Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 61-70)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 61-70)
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 frazzled heroine is handling the stress badly, and has just heard the Head announce she'll be addressing the whole school Saturday, which is tomorrow. Advance warning, part 62 is an intense BDSM scene. Read it or skip it at your discretion.
Part sixty one
12th January, 2007, after lessons, Whateley
Jade and I have to set the discussion aside, and get ready for our job. I decide to wear my sweats this time, it seems better than uniform or casual kit. Jade follows me into my room, and is amused to watch how quickly I can do a change with teleport-and-tentacles. I guess, with the J-team, she’s closest to knowing how it goes.
Then we have to get to the job. Chatting has wasted a bit of time, we’ll have to dash. Or teleport, but I’ve only ever taken myself before. It feels like I can do it. Big me concurs. Does Jade want to risk being a first time? She does. And so I fold space together with her, hand in hand, and we step out in front of the entrance to the maintenance area. Life sense shows her as completely unharmed. Good.
That one jump means we’re nicely on time. Stan and Morrie are both at the top of the basement staircase. Morrie says, “Hey kiddies. Nice timing. Nice to see ya got off detention tonight too, Jules, whaddya do, slip the Head a bribe?”
“Took the Head to meet a demon, told her my secret plan to take over the world”, I tease back, making Jade snicker because it’s almost true. “What kind of class-X nightmares are we fighting today?”
“We ain’t due to do the cave until mid-March”, Morrie says with a smirk. Jade winces. Me, honestly I’m a bit eager. Which gets noticed. Stan says, “Check out her, bouncing as if you offer her ice cream. Looking to meet the relatives?”
“Already met them”, I say. “I kind of wonder how your famous cave compares. For all I know, it might suit me.” I tease by letting big me come forward and make my eyes glow bright. She looks curiously at them, and says they’re interestingly resistant.
“Yeah, yeah, little miss spooky”, Morrie isn’t too impressed, although he does grin. Giggling, big me slips back down and my eyes go back to normal. He continues, “To answer your question, tonight we’re helping wheel those sniper barriers back in the shed. Although with all the… stuff you’ve been up to here, it might be a good idea to check the cave a month or two early, in case you woke something up. But not without proper preparation. Perhaps tomorrow, eh?”
“Hey, don’t we get weekends off?” I protest.
“Normally, yeah”, Morrie says. “But sometimes, special stuff, it needs time, or it needs daylight. The cave is both of those. You get time and a half just for working at the weekend, on top of danger pay. But don’t worry kiddies, I’ll give you more than just a night’s warning. That way, you get time to make your wills, heh.”
“Ass!” says jade, and play-punches him.
We make short work of today’s task, with Jade casting the J-team into the barriers and me making spare bodies to drag them, it doesn’t take long to do our assigned area, and move on to do others. Meantime I get to chat to Jade, which is nice, I feel I haven’t been able to get much time with her, she’s not in my classes except the devisor thing, and I’ve been in detention when she was working. I’m saving my lightsaber to show off when I can properly power it on, but I do talk about how I can make electronics and stuff with matter creation, and maybe I can collaborate with Bunny making gadgets for her, which she’s on side with.
She sighs, looking glum at a thought. I ask what’s up, she says “I was thinking about you being helpful, and then about what you’re doing for Paige. You could snapshot me, but I’d still be in this messed up body, right? So maybe you shouldn’t. I wouldn’t want to come back to that.”
“Silly”, I say. “We’ll break Jet’s curse, then you can spend a week in a bathtub absorbing her memories, and then your body will never be an issue again. But you have to be here for that to work.”
“Point”, she concedes. “It just feels like it’s completely impossible. The rules mean I’d have to succeed first… I doubt the BIT-slicer would count either. It has to be me. But how?”
“I had a thought”, I say. “It only solves part of it, but…”
“Spit it out, how?”
“That cave, did Toni and Nikki tell you about it? The one with the time loop.”
“Um, I think… They met their future selves or something?”
I nod. “It’s not so super friendly, but maybe I can tame it down. Or cut a deal if it’s too powerful for that. And then we could meet future you - after you were cured. After you were old enough that being pregnant wouldn’t be an issue.”
She looks intrigued. “That kinda works. Jet’s side is still a problem. She can’t grow, um, boy bits.”
“Has to be her gametes and her doing it, but I think a prosthetic might slip through the terms. I can do any tinkering with cells we need.”
“Um, you mean, like, a strap-on?” She blushes.
“Or something like it”, I nod. “Might as well make it fun for your future self.”
She goes bright red, and says “Aargh, enough. But yeah, you’ve given me a bit of hope. And let’s leave it at that, we’ve got more of these barriers to go back for.”
I giggle. I’m not the only one lighting up the snow with my glow.
With all the barriers rolled and stowed away kinda quickly, we get to knock off early in the knowledge of a job well done. I decide to head for the library. Back when I was a child in my previous life, the library used to be my refuge. I could teleport over, but I decide to walk, taking in the quiet starlight, feeling like I could almost trail my fingers through it, as if it were water or something tangible. Something about the stars seems to have fallen in love with me, and I love them back. The feeling makes me want to dance, and so I do, spinning and twirling over the snow with ribbons and sheets of imaginary starlight.
It’s when I get to the edge of the lights that surround the library, that I realise it isn’t imaginary, I’m covered in streamers of starshine, evaporating off as I stop my dance, but still visible, making my grungy sweats into something strange and amazing. Something like this happened before, the other night. I wonder if I can shape it into more than sparkles and toys? A question for later, I’m too tired, really, to put effort into research tonight. But I do blow the stars a kiss of thanks as I head in through the door and aim myself for the fiction section. Nothing drearily worthy today, I mean to raid the brain-candy, SF and fantasy.
Turns out here it’s called ‘SF, fantasy and heroics’. Genre fiction became a thing after the first heroes, so unlike the classics, it’s barely recognizable. Different authors. Different books. Star Trek and Star Wars are still there, but some of the characters seem a bit different. Hard SF got hit with a weird-hammer. Happily, Schmitz is still in this timeline, so I’m (re-)reading a Telzey Amberdon book (and not going anywhere near my full speed) when I notice someone else plomp down beside me in the reading niche - it’s Sara. Immediately I feel all the grunge I’ve been ignoring. Ack. I look like I was hauling things around through the snow in my gym sweats and didn’t bother to change.
Sara says, “Hey sweetie. Found you.”
“Found me”, I agree. “Sorry I look like the cat dragged me in. How’d you track me down?”
“Figured you’d come here. That and you were having happy fictional thoughts about a tricksy telepath.” She scrunches up against me, pulls my head onto her shoulder. “And you look fine, silly. Everyone has down days.”
I snuggle against her, closing the book. “It’s just all caught up with me. And now the Head forced my timing on the interview. I just want a rest from the crazy, you know?”
“We’ll put aside doing that magical research we were planning tonight”, she says. “Have a relaxing evening and just let your dreams do their thing overnight. We can do the work later when you’re feeling a bit better.”
“I have an idea what you consider relaxing”, I tease. “Sounds fun, but I might be a bit of a pillow princess today.”
“That, your highness, will not be a problem.” God I love her dirty smirk.
I put the book back on the shelf. “Come on, let’s head back. I need to change and shower, and then it’ll be dinner. We can go to Poe, and pick up your room there, to save you a walk.”
She gives me a kiss and nods. She can probably sense that I kind of want the low intensity of Poe for a bit, although we’re planning more intense things later. As we head out, I notice the librarian had her eye on us, from the central desk. I’m guessing, she chose not to intervene and hush us. That was kind, so she gets a smile of thanks, and the smile I get back confirms my suspicions. I guess everyone can see I’m a bit of a bedraggled thing tonight.
Although, I suppose, the stars seem to like me just the same. On impulse, I decide to show Sara. “Hey, watch a thing, it’s strange but nifty, I want to see what you make of it.”
She nods, “Sure”, and so I begin. Look overhead to orient the star chart, list out names and analyse rhymes, construct a flow of meter, shape the melody and make it feel right for the stars I’m naming… I start to sing, and time my song into a a dance too, one with a hole in the choreography so she can join it if she wants - and she does, as soon as she sees what I’ve done. And the stars play with us both as we dance, garlanding her in splendid darkness and me in streamers of light. I’ve timed my song to finish as we reach Poe, so when we head in we’re still otherworldly creatures, and get gaped at a bit. Which makes us both giggle.
Erin is in our room when I get there, and gets an unexpected but happy hug from Sara. Most of our star-stuff has evaporated off, but she still has a brow-crown of darkness, and me, one of light, which makes Erin curious too. So I tell the both of them how I’ve been playing with starlight twice already before, and I have no idea what it means, except that it’s beautiful and fun.
Sara looks thoughtful. “Stars are a strange kind of thing. They’re physical, you could go there and it would be a hot ball of fusing plasma, but they also have a higher extension that is a bit like us. They’ve always been our kind of thing. Starry wisdom, astrology, you know? And now you’re singing to them in the old language, using their names with love and making them into melodies, and gifting them with dance. Two different kinds of form-in-time, as pure offerings of joy. They understand that. I think they’ve fallen a bit in love with you. I don’t know what that means, though. Other than some very beautiful special effects. And adding to your growing legend.” Which makes me and Erin giggle.
Erin says, “They were important to us, the stars, but they were never my domain.” I can hear the subtle voice change, this isn’t Erin speaking but her rider. She continues, “Of all of us, perhaps… Judicator, might offer guidance.” I could hear the pause as she translated the name.
“Thank you, and it’s nice to meet you”, I say.
To which I get a smile, and she says, “I have watched you, but I am not one for stray words. But we meet by starlight, and that seems appropriate. I am enjoying watching your rise.” A slight change of body language makes it clear Erin is back at the wheel. “She was waiting for the right chance. Bit of a show-off in her way… hey, quit poking”, which makes us all giggle. “But, you know, that last word, we struggled over translating it, because the one she used meant ‘rise up to the stars’. I think she sees big things ahead.”
Which is nice, but I can’t help thinking ‘just what I need’.
Part sixty two
Content warning for this episode: emotionally intense BDSM, pain, violence, blood.
I need to get a shower done, so I grab a robe and vanish the icky sweats. Before I head off, Sara stops me and says, “When you get to the Hall tonight, eat lightly. Less than you want, less than you need. Then head to my room after. No other bodies over here, just that one. Put the two on the other side on pause, if you can.” I nod. she’s obviously up to something, but I’ll just follow instructions. She smiles. “And don’t worry. I’ll bring munchies for later. But trust me when I say you don’t want to be full for what I have planned.” Okay miss mysterious.
Getting warm, soaked, clean and into fresh jeans and a nice pastel pink shirt helps restore a bit of my dignity. And following Sara’s instructions, I just get myself a little serving, which I know is going to leave me with stomach grumbles in half an hour. This time I only sit with the Pack table, and watch the goings-on, the shoulder angel nonsense is still going on, and it’s all a bit stupid and tense. It sort of washes past me in a haze of unimportance. My food, small as it is, tastes of nothing much. That’s probably a bad sign, but I trust Sara and she has it in hand.
The walk back to the Lovecraft room passes in a blur. I can see the others are kind of wrapping around me, so that any shouty idiots can be pushed aside. There’s a few people with their tempers riled, wanting to know about the radio show. They get ignored. We reach the room. The two other me are in bed and paused. I’m the only active body.
Once we’re there, Sara sits me down on the bed and then speaks to the others. “What I’m about to do is going to be intense. It won’t suit some of you. Jamie, it’s not for you. Sif, not you either, it would be too close to the bone. Paige, I feel like, not this time. It’s too early to poke you where you’re sore.” Paige nods, accepting that. “Jet, you’re in if you want to be, I know you’ve seen worse. Erin, it’s optional. I know you care for her, but you’ll need to be strong. You’ll want to rush to her aid, but that won’t be the right thing to do. You have to sit on your hands and let me do what I’m doing, right the way through to the end. If you can agree to that, you can be in.”
Erin considers that and nods. “I’ll do it.”
“Okay, everybody else out, I’m going to rotate the room.” And so it’s just Sara, Jet, Erin and me.
Sitting down beside me, Sara strokes my hair and says, “Jules, I want you to put yourself in my hands. This is going to be intense and hard. Will you trust me with your life and your soul?”
How else can I reply to that but, “Yes, always, forever.”
Sara nods. “I want you to let me hold the reins on your teleporting, your warping, life sorcery, and making and vanishing bodies or other materials. Can you and big you agree to do that for the duration of the game?”
I’m not so stupid I can’t recognise the start of a kink negotiation. But I already gave her my total trust. Bringing big me forward enough she can follow along, we say together “Yes, we agree.” And I can feel, somehow, that my ability to control those abilities has been taken. I’m stuck here, one body, one place. All but defenseless. She’s cutting down my options.
Sara says, “The game ends one of three ways. I end it when I decide it’s over. You end it with a safeword. I can see you know about them, we’ll be using the traffic lights, green for okay, yellow for back off and check in, red for stop immediately. Any other word than red doesn’t stop the game.” I nod my understanding of that. “And the third way it ends is any emergency, a fire, an attack… I don’t expect anything like that, we’re rotated so a teacher isn’t going to poke their head in and complain about the noise, but if it happens, you’ll get everything back and we deal with the problem together, okay?” I nod. “Good girl.” The praise feels nice.
She turns to the others. “Okay, Erin, Jet, you sit over to the side. Grab a beanbag and watch. No talk, no commentary. If you have to interrupt someone, interrupt me, not Jules. All good?” Two nods. “And Jules, come stand in front of me.” So I pop up off the bed and go do that. She takes a moment to look at me, and smiles. “You have too many clothes on. All off, now. And folded neatly, please.”
Of course I reach for what has become a habit, teleportation, and I can’t do it. Tentacles - they won’t come. Oh yeah, life sorcery is blocked. Which leaves just hands and fingers, the old fashioned way. I can’t believe how clumsy I’ve got at this with a few days of being able to do it with powers. My shirt gets stuck and I have to yank at it inelegantly. My bra clasp is a bother to fiddle with. The stupid jeans won’t come off my legs until I realise that I have to take the shoes off first, I’m a mess. The clothes are a mess. I start folding them, and thankfully Sara’s left me my parallel minds, so I can calculate the folds and get them fairly neat. But it takes a frustrating long while with no tentacles and Sara’s got the ‘do hurry up’ look.
“That wasn’t very impressive.” Being looked down upon by her cuts me to the heart. She motions, “Well, hurry up, stand there, I want to look at you.”
I stand, she looks. Of course she’s seen all of me before, but this look goes deeper than the surface, it feels like my soul is naked. I find I’m actually looking down and blushing.
“Chin up, dear, look at me not the floor.” It’s hard. Looking at her is like looking at the sun, especially when she has such an intensity to her gaze, she’s not just acting a role, this is her, too, this is one of her real sides, and she’s enjoying it. Feeding off it. I find I want that. Want to give myself to her and be consumed.
“What are you looking at?”, she asks.
“Um, at you, at Sara.”
“Wrong. For the game, I’m your mistress. Say ‘yes, mistress’.”
I say it.
“Not like that, mean it.”
“Better. Eyes up, if I catch you looking at the floor again, I won’t hold back. Now, what are you?”
“Wrong answer! What are you?”
“Um a larval great old one, life affiliated…”
She cuts across, “Wrong! What are you?”
I’ve run out of answers and I’m panicking, “I don’t know, I don’t know!”
“Better. You don’t know. For this game, you are nobody and nothing. Say ‘yes mistress’.”
“Yes, mistress”, I say. Feeling empty. I don’t know what I am.
“If you’re good you might be my nobody and nothing. And I might give you a name. Do you want to be good?”
I really do, and I say so. She nods. “That’s a good beginning. Good girls kneel when they’re talking to their mistress.” I drop straight to my knees. Looking up at her, she seems so big.
“Better. Now, I’m not just your mistress tonight, I’m your doctor. You’ve been carrying all these burdens and they’ve been crushing you down. But nobody and nothing doesn’t have burdens. Still, even when you’ve let those go, there’s something trapped inside you. What do we do if something’s trapped?”
“Um, let it out?”
“Let it out, mistress. Don’t forget again. Yes, that’s right, we let it out. What do you think is trapped?”
It’s on the tip of my tongue but I don’t want to say it because that would mean pain. “I… I don’t know, mistress.” It’s a lie and it’s not, I’m not letting myself know.
But she has no such mercy. Bending over and holding my gaze with hers, she says, “Screams and tears, dear. They’re trapped inside you, and we need to let them out.” And I know, yes, it’s going to mean pain, and she’s going to like it. And somehow I want to give her that, even though I’m no masochist.
She puts a finger under my chin. “Doing okay, so far, sweetie?”
I nod, shuddering with emotions I can’t name. “G… Green, mistress.”
“My good girl. Up you get, and come over to the wall.” I feel proud to be hers, and do as I’m told, as she grabs a couple of things from the bed. She continues, “I’m going to take three more things away from you. First up is knowing what’s coming.” She slips a blindfold over my eyes - and at the same time, closes down my gravity and life sense, suddenly I’m just alone in the dark. “The second is this” And a sort of long wide rubber coated stick thing goes between my teeth, pushing my mouth wide open, and gets strapped in behind. “Do you know what that does?”
It’s a gag and I try to reply but it comes out as incoherent noise. She says, “People think these take away your ability to make noise, but they don’t, they take away your humanity. Now you’re a thing that can feel and moan, but not speak. If you need to safeword, dear, stamp your feet, or use the mark. But I won’t let you pass any other words over the mark, you’re not a person right now, speech isn’t something you’re allowed.”
She presses me up against the stones of the wall, and lifts my arms, and I feel something click around my wrists - heavy and cold, they remind me of the exemplar cuffs we were playing with in escape class. Could I get out of them? In a hot second if I had tentacles. At present, no. “Third thing is your freedom of movement. Feel free to thrash against these, they’ve got a ten ton breaking force and I know that’s outside your range. Still okay, dear? Nod for yes, stamp for no.” I nod.
She comes close and wraps herself around me in a hug, her claw tips trailing against my belly, which suddenly feels soft and vulnerable, I start to feel fear. “My very good girl. Now I know all about you. I know you’re a level four exemplar, means a little light thrashing isn’t going to do a damn thing to you. And I know you’re a level six regenerator, there’s next to nothing I could do to you that will leave you with an injury that lasts longer than hours. I could cut your fingers off with garden shears and you’d be happily typing away at your laptop by morning.” Which is terrifying because she absolutely could, and it would hurt so much, but it wouldn’t even show an hour later. “Now, I don’t think we have to go that far, but I am going to hurt you for serious, dear, because you need it, and because I’m going to enjoy it. Remember to stamp if it becomes too much, but I want you to try and take it, for me, can you do that?”
I nod. I’m so afraid. But I want to give myself to her. The fear is for her. I feel water running down my cheek.
“Good girl, we found some tears. Now, let’s find those screams.” She steps away from me, my skin misses feeling hers, misses knowing where she is. I know she’s right there but she’s so far away.
Suddenly, ten lines of ripping pain down the length of my back, she’s left my enough life sense inside myself I can track the way her claws cut epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous fat, muscle, scratch deep gouges in bone. Blood vessels, torn open, spilling. Nerves, smashed and broken, firing. Pain hits me, and I’m thrashing and screaming, I can’t do anything else. Part of me can hear Erin’s gasp and Jet’s sucked in breath. I must get away, I must escape the pain, but I can’t. I can feel her close to me, her tongue in the cut, tasting the blood. Even as I feel the pain fading, cut sealing, some stubborn part of me refuses to stamp. Bones repairing, muscle flowing together, vessels, nerves reconnect, skin closes over even as the blood droplets are still running down over my naked skin. Pain stops, but the memory’s still ringing in my head, and I’m gasping.
“That was a good scream, let’s find some more. My good girl. You taste so good.” She’s breathing heavily too, and I can feel it, not sure whether it’s empathy or the mark, but she’s got this kind of predatory light in her. She’s enjoying this. She wants to hurt me. I do/don’t want her to hurt me, this me is suffering but what am I? If I’m hers, then the pain is hers to take.
Slash! Pause… slash! She’s timing it, giving a moment for one to start closing as she opens another. And I’m screaming, desperately thrashing to make it stop but she doesn’t stop, it’s making things go white, I’m outside myself and inside, I can see myself screaming, and at the same time I’m floating, in her hands, small, held and safe. Time is meaningless. I’m hers.
It stops. I don’t want to lose her touch, but she knows that, she moves up against me and hugs me, arms wrapped around me. I can hear her words, although they’re from a distance. “My good girl. You took that so well.” Tears are running down my cheeks with complete abandon, I’m sobbing and so grateful. “I’m going to give you a name dear, your name is Jules. My good girl, Jules.”
I have a name. I’m something. She sees me and named me. I shudder with gratitude and crying. She’s unclipping the restraints. Leading me slow step by step across the room, then her hands on my shoulders press me down into a kneel and I can hear the bed creak as she sits. “Come put your head in my lap dear. There’s a good girl.” She’s stroking my hair, and I make it curl around her fingers lovingly. “Jet, be a dear and run a bath please. Comfortably warm, but not hot. Erin, how are you doing?”
Erin’s responding as Sara takes the gag out of my mouth. It takes me a moment to parse her words. “I…I’m okay. She screamed so much and I wanted to help her, but I… kinda wanted you to do more, I was mad when you stopped, am I bad?”
Sara says, “No, sweetie, you’re a predator, same as me, we like it when prey screams, it’s normal to like it. When we play a game like this, we’re using that to bring joy and catharsis, but we’re enjoying ourselves too.”
Is what I’m feeling, joy? I suppose it is. I feel so protected. Snuggling against Sara, I’m as secure and loved as Junior is. She lifts off my blindfold and releases my senses, and I can feel the room, with the restraints I was dangling from already being reabsorbed into the stone wall, and the carpet where I was standing flagging up on my life sense as ‘blood, fresh’, although the floor is drinking that up. And Sara above me, licking the blood off her fingers, lazily. My gag might be off but I don’t have words. But I flood love at her through my eyes and the mark.
Jet says “Bath’s ready!” And Sara says “Come on dear, let’s get you cleaned off”, and she picks me up with tentacles and carries me into the en suite. I feel like I’m floating, held by her. And then she’s lowering me down into warm, relaxing water. She says, “This bath is the last part of the game, and when you step out of it, the game’s over, but you’re absolutely welcome to be as snuggly and clinging as you like, love.”
I’m sad, because it’s ending, and I’m crying again, but I get to say, “yes, mistress”, tasting those words for the last time tonight, while she’s gently washing me off. And she says “My good girl”, which brings another flood of tears.
Then she’s helping me out of the water, and I’m clinging to her as she towels me off, and we go back into the other room, and sit together on the bed, although I still can’t speak much, but I just snuggle against her and let everything wash over me. The others are talking about it, what we did together, but that’s their conversation not mine. I’m content to sit, and then to nibble when mistress… when Sara hands me a plastic wrapped pasty. And despite it being cafeteria-machine food, somehow it’s the most delicious thing on the planet.
Part sixty three
I end up squinched up on the bed so I can lie along the length of it with my head in Sara’s lap, and the other two can sit and pet me. Clothes feel like they’re the furthest thing from possible. Words are only slowly coming back to me. I’m happy to be loved and touched by everyone. I look up at Sara, who is the sun I turn around. “First”, I say. Trying to find words. “You… my first. Never. Never before subbed. Dom a little. Watch a lot. First time is yours… m..mistress. Sara.”
“Thank you, I shall treasure it. Tasty Jules. Want another cookie? I might be fattening you up, you know.” She is a huge tease and I love her.
“Pretty red fingers”, I say, remembering. “My red.” Nibbling the cookie.
“Yes, you were delicious”, she smirks. “I might want more, you know.” The cookie is delicious, too.
“Said before. No skin boundary. Want, take.”
She hisses breath through her teeth. “You miss, are scary tempting.”
“Good, tempt”, I giggle and kiss her.
Erin’s saying something, and it takes me a moment to figure it out. Somehow, people who aren’t mistress are harder to understand. “Was it really okay, did you… like it?” I understand how she can’t find words. But I understand what she meant.
I explain, “Hurt, horrible, pain, crying, no escape, was good. Give to mistress. Hers. She hurt, is love. She kiss, is love. Not make sense, make perfect sense. Is no me nowhere. Is her only, all her.” Gosh I’m garbling. But I think I was understood.
“Is it okay… that I liked it?” My heart goes out to her.
“Yes okay. Please enjoy. Mistress… Sara share with you. Scream also for you. Tasty.”
“Yes tasty… you’ve got me talking like you. I didn’t know that about myself.”
“Happy first time”, I’m giggling again.
I feel my emotions turn so suddenly it’s like a rush of shock. I’m shivering. Sara reaches down and picks up a blanket - I think the room just made it - and arranges it over me. It’s soft. Tears are coming and I can’t stop them. I try to speak but nothing comes out. She strokes my hair gently, and it helps. I was so afraid. It was so painful. How could I let myself do that? But I chose to. I won’t let go of that. I chose to place my everything in her hands, and she chose to give me that, and it did heal me, my head feels like she blew the cobwebs away and everything is shining. But also raw and completely unprotected, no skin boundary in more ways than one. I feel like her hand on my hair is touching my soul. But she’s so gentle. I love her so much. Oh gosh my emotions are spinning like a top. I giggle at myself.
“Let it come out, don’t try to hold it back, whatever it is, it’s okay”, she’s so kind, I feel like I don’t deserve it… and now I’m crying again. Who am I to be something to her? But she’s choosing to hold me. I can grab onto that when the rest of the world is spinning.
“M..mistress, thank you.” She is my life line.
“I’m Sara now, mistress was in the game. Thank you, love. You’re wonderful, do you know that?” I can feel her guiding me up to the surface. Am I wonderful? Who am I.
She gave me a name. She named me Jules. It feels like a new name, like it hardly fits. But even so, because she said it, I’m Jules. Bits of me are starting to come back. I almost want them not to, want to wallow in this emptiness filled only with her. But I know she isn’t going away. I know she will be there, so I can pull my pieces together, slowly, knowing her light won’t fade. She called me wonderful. Because she said it, it must be true. “I know it, because you said it”, I say, even though it took me ages to reply. “Did you know, I trust you, means I love you. Silly story about Martians taught me that. I trust you.” My words are coming back.
“I love you too, silly.” She is the best thing in my life.
Jet asks, sounding hesitant, “Can you do that, like that… for me? Some time. Not right now.”
Sara shakes her head. “Not until we break your curse. And then it will be up to you as Jade. You can’t feel pain, dear. I’m truly sorry.”
Jet’s “oh” is heartbreaking and I reach out a hand to her, and say “We’ll fix it. I’m sure. Not long.” She looks like she’s crying, although the black fabric she’s made of can’t show tears. But she squeezes my hand.
I say, “Watch when we play, perhaps it will help some.” Which implies we’ll play more. Ack. What checks is my mouth writing that my behind is going to have to cash?
She nods. “I think it did, thanks Jules.” Which means there’s no way I can’t, now, Jet and Jade, even though they’ve diverged, they’re like a cute sister I want to look after.
Sara’s smirk confirms she got that. Gah. Frustrating genius. Pretend to be dumber or something! I lean back in her lap and snuggle against her warmth. More pain, more joy. More getting broken apart and put back together. Well, I did sign up for weird.
I yawn. Suddenly, I’m so tired. Feels like I’m glued down, there’s no way I could get up. All of me aches, although it’s a good ache. I know I’m completely healed. But my whole body is reporting as depleted. Not lack of any one thing I could replace, just all my gauges at “plz rest”. And besides, I won’t tinker and fix this, I want to feel it, the whole roller coaster ride. What mistress… Sara… no, she’s still mistress, gave me, I want to take it all. Sara whispers something to Erin, that I don’t bother to track, and then I feel the room un-rotate, and Erin goes jogging off on some errand. A couple of curious heads peek in the door. Jamie and Paige.
“Hey you two”, I say from the bed, and Sara’s lap. “Don’t mind us.” Which makes them giggle, and me grin as they come in.
“So is this pet Jules day?” Jamie asks. Memory of claws cutting into me, and a snicker turns into a laugh and I can’t stop. Oh yes, Sara petted me. She was loving and gentle. I can still track the new growth in my back where she cut, although you couldn’t tell it apart to look at it. My bones remember her loving caress. Although, cruelly treated as they were, I think even they feel the way she became everything for us and surrounded us, and treasure the memory. My attention surfaces again, and Jet is telling Jamie what we did. I think Sara’s right, Jamie doesn’t have the nature to get it. What we did wasn’t sexual as kink play goes, but sexuality was… the frame. Some asexual people might still be into kink, but Jamie doesn’t even have that frame. Which is fine, not everyone has to be into what I’m into.
Paige, she gets it. And sees me, too, in a clear way I think Jamie maybe doesn’t. She says, “Jamie, look at her, look hard and see how she’s different from dinnertime.” And that breaks through.
Jamie says “Okay okay. I don’t get it, it sounds like a scene from a slasher movie, but I can see it worked. Welcome back to the land of the living, whatever crazy way they got you back, Jules, it’s good to see you back. You were a zombie, you know?”
“I was carrying stuff I didn’t need to be carrying”, I say. “And bottling up so much. But I’m back now, kinda sorta. I’m still putting my pieces back together.”
Sara says, “You’re going to be staying here tonight, so I can watch and be sure none of them comes back unstuck.”
“I need to be up early, six AM at Zenith’s room”, I protest. But Sara replies “I don’t sleep, love. I’ll wake you in time.” And that works.
Cue Erin, returning with pyjamas, two sets of. Hers and mine. Sara grins and claps and says, “alright! I officially declare this to be a pyjama sleepover. You three are overdressed, Jules you’re underdressed, chop chop, up you get.” Which makes me giggle, and, because it feels right, I put on my pyjamas the old fashioned way. Not especially caring if I flash the others in the process. They’ve seen it before. Sara understands the gesture, she gives me a headpat for well done, which makes me melt all over again. Gah, you’re going to leave me stuck in permanent subspace, silly Sara.
Out of curiosity, now I’m up, I pad over to the spot where my blood must have completely drenched the carpet. But it’s dry to a finger touch.
Jet says, “The room drank it.” She’s already shifted to look like pyjamas.
That gets a curious look from the others, so Jet explains how Sara was making blood run down me like water. Which gets a wince from Jamie, and a teeth-click sound from Paige. She looks a little surprised at herself for making the noise, but I think I know what that means. Erin does too, and she explains it. “Paige, you’re a predator. Your body knows that. I got a lesson in that tonight. You wish you’d been there to watch. Your teeth click, because it’s the body’s knowledge, a killing bite. Jules was prey, and it was magnificent. Next time, perhaps.” Oh hey, Erin knows there’ll be a next time, too. Doomed, I say, doomed.
Paige giggles seeing my face. “Next time. Yeah, perhaps. Maybe, if I have to have red memories, I can make some nice fun ones. You up for a rematch, Jules?”
“Not tonight, at the very least”, I say, giving up my struggle and letting myself grin. “But okay, I quit squirming on the hook, there will be a next time.”
“Ooh, hooks”, Sara is not one to miss a trick. My mouth. Seriously. I drop butt first to the floor, incapacitated by giggles. And she says to Paige, “Yes, I think next time, you can be here.” To which, yay. I will enjoy sharing with Paige.
My hands on the carpet remind me. “Hope you enjoyed to too, room”, I say. And I get the feeling it’s nuzzling against my fingers. Really, the room was part of our play too. I wonder if, from its way of feeling, it held me? I know it definitely got to taste me.
And the tiredness is back. Sara’s dragging out futons, and I gratefully grab one, and she pulls a duvet over me, and gives me a pillow, and then sits beside and strokes my hair as I let myself drift, trust and love and happiness and tiredness filling me, and fall sound asleep.
Part sixty four
Staying conscious through the soft fall from dreamless sleep to dreams has become a quiet joy in my new life. And it’s nice to watch the dreams form, I don’t just get dropped into them, I can watch them take shape.
One’s starting to form. An all-red sky, dark earth of cinders, black thorny tree, crows circling, with myself strapped naked to the tree by ribbons of starlight bound around my wrists… and a hand reaches in and sweeps it away half formed. “Too violent, sweetie, you need a rest.”
Playfully, I make an anti-violent world, multicoloured deep bouncy moss, a pastel sky full of glittering motes of life. And I land feet first in the moss, trampoline-bouncing head over heels. “There, better?”
A giggling Sara lands in the moss beside me with a whoomph. “Much better. Much as I’d enjoy a good bloody sacrifice dream, we can save that for when you aren’t getting your brain cleaned out and polished.”
“I was gonna do that then?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, heart cut out and everything. Honestly, I thought it was very sweet and beautifully aesthetic, but I’m busy healing you and it wasn’t helping.”
“No skin boundary” I tease.
“Yeah, you were gonna say that there too.” She rolls over so she’s able to lie on top of me and play fingers over my bare skin. “Are you really so eager to have me poke around in your insides?”
“I’m curious”, I admit. “I know you can go in without doing harm, I don’t even have to bend my no-being-callous rule for you, although I totally would. But I wonder if people have inside erogenous zones that nobody ever finds?”
She looks curious at that. “That is such an intriguing idea. I’m actually tempted to try that. After your interview perhaps?”
“After that, I’ve got trying out my lightsaber”, I say. “You might like to come watch, it should be nifty. But after that perhaps?”
She smiles. “It’s a date”.
And then we spend awhile just having awesome fun bouncing on the moss. I wonder if I can find a way to copy this over to the real world? Because being able to bounce and feel completely safe is a lovely thing.
I wake slowly to teasing touches, herself squatted down beside me where I’m lying on the futon. “Wakey wakey beloved. Time to up and wow them.” I haven’t really had enough sleep, but I set a few threads off to deep-sleep with the REM switched off, and manually flush the fatigue toxins. Sit up, rubbing my eyes.
“Hey love”, I say. “Thank you so much. Whee. That was the best memory in my life, I think.”
We step among the snoring futons, and I grab my folded clothes from yesterday, I’m almost loath to unfold them. Sara, mind-reader, says “Silly, yes you may”, and that part of my mind rejoices in being given permission like that. So I get dressed.
“You know”, I say quietly, “I think that a part of me hasn’t stopped playing the game. Here I am, wanting your permission for little things, and feeling like whatever gives you happiness is what I should be doing.”
She nods. “It’s normal. Just ride it and indulge it. I’ll try to be around a lot today, although there’s bits you’ll have to do solo. But you can reach me over the mark any time, any place. Don’t feel bad for needing me.”
“Yes, mistress”, I tease. Which gets me kissed and called naughty. Mixed messages!
Alright, ready to go. Sara ruffles my hair. “You should be okay, there’s nobody about at this hour of the morning, but if you get jumped and hassled, I’m giving you advance permission to use necessary force.”
“Yes… Sara.” Barely caught it, but my efforts get me a pat on the head and called a good girl, so I’m beaming as I walk down the tunnel towards Poe. Whee. I really am reacting differently from normal. But if it comes with this euphoria, I can handle that.
She’s right that the tunnels are empty but I’m guessing I tripped a ward or something because when I reach Poe, I run straight into Mrs Horton, pretty unsubtly camping my spawn point. Should I have direct-jumped? Nah, if she’s determined to confront me, she’d have that covered too. “Morning, Mrs Horton.” Might as well start off politely.
“Oh, you do still live here?” I guess she doesn’t feel inclined to be polite. “Because I couldn’t tell, given how often you are in your room overnight. After curfew, and lights-out.”
“I was in Sara’s room”, I say. “We had a sleepover.”
“Perhaps you mean an orgy?”
“No, that was before the sleepover”, use sarcasm on me, get sarcasm back.
“Young lady, the Head has asked me to investigate a rumour.” Oh yikes. I guess we flustered the Head enough that she forgot to rescind that particular command.
“Let me guess, the one where I’m pregnant?” I’m not in the mood, I really am not.
“Indeed. Well, are you?”
“Not in this body and not in this school”, I say, because given how many beans I’m about to spill, I just can’t be bothered to spin a lie. “And the Head knows the whole story directly from me, so I suggest you raise it with her.”
She sighs. And her worry shows through her sarcastic front. “Dear, who with? If it’s that demon girl…”
“I am a demon girl, imprecisely put, so please don’t be speciesist, and no. Not with Sara. Not with any other student in this school.”
“With an outsider?”
“Neither that. I’ll leave the deduction to you, Mrs Horton. I have a radio interview I need to prepare for.”
She looks confused, and sighs. “I worry for you, dear.”
“So please don’t drop burdens on me”, I say. “I’m carrying enough of them. Apologies, I need to go, or I’ll be late.”
She nods, looking subdued.
Given it’s less than a minute to six, I have to fly myself up, thankfully I’m getting much better at that. And I touch down on the carpet outside Zenith’s door at 06:00 precise.
She opens the door without me having to knock. And looks a little startled to see me. Like me, she’s in casual clothes, it looks like she’s the tracksuit type.
I say, “Morning, were you thinking I was gonna stand you up?”
“Hoping”, she says, sounding resigned. “If you couldn’t follow instructions, I’d have an excuse to turn you down. Come on, follow me, I don’t want to wake Shrike. Even if she is your biggest fan.”
“Do you dislike me that much?” I say, because it does hurt.
“I’m afraid of you”, she says as we walk downstairs. “I was afraid when it was just you spinning a yarn, and I’m doubly afraid, now the Head comes out and tells me this damn-fool interview is a go, on her authority, because she believes you.”
“I’m mostly nice”, I promise.
“I can be snappish if pushed and I get outright unfriendly when people kidnap my friends.”
“Yeah, I can see why that wouldn’t leave you in the best of moods”, she admits. We’re headed for the ground level door, rather than the tunnels.
“Going overland?” I ask.
“I normally go for a run over to Kane. Will you be okay, pacing me?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem if we stay on the cleared paths”, I say. My sneakers aren’t suited to deep snow, and I’ll trash the toes on them if I have to extend claws to grip. They’re a copy, of course, but something in me revolts against tearing stuff up.
She hesitates. “Caitlin told me you applied to join the Hooligans. I normally mix in a bit of free-running.”
I consider that. I could wear my stompy boots, but honestly, if push comes to shove I’d rather have the option of popping claws, and those things would stop me. “I’ll be right behind you.”
We set off. It’s chilly out, but I’ve set up an automatic control loop for that, and my heat generation and sugar creation goes up automatically. Oddly, one of the downsides of my exemplar rating is that I can’t get warm just by jogging at anything like road-legal speeds. Against the strength of my muscles now, my body feels like it has the mass of a cardboard cut-out, it’s just not work. Cape-world problems?
I can see why she said free-running rather than parkour. She makes a point of going up and over every obstacle she can find. Me, I play by following in her footsteps - her exact footsteps. I’m mostly being silly, but it sort of is a way to get to know her better. I admit, it bothers me that I scared her. Mentally, I’m bopping myself on the head. Next time, doofus, don’t boast. Maybe with better understanding, I can rebuild bridges?
We reach Kane, she goes up the stairs handrail, and reaches for the door, frowning a little when it’s already unlocked. Racing against the gadget? Me, I can’t stay locked in her track any more, so I take the whole staircase with a single measured step that takes me to the top and into my next step. She goes in, I follow. And she turns off to a side, into a room where I find someone I didn’t expect to see until later - Caitlin, looking at monitors. Screens that show the path on which we just ran.
“So?”, asks Zenith, “Is she in?”
If you’re having a sinking feeling at this point, you aren’t alone. Caitlin sighs. “Lemme show you a thing.” She keys some commands and brings up a view on the big monitor. It’s the bus stop. Zenith jumps onto the big bin, jumps again onto the roof, and jumps off into a roll. A moment later, I follow her. “See it? No, I suppose you don’t. Here, let me composite it.” She tweaks something, and a blurred after-image of Zenith walks backwards until it’s overlaid on me, then she winds the whole thing back… we leap on the bin, catch the roof, leap off, land. As precisely overlaid as if it was two renders of the same CGI scene with a different avatar. Pausing and enlarging where we land, our hands touching the same place on the snow before the roll, Caitlin says, “She landed in your fingerprints, Zoe. Kid, I wager, you landed the whorls aligned?”
“Couldn’t, her prints are different”, I admit. Yes I was being playful, but eep.
“I saw precisely one move that was her own. This last.” She stops the compositing, switches the view, rolls forwards, I step up the stairs into Kane. “One step, no hesitation, no imprecision. And, roll back the landing, here we go, slow, She’s got exactly enough momentum to carry her center of balance over the cantilever toe and into the next flat ground step. Measured to the microgram.” She sighs and looks at me. “Kid, parkour is not for you, or perhaps, you’re not for parkour. You can do the moves, you can play by running, maybe you can even join in our runs sometime, but the element of exploration, uncertainty, adaptation in the face of danger… it just doesn’t exist for you. You move like it’s math.”
For me it is math. She’s right, but it feels like the rug got pulled from under me, and I’m crying. I shouldn’t be crying. This is just a small loss. Damn it.
“Here, don’t cry, hold up, have a tissue.” Caitlin’s not mad at me, but she’s a true judge. I sniffle into the tissue.
Worst thing is, I think I might have driven me and Zoe further apart.
Do. Not. Boast.
Part sixty five
“Love, what is it?” Sara’s sensing my distress through the mark. “Lock to me and speed up your timebase.” So I do that, outside slows to a near-halt, and she brings the dream-room with her so we can have someplace to sit together. I’m bawling tears and she hugs me and holds me. “Show me what happened, dear.”
So I play back the disastrous run. When we get to the end, I say through tears, “I was wanting to do parkour. My old life, I couldn’t, and when I got here, I thought now I could. But she’s right, it’s not possible. It just isn’t.”
Sara leans back on the bed and sighs. “You can and you can’t. Love, you should have faced this crisis sooner, I’m sorry I didn’t spot it. I think, perhaps each time you just blamed yourself, like you’re doing now. But you mustn’t, sweetie, you did nothing wrong.” She emphasizes her words with a push of certainty that helps calm and heal my feeling of wanting to slap myself. “Nothing at all. You were playful. You wanted to find empathy with Zenith, in a non-intrusive way. You enjoyed exercising your skill of movement. You did nothing wrong.”
I snuggle up against her, “Then I’m just confused.”
“You can recognise the confusion, rather than burying it in rationalization, that’s an important step”, she says. “Sweetheart, the answer is a secret that every kid with powers has to learn in their own way. When you gain, you lose. Become more than human, and some of what was human slips away.” She pauses, I can feel her searching my memories, then lighting on something, she brings up a TV screen, and it’s showing a scene from the movie Aliens. A bunch of macho marines are joking, and one of them wants the android to do a trick with a knife and his fingers. Then the macho guy is tricked and trapped into being the one with fingers down, the android’s hand goes over-top his and the knife starts to move, stab-stab-stabbing into the table top while he yells in fear. But it’s obvious he’s in no danger, even as the android’s knife moves too fast to follow. She stops the scene there.
“Love, when one of those marines plays that game, it’s a game. They’re wagering their skill against giving themselves a painful injury. But can that android, Bishop, play the game?”
It hits me. “No. No he can’t. He knows where he’s putting the knife. For him, it isn’t a game, is it?”
She nods. “It’s a demonstration, it’s a fake-out, it’s deliberately playing up his inhumanity, he might have any dozen reasons. But it can never be a game to him. Love, did you ever wonder why I don’t run with them? It’s not as if I don’t enjoy a run or an obstacle course, but the game of parkour isn’t a game to me, same way jump rope wouldn’t be, or that knife game. Nor you, now. You could move that knife as fast as Bishop did, and as precisely. Parkour is for humans, and you aren’t.”
I snuggle up to her again, and cry. It’s a bitter kind of loss, and I hadn’t been expecting it. But she’s right, I was blaming myself and I need to stop. She strokes my hair until the tears dry.
“I’m a silly”, I say.
“My silly”, she agrees. “Let go of that rule you just tried to push yourself into taking. You can tell the difference between bragging and playing. Don’t brag, that’s a good rule. Don’t be playful, isn’t. You’d stifle yourself horribly. Let it loose.”
“Yes Sara.” Feeling like I want to obey her helps.
“Okay dear, timebase back to normal. I’ll be here.”
And I’m back in the room.
Caitlin’s looking at me. “Something just happened, there. Your attention went weird, your eyes were flickering, your whole attitude changed in an instant.”
So I explain what Sara just taught me. And after being amused at the method of delivery, she nods. “Yeah, she’s right. There’s things like that for all of us here. Don’t let it put you off playing. I’ll happily teach you any of the moves you don’t know, or Zoe will”, a glance at Zenith that meets temporary resistance, and then resignation and agreement. “Come play along with us if you like. Just because you can do it precisely, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.”
Zenith says, “And I apologise, I sprang that on you, not quite a trick, but a pop quiz that nobody asked your consent for. I didn’t realise it would hit you so hard.”
“Forgiven”, I say. And maybe, there’s a bridge between us again. “We should plan the interview.”
She nods. “Yeah, we should. Sorry Caitlin, gotta run.”
Caitlin chuckled. “Get along with you. And see you after, kid, I haven’t forgotten.” I grin, because my lightsaber is going to be fun.
The room we settle in is next to the radio studio itself, and we can hear the music and chatter.
“So what do you need to get across?”
I take a moment to organize my thoughts. “Okay so. Rough topic headings. Each lays the foundation for the next… What I am. The problem I saw. What I did to fix it. The change affects all life. The change affects humanity too. How it affects humans is uncertain, but we have pointers. List off the kinds of effects it seems to have. People near me are getting affected faster. Explain the resonance theory. Even being far away from me won’t stop the changes, but the rate is unknown. We should welcome the changes.”
She notes them down. “Good, you didn’t touch on any of the Head’s no-go topics.”
“What are those?” I ask curiously.
“She doesn’t want you mentioning the great old one war. Which sounds ominous as hell and gagging you about it is worse.”
I wince. “Yeah, but I can see her point, high risk of causing mass irrationality there. There is a war, and we’re on humanity’s side, me, Sara, a few others. I kinda mentioned it in passing when we talked before. What I did was basically the first major break our side has had in the war. Up until then, it was more like digging heels in and trying to be dragged slower. If I named names, it would terrify and panic a lot of people, it might even generate support for the enemy. It sure would invigorate his cult. And a lot of his puppets would be inclined to lash out against me, Sara, the school. Messy, and best avoided.”
She winces. “Hoo boy.”
“If you think hearing it is fun, try being the one fighting it”, I say.
“Okay, setting that waking nightmare aside. She also said, no advertising your conference. That being the one you’re planning to cement this stuff in the public imagination?”
“Mostly Sara’s planning it, because it’s her religion, she knows the people”, I say. “But yeah. I guess the Head doesn’t want the school radio station picking religious sides, especially not with a fringe, hippie sex cult. Fringe for now, that is.”
“Heh. Next, no telling people what their values should be, coming out of this. Tell them the changes they can expect. Not how to react to them.”
“I’m going to be making the case that they’re good. I don’t think that’s telling people what to feel or believe, just sticking up for what I believe.”
She nods. “Works for me. Last, nothing about the pregnancy. Yours?”
“I’m hardly going to tell the whole school about that”, I say. “It’s none of their business and would be no interest except as gossip. But yes, mine. And no, not this body.”
She looks at me. “You’re way the hell young for that, you know?”
“I’ve got an income, a roof over my head, friends and family, I can give her complete and constant attention, I won’t miss a day of school.”
She just shakes her head. “Yeah, but it still feels wrong.”
“Out of the interview’s scope, anyhow. You can leave that to Peeper. I bet he comes and chases me about it.”
She chuckles. “He wants to, I’ll bet, if there’s a rumour he has wind of. But he’s a bit terrified of you. And his show’s off the air anyhow until Greasy gets out of Doyle.”
“I don’t know why he’s afraid of me, I don’t even mind him. He’s at least honestly lecherous”, I say.
She looks at me curiously, head tilted. “I suppose you really are one hundred percent lesbian, if it never even occurred to you. Idiot, he likes you. Most of the girls here treat him like dirt. They don’t listen to him, they won’t give him the time of day, they tell him to fuck off when he shoves a mike in their faces. When he acts lecherous, they’re disgusted. He’s used to that, he uses their squeamishness as leverage to make them talk, but it’s revenge. He knows they don’t want him and he’s paying them back, but in the end it’s a lonely life. You, you talked to him, treated him like a human, didn’t care when he went lecherous places, went some of your own. You told him you’re off the menu, but it’s not personal to him. He thinks he admires you, but I’d lay odds he has an enormous crush. Don’t break his heart, hmm? He’s a selfish, sociopathic ass, but I have to work with him.”
Oh, oh dear. “Aww man, my heart goes out to him, but I can see how that goes and I won’t pity him, that wouldn’t be dignified. But I might give him more interviews.”
She shakes her head. “You’re gonna have him following you like a puppy dog, damn. Poor Greasy.”
I’m confused. “Why poor him?”
“You haven’t seen them together yet, have you? Greasy has a one way thing for him. Peeper has no clue. Greasy won’t tell him. He doesn’t expect it to be requited, ever, I think. He’s made his peace with that.”
I shake my head at the craziness of fate. “It’s like something out of Shakespeare. A love triangle with me at the point and I don’t even know. Well, I suppose I know now. I’ll try and be gentle with them.”
She looks at me thoughtfully. “You’ve got a soft heart, and I can respect that. This whole business”, she gestures at the notes, “You did it for us, didn’t you? You don’t get a damn thing out of it except strife. And there was me being afraid of you.”
“For all life, for humans, but also for me. You know, I have to live in the world. It matters to me to make it kinder and gentler. I won’t die, you know? Not just regen six, but I can make fresh bodies, at some level I exist outside time. I’ll outlive geology, let alone people. Can you imagine thousands and thousands of years of heartbreak? Because I have a good imagination.”
I guess that gets through. “Damn. I guess you really do have a different perspective on things. That’s pretty horrifying. I can’t imagine being so much longer lived than everyone I’ll ever meet.”
“I suspect there’s a few long-lifers, and we’ll get to meet each other by the by, and become either friends or frenemies. But humans aren’t ephemeral to me, it just reminds me to focus in the now and not let the chances slip by. But because of what I did, I can look forward to things becoming brighter, it won’t be made worse by seeing it all get shredded slowly apart by the winds of entropy. That was why I did it, I wanted an answer to that despair.”
She nods. “I think I’m finally starting to get that.”
Part sixty six
13th January, 2007, WARS studio, base of Kane Hall observatory tower
“Good morning, it’s nine in the AM on W. A. R. S. this Saturday and I’m Zenith picking up the mike for the Voice of Reason, the show that thinks before it speaks. On today’s show we have a special guest, by invitation from the headmistress herself, please say hello, Miss Parallel.”
“Hello everyone! Those of you I haven’t met yet, nice to meet you, if one sidedly. Those I have, hi again!”
“Friendly sort, aren’t you? So, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself. In an earlier interview, you said you were a demon?”
“Well, I didn’t know the right terminology back then, so that’s a little imprecise. What I actually am is a thing with the slightly embarrassing name of Great Old One. We tend to use the acronym GOO, because it’s a little less embarrassing. And because while a lot of my kind are indeed very old, I’m very new. Last Sunday, I was still more human than not.”
“And that changed on Monday?”
“Monday evening, yeah. I hatched.”
“That’s a suspicious coincidence given all the stuff that happened then. Not just here, but it was all over the news globally.”
“No coincidence, that was me.”
“Seriously? You affected things on the other side of the planet?”
“Way further than that. But I’ve got to step back a bit to explain what and why.”
“Okay, so where would you like to start?”
“With lineage. So, there’s more than one kind of GOO. Some of them are just outsiders to this universe, but some were sparked by the personified powers of this universe. The Kellith, who sparked me, was sparked herself by the life power. So life, as a theme, runs through to me, and I took to the study of life as we GOOs understand it with ease and enjoyment. But my enjoyment was dampened once I understood how the fundamental laws of metaphysics of life were arranged. This has always been knowledge restricted away from the public, because it tended to drive those who understood it mad with despair. The rules of life were amoral, loveless, they would eventually shatter down any beauty into mere eating and growing and reproducing. Everything of value was certain to be lost.”
“That’s… horrible, terrifying.”
“I agree. But I realised I had an opportunity to act. Just one, the moment when I hatched. What that meant was becoming something that was a stark metaphysical fact, and I could choose what kind of fact. I could forcibly insert myself as a new corollary to the laws of life. I could change the rules, rewrite the universe at a really fundamental level, and make goodness and beauty win, rather than lose.”
“I thought you just did the flowers and stuff, but that sounds way, way bigger.”
“The flowers, butterflies, glowing tides, all that stuff, they were just the smallest bit of the change I’d made, flashing over into immediate life. The change itself… it happened everywhere, instantaneously, and even retroactively. But the universe doesn’t turn on a dime, so it’s still working its way out. And it’s not just the new species, it’s affecting every existing species. And here’s where we get back to what I need to tell you about, because it’s affecting humanity too.”
“I mean, given what you said, it sounds like it’ll be a good effect?”
“What I did, it’s actually one single thing, one concept, but it’s a big concept and you have to have a certain shape of mind to think it, it definitely doesn’t go into one English word. But if was to try and describe it in English, that would go something like this: a fractal tropism at every level, towards beneficial mutualism and complex beauty. It’s a very low-level concept, because it applies to stuff that’s smaller than a cell, all the way up. In humanity, it applies in many layers. Our cells. Our organs and bodies. Our unconscious brain processing. Our conscious minds. Our identities. Our beliefs and ideas. Our societies. All of those levels are adjusting, changing, driven by that same one thing. It is good, yes. It’s going to bring a genuinely better world.”
“Changing, you say, changing how fast? And what are the changes?”
“Well, taking the speed thing first, I don’t know is the answer. We won’t know, until we’ve had time to see how the trends in sociological indicators change, and how fast. But there’s a twist to the speed thing that might let me answer your other question, if only tentatively.”
“Yeah. So. Me as I am now, I embody that one concept, in a really fundamental way, me and that change I made are one and the same thing. And so we come to why I have to tell the school, and why I can know a bit about where we’re all going. You see, being near me pulls people into resonance with me. And that means, they are pulled towards the new normal, much faster than the rest of the world.”
“So wait, I’m in the same room as you, I’m being pulled?”
“You are. Even being around me in the school, perhaps in the whole state, you’re being pulled. The longer you’re close to me, the more the effect. The nearer, the more the effect. And if I were to bring my less human GOO self forward, I call her ‘big me’, then you’d be pulled even harder.”
“Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t do that.”
“Aww, you’d like her, she’s a sweetie-pie as huge and alien intellects go. But what this means is, my closest friends who I spend a lot of time with are further along the change than the rest of humanity, and so are some people who’ve been in close contact with big me, and we can make some guesses already from how they’ve been affected. Bearing in mind though, it’s both a very unrepresentative sample, and a very small N.”
“Those are important caveats, so, I guess we can’t take this as more than guidelines?”
“Yeah. The universe changed less than a week ago, data is still thin on the ground.”
“So why don’t you tell me what you’ve seen, with those caveats taken as read.”
“The first one is it’s clearly amplifying love. All the kinds of love. Although it seems to start from what’s already there. Sexual people get more sexual. Asexual people don’t, but they do get more snuggly. Polyamorous people find it easier to widen their net. Exclusive people find it easier to accept polyamory in others. Without seeing evidence yet, I’d lay strong odds it will make parents love their children more, and children be more snuggly and loving back. Second one, which ties in with that, is that it seems to release taboos. Sexual people don’t just get more sexual, they get more easygoing about where, how, with who. And so forth.”
“I can see that one having a mixed reception. Are you implying we’re all going to turn into sluts?”
“I wouldn’t use that word, it has a lot of unkind judgement built into it. But if I had to answer you in one word, yes. But the actual answer is more complex. I’ve seen evidence of much easier, what you might call slutty sexuality among those who are already in love. But we also see that my friends, and some others who have been affected, aren’t making unusual sexual approaches towards those they aren’t already intimate with. This seems to fit the pattern of amplifying what was already there. Think of it like oxytocin, the chemical they call the hug hormone, that makes you feel loving and caring towards those you consider your in-group, while not making you dive into a hug with a stranger.”
“Still, isn’t that going to lead to a lot of exploitative behaviour?”
“I don’t have much data there, because my friends are already very caring people. But my feeling is that it’s going to make people care much more about consent, rather than less. Beneficial mutualism, remember. Towards benefit, implies away from exploitation. And that interacts with the taboo weakening. We’ve seen that some of my friends who used to have blanket negative attitudes about for example, incestuous relationships, decide that consent matters more than the taboo, and the presence of consent justifies the relationship. Implying absence would condemn it.”
“Well, folks, there you have it. What Miss Parallel did, is going to change the world in strange ways that not everyone will approve of. And it’s going to change us, here, faster than the outside world, because she’s here among us. She felt, and the Headmistress concurs, that you all needed to be told immediately as soon as this was discovered, that this shouldn’t be hidden away or handed to you later as a fait accompli. But Miss Parallel also feels that what she did was necessary, and that once we’re out on the other side it’ll be a nicer world. Perhaps one with less bigotry and division. Certainly a more loving and kind world. And after hearing her explain it, I find I agree, and it seems the Headmistress does too. Alright, now I’m going to open the lines to callers, so we can take questions. Hi, caller, can you tell me your name or codename, where you’re from, and then ask your question?”
“Hi Zenith. I’m Isaiah Collins, from Berlin New Hampshire. I’ve got two questions for Miss Parallel. First, by whose authority did she make such a vast and sweeping alteration. Second, how does she square it with the laws of God, that do not change?”
“Mister Collins, hello. The answer to your first question is simply that I did it myself. I saw the danger and the need, and I took action. There was no time for debate, because I didn’t have a choice about when I was going to hatch, or more than an hour of warning. The window of opportunity was only open that one instant, late on Monday afternoon. I chose to take it. As for your second question, I will simply indicate the many, many religious interpretations of the same scripture, and the many entirely different religions. Even as human nature changes, people will continue to make choices for themselves with their free will.”
Well Miss Parallel, May God have mercy on you is all I can say."
“Thank you Isaiah Collins of Berlin. Next caller, hello.”
“Hi Zenith, this Jadis Diabolik, from Whateley. Miss Parallel, we haven’t met on campus yet. I have to ask, what if we don’t want to become sluts? Because I don’t personally fancy that idea.”
“Hi Jadis, I hope I’ll meet you around. My feeling is that the changes will amplify the kinds of love that are already prominent in your nature, and reduce taboos that get in its way. If you are either not sexual, or very private about it, that probably won’t change. Those of my friends who are asexual, still are. But because they were already people willing to hug and be intimate that way, their willingness to snuggle has been amplified. If your way of expressing love is friendship, my guess is your friendships will deepen. If your way of expressing love is reading books, your love of literature will deepen. I don’t think this change will break down barriers that express who you are. Only ones that impede who you are.”
“Thank you, Miss Parallel. I hope you’re correct, that certainly does put a better spin on things.”
“And thank you Jadis Diabolik of Whateley. Next caller, hello?”
Part sixty seven
The reaction we got from callers was pretty mixed. Quite a few called up to berate me. Some thanked me, which was sweet. One asked how she could make the changes go faster. I told her to come meet me and I could do that. One declined to give a name and said he was afraid of what his family would do if he started acting true to his nature. That was heartbreaking. I apologized for the risk, since it’s likely bigotry will go down, but not instantly, and some people will be caught in the intersection. And I asked all the listeners to please help and support the people they knew who might be in trouble like that. At that point, Zenith called time on the call-in.
When I finally get out of that studio, Caitlin’s waiting for me outside, looks like she’s been listening in. “Welcome back kid. Worn your voice out yet?”
I rub my throat. “Feels like I regenerated it about three times. You were waiting?”
“I was listening in, and then yeah, I decided to wait up and walk with you, in case we get an unfriendly reception. Some of those folks sounded pissed.”
I grin. “It’s appreciated. Yeah, my favourite was the you’re encouraging homosexuality guy. No shit I am, genius.” I run fingers through my hair, feeling drained. “Let’s stop off some place that has coffee before we hit the testing range. At least that responsibility is out of my hair.”
“Got a brewer down at the range. Stuff doesn’t work on me, but the taste reminds me of better times.”
We head off together into Kane proper, aiming for the tunnels. As we walk, she says, “You felt it was a responsibility, huh?”
“What I did on Monday, was all instinct, panic, and high level GOO concepts”, I explain. “I was caught between a rock and a hard place, faced with a one-off opportunity, I took it. What it would do exactly, fuck knew. Initially I only saw the flowers and the effects on me. Took time to figure influence might be a thing, then get it confirmed at ARC, then I was talking through my suspicions with the Kimbas and Fey’s rider cracked the mechanism. At that point… there was no way I couldn’t own up and tell people. First off, I did a thing to them and I owe them that. Second, it’s going to get blindingly obvious, here and globally. It would be nice if people saw it as something I warned them about, rather than something I kept under my hat until they didn’t have a choice how to react. Also being able to live with myself is useful.”
She chuckles at that. “On balance I feel you made a good choice. Even if it is gonna make your life interesting. The being able to live with yourself thing, that’s important.”
We’re approaching the range, and Sara’s leaning against the entrance looking lovable. As we reach the door I nuzzle into her and hug, and she fuzzes my hair.
“Come to watch, huh?” Caitlin smiles. “Alright, but make sure your lovey-dovey ass follows range directions, for all I know this widget’s gonna go up like a firecracker.”
“Liar”, I say amused. “You know full well it’s going to work.”
“Rules are based on the worst case, not the expected case. Okay, I’ll go put the coffee on, you go strap your widget into that cradle. I presume you can activate it remotely?”
“Messy answer. It’s part of me, in a fundamental way it is me. It’s no more remote to me than my own nose.” I put it in the cradle and come back behind the transparent shield.
She returns from putting the coffee machine on, it burbles happily. “Next time just say yes. Okay fire her up, minimum power, just enough I can get readings.”
I do so, and with a quiet buzz, a speck of purple appears at the emitter end. “I should be able to scale it all the way up. Max power will give a blade about meter long. Overpower will trip a fuse. That shouldn’t be possible, but it’s a precaution. I can make more of them extremely cheaply, so we can try that if you’d like.”
She nods. “Good news is, I’m getting no gamma, next to no UV. Thermal emissions only on the vanes. Very tame little antimatter reactor you have there.”
“Helps to be putting the antimatter in there myself, and not having to store or pipe it around”, I agree. Sara’s stood behind me watching with her arms around me, it’s ridiculously comforting.
“Okay, run her up to half power.” The spark turns into a hissing dagger of slightly painful to look at purple. Unlike the movie version’s gentle hum, this sounds like what it is - ravening, star-hot plasma in a bottle.
“Still good. Full power.” The blade is longer than my outstretched arm, a line of stark purple slightly diffused by the field around it into a broader purple blur. It hisses like an welding torch.
“Passes on emissions. Good work. Coffee should be done brewing, let’s get some, now comes the long boring bit.”
And then we get down to the painstaking process of gradually testing the blade on various substances, each of which presents an escalating level of gotcha for a potentially misdesigned blade. Do electrical conductors short out the blade? Nope. Does it blast a thin mild steel sheet into a roomful of hot vapour and sparks? Again nope. (“You would not believe how many sabers fail that one”, Caitlin says.) Meantime I’m snuggling against Sara, which Caitlin is resolutely ignoring.
Over on the other side, in Gothmog’s place, we’re up and doing - well, more like studying, trying to figure out how to make soul-level comms links. That’s still a worthy project, even if it did have to get paused for a night.
A note appears on the library table, Gothmog’s handwriting. “You have an unexpected guest”. Oho. And indeed, who comes padding into the library area but Paige, on her own. Of course we get up and give her a double hug.
“Hey cutie, what brought you over here?”, I ask.
“Wanted to find out if I could”, she says. “You and Sara can just go to and fro, I wasn’t sure if I could. Turns out yes.”
“You’re family, silly, of course you can”, I say.
She nods. “I was worrying about how I would escape if there was a raid on the school or something. They know about me, there’s no way they won’t come for me, one way or the other.”
“And Petra”, I say. “If they saw you, they can pretty easily put a name to a face in the school records, and then you have a twin registered, and they can point a telephoto camera at her. Not to mention Jo, they can match her pic to her old records, she doesn’t look different.”
She winces. “Damn, I hadn’t thought about her in that way, but you’re right.”
“We need to get all the people together. Your family, the Head, the church. Perhaps even Ms Hartford, she feels involved. And then decide what to do about it. And soon, really.”
She sighs and snuggles against me. “My life is never going to be quiet, is it?”
“Maybe not quiet, but you’re no longer alone”, I say. “You’ve got a pretty powerful posse. The Head will definitely go to bat for you. Me and Sara. The weres. Probably the church. Ms Hartford likely isn’t feeling too benevolent towards a government that snipes at the students. And you have a bolthole here that I don’t believe they can keep you out of. Plus, this”, and I wave at my notes.
“What is it?” She looks, winces. “You know that R’Lyehian stuff makes my head spin. I get too much translation and none of it makes sense.”
“Comms, at the soul level. One to one or groups. Able to be passed on to a consenting party. Able, also, to be used to lifeboat a soul from a dying body, if they’re in group with me or Sara, possibly with Billie. Sympathetic link, you know? Our secret weapon initially, later, a way to bring all the humans closer together and weaken the control of bureaucracies. And I’ve wondered too, if we can use it to route IP.”
Paige gets it instantly. “Internet they can’t disconnect, no matter how much rock they bury me under. Direct wire-to-soul, zero latency, no messing. Shit Jules, you’ll make me into something like a god.”
“It’s fun, we have cookies”, I tease, which makes her snicker. “Yeah, if I can be, why not you too?”
She looks down at her feet for a moment. “It’s hard to believe I’m worth so much effort. But I can only accept it. Thank you. I’m in, how can I help?”
“Well”, I say, “We kind of need a lab rat.”
“Me and my mouth.” Which makes us all giggle. “Still in. Do your worst, doctor Jules.”
“Cool, let’s try this…”
Over on the other side, I’m the owner of a certified, Whateley legal lightsaber. Passed all its tests with flying colours. Classified as a live blade and a lethal weapon, casually drilling through the ceramic plates they use in the security suits here will do that. It deflects bullets and plasma bolts as expected. Useless against lasers, also as expected. We tested it with one of the other sabers from the armoury, and it was able to block and bind the blade, so I can do fencing moves. All basically as expected, it was big me’s design at least partly, it’s implausible it would fail. But going through the motions is important.
Speaking of which… “So Caitlin, can I try out some other stuff I wanted to test, while we’re here?”
“What other stuff?” She looks suspicious, like I’m about to spring a new gadget on her.
“Powers stuff. Bullet blocking.”
She tips her head to a side. “What powers exactly?”
“Firstly my gravity sense and fast mind, I should be able to track projectiles in real time if they’re fairly close to me, and this range is all inside that zone. Second, I’ve got two powers I want to try against them. One is these compressed-space refractive shields.” I make one appear above my hand, and she peers at it. “We tried them at ARC and they block damn near everything, but that was before I got good with g-sense. Now I should be able to deploy them reactively. And the second is using a temporary, small gravity well to drag them to a stop.”
“Want to be Neo, huh? I’ve seen warpers do that, but only as a party trick. Bullets are hard to follow. Even a speedster can miss one in the visual noise, or because they were looking the wrong way.”
“It’s a full-sphere sense, depth and mass centric, no visual noise. We can try it shooting down range.”
“Hell yeah, we’ll try it shooting down range first, even if you have backup bodies, killing you is not on my to do list for today”, she’s amused. “Well, I don’t see why we can’t. It sounds like only bullets, not plasma or lasers?”
“I can reflect those, but I can’t track anything that doesn’t have mass, except visually”, I confirm. “And with lasers, only after the fact.”
“Not much use, if there’s a hole burned in you.”
“You’d be surprised. If I have a grid of me up, I should be able to learn the duty cycle and firing precursor signals, and slap a mirror in front when it hasn’t fired yet, get it to blow itself up. Might have to spot them a few bodies.”
“Scary kid”, she chuckles.
“I do try not to make messy trade-offs like that. Getting zapped would still be unpleasant.”
“No shit. Okay, let’s try this out.”
As we’re doing that, I realise that she must have understood the tactical situation implied by my musings, and what it suggests I’m planning for. Not one on one with handheld rifles. One on one army. Scary kid. Heh.
Part sixty eight
Heading out of the range towards the Lovecraft room, last thing Sara and I expect is to be stopped by one of the Hawthorne guys, Slab, who I met while doing detention, and told someone has hurt the Kimbas. They’re over in Doyle. Damn, I was worried about that sim run, I hope my vague-ass warning helped. Plans for fun have to be put on hold as we rush over to find out what happened.
A bit of fast talking gets us past reception, and we find the Kimbas in a room and at least looking physically in one piece.
“Hey Jules, Sara”, Hank says. “Thanks for the heads up, Jules. It did help some, we were prepared for shenanigans. Not quite at the scale, though.”
I look around. Everyone’s registering with injuries on life sense. “How can a sim run do that? You all look like you ran into a team of villains.”
“They jumped us with fake New Olympians”, Hank says. “Of course we knew right away, Counterpoint is hardly likely to break out of jail and come and bother us in a sim run. But they were still dangerous. And the assholes overrode the suit safeties. They set Billie up to kill Stygian if she used her powers at all. She didn’t, though.”
“Shit, that’s nasty.” I head over to Billie, who’s looking like someone shot her puppy, and go sit beside her, put an arm around her.
She looks up at me with tear-reddened eyes. “Jules, they were there, all the ghosts, people I’d killed. Thousands. Stygian held them back but they made me remember. He told them to stop. As soon as he realised what it was doing to me, he tried. Don’t be mad at him, please?”
“If you say not, I won’t”, I say. “But I’m mad at whoever arranged this, it was beyond cruel.”
Billie shakes her head. “I deserved it, I killed them, so many, Jules. I can’t even count them, so many.”
“You did not”, I say. “That entity you connected to, and inherited, that one did. But I think, that one didn’t have a choice?”
She nods. “It’s true, no choice, no emotions either, but they didn’t believe me.”
“I believe you”, I say. And Jade parks herself on the other side of Billie and joins the hug. “Me too, oneesan. The only people you’ve fought like that are the ones who were attacking you and your family, and that’s different. These ghosts, you have the memories, but the guilt doesn’t belong to you.”
“Easy to say, hard to believe”, she covers her eyes with her palms. “I can’t forget, even if it wasn’t me. So much blood and horror.”
“If you wanna talk, or if you wanna stay off the subject, I can do that”, I say. “Perhaps, think of it like, what you’re doing in this life is changing that legacy you had no part of making. In this life, you’re caring, and you do your best. In this life, you have free will.”
She nods. “N… No more for now. But that helps. Thank you, both.”
Meanwhile Sara’s been talking to Ayla, and she dumps the details to me over the mark. The Alphas did it, via disposable patsies. I don’t doubt the Head will come down on the patsies with no mercy, and equally I don’t doubt the trail will go cold there, the real instigator won’t be caught. But this feud nonsense has to end. I get up and join those two, leaving Jade to look after her adopted sister.
“Hey, I overheard. Do we have a plan?”
Ayla shakes his head. “Jade sicced the workshop people on the idiots who did it. The remaining New Olympians aren’t going to be happy about someone using them for finger-puppets either. But that only takes care of the people who were set up to take the fall anyhow, win or lose. And we can’t move against the Alphas directly, we’ve already had too many dust-ups with them. Nor would it even work, they’d look like they had the moral high ground, it’s a frustrating situation.”
Sara says, “I could go look in their dreams. But they’d be watching for that, they’d run to security and charge me with psychic intrusion, and they’d be right to.”
“I’m going to have words with them”, I say. “It seems like the only open course.”
“If you scream or threaten, they’ll use it against you”, Ayla says. “They like to think they’re the subtle ones. People who come against them overtly, they respond to covertly while claiming public innocence. It’s a smart strategy, except that it pisses everyone off. Which makes it unsmart in the long run, but they don’t get that yet.”
I nod. “I don’t plan to scream. Or drop any unsubtle threats.”
“So what do you plan on saying?” Ayla’s curious.
“First off, I’ll be polite. I’ll ask that Tansy girl, what would end the feud. I’m guessing she’ll come out with some childish nonsense. I’ll tell her no, and to think again like an adult. If she still won’t budge, I’ll just back off. But I’ll mention to her, a million years from now, I’ll still be alive.”
Ayla thinks, and then winces. “I see. She probably isn’t bright enough to get that. But I do. You’re making it clear, having you for an enemy would be like a curse. You could grind down her life and then her legacy like water wearing away rock. Gah. Scary. Remind me to be nice to you.” Which makes me laugh.
“Silly. You’re a friend.”
He smiles. “Nice to know.” And looking at the clock on the wall, “You need to head to lunch. Sorry we can’t be there. I doubt we’ll be checked out of this place for hours. Doctors like to be thorough. I heard your radio announcement. Nice work, although I’m sure some are going to hate you regardless.”
“The Pack will have her back”, Sara says.
I say, “Reminds me, I have a tactical thing I want to share once you’re out of here. Team meeting this evening perhaps?”
Ayla nods. “I’ll set it up.”
I didn’t miss breakfast, but it was just junk food snacks inside the studio while we planned out the questions and answers, so I’m pretty hungry as we head towards Crystal Hall. As we walk, I look to Sara, “You’ve been quiet, love. Feeling okay?”
She nods. “Feel like I need to stay close to you and watch over you. Might be a bit irrational, I know you’re fine.”
“I wasn’t, earlier, and your help then was very appreciated”, I say. “You might have top drop a bit. Love, I wanted that, it did me good, and for all the pain, I enjoyed being yours so very much. You did a good thing. And I’m absolutely cool with you staying and watching over me too, even if it’s just to reassure yourself. I love you.”
She pulls me into a hug and we walk into the Crystal Hall together like that. This time, we both head over to the food queue, with me picking, and her bodyguarding, which does prevent several attempts to actively jostle me. I get called “GOO bitch” and “mind rapist”. Trying to ignore it, I focus on the food, there’s a nice lasagna and fries and some breadcrumb garlic mushrooms, which I can definitely get behind. I get an extra-big portion, and ice cream and fruit for dessert. Food, at least, still likes me. I snicker at the thought, and share it when Sara looks curious as we’re walking back to the Pack table.
Paige is still over the other side, so I take the opportunity to explain what we’re up to. Untraceable team comms is something they’re mostly enthusiastic about. Gypsy being the exception, I figure she doesn’t want any deeper links to the group. Being life-rafted if they die, that’s something that has them less convinced. “So what you’re saying is, you will take a snapshot and then you can make a body that’s any of us, on a moments notice?”
I nod to Hippolyta. “It will be me driving initially, but we figure I can move aside and we can re-anchor your soul to the snapshot body, leaving you in sole charge.”
“I won’t be some necromantic… thing?”
“Literally no more than Petra is”, I say. “She got soul-anchored to a new, empty body a very similar way. If she feels like a person to you, that’s your answer.”
She nods, looking thoughtful. “And I would live forever?”
“Your existing body will age normally”, I say. “If you’re going to die of age, that will eventually happen. At that point, up to you whether I lifeboat you to a younger snapshot, or you say no, and pass on into whatever afterlife is coming.”
“It is a very strange way of living, a new kind of being human”, she says. “But, I think, not an urgent problem for any of us. This new comm system, it will be good to use just as comms, while we decide.”
I nod. “Yeah, absolutely. Although if you feel it might even be an option for you, I want to take snapshots of all of you as soon as possible. It only takes a few seconds. We can do it straight after this, if you’re willing.”
“It involves what?”
“Just touching for a second with big me up front.”
She nods, and goes back to her food, looking thoughtful.
Just then, there’s a loud banging that draws all of our attention. The Headmistress, banging on her table. “Quiet please, everyone!”
We, collectively, shut up.
“Alright, you all heard the radio announcement, or if you didn’t, your friends will fill you in. I personally believe this change is for the better, and being here at the epicentre won’t do us harm. I know some students and parents do disagree. If you have to leave, or if you want to take time away while you consider other options, please contact admin, and your requests will be approved. If you do leave, your place will be held open until the beginning of Spring term, and you may change your mind and return any time before then.”
“As staff, we’ve discussed the changes that are likely to happen and how to respond to them. Some rules will need to be loosened. Others will not be punitively enforced, while we decide what new loopholes need to be cut, or whether they need to be scrapped outright. We will be relying on your discretion, not to take unreasonable advantage. Believe me, I will know the difference.”
That gets everyone’s interest. What rules will change?
“We are removing the rule forbidding public displays of affection. That will be replaced with a rule forbidding overtly sexual displays of affection outside or in public. We are also removing the rule against fraternization, in private. However we do require that you avoid distracting, annoying or upsetting your fellow students. It will be your responsibility to proceed with genuine, unforced consent from all concerned, including onlookers and others who share the space. We will be ferociously enforcing this. Pressure, trickery or force will be an extremely quick path to expulsion and criminal charges. Do not test me.”
That one gets shocked looks from everybody - even me. I never expected her to go half so far, so fast. Oh my goodness, the school is going to change.
“Pregnancy is a rule we are keeping, but enforcing lightly and with consideration of circumstances. You are all expected to make reasonable efforts to not get pregnant, or make anyone else, or yourself, pregnant. If you do make an effort, this will be taken into consideration should there be an accident. If not, we may come down on you in full force. I will be instructing all the cottages, and the medical center, to provide free contraception of various sorts suited to your individual power sets. Taking advantage of this, and using it properly will be another factor considered. Since I know that not all of you know how, there will be mandatory training classes in their operation. Your adviser will contact you with the class that you’ve been assigned. Attend, listen, and learn.”
I can tolerate that. She’s not going to let me and Sara have a free run, yet. Perhaps later. And pregnant me is at least somewhat protected.
“Finally for rule changes, we will be clamping down hard on bigotry. Some students are in same sex relationships or polyamorous ones. This is likely to become evident, and I will not stand for them being singled out or attacked on that basis. Punishments for anything of the sort will be greatly increased, starting immediately.”
To which, good, and not before time.
“Last, unrelated, but not least. This shoulder angel foolishness stops now. You are not to wear, own or sell angels depicting anyone but yourself. If you have them, deactivate them immediately, and hand them in to staff at your earliest convenience. You are not to use any shoulder angels, no matter what kind, to antagonize people or start fights. I am about this far”, she holds up finger and thumb barely apart, “from banning them outright. Last chance, people. Do not push me, I’ve had a busy and troublesome day. That will be all, thank you, carry on.”
Part sixty nine
13th January, 2007, Crystal Hall, lunchtime
As soon as the Head sits back down, the place is a hubbub.
“Well”, says Hippolyta. “No more need for sneaking around. We can just come calling to the front door. Oh hi, Mrs Cantrel. Why am I here? To fuck Sara. Sure, come right on in.” Which makes us all laugh. It’s impossible to imagine, but I guess those are the rules now.
“Or maybe I can come and visit you in Poe”, Sara says. “I’d like that.”
Hippolyta looks embarrassed. “I… I would like that also. Although I shall get teased afterward.”
I say, “Lot of that going around, I’d imagine. It’ll take time for people to get used to the changes.”
“Thank goodness I’m in with Hank”, Jamie says. “I don’t think he’s going to have them queueing around the block. Some poor kids just aren’t going to get much sleep.”
Erin smirks. “I think, a few of the cottages, they’re going to have to up the soundproofing between rooms. And bolt the beds to the wall. Squeaky-squeaky-squeak, thud, thud, thud.” Which makes everyone break out giggling at the thought.
“Paige over the other side says you’ll be the one keeping me up”, I relay. “She’s wrong though, I won’t mind in the least, you go right ahead.” Which gets an evil smirk from Sara and an embarrassed cringe from Erin, and laughs from the rest.
It’s a fun conversation, as we continue with the banter to and fro, but soon enough I’ve finished my munchies. “Sara, if you can wait, I need to go talk to Tansy”, I say. “Then afterward we can play?”
“You want to go alone?”
I nod. “I want her not to feel like we’re ganging up against her, or she’ll react from defensiveness and not think. Alone is my best chance.”
She nods. “Okay, I’ll be there for you if you need me. Come down to my room after.”
I grin. “Looking forward to it.” She gets a nice slow kiss, and then I have to go. Mmm, it’s fun to be able to play a little in public like that.
Dickinson is quite a walk away from Crystal Hall, around behind Kane and Dunn. On my way, I see a few other couples kissing. I guess I’ve created a bit of a lover’s bonanza. I’m really surprised the Head went so far so fast, but perhaps she decided there was no point in fighting the inevitable, and she should build the defensive wall around keeping us all from being knocked up. Will she succeed? Join us for another exciting episode.
Honestly, looking around, I wouldn’t lay good odds.
Dickinson is fairly blah as cottages go. This is the non-freaky, girls only one, but I’m sure some of them have to be nice. Even if Tansy, from what I’ve seen of her, is not. That said, her karma’s been catching up to her a bit. Perhaps she’ll learn?
Going in, I get looked at. I’m not completely human-looking these days, although you’d be hard pressed to name a particular feature from a distance, except my mouth’s a bit wider. In Poe, I don’t stick out. In Hawthorne, I’m one of the pretties. Here, I’m a freak.
“Hi, can I help, are you looking for someone?” An older student, she’s got darker hair, something about her features hints that maybe she’s not all the way white. Native American perhaps? Straight hair cut neatly at shoulder length.
“I’m looking for Tansy Walcutt”, I explain. “Do you know where her room is?”
She makes a slight grimace and nods. “Third floor, room 315. Follow the sound of enthusiastic sex. Which is a phrase I never in my life expected to have to say.”
“Sorry”, I say, because it kind of is my fault.
She takes a second, more careful look at me. “You’re Parallel, aren’t you? I only saw you across the hall, but the white hair is distinctive.”
I nod. “Yeah.”
“I’m Pristine. What you did sounds like it was necessary and good, but the side effects are going to take some getting used to.”
“Would you believe, for me too?” I say. She nods. “Alright, see you around, and thanks.”
As I approach the room, there’s no mistaking which one. Squeaky, squeak, indeed. As well as gasps, moans, cries of “yes, there!” and a bass line accompaniment of grunting. Should I just turn around and leave them be? But I get a hunch this will work to my advantage. Okay, I’ll chance it. I stride up and knock on the door.
Guy’s voice, “Who is it? What do you want?”
“It’s Parallel, I’d like to talk to Tansy, is it a bad time?”
“We’re fucking, but I consent for you to come in if that doesn’t bother you.” He sounds amused.
Girl’s voice, “Well I don’t… ooh, damn it Cody, don’t stop, oh all right, come… come on in.” Cody, perhaps Kodiak, the big Alpha guy? This is actually close to a best case scenario, I’m sure he’s a power behind the throne.
So I do open the door, and let myself in, closing it behind me. Tansy is bent over the bed, completely naked, with her hair loose and pooling around her head, she looks beyond gorgeous. Cody, with his pants down but shirt still on, is balls deep in her from behind. And clearly good at it, from the way she’s gripping the bedding.
I pick a spot near the door to sit cross legged. Makes me look less threatening, but also puts me nicely at eye to eye level with Tansy. “So, hi, I wanted to talk to the leadership of the Alphas.”
I’m enjoying watching the emotions cross her face. “That’s fucking me right here, what of it?” Anger, to mask the fact she’s horny as hell - and, if life sense doesn’t lie, she got way more horny right after I came in, I’m what she’s fixating on. Oh yeah, didn’t I read she prefers girls? And guess who’s the hot lady in the room, beside herself.
I loosen my collar a little, give her something to enjoy. “Just before lunch, I came from Doyle. The Kimbas got hurt in the sims. No, I’m not dropping any accusations, but we both know I don’t need to.”
“If, fuck! If the Kim-bitches got hurt, what’s it to me? Maybe someone doesn’t like them? I sure as fuck don’t. Ah!”
“I want the feud to end, it’s dangerous to everyone”, I say. “What would it take, for you to consider it quits with them?”
“They can come here and get gang-raped in front of me.” The glint in her eye shows she would dearly love to watch that.
It’s kind of going the way I guessed it would, but perhaps I have more leverage than I expected. “Some of them don’t swing that way, all of them are far too private to agree to that. That’s your anger talking, but think like an adult. What would satisfy you, that I can take to them and have them agree to it?”
“She’s got a point, you know”, Cody says, pausing his play, making her squirm ineffectually back against him and whine. “If this keeps escalating, it’s trouble all round. Someone might get mad enough to break rules and lash out. This sounds like a serious offer of truce, so perhaps you should take it seriously. What would it take, to feel like enough?”
“Fucking hell Cody, you jerk, quit playing games with me. Okay okay, an apology, all of them, here. I’ll take that. Oh yeah that hits the spot, fuck!” Cody gives a victory grin as he starts pushing her towards an orgasm. And she locks eyes with me, she’s desperate, I can feel there’s a girl inside who just wants to reach out. And I can accept that, accept the orgasm she’s pushing towards me as she screams and grits her teeth and scrabbles at handfuls of bedding. Perhaps you can be nice after all, Tansy Walcutt, if you let your heart open up? Good girl, give it all to mama.
When she’s panting, collapsed, head down against the bed, I stand, bow respectfully. “Thank you both for your time”, and let myself out. Trying to avoid being too obvious about the tent in my jeans.
My feeling is, Tansy isn’t long for the leadership, and if I’m not mistaken, Cody is the presumptive heir. Which means my deal, cut with both of them, will hold through any interregnum.
And maybe, with the pressure off, Tansy will have a chance to bloom?
I didn’t even have to drop my threat on her.
Dickinson to Hawthorne is about the longest walk on campus, north-east to south-west, cutting right across the bulk of the campus. It gives me time to look at the sky, now turning colours of gold, and the trees. Tomorrow, I think I’ll go visit the weres, and that’s a nice walk that takes me through the woods. Looking at the clouds, a snow storm might be rolling in overnight. It might be a bit of a slog tomorrow, unless I play Legolas and make myself lighter so I can run over the drifts rather than wading through them. Up north where we are, it will be long icy months until spring. But I wonder what this place looks like when it’s green, and buzzing with active life?
Looking at the trees makes me think of the Grove. Would it accept me? It’s odd to feel rejection anxiety about a bunch of thousands of years old tree spirits, but I do. I’d like to be liked, by all of nature. As I’m thinking this, my g-sense tracks a number of lines of motion towards me, small, flapping wings, birds? As two of them land on my shoulders, I can confirm, definitely birds. A pink one with grey wings, and a yellowish one with a black head and intensely yellow eyebrows. “Well hi there”, I get a feeling of liking back over life sense, as well as curiosity. I hold up my hand and another one lands there, another of the pink kind.
Did I somehow call them? Perhaps just my wanting to be liked was enough, as more birds circle curiously, and hop on and off my hand. Look at me, a regular Disney princess. Perhaps we should all burst into song together? But not right now, charming though they are, I have an appointment with Sara, and she’s charming too.
Heading into Hawthorne, I get grins. I think they know exactly what I’m there for. Getting to Sara’s room (the runes on the door say, ‘look who changed the rules’) I head in, and finding her reading on the bed, come over and bounce onto it beside there. “Hey there, beloved.”
She puts the book down. “Hey sweetie. Mmm, you’re buzzing with power, whose orgasm did you eat?”
Huh. “Uh, Tansy’s. I ate it?”
“You did, love. Chomp chomp chomp. She must have given you a good one.”
I grin, and show her what happened over the mark. Which makes her roll around snickering uncontrollably, which is absolutely lovely. “Oh you got her good. She’ll be dreaming about you all night. I could teach you to walk into those dreams?”
“I figure a wet dream about me is an invitation”, I agree with a grin. “Feels like she has potential to open up, if she quits hiding from herself.”
“My sweet girl. Always you reach for the good in people.”
“Mhm, mhm”, I agree, as I reach to tease her through her clothes. “These are good. I like to reach for them.”
“No sex for punsters”, she teases.
“What about people who say, please may I have lots of lovely sex with you?”
“Those get it.”
“Please may I have lots of lovely sex with you, Sara beloved?”
“Yes, you absolutely may.”
The Lovecraft room is full with Kimbas and Pack. Everyone’s grabbing beanbags, except Paige, Sara and myself who are sat on the bed. Myself, I’m still happily buzzing from long and very enjoyable sex; it turns out I do have internal erogenous zones too, discovering that feels like being the first person to set foot in a new and wonderful land. But much as I’d like to luxuriate the whole day away playing around, the attack on the Kimbas earlier makes it clear that what I’m about to do is too important to put off. Ayla was a bit surprised when I asked him to get the others together here for the tactical meeting, and said that the Pack would be here too. Now with everyone here, I can see looks ranging from mild impatience to curiosity. The two groups don’t really meet much. Hippolyta and Hank are kinda frenemies, sat on opposite sides of the room. But they’ll sit still and listen to me and Sara, I think.
Sara rotates the room, and says “Okay, we’re private. Jules, you’re up.”
I give her a smile. “This is a tactical meeting and it’s other things too. I’ve been prototyping a thing with Paige here, a new spell. Sara and Gothmog have checked my working, and we’ve given it a thorough shake down together, so I feel safe releasing it to all of you. This spell is a communications mesh network. Similar to the kinds of networks you already use if you do team tactics together.” As far as I know that’s just the Kimbas, but some of the others might be on teams? I haven’t asked them.
“This network, if you choose to join it, will mean you will never be out of communication reach, any of you, from the rest of us. It’s connected and implemented at the soul level, which means no surface active spell to be dispelled, and it can’t be blocked or snooped by anything the humans have. That means, if a situation like the one this morning happens, you can pass word instantly.” I look to the Kimbas, who are still a bit pained and stiff looking, it seems healing can only go so fast.
Ayla says, “I’m sure you’ve worked out some way we won’t just be buried in a cacophony of each other’s business?”
I nod. “It’s group based. There’s the underlying linkage mesh, and you can one on one message anyone with direct or indirect linkage to you, but you can also create groups, for example the Kimba tactical team would be a group. You can be in as many groups as you like. The spell should make it obvious which ones you’re in, and which ones you’re talking on. If you can multithread your attention, you can even talk on more than one at once. We’ve given a lot of thought to security, Paige is a bit of an expert, so all the obvious things are there. Nobody can push into a group, nor can they be pulled unwillingly into a group. It takes mutual invitation. There’s blocklists, there’s no-not-disturb mode, there’s emergency messages that override it. It should be intuitive.”
Jade asks, “How about the J-team, can we be on it separately?”
“Yeah”, I says, “It’s designed around my weird-ass mindscape, so forking and joining like you do should work just fine. You get separate connections when you’re separate. You can also if you like create a self-group that will automatically group up your forks as you make them. And if Jet merges back some day, you’ll both inherit each other’s links when you become one. Also, Nikki, Erin, your riders can have their own link should they prefer, which means they can join in chat if they’d like, even when they aren’t up front. Likewise big me, and big Kellith. You don’t need to be in the same universe, so if you want to speak with Gothmog, he’s on our mesh already, as are me, Sara, Paige, Petra, and Donna.”
“You said we can talk on two at once? How?” Hank asks. “I’m presuming it isn’t subvocalizing.”
I shake my head. “The interface works like telepathy, except it doesn’t leave traces like telepathy, can’t be snooped or blocked. You can speak down it, it feels like basically having an extra voice you can use. Depending how your mind works, you may or may not be able to overlay that with saying something completely different with your physical voice, or on other channels. You can also send concepts, sensations, imaginings, emotions down it. You’ll have to be careful not to overstep boundaries. It’s way more intimate than just audio. Naturally, nothing will get sent unless you’re pushing it, so don’t worry you’ll leak.”
“So how do we get it”, Ayla says. “Is this something you have to hand out?”
“Nah, see, that’s the kicker. It’s designed to be viral. Anyone who has it, can give a link to anyone else, provided both parties mutually want it at the soul level. That means you can’t be mind dominated or forced into giving links, by the way. But it also means that when we’ve linked you up, you can go and give links to anyone else you choose. To begin with, it’s a tactical secret, I strongly recommend you don’t spread it carelessly. Think not just whether you trust the person, but whether you trust them to trust others. Once you give it, you can’t take it back, nor stop them handing it on. But yes, I’m sure you can see that means it will eventually spread to all of humanity. Just, keep an initial brake on the rate so we link up the nice and trustworthy people first, if you can?”
Toni’s laughing. “Jules, Jules. How many times have you changed the world and it hasn’t even been two weeks since you got here? This is going to change everything, you know?”
I smirk. “Haven’t even got to the sneaky second function yet.”
“Spit it out, then!”
“Alright, so. You know I talked to all of you about lifeboating people into backup bodies. If you’ve got a link up to me or Sara, we can definitely grab your soul if you die. If there’s an indirect linkage, it might be possible, I think so but I’m not sure. So if you want, get a link to us, get me to take a snapshot, and it will become substantially harder to kill you. Jade, I’ll snapshot you, but Billie, you’ll probably have to lifeboat her if it comes to that. We can go over how afterward. Any of you who objects to this but wants on the grid, get your link off Paige. Nikki and Erin, it should be enough if you’ve got links to your riders, I think I can pull them along.”
Ayla says, “If it turns out you can reach people down indirect links, this is going to change what it means to be human. You’ll be able to offer resurrection to basically anybody you have a snapshot of.”
“Even without a snapshot, I can make them a body, it just won’t be a perfect duplicate of their old one.”
“Better yet. So now you’re a goddess of resurrection for the whole of humanity?”
“Me, Sara, Gothmog, probably Billie, yes. They can grab, I can make bodies. Even waiting for a body, souls should still be on grid. I acknowledge that bodies are a bit of a bottleneck, but there’s lots of me to go around.”
Toni whistles. “I feel like I’m seeing the beginning of the second age of humanity. It’s that big. Damn.”
“For now, please keep that bit secret”, I say. “The mesh works fine without people knowing it. It’s not harmful to them and none of us is going to unethically grab people who haven’t consented. I don’t want us attracting the wrong sorts to be the pioneer links.” Which gets thoughtful nods.
“Okay, who wants to be linked up? If you want one, me, Sara and Paige are presently consenting to you connecting up. You can link to more than one of us, and you can link to each other. Oh! And before I forget. It’s not useful to most of you right now, but the mesh can route IP. Later, I expect we’ll work out an interface to that, even for relative baselines like me.”
“Who’s that for, now?” Toni asks. “I know you, you don’t make things without a dozen sneaky-ass reasons.”
A nudge to Paige over the mesh, go or no go, your decision?
I grin. “Meet the new invincible goddess of the internet”. And give Paige a kiss.
She nuzzles against me. “If you’ve heard of Circuit Breaker, it’s me. Well, me and my sister, equally. I’m not just a programmer, I’m a cyberpath.”
Ayla winces and goes a bit grey. Yeah, he’s heard of Circuit Breaker. “My dear God. You realise the government is going to see you as an existential threat? They’ll be sorely tempted to launch a nuclear strike.”
“Which would neither stop me nor Paige, but would annoy us both”, I say. “I hope that argument will convince them not to.”
In the end, everyone chooses to link to me and Sara, and get a snapshot taken. Then we have fun sending each other stuff. I show how sensations can go down the wire, by licking the back of my hand and letting them feel it, the taste of salt, soft touch, cool of saliva drying. That gets amusing and weirded out reactions, but soon we’re swapping random sensations and thoughts to and fro merrily. I take time to pull Billie aside.
“You up for learning how to catch Jade if she needs you?”
She nods. “I’m finding it hard to care about myself, but for her, I can do it.”
So I lead her through the sensations of a soul dive, and then she holds my hand and we go for it together. I can feel her Star Stalker self watching with curiosity. There’s a hint of predator watching prey there, she recognises me as the kind of creature she was made to destroy, but a friendly one. Still, even if the cat likes the mouse, it’s still going to have feelings about smallness and squeakiness. We reach the soul level, and I point out the link stretching across to Jade. She’s just amazed at the hugeness of everyone here, but goes over and gives Jade’s soul a hug. It’s sweet. I point out the upward lines to the physical. “If those get cut, you need to grab her and hold on. Then bring her to me, I’ll make a body, you run new lines up to it. Sara’s been showing me how she anchored Petra down, so I’ll be able to give you more hands-on help with the last bit.”
She nods. “Thanks Jules. It’s really a weight off my heart, knowing we can protect Jade like this. You know, I’ve had dreams where she died, and I just completely lost it? I tore the whole world up. No survivors.”
I send her comfort and understanding, as we’re returning back to the surface level. “Yeah, I get that. I fear for Sara, I fear for Paige… It’s why I’m rushing around making ways to save people. If any of them died and couldn’t be saved, I think I’d go berserk too. But I think we have things in hand, together, now.”
“You’re a good friend”, she says. And then we’re back at the surface, watching the others play. Jade’s got her eyes on us.
“Oneesan, was that you?” she asks. “It felt like you gave me a hug, but strange.”
Billie goes over and explains, and I’m smiling to see her coming back out of her shell a bit.
I lie back on the bed, feeling like we did a good thing today, but there’s a nudge and Ayla sends me speech over the links, “Jules, can I pull you aside and talk for a moment?”
I send agreement. “Sure, want to walk together?”
So we head towards Poe, keeping our conversation to the link so we won’t be overheard.
“Jules, I’m not so stupid I can’t follow where you’re going, you’ve been pretty much frantically building power. You gave Billie something for which she’ll feel indebted to you for life. You gave Paige immortality and free run of the internet. You’ve been sweet talking the Head. I hear rumours you’re making lightsabers and begging the martial arts teachers for training. And there’s all the changes you’ve made to yourself, they all make you much more powerful and effectively impossible to kill. It feels like you’re building up to war. With who?”
I nod. “With the government, mostly. I hope to avoid war. But the way to avoid it is to become strong enough they feel that they have to come to the table. Otherwise they’ll try and steamroller me. But that’s part of the larger GOO war. He who I’m not gonna name owns most of them, directly or otherwise.”
“Even over the link, you won’t name him?”
“Soul level comms is isolated from beings who can’t operate at soul level.”
“Ah. Which GOOs are not.”