Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 41-50)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 41-50)
Note for the reader: this is Interlaced, sequel to Parallels and featuring the continuing adventures of my OC Parallel. An ongoing serial, it's being released here in 10-part blocks for your convenience.
We resume the story as our heroine, having just rescued Erin, finds out she's having an influence on people that seems to make them sexually disinhibited.
Part forty one
10th January, 2007, evening, ARC
It’s getting late, and I should head home from ARC. I’m going to use a long distance teleport, because I have a good lock on my room in Poe, and I have clothes to deliver.
But first, I take some time to explain my thoughts about influence to Doc Otto. He peeks inside Donna’s head with her permission, and confirms it, there’s subtle but profound changes being worked, more so than are obvious consciously. I was pretty sure of it already, but the independent confirmation does give me a bit of a sinking sensation.
Donna says that she consents to and approves of the changes. The doc decides to accept that. He agrees that ARC will start to monitor to see if there’s any large scale similar effect. Donna is useful here as the type-specimen. He says he’ll keep me posted if they detect it.
Me and Donna step aside into the bathroom before the teleport, so I can share reading the secret note. It turns out that my new gear has a couple of secret features. “First, try putting a glow on both nipple tips at once, but wait until you have privacy”, Cecilia writes. I do, and what was a tight fitted somewhat exhibitionist suit suddenly fits much tighter. As in, around and under each separate breast, contoured around my nipples and tucking up into my crotch with enough detail you can see the folds of my labia. It literally looks like paint, or some mermaid’s naked skin. Fun fun. That mode makes Donna giggle a lot, as I try toggling it on and off. “Next, and I stress, in private, light from your pubic bone in front, around underneath to your coccyx in behind.” I do it, and the entire crotch area unzips and folds back to the thighs, making Donna blush and look away. Okay, that is both practical and promises a lot of fun. I’m definitely going to have to bring a copy across to Gothmog’s realm. I didn’t know Cecilia was kinky like that, but then, maybe she’s been caught up in my field of influence too. Undoing the changes is as easy as reversing the direction of the light, it folds closed and smoothly seals. Okay, I like this suit.
Decent again, I head back out, give Donna a goodbye kiss and hug, pick up the shopping bag, and make the teleport back to Poe, and my suddenly lonely room.
I think I’m going to save showing off the suit until the morning. I’ve had enough excitement. I strip off, hang up the new clothes, switch to pyjamas, jump in bed early, and park that body. Security is thankfully done with me, of course all the spurious charges are rendered moot by catching the real kidnappers red handed and without the ability to force Erin to lie. I vanish the body, but leave them the splattered and slashed uniform as evidence.
And so there’s just one of me out for now. Stan and Morrie sent me a message that I wasn’t to come in today “on account of being repeatedly dead, we felt you needed bereavement leave”. Which makes me giggle, but it’s probably a good call, I’m emotionally wrung out. Although mildly curious how they got the gossip so fast.
I decide to head to Sara’s place - along with all of the pack except Erin, who’s still being looked after for her wounded wrists, and Gypsy, who doesn’t really hang with them. For once, we head to Hawthorne overland, because it’s a spectacular sight. The grass as far out as we can see ripples with a webwork of bioluminescent light, pulses flowing out from the epicentre in Doyle. We aren’t the only ones marvelling at it. If you step on it, it squishes underfoot like jelly, but quickly runs back into formation. Some of the kids are gleefully stomping in it like new snow.
“Hold up!” The kid walking towards us is short, looks about the same age as me, with a weak chin and slicked back hair, and wearing a long lab coat. We all pause, as he approaches the group, and heads for me. “Is this mess yours?”
I nod. “Enjoy it while it lasts, it’s temporary.” Although really, he doesn’t look as if he’s enjoying it.
“Thank all the gods for small mercies. Your little toy tried very hard, for about ten unpleasant minutes about an hour ago, to bust into my biosecure lab. Got right through three layers of defenses that should have stopped everything from ants to Ebola. I don’t appreciate having my space invaded like that.”
“Ah, I apologise”, I say. “I’m guessing you’re Jobe, right? I hope no specimens were damaged.”
“Not for lack of trying, but no, the high intensity ultraviolet disinfector held the line. I think, if they hadn’t already found what they were looking for and stopped pushing, even that might have been swarmed. I do admire their persistence but if you do that again I am going to get creative in response. Which you will not enjoy.”
“If you could give me a stigmergic biomarker I can use, if I ever need a next time, I can tell them that means keep out.”
“I’ll do that”, he says. And just turns and leaves.
“Well, well”, Sara says when he’s out of earshot. “you have a new fan.” Which has the others giggling. “No, seriously. That was polite, for Jobe. He complimented you. I think he was genuinely impressed.”
I say, “That’s going to be interesting given how much I know he loves you”, which makes her snicker too, and agree.
Sara’s room is a welcome refuge after a tiring day. I grab a spot on the bed and just rest my eyes a bit. I think all of us are feeling frazzled. Those who weren’t fighting, were waiting to see if a friend would be all right. Two friends, I guess.
Someone comes and cuddles up against me from behind, and wraps arms around me. From the plush softness, it’s Paige. She says, “I know you probably figure I’d be grumpy, having the no use job, given those idiots have all the technical competence of a flatworm. But I was patched into all the security feeds, and they were wearing body cameras when they broke through the wall. I saw that room. I figured you’d need a hug.”
I know she’s experienced something similar, and worse, herself. “Thank you.” My voice comes out choked up, it feels like emotion’s welling up in me, like some tap that was off while everything was busy is back on now it’s quiet, and it comes roaring out. Dying and dying and dying. Seeing my own blood thrown in my eyes. Red, dripping off the ceiling. Seeing my intestines spill, for that split second until they vanished. The cold feel of that knife of his slicing deep inside my throat. Over and over. Feeling like I was barely able to hold the line, even as I was pouring selves into the meat grinder. I could hardly touch him. But nearly every attack of his hit home. I find I’m sobbing. Even with my pain turned off, it was awful.
Hands on me, gentle, reassuring. Everyone’s crowded around. Sara’s sat by my head and stroking my hair. I just let myself cry for a bit, surrounded by the comfort, and loving all of them.
It takes a few minutes, but I do calm down. Although I can feel there’s new damage there, that I’m going to have work sorting it out when I dream tonight. I guess I’ll be seeing Doc Bellows again. A thought makes me giggle, which makes Paige go “nya?” curiously. So I explain that the doc will be grumpy at me, I’m putting traumas in faster than he can take them out. Which makes her giggle too. I know she knows the feeling.
Thinking of docs reminds me of earlier, and I have to tell them all about the influence thing. Now that Doc Otto has confirmed it, it’s more than just speculation. I’m probably influencing them, just being around them. It’s very likely I influenced Erin by tinkering with her. Jet and Sara are the only ones I’m not sure if I can influence that way. Actually, make that, I’m pretty certain I can’t influence Sara.
Everyone looks a bit thoughtful after I explain it.
“I think, you have made me less bothered about your sexual play”, Hippolyta says. “There used to be less. Sara and Paige, sometimes. Sara and Jet. It used to annoy me, I would walk out. Now, I shrug.”
Jamie, forwards-talking today, says, “I don’t think it’s making me sexual, this body just doesn’t know what to do with that if I’m not hosting a spirit. But I think it may be making me more sensual and inclined to cuddle up. And yeah, like Hippy, I find I don’t care if I walk in and Sara’s got you spit-roasted on tentacles and making squeaky noises. It’s just cute.” Which image makes me giggle.
Paige says, “I definitely am a lot more sexual. And uninhibited. I was hot to fuck my sister just this morning. She was up for it too. And we did share Jules. I figure some day soon we’ll meet up and do each other, and the thought doesn’t worry me in the least. My mind meets the word ‘incest’ and just kinda shrugs. Love is love. Why not share it sexually, if you’re sexual people? And I know we didn’t used to feel that way.”
“I would have disapproved”, Hippolyta says. “Incest is bad, I was taught as a child. It still is, if it’s taking advantage. But I cannot find that in what you feel. So I think it is cute.” She pauses. “And hot, a little. I do not understand that.”
“Paige and Petra are ridiculously hot” I say. “I loved being shared, and feeling their love passing through me. And I’m going to really enjoy watching them together, if they’ll let me. So I completely understand.” Which makes Paige giggle and whisper “maybe” in my ear.
Jet says, “I kind of got saddled with a libido matching my needs, so I don’t know if that’s changed. I might be getting more bi, though. I certainly don’t object to it. I’ve had much worse stuff tinker with my head. You, I feel I can trust.” Which makes me smile.
“So, you aren’t all mad at me for accidentally messing with you?” That gets “It’s the least weird thing in my life, it’s fine”, “It is confusing but I am not opposed to it”, “I’m really liking it. Definite keep.” “I already said not, silly”. And a grin from Sara. “Excellent. Well, I’m going to declare tonight a snuggle sleepover, if anyone wants to join me? I’ll tell the room to make duvets so we can all snuggle up on the carpet. And we can have another tomorrow to welcome Erin back.”
Everyone loves that idea.
Part forty two
11th January, 2007, Whateley, morning
Dreaming was about as bad as I expected. Several concurrent nightmares of being killed, ones where I couldn’t turn the pain off or vanish so I had to squirm and hold my guts in and cry, of being stalked in the dark by Counterpoint, trying to hide and being dragged out. Imperious didn’t feature much. It seems my subconscious isn’t impressed with him. Sara was there with me, helping take the edge off it. A few times, we turned the dream around and hunted Counterpoint together, and I got to let out my frustrations on him. Not sure how I feel about that, I was very angry and he screamed a lot.
Waking in a cuddle pile in Sara’s room was nice. I brought the Poe body back up active and checked my emails - as expected, the Head wasn’t wasting time. I was instructed to see her immediately as soon as I woke.
So now I’m stood, un-showered and hastily dressed in her office, while the other me gets a neck massage from Sara, her attempt to try and take the edge off the tension.
“I’ve reached my decision. We are not going to be expelling you. I consider your behaviour partially justified, but not completely. The difference is between a judged, defensive fight for time, and flying wildly off the handle into unjustified extreme violence and use of visceral fear as a psychological weapon. You’ve caused serious emotional damage to Majestic, who was acting under compulsion. She is going to need trauma therapy, and probably have permanent phobias. You also escalated too easily to an extremely harmful power, and I know you have other, worse ones available. This worries me that if you snap badly, I might find my students chopped in pieces and half the school irradiated. Can you genuinely reassure me that it’s impossible?”
It takes me a moment to grit my teeth and admit, “No. If I was killing angry, if they had harmed friends, if I felt they were going to get away with it otherwise, I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t let fly in a moment of berserk. Or if I was afraid they were about to do harm, like this time, I can’t guarantee I’d finely measure my response in the heat of battle.”
She nods. “You’re honest, and that simplifies things. You’ve read the regulations on UltraViolent armbands?”
I nod. This feels almost like an inevitability.
“You aren’t a rager, because when you’re angry, you can rein yourself in. You aren’t a violent sadist, or someone who could slip and do harm by accident. But you are capable of being extremely destructive if you choose to, and you have demonstrated yourself not fully in control of your own temper. So you will be wearing a blue UltraViolent armband, until further notice. That means, that students will know they must not provoke you. And it goes both ways. You must not start or provoke fights. Not unless life or safety is threatened, of yourself or someone else. And not even then, if you can work out a way to avoid it. No taking convenient excuses. Do I make myself clear? If you even so much as poke someone with a finger, I will take it very seriously. I suggest you work on reining in that temper.”
“Understood”, I say.
“Alright. And I’m switching your detention from Circe, to Hawthorne.”
She reaches into a drawer and picks out an armband, which she hands to me. “You’re to wear this, when you are on the public parts of campus, in uniform and out. You can leave it off when wearing your gi or super suit for class. More can be obtained in the store if it needs replacing. That will be all.”
11th January, 2007, the Lovecraft room, morning
Sara says, “I suppose that wasn’t so bad”, as the me with her snuggles back against her and makes contented, massage-loving sounds.
“I suppose”, I echo, although being labelled as violent does sting. “I wonder why she switched the detention around?”
“I think she wanted you to be seen by others”, Sara says. And then with a giggle, “Perhaps Circe needs a rest, too. Anyhow, don’t worry, I’ll help introduce you around. Although I think a lot of them already know of you. We monsters are somewhat their mascots.”
Other me ports in, hands me the armband, and vanishes. For some reason, I’m just not feeling up to Poe, or anywhere where I’m not wrapped around with beloved friends. At least until those dream memories calm a bit. Instead, stepping carefully around the still-sleeping others, I head to Sara’s en-suite bathroom, with her following.
“This time”, she says, “I mean not to get interrupted. Let’s run you a proper bath and soak that tension out.”
I’m happy to be putty in her hands as she runs the tub and then gets in behind me to hug and soap me. Mmm, nice. I really need to figure out how Paige’s purr works so I can copy it. Sara’s claws are the sort that are always out, but she’s so gentle with them.
“You know, I really really love you”, I say. Yeah, I know, it’s really just burbling but there’s no way a mere language can hold the immensity of how much I feel.
“I really, really love you too, cutie, even if you are a trouble magnet”, Sara teases. Then thoughtfully adds, “I think, Erin kind of idolises you too. You were busy talking to the head, and I had a bit of time to pop into Doyle and visit her. She says thanks, of course. But I think it goes beyond that. When she was all alone, you came for her, and you fought for her. You chose to throw your life at the enemy, over and over, rather than take the easy way out and tie her back to her abuser. You deflated him and made him surrender and took his minions away. And then brought security down on him. I think she pretty much worships you now. Maybe she’ll take your mark?”
“I have no idea how to make one”, I say. “If she asks… I’ll think about it. Would that mean she’s connected to you too, with me as the conduit?”
Sara giggles. “I dunno. I don’t think there’s ever been two of us like this, with one marked to the other.”
“I am very, very happy to be the first, then” I say. “Love you literally forever. My soul loves your soul.”
“Silly”, she says, and kisses my neck. “Mmm, you just reminded me of a thing. I need to quit stalling, and introduce you to my cult.”
“I wasn’t going to push”, I say. “I know you aren’t completely comfortable with it.”
“Your little adventure got me thinking. Maybe I’ve been setting the bar too high for myself”, she says. “Like… every hymn of praise to Jove, to Zeus, temples, plays, statues, great works of art, were aimed at that narcissistic… thing, presently sitting in a locked room in Kane and contemplating federal kidnapping charges. Just an over-egged, arrogant spirit, who used to have essence to burn. His own humans outshine him in every way.” She pauses for a moment, thinking. “I’ve been saying to myself, how can I be the world saviour they think I am? How can I be the great goddess they love? But perhaps I’ve been looking at it backwards. What if they own the things they do in my name? Then my role is less to step in and make everything better, and more to be there, inspiring them.”
“I know you do step in where you can”, I say. “But yes, you inspire others. And they love you. And value your teachings, which are more than you know.”
She pauses before replying. “A fair fraction of what I had planned to do, you’ve already achieved, you know that?” She leans her head against me. “If I’m an inspiration, so are you. I almost feel like my purpose is over.”
I feel I have to put my foot down a little. “Silly! This business with changing the world, undoing the harm, dealing properly with he-who-shan’t-be-named, it’s one little war in both of our much longer lives, and in a thousand years time, we’ll look back on it with amusement. Weren’t we so grim and determined! Your purpose is yourself, and what you love and value. What that means is going to change constantly, but it will never be gone. You, for yourself, are valuable, love. You, for yourself, are beloved.”
A pause while she thinks about that. Then, “Alright”, she says, sounding a bit determined. “I’m going to arrange a conference for my people, and introduce you to them. A global one. Where though? It would be no good to bring them here, the school’s supposed to be a secret. Hmm, maybe daddy can host?”
“I figure he could make changes to the layout there, easy enough.” I giggle at the audacity of the idea. “First ever off-world religious conference held on the domain of one of the actual religious figures involved, and chaired by the other? I think governments around the globe will have kittens at what it implies. If you want to get fancy, you could even invite leading figures from other religions. The Pope and whatnot. Make an international occasion of it?”
She giggles too. “Some of them don’t like me, but it might be fun to offer them invitations anyhow, and see who accepts. They wouldn’t dare misbehave on daddy’s home ground. If they even dare to set foot on it.”
“I bet if you invite Englund, he accepts”, I say. Which makes her laugh.
“He’s not really a leading figure in anything. But I might, for the amusement value. I think you’re right. He’d see himself as Daniel marching into the lions’ den.”
“If we do, I might have to hide away my pregnant self for a bit”, I say. “he’d report me to the Head in a heartbeat. And I’m not sure how she’d take it. I’m pretty sure that ‘I’m not even on the same planet’ is not in the list of permitted excuses.”
“Especially as you totally were when you did the nasty”, Sara teases. “Right in your dorm in Poe, on the icky cheapskate carpet. Scandalous. Might have to be awhile before we openly admit that one.”
“You reckon we’ll ever be able to?” I’m a little surprised.
“If your influence continues doing what we think it is. Eventually, the Head is going to start saying, oh what’s a little pregnancy between friends?”
The idea cracks me up in a fit of giggles. “New school rule, clothing is now optional.”
Sara picks it up, “Students are reminded that although the rule against fraternization has been dropped, they should not take this as an excuse to block the corridors.”
“Please obtain a permission slip from the house mother before arranging your orgy.”
We both are giggling too hard to carry on. Although it’s definitely a weird thought. I wonder if it will happen?
Our game of speculation is interrupted by Paige peeping around the door. “Are you two turned into prunes yet? Because we should really get a move on if we want breakfast.”
Eep, lost track of time. A teleport takes me out of the bath and bone dry, resulting in a huge and somewhat messy sploosh as the water rushes in to fill the hole. Sara awws, but I grab a towel and offer her a hand up out of the water, then get to towelling her off, which returns a smile to her face - and is fun to do while naked. And while being watched by a very cute Paige with a twitching tail.
Part forty three
11th January, 2007, Crystal Hall, breakfast
I do my usual split up trick, as our group makes its way into the hall. I feel like, I’ve been neglecting the Kimbas a bit, and although I had reason, I want to patch that up.
I touch in on the crystal, “Hi, everyone. Sorry for the fast fade last night, I was feeling a bit shocky.”
“Nah, no worries”, Billie says. “I totally get it. Adrenaline wears off, and suddenly the whole horror thing jumps you. We’ve all been there. You doing okay now?”
I nod. “Yeah, a bath and joking around with Sara and I’m feeling a lot better. Uh, that said, there’s some stuff I should talk about. Out of earshot of the rest of the school, though.”
Ayla asks, “All of us?”
“One of the things is an everyone thing. The other, it’s more just catching people up, and Nikki and Toni and Chou already know about it. I can put both of them off if you’re busy?”
Ayla shakes his head. “Let me go have a short conversation with the chefs, then that’s all my business here. We have team tactics right after this, but we could fit a short meeting in if we hurry finishing our food.”
A few minutes later, we’re bunched up in Nikki and Toni’s room, with the anti snoop spell up. “So spit it out”, Toni says, “I know the half of it, but it sounds like that ain’t the important half?”
I nod. “Okay, so I got external confirmation yesterday of something that I’ve been wondering about for a few days now. I’m generating some sort of influence. There’s definitely a proximity effect, right now I’m not sure if that’s all there is. I might have made it universal, if slower, on Monday evening.”
Jade asks, “What kind of influence? Like, you’re putting the whammy on us?”
I say, “Not deliberately, it seems to be an effect of being around me. It makes people sexually less inhibited. Even the ones not able to have a sex drive, like Jamie, they get more snuggly and accepting of what the others are up to. Definitely I’ve been affecting the Pack. I’ve already spoken to them about it. I’m not sure if I’m affecting you all yet, but it’s likely to happen unless you push me way back, and I’m not sure if even that will be enough in the end.”
Jade says, “I don’t think the sexual part is getting me, but, last night, Oneesan, I wanted to snuggle up?”
Billie nods. “And I didn’t mind you jumping in my bed. I think neither of us two is being hit by the sex side. Which it implies it leaves people alone if they didn’t already have much of a sex drive. But yeah, snuggling might be a thing.”
Nikki is blushing red, and looks down. “I um, may have had a few fantasies after what you told us yesterday, Jules. And god, the fact I’m even admitting it in front of everyone… yeah, you’re having an effect on us.”
“Shit”, Toni says. “Thought it was just me. Okay, what do we do about it?”
“Do we even want to do anything?” Ayla asks. “I mean, it’s freaky to realise it’s some sort of uncanny power, but Nikki disinhibited is not a bad thing.”
Which gets him pelted with pillows by said redhead. “Ass! I don’t know. Let me bring Aung in.”
A lengthy pause, then, “An interesting effect, indeed. It is not magical, but now that I look with attention, I can see it. You are attuning others to your own nature. Through the change in fundamental magical law, it has become their nature, too. And your presence pulls them towards it more rapidly… I do not think this can be easily avoided. You are right to worry it may become universal, as the change is already present in all.” And she fades back out of Nikki’s posture.
“Well shit indeed.” Toni’s looking a bit shocky. “I need time to think about this. Spit out the other thing so at least we can have a laugh at your expense before we head off to class.”
I blush, take a deep breath. “Okay, so. I, um, kinda got myself pregnant. Deliberately. And then couldn’t make myself give it up. And I’m hiding that body far off campus because I mean to go all the way through with it. Please don’t blab it around, I might get expelled.”
Silence. Toni and Fey look at each other, they knew.
“You got yourself pregnant?” Billie asks. “I mean, I get how it works, but damn, I hear banjos.”
“She has control over genetics, don’t you Jules?” Jade says. “I don’t think she’d do anything bad that way.”
I nod. “Junior’s as healthy as a one day old zygote gets. Genetically and in every other way. Being inside me is about as safe a place for a baby as anywhere on Earth.”
“Couldn’t wait to get started taking over the world huh?”, Ayla asks. “We’re out of time, but damn. If that’s the level of disinhibition we can expect to eventually arrive at…”
“Specially if we can expect the entire world there, give or take a decade or two”, Toni adds. “Damn girl, I don’t even have words.”
Nor does anyone else really, they have to hurry to class, but Jade stops me on the way out. “Can I see? Junior, that is.”
I nod. “Absolutely. Whenever you’re free.”
“We’ll talk at lunch”, she promises with a grin.
Tuesdays and Thursdays I have the same classes, but last Tuesday morning I was in a coma, so it’s my first time for two of them, devisor lab in one through three, and costume design in three. The others are math in one (It’s dull enough I’m going to see if I can test out of it), and necromancy with Sara in one and two. A few well placed teleports save me a lot of rushed walking.
Devisor lab is underground as one would expect. I peek in. It’s a little quiet, all the combative types being tied up with team tactics until third period. The one person I recognise immediately is Jericho, although we haven’t met in person, he’s obvious enough from what I’ve read. He and a couple of others are busy pouring themselves what smells like coffee from an enormous urn.
Jericho’s the one to come over, as I’m looking around the door tentatively. “Oho, fresh meat, are you lost? Looking for someone?”
“Looking for devisor lab class”, I say. “I missed last Tuesday’s one. So this is my first.”
“Missed last Tuesday…” he puts two and two together. “You’re Parallel! Which means, if the rumour mill is accurate, you’ve been a busy bee.”
“The same”, I admit. “And busier than you know. Fight aliens on Friday, change the universe on Monday, break up a kidnapping on Wednesday…”
He does the Spock eyebrow thing. It’s clear he’s practised it. “At some future date, I would love to hear every one of those stories. Some of it, I can already guess. So you are a devisor as well?”
“Gadgeteer, equivalent, and new to it”, I say. “Technologically, because I read the whole library last Saturday. And got a bit of practise in with Bugs, on Sunday. Biologically, because I’m kinda not entirely human, and the not-part is very good at biology. I don’t have my own rules, but I can dance with the regular ones.”
“Eeeexcellent”, he draws the word out. “We devisors badly need gadgeteers to try and weed out the rule-breaking and commercialize our designs. You may end up low monkey on the totem pole for a bit, but you’ll make a lot of friends. So, do you like coffee?”
I laugh, the innocent question has the feel of a test to it. “Hit me.”
He grins. “The attitude, I like it, yes. One cup of mud, coming up.”
Devisor coffee is what happens when you take a group of people who break the laws of physics for fun, and set them the task of extracting literally everything from the coffee bean. I wouldn’t be surprised if the spent grounds came out white. It’s intense. And rather nice. Even if I do have to nudge a couple of parameters in my liver bring the toxicity down to tolerable.
“Mmm, I like it.” He’s looking at me intensely. “Expected more reaction?”
“First time I tried devisor coffee, I was talking so fast they had to record me and play me back at quarter speed. I didn’t sleep for a week. It’s normally an acquired taste.”
“Not entirely human”, I remind him. “I could probably swig cyanide, and all it would cost me is a bit of hurried reconfiguring my enzymes to clean it up. Let’s just say, I acquire tastes quickly.”
“Curiouser and curiouser. Well, come and meet the others. MD, Techwolf, this is Parallel, she’s new.”
MD is an older kid, tall and thin and wearing a lab coat. Techwolf is a werewolf. I remember reading about him, he’s under a curse. I shake hands with both. “Hi, yeah, I’m a new gadgeteer, I know tech although I’m not very practised with it, and I know biology pretty well.”
Bugs comes panting in, late to class. I wave to her as she comes in, and she grins and comes over to join our group.
“So yeah, I’m MD, my actual code name is Mega-Death, don’t tease me about it please, just call me MD. I’m a devisor, focused on technology.”
“Harry Wolfe, Techwolf, gadgeteer, technologist. Jobe’s the best bio guy, but he isn’t here until later.”
“We met, he seemed to not hate me”, I say.
“Oh, I get it. That glowing stuff”, Bugs says. “That was you, wasn’t it? It impressed him.”
“Technically, another part of me made it, the less human part, but yeah”, I say. “And the idea was mine.”
“What was it for?” Bugs asks. “I mean, I saw the light show, but it doesn’t really explain itself. Why was it flashing out of Doyle?”
“It was for finding Feral when she was kidnapped”, I say, remembering just in time to use Erin’s codename. “Then it all connected up and flashed, to lead security to her. Except it was carrying on finding her, after she was safe and being treated in Doyle. I built it to keep working until it ran out of juice.”
That gets nods all around, engineers appreciate simplicity of design. “Something you’ve been working on for awhile?”, MD asks.
“Nope, Big Me just put it together on the fly Wednesday evening”, I say. “It was pretty simplified though. A few tropisms, pseudopod motion, preloaded energy, luciferin for the flashing. Cut down DNA. Not a full lifeform, just a tool for a task. Call it a bio-golem.”
“A cell-sized bio-golem you dropped over the school in astoundingly vast quantities”, Jericho points out.
“The school and about a ten mile radius”, I agree. “We slapped it together from atmospheric materials and a few created trace elements. Big spell.”
That gets whistles. “Big as fuck spell”, says MD. “You’re impressive.”
I don’t share that it was really well over a trillion highly precise tiny spells, one per created cell, with the big spell only coordinating deployment, because that would probably scare them. Instead I just say, “Aw shucks. Just looking out for a friend.”
“That I can get behind”, says Jericho.
Part forty four
As the necromancy class is getting ready to begin, I fill Sara in over the mark about the meeting with the Kimbas. She’s particularly interested in what Aunghadhail said.
“Aha, bingo! So they get pulled into resonance with you, and it moves them along the way they were already going, but lots faster. That makes sense of it, because I’ve been wondering, why does it seem you have more of an influence than me? Did you know they used to worry about me turning the whole school into an orgy with my lust aura? Never happened, sadly. Months and months, and the prudishness needle hasn’t moved a jot, except for my closest lovers.”
“Maybe it will now”, I tease.
“You joke, but maybe. You changed the lay of the land. You’re definitely pulling ’em downhill now. Maybe I am too?”
“I hope so, you’ll be a good influence” (which makes her call me a flatterer and me send the sensation of a kiss down the link). “For me, I think I was having some effect on Paige before Monday. Perhaps Donna, when we first met, we spent a lot of time up close. But that’s it, really. But then I changed everything, and big me got involved… I think she has more of an effect than I do.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me”, Sara agrees. “I wonder how big an effect I’d have if I brought Kellith forward?”
“Fun to find out”, I chuckle. “Still, the big takeaway from that is, Aung definitely thinks it’s planet wide. Even without me dragging them, they’ll eventually roll downhill on their own. Maybe it takes decades, but it’ll happen. Willing or no.”
“Could probably be fought”, she agrees. “But it would be a nightmare, they’d be pushing against the grain. Any slip, they slide.” A chuckle from her. “I really am looking forward to finding out where this ends up. It seems like it’s going to be a great deal of fun. I just hope it doesn’t cause too much bloodshed. Some of the humans will kick against it, you know?”
“I may have to run around rescuing people for a bit”, I agree.
“Silly”, she says, but it’s fond.
I change the subject a little, “I’m guessing, none of the Kimbas picked up on my new armband because they were just so rushed and I’d dropped two bombshells already. But I bet they saw it.” And indeed, I’m already getting worried looks from the gentler-looking kids in this class.
“Don’t let it bother you”, she of the unfair, negotiated armband says. “It tells people it isn’t safe to pick on you. I hope, none of them needed telling.”
“Honestly, in most cases it is pretty safe to pick on me”, I say. “What I can’t ignore, I can mostly run away from. But it might save me hassle, so that’s an upside.”
“The downside is having to work harder to be seen as nice”, she agrees.
I put an arm around her, as Ms Grimes comes in and the class hushes. “We’ll get around to that too. All shall love you and despair”, I misquote, and cause her to stifle a giggle.
In today’s class, Ms Grimes tells us we’ll be studying the history of necromancy, and various famous necromancers and resulting zombie rampages. Sadly, Anita Blake is not among their number, that might have been amusing. I do find it interesting anyway, although to be honest, I am just happy to be where Sara is, for almost any reason. Other me is happily chatting away with the devisors over a second cup of borderline-toxic coffee. But soon enough the class draws to an end.
Costume design is next, and Sara isn’t in it. I guess she’s not the super suit type? I brought mine along in my bag, and it’s clear she doesn’t have any objections to them on principle. As we walk over, I say “I never really got to ask, but why didn’t you want to take this one with me?”
She considers. “There’s not much point in me having a suit. I can still put my tentacles through it like you do, but you know, only once? Even Cecilia can’t work around that. Me and Jet had talks about wearing her as a suit. That still is kind of a possibility, but it has its risks and downsides, she’s vulnerable a few ways I’m not, and she can’t be recast until we can fix her curse. But really, I suppose it was never a priority. I’m not into the superheroing thing, you know?”
I put an arm around her. “More like you can’t see yourself as a hero. But you totally are.”
“Bah, perceptive. Nosy.”
I give her a kiss. “Maybe later, we’ll work out some sort of suit for you. Just to let you feel the whole, whee I’m a superhero thing, for funsies.”
“Maybe”, she says, in a don’t wanna talk about it way. So I just keep her hugged as we walk. I’ll wear her down with love.
Hugging her goodbye until lunch, I head in. The teacher’s already there, an older woman in a dress that looks like it was made from sofa fabric, chatting to a couple of other students. I head over, wait for a pause in the conversation. “Hi, I’m Parallel, sorry that I missed any introductions on Tuesday.”
“Ah yes, you were in the hospital?” I nod. “Good to see you safely up and about, then. I’m Mrs Ryan. If I recall, you’re new in school this term?”
“Yes, I missed all the regular classes, and got dropped into the middle of a heap of electives”, I say. “I hope not being in last term’s costume classes won’t set me back too badly?”
“This is a very informal class. For most of them, I’m helping them tune and improve the design of what they already have. For you, I may have to cover a few of the basics. Do you already have a costume?”
I think perhaps she expected me not to have one, but I pull it out. She takes it from my hands and looks. “Ah, I recognise the work, you went right to Cecilia, which means it will at least be competently made. Could you put it on for me? Changing room in there.” I nod. Once I’m in the room, a teleport drops the uniform in a pile, tentacles hold the new suit and I step in and zip up with a glow, slap on the domino mask, the whole process takes only about five seconds and then I’ve got my uniform in arm and step back out. Which gets a curious look form her. “Commendably fast. Hmm, let me look. Spin please. Thank you. What are the special features?”
“Well, this”, I say - and vanish. Except for teeth and eyes. I’m suddenly drawing a bit of attention, so I put on an only-slightly-sharp smile, and reappear. “And it lets me put my claws out”, I do, from both feet and fingertips, then pop them back in. “And I can glow through it”, I do a few patterns of light. “My tentacles go through it too”, I show one from my upper arm. That gets a raised eyebrow.
“Alright. That is certainly a very competent costume to stand out, and to fight in. I can’t tell if you intend it to look heroic or villainous?”
“More to just be a bit uncanny, and then if need be, to work well with my psychological warfare.”
“Oh? A demonstration, please?”
Well, if she insists. Eyes closed, mouth closed, and I vanish completely. A short silent teleport a little to the side. Pause, let her wonder.
She looks around. “Hmm? Yes, I can see you’re invisible.”
I let my photophores show a little speck of dancing pink light over my forehead to draw attention, as I’m extending my teeth, lips closed, then I snap my eyes open, mouth open wide sideways, teeth at full extent, and flash a tracery of light down my body - and along my extended claws for just an instant.
Well, it works. She takes a step right back, stumbles and sits down with a bump. Life sense has her pegged as “prey, terrified”, heh. I put the teeth and claws away and come visible again. “Kinda like that.”
Okay, lotta attention now. And more than a few other people registering as badly scared. I guess I did not win miss congeniality points today.
Standing up, significant greyer than before, Mrs Ryan nods. “I did ask. I will be more careful about that in future.” A pause. “Yes, it works very well with that, indeed. Please do not do that again. And I think, that does come down more than a little on the villain side.” She nods, visibly gathering herself. “And I understand the obvious aquatic metaphor much better now, too.”
Not really a welcome assessment. “Well, I don’t plan to harm anybody who isn’t harming me, or my friends.” Yes, that sounds like whining to me too.
“But you want them good and scared, if they are”, she says. Which… yeah, is fair. She continues, “Some costumes, what they want the opponent to feel, is that they are facing justice, or goodness, or righteous force. Yours sends the rather clear message ‘hello lunch, run or die’. A different emphasis.”
And here’s me, slapped in the face with the fact I’ve been thinking like Skitter. “Uh, I see. Yeah, I suppose that’s true. If someone makes themselves a problem, I want them to stop.”
“Which they will. The main risk is that they will return in force with torches and pitchforks.” She smiles. “So, today’s assignment is to think of how you’d modify your look to change the meaning of your costume to something less villainous. Not that I expect you to, this is a hypothetical exercise.”
I nod, and we get to brainstorming. And the room around me gradually feels calmer and less shocky.
As class lets out, Sara’s there waiting, with Jet. She pulls me into a hug which Jet joins too. “Hey there, sweetie, I felt you get a bit upset there, I didn’t want to interrupt, want to talk about it?” And so the three of us chat as we walk towards lunch about villainous costumes and their upsides and downsides. I think both of them feel “run or die” is a perfectly reasonable message for a costume to send. Maybe I’m not the only one having an influence. The cheerful chaos aura the whole J-team puts out might be a bit infectious. It’s an amusing thought.
Part forty five
“Hi girls! Apologies for stopping you.” The tall, brown haired man looks at me. “Would you be Miss Parallel?” Jeans, tee shirt, cowboy boots, light clothing for the chill but otherwise nothing much distinctive about him except the mala he’s wearing like a bracelet.
Sara and Jet move to each side of me - feels like they’re guarding me. But we don’t yet know this guy and whether he’s going to be a problem. “Yes, that’s me, how can I help you?”
“Pardon me for the rudeness. I’m Dyffud Harraz, code name Journeyman. I’ve been teaching martial arts lessons for your friends Fey and Chou, and instructing Tennyo on the side. I just wanted to meet the young lady who’s been causing a such a splash. Ladies, please stand down, I don’t mean your friend any harm.” So he noticed. Well, I suppose a martial instructor would. I also notice neither Sara nor Jet is standing down just because he told them to.
I smile. Yes, with a little bit of pointy tooth shown. “I guess that’s me, although last night’s spectacular was more me clearing up other people’s messes. Did you want to see me about classes?”
“Are you really a larval Great Old One?” That’s not something that’s public knowledge here, so I’m curious what he’s up to.
I tilt my head. “Are you trying to provoke a reaction? Please don’t bandy that about outside. There might be people with enhanced hearing around. I’m not exactly keeping it a secret, but I think the Head’s right that some people would over-react. Yes, I am.” Not saying about Sara, that’s her secret not mine.
Hmm, didn’t I read about this guy? Oh yes, I think I did.
“Don’t worry, I’d know if there were”, he says. And I think he’s telling the truth, if he’s who I think. He continues, “Yes, I was trying to provoke a bit of a reaction, and see what one of you looks like, up close. And I’m interested by what I see. You’re a careful one, aren’t you?”
That feels like a word game I’d as soon not get drawn into. “Did you have anything in particular you wanted beside curiosity? Because if not, apologies, but I need to head to lunch.”
“I have your friends for a lesson tomorrow, fourth period. I’d like you to come along.”
He hasn’t been the most polite, but I suspect it was some sort of a test, what I read doesn’t peg the guy as an asshole, but he might be a trickster. “Alright, I will see you there. If that’s all?”
“It is, thank you for an interesting conversation.” And he just goes.
Jet asks, “You really said yes to him, why? He was being an ass.”
“Because I think I know who he is” I say. “And I figure, his class would be useful. Also I’m not sure if he really is an ass or was just baiting me. Perhaps he was curious to see me with his own eyes?”
She just looks at me, “Well, if you say so.”
Devisor me has returned to Poe to check emails. There’s already one confirming Journeyman’s class tomorrow, as well as a note that I should go to another shrink appointment after lunch. I guess I’m on the intensive list for them. Security wants to see me after lessons, I presume it’s to wrap up last night’s mess. And one from a J. Donner, “We have to meet.” Oh! Of course, it’s Jo, Paige’s sister. So I write back “Sure, whenever you’d like.”
Meanwhile I’m going to spend awhile browsing stuff on the internet to see if I can’t fancy up this room, because seriously, ick. I’ll vanish when I get annoyingly hungry.
Walking into Crystal Hall is the usual crush, although I’m pretty sure I’m getting more looks. And none of the usual shoulder-barging. Heh, I suppose I’m a Name now. Although I suppose there’s the armband, too. I split, and go look for edible things while parking myself at the two tables.
Over at the Kimba table, after I touch in, Ayla’s showing everyone pictures of what looks like tar-dipped Peeper and another kid I haven’t met, with a looney-tunes, “bomb blew up in my face” look.
“What’s with those two?” I ask.
Which gets them looking at each other, then Nikki says, “Oh! Of course, you’re not on the spots, you wouldn’t have heard. Those two idiots were making shoulder angels. Ayla took some snaps after the Alphas told them to stop.”
“Lemme guess, soft-porn ones?”
Nikki nods with a disgusted look. “Yeah, no surprise there. And booby-trapped ones too, so be careful what you do to them if you find some.”
“Got it”, I say. “Although honestly, I don’t think this fool fad will last much longer. No offence Jade, yours are funny.”
“Aww, she likes us!” A voice from my shoulder… yup, she got me too. A miniature version of me with a halo and wings on one side, and a much toothier one on the other side with a pitchfork, who replies, “She likes me, numbnuts, who would like a feather-brain like you?”
I crack up laughing.
Over at the other table, the Pack’s all there except Erin - she really should be out of Doyle by now, so I’m wondering where she is and if everything is okay - but then I see her. And not just her. All four of the New Olympians I cut loose yesterday are with her, too. And they all come over to the Pack table. “Could we join you?” Judicator asks.
I look to Sara, it’s her table, and she nods. “Of course.” It’s suddenly a very full table. And we are drawing serious looks. About half of a major faction, sitting down with the demon-girl and her nerd harem? Yeah, it’s an event.
“We wanted to thank you”, Judicator says. “My… old memories tell me he wasn’t always like that, but maybe they are lies I told myself to make tolerable what I couldn’t change. Regardless, he has been unstable this life, he has not taken well to being diminished. And what you did on Monday I feel sent him off the deep end. It was so clearly larger than him. I feel, if you hadn’t come and saved us, he’d have dragged us all down.”
“I presume they’ll send him to juvie jail, and I hope he gets the help he needs to adjust there”, I say, “And I’m glad I was able to get you all safely. How about the other three?”
Knick-knack says, “He says he’s taken all the compulsions off them, but they still don’t trust themselves around you, so they’re eating in their rooms. They all want free, even if they don’t like you much. Being tied to his whims, now, would be worse than owing you one.”
Tracer says, “Counterpoint’s spitting mad, pacing the cell and obsessing. He thinks you got him with a cheap shot. He wants a rematch so bad. I’d watch your tail if he ever gets out of juvie.”
“I’ll swat that bug when I come to it”, I say. (Hippolyta backs me up with “He should hope he does not get out!”) I continue, “And himself?”
“Moping”, says Knick-knack.
Judicator expands on that with “He has accepted the scale of his defeat. That it was obvious he never had you in his power, but rather, you sprang the trap because you knew you could take the cheese. He saw his lightning strike you and not kill. He saw his warrior kill you, over and over, and make no headway, and then be struck down at a stroke. He is saying, ‘I am not a god, I was never a god’. I think it has broken his self image completely.”
I sigh, and decide to share a thought I’ve been having with them. “You know, people have been writing to me, wanting to worship me like a goddess? And I feel responsibility for them. And all the humans. I did a big thing on Monday and it’s going to affect everyone more than they know. And part of me is really big, really powerful. So I suppose it’s not a lie. But you know, I could use friends, and perhaps, advisers with experience? Because letting it go to my head would be bad.”
Tracer laughs. “Yeah, we can do that. We were wondering what to do, with our group pretty much broken up now. I think some of us will hang together, some of us will go our separate ways, but I think any of us would be willing to advise.” That gets nods from all around.
Erin says, “For me, I owe you my whole life. I’m certain he’d have killed me slowly, once he had me back in his control. You came for me, and you saved me, so I’m yours. Property, pet, however you want me.” She comes around and kneels next to my seat, clearly serious about it.
I reach down to stroke her hair. “We’ll start with beloved friend, and see where it develops from there”, I say. “I’ve seen how wild your nature is. I don’t want to cause you pain.”
“Loyal companion”, she says. “That’s something even wild creatures understand.”
I smile. “Then that works great for me.” And she leans against my leg, smiling.
Over on the Kimba table, everyone’s watching the show. Toni says. “Another one for your harem, huh?” Which makes the others giggle and me blush. And then she continues. “So, don’t think we’re gonna wait forever for you to explain it. What the hell is with that armband? Don’t tell me the Head put that on you for last night’s business.”
I nod. “She did. She’s not completely wrong. I was pretty harsh on them. I did let my temper make me snap.”
“You were saving people!”
“She pointed out I’ve probably left Majestic with PTSD. She was under compulsion.”
“Bah. You rushed in to save a friend, you assembled a posse, and you made it happen. I say we make you an honorary Kimba.”
“Seconded”, says Billie.
“You did a brave thing. Welcome to the team”, says Jade with a grin. “We should get bugs to make her a spot. That’s a subspace comms thingy, Jules.”
The others all nod. Ayla says, “You’re going to have to work hard on martial arts if you want to join us in the sims. Some of us were complete newbies when we began here, but we studied all fall.” So I tell them about the encounter with Journeyman, and Fey and Chou agree he was definitely testing me. They’ll show me where the lesson is tomorrow. And his teaching might help me catch up.
I tell the Pack and friends that it seems I’ve become a Kimba now, and that gets a lot of giggles. Yes, evidently that was a Kimba style rescue. Well, except for working with security, which they generally don’t, but even so, swarming the opposition with a flood of bodies fits their signature overkill style. “They don’t stop, they work together, and they’re ridiculously overpowered”, Judicator says. “If you want subtlety, I’m not sure they’re up to it. But if you want someone to barge in like an elephant and then somehow make that work through sheer firepower, they are your team.” I think she’s teasing, but everyone giggles at the image.
After lunch, I’ve got combat movement, and I get to be shrunk again. But before I can head out, Jade stops me. “Don’t say you’ve forgot?”
Oops. “Sorry, I did, so much going on and it put it out of my mind. But when are you free? I can take you over, but it’s not somewhere you can get to on your own.”
“Sixth period”, she says. “Although it’ll have to be short, I’ve got my job. But oh my god, I’m going to see your Junior!”
“Wait, what, you’re pregnant?” Jet says. Right in the entrance to Crystal Hall. And slaps a hand over her mouth as she realises that’s in earshot of half the school.
“Meant to mention it. Been busy”, I say with a wince. “Let’s get out of here before the gossip wave reaches someone important.”
Part forty six
In Poe, I’ve done ordering some stuff to brighten up the room. Can’t really do much about the carpet. except chuck a rug over it, so I got one of those, and some plants, and a tapestry for the wall. Since this body has gone hungry and it’s already fourth period with the food counter shut, I don’t plan to keep it around much longer, but I’ll check emails again before I go.
Oh huh, one from a “Mrs P.” and the content is just “Admit everything.” Ah yes, I remember her, she tinkered in Sara’s successful escape from Sydney. Very well, I’ll remember that advice. It seems like the kind of thing where the right time to do it will become obvious once it arrives.
I shut the laptop, but before I vanish, there’s a knock on the door. So I say, “come in?”
It’s, surprisingly, Mrs Horton, the house mother. “Ah, good, I had a bit of a feeling I’d find you in. I have something to discuss with you, if you have a moment?”
“Of course”, I say.
“You know that we don’t usually give out singles here?”, she asks. I nod. “Right. You were given a room alone because of your unexpected arrival. However, it would be more normal for you to be doubled up, and in fact, if another student were to be admitted, they would automatically be assigned as your room-mate. That hasn’t happened. However, something else has - a student has just emailed me, asking to transfer into your room.” I must have looked surprised because she continues, “It doesn’t happen a lot, but everyone’s allowed to ask to move. And this student is currently solo herself, so all things being equal I’d prefer to accept. However there are special circumstances and as a result I need to check it with you. There is a reason she has a single - she has a tendency to depart in the middle of the night and return dragging in animals she has hunted. Her previous room-mates did not approve. It’s bad enough to find a mouse on the carpet, let alone the hind quarters of a small deer.”
I make the connection. “Erin? Erin is at Poe?”
“She is, although it’s no surprise you haven’t seen her around. She makes herself quite scarce and doesn’t use the common areas.”
“Erin is absolutely welcome to share the room with me”, I say, mentally correcting the tendency to call it ‘my room’. “I don’t mind the hunting, although I might ask her to get a freezer.”
Mrs Horton smiles. “Excellent, I shall inform her she may move her things in at her leisure. Thank you for being so understanding.”
“It’s not a problem”, I say. “She’s a friend.”
Which gets an approving nod. “Good. I believe that young lady needs friends.”
While I’m over with Doc Bellows talking through the fight and its aftermath, it’s a strange sort of echo to have combat movement class on the other side, and a comfort to have Sara beside me. She’s happy to hear Erin is going to move in with me. It should make Poe less lonely for both of us, and also give us a little more physical security.
I’m not exactly distracted in the class, being who I am I can just task a few of me to pay it close attention, and it’s all getting written to memory, but it’s not where most of my attention is. Instead I’m worrying about the gossip surely spreading after Jet let the mama cat out of the bag (which she is very sorry for, and I forgive her completely, but it doesn’t undo it).
Admit everything, said Mrs P, and since I trust her - and honestly, I trust the Head too - I’m going to admit it when challenged. Which won’t take long, I think. But what then?
If they kick me out of the school, I suppose I’ve got ARC to fall back on, and I shouldn’t have trouble self-educating about regular things, but I’ll fall short on the special curriculum here. I may have to ask Sara to relay what she can. Being outside Whateley would increase my risk from the local MiBs. And while I probably could fight them, I’d rather not be the next scary global menace. That could be a nuisance. I’d probably have to find powerful allies, and ones I could morally accept. That’s a difficult possible future.
What if the Head says I can stay - if I abort Junior? I suppose it’s fairly likely I could keep contact with Junior’s soul side and re-insert her later, but it bothers me. She’s already a “someone” to me, even a day old, and that’s the boundary between shrugging off killing a few cells, and mourning someone I already feel close to. I’m not sure. It would be a painful decision either way. I hope it’s not forced upon me. I might tell her no.
What if she allows it? I did technically slip through the gaps in her prohibition, I made myself pregnant, not anybody else, not Sara. She’s sure to close that gap now, but might be persuaded she can’t bring the hammer down too hard on me for Junior. I can certainly make a solid argument that Junior is not a distraction in school, won’t interfere with my studies, won’t be neglected, and will have a place to stay, food, safety, and companionship. If of a slightly unconventional sort. And that I’ll be an excellent parent, because I can always give my full attention. I’m not sure whether she’d want me to hide it around school. I’m not fond of lying, so I suppose I could just say “none a ya beeswax” until the rumour fades for lack of visible support. Downside is, the whole aura thing is going to be hard to hide under that level of scrutiny. And in a pile of geniuses this big, someone will figure I don’t have to be pregnant over here.
There’s something else, too… the Head was around big me, when she was watching her cast the search spell. She’s been around me a fair amount, the last few days. She might already have been pulled into my influence. Which bodes well for Junior, since she’s likely going to be feeling “that seems too much fuss for a small problem”. But, I think Mrs P’s everything includes the influence, too. At least, I’d feel I was leaving things off if I didn’t mention it. Gah, this might be troublesome. The Head is surely going to think I’ll corrupt her school. And I will, no doubt about it - or more precisely, I already did, but being here will surely drag everyone that-a-way at some undefined faster rate. I can’t honestly deny that, and I have no way of knowing if I could even slow it down. It’s not a voluntary act.
I get a poke from the mark. “Hey there, miss distracted. I can hear your thoughts spinning around in there. What’s up?”
So I open up the link and show Sara what I’ve been thinking. She sends the sensation of an arm around me, and love and reassurance. “No matter what, you’ve got me, and my people. And Daddy too, he really loves you, you know? You’ve become family, and we don’t neglect family. I don’t think the Donners would neglect you, either, they like you.”
“Love you too, and all the family”, I agree, letting her feel my head snuggling against her shoulder, accepting the comfort. “Do you think she’s going to blow up about my influence?”
“I’m sure Englund is”, she says. “If the Head doesn’t feel too bothered about it, he’s going to push the line that it’s the influence talking, and she should recuse herself. He won’t even be wrong. You’ll need an answer to that one.”
I show her what I saw, last night in the lesson. It’s only a small sliver of evidence, it’s not really even enough to make a case, but she whistles, and sends a grim feeling. “Yeah. That would explain a lot, to be honest. Damn, it’s going to insulate him from being pulled in to your influence, if somebody else already has their hooks in him. It’ll make him look like the last rational man standing, when he’s the opposite.”
“I could try pulling him in deliberately.”
“You’d be in a tug-of-war with whoever’s already pulling his strings. You might well lose. And it would cast your influence in a much darker light, if anyone found you were using it as a weapon.”
“Fair point, scratch that. And on second thoughts, we need to be strategic about that suspicion. It’s too important to waste on one girl’s power struggle with her school. Much as that might seem of personal importance, there’s a whole world out there.”
Agreement. “I think you’re right. Whoever’s behind him, they’re playing the larger game. We can’t afford to treat him as just a personal enemy.”
“Can we argue my influence isn’t harmful?” Pulling back to the personal question for now. Although to be honest, that question is important in the big game too.
“Depends how you define harm. I think it’ll make society a gentler, more connected and loving place. But it looks like it’s gonna break a lot of taboos. Humans cling to those.”
“We don’t have enough data points”, I say. “Donna and Paige and Petra are the only ones with any obvious taboo breaking.”
“If the Head decides she doesn’t care about your baby, it’ll be another.”
“True, but three points is pretty crap for data. Maybe ARC’s monitoring will have something to show? A large scale effect is a bit more objective.”
“Love, you only got here Monday last week. And your big light-show was two days ago. Most social indicators won’t yet have even ticked once. You’d need a couple of months for a trend line and three to get a curve.”
“Gah!” She’s right, but it’s frustrating. “Can you ask Donna anyhow? They might have at least something preliminary.”
“Passing it on, now.” There’s a pause while she speaks, then, “She’ll check. If they have anything, she’ll tell me.”
“Thanks”, I send love for Sara, and for Donna too. I wonder if I can somehow get a link to Donna? Or even better, some sort of telepathic version of the subspace toys the Kimbas have, to link all our people.
Passing that idea to Sara gets thoughtful agreement. “Yeah, it could well be useful. I’m a hub at the moment, but only for some of them. No mark, no comms. I’ll think about how.”
I return to pondering my problem. “If we’re going to get indicators, it’s going to be here. Or ARC, but I’ve been here the most.” And then I have a strange idea. But It kind of goes with ‘admit everything’ - “What if we poke WARS? Peeper wouldn’t hate it if I gave another interview. I could make getting my message out first a condition of the deal. Then we’d get indications from the listeners when they dial in.”
“Seriously, you’re going to tell everyone who listens to WARS? You know, chances are fairly high you’d start serious trouble.” Sara is clearly unconvinced.
“Everyone here will find out anyhow”, I point out. “This place is going to be the epicentre, if they don’t kick me out.”
“WARS is global”, Sara counters. “Their techno-trickery messes with the locality, shuffles codenames around a bit, but what you put on there will reach the planet, largely un-redacted. They send a feed to stations around the country, and it goes onto the internet.” She sighs. “At least talk to Zenith first, she runs the station. She’s far more sensible than Peeper. And less likely to weasel on a deal. You know her? She’s in Poe.”
“Know of her”, I say. “All right. I’ll look her up straight after classes.”
And then the me that’s watching the class nudges for my attention, everyone’s standing up, we’re headed over to the physical movement room to practise.
First time getting changed around classmates. This should be interesting.
Part forty seven
Reviewing what I recorded, the class was about cover and concealment, and a bit about camouflage, and how they relate to moving. Mostly the assumption in this class is unplanned combat, so we won’t be training in ghillie suits or anything, but Mr Anderson covered the theory on the basis that sometimes, camouflage can be improvised, even if it’s only grass stuffed in your clothes and hair to break up a head-and-shoulders outline.
Getting to the changing rooms means going through the physical training room, so I get a preview - he’s got it rigged with several everyday objects (some of them painted props) such as a tree, a car, a low wall, a cross section of a ditch, a grassy mound. Should be interesting to practise.
The changing room is like so many others I’ve seen, designed without the least respect for privacy. Lockers against the wall, tatty much-inscribed wooden benches with gaps between the slats, cold tile floor. (Who builds these things, and are they human?) Lots of half-dressed girls. Well, no way to avoid flashing the room, given I need my sports underwear for this. Unzip the bag on the bench, a teleport drops my existing clothes. Tentacles loading up underwear ready to step into, then sweats. And I’m done in a matter of seconds, but I haven’t avoided notice. Sara gives them the “your problem would be what?” glare while she’s doing her own strip-down. Putting my stuff in the locker, I’m glad to have her here.
Uh-oh, looks like the patented Sara glare hasn’t been enough to put all the gawpers in their places - here’s someone who looks a bit like Elizabeth Taylor in teen form, with pretty violet eyes that are probably the nicest thing about her. She’s finished changing into her sweats (tailored), and she walks over like she’s morbidly curious about a new species of bug. Nudge from my larger self: there’s a discrepancy between the body’s emotions and my nonphysical selves. Psychic domination effect? It’s causing feelings of shame. Okay, cut the local mind out of the loop.
“What are you?” Can’t fault her for directness.
“Originally human, now not so much, why?” I know why, I’m baiting her.
“I meant are you a boy or a girl or a thing?”
“Why only pick one?”
“Because this is the girls’ changing room, thing.”
“Looks like your mind’s made up. But I say I belong here, and bigots can fuck off.”
Another girl comes up. “Leave it, Gwen. She went toe to toe with the New Olympians. She’s got a blue band. You don’t want the trouble.”
“Can it, Barb”, but this ‘Gwen’ pulls a disgust face, I can feel her pushing the shame hard at the local body, which is of course getting her nowhere. And then she backs off. “They’ll let anyone in this fucking school.”
Sara says, “Case in point, Sweetheart.”
“Fuck off, demon bitch”, the girl stomps out into the gym room.
As we head out too, I tell Sara down the mark that she was trying to mess with my head, and she sends acknowledgement. “That’s Sweetheart, so called, psychic manipulator and bitch, with the Young Turks. Her friend’s Bombshell, brick and bully, same group. Nuisances I’d like to swat some day.”
“If you want a hand with that, I volunteer”, I say.
“Deal. You know, she’ll probably use her manipulation to push gossip the worst way?”
“Meh, I already wanted everyone to know. She’ll be doing me a favour, twisted as that is.”
My time-self reminds me I need to send a copy to Poe to meet Jade, so I do that, and then Mr Anderson blows the whistle to get everyone’s attention, and the crawling-in-mud part of the lesson begins.
Landing in Poe, I vanish everything I’m wearing (and can’t entirely shake the feeling of wanting a thorough shower to get the nastiness off me), before grabbing a more casual outfit out of the wardrobe. Jeans, sneakers, and a plain pastel pink tee shirt. Where we’re going, it’s warm.
Knock on the door. “Come on in!” Yup, it’s Jade, with an excited grin.
“Hey, you look good, so where’s the baby?”
“Close the door behind you, then open it”, I say with a smile.
And of course the door doesn’t open again onto Poe, but onto grass, with Gothmog smiling, and two of me (pregnant me dressed up in a tunic and short-shorts, because this is Jade and she doesn’t need to see that stuff).
“Oh whoa, what? That is so cool. Where’s this?”
“Off planet”, I say, and Gothmog adds, “I’m Gothmog, we’ve met before. This is my realm, please do come in, miss Sinclair.”
She pokes a finger through, pokes her head through through, then steps in, with me behind her, and the door closes and vanishes. She looks behind, “That’s okay, right, it’s meant to do that?”
I nod, “Yeah, it’s cool.”
Gothmog says. “I can open another to return you whenever you’d like, but we hoped you’d stay over for drinks and cakes. Don’t worry, I shall ensure you get back in time.”
The garden view is familiar to me by now, but Jade is marvelling. And then “Wow, Jules, you get to live here?” when we get to the house, which has got a lot larger and now sprawls like some billionaires’ resort.
“All the time, yeah, I’m studying sorcery here”, other me says.
“And I’m mostly just being pregnant here”, says pregnant me. Which is… distorting the truth a little, but again, it’s Jade.
We head in, and Gothmog brings a tray of juice drinks and tasty looking cake slices out from the kitchen area while we grab seats.
“This place got way bigger, because we’re planning a conference”, I explain, “but it was pretty big to begin with. Good place to raise a kid, don’t you think?”
“And it’s just you two here, and Gothmog?” Jade asks.
“Well, until he lets others in, which we plan to do”, other me says. “We had a friend in here until just yesterday, she was recuperating from an illness, but she got better. But I expect she’ll be back.”
Jade looks thoughtful. “How many other places do you have copies stashed? Feels like you’ve got a whole ’nother life going on.”
“Just here for now”, I say. “Who knows, though. There’s no reason to limit myself.”
She nods seeing the sense in that. “Wait until I tell oneesan about this place. It’s amazing. Poe must feel so blah and tiny.”
I laugh. “Well, it’s not the Ritz over there, but it’s worth it for the people.” Then all of me are a little surprised. “Oh hey. That’s well ahead of schedule. Junior just started to implant.”
Jade looks concerned. “You’re sure? That normally isn’t for a whole week, and it’s been what, one day?”
“Since yesterday morning”, pregnant me agrees. “But it’s fine, here, come and put your hand on my belly and I’ll try and share the view with you.”
Jade, looking curious, does. We can feel the structure of her body, and the edits she’s made to herself, at great cost in pain. We really must see if we can help. But first… with big me helping, we feed life sense data into her mind directly. Junior is a smoothly rounded clump of cells, and she’s nestled against the side of my womb, and starting to poke a pseudopod from one cell into the lining. Infinitesimally, we can feel it move deeper.
“Oh wow”, Jade’s fascinated. “You have this all the time?”
“Yeah. I’m filtering it down for you pretty hard, I get every cell in all of my bodies all the time, and subcellular stuff, and the same for whatever I’m touching. But I’ve got a constant eye on Junior here, she’s the best monitored baby I know.”
“She’s wonderful, but how’s she this big, this soon?”
“Going faster, I think. We aren’t all that human, neither is she.”
“Huh.” Then she squinches her eyes. “Why do I kinda get the feeling she’s looking back?”
“She is”, I grin. “She doesn’t have a physical mind yet, but her soul’s here, and she’s looking out through my senses. Just sort of observing, I think there needs to be a brain for more than that, but she knows she’s loved.”
“So kewl! Hi Junior!” Jade grins. Then she looks thoughtful. “You’re all linked aren’t you? So you could connect me to this cell sight thing from any body?”
Pregnant me nods. “Yeah, we wanted you to see where we live, but yeah, we can link you up from any body, if you want to peek and say hi. I lay good odds that Junior’s going to be a character long before she’s due. She’ll probably be excited to meet auntie Jade.”
Jade makes a squee! noise. “Oh my gosh this is so exciting.” And then a sudden swerve to grim. “We absolutely cannot let the Head throw you out. If I have to organize a riot or a mass strike, I’ll do it.”
“Worst came to the worst, I’d be safe here, but we don’t want to leave either”, pregnant me says. “Most of my friends are there, now. And it’s fun.”
“I’ll see what strings I can pull”, Jade says.
“Thanks, it’s appreciated.” I’m not sure how big a stick Jade can swing, politically, but it all helps.
Jade breaks contact and goes back to hear seat, and swigs her juice. “This is like the best thing ever. And we need to have a sleepover, over here, and show all the others.”
“If they want to, I can’t see why not”, I say. “Except that if we all keep sneaking off, we’re going to get caught some time and yelled at for being off grounds. I’ve got the excuse I was on grounds, too. You, kinda likewise. The others, not so much.”
She scrunches her nose, which is cute. “Point. And where could we ask for an exeat to, Gothmog’s house? They’d say where is that. A demon’s realm. Oh really, and would you also like an exeat to Narnia?”
I snicker. “Haven’t been there yet. I hear they have good Turkish delight. But yeah. That said, this place might well get more than a bit famous soon. When Sara gets her people all lined up.”
“Huge religious conference. It’s why this place got so big. We’re making presentation rooms, dorms, bars, restaurants. Public conference.”
“Off world, and public?” Jade gets it. “Oh damn, that is going to put the cat among the pigeons, globally. Famous she says. More like historic.”
“Yeah”, I say. Then I decide to see if she has thoughts about my idea. “I’m thinking of breaking the news about influence to the world over WARS, and of course, it’ll be a non-event, just some school kid mutant’s prank, right?”
Jade nods. “They’d believe you in Whateley, and that might start a riot, but out in the country, it’d be a tabloid funny papers story. Only the crazies would buy into it, and they buy any demon story.”
“Yeah, and then they see me on the TV news at the historic off world conference. Hand in hand with it’s organizer, Sara, the Kellith, daughter of Gothmog.”
“Oh fuck.” I don’t think I’ve heard Jade swear like that before. “Jules, the entire world will flip its shit. They’ll either want to martyr you or worship you or try to do both. You could start world war three.”
“It’s a risk”, I nod. “Thing is, the influence is already out there. Whateley will know, even if I say nothing, when it starts to show too obviously. Heads of state will know, because they keep tabs on Whateley and they aren’t stupid. They’ll see the social indicators move and know it’s not contained to one place. So that shitstorm is coming, one way or the other.”
“You want to rip the sticking plaster off. Control the narrative.”
“And maybe make the global effect go faster. They’ll be seeing me, maybe they’ll get pulled. The sooner my influence affects them, the less likely bombs will fall.”
“Whee, you don’t think small.”
Part forty eight
With Jade shaking the hand of Gothmog and promising to be back, we both step back out through the doorway that leads into my room. Why me too, you might wonder, rather than just vanish the body? Because I have a trick planned. I let Jade out to go to her job, then get myself back into uniform, ready for the switcheroo.
Combat movement class was about what I expected. The right evasive way to move when you can’t help being in the open between cover. How to figure where the engine block of a car is and shelter behind it. Using the rest of the car as concealment. Skylines and how to avoid them. I enjoy the class, but I have my suspicions about what’s going to happen when it ends.
And indeed, turns out I guessed it, when I get back to the changing room and find the locker door wrenched open and my uniform hanging out of it, obviously shredded and scribbled upon. Are they five? Never mind. Me in Poe synchronizes steps with me in Laird. You see, what they don’t know is that the trashed uniform is stuff I made, and I can unmake it.
In rapid succession I do three things. Vanish the ruined uniform - a collection of muck and small pointed objects clattering into the now-empty locker. Vanish the sweaty body, letting what I was wearing fall in a pile ready to be picked up - and precision teleport in from Poe just a step ahead of where I was, completing my walk up to my gym bag, picking up the sweats with tentacles and loading them in. While fresh and clean and wearing a pristine, never-before worn uniform copy. Somehow, what they destroyed, is no longer destroyed.
The looks I get, ha. It takes effort not to smirk. Sara does the smirking for me, as I keep a poker face watch while she changes. And then we head out. As soon as we get outside, she cracks up. “Their faces. Damn, you should have warned me, that was epic.”
“Someone should paint a Renaissance style painting and call it ‘malice, thwarted’ and hang it in Crystal Hall beside the dragon”, I agree. I need to split for detention on one side, now, and heading to security on the other. Sara stays with the detention me, so she can introduce me around. We go via the tunnels towards Hawthorne. Other me trudges overland towards Kane, taking time to look up at the stars, because it’s a nice clear night. Since I hatched, I can see a lot more of them, and they’re colourful. I think I’m seeing outside the human-visible spectrum, because some of them are colours I didn’t used to know when I was human. Gothmog-side me has been studying us-style star charts, so I sing their names in the old language, making a melody of it as I dance towards the security building, with its odd grain-silo like observation tower. I almost fancy I hear them singing back. Far away, pretty-sparkling fires, shall I make a crown of glamour from you?
I may have been a little more eldritch than usual when I reach Kane, because the receptionist in the glassed-in cubbyhole gives me a WTF look. Yeah, my reflection has a glow to it especially around the brow, and my hair is moving without any wind. Well, it’s nothing harmful, and she soon picks her jaw up. “Appointment?”
“Parallel, for Lieutenant Forsyth, I’m expected.”
She checks papers and nods. “I’ll buzz him, a moment.” Finding composure in the routine.
Soon, the lieutenant comes in, and smiles to see me. “Thanks for coming. It looks like we need your help to draw a line under last night’s business. We’ve got three kids who tell me the only one who can break them out of the permanent threat of compulsion is you. They don’t trust themselves without it. So we’ve arranged a room where they can meet you, and I’ll accompany you as protection if they’re compelled to attack, and safeguarding witness.”
I nod, “Sure, I can do that.”
He pauses, tilts his head. “Oh by the way, you’re glowing a bit, is there a reason?”
I shake my head. “I was singing to the stars. I’m pretty sure it’s just them being playful.”
He chuckles. “If it’s not dangerous, I’ll just file it under ‘weird stuff at Whateley’ and ignore it. Okay, in here.”
I recognise Majestic, although she looks like she hasn’t been sleeping. I’m guessing the pretty blonde is Cytherea, and the black-eyed goth is Stygian, guesses confirmed when the lieutenant introduces us. The three have parked themselves behind a desk, and there’s a seat on the other side, which I take. The lieutenant goes and stands by the door, trying to act like he’s not here. Do they teach that as a skill in cop school?
Majestic opens. “Thank you for coming. I want to start this right out by saying, I really don’t like you. Neither of these two particularly has a reason to feel good about you either, but myself personally, I see your damn teeth and shining eyes in my nightmares, and I might never sleep again. I say this because I want to make it clear, we need you, it seems there’s nobody else who can do this, but none of us wants to owe you a damn thing. So what I want to hear from you, before we go through with this, is a price. Something that clears the debt.”
That’s not an angle I expected. I take a moment to consider a reply. And I have an idea. “Alright. I can do that. There’s something I need to explain to you all anyway before we do this, something I literally only figured out today, or I’d have given the others the same spiel. That will lead in to what I need from you. Then you make the go, no go decision.”
She nods. “Very well, what is it?”
“Okay. So, back to last Monday night. I’m sure you all know that was me.” I get two nods and a half-hearted one from Stygian. “I’m sure you all know that was global too, from the news. What you probably don’t know is what I did and why. Sorry if this sounds like a digression, I promise you it’s not.”
I get three unconvinced looks. So I continue, “I went and changed the laws of metaphysics. Specifically, I added a broad, fractal tropism into life in general towards positive sociality and mutualism and complex beauty. All the plants and glowy stuff, those were just splash-over. I was expecting that to reflect into the human level, wasn’t sure how it would, or whether it would take millennia. Now I have a better idea.”
I can see hard to interpret looks on the three of them. Pissed off, a bit of awe-horror? I think they might be starting to grasp the size of what I did.
“So. I’ve been noticing I’ve been having an influence on people around me. And with some help, I’ve come to an interpretation that I’m afraid is pretty scary. Everyone is already influenced, at a baseline level, by what I did. Being around me, especially, being around the high power version of me I need to use to do the disconnections, pulls you into resonance with my nature, and makes you slide down the influence slope much, much faster. To you, that specifically means, if I do your disconnections today, you will be affected strongly. Even if I do not, you’ll slide downhill as fast as the rest of humanity, but if I do, I’ll be grabbing you and giving a good hard yank. Making sense?”
That was not a thing they wanted to hear. “What will it do to us?” Cytherea asks.
“Bear in mind, it happened two days ago. There’s guesswork in this and very small samples. I can’t guarantee the list is right, and I can’t guarantee it’s complete. It seems to be making people more polyamorous, sexually disinhibited, and unworried about taboos. It seems to pass over people without sex drives with the sexual stuff, but makes them more loving in sensual, snuggly ways. Since this was sampled from friends, I’m not sure how it affects interacting with third parties, except that nobody affected has done anything scandalous yet, and that includes Erin, who’s as near a type case for how it will affect you as anyone could be. It seems to be a sort of oxytocin plus. Only affects interactions with your in-group, however you define that.”
“Alright, we’d like some time to confer.” Majestic looks like she’s bitten into something that had a worm in it. “Could you step out while we do that?”
Of course I could, and so me and the lieutenant get to go raid the instant coffee machine. I can see he’s a bit shaken too.
He sips his coffee and says, “Everyone’s affected, globally, no way to reverse it?”
I nod. “Not without undoing what I did. Which I would strongly recommend against, even if it were remotely possible, which it isn’t. That edit was put there because it was sorely needed.”
“Sadly, I don’t know”, I say. “ARC is scrambling to help me figure it out, but the indicators tick slowly. My pure gut feeling, wild ass guess - years or months, not decades or centuries. Faster in Whateley than nationally, just being generally around me will affect everyone a bit. Much, much faster for those three, if big me goes tinkering in their heads. Instantaneous.”
“You realise I’ll have to tell the Head about this? It impacts the school as a whole.”
I nod. “She’d get told anyhow, I was planning to do that myself. But go ahead. I can follow up with her if she wants further detail.”
He nods. And Majestic pokes her head around the door. “You can come back in.” So we do, and I take my seat.
She picks it up as the spokeswoman again. “So we aren’t happy, but we still pick disconnection. Mostly because from your description, there’s no escape, and being changed by inches might be worse. Jason is unstable, regretful now, perhaps vengeful later? We can’t afford to remain cat’s-paws to be forced into his schemes. So with reluctance, we give the go ahead. But you still have not named your price.”
I say, “Part of it is paid by the influence. It’ll probably make you nicer people despite yourselves, which suits me. But for the other part, and to make us truly quits, I need your help. I’m going to have to tell the whole school about this. I haven’t yet settled on how, but maybe an interview on WARS. I want you to help me by running crowd control when it happens. Help stop it turning into a riot, a panic, self harm, stuff like that. Damp down fear, give a push to hope. I think nobody could fault you for using your powers that way in defence of the school. This influence is driven by a metaphysical rule that is purest benevolence. It will work to the good of the whole world, in the long term, even if the result is a bit weird from our present standards. You have to help that interpretation to at least get consideration, from people whose first instinct will be to kick out and bolt.”
That got them thinking. A few mutual glances, and then Majestic says. “I think we can all live with that. Deal, and quits. Now how do we do this?”
I pick my chair up and turn it sideways. “Drag up a chair in front of me. Sit, I touch your forehead, the rest is telepathic.”
She nods, and I note with a bit of respect, is the first to sit up and bring over her chair.
Part forty nine
Detention in Hawthorne is a bit fun, to be honest. Mrs Cantrel lets Sara introduce me around in the common room, but then shoos her off. Seems having not-detained friends for company is a no-no. But I get to meet a few thornies while doing tasks that would be a lot more laborious if I wasn’t able to solve a lot of them using tentacles (you can get floors really clean when you can pick off individual molecules of gunk). When they see I can tank Antenna’s current without any damage, Mrs Cantrel assigns me to Paige’s room, which should be interesting, because she hasn’t invited me over to her place yet. And apparently I’m to “mind myself”, because Paige isn’t lucid. She was fine at lunch. Odd.
The room is interesting. Very big, kind of resembling a zoo room with hanging logs and so forth, it’s below ground level but there’s high windows out that let in shafts of sunlight. The lighting is via subtle upward directed bulbs that avoid any glare. There’s murals on the walls, painted in shades of grey, outdoor scenes. A certain somebody, looking like a gigantic fluffy spotted cat with blue shining eyes, is lying on a high shelf projecting out from the wall. “Hey Paige! Nice to meet your fluffy self, may I come in?” She doesn’t answer, and I figure she’s more kitty than person while in this mode, but it’s good to be polite. So I take non-answer as permission. Life sense gets a feeling of curiosity from her.
I’m technically assigned to be cleaning out the litter pan, but I suspect Mrs Cantrel knows we’re close, and hopes I’ll help snap Paige out of her kitty funk. A short bit of poking around finds the en suite bathroom (Paige leaps down silently and pads after me) and the litter tray, gah, Paige, you did a stinky one. Okay, sewer cleaning mode engaged. Which reduces the gagging as I tentacle-sift chunks out of the tray and into the provided bucket. All the while being looked at by a very large curious kitty. She butts up against me with her face, and I reach down (not that far down, she’s big!) and pet her. “Hey cutie fluff-ball. What made you decide to go full kitty, hmm?” She says “mrrrp” and makes a rumbling purr, much deeper in this form than her halfway one.
I dump the mess in the provided garbage chute, and look around for anything else to clean. Which is when miss fluffy britches decides to grab my hand in her teeth. Not actually breaking skin, but holding tight. Okay, calm, self. There’s nothing she can do that’s going to be permanent harm to me, so lets go with this. “Mhm, what’s up?”
She’s pulling me over to the bed. Which is large, and nice, if a bit rumpled. Really, in this form? I find myself thinking, but I don’t get lust in her life aura, so, it’s probably not that. She pulls me up and I have to scramble, and get tooth-scratched a bit - yeah, that’s the were virus, spotted it, and I can stop the infection before it goes further. But it’s okay now, as she lets go and settles down beside me, purring, and with a feeling from her like a protected kitten. Aww, she wanted me there to feel safe. Love you lots and lots, Paige. I pet her, she cuddles up to me purring, and falls asleep.
I’m debating whether to stay in here with her and send another body about the rest of my business, when she suddenly shifts. It’s smooth and clearly magical, not one of your grimmer Hollywood bone-breaking changes. One moment she’s a really big kitten, the next, a human girl, her uniform reappearing with her. Her fully human form. First time I’ve met her like this. Her eyes blink open. “Gah, was that all a dream? Whuh? Oh, Jules, hi, I guess it wasn’t a dream. Oh shit, did I bite you?”
“You did a little but it’s fine, I’m not gonna turn furry”, I say. “Don’t worry about me, what happened to you?”
She pulls me closer and snuggles seeking comfort, I can feel the kitty is still in her nature even if it’s not in her appearance. “It’s all like a dream, but I think somebody shot at me. It hurt, I changed and went after them. Then it’s mostly a blur.”
Well that’s an unexpected escalation. “Do you think you got them?”
“Sadly no clue. Kitty me doesn’t lay down memories right, when she’s raging.”
I sit up, sadly breaking an enjoyable snuggle. “We need to do something about it. We can’t have a sniper on the grounds. Loads of kids have no regen.”
“Yeah, good point”, she sounds really tired and a bit woozy, and slips trying to sit up when she tries to lean on a forearm that isn’t there. “Damned arm.”
“Want me to take a look at it?” Maybe I can force the regen quicker.
“Yeah but not now.”
Good point. “Where did it happen?”
“I was walking overland to Hawthorne. Wanted the smells of the woods, you know? Tunnels are warm but they’re claustrophobic. I’m not sure if I was past Poe, or passing it, the whole thing feels like a dream. I think the shot came from the trees.”
We head out of her room as we’re talking. Conveniently, Caitlin is just up the corridor headed somewhere, so I yell out to her, “Hey Caitlin! Could do with your expertise.”
Which gets her to come over. “Yeah, what?”
“Incident a few minutes to an hour ago, Paige was just able to describe it, we think there’s a sniper on the grounds. What to do? Going back there to poke around like junior detectives seems foolish.”
Paige meanwhile has been fiddling with the uniform on her shoulder, an annoying reach across with the one good hand, and says “Oh, found it, bullet hole”, wiggling her finger through an opening.
Caitlin takes a brief look, and nods grimly. “Yeah, sniper’s caliber. Okay, we call security immediately, and you’re right, we don’t go back until they give the say so. Gimme all the details you know.”
So we do that, and it’s briefly a bit of a fuss. Security tells us they’re sending people out in powered armour to get any kids there to safety, and investigate the woods. We’re to shelter in place - Hawthorne is a bit of a fortress. I consider sending a body up there to go look, but rule it out quick even though I wouldn’t die just from being shot. I might endanger the security folks, and what do I know about tracking anyway? Feels like it’s a lack I should remedy though. I’ll ask the weres when the shitstorm is over.
I think Caitlin respects me a bit more for going to her rather than playing Scooby-gang all solo.
In the end, the report back from security is that they found signs someone had been mauled, but they also weren’t present, which means the threat is still live. And now I know what made Paige do mister stinky when she got home. Tasty tasty sniper. This I do not mention to her as, if she hasn’t figured it, I don’t want to give her any further trauma.
Security also hands down a ruling, above ground is out of bounds if there’s a tunnel you can use. If not, they plan to make some sort of temporary snipe-proof enclosure between buildings. That’s going to be fun, not. It was cold and dull up there, but it was being outside four walls. The cabin fever is going to get harsh. I hope they catch whoever was behind it quickly.
Why would they shoot at Paige?
Detention’s cancelled, so we head together through the tunnels to Sara’s room. Said mutually beloved demon princess is happily indulging her dark side in GEO. So rather than interrupt her, we grab a bean bag and I pull Paige into a hug, which she accepts.
I think Sara senses Paige is a bit shocky, so she closes out her game, and takes off the headgear. “Hey there loves, what’s up? No kitty form today?”
“Kitty form was earlier”, says Paige and does the finger wiggle in the bullet hole again. “Then I got sniped. Jules had to hug me down out of full-kitty form. I don’t dare risk anything but human until the urge to go back passes.”
Sara comes and plomps herself down on the other side of Paige, so we can both hug her. “Who? I’mma burn em alive. Nobody snipes my beloved.”
“Dunno”, says Paige, sounding subdued. “It just hit me and hurt, in the middle of an open field.”
I add, “Sounded like an outsider, from what security said, they found the site of a chomping, but not the chomp-ee. So kitty Paige took a piece out of em already.”
“Means they’ll be turning furry”, Sara says. “We should alert the weres, if security already hasn’t.”
“The escape probably means they had a teleporter”, I say. “A flyer would be seen and tracked, and on foot, they’d have to cross the weres’ land. Not to mention, leaving a drip trail any junior sleuth could follow. If I could get there, maybe I could find some residual warp? But there’s no way. Security has ruled the entire above ground off bounds until the shooter’s caught.”
“Still leaves the question of why, though?” Sara looks thoughtful. “Paige, love, since you got here, you haven’t exactly been making waves, or enemies.”
“Yeah, but there’s still the before I got here bit”, Paige says. “If they’ve tracked me here…”
“Then the school might have to do some fast talking to a bunch of three letter agencies”, Sara says firmly. “But nobody is handing you over to anybody.”
Paige nods, “And if they figured that, maybe that’s why they tried to make the problem go away.”
I ask, “Why miss, though? Because if I’m not mistaken, a good sniper shouldn’t miss, at that distance.”
“And nobody’s going to bother teleporting in a bad one”, Sara agrees. “Okay, let’s suppose they were startled to see you, and took the shot without setting up a good aim? Then they’d have to be someone who knew the old you. But you weren’t the target.”
“CIA, or something, that would do it”, Paige nods. “But who would be the target?”
“I know it’s making too much soup from one oyster, but it could be me”, I admit. “I’ve been making waves. We know the MCO has its panties in a wad. I’d be unsurprised if the CIA did too. Or maybe they contract out assassinations to each other?”
“If they’ve been paying attention, the CIA knows they can’t kill you with a bullet”, Sara points out.
“Maybe they just want to poke me and see which way I’d jump?”
“Or start a war they can act blameless for finishing”, Paige agrees.
Sara frowns. “No war until we know who, and why. But then maybe yes, a little war. We can’t have them punching holes in any of my beloveds, survivable or not.”
I wince, but nod. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to get into a dominance pissing match with the more militaristic parts of the government. Ideally, in as small and polite a way as possible. I don’t think they’re going to sit still for me. They won’t sit still for Paige either, once they know she’s here. And you, Sara. The three of us in each other’s laps is a vast concentration of power they’ll see as unfriendly.”
“Well, they sure didn’t make any friends today”, Paige says. Which I can only nod to.
Setting that aside for now. There are gentler, more immediate matters I can attend to. “Let’s have a look at your arm”, I say.
I allow the strain of the day to flow out of me, and focus down on the stump arm of my beloved. Why does it hurt her like this? Holding it, I can feel the cells at the edge, gradually repairing what was cut off. But the feeling it gives me is almost of her regeneration dragging its feet. It’s going as slow as it can - full repair would take years. Big me slides forward to help me, and I shift levels. I can see her soul-shape, one soul stretched over two bodies and becoming two souls - really, all the way done becoming two, now, but still joined by a thread that has become a sort of residual bond. Perhaps she could chat over it, with a bit of practise?
That’s part of the puzzle, but it doesn’t give me the answer I’m after. Big me makes a suggestion, and I agree, so we change levels again, diving down, going deep past her surface mind to the primal mind of the body itself. It’s a dark space of urges and drives and intense, hidden feelings, and finally down here, I get something solid. There’s an urge we can feel associated with refusal to regenerate - mourning, wistful yearning, stubbornness, a wish to rejoin. Somehow, the stump arm knows its severed counterpart is out there, alive. The soul connection is giving it hope, and it refuses to let go. It’s holding back the healing to keep alive the hope of reconnecting with its severed counterpart, and becoming one again.
That’s honestly such a sweet reason that I find myself deeply moved, and that helps, I can flow with the feeling and guide it because I can empathize. Together, we feel the sadness, reaching out, begging for what was lost to come back. Slowly, to that, I mix in an understanding of the other-who-is-like-self, Petra. How she grew into a whole person. How she now has a soul, and that’s the life connection the body was feeling. One has become two, the second is separate, but beloved. We can let her go, because she is not gone. Gradually, grief turns to wistfulness. And joy for a softer kind of reconnection, when I show the body what was being held just earlier, her twin, same flesh, come together in love. We can touch again what we thought we had lost. But it would help to have a hand to hug with…
And just like that the regeneration releases back to its original, high speed. Bidding loving goodbye, my focus returns back to the surface, and Paige is crying, looking at her stump that has already regrown by a finger width.
“You did it, how, what did you do?” So I tell her, and she’s moved to tears by the feeling her arm was just being faithful for its missing piece. So we all pet her regrowing arm, it’s silly, but it feels right. And she promises it lots of hugging Petra.
Odd to switch from what feels sublime to the mundane, but Paige’s regen makes it clear she’d like some food by making her stomach grumble loudly, which breaks the tension and makes us all giggle.
The crowd in Crystal Hall is subdued and murmurous, without many shoulder angels to be seen. The sudden imposition of movement restrictions has everyone curious and worried. As I’m fetching food, I hear all sorts of speculation. An invasion. A cover-up. A plague of yeti. (Okay, I just made the last one up.) As I’m heading back to my two tables with trays of lasagne and salad and ice cream, there’s a banging noise, someone thumping on a table. Talk dies to a murmur. It’s the Head, stood up.
“Quiet please!” She waits for the murmuring to quit, glaring at a few hold-outs until they hush. “Thank you. You’ve been informed of the bare basics of the temporary movement restrictions via campus tannoy, but I’m now about to explain why they’re being imposed. Someone, it presently appears from outside, has taken the very poor decision to shoot at one of my students. Luckily, that student was not seriously harmed, this time. Until the matter is resolved, I’m afraid we’ll all have to avoid open areas where they might attempt to repeat their mistake.”
“Now I know”, she continues, “from personal experience in fact, that some of you feel invulnerable, and that as a result you’ll chafe under these restrictions. Please understand they are in part protecting your friends who have a baseline’s vulnerability to bullets. Please also understand, that just because you are bulletproof, does not mean you are safe. Weapons come in all sizes, people! If you can stop a rifle bullet, can you stop an anti-tank round? I would rather you not discover your limitations by dying of them.”
She takes a breath, then, “Everyone, and that means everyone, students and staff, will move above ground only in the areas authorized by security, unless they have been given special dispensation otherwise. Behind the provided cover, not flying above it or peeking around it for a lark. If shooting breaks out, you will go quickly to the nearest building and then get underground as soon as possible, allowing the most vulnerable people in first.”
A pause, and a sigh. “My apologies for this, I intend this situation to be under control very soon, and then restrictions will be relaxed. That will be announced over the tannoy. Until then, stay safe. Thank you, that’s all.” And she sits down.
Well, that sets everyone talking! I think honestly, whoever did this is doomed. It won’t just be the capes after them, it will be the villains too. The school has a lot of pull. And, well, us. Shooting at Paige is not okay.
She meanwhile, keeps glancing at her arm, which has reached the point of starting to make a hand. Sara’s mothering her a little, cutting up her food for one handed eating, making the best of the opportunity, I think.
We all three reached the unspoken decision that it’s best not to spread around that it was Paige who got shot at. She likes to keep a low profile, and this would make her the object of a lot of school-wide speculation. So when the Kimbas are throwing around theories of what’s going on, I just keep quiet and eat my food.
In fact, I’m out of the conversation enough that I’m drifting a little - until I hear my name, pause and rewind a moment… it was Bunny. I smile, because I’m fond of her, and say, “Sure, yeah, what?”
“I need to talk to you afterward. Jade, you too. It’s engineer stuff.” And suddenly Toni the gossip isn’t bending an ear to hear it, heh. Jade and I are the only ones who run with the gearheads.
After dinner, as one of me is headed to my job and another headed back to Sara’s room with most of the Pack, I leave a self to loiter by the entrance until Bunny and Jade meet me there.
“So, this is like, a secret, okay?” Bunny begins. “It’s not super duper secret, but it’s not for anyone who isn’t an engineer. Jade, you’re initiated, they’ve called the worn wrench, we need to meet after curfew, down in the labs.” That gets a frown and a nod from Jade. “Jules, you aren’t yet, you can’t come this time, but I can tell you what it’s about. That nasty Tansy Walcutt beat poor Greasy into the hospital. He’d have died of it, if he wasn’t just a hop and a skip from Doyle. So we’re gonna hold a meeting about it, and we’re gonna call open season on her, I think.”
I wince. “I don’t know him personally but maybe I should go over there and see if they want any help with him? I might be able to help heal him or something.”
“I heard Jericho’s on that with some of his new medical devises”, Bunny says. “But no harm in asking. Just, tomorrow, mind that you don’t walk too close to Tansy in case any of the pranks have splash-over.”
I nod. “So, I’m taking it, it’s not gonna be open season of the beating up kind, more like worms in her bed and ink in her shampoo?”
Bunny nods. “Yeah, the engineers, we’re mostly not the beating folks up sort, but it doesn’t mean we’ll sit still for some no good, nasty piece of work using one of us as a punching bag! So I hope she gets the full portion of what she deserves. And may she take a lesson from it.”
Works for me. “I’m down with that. I hope they think up some really inventive ones. I can be available any time if you want my help, although I know I’m not an insider yet.”
Jade grins, “We’re gonna get that done reeeal soon, don’t you worry.”
Bunny nods, “Yeah, we will. And I doubt we’ll tap you for help, but, the offer’s kindly taken.”
Thoughts of engineering as I take the tunnel to Doyle, get me pondering what kind of a project I might make. And an idea occurs, which gives me a big, slightly scary grin. Maybe big me can help navigate the physics, because I want to do this elegantly. Fun fun!
Offering my help at the reception desk gets me looked at funny, I’m not one of the medical track people here yet (I’d definitely like to pick that up), so they don’t know me. I offer Doc Bellows as a reference. The receptionist makes a call to him, looks surprised, then hangs up. Makes another call, and a couple of minutes later, a man in a white medical coat walks in. “Hi, I’m Doctor Raul Tenant. I hear you’ve offered your help to Adam Lambert. Doctor Bellows is supposedly convinced you’re a miracle worker. However, I haven’t heard that you’re received any medical qualifications?”
I shake my head. “When I use life sense on someone, I know what every cell in their body is doing, I can see their genes, and I can control stuff. And I’ve read the medical library at ARC, although I’m not experienced in it.”
He nods. “Alright. I need to give you some advice, and it’s hard to hear, but I’d like you to give it an honest hearing, okay?” I nod. He continues, “We get a few kids in every batch with powers like yours. And we routinely get offers of help from them, and I have to tell them all the same thing. Unless it is literally life or death, unless you are stuck in a situation with a wounded person and no way to get them here to us, you must not use your powers to practise medicine. Even then, hold it down to first aid if possible. Enrol on the healer track here, go to med school when you graduate, then use them. But do not just jump in with them and make repairs.”
I must have looked grumpy, because he says, “Yeah, I know. We always get the same reaction. Why not, I was only helping, are you trying to defend your special guild privileges? No. I’m saving lives. You see, and I’m making an analogy here, but your power presents the human body as a set of knobs you can turn and levers you can pull, right? That’s usually how it goes.”
“Kinda sorta”, I agree.
“Okay so. How I see it, with my doctor’s training and years of experience, the body is more like a bunch of structural members in a too-clever-by-half building, that all lean on one another. When things are good, they move and take up the slack, no matter what’s going on outside, and the inside stays fine. When things are not so good, that’s like one or two of them being busted, they lean funny, they transfer weight between them so now maybe one of the ones that was good is overloaded and it starts to creak and pop. When things get real bad, they don’t just break, they pull others down, the load moves around and keeps breaking more stuff, it’s a mess and a nightmare. Into that steps you, who just… commands one or another of them to stand up - and they do. But where’s the load going? Where’s the moving load going, in fact? So what you will find is you prop one up one and another will go, then you grab that and two others fly wildly out of control, and soon you’re juggling a dozen things gone wrong, and you lose track and it all comes crashing down ten times as hard. Your power is not going to let you run every damn system in a human being on manual while they are all squirming against your control. So save yourself the guilt, and just don’t. Okay?”
Maybe with as many minds as I have, with big me’s help, I could do that, run a person on manual. But it would be bad to discover I couldn’t. He has a fair point. Which makes me sigh, and nod. “Okay, point made.” Frustrating as it is.
He nods. “Good. Thank you, but no, we will not be needing your help tonight. But I hope this increases your interest in a properly qualified and trained career in medicine, rather than reduces it. I’ll recommend you into the healer track if you’d like?”
I nod. “Please.”