the remains of the Devise at the foot of the Needle. Overlord got away, but don't they just always." He shook his head and chuckled. "Meliferra did good work. Whatever signal she had all the TV and Radio stations broadcast seems to have deactivated all the nanobots for good. Starbucks might have to do a PR blitz but they should come out alright."
Silence lasted for a few minutes before Claire spoke again. "What are we going to do with her?" she said as she looked over at her brother. "Do we just leave her here to muddle through things? She might not get lucky a second time."
"I don't know Sis," Max said as he at a thick packet of paper on a nearby table. The words "Whateley Admissions" were clearly visible atop of it, as well as a few post-it notes with hand scrawled notes. "In the end I think it's up to her. I mean yeah, technically you adopted her, but she's not actually a child."
"Of course not! She's still our dad, it's just..." she trailed off, being unable to articulate her thoughts properly.
"I know what you mean," Max agreed. "I wish I knew what to say, but I'm not sure either. All of our lives he and mom had been trying to teach us and get us ready for what they've already gone through. Now we have to worry about doing that for him... her. I don't think I'm ready to be a parent if this is what it's like every day."
"It's enough to make you wonder who the real heroes are," Claire muttered.
"Damn those Squires! I would have won were it not for those meddling children!" Overlord paced about his fortress waving his arms in the air in frustration. Several small piles of shrapnel lay against various walls and near doorways showing the extent of his anger.
"This is a minor setback at most. You have more plans in motion than they know of." A female voice replied in a manner that oozed slinkiness. A curvy female form stood in the shadows at the edges of the room. She was far enough away from Overlord that she should be out of danger, or so she hoped.
"That's true. Revenge shall be mine, several times over. With you by my side again, Jennifer, none of them will be powerful enough to stop us." Overlord smiled as he turned and looked in her direction.
She tsk'd at him lightly. "Remember, I am just me now. She is gone for good, though it pleases me that you find her so appealing. Soon enough we shall have what we desire. Now all that is required is patience."
(Thus ends Kitsune. Catherine's tale will be continued in Kitsune 2: A Second Tale of Two Tails)