Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 81-90)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 81-90)
Note for the reader: this is Interlaced, sequel to Parallels and featuring the continuing adventures of my OC Parallel. An ongoing serial, it's being released here in 10-part blocks for your convenience.
We resume the story as our heroine has just returned home from defeating the Necromancer - to discover that Paige has been kidnapped by a government snatch squad. The Head has put the school on a war footing and invited over alumni, including villains.
Part eighty one
14th January, 2007, dinner, Whateley
It turns out, “tomorrow” is more like a guideline; quite a few of our visitors are evidently not inclined to wait, as witness the orange gleam of rocket exhaust visible high above through the Crystal Hall windows. My g-sense tracks several large, dissimilar objects on inbound trajectories from very high up.
“Shit just got real”, Toni says, sounding unusually subdued.
Ayla nods, looking worried. “It feels like the prelude to war.”
“Let us hope cooler heads prevail”, Aung, weighing in.
Billie shakes her head. “I don’t want a war either, but let us also hope that we kick their asses, because you realise that the status of this place as a sanctuary is what we’re playing for, here? If they can grab Paige, they can grab me, they can grab you, we’re a candy bowl and it’s their turn to pick. Okay with us they might have more of a fight on their hands, but we don’t want them seeing it as a tactical problem. We want them seeing it as a strategic thou shalt not.”
“I said they’d launch a nuke”, Ayla says. “I can see them thinking that a surgical snatch is so much less messy.”
I say, “My suspicion is they won’t think that when we’re done.”
Looking at the descending rocket plumes of a drop-ship, passing out of sight behind buildings, throwing strange wavering shadows and then winking out, Ayla nods. “I believe you’re right.”
Meanwhile, I’ve had an idea. “Lieutenant Forsyth, got a minute?”, I ask over the link.
“Yeah sure, what do you have for me?”
“I’ve got something we could add into the tactical planning. You know how I can follow the link and get to wherever they’re holding Paige?” He nods. “Okay so, once I’ve been there, I’ll have the coordinates, I can go back and forth as often as I want. Now add to that, I should also be able to use my gravity sense to find the empty space of the sky above, and blind jump a copy there, that will give me usable coordinates up there where there’s lots of room. Thinking about the spaceships we’ve presently got visiting, I was nudged by a memory of those detachable warp sleds they use in various sci-fi movies. I can carry people with me when I teleport, at least one, maybe more than one. And I have as many bodies as I please, enough for everybody. The warp sled is me.”
There’s a pause as he thinks it through, then a feeling of awe. “You can carry a whole army, and drop it at their door.”
“Jump them all right in, up in the sky above and a team directly inside below to pincer their defence. I let the flyers loose to enter aerial combat, and carry the non flyers down to ground level. And then cue the ass kicking.”
He grins. “Okay. I will pass that on, because that sounds like a breakthrough. Good thinking, kid.”
Initially when I got back, I was thinking of telling Billie I had to cancel the flying practise we talked about this morning. But now I’m feeling kind of fired up to. So as we head out of the Crystal Hall, I tell her my ideas. “How about this. Rather than just shove myself through the air on a gravity gradient like I’ve been doing, I part the air ahead, like opening a zipper, and pull it together behind, so I’m basically free-falling at vacuum speeds in a bubble of still air. And rather than doing turns by thrusting, I do them by bending the space and keeping my momentum.”
She looks curious. “I suppose with me it’s always just been wish and go, as easy as moving my hand. But hmm. I could try that trick with momentum, although I’d do it a different way. That sounds fun to try. Maybe we can pull some really tight turns like that.”
“And without air drag, some really fast stops and starts too, on my part. You know, you should try and see if you can extend your bubble of ‘what is gravity’ outwards?”
“I’ve never tried that”, she says.
“Gotta be doing it at least a little, or you’d leave your clothes behind when you pull high gees.”
“Huh, point. And you reckon I can do this slipstream kinda thing too?”
“Wouldn’t hurt to try. Even if you can just extend your ignore-gravity field out in like a pointy shape around you, it should cut air resistance. But if you can grab and move the air, you should be able to go supersonic without a boom.”
“Probably best to avoid that over the campus right now”, she grins. “But we can try the principle.”
Getting outside, it’s obvious how busy things are. Several ships have landed, some sprouting habitation modules, techno-yurts, inflatable domes. Not really a place for casual fast flying, but floating a couple feet up works for the thing I’m trying to do. Turns out it isn’t that hard to separate the flow of air around me, and guide it back together. Might get harder if I go fast. But I pick up quickly on another problem when I start getting warnings from my life sense - I’m hypoxic! I drop down to the ground and squat, getting my breath back. Billie floats over looking concerned. “You okay?”
“Yeah… I will be”, I say around deep breaths. “Forgot… gas exchange.”
“Oh yeah, point”, she says. “That doesn’t seem to affect me. But it’s stale air, isn’t it?”
I nod. “I’ll have to see if I can’t resupply it. Or resupply myself directly, I should be aiming at vacuum capable, I think.”
“Planning on spaceflight?”
“Planning on not having limitations where someone can sit over my head, blow raspberries and drop rocks on me.”
That brings a laugh from an unexpected direction, an adult man who has evidently been listening in. “An answer after my own heart.” He has a red wrap-around jacket on, greying red hair, and two pointy ‘horns’ of white hair that stick up. Yeah, I know this guy.
“Welcome to Whateley, sir”, I say, “and thank you. I’m Parallel, this is Tennyo, we were practising a new idea for flying. Am I correct I’m addressing Dr. Diabolik?”
He nods, “So they call me. I enjoyed your radio broadcast yesterday. Thank you for your answer to Jadis.”
I smile. “I was worried in the way she was, when I first discovered what was going on. But reassured by how it was affecting my friends who weren’t sexual. I’m glad I could allay her fears.”
He looks thoughtful, and nods. “Why did you choose to make the particular enhancement you did, focusing on love? And not, say, intelligence?”
“I’m not sure it won’t affect intelligence, it’s early days. It’s a tropism towards complex order, and intelligence is order. As to why, that was the gap that needed filling. Life laws did let us evolve intelligence, but more by fluke than anything else, and they used to do nothing to prevent it diverging or being overrun. It should hold together now, and tend to increase, although with mutualism folded in. Intelligence without preservation of values gets you nowhere good.”
“You may have done my project more good than I knew, then. Have you heard of the Smile agenda? It stands for Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, and Life Extension.”
I shake my head. “Haven’t heard it before, but that sounds like something I can get behind. Kind of close to my own agenda although with a different slant. I’m intending to pull humans closer to Great old Ones. That’s protection, as well as enhancement. It should definitely make you all a lot harder to kill permanently. Should improve your chances for space travel too.”
He makes a small grimace, kinda frown, kinda disgusted. “I wish it were so simple as having humans suited to the rigors of long travel. Look around this field and tell me what you don’t see.”
I look. Various craft, I recognise the Amazing Three’s Techno Trike from when it picked up Jade before. I don’t know the others. But I can take a guess what they are from the size and design. This one is a drop-ship, that one is suborbital, and so forth. Given they form a pattern, what is missing? It takes me a moment, and I’m cued by his word, migration.
“What I don’t see is true spaceships. Hoppers and droppers, yes. Nothing designed to go and stay. Cars, not wagons.”
Billie looks around. “Huh, I guess you have a point there.”
“Good eyes. Yes.” He chuckles. “I’m overdue now, and I must be on my way. But I suggest you consider that gap, what is causing it, and what that means for both your plans and mine.” He gives a bow, which I return in kind, and heads off at a walk, looking perhaps a bit happy. Hmm.
Billie waits until he’s out of earshot and says, “I wonder what he’s up to? It feels like he was trying to steer you.”
“He did steer me”, I say. “He’s implying someone’s got their thumb on the scales. And corollary, someone big enough he hasn’t been able to make them stop.”
Billie winces at that. “I see. And they’re likely to be trouble for you.”
“To the extent my agenda aligns with his, they already are.”
Later, as I’m lying in bed, for the first time over here I find it hard to sleep. Poor Paige! I know she’s safe from death, but she doesn’t deserve this trauma. Pushing myself to rest, I decide to use my dreams to try and get as close to her as I can, and see if I can encourage her to extend herself into the nonphysical. Dreams should be more similar to unconsciousness than waking mind is. Maybe that is the bridge I need.
Slowly, gradually, I find I can pick out her sensations down the link. It feels like the occasional slight murmuring and shifting of a deep sleeper. So, let’s try communicating with images. I’ll start with something deliberately simple. A world of endless sunlit, windblown tall grass on gently rolling hills, blowing in great waves off to the horizon. Sending it to her over the link, and then it feels like I’m somehow pulled closer into connection with her, and it’s not over the link any more, she’s here. Asleep on the grass, in her full were form, twitching and kicking her paws gently, with me sat next to her cross-legged. Am I dream walking?
“Yes you are, dear. Nice world, by the way.” Guess who.
I grin, as Sara drops into a cross-leg sit beside me. “Thanks. Got ideas how we should do this?”
“Why don’t we go with your instincts. This is your world, after all.”
What are my instincts telling me? They’re telling me Paige is very cute, and that I want to pet her. So I do. Her fur is soft and deep, much fluffier and finer than the bear I petted yesterday, if not quite so lose-your-hand-in-it deep.
Speaking of deep, there’s a deep rrrrm, rrrrm sound, that it takes me a moment to place.
Sara joins in, and we stroke her, quietly enjoying the purr, in no hurry. Time passes here without much sense of it passing.
And then, with no fanfare, Paige shakes herself, stretches, yawns, bounds up, and trots off to chase ripples and waves of grass, ignoring the two of us entirely.
We watch, she’s very cute. I add in some colourful butterflies to give her things to run after and pounce upon, which she happily does.
“Thoughts?” I say to Sara.
“Don’t overthink it”, she says. “I’ve found that the best way to work in dreams is to go with the flow, steer very lightly, trust your feelings. We already have a breakthrough. Now we just gently widen it.” She has a stick in her hand. “Catch!” And Paige bounds after it.
I grin as she returns with the stick, looks around a bit confused, drops it. Sara picks it up and throws again, and Paige is off in a flash.
Part eighty two
Time runs differently in dreams, but it does run. We were able to get Paige to see us, after some effort, and be responsive (and very cute), but she remained stuck in kitty form. Even so, it gives us hope, we’ll keep chattering and sharing things with her over the link, and see if it helps her move more of her mind into the nonphysical.
I have to admit that what we’re doing feels a little like make-work, although it might nudge the strategic needle. If nothing else, it’ll help Paige feel a little better, she gets to play around and be petted in her dreams.
It feels strange to be facing a day of lessons with a near-war hovering over our heads. But I suppose, less strange than the absolute dislocation we’d feel if it all suddenly stopped dead.
I check my emails, and unsurprisingly there’s a few extras and changes. Dyffud wants to see me in first through second period every day, which means he’s overlapping his lesson with sensei Tolman’s class, the cross-over there should be interesting. I’m sure he didn’t do that by accident. There’s a council of war with the Head in third period with a warning it might overrun into lunch, but food would be provided. Doc Bellows wants me in at fourth period, rather than waiting for tomorrow. I guess he’s worried at the amount of alligators I’ve found myself ass-deep in. An image which makes me giggle.
It seems like Billie has contacts in the flight side of things, and so I’ve got an offer to switch me from the flight class that I don’t particularly need any more, to remedial tutoring for a flying license, which I do. I gladly accept that, although I’m a bit sad it means less time with Billie.
Oh, and, Grimes won’t be taking Necromancy. They don’t say who will, nor why. I kind of suspect that my business with Caitlin and Cat yesterday may have been a factor.
Hmm hmm, what else? An email from Doyle, asking if I’d like to be on their next first aid course. It wouldn’t do much, but it would qualify me to bandage cut fingers and things. I send back a yes to that. I’ve taken courses, but not in this universe.
I can feel Erin coming up behind me, and her arms go around me, and I snuggle back up against her. “Hey roomie.”
“Hey to you too”, she says. “Planning on getting in any wars today?”
“Not sure”, I admit. “Depends when Paige wakes up.”
“I worry”, she admits. “I know I shouldn’t, but I do. If I can help, just say.”
I nod. “If I can, but it’s not likely to be my call. I doubt they’ll be asking students to fight, not even the powerhouses like Billie. They’re gonna need me to get them all there, but I bet I’ll be ordered to run back home as soon as the fighting starts.” I sigh. “I’m worried too. Mainly for Paige, but well, we are going to war with what’s almost certainly a branch of the government. It’s going to take some fast talking to smooth over that.”
“If anyone can do it, Carson can”, she says. And I have to nod to that.
A short while later, as I’m grabbing my usual two seats for breakfast, my eye catches on the Alpha table, where there’s been a total shake-up in personnel. “Did something happen to the Alphas while I was out?”, I ask Billie.
She nods, “The Kodiak chucked Tansy, Hamper and Damper out at lunchtime, invited a bunch of club presidents in. He’s the new top Alpha. He sent us a message that Tansy’s deal is still on, but we gotta apologise to him instead. Jerk. But I figure he won’t do badly.”
Huh. I suppose my attitude to Tansy has changed since I got here, because I’m feeling sympathy for her. “Never met Hamper and Damper yet.”
“You haven’t missed any good company, then”, Billie says, “They’re assholes.”
“Rumour has it they tried to rape someone”, Toni adds. “I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re dangerous, because their power lets them get away with stuff.”
“Jules would kick their ass”, Jade asserts. Which is probably true, but…
“I’d rather not have to”, I say. “I’ve had my fill of fights I couldn’t escape, let alone starting them. Also now I have a body count, go me. I know that isn’t unique around these parts, but well, it’s new to me.”
I think Toni and Ayla are the only ones who don’t have one yet. I get sympathetic looks from around the table. Billie says, “Yeah, it sneaks up on you, a while after the adrenalin wears off. Best not to dwell on it, I think. You did what you had to.”
“Never snuck up on me”, says Jade, she of the zombie army.
“Yeah, but you’re the cutest sociopath in Whateley”, Billie teases back. “I’m mildly surprised you aren’t tallying skulls on your bunk.”
“Not enough room”, Jade says. Which makes everyone laugh, but I think she was half serious.
First two periods, I have two different kinds of martial training, and necromancy - with Sara and without Grimes.
Dyffud is sitting in lotus when I walk in, and he smiles and opens his eyes. “Welcome, Jules. Shall we meditate before we begin?”
I can do that, so I drop into lotus myself, rest my attention on my breath, and allow my mind to clear.
And immediately I get antsy. Can’t we start the lesson? Never mind that I’ve got two other bodies in lessons, and me over in Gothmog’s place twice too - I want something to happen… and looking at that thought, I know there’s nothing that could be enough, because the underlying feeling is nerves. I want to rush in and get it over with. It’s not even sensible fear with a reason that could be addressed. Just sort of free floating anxiety. Oh well, I suppose, own it - I acknowledge that right now I’m feeling anxiety.
And owning it does help to calm it. I can feel the muscle tension I wasn’t paying attention to, relaxing. My desire to pace the room like Darth Maul is greatly reduced.
“Much better”, says Dyffud. “Now we can begin. We’ll start with some simple strikes and blocks.” I smile and stand up, ready.
Necromancy class fills up with people and everyone’s speculating. Is Grimes ill? Who will take the class? Circe walking in and saying “quiet, please” at least answers the second.
She continues, “Good morning everyone. I’m afraid that Ms Grimes has removed herself from taking this class, and so I shall be taking it for the rest of the term. Since I don’t know everybody, why don’t we start with introductions? I’m Circe, I’m the head of the Mystic Arts department, you may call me Ms Circe if you feel the need to be polite. Now, let’s begin with you, codename and a little about yourself please?” And we go around the class. Sara says “Carmilla, demon princess of lust”, which gets a few grins and a glower from the Buffy wannabe. I say “Parallel, friendly eldritch abomination” and get my own scowl from her. Yeah, you had your chance, miss stabby.
When we’ve all had a go, Circe says. “Alright, in today’s class, we will be discussing the incident behind Ms Grimes’ departure. Miss Parallel, could you come forward?” Oh hey. This will be fun. Buffy-girl’s look goes from “I stab u” to “what the freaking heck”. Sara gives my hand a squeeze. I stand and walk out to the front.
She continues, “Now, some aspects of this incident relate to personal secrets, so we’ll be talking about it in a rather abstract way. None the less, I assure you it happened, as I was personally present. And the question I will be posing to you is, is this necromancy? And so we begin. Miss Parallel here has discovered that someone is suffering because their beloved has died. She contrives a way to offer the sufferer a linkage that can be thrown across to the soul of the lost lover. This she is then able to use by creating a body - Miss Parallel, why don’t you create a rather generic boy body?”
Uh okay, I’ve never even thought about doing boy, but I suppose I can. A me appears, male, brown haired, average looking, but in a girl’s uniform, causing laughter. “Sorry, didn’t have a boy’s uniform available”, I say. Ouch, this is surprisingly dysphoric.
Circe picks up, “Better than naked, hmm? Indeed. Miss Parallel created a body to suit the soul’s described preferences, and then moved her own soul’s attachments to the body aside, and attached the soul she was rescuing in her place. So now they are simply alive, as alive as you or me. They will live as normal a human life as any one of us. You may vanish the demonstration body”, I give a smile of thanks. Ugh. I do not like being male at all. “During all this, no necromantic magic was used. The soul was not forced, but offered an option. No dead body was used as a vessel. And yet, now there is somebody newly alive who has been dead for a considerable time. So. Is this necromancy? Raise hands to talk, please.”
I guess my legend just got a little bigger.
While I’m readying to fight in Dyffud’s class, I’m changing into my gi in Tolman’s. It’s nice to meet these folks again, particularly Riley who I hit it off with last time. We should make time to hang out together outside class, although I find myself wondering if the inevitable rumours are gonna put her off.
“Is it true you killed the Necromancer?” that’s Thumper.
I nod. “Tore up his soul, he’s not coming back.” I bet they got as much from the rumour mill, so there’s no point hiding it.
That does get a few winces around the changing room. She continues, “Only I was wondering, how come you could and all the others couldn’t?”
I’ve got my gi on, so I continue the conversation as we head out into the room. “Really it was mostly luck. He used a weapon he should have left at home if he knew what I am. When he attacked someone who I already had linkage to, he gave me a trace that I could follow. And he didn’t have defenses from what I am at that level.”
Sensei Tolman has been listening in and she nods. “Luck’s important. But it wasn’t luck alone that Miss Parallel here used to win yesterday, it was quick thinking in a crisis, and spotting the opportunity. Today’s lesson, we’ll be looking at how you turn a momentary mistake by your opponent into a chance for a lock, a throw, or an opening to strike. Miss Parallel, today you’re my demonstration uke.”
Me and my mouth, heh. Although on the other hand, it might disperse any rumours of my infallibility.
Of course over on Dyffud’s side I’m always going to be the uke. But I’m learning fast. I strike, he makes a small movement to block and I learn that, he strikes, I learn the strike and try one of his counters. It’s similar to over on the other side, but there we’re learning large movements. Here, I’m picking up barely visible shifts of position and short counters that open up holes in the other side’s defenses.
“Do you think Sensei Tolman’s lessons are useless?”, he asks, without missing a beat in the to-and-fro exchange.
“I think they’re different”, I say, trying to do the same. “I won’t learn as much technique from them. I might learn more about moderating my strength and working with a partner. I don’t feel like I’m endangering you.”
He chuckles. “For now, perhaps. Yes, you’re learning the right lesson. Patience, care. And don’t underestimate the weak ones. That I hope you will also learn over there.”
I nod, turning a block into an elbow strike, which he catches and turns aside.
Part eighty three
In the end, the class predictably splits into factions. The Necromancy-is-as-necromancy-does faction, led by Beltane and Nightbane, who either don’t believe my assertions of simultaneous incarnation, or flat out don’t like me, and the saving-people-is-good one, led by Bluejay and Sara. It was an interesting discussion, but I’m honestly a bit worried about how non-abstract Circe let it get. I don’t want to leak Caitlin’s secret, and she gave away a lot of clues. According to the Greek myths I recall reading, Circe wasn’t always nice, and I have a feeling she’s enjoying stirring the pot.
I think also, Beltane likes Ms Grimes, and is grumpy to have lost a class with her. My apologies, but I didn’t make her do that.
At the end of Dyffud’s class, we do another meditation. I’ve absorbed a lot, and had to be careful not to use the techniques a couple of times in Sensei Tolman’s class, that would have annoyed her. Still, it has been good for my unwanted scary reputation for everyone to see me tossed around like a rag-doll. Nobody looks badass playing uke. In breath, out breath, calm the mind and let the memories consolidate.
All change, for third period. I’ve got ranges with Caitlin, my new flight certification class - for which I have, oddly, been asked to meet the instructor in the devisor vehicle lab - and last but far from least, the council of war.
Rather than vanish and split, this time I send my two sweaty selves back to Poe to strip and grab a short shower, before heading to ranges and flight. The email about flight class specified to bring my costume if I have one, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it handles the air, and whether I need to ask for alterations.
The devisor lab is predictably dark and greasy, if much larger than one would expect. I don’t think this will ever be my domain, I’m not particularly fond of machines that go vroom. How it relates to flight, well, patience.
“Ah, hello, Miss Parallel?” There’s a short guy standing by the rear roll-up doors - alongside, unexpectedly, Billie.
“That’s me”, I smile.
“I’m Eugene Buttons, I’ll be your flight instructor, and Tennyo here will be my assistant. Could you get changed into your costume, please?”
There’s a trick I’ve been practising, where I hold the suit up with tentacles and just keep walking as I step into it, vanishing each piece of my uniform only at the last possible moment, to minimize flashing. I do that, and it works nicely. Zip up the back, slap on the mask, and I’m good to go. As soon as Mr Buttons picks his chin up off the floor. And Billie stops laughing. Okay so I admit that was a little naughty.
Mr Buttons clears his throat, reasserting his dignity. “Ahem. Very expedient. You might be wondering where we will be flying today. And the answer is, Utah.” The back door whirrs, and starts trundling open, and it isn’t opening underground at all, but through a warp that I can feel, and on the other side is wide open space. “The Kennecott Salt Flats. Used by devisors for machine testing, and we’ll be using it today to see what your speed and height envelope is. We’ve pre-booked the air space here, and provided you stay within the bounds of that, you will not collide with anything except, and I hope not, the ground.”
Other me makes her way into the range, and gets a grin from Caitlin, who is honestly looking a bit transformed. As soon as everyone’s in, she says, “Class, we have a late joiner. June here comes to us with some experience handling weapons, but she still needs to qualify like any of the rest of you runts. Say hi, make nice, and then get to your assigned stations. Today, we’re bringing out the heavy iron.” I say hi to June, who I first met yesterday under another name. We’ll have you back to range instructor in a jiffy, Cat. Ooh, and the really big tripod-mounted guns Caitlin is handing out one to a station look like they are gonna be fun.
The council of war will be meeting in Schuster Hall, in the big lecture hall, which I haven’t visited yet. When I get there, security is busy checking guests in off a list. The hall is full of people, some in plain clothes, some in costumes spanning the range from minimalist through grimdark to ornate. I see that there’s an amount of mutual glaring going on, and as the security woman escorts me to my seat, I see we’ve got assigned places with name tags. Important to make sure nobody sits the Joker next to Batman, I presume. Not that anyone is risking a plague of lawyers by cosplaying DC properties. And I have to remind myself, to these people, this isn’t cosplay. Some of them genuinely do have secret identities. As do I, I suppose, although it’s not a particularly grand secret.
Oddly enough, they’ve seated me beside Dr. Diabolik. I smile a greeting, although the place is a bit loud for more than “Hi, nice to see you again”, and he says “Likewise, charmed.”
“Alright, quieten down!” It’s Ms Hartford at the podium, hushing a room full of heroes and supervillains like they were an unruly class. “Quiet, please! We are about to go into session. Will anyone who is recording please stop. I don’t care about your justification, I care about not making the job of a future prosecutor easy. Because as I am sure you are well aware, what we are doing today is likely to be in violation of the law. Yes, I see that some of you hold that in contempt, but please be aware that we eventually intend the school to return to politely neutral terms with our local government, and a bit of plausible deniability would be helpful.”
She watches a reading on a gadget, and then nods. “Alright, close the doors, council in session.” I can feel a spell go up, and it reminds me of Fey’s anti-snoop bubbles. She continues, “Here is the headmistress, to explain our little problem.”
On the salt flat, I’ve got precision coordinates in my head now of where the boundaries of our permitted airspace is, it’s pretty big. Should allow me to stretch my wings nicely. I had some time yesterday to work out the principles of slipstreaming and bend-turns at really low speed, but now I get to be a bit more ambitious. Let’s hope I can avoid losing a body, because if I go as fast as I’m considering and I mess up, I’ll hit the empty air like a bug hitting a windshield. Splat!
My slipstreaming approach now is to use the local air bubble only for pressure. I’ll be creating and destroying the gases I need directly in my bloodstream as it passes through my lungs, allowing me to experience breathing without needing fresh air. Meanwhile I’ll be making the air in front as I fly fall aside with a g-field, braking it and then making it fall back together and stop still neatly as I pass. It should be silent, and free from friction or rammed air heating. I may have to run up my heater as I go higher, I won’t be convecting heat but I’ll be radiating it away. We’ll see.
In the council, the Head comes to the podium. “Good morning. Thank you all for responding to our distress call. At one thirty-five PM yesterday, while the school had emptied of its most senior staff to respond to a distress call, fifteen soldiers armed with sophisticated devisor stunner weapons and wearing winter white camouflage broke into my school, stunning several of my students and kidnapping one of them, retreating via destination-scrubbed teleport.” She switches on a projector, which is showing an image of Paige. “This is codename Cyberkitty, a freshman in Hawthorne Cottage, our kidnap victim. She is also known by another name, and I am informed by her advisor that she was about to make it public - she is the Circuit Breaker.”
The room suddenly gets very loud.
Over on the salt flats, it’s very quiet. I’m about four feet up above the ground and barely subsonic, with Billie keeping pace beside me, playing with adjusting my fields as I make bends to turn my direction and then throw up a g-field to brake to a stop. Mr Buttons’ lips are moving, but his voice comes out of the in-ear bud of the radio pickup I’m wearing. “Seven hundred and fifty miles per hour, that’s quite a clip. Shall we call that your maximum speed?”
“No, that was just the warm-up”, I say. “Now, I plan to test cruising speed.” Which, if I have my calculations right, should be just a shade under eight kilometers per second. Lazy speed - I won’t need to input gees to keep myself up, if I’m orbiting. At ground level.
Slipstream up, calculated forces ready to roll, I drop a sharp gravity gradient on myself and off we go. Mach one, two, five - big me slides forward to keep the calculations straight - nine, fifteen, twenty, twenty three… the planet’s gravity falls away as the Earth curves away under me as fast as I’m dropping. And although the area we have to play in is very big, I’m rather rapidly approaching its edge. But no mind, I’ll just make a bend turn. The world snap-rotates around me without changing my momentum and I continue merrily on, make another bend turn to avoid the next edge, and now I’m orbiting back towards Mr Button. Drop another carefully calculated field on myself to brake… and I pull to a dead stop right in front of him. There may be a certain amount of smirking happening.
“You know what”, he says, in a calm tone of voice. “I think we can call that fast enough for today.”
I drop the slipstream, float myself down to the ground. “Yeah, that’s as fast as I was planning on going.”
“I’m glad to hear it”, is his deadpan response.
“Quiet!” Mrs Carson bangs her fist on the lectern and the resulting boom is loud enough to shut up a noisy room full of supers. “Thank you. Yes, she is a powerful child. But her power does not change the fact that she is a pupil under my charge, as are many of your sons and daughters, and I will not permit her to be snatched from under our noses by some presumed government agency that thinks its whims are bigger than our neutrality here. Or where would it end? Which of you could be sure of safety?” There’s murmurs of agreement. “Alright. And so, I would like to talk about the strategy that we’ve put together as a starting point for discussion. Miss Parallel, if you could please come forward?”
Oh hey, it’s everyone-look-at-me time again.
But even as I’m being gawked at, another part of me is joyful. In the dream world of endless grass I’ve been keeping going, Paige, who has become responsive to her name, stretches, yawns, curls up - and shifts into her catgirl self. Eyes blink open. “Nyaaa, where am I? I don’t remember this place. Oh hi Jules! What happened?”
“Long story”, I say. And then I start to tell it.
Part eighty four
Everyone in the council is looking at me. Even with my new capabilities it’s overwhelming.
Mrs Carson says, “I would normally not wish to involve a student in this matter at all. But Miss Parallel has several capabilities that make her essential. She can create and vanish duplicate bodies”, I demonstrate by putting another half dozen of me up front, “Thank you. She can teleport herself and at least one other person per body, allowing her to move our whole army in one jump. She has a means which allows her not only to communicate with her friend, regardless of distance, once she awakens from sedation, but also to blind teleport to where she is, and as soon as she arrives, acquire coordinates for us all to follow her. And last but not least, she has a means of shaping her appearance to look like her friend, permitting a switch to be made.”
I notice the Head isn’t letting on that I can clone people. This is probably not the crowd you’d want to have knowing that. Some of them might get itchy about their own security. So let’s play like it’s a game of illusions. I make a Paige-body and use it to say “I believe I should be able to grab Cyberkitty, fetch her safely back, and plant a ringer in one swoop. They won’t know they’ve been compromised.” I vanish the Paige-body again. Fur feels disturbingly good.
“What if they see you on a camera”, a native American looking woman asks. “Won’t that give the game away?”
I say, “That shouldn’t be a problem” - and I engage my thermoptic camouflage on all my bodies there, hiding everything but my teeth and eyes, and then closing those in all bodies but the one speaking, making a murmur go around the room. “If I can jump in at a part of the room that is out of camera sight - I’ll ask Cyberkitty to help with that - my camouflage should adjust to make me crudely invisible over a spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared in about two tenths of a second. For about another three tenths, I’ll be at less than full resolution, and look a little blurry - but only if I’m against a pattern. Against block colour like typical institutional paint, it won’t show.” I switch off my camouflage and reappear all of my bodies.
A really muscular looking black guy, who I recognise as Dr Simpson from Jade’s little adventure in babysitting, says “It sounds like, as soon as she wakes up, you pop in with your camouflage up, switch her for the ringer and bring her back here, and at that point it’s no longer a rescue mission, because as I understand it, you can vanish that ringer at will. There’s nobody left in that base we need to rescue.”
Mrs Carson picks that one up. “You are correct. At that point, it becomes a punishment mission. Our intention is to close down whatever they regard as their base, and take their leadership into custody until we can negotiate an appropriate apology from their employer. Once we’ve taken control, we will ensure they evacuate the area, and then, well, for this I’ll hand you over to Dr. Diabolik.”
My new friend stands up with a nod. “I have children in this school, and I believe a clear message needs to be sent. Once the area is clear, I will instruct one of my Mjölnir orbital platforms to deliver three hyper-velocity hard projectiles. One for each of my children, and one for our kidnap victim. I believe that will be a sufficiently visible object lesson.”
That makes a lot of people wince. I haven’t studied those things, but from people’s attitudes, I’m guessing they’re nuke level. I guess we really are rather serious.
Still, Dr. Simpson missed a point. I say, “We don’t yet know that Cyberkitty is the only kidnap victim. I may be able to ferry others I discover to safety, but my ability to duplicate them from a short glance is more limited, it won’t fool close examination, I may have to leave them behind until the full invasion. And we won’t know anything about prisoners in other rooms, I doubt I’ll be able to slip a body out and sneak around exploring. I suggest assuming it’s still a rescue mission until whatever location they’re at is scoured clean.” That makes several of the heroic types look a bit more relaxed, and the Head nods, “Good point.”
We’re interrupted by an entirely unexpected knocking at the lecture room doors. The Head says, “Ms Hartford, if you will? Quiet, no secrets please, everyone, until the wards are back up.”
Ms Hartford opens the doors and glowers at the very young looking girl who’s standing there. She looks like an age peer with Jade. A little rounded, and wearing a size-too-big uniform to hide it. “Well Miss… ahem, Chaosdancer, what is it? This is a council in session and we do not have time for student nonsense unless it is genuinely urgent.” I think she was about to use a real name, and realised how many ears were listening.
The kid says, “You need me, Ms Hartford. This council needs me.”
“Oh and why is that?”
“Because you are facing a precog. If I am not involved, your plans will be anticipated and the result will be a loss.”
The Head says, “Let her in, Amelia. If she says we need her, then we need her.”
Ms Hartford nods, lets the girl in and closes the door. “Very well.” A look passes between the two - I suspect, Ms Hartford already lost the argument about involving students at all. That look says “you’ve already overridden me, what’s one more.”
The girl comes forward, I vanish the spare bodies to make room for her, and she looks at the council. “Hello, I know you all but you’ll have to introduce yourselves to me later. I’m called Chaosdancer. I’m a bit loose in time, and it messes with precognition.” She gives a curtsey, which is extremely cute. Although there are a few of the people here with migraine frowns who don’t seem to be buying the cute.
And speaking of cute…
Paige doesn’t have anything of strategic use to help us yet. She remembers being surprised when a bunch of adults burst into her room, then a sensation like electrical shock. “Not the same though, or I’d have just eaten the current. Some devisor thing. Next I knew, I was waking up in a field with dreams of chasing butterflies.” We aren’t in the field any more, Sara brought us all into her dream-room once Paige was lucid. We’re snuggled around Paige in the bed giving her hugs.
“Your kitty self seemed to like the butterflies”, I tease lightly.
“They were very pretty, but frustrating”, she says. “I kept catching one and there was another teasing me. Thank you for that, it was fun. You know, I can hardly believe I’m here thinking, and yet I’m unconscious. What am I even thinking with?”
“Your soul, dear”, Sara says. “I think we’re rubbing off on you” And she does the ‘yes that was a double entendre’ eyebrow wiggle. Which makes us both giggle uncontrollably for a bit.
Once we get our breath back, Paige says, “Am I turning into a GOO?”
“Do you want to?” Sara asks. It’s clear that’s a genuine offer, same as the one she gave me.
Paige shakes her head. “Not right now, I might later. But I think maybe I want to go a little way down that road if it gives me stuff I can use like this.”
“I believe we can manage that”, Sara says. “What you’re doing now is just using a part of your mind all humans have but most can’t do anything with, because they have no feedback. We gave you enough feedback that your self, which was starved of stuff to do in a switched off brain, migrated its focus over here to where the fun was.”
Paige nods. “Do you think I’ll be able to split my attention, here and not, once I’m awake? I’m a little envious of you Jules, with your multiple minds. I’ve got me and Mai, but usually only one of us can front. Reminds me, Mai doesn’t seem to be here.”
I say, “Perhaps Mai finds the idea of thinking without a physical brain difficult to accept?” I look to Sara, “Do you think we can spark her for multiple mind threads? Now she’s here, she should have the potential. Souls are intrinsically multiple.”
Sara looks thoughtful. Paige is going “Pleeeease!” and doing sad-kitty eyes in a completely transparent attempt to manipulate us, which is working very nicely. Sara says, “Paige, you aren’t a warper like Jules, and I used that when I sparked her. But I’ll have a look and a think, and maybe. I promise I’ll try, is that good enough?”
Paige nods. “Thanks, both of you. I have the best family.” And there’s only a small catch before the word ‘family’. We both hug her close.
In flight, I’m rated as having no top speed and no vertical ceiling. That simplifies matters, although I’m still not completely happy with my need to maintain an artificial pressure bubble at height. I’ve got my own copy of the book Billie loaned me (already read hers, but I’ll double check in case there have been revisions). And next lesson will be more conventional, we’ll be learning basic maneuvers and how to talk on the radio. I’ll see if I can’t make myself some instruments before then. Perhaps I can interface them to the links?
At the range, Caitlin has been avoiding any too obvious favouring of June, but her grin is irrepressible. I’m so happy for the two of them.
The council meeting is breaking up after they passed a vote to go with the plan pretty much as is. I’m to tell the Head as soon as I get in contact with a conscious Paige. They don’t need to know about the unconscious contact, since she can’t give me jump directions yet. Everyone has agreed to be ready at a one hour warning to scramble for the big attack. And the Head has asked me to find out with the powers testing people how much I can carry per body in a teleport. Chaosdancer is assigned to stick with me in the hope she will mess with their precogs. I hope she doesn’t miss too many lessons, perhaps I can go with her to hers?
I’ve been thinking about Dr Diabolik. It feels to me like, he has potential as someone we can draw into our inner circle and include in the plan to help humanity. It feels like he’s already substantially on side, there’s just stuff he doesn’t know yet. I pass the idea to Sara and Paige, and they both agree. And so as we’re heading out, I catch his eye, and step aside. He gets the hint, and follows. When I think we’re out of earshot I say, “There’s something I want to include you in, if you’re interested.”
“Oh?” I think I see a bit of suspicion, I won’t be the first person who’s come to him with a half-baked scheme or a plea to become a henchperson. I’ll have to be careful how I phrase this.
“You heard my radio interview. So you know in outline what I am, and you know what I changed. What I don’t think you yet know, what the Head explicitly asked me not to speak about, is that what I did was make a move in a game. A big move, one that changes the rules, but neither the first move nor the last. And the game has an opponent. I believe knowing about that will be important for your mission. It may help to explain some of the problems you’ve encountered.”
He rubs his chin, thoughtfully. “Let us say I am curious, but not yet convinced.”
I smile. “A first bit of down-payment towards convincing you, perhaps you wondered how I’m in contact with Cyberkitty?”
He chuckles and nods. “The account in council very clearly left a lot of holes. Assertions about what you could do, a careful stepping around how or why.”
“The assertions of what I can do were pretty full of gaps too. Here’s one. I am in communication with her, using a GOO magic based, soul level, ansible communication system that I call ‘the links’. One I’ve already used for far more than just communication and telepathy. I’ve already used it once to defeat death. It is designed to be passed on virally by mutual consent. Anyone who has it can give it to people. Would you like to have a link? If the answer is yes, just mentally reach for it.”
I feel the link connect.
Part eighty five
“Welcome to a larger world”, I say down the link. “You should be able to reply by just thinking at it as if you were going to speak.”
He takes a moment, and then says “Hello?” down the link in reply.
“There, you’re connected in. You should be able to give out links the same way I did, but I recommend thinking carefully about whether they can be trusted with it, and whether they have good judgement as to who to pass it along to in turn.”
He nods thoughtfully. “I… see. And this is superluminal?”
“Instantaneous would be more accurate. It’s hosted at a level where time and space don’t really apply. It should also be secure against snooping by almost everyone. The exceptions to that, unfortunately, include our opponent.”
“Ah.” He looks thoughtful. “I believe I start to see your motivations in this. A whole communications technology, as you say, at the soul level. You are showing me that something which I had regarded as a matter for priests and something with which I did not deal, is both a locus of technology, and by implication a wide open weakness.”
“And a locus of migration. But yes, exactly.”
He raises an eyebrow at that. “And your opponent, I presume, is another GOO?”
“The famous one, whose name begins with a C, who I strongly suggest not naming on the links.”
“That… fiction, exists?” That comes across as a bit incredulous.
I make a grimace. “Let’s just say, I want someone else to tell you that story. It will cause you to wince. My apologies in advance.”
He chuckles. “Accepted in advance. And who is this someone else? Although I believe I can guess.”
“You probably guessed right. Sara Waite, Carmilla. The other GOO on campus, the one who sparked me, and the one with more experience at it.”
He nods. “And you wish to arrange a meeting?”
“By unconventional means”, I smile. “Find a moment after lunchtime to grab a nap. Or a deep meditation should work equally well, I think.”
“Really?” he looks amused.
I nod. “Like I said, a larger world.”
“I shall look forward to it”, he nods. “Until then.” He gives a bow, which I return, and heads off.
Good, I think that went nicely.
I update Sara and Paige as I head in to lunch. Sara thinks she can easily pull him into the dream room, using the links. With enough notice that Paige can put some clothes on, heh. Happy distractions prevent dwelling on uncomfortable situations - the same technique Sara used on me, there.
Sara meets us at the Pack table, which feels strange without Paige, but she’s clearly distracted herself. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen her move around and maintain a dream room at the same time, except that once with me, in similar circumstances. She catches my look and chuckles. “Yeah, I’m here and I’m there. At the moment I’m dividing my attention, but I’m trying to have dual attention. I know it ought to be possible.”
“For Paige?”, I guess.
She nods. “Yeah, if I can learn it, I can teach it. I’ve been lazy, leaning on you a bit. Time to pick up my own game.”
I can understand the feelings behind that, and I give her a hug. “Neither of us was there, or we would have defended her.”
“I was just down a level and along. I heard it, you know?” Sara sighs. “Around here, some idiot running around with zap guns doesn’t stick out from the usual din. Devisors and their toys. And they got to her before she thought to use the mark.”
“Good planning on their part, bad luck on ours”, I agree. “Not always will we get a chance to prevent. Sometimes, we’ll have to react.”
She nods. And for a moment I see a dark flame of anger in her eyes. “I know the school is managing the rescue, but afterward, well, we’ll see. What rubble Paige leaves, I want a go at.”
I hug her and nod. “And what you leave, I’ll make it bounce.”
While the Pack table is one down, the Kimba table is one up. Chaosdancer has joined us. “Hi everyone! I’m assigned to stick with Jules, but there’s only one of me, so I’ll be joining you all here. My codename is Chaosdancer but my name is Kristin. Yes I know you all, because I’m not really very fixed in time, but you’ll need to introduce yourselves later. I’m sorry if it’s confusing.”
“Seems perfectly normal to me” I tease.
“Yeah, but you’re the freakiest freak in the school”, says Toni, and puts her tongue out. So I put mine out back and go bleeeh, which makes everyone giggle, and breaks the ice.
“Are you in the junior high?”, asks Jade.
Kristin shakes her head. “Freshman, I’m just young. But I’ll be thirteen soon!”
“Me too”, Jade says, “Except I’m fourteen and stuck looking like this.”
“Bleh, that sucks”, Kristin agrees. “Bad enough to actually be young, without being stuck looking that way. But I feel pretty sure you’ll get cured.”
“Is that a future thing? You know I will?” Jade is obviously fishing for a yes.
And she gets one, kinda. “Sort of, it’s complicated. There’s something big in the way and I can’t see past it clearly. A fight? It’s confusing because it feels like it’ll happen, but it won’t happen here, but it’ll affect here. Sorry. I’m making no sense.”
Jade says, “Will it be soon?”
Kristin shrugs. “I’m the exact wrong person to ask that. It’s all piled in a heap to me. Sorry.”
Jade sighs, and gets a hug from Billie. “Sorry for pushing you. It’s just harder to wait around, than just be told no.”
Kristin sounds subdued. “Well, for better or worse this whatever-it-is feels like it’s rushing up on us reeeal fast. But looking that way is giving me a headache, so can we not for a bit?”
“It’s fine”, I say, preempting Jade’s desire for more data. “You look after you.”
In the end we work out that Sara, Kristin and I will head to escape class, which is going to feel wrong with no Paige. Meanwhile I’ll head over to the powers guys to get my teleporting measured as per the Head’s instructions, as well as visiting Doc Bellows.
I think for escape, and code class later, I’ll relay it to Paige and she can watch it like a movie. I don’t know if it’ll stick, learning it in a soul level mind, but at least she won’t be cut off. Might help things feel more normal for her. Damn all kidnappers.
Walking over to Doyle, I’m not really in the best of moods. But I take a breath and let my frown go when I see Majestic, gesturing to me. Probably just luck we ran into each other, but she clearly wants a moment, so I let her catch me up outside Doyle. “Hi, what’s up?”
She takes a moment, then says, “So, your interview on Saturday. Turned out you didn’t stir up much panic, but, what there was, we helped keep a lid on it. So we’re quits, right?”
I nod. “As agreed. Thank you. Yes, we’re quits.”
She nods. And pauses. “I um, heard about the Necromancer, yesterday.” She takes a moment, then says, “You went easy on us, didn’t you?”
“I know the difference between people doing something I don’t like, and an abomination against everything of value, like he was”, I say. “Counterpoint left me a few too many scars for it to feel like I was going easy. But I wasn’t aiming to kill.”
“But you killed them.”
I nod. “They needed to just stop. And the necromancer himself, I shredded his soul. Pieces of him will be back eventually, as parts of other life. But he’s gone.” I wince at the memory. “He was a disgusting, self centered, stealing, consuming thing, and I hope whatever his soul-shards become, it’s something nicer.”
She looks down a moment, and says in a quieter voice, “We’re quits, but I don’t want you for an enemy, okay?”
I nod. “Right now I don’t like you much, but I’m open to change. If you want to be the kind of person I approve of, try finding ways to make being kind, nice, helpful, work for both you and them. Win-win scenarios. If you do that, you’ll be working with the influence as a wind at your back, rather than blowing in your face. You’ll create a positive wake rather than a negative one. And you’ll earn my respect.”
She sighs. “I’ve been doing some thinking. So… yeah. I can see a line stretching between where I was, and where Jason was, and… the Necromancer, where he was. That’s a line I’m choosing not to follow any more.”
I smile. “Then it sounds like you’re headed the right way.”
She nods quietly, and walks off, while I head inside.
Doc Bellows greets me with coffee ready, and pours me a mug. “Grab a seat. Sorry for breaking up your rhythm with a session out of order, but I felt you needed a chance to talk over the weekend as soon as possible. And now you’re mixed up in this other stuff too, I’m told. Bit of a war zone, really. Were you planning to slow down any time soon?”
I chuckle. “Next up is the big religious conference where they proclaim me a goddess. Signs aren’t good for a return to calm normality.”
He shakes his head. “You need to make time. Even if it’s grabbed in fits and snatches. Or I fear you’ll have a nasty crash.”
I nod, remembering my near misses. “I’ve had help. At least one really strong catharsis Friday night. But I do need a better coping mechanism. It builds up, you know?”
“Meditation, every opportunity”, he says. “Just take five minutes and do it. Get out in nature as much as you can. Delegate. And try to at least punctuate the trauma with ordinary life. Because you see, the problem I face is that it’s not really possible to help you heal from trauma while you’re still experiencing it.”
I have a thought, remembering fields of grass. “There’s not much nature I can get out into while this business is unfinished, but what if I made a mental world where I could go?”
He considers that. “It might be a good idea. Perhaps particularly for you, because I know you can split your attention.”
I nod. “I’ll look into it.”
“Alright. So. Why don’t you tell me what happened yesterday?”
So I tell him, the whole thing, including the bits I left off the record, where I made a choice to kill without offering surrender. And how actually killing people felt… numb, mechanical, I just did things and they fell in pieces and stopped being alive.
He sighs and leans back. “I never enjoy having to tell people this, but it comes up here more often than I’d like. Yes, killing people is mechanical. Subject the body to something like a lightsaber decapitation, and it stops being a person. And there is no fanfare. No angel appears, pointing an appalled finger. The birds continue to sing. The sun rises and sets. People go about their business, when it feels like the world should stop. The one who judges is you. The one who remembers is you.”
“My perspective lets me see that humans have other incarnations. That death isn’t an end. But it was still a selfish act. To keep Donna’s secret, to stop her becoming an eternal hostage, I just ended their present life, I treated them like things.”
“As they have treated many others, those were not innocent onlookers.”
“Tit-for-tat is meaningless and murdering murderers just makes me a big game hunter, like Counterpoint.”
“Then will you accept that you made a choice, and you made it for good reasons? Donna deserves protection. What you did, protects her.”
I sigh. “Yeah, there’s that. I can accept that.”
Part eighty six
“No, it’s okay, I don’t have any classes until sixth period”, Kristin says as she walks with Sara and I towards escape class. “I think you’re taking way more than most people, even with the doubling up. You don’t have free periods, right?”
I nod, “Right. Only a few periods are even single overlap.”
She giggles. “I don’t know how you stand it. ‘Work, work, nor dare to shirk’.” Random Tolkien, I like this kid, heh.
“She’s new here”, Sara teases me with a stuck out tongue that she’s extended tentacle-wise to a pointy tip.
“Ah.” Kristin says that like it all makes sense.
“What?”, I ask, amused. “Is there something wrong with being new?”
Kristin shakes her head. “Means you’re still grabbing a full plate of everything. New kid syndrome, everybody gets it when they first arrive. Takes about a month for it to start feeling like home, rather than you lucked into the biggest funfair ever. Then you want to slow down, because things like weekends and free periods are a break from the drudge and a chance to do your own thing. But you came in on a term with all electives, so it’s not even drudgery yet.”
We grab seats in the classroom - Kristin takes Paige’s, which feels weird and bad. I distract myself from that by pondering what she said. “Some of it was kinda dull, but I tested out of that. I see what you, mean, I dropped right into the funfair term.”
“Gets much, much duller in the spring”, she says. “Well, if there is a spring, which is a little uncertain at this point.”
I’m about to ask for clarification but Mr Robertson comes in, and class has begun.
I’ve been to powers testing twice before, but I suppose it’s my own fault for collecting new ones that I’m back again - peeking in a little hesitantly this time because I don’t exactly have an appointment, just orders from the Head.
“Ah, Parallel, come on in, doctor Hewley will be with you in a moment.” Which, duh, she called ahead with. Sometimes I’m silly. I smile and nod my thanks to the receptionist and grab a seat.
“Hello, welcome back again”, Doc Hewley is his usual friendly self. “I’ve been hearing things about you. Orbiting at ground level! Assembling lightsabers ex nihilo in a floating vacuum bubble, and then making them appear and disappear at whim! Sadly none of which is on the schedule today, but perhaps soon?”
“They kinda aren’t so much new, as me stretching out what I can do with what I’ve already got”, I say. “Like the slipstream I used for orbiting is mostly just using gravity to yank stuff around. And space warping for turns.”
“Yes, that was a nice touch, I’m surprised I haven’t seen it used more often”, he says. “Pulling turns like a Tron light cycle at a speed that would make a UFO blush, was how I heard it described.” As we talk we’re walking, presumably towards one of the labs.
“Some of the math is a little fiddly and you have to do it at speed”, I admit. “I suspect the technique has been discovered a lot, but either set aside as impractical, or used once, and messily.”
“Not much time to think ‘oops’ at mach twenty three”, the doc says as we step together into a huge underground arena.
“Even with my timebase up high, not a whole lot”, I agree.
It’s my first time meeting the ANTS bots, because I don’t get to do team combat. With their holographic emitters switched off, they look kind of like T-800 terminators with the skin off, only a whole lot less menacing. Somewhere between that and naked C-3PO.
Doc Hewley says, “So, rather than using actual humans to see how many you can carry, we’ll be using bots. Sorry if that’s a disappointment.”
“Alas for my fantasies of embedding innocent test subjects into walls”, I deadpan back.
“Try not to embed any robots either, if you can help it. They’re very fixable, but they’re also expensive. Or for that matter yourself.”
I nod. “Definitely not my idea of a fun time. Just a moment, I want to feel out the jump coordinates of this place.” And I give him a little demo of slipstreaming, flickering around the circumference of the whole vast room.
Okay, I said I wouldn’t brag, but he’s the powers test guy, can I brag just a little?
“Right, a moment, very funny”, he grins, he’s amused despite pretending not to be. “How fast was that?”
“Barely mach one. Lazy dawdling.”
He just hrmphs. “Alright, show-off, get started.” But he does grin a moment later as the pretence cracks.
Over in the mental health section in Doyle, Doc Bellows looks confused as I crack a grin myself. “Something going on?”
“Just playing around in powers testing”, I say. “I tell myself not to be a show-off, but it’s impossible not to when there’s someone there to actually impress with it.”
He looks amused. “A little showing off isn’t harmful. Don’t let your ego rest on it, and you’ll be fine. People who show off too much do it because they need to be seen as big and special, because they feel weak and small inside.”
I pull a bit of a face. “Hate to admit it, but there’s definitely a part of me that feels that way. Takes time for facts to undo experience.”
“But you can admit it, and that’s a good beginning. Not enough for a cure in itself, but you aren’t going to be spitting up the medicine.” He looks thoughtful. “Still, that might explain a few things.”
I think about it. “The anger outbursts.”
He nods. “You’ve more than once gone further in anger than you were comfortable with immediately afterward. In each case, you were facing opponents who would have terrified the old you, I think?”
“And groups, yes. Even if they weren’t mutants, a group like that could have bullied the old me. So if I learn not to feel small, I won’t lash out?”
“How you feel emotionally isn’t exactly where the problem lies”, he says, picking his words carefully. “It’s your unconsidered reactions that are out of sync, compared to the values the rest of you holds. And those reactions are controlled by beliefs that are half-conscious, because they pop up when nudged, but are normally quiescent.”
“Which explains how they slip under the radar.”
“The ability to see any part of your mind, is not the ability to see all of your mind, I imagine.”
I hadn’t quite thought of it that way. “Makes sense.”
He smiles. “Alright, we’re out of time today, but we still have your regular session tomorrow, and that gives us a nice thread to pick up.”
I smile. “Provided this business with Paige doesn’t interfere, yeah.”
Speaking of Paige, though, she’s stopped Sara from playing distraction. “Sorry, I think I’m starting to get sensations from my physical body, the crossover is messing with me.”
“Waking up?” I ask.
“Not quickly, at any rate”, she says. “But if we’re gonna have a chat with Doc Diabolik, we’d best do it soon.”
“Most of it, Sara and I can do, you’re more of a useful example”, I say. “But you’re also a priority. As soon as you come awake enough to give me a target, I’m jumping over to get you. He can wait.”
“Well, he’s just started meditating, good timing”, Sara says. “I’ve got him, bring him in?”
“Sec”, Paige scrambles to get back into her clothing, cutely. Gah, I love these two. “Okay, I’m good.”
Diabolik appears suddenly, and looks around a little surprised. “Ah, I hope I’m not interrupting anything?”
Sara looks amused. “Welcome to the Lovecraft room, or at least, its dream extension. Please, grab a beanbag. Or a seat on the bed if you prefer. No, you aren’t interrupting anything. Although, Cyberkitty here is showing signs of gradually regaining her physical consciousness, and if she does, I think we might have to rush around a bit.”
He does grab a beanbag, and I grab one beside him so he doesn’t feel singled out. He looks thoughtful. “I have so many questions. Practical ones first, I suppose. I thought, miss Cyberkitty, that you were unconscious and unreachable?”
Paige says, “Unconscious, yes. Which means I can’t give Parallel an anchor for her teleport yet. I was just out of it, but these two managed to get me thinking with my soul, don’t ask me how it works. So at least I can be here.”
“Souls, again, hmm?”
I say, “Yeah, and this place is another soul construct. It has a physical and nonphysical extension, but they both do what she wants”, I nod towards Sara. “That’s why it feels so solid. It kind of is. And it belongs to her strongly enough that we can probably talk safely here.”
He nods, “You’ve implied, miss Parallel, that actual Cthulhu might be listening in?”
“Call me Jules, please, I don’t feel the need to hide behind a codename from you. On the links, yes. Or rather, he isn’t going to be listening to them all the time, because his attention isn’t there, but saying his name on them would be unwise. Or in voice conversations, really, because he can read minds if they aren’t shielded really well.”
“So, and pardon me if this is a rude question, but how is a fictional monster your real enemy?”
Sara picks it up. “Because when the great old ones broke through to this universe, he was the first one, and he latched onto Mr Lovecraft. We find it easier to connect with creatives, because they work on the soul level. We need the connection to define ourselves in terms that work here, things like names and personalities. We have more abstract natures, he was always nasty, that’s why he fell into resonance with someone who was a bigoted ass even for his time. Out of that merger came a name and a personality. He became the arch-bigot. Hating everything different from himself. In this timeline, that’s recent, but we’re timeless, so he was named and defined from the beginning of things.”
“So all of Lovecraft’s monsters…”
“Are real, and he named them, yes. Hence grandma having a rude name.”
“Grandma, hmm, I think I know the one you mean, but I take it, not literally?”
“Oh yes, literally”, she smirks. “Grandma made me, Kellith, and made Gothmog, my father. We’re direct lineage from the power of life. I’m her high priestess. Daddy and I are on the humans’ side. She isn’t, but she also isn’t opposed. And then Jules here came to me wanting to be one of us, so I sparked her. Which puts her in the life lineage too.”
“And she’s offered to spark me, but I haven’t said yes yet”, Paige says.
I say, “Thing is, this all sounds abstract until you realise that old Cthulhu has his tentacles in every damn part of the world’s governments and is outright stirring up bigotry, war, and chaos, and holding humanity down. I’d lay odds he has a tentacle in most of the damn-foolishness you’ve been facing up against too. He doesn’t want the humans to escape.”
“I… see”, he sighs. he looks lost in thought, so we let him have a moment to rearrange his world-view. “I understand now, that I’ve been playing chess without even realising there was a thinking opponent behind the frustrations imposed upon me by the other side’s pieces. Instead I blamed each piece separately.”
I say, “Humans are plenty stubborn on their own, don’t get us wrong, but he isn’t helping.”
He nods. “You say you’re on humanity’s side. What do you mean by that?”
“We want you to be free to make your own choices, not interfered with”, says Sara.
I say, “We basically plan to make humans more like GOOs, give you all much more direct access to the soul side of things. Breeding into your species is part of that, so’s teaching you, and sparking or semi-sparking some of you. Without your soul side exposed and unguarded, you’ll be a lot harder to manipulate or control.”
“Breeding in”, he chuckles. “A project for later I presume. But I see you’re already hard at work teaching.”
Paige says, “You’re the first, outside of Whateley and ARC. Jules’ choice, but I think she made a good one.”
Part eighty seven
“When she comes awake, don’t jump until I say go”, Kristin says. “They know you’re coming. They’ll try and catch you out by making her use her powers.”
I nod and nudge the Head over the links. “I think we’re about to be a go for project switcheroo. And the enemy does have a good idea that we’re coming.”
I get back a nod. “Be careful. And I’ve received the powers testing results. Six per body, not bad.”
“They need to be able to touch me. So if it’s big people, maybe less than six”, I say.
“Alright, I’ll get them ready. Do you need anything?”
“A pass from sixth period lessons. I’d rather not split my focus.”
“Consider it done. Good luck.”
We’re about half way through fifth period, but Mr Robertson doesn’t raise objections when I ask for me, Kristin and Sara to be excused. Now I know I can do it safely, I tell the two of them to grab on, then fold all three of us through a teleport to outside Sara’s room, which will be a good base of ops for me. I do my suit-quick-change, which makes Kristin giggle.
In the dream version of the same room, I say to Dr Diabolik, “Looks like things are heating up, so I’m afraid we’ll have to continue this after.”
He nods. “It has been enlightening. And now to the action filled part of the day, then.” He bows, then vanishes from the dream room.
Paige meanwhile is making faces. “This double vision feels really weird.”
“You’ve got a choice, dear”, Sara says. “Let go of this side and have single vision. Or try and adjust to the weirdness.”
Paige nods. “I’ll try. I wanted this. Urgh, I hate anaesthetic. I can barely move, but I think I’m strapped down.”
“Kristin says they’re going to make you use your powers”, I warn. “You might want to brace for that, although I don’t know which one.”
“I think I can guess”, she says, sounding disgusted. She starts relaying vision over the links to me and Sara, as she forces her eyelids open onto painfully bright light, that resolves into a white ceiling with a strip-light. A face in a medical mask and cap appears, shines a light in her eyes. Making Paige over this end hiss alarmingly.
“I know that fucker. Damn it, that’s Dr. Lenston. Nathan Millsap. Mind raping bastard.”
“So that’s where he’s gone and hidden”, Sara says. “Well, he won’t get away this time.”
“And I have a shield, this time”, Paige says.
“Good thing I made you practise it”, Sara teases, getting a stuck out blue tongue back from Paige.
The voice is relayed over the link from Paige’s body, “Welcome back to the land of the living, miss Circuit Breaker. You’re looking rather furrier than when we last met.”
Paige tries to say something back but it comes out as an incoherent murmur. In the dream room, she says it out loud, “You still look like your mother fucked an overripe cheese.” Making both of us giggle.
He says, “Uh-uh, no talking, dear”, and a thickly gloved hand appears and pushes something into Paige’s mouth. “You might want to brace yourself.”
Slam! Something of the pain and blast of being hit with a nasty electrical shock leaks across the link, and Paige here jerks and cries out. “Ow, fucking goat raping shitfaced goddamn bastard that hurt. And now my physical brain is all loopy, dammit.”
“Still with us?”, the voice asks. “Good, I see it’s really, you then. Don’t go anywhere.” And he leaves, chuckling.
Kristin says, “You’ve got a twelve minute gap now, go!”
I relay that, and Paige’s perspective changes as she tries to sit up, then failing that, to tilt her head and look. Camera there, camera there. Clear area, there. And I trace down the link, reach through with gravity sense, it opens up, I can feel the room.
It’s a room in greys, with my eyes closed, but Paige is a riot of colours in life sense, strapped into a bed. There’s nobody else in the room at the moment. The door’s shut. My camo is adjusted, I’m invisible. Gravity sense widens, I’m underground, there’s a warren of passages around me. Above that, a void, presumably sky. I throw a copy up there, blind. I’m falling through clear blue skies over forested mountains. The surface base is a small and unremarkable military camp. That body vanishes, got the coordinates. I float myself over to Paige. One touch, and I switch her with the duplicate body and we’re back in the Lovecraft room.
“Got her!” I exult to the Head. “And got the coordinates. Ready to go on your say-so.”
“Good, head outside, we’re lining up for transport. And get the poor girl to Doyle, would you?”
“Yes ma’am.” I send a costumed body outside. Everyone’s milling around, with the Head shouting orders, getting them to form up into six-man groups, flyers in one area and non-flyers in another.
“You need to take the next shock, if you want to surprise them”, Kristin says.
I wince at that. “I’ve never tried using anyone else’s powers.”
“Got… my permission”, Paige croaks. “Get the… fucker.”
I nod. And jump her over to the foyer of Doyle. “Coming in with one rescued hostage.” We’re rapidly surrounded by doctors and Paige is whisked away.
So now I have a ticking clock to learn to use powers that don’t belong to me, but, I also have permission from their rightful owner. Okay.
First, what does it feel like to be Paige? My senses are different. She isn’t seeing in colour, except the electricity around here shines blue through the walls. There isn’t much of it, they’ve clearly built this room to hold her, although from the plastered and repainted look of the walls they may have ripped out the modern stuff in a hurry. The medical equipment around is antiquated, god knows where they dug it up but I know I’d be able to feel if anything had so much as a microcontroller and it doesn’t.
Paige in the dream room says, “Alright, they’ve got me resting in a quiet room, so I’m not distracted any more and I can help. I want to see if I can infiltrate their network there, through you. Do you think the link will let me drive? It should give you a workout too.”
“Can’t hurt to try”, I say. And I throw open as much of the sensorium as I can put on the link.
“Gah, and now I’ve got three bodies”, Paige sounds amused. “Okay, let’s see” The perspective shifts, I can feel the link’s internet connection firing up, and Paige is making her power search around, but there’s nothing in reach.
“Hold up, let’s give you a boost”, I say. And I let big me come forward slowly in Paige-body, hiding any visible signs.
“Whoa, that feels weird, damn, that’s huge, that’s you?”
I giggle mentally at the double entendre. “Big me, and believe me she gets much huger. Try now.”
And the entire base blossoms into view. “Oh nice, very nice”, Paige is having fun. “And got you, you asshats. Thought a shielded server room would keep me out? Think again. Ooh, this is fun.” Perspective shifts and she’s diving through data like a decker out of a William Gibson novel. “I’m copying this over to Hartford, but it looks like my captors were a splinter off the CIA. Although something’s squirrely about that. It’s like there’s an organization inside an organization. I think maybe, the CIA got punked.”
“I don’t think the Head’s going to cut them any slack for that”, I say.
“Detentions all round”, Paige agrees. “Alright, give the powers a stretch yourself, now.”
I try that, cautiously poking around the base computers, then popping out and sensing around. feeling the big power plant buried deep underground, following wires around, splitting my attention (which makes Paige go “ooh dammit that’s confusing”) and following each wire, I can feel the machinery at the end of it. Guns, lasers. I’ll be ready for those.
Oops, time’s up! My attention returns to the room I’m still strapped down in. Millsap comes back in and unceremoniously throws a switch. Timebase fast, I can feel the current build, big me helps the power shunt it to the body’s batteries. Copying what Paige did before, I simulate a spasm. and speed back to normal (to more complaints from headache-having Paige), I make sure to spit a few choice swearwords at the supposed doctor.
He meanwhile, looks surprised. “Really, your friend is running rather late. We’re expecting her, you see. I have an acquaintance who would very much like to borrow her body. A certain doctor Palm.”
Someone else enters the room. A woman, I think at first, but she’s completely just… wrong on life sense. In terrible distress and pain, and none of it shows on her face. “You have been tricked, doctor Lenston.”
“What do you mean?”
“Her responses show patterns that are not human. Speeding up and slowing down. Constant two millisecond lag. The spasm was a precise duplicate of the previous. This is a puppet.”
Over Whateley side, we’re ready. “On my mark”, says the Head.
I grin at the two of them. “Pot calling the kettle black. And I think I’ll borrow that puppet of yours, she isn’t enjoying it.” A flick of teleport takes me out of the bed and into contact with Palm’s puppet, and I snatch her to outside security in Whateley.
“Go”, says the Head, and I’m lifting a full thousand people, got them in my gravity and I fold space and….
We’re overhead and free-falling towards wooded ground. I let the flyers go, and they curve away, those bodies stay in place up above to form a monitor grid. Below, soldiers are running around and shouting, guns that look like sticks with tall domed hats swivel and go BURRRRT and spit out long lines of fire toward us. Every bullet is in my g-sense, I’m tracking each separate one, and I slap little shields in each of their way and they smash into depleted uranium confetti. Free-falling, ground approaching, wind blowing past us. Covers pop open, lasers, I saw them when I was snooping the wires. Speed up my timebase and I can see the pulse beginning and I put a shield mirror in front of each. Back to normal to watch the pretty fireballs erupting out of the mountainside.
We’re underground, a smaller entry force stepping into the room they had Paige in, a horrified-faced mister Millsap is rather quickly locked in restraints. They burst through the door and out into the base. Paige has given Hartford a map, so they know the way.
Ten feet above the ground I apply a counter-gradient and we drop to a feather light landing and everyone’s released. And the hand to hand fighting starts. Time for me to make my way off the battlefield. From now on, the adults can deal with it.
Back home, I have time to scan Palm’s unwilling puppet with life sense. Wires, circuitry. I’m still in a Paige body, and she says, “look out!” and shows me the data flows, Palm has armed the self destruct.
Not on my watch. I flick all that wires and circuity over onto a nearby spot of empty lawn. Replace it in situ with neutral saline so her head doesn’t implode. But now she’s thrashing around like her brain’s going haywire. Is there anything to save? Reaching into her with life sorcery I feel like there is. I close down leaking blood vessels, and feel out the bounds of the injury. I know I was told not to do medicine, but this is an emergency. I can feel in her DNA, how her brain was meant to grow, and I can push my sorcery a little to re-flow properly connected cells into the gaps, rebuilding her, although the new bits are going to be tabula rasa, she’ll be whole.
The once-Palm mess of bloodstained gadgetry explodes with a nice satisfying boom.
Part eighty eight
With my patient over in Doyle, and me mildly scolded (only mildly, because it seems I did a good job), I’m briefly at a loose end. Security is poking through the smoking remnants of the Palm’s control device, Paige is physically off limits to visitors and supposed to be resting (although we’re keeping the dream room up so she and Sara can practise being multi-level, while snuggling). As for me, I head to Poe so I can research flight instrumentation on my laptop. If I can build them and interface them to the links, then I won’t need a HUD or something distracting me, I can just consume the raw data. Which reminds me, I need to put together a TCP/IP stack in my head so I can use the links connection I built for Paige. Shouldn’t be too hard, I can save a lot of fiddly coding by replacing algorithms with judgement. Add a web renderer and a PDF renderer, and I won’t need the lappy if I want to look something up.
That distracts me for a bit, but then I’m back to the hard question of how do you interface soul technology to electronics? I mean worst case, I could patch an interface together with sorcery at the physical level, but I’d really prefer to keep all the magic down deep where it can’t be knocked out with a casual dispel. And besides, I feel like doing this right might be important. Diabolik is definitely going to want to blend the two worlds. I can see a heap of uses for it too. Imagine an “internet two”, that didn’t go via physical stuff at all, but direct through the links, or something like them. Never disconnected. No need for internet providers or centralized trunk lines that can be snooped or blocked. No latency. Heh, for that alone, the finance markets would let me name my price. Not that I particularly need money right now. Being ARC’s pet GOO is sufficiently lucrative.
Thinking of cash reminds me of the thing I’ve spent most of mine on while I’ve been here, fancy tailoring from Miss Rogers. And my frustration at my needs for a pressure bubble while flying. Now if only I had a pressure-suit, one of those form fitting ones that just happens to look like my super suit… It should be a darn sight easier to architect one given I don’t need gas exchange, too. Open weave suit, closed bubble helmet? One to look into later, but it might save me calculation effort. And I have coordinates for her shop, I don’t need to worry about an escort, if I call ahead. Presumably after the present kerfuffle, though.
I realise I’m falling into my old trap of trying to do everything myself and going in circles. I could just ask Sara. Knocking and peeking into the dream room shows a sleeping Paige and a happy Sara sat beside her. “Hey sweetie, I was being an idiot and trying to reinvent the world.”
She giggles. “What were you up to now?” So I tell her my ideas, and she nods. “There’s secrets behind this. But I do have a good idea of the physics you’ll need.” She holds out a hand, obviously wanting me to take it , and I do, and I can feel her passing the idea into my mind, but at a big-me level, it doesn’t really fit into physical brains. More of a seed than detail, because her Kellith-mind is organized differently than big me. But with the idea seeded, I can elaborate on it.
“Got it”, I grin. “Oho, something about that feels Paige-like. You didn’t?”
“Hush”, she chuckles. “Secrets. But don’t let that stop you playing with it.”
I nod. And get thoughtful. “There’s no humans I could teach this yet, but…” I look down at the sleeping form on the bed, dreaming inside a dream.
“She’s coming along fast”, Sara agrees. “Probably the closest one to us. She’ll either spark soon, or…”
“Maybe become something new”, I nod. “I’m thinking that humans need to find a level where they’re still themselves, but they have enough nonphysical competency to stand as our equals. She might be able to learn how her own powers work. And given her natural grasp of systems…”
Sara grins, “Not yet. But soon, yes, perhaps. And then let the world beware.”
We’re interrupted by the Head, over the links, giving me a nudge. “Miss Parallel, are you decent and available?”
“Sadly yes”, I say amused. “Need a lift home?” Meanwhile I’m letting Sara know what’s up, she nods, and I step out of the dream.
“Something like that, and captives to move out of the way so your new friend can be demonstrative.” The Head sounds a bit tired, but it may be emotional weariness. “I’m worried we have more of those Palm-piloted infiltrators among them. You could spot them like you spotted the first one?”
“Anywhere I’m close enough to have them on life sense, they aren’t subtle”, I agree. “Me or any empath, but I’d be wary of poking them with psychic powers, I don’t know if they can infiltrate back. Sorcery, I’m pretty sure they can’t sense or respond to.”
“I agree”, the Head says. “Alright, come on back over. And don’t worry, there’s no gore.”
“Took them all out with stunners?”
“And sleepy gas and nets and good old fashioned taps on the chin, yes. A message of proportional response. Also will make my life much easier when I have to sit in a room opposite someone high ranking and explain this.”
“Yeah, I feel that. On my way over.”
The base is much quieter when I jump in. Groups of sullen-looking soldiers are standing around with their hands up. Everything has a bit of a busted-up look. What happens when you air-drop an army on somewhere, I suppose. Besides, it’s going to look a whole lot more busted in a few minutes.
It isn’t hard to spot the Head and I fly myself over, not bothering to show off with slipstream. We have a short chat about how she wants people moved. They’ve got a warper to show me the way, and then I should have coordinates to bulk jump the prisoners plus guards over. While I’m at it, she wants me to identify any more of Palm’s zombies, but without doing anything about it. Then report to her, and she’ll have them cut out of the crowd and put on ice before they can self destruct. It seems we’re on a fifteen minute deadline before the orbital weapons can reach us. By which time we need everyone out of the base, and ideally, the whole mountain, although from here I can’t feel anything else around us but trees and animals.
As we talk I find myself looking out, past the ugly military fence, into the forest. This place doesn’t deserve to be smashed, just because humans did a bad thing. But how can I tell them that?
Dr Diabolik chooses that moment to thump over in his battle mech. He’s got a big grin. “Hello there, miss Parallel. You don’t look too happy in the hour of our victory?” The voice through the exterior speaker is slightly tinny.
“I’m happy these assholes are not going to be kidnapping anyone else”, I say. “And I have no love to spare for this base. It’s the forest that’s bothering me. And the mountain. There’s whole systems of life there, interwoven and old. Homes. Families. And stone that’s been intruded upon when humans dug it out, and will be again shortly for no fault of its own. It’s sad, you know?”
To his credit, he does take the time to look, and think about that. “I suppose it is. But a point does need to be made.”
I send other mes to move the prisoners out as we’d planned, while I say, “If I was able to make enough of a point without the need to smash everything here to glass, would you be willing to call it off?”
He looks thoughtful. “Any time in the next twelve minutes, I can send the stop signal.”
I nod. “I’ll try.” Meanwhile I’m moving prisoner groups and supers over, that will be done in a couple of minutes, most of the time is organizing people. I fly myself up and over just outside the fence, onto an old boulder, with the Doc hot on my tail. What I need is a feel for this place. I drive life sense down, deep into the heart of the stone. The mountain feels surprisingly aware. And irritated by the small wound humans have made in it.
As the last groups leave the base, I’m explaining my plans to the Head, and she decides to stick around and watch, but from the air. And meanwhile, on the boulder, I sit myself cross legged and try and find the mountain’s song. There’s something I’ve wanted to try, and now’s a good time to do it.
Big me comes forward, and the song begins with a low hum, that I draw out and draw out - I’m cheating, creating air, as I hold the sound for continuous seconds and then drop down an octave, singing it in my throat. Then words come, the depth of stone and enormous weight, the forest flourishing on top it, animals having their lives, fungi connecting trees, birds flitting in and out, slow lives and fast lives, and the long slow rumble of stone under it. I can feel the mountain and the forest listening. Then - first time I’ve tried it, I turn the song. Sing of the ugliness and intrusion of the human base. Trees torn down, concrete and steel, fences to keep life out, selfish humans, takers and destroyers even against their own kind. I feel the slow anger of stone and wood. And I start to weave a sorcery into the song. Bend the world, but with permission sought. Bind the essence called up by the song into the spell. Rust steel, drive oxidation deep into aluminium, rot plastic, soften drywall. Turn asphalt to a mush of fast growing fungi. Roots shatter concrete. Rock shifts deep underneath, and underground water gushes in. A spout of rusty water leaps from the entrance. I flow minerals into the water, quickly filling the voids underground with centuries worth of stone deposited in seconds. And then life moves in, animals and fungi, and where the base was, trees spring up. I let them grow to saplings, then release the spell. Turn the song again to thankfulness, and a suggestion the forest and mountain defend itself against any further intrusion, and I feel fierce acknowledgement. And then I stop my song and return to the outside world.
It doesn’t have the tainted feel. My guess was right, I could combine sorcery and song that way. I grin, and am slightly startled to hear a chuckle from beside me. “Two minutes remaining. I’ve called off the strike.”
I smile. “There won’t be another base here. The mountain’s awake now. Only respectful humans wanted.”
The Head drops down to a landing beside us. “Impressive work. I take it the countdown has stopped?”
He nods, glances down. Frowns. Fingers stab at buttons. “I was mistaken. We need to evacuate immediately. My platform is ignoring my instructions.”
No time to get permission. I make a Paige-body and dive. Something’s up there, and something unfriendly has taken control of it. Well hello again, doctor Palm. I can chase it, tear it out, but I can feel the big gun flash once, I’m too late, a projectile is away. It won’t fire again but…
Paige body vanishes. “Palm takeover on your big gun, stopped it but it fired once.”
“Then we need to leave”, he says. I make a second body, grab the two of them and get them clear. And then it’s just me, looking at a white line in the sky. I throw shields in front of it, a whole line of them and hold on hard. There’s a noise like a scream, and a white brilliant flash, and I black out.
Part eighty nine
15th January, 2007, Undisclosed location, evening
I blink, and open my eyes, several sets at once. Dr Tenent the mage is bending over one of me, so I ask her, “How long?” My voice is a little croaky.
“Just over two minutes. All of you passed out at once.”
“One of me’s still out cold”, I say, “The one at the base. Did I get blown up?”
Doc Diabolik appears in my field of vision. I try to sit up, but Dr Tenent pushes me down. “Stay down please.”
Diabolik says, “Truly remarkable. You stopped the projectile, so no, I don’t think you got blown up. Your forest, at least, did not.”
That’s a relief. “Good, although I may have over-exerted myself a bit”, I admit. Although my bodily systems are stabilizing fast, there’s a sort of sprained ache at a deeper level. I add, “Can you send someone over for the other body? I don’t want it picked up by the army, whether or not it’s toast.”
“As soon as the area is deemed safe, of course”, he says.
I nod. “Sorry, I was a bit crude with your satellite. Needs must, but it may or may not work properly any more.”
“It doesn’t, but I would have taken it offline anyhow”, he says. “I apologise for my weapon getting taken over like that.”
“Happens”, I say, “but I think we both need to bump the Palm up our enemies list.”
“Oh yes, definitely that.”
“How is she, Ophelia?” It’s the Head.
“Recovered, but worn”, the Dr Tenent says. “I recommend rest.”
“Very well. Safe to move?”
The doctor nods. “I wouldn’t want her to do any teleporting, but walking around she should be fine.”
I say, “I’ll vanish the spare bodies, and then someone can get me back to Whateley? But there’s the one over in the forest, I’m not sure if that’s injured. I’m sorry though, I might not be able to take everyone else back today.”
“Don’t get too big for your britches young miss, we have means of transportation without you”, the Head is smiling, so it’s a tease. “You aren’t planning to vanish the body in the forest?”
“Not until I know what happened”, I say. “I need to figure out how to avoid backlash like that next time.”
“Next time you need to drag a kinetic kill orbital weapon to a halt with the power of your mind, right”, she’s amused. “Please do try not to make a habit of it. I’d hate to see you fumble one.”
“Oops butterfingers”, I agree. “Yeah, no, I don’t plan to do that, but I do plan to be able to survive doing it. Keeps the opposition sufficiently worried.”
She laughs. “Oh indeed. Air-drop an army, spell-sing a mountain into eating a military base, and then fly-swat an orbital bombardment, all in one day, yes indeed, I believe they will now be sufficiently worried about you, if they weren’t before. Be careful not to over-egg that particular pudding. And now I suggest you return to your dormitory, and get an early night’s rest.” It’s clear that wasn’t the optional kind of suggestion. But I could use it, to be honest.
After all that, it’s almost surprising how quickly I’m bundled back to Poe. A few minutes later, Erin comes in with a covered tray of eats in case I wake up hungry, and a comforting hug that really helps. I guess I must look a little worse for wear. She kindly helps me get ready for bed without teleporting, and then I basically collapse asleep. I owe you one, Erin. Although I’m pretty sure Mrs Horton put her up to it.
Consciousness, sensation. I’m somewhere dark. Dimly, I become aware of voices. Also cold. Lots of that. Shouldn’t my heater be auto-adjusting?
A voice: “Doesn’t seem much point in dragging home miss crispy critter here, if she’s only going to vanish it.”
I try to say something but noise doesn’t happen. Another voice, one I recognise, Doc Tenent, says, “Idiot! What she does with the body is her concern, at the moment, she’s an injured child. Don’t let me hear you talk like that again! Alright, lift her carefully onto the stretcher on three. One, two, three.”
I can feel myself moving. Life sense is creeping back too, and I’m getting all sorts of error signals from my body.
“Alright let’s roll her her through the portal. Hello, dear, I can sense you’re back with us. Don’t try to talk. You had a nasty burnout incident, but you’re alive, and regenerating.”
Oh hey, my second, do I win a prize? Also shouldn’t I be hot, not cold, if I went foom? I take a peek at my heating mechanisms, but get the equivalent of a hands-off slap by my own body’s regeneration. Okay, fair enough, evidently my resources are otherwise occupied.
A short, bumpy journey later, “Alright, you’re in Doyle now. Safe and sound and no longer out in the woods.”
Which is nice because it’s noticeably warmer in here, but shouldn’t Doyle be brighter? Poking with life sense shows flash fried retinas, which explains that. Regen hasn’t gotten around to that yet. Not high on the list, I suppose. In fact I should really be in a lot more pain. A quick exploration shows what I suspected, peripheral nerve damage that the regen is ignoring at the moment, but I imagine it’ll become distinctly ouchy when that starts to heal. Pain block switched on pre-emptively, I start exploring around the body. It’s a bit frustrating, because what I want to understand is burnout, but the body itself has enormous secondary damage from the heat. What does it mean, to overuse powers?
I suppose what I can try is flexing them a little and tracking where it hurts. Various pokings suggest the docs are hooking me up to machines and putting in a drip (Analysis: just saline for now, so I won’t tinker with it). So let’s try, just a smidge of warping… ooh, yeah that definitely hurt. But when I track the locations of the pain, I get the feeling it’s not where the harm is. It’s more like the shadow cast by something else. There’s no damage in the cells, they’re reporting phantom harm. But I imagine, if I pushed it, it would become actual. Still, the physical isn’t where it’s coming from.
Hmm, so where is it? I slip my focus level a little away from the body, towards the soul side but not that deep, feeling around. Gradual poking reveals other layers beneath the physical. And then I think perhaps I have it. There’s a layer where my body’s overlaid and shot through with traceries of light. Looks kind of like the diagrams of chi meridians… oh hey. So that kind of explains it. Because the whole thing looks a nasty frazzled red right now. I wonder if I can call big me forward a little to help tinker with this?
Slowly slowly does it, I can see the mesh straining to cope with her presence, and it hurts at a level I can’t block, but can choose to grit my mental teeth and ignore. I can feel big me’s understanding, and then she reaches out and starts fixing things. It hurts worse. I bear it.
Oh hey, they’re giving me morphine, I must be squirming around. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll neutralise that. My energy channels are gradually going from an angry, burned red to a calm, flowing blue, and big me is helping me widen them by a lot. It stops hurting. She clears out the last of the red damage, and everything feels fresh and open.
And now I can pull my attention back to the physical, and ramp my regen right up. The light is suddenly bright. Scraps of burned skin are falling off me. I gasp and cough, and there’s gross stuff I have to spit up, sorry docs.
“Whee, I’m back”, I say, with my newly repaired vocal cords. Full life sense and gravity sense are back, I can feel my body cleaning up the last damage. Oh hey, my hair got burned off again. But I can regrow it, so I set that in motion. “Thanks”, I say to doc Tenent, who is standing over me, possibly drawn by the frantically beeping machine.
“Thanks for what?”, She says amused. “You did all of that yourself. But please stop using your powers, now. You’ve strained them and had a burnout. You need to rest.”
“Yeah, I just went and fixed that too”, I say. “Burnout’s at the energy channels level. I just went and fixed and widened them.” Look at me talking like I know what I’m doing.
“Even so. Until we can verify that, please rest.”
I nod. “I can do that. No more morphine please though. I’m not hurting.”
She looks skeptical, but says “Alright. We’ll move you to a quiet room. Try to sleep.”
“Can I clean up first? I think I’m still covered in crispy bits.”
Which makes her cover a laugh. “Of course. Let me just get this drip out of your arm, since you don’t seem to need it. There we go. Do you want to try and sit up?”
So I do sit up, and thankfully I’m not dizzy or anything. The bed is pretty gross, though. She nods at my reaction. “You were pretty bad when we got you in. I know you’re a high level regenerator, but I advise you not to do that again. Or we may have to sweep that body up with a broom.”
“If what I just did does what I think it does, that should no longer be an issue”, I say. “But if I hadn’t braked that bullet, it would have smashed the forest and mountain I just went and woke up. I felt responsible, you know?”
She nods. “Downside of working magic like that, if you aren’t a jerk, you start feeling personally responsible for a lot of very strange things. Come on, let’s get you to the shower.”
I’m not unsteady on my feet or anything, but an arm to lean on while I walk is comforting. She looks like she’s expecting me to object to having her come inside the shower room with me, but I recognise the whole ‘patient might fall over’ thing. I’m cool with it. Besides, I want to get this gunk off far more than I want privacy.
“Sorry for making work for you”, I say while under the shower. “Normally I’d just vanish a burned up body, but there was stuff I wanted to learn.”
“So your other self said earlier”, she agrees. “Sounds like you learned it. And it’s not a problem. You were in genuine need, and the fact you could choose to make that disappear doesn’t mean you should have to.”
Warm water is nice, but sleep sounds nice too. I’m tempted to shake the water off with a teleport, but I not supposed to be using powers. A towel will do.
“It was a weird day, but I hope the fuss is over now”, I say. “What did you docs do with the Palm drones I picked out?”
“They’re in stasis until we can decide what to do with them. Which might be what you did with yours, might not. We’ve identified her, by the way. She is, or was, a scientist. Walked off her job one day, went on the missing persons register a month later. What she’ll be when she wakes up, remains to be seen.”
“Makes me wonder how many more of his techno-zombies are out there”, I say, lifting my arms to help her slip on one of the butt-showing ugly gown hospitals seem to love, then turning around so she can tie it.
“Not a subject that brings comfort”, she agrees. “But a problem for another day.”
I nod. “To bed, then.”
She smiles and nods. “Oh and by the way, Grimes is happy you saved that mountain. Maybe she might forgive you for the other day.”
“It would be nice”, I agree, tiredly.
16th January, 2007, Poe, morning
I had a quiet, restful night after I’d fallen asleep in Doyle. Close to where they’re keeping Paige, I think, but they put me in my own room. I just let the dreams do their own thing, and they weren’t very memorable.
Waking up in Poe, I feel good. The business with Paige’s kidnapping is basically done and dusted, we took their (heavily infiltrated) organisation apart, and I imagine Paige is going to do harsh and ungentle things to their digital presence as soon as she gets up. I sincerely doubt anyone will try a reprise, the school has made it clear that was a no-no. Which leaves me feeling more secure, for now, than I have in awhile.
Seems the Palm wants to try and body-snatch Paige and orbitally bombard me, though. Which puts him top-but-one of my list of, ahem, surviving enemies. I’ll talk with Paige and Hartford about it, I think, they’re the experts. I may or may not be supernumerary to that fight.
I’m going to copy the channel edits on the body in Doyle into this body, but no further until we can confirm it didn’t bork my entire chi flow, which would be embarrassing. If they test out, I’ll add them to the main pattern. Hmm, but I should be extra careful with the me who’s hosting Junior. But even so, it feels like an improvement I can just go with. I do wonder how it affects my power levels. Doc Hewley will have a fit if I turn up and am like ‘I went up a level again’. Heh.
Caitlin is going to be amused at how big a bullet I went and caught. Well, if she’s got any attention to spare from snuggling June.
Channel edits copied over, I feel like I can use my powers again without the ache of yesterday. So I try with a teleport out of bed. Yup, worked nicely, no complaints. Erin’s sitting up in her top bunk, so I say, “Morning, thanks for yesterday.”
The food she brought me is still there, looking a bit forlorn. I slept right through dinner, so I’m ravenously hungry right now. I pull the wrapper off, scan the various offerings with life sense, nothing oogy growing on it, and grab a sandwich.
“Morning, sleepyhead”, she says. “You slept like a log. Lucky you don’t snore.”
I grin, “Want food? I seem to have slept through that too.”
“Nah, unlike some people I ate my dinner like a regular person.”
The gentle tease makes me giggle. “All the more for me, and then second breakfast over in the hall in a few minutes.”
“I hope you aren’t turning into a hobbit. I’m not sure Sara likes big hairy feet.” Erin jumps lithely down from her bunk.
“Bet you anything she does”, I smirk.
“Not taking that sucker bet.”
Laughing, I throw on a gown and head to go shower.
As the warm water splashes over me, I do feel like I might have more resolution on the g-sense, because I’m tracking every single droplet separately, and not particularly trying. Weird feeling. Could just be practise though, from swatting down those ack-ack bullets yesterday. Those weird hat-guns were fairly spectacularly wasteful of ordnance. Must remember to ask Caitlin what kind they were, even if only for curiosity’s sake. First time I’ve been shot at in anger. I seem to be collecting firsts like that, lately. Let’s hope the rate slows down.
I pop a teleport to leave the water behind, and let Ayla get his ogle in before loosely slinging on the gown and heading back to get dressed up for Tai Chi, which is on this morning so far as I know. And indeed, Chou does poke her head in. “Coming? Oh good. I wasn’t sure if you were up.”
“Yeah, all good to go. I’m looking forward to it. Enough with the epic battles, a bit of nice normality will be welcome.”
“We’ll make a Taoist of you yet”, she grins. And squints at me. “Did you do something?”
“I did. Please tell me I haven’t made a horrible mistake.”
“If you did, it’s subtle. Your chi’s just flowing way more smoothly. Not in a messed up direction.”
I explain what I did last night, and she winces. “Well, offhand, you aren’t toast yet, but lets see how you do in Tai Chi, and I’d really like to get Becca to take a look at you, because this is way above my pay grade.”
“Becca’s your mentor, right?”
She nods. “She looks young but she’s an immortal, she’ll either know, or know who to ask. Anyhow, let’s get out there and run through the form.”
So we do. Me, Nikki, Toni, and Chou. I get funny looks from Toni until Chou explains. Then I get an even funnier look from her. “Seriously, you just up and widened your channels, and you’re saying that like you fixed your hair or something?”
“Not pretending to be human”, I say and put my tongue out.
She laughs. “Okay, I’ll concede that point. Well, your chi flow just got a whole damn lot smoother. What that means, damned if I know, but you aren’t stumbling over your own feet like you used to.”
We pick the form back up, and it does feel easier to lead with intention than it did. Hmm, and someone’s headed towards us. She reaches us just as we finish the form.
Chou smiles. “Rebecca Stone, meet Jules, also known as Parallel. Jules, this is my mentor Becca, who probably just felt like she should head this way, you know, incidentally.”
“No need to make a thing of it”, Becca smiles amused. “I followed the Tao, and here we are. Which means there’s something I can help with?”
Toni and Chou about fall over each other telling what I did, which amuses me and evidently also Becca. Then when they’re done, she says, “may I?” to me.
I nod. and she comes up to me and touches a few spots - I’ve got a bit of attention at the channel layer now, and it feels like echoes ripple through the system, like she’s feeling with echolocation. Interesting.
She says, “Your channels are flowing freely, very freely in fact. The total amount of chi in your system is at a beginner level, but you’ve widened the bore of the pipes substantially. I feel you could handle a higher level of chi now, but you’ll need training to gather and then control it. You’re working with Dyffud Harraz, right?”
“First and second period every weekday”, I say.
“I’ll join you in your lesson today, and I’ll speak to him about it.” And with that she just smiles and goes, as mysterious as she arrived.
Over in Doyle, I’m awake. This body was tired, but the cross-body ripples of Becca’s probing have brought me back up to the surface, and I feel rested, if still dozy. A short teleport gets me off the bed. My heater picks up a little as my feet hit the cold floor, and I look around curiously. The room’s in semi-darkness because the curtains are thick, but the sun’s clearly up behind them and it sheds enough light to augment my g-sense with colours. Not that there’s a heap to look at. Medical wards are medical wards. I pad over to the door, and peek out. Only to catch a similarly peeking Paige. “G’morning”, I say somewhat sleepily.
“Hey there. Huh, why are you here?”
“Blocked an orbital bombardment kinetic kill weapon. Was a mite crispy with burnout for a bit. Oh, and I borrowed a you-body because I was in a rush to shut down the satellite that was shooting at us. Palm took it over. Sorry.”
It takes her a moment of squinting to parse that out. “Something that hits with the force of a nuke, and you just… stopped it?”
“Slung up a line of shields in front of it. I figured I could bleed off enough momentum sideways as it smashed through them that it would dissipate the bolide. But only if I held on to all the shields. Which I did.”
“And caught your ass on fire.”
“And that. But toasty one way, toasty the other, really. And I saved the trees around me.”
She shakes her head, and laughs. “Point, I suppose. You bounce back fast.”
“Could have just vanished this me, but I wanted to learn how to avoid burning out in future.” I explain what I did, and she looks curious.
“Could you do that to me?”
Good question, could I? “Dunno, might be able to teach you to do it to yourself. But I want to be sure I haven’t done anything messily fatal first.”
She grins. “I have a feeling you’ll be fine. As for the body, the Palm, you say?”
“Tried to stomp me with Diabolik’s big gun”, I nod. “Grumpy at me for all the drones he lost to me and then to the Head, I suspect. I was hoping to talk to you and Hartford about him.”
“Yeah, he’s not the gracious loser.” Page winces. “Alright, I’ll see if I can set that up for you. And the body thing’s forgiven.”
I smile. “Thanks. Means a lot. I don’t intend to body-snatch you every time I have a technical problem I need fixed. Might try and copy your power set from theory, though.”
“I look forward to it”, she grins. “It would be nice to have you up there beside me. I know a few people, but none of my friends can visit, you know?”
At that point, a nurse catches us chattering, and we’re each hustled back to our respective rooms for poking and testing. Doctors, heh. They take things too seriously.
Speaking of taking things seriously, here’s Tansy with anime-character green hair, as Poe me is walking to breakfast. Surprisingly, it does actually go with her skin tone. She catches sight of me, and frowns, heading my way.
“You! This is your fault!”
“Uh, I definitely apologise wholeheartedly, but also, I’m confused what I did?” Last thing I saw her, we parted on somewhat positive, if embarrassing terms.
She sighs, perhaps surprised I’d apologise, “Look, you did a thing on Saturday which flooded the place with essence, right?” I nod. She continues. “I’m supposed to be looking after the three little witch brats, and number one rule is, do not let them steal enough essence to light their wells, or it’ll end in tears. Which they are constantly trying to do. But you just poured out enough of it they didn’t have to steal. All three of the damn brats lit up, Saturday, and they hid it for two damn days acting sweeter than candy, until I cussed them out this morning and boom, I’ve got green hair and they’re all snickering like it’s the funniest thing since Wile E Coyote. They’re all with Grimes now but it sounds like she can’t snuff it back out without harming them. So now I’m stuck herding brat-mages who sling spells with all the consideration of a five year old throwing food, and that is your damn fault.”
“Okay, again, I apologise, and maybe I can help take some of the burden?”, I offer.
She shakes her head. “Carson dropped this chore on me. She’d stop you the minute she heard of it. Grimes is making me a ward spell they won’t be able to cast through, and this”, she waves a hand at her hair, “will wear off. But it just makes my life harder.”
“For what it’s worth, it’s not a bad colour on you”, I say.
She sighs again. “Thank god it wasn’t polka-dot puke yellow or something. You know, anything Jericho would wear. Maybe I’ll keep the colour. Pretend like it’s deliberate.”
“Might be an idea”, I say. “Break with the past, you know?” I’m not gonna bring up the alphas thing, but she knows what I mean.
“Wish I could.” She honestly sounds tired.
“Maybe that’s something I can help with”, I say.