Fox Tails (Part 1)
A Whateley Academy Tale
January 1, 2007, Breakfast
"Max! Claire! Anna! Breakfast!"
I 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. I'd been a father for the past twenty years and there were a few tricks I'd picked up and used along the way.
Claire was first, as she usually was when food was involved. Claire Elizabeth Westbrook is not my daughter by birth; she is technically the younger of my two step-children. At 22 she is a Senior at the nearby University of Washington, majoring in pre-Med. Having done a lot of work in the UW Hospital she's gotten into the habit of eating quickly whenever food was available, as according to her she never knows when a disaster would strike and postpone her lunch hour. Beautiful, tall, and slender she most resembles 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." I smiled as I poured orange juice from a metal pitcher, returning it to the refrigerator. My own hair was more of a sandy blonde, with a lock that constantly ran down over my eyes. My wife, Jennifer Claire Fox, insisted that I leave it alone and not cut or style it, so I just learned to deal with it instead. I suppose I should introduce myself, I'm Conner Jeremy Fox, father of four. If you try to tell me two, we'll have to go outside and have some words.
Max entered next, just in time to help with two of the juice glasses before sitting himself at the table. Maximillian Alexander Westbrook IV was the eldest of my four children. He actually had just earned a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and was studying at the UW for a Master's in Business. Twenty three years old, and 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 mostly played for fun though, and had been offered an opportunity to walk on at the college level which he had turned down as he preferred 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 my four children at 17. Her hair was short and messy, sandy blonde like mine 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 our first meal of the New Year. While I was not as grand a cook as their mother, I could manage a few good meals.
"So Anna, how's school? Enjoying that private school on the east coast?" I 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?" I looked at my youngest daughter inquisitively. She was a Junior this year, so a question or two about graduation wasn't entirely out of place. She needed to start thinking about it if she hadn't already.
"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 him 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 my third born. He was 19 and currently away as an apprentice stage magician on tour. He had been here for Christmas but flew out in a few days to Vegas.
I 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." I wiped my mouth on a napkin and set my silverware on my 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."
My wife, their mother, had been dead for about a year.
January 1, 2007, Early Morning
Tap... tap... tap...
The sound of my 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.
I walked towards a bench, easing myself down into it as the cane supported my weight. A small paper bag was in my other hand, which I opened to reveal a fresh batch of powdered sugar donut holes purchased from one of my favorite vendors in the nearby Pike Place Market. I sighed for a moment looking at the pastries then began to eat, gazing out over the bay at nothing and everything as I did so.
"Mind if I join you?"
A voice distracted me from his mental wanderings sometime later. I looked up to see an older woman, her hair a silvery grey color standing next to him. "Please, go right ahead," I answered as I cleared away the paper bag from the bench next to me. 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. I would guess Asian ancestry in part if I had to, 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." I had already seen 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." I chuckled as I found myself 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.
I 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 my left hand. "How long has your wife been gone?" she asked.
I blinked, then realized I had absently been rubbing my thumb across my wedding ring. I smiled sadly. "A little over a year. She used to love the water, we came down here often. It's been very hard since..." I trailed off and shook my 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."
I looked over at the old woman, tilting my 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?" I followed her finger as she pointed inland, quickly forgetting our 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. I looked about quickly and swore as I 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.
I moved up to a corner of one of the nearby buildings and took out my camera phone from my pocket. Snapping a few pictures of the man I assumed was a crook, I then dialed 911. "911, state the nature of your emergency," I heard the operator say before I set his cell phone to speaker and slipped it inside my pocket. "Quick, get those kids out of here! He's got a gun!" I yelled, pointing at the thug running towards the water.
That managed to get people's attention. I 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?" I asked loudly enough to be heard hopefully by the phone operator.
The thug looked at me in a perplexed fashion, bringing the gun up and pointing it directly at my chest. "The fuck?" the man asked as he sized me up, 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 me, 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 me flying while my cane dropped to the ground with a clatter. I flew perhaps twenty feet before landing on my back, my cell phone falling out of my 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 me 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 me. The phone flew with a crashing sound as it was kicked away. Suddenly I was lifted through the air and thrown into a wall as casually as if the guy was throwing a Frisbee.
I coughed, spitting up a bit of blood as I lay on the ground. I pushed myself up to his feet and turned to look at the crook, clutching my stomach. "That all you got?" I 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, I had managed to dodge out of the way. "Got some moves, pop? Not bad ... for a baseline. But not good enough."
The fight wasn't much of one, nor was it that long. I knew I was being played with. I could hear and feel my bones being broken, the world was going hazy and dim. After a few minutes I was left 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," I said. At least I had kept the children safe. My own kids would be alright, they were grown.
"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. I gasped for breath, barely hearing the call of "Dad!"
"Max?" I whispered. I felt someone grabbing me, holding me 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...”
I closed my eyes, and 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.
"Whatever this is it's doing a number on him," 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 foxy reddish-orange hair ran across my vision. Red hair with white tips.
I was born 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, somewhere between her mid-teens to early twenties, 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. Alright, that wasn't the only problem going on right now, just the problem with my voice. I had a lot of problems at the moment and even more questions.
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." She always took over for medical things. Granted she was the one learning to be a doctor, so it was to be expected.
There is a moment when you realize you're at the entrance of the rabbit hole. That a step forward is going to send you down a path you can't take back; to start a journey there was no coming back from. I took a breath in preparation before asking the next series of questions. "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.
It was clear that my children were more than I had ever known. I mean, every parent likes the thought that their children will become somebody, to hope that your children will eclipse you. This though, this was different. In a way they were also these other people that I knew nothing about. "So who are you all then? I mean your hero names and such."
Max sighed again. I could tell he wasn't comfortable with the present situation and having to explain things to me. "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. I could tell that this was as difficult for them to talk about as it was for me to hear.
"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."
How deep did the rabbit hole go? Whoever Max had called was one step closer to whoever the webspinner was. I wanted to think my children were honest and weren't involved in whatever this deception was by choice. But... could I really know that? Would they be able to tell me even if this were true? What was really going on here? Ultimately I knew I would have to wait for tomorrow to find out, but it wasn't a comfortable thought to sleep on.
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.
Fundamentally though, I knew that whoever this man was I couldn't trust him. Not fully. No matter what he said I knew that he was also involved with or perhaps generated the web of deceit I now found myself in. No matter what else he said, I knew that he was in part responsible for the lie.
"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're a little tall 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 a small part of me being proud that my wife and children have accomplished so much. That in a way, she was still looking after them.
But the lie... it was like a dagger into my already broken heart.
"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 didn't believe him about no catch. I leaned my head back against my pillow, looking up at the ceiling. I didn't trust him, and I certainly now didn't trust what he represented. I knew there was deception and no reason to believe his honesty short that my son felt he was someone worth calling. In the end though, push come to shove, 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 and put my life in the hands of a liar.
"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 wooden children's blocks.
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. Mostly. I'd only been hit by two of the tennis balls, and the blocks were kind of in a stack that only veered slightly. I had to try and prop it up every so often and it would probably fall as soon as I quit working at 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 aspiring Olympic athlete. As long as it was a question of agility, flexibility and speed anyway. I'd be a fantastic gymnist. Strength-wise I certainly wasn't out of proportion, though my endurance was remarkably good.
I also apparently had low levels of ESP. I wasn't a mind reader or clairvoyant, but apparently I had remarkable intuition and an innate sensitivity to spirits and spirit energies. It wasn't anything to rely on, but at least I knew I could trust my instincts when it arose.
The blinking talent which I had already uncovered by accident actually wasn't it's own talent at all. 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. Under Tomes investigation though, apparently I used something more akin to 'soul' energy rather than 'magical' energy. I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about yet as it all seemed to be magic to me, but he was the expert. I did manage to shift myself into a fox all of one time during our testing, and he made similar commentary for that as well.
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, that didn't come naturally to me 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?
Tome had done something that he called Well Lighting. It involved a whole lot of mumbo jumbo that I totally didn't understand, but it definitely did something. He had taught me how to.. well basically push things. By things I mean marbles or coins initially. Apparently the reason he was using blocks now was due to how hard it was and better measuring Essence usages versus recovery rates or some other thing. I have to acknowledge I really had very little idea what was going on as far as the whole supernatural magic thing. I had to just trust that he and my children wouldn't intentionally do anything damaging to me.
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 blocks ceased their less than 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 4, ESP 1, Exemplar 2, and Wizard 1. 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. 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 mostly 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 magical blinking 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.
To Be Continued