Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 111-120)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 111-120)
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 Jules, Vamp, and the Kimbas have figured out that Influence seems to be pricking the heroic-but-homophobic types into bullying, and they've made a plan to fix it - a fashion show.
Part one hundred and eleven
18th January, 2007, Poe, early morning
I’m dreaming; I know I’m dreaming but I decide not to interrupt it. I’m walking barefoot over a barren plain of shattered flint, little sharp chips that cut my feet, although it doesn’t hurt. I’m leaving red footprints, the only moisture in all this featureless dry expanse. Suddenly a wind whips up, rushing, whirling around me, blowing the flint shards into the air and they cut like little knives, my blood is spraying out into the wind and whirling around me, and where it touches ground, snow-flowers push up and blossom. I’m not covering myself or hiding, but rather, stretching out my arms to touch the wind. Sara steps into the whirlwind around me and she’s whirling with it, dancing, getting splattered with red and tasting the blood on the air with her long tongue and she hugs me and whispers, “the blood is the life, don’cha know?”, as green things rustle and thrust up through the ground around us, and replace the cutting wind with the scent of flowers.
I say to her, “I can’t find the river, it’s deep underneath, I can’t hear it.”
“The river is always in here”, she says, tapping my chest over the heart. “It never stops flowing, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear it.”
“It’s too deep down.” We’re walking down stone steps into darkness. Somewhere below, there’s the sound of a rushing river, that has a pulsing, beating quality to it.
“You need to go further into the darkness, sweetie. But you’re going the right way. Try and find your own song.”
I’m humming something as I step downward, the beat of my feat echoing the beat of the rushing river. And there’s something really nostalgic and recognisable about the song, although I don’t think I’ve heard it before. Sara joins in, she’s humming a different tune, but the two harmonise together. An amused thought occurs, and suddenly we’re marching hand in hand in the midst of a line of Disney dwarves with picks, and there are faceted gems poking out of the stone walls.
“It’s off to work we go”, Sara grins, she’s dressed as Snow White and making the puff-sleeved dress look good. “Soon, dear. I understand your urgency. I can feel things building to a climax too. Trust the process, and trust me.”
I nod, because I do trust her completely, and the dream ends with a snatch of song that slips through my fingers as I grasp at it.
Focused outside the dream now, I can examine it. Find my own song, hmm? That might be a way to deepen my connection to my GOO side, which I’ve been feeling I need. I don’t try to chase the song fragment from the dream yet, but it feels like a place to start, later.
An email comes in. Cecilia, she can make a dress, but wants me in to decide on colours and details of the look. I fire off an exeat request for that. I should be able to direct jump it, I won’t need a chaperone. I reply to Cecilia, saying that I’ll be there by teleport - if the school lets me, but I don’t expect problems. I’ll call before I pop over, to make sure she isn’t busy. Come to think of it, I should probably give her a link, too.
Another from Miss Grimes, she wants me over in Kirby at half five am. That’s a bit earlier than I normally get up, but no serious problem. I set a mental alarm.
Another from Doc Hewley. I don’t have any vulnerabilities on my MID and someone has mentioned the orichalcum sword incident to him, he wants me to come in for testing after lunch. Probably one of my enemies put in a word there. Oh well, it could be useful to know.
And finally in another I get the timing for the hearing. It’s first period. Yay.
The rest of the night I spend mostly playing in my toy world, creating pretty lifeforms and flying and enjoying the scenery. Something about it is, for lack of a better word, getting more real than it was. And there’s a feeling that if I wanted, I might let it overlap with some important archetypal places. I okay the beginning of that. We’ll see where it ends up.
The mental alarm I set goes off.
I’ll leave this body in bed for now, and make a new one, uniform already on, to send over. That me appears beside the bed in the dark room, and I can immediately notice the effects of one of the edits I had big me doing - my new tapetum lucidum making the dark room almost day bright, if a bit grainy. That automatically gets switched off by a chromatophore layer as I step out of the room into the lit hall.
I’ve noticed when I make new bodies, they don’t come out sleepy even if the body I was using overnight is still having difficulty getting her eyes open. Something about sleepiness is physiological, and of course the new body is fresh off the rack, as it were. You’d think it would mess with my circadian rhythm, but I automatically adjust that.
Testing one of my other edits, I head out overland, walking through the early morning hard frost and feeling the extra heat generating brown fat I’ve added pick up the slack. Everything working as intended. Taking a short cut off the lit paths and over hardened snow, the pre-dawn stars seem bright, gleaming off the crust of ice.
Kirby’s barrel-shaped mass looms ahead, and I find that my sorcery senses are lighting it up now with a shimmer of magic. The field-shapes of wards, perhaps? I can’t see the lines like Nikki can, but I think I’m starting to see the spells. All well and good.
Once I get inside, it doesn’t take me long to find Miss Grimes. There’s only one room in the non-restricted area with human lifeforms in it, although surprisingly that has two. The name tag confirms it’s her office. I knock. The time is 5:30 exact.
“Come in!” I do. There’s her - and Tansy. Ah, that makes sense. A smile between the two of us.
“Good morning”, Miss Grimes says. “It looks like the Headmistress has a sense of irony, as she’s made us each other’s problem. I gather you two know each other?”
“We’re good friends”, I agree.
“Excellent, then Tansy can introduce you to your duties. You report to me, but under normal circumstances I don’t expect you’ll need to bother me. Is that clear?”
Following Tansy out, she gives me a grin when the door’s shut. “She’s not so much of a grouch as all that. She’s just mad at having been tricked by the Head. Alright, so we get here at six, and clean up the classrooms. We have to hurry about that, because there’s a bunch of eager beavers that come in early to do their own stuff, and particularly the three little menaces. They’re the ones I’m normally spending my time watching, because every day it’s a new daft plan.”
“Pinky and the Brain?”
“Like that, but they’re all Pinky and they all think they’re the Brain. How are you with cleaning?”
“I can do it fast if I use tentacles.”
“I always forget you can do that. What’s it like?”
Time passes easily as we chat and get things ready for the day’s magic students.
Over in Poe, I decide to get up. A teleport gets me out of bed, Erin is still asleep, but stirring. I switch pyjamas for my gown and head out to shower. Truthfully, I don’t really need to wash, these days. But it’s an indulgence and I’m not complaining about the views, either.
I’m playing around with copying Nikki’s artwork of yesterday in the shower room mirror, when I hear a giggle from behind me. It’s Nikki herself. “So you gave yourself makeup powers?”
I nod. “Seems useful. Although I’ll need to learn more patterns.”
She nods. “You’d best learn how to do it the sticky way too, but yes, I admit I sometimes wear an illusion glamour myself. It’s definitely faster once you know the effect you want to achieve. I’ll have to point you at a few good sites I know.”
“Thanks, that’s appreciated.”
A few minutes under the water helps me relax, focus, and feel ready to face the day. ‘Find my own song’, said the dream. I wonder how I should go about that. And where, since I have an inkling the effects could be large. Not here, tempting as it is. Stepping out of the shower, I teleport myself dry, and reform the robe around me, getting an “aww, no fair” from Ayla, who only got a glimpse.
“Gotta wear clothing to walk around in the halls, they haven’t changed that rule yet”, I tease.
“You think they will?”, Billie, floating overhead bare-ass naked, asks, curious.
“Dunno, I’m new to this too”, I admit, “Maybe? It wouldn’t surprise me if the nudity taboo was one of the ones that faded out, but most people have other reasons to wear clothes in the middle of winter.”
“True, I forget that sometimes.” She wouldn’t need a parka on the frozen nitrogen plains of Pluto.
Billie has always struck me as the sort who dresses by rote. Acceptable comfortable clothes, no effort at a ‘look’. I ask, “Would you go around naked if you could?”
“Might”, she ponders. “Wouldn’t hate the easy morning routine. Might hate the ogling, although they know not to start anything.”
“Let me be the first to encourage that”, says Ayla.
“Something we agree on!”, Vamp, also with a smirk. “Billie, feel free to be naked around me any time.”
“Sure, I’ll remember that”, Billie smiles, unworried.
Okay, I think that taboo might well be eroding. Fun fun. I’m curious to ask Tansy what she feels, but right now we’re occupied.
“This is Estelle, codename Clover. Irene, codename Palantir. Bethany, codename Abracadabra, usually shortened to Abra”, Tansy introduces. “Usually known as the three little witches, or ruder words to that effect.”
“Pally doesn’t like to be shortened”, Clover points out, which gets her a furious glare.
“And”, Tansy continues, “this is Jules, codename Parallel, who will be working with me.”
“Yeah, we know, she gave us enough essence to light our wells”, says Palantir. Then to me, “We owe you a favour for that.”
“Ask us for anything!” Clover says with a grin.
“Except like, homework, or to be good, or boring stuff”, Abra adds hurriedly.
“Only a little of that at most”, Palantir agrees. “Or we’d go crazy. We can’t sit on our hands all day, we have plans.”
“Like you’re sane right now”, Tansy says. “Seriously, we already had this talk. You lit up, you don’t need to run around making crazy plans to steal essence any more.”
“Not plans for essence. But that’s not the only kind”, Abra says.
“We were thinking we could raid Circe’s lab and read all her spells”, Clover says, with a cute moppet smile, “Now we can see the secret door, you know?”
“I really can’t see that ending well”, I say. “Also I’m pretty sure she’s had them all memorised since, like, the late Mycenaean era. And barging into her lab would probably see the three of you turned into frogs.”
“They might be quite cute as frogs”, says Tansy, pretending to consider the idea.
“True but Grimes would yell at us”, I say. “Also frogs are hard to hold on to. Goodness knows where they’d get into.”
Which sets the trio off snickering at the idea. “Maybe frogs might not be such a bad idea”, Palantir says, which gets conspiratorial nods from the other two.
Tansy just looks at me. “You see? This is why I’m grouchy in the mornings.”
Part one hundred and twelve
I look over at Clover to see what she means, but she’s looking at something in front of me - Palantir, stepping up, and she puts something against my forehead, where it sticks. A piece of paper? Oh, and I suddenly can’t move, frozen like a statue. Right. Magic piece of paper.
“Yes, nice work, Abra, Pally! You got ’em both!” My eyes are locked forward annoyingly squinting at the paper, but my other senses can see Clover high-fiving with her friends.
What to do? Well, let’s take a leaf out of the book I used to rescue Paige. In the corner where none of them are looking right now, I make a new body, floating and camouflaged, eyes and mouth shut. None of them catches the flicker as my camo syncs up with the room. Good.
“Let’s go!” Palantir leads them out, I follow.
Meanwhile, I examine the spell on the paper. I could just rip through it crudely, ‘Hulk smash’ style, but Grimes wouldn’t thank me for tainting her classroom. So let’s see. A multidimensional, essentially mathematical structure, although indexed by a few linear points. But if I reach in and cut where the chain is weak… and the piece of paper falls off my forehead. It’s a moment’s work to cut through the spell on Tansy too.
“Damn those brats, I was getting dry eyes already”, Tansy is angry, but sounds resigned. “Let’s hurry after them and see if we can catch them before they do something awful. If we can even find them, now.”
“Already on it”, I grin.
“How… oh. More than one body, right.”
“And a few other tricks. They went this-a-way.”
On the other side, I move smoothly through my Tai Chi form, trying to watch and copy the way Chou and Toni do the chi flow, since I can see that now. While we’re doing it, Nikki says, “So, there’s something I should tell you all, particularly Toni.”
“So spit it out”, Toni says with a grin. “What’s with the preamble?”
“It’s just a bit weird”, Nikki admits, as we shift and dip and swoop together. “I seem to have attracted a handmaiden. Or someone who has decided to appoint herself as one.”
“What? Who is it?” Toni’s amused.
“Not one of the kids here. A spirit, but one with physical form. She’s of the court of the West. She calls herself Koehnes.” The word sounds like ‘Kayness’, only not quite. Irish? That isn’t a language I’ve learned yet, I should rectify that.
It takes a couple tries for Toni to get the sound right. And I think the second was her being stubborn. “So this hmm, Kayness, is like, oh hey, I’m your servant now, and you’re cool with that? Lemme guess, Unga-Dunga is all for it?”
“She is”, Nikki has evidently given up on poking Toni for her deliberate mispronunciations.
“Well damn. Okay, so why are you telling us?”
“I told her to stay out of my room overnight. But you’ll probably meet her when you go back in. We’ll have to manage that carefully. She’s territorial.”
We come to the end of the Tai Chi form, feet back together, arms lowering. Toni chuckles with a slightly predatory smirk. “Oh I imagine this will be fun.”
Poor Koehnes has no idea what’s coming.
In Kirby, I’ve followed the three little nuisances through the hidden door to the magical side, and along a familiar route, directly to Circe’s room. Evidently they’re as good as their word on sooper sekrit plans.
“Are you entirely sure we won’t get turned into frogs?”, Abra asks, staring at the doorway, sounding worried.
“Fairly sure”, Palantir allows. “I don’t think it would be allowed.”
“Oh come on, scaredy-cats”, says Clover. “Look, I’ll go first, and then if I’m a frog, you’ll know, won’t you?” She pushes the door open and steps in.
No obvious alarms, physical or magical. Although I’d happily bet that something just got tripped.
“See! Now get in here, I bet she has gazillions of spells just waiting to be copied.”
As the other two happily head into the room and pick a chest of drawers to raid, I decide things have gone far enough. “I really wouldn’t touch that.” Showing just my eyes and mouth at first, then dropping my camouflage. “That belongs to a mage who could probably cook you all into tasty snacks just by looking at you. I doubt her spell-books are at all safe for beginners.” The chorus of panicked squeals at my first reveal is satisfying. Followed by three grumpy, defiant frowns.
I’m surprised, myself, though, when their expressions turn back to terror, and a voice beside me says “So should I carve slices off you for gyros, or cut you into cubes for souvlaki? Or maybe grind you up for a nice meat pie, do you think?”
Okay, she snuck up on me, and that shouldn’t be possible. I set a bunch of threads to investigate that, as I say “Perhaps only a little light roasting for a first offence?”
“The things I keep in my private files would not have been so gentle.” Circe smiles and it’s the kind of smile you really don’t want to see. “No, I think in fact, some time as, hmm, frogs would be… educational. And if the lesson is not learned, I know some excellent recipes for frogs’ legs.”
Tansy and I make it to the room as the three are protesting, “No, wait”, “Please, we’ll be good”, and a despairing “Ribbit!”. A terrarium grows up around the three frogs out of the floor, before they can hop away in a panic.
Tansy stares, caught between amusement and horror, but pulls herself together and says, “Um, we were supposed to be watching them, and they tricked us, sorry.”
“That’s quite all right”, Circe smiles. “I’ll watch them now. You girls can be on your way.”
And so we do.
“That woman gives me the grey shakes”, Tansy admits as we head through the tunnels towards early breakfast. “No chant, no wand, they just changed.”
“She got the jump on me, and ten minutes ago I’d have bet you good cash that wasn’t possible”, I agree. My analysis reports back. “She slipped a spell on all four of us and just stood there without anyone seeing or feeling her until she chose to be seen. I missed it because I wasn’t looking and it was oh-so-subtle.” I won’t miss it next time, but still…
“Lucky she’s on our side. Mostly.” Tansy hugs me, and I’m not sure which of us is comforting the other, as we make our way into the Crystal Hall.
Breakfast brings tasty food, and two bits of interesting news. Paige tells us she’s graduated from just having her soul-side in Sara’s dream room, to being constantly on the open internet. She’s having fun there, and learning to split her attention to more than one stream of interaction at once. Close to achieving full multi-minds, then, which should up her capabilities by a few orders of magnitude. Nice work, Paige. Supposedly she’s been picking up something of a cult of her own, too. Hackers have started praying to her. Sometimes, she tells us, she does what they ask, if it’s good, or amusing.
And the second bit of news is Mrs Horton standing up, getting people’s attention, and saying “Good morning, everyone. I would like everyone available from Poe to please convene for an assembly straight after breakfast. Thank you.” I’m presuming that’s a yes on our plan of last night.
Heading back to Poe with the Kimbas, we all follow the stream of people headed to the same place as before, the gym room.
Mrs Horton hushes us all with a clap, then says, “Alright, I’ll just begin while people are still arriving, since we don’t have much time. We’ve all noticed the upswing in attempted bullying and hate speech, although thankfully actual bullying has been mostly prevented so far, for which I thank our upperclassmen. Initially I thought it was just a reaction to us coming out. But I’ve been informed there may be more to it than that. Miss Parallel, since your influence is involved, can you explain?”
“It’s influence, yes”, I say, pitching my voice to carry. “Part of what it seems to do is break down people’s in-group, out-group thinking. I think in the end it should make people less prejudiced. But right now, mostly what it’s doing is making their consciences prick them, and they’re projecting that discomfort onto us. Which explains why most of the nonsense we’re getting is from would-be capes with a homophobia problem. They aren’t handling the cognitive dissonance well. Problem understood, what’s the solution? Well basically, we had a bit of an idea, or rather, it was mostly Vamp’s idea, so I’ll hand over to her to explain. Take it away, Vamp.”
“Alright! So, I thought, if we can’t beat sense into them with fisticuffs, how about we show them what’s what with fabulousness?” Vamp grins. “Hi everyone, I’m Vamp, I’m new here, and yes, I’m the scary-hot supervillainess you’ve heard of, but that wasn’t by choice and I’m nice now. So… my first idea was to have a Pride parade, but that’s no good if we’d all be frozen into pride-sicles. So instead, how about a Pride themed fashion show? Nothing too serious or requiring months of planning, just light-hearted fun. Everyone gets to show off their looks, be a little glam, be a little silly, remind the rest of the school that we’re the ones in the right. And I was thinking if we rush, we could put something simple on for the weekend.”
Mrs Horton picks up. “I’ve spoken with the Head, and she concurs it’s a viable plan, and proposes we take over Laird this Sunday. There are lots of large rooms there, as well as smaller ones we could use for breakout shows. What I want to hear is whether people think they would enjoy that and be up for it?”
Instant hubbub. A hand goes up. Mrs Horton says, “yes?”
“Could we do shows and stuff? Like sing a song or do a play?”
She nods. “If you can commit to doing it, and have it ready by Sunday, then tell me and I’ll book space for it. It doesn’t have to be polished or fancy.”
Another hand. “We know there’s LGBT and changeling people in other cottages, can we include them?”
“Yes, feel free to, if you know them. If they’ve got something to contribute, tell me. If they just want to dress up and come along, then they’re welcome.”
She pauses to see if there’s more questions, then says, “all in favour say aye”.
The shout is overwhelming. So that’s settled, then.
My exeat request comes back, I’m authorised to visit Cecilia by direct teleport, provided I always remain with her while off grounds.
And now it’s time for first period. That’s a four way split then: necromancy class, Dyffud’s fighting class, devisor lab, and the hearing, which is in Kane.
Maybe in devisor lab I should figure a way to connect links to the phone system, since I need to call Cecilia? It would be useful to be able to take calls the same way I can take emails. Bonus if I can multitask them. I need to learn how wireless phone protocols work.
As I arrive at Dyffud’s class, he’s waiting outside with a grin. “Come on, follow me, change of venue. Had a little suggestion from Caitlin, so we’re going to be trying out your abilities in the sims. I heard of your little sparring match with Chaka. She’ll be doing the same program later on today, It’ll be interesting to compare how you do.”
I nod. “I’d be interested to know too.”
He adds, “Oh, and I also heard about your disciplinary hearing. So I felt you might like something simple, physical and very violent over on the other side to take the edge off.”
That gives me a grin. “Yeah, I think I could use that.”
Part one hundred and thirteen
“I take it you’ve got your costume with you?” Dyffud asks as we walk through the tunnels. In reply I just shift into the costume mid step. He nods, “Good, and the mask please. The place we’re going has cameras with public access, so I’ll be using your codename exclusively.”
“And yours?”, I ask.
He shakes his head. “For me it’s just a convenience to have a codename for the MID. I don’t have a secret identity.”
The door says ‘Arena 99’, and we go in, into a fake cityscape, around a corner, into a park, and out onto a soccer field. A man in a white gi is approaching. He registers inanimate on life sense.
“What are my parameters?” I say. “I presume, don’t use powers?”
“We’re testing martial applications only, today. No warping, no new bodies, no tentacles, no sorcery, no weapons unless the opponent uses weapons, and no powered weapons at all.”
“Strength, speed, dexterity, fast thought?”
“All permitted. But don’t assume they are baselines. The opponents will get harder and more numerous as we practise.”
“Should I avoid killing?”
Dyffud looks at me. “Quite the sharp edged one, you’ve become. Behave as if you encountered this situation in the real world, and circumstances gave you the constraints on your powers. It’s your decision whether to kill.”
I nod. Then face the opponent, arms up but palms facing him. “Sir, why don’t I buy you a beer? We don’t have to fight.”
“Enough talk”, he snarls. He steps forward into a martial stance, making the gi snap. Pattern recognition: zenkutsu dachi, basic front stance, karate. Then he attacks, a simple stepping straight punch (speed calculation: probable baseline) that I have no difficulty slipping inside with a turning step and brush block, and countering with a palm strike into the ball of the shoulder, dislocation. Followed by a knife hand to the carotid baroreceptor. He stumbles, drops.
“Good, if somewhat ruthless”, Dyffud says. “Let’s continue.”
I step back, the ANT’s shoulder joint pops back into place, he stands again.
The room they’re using to hold the hearing looks like it’s normally a classroom, but the desks have been shuffled around to give a sort of long panel for the supervisors who are acting as judges. There’s another for me and space for an advocate if I had one, which I don’t. In the back there’s a line of chairs, in which Tansy is sitting, she’s here as a witness. There’s a man with her, who I assume is her lawyer. Also on that row are Dr Carstaires, and Ms Hartford. As well as Jade, who I’ve asked to come in as my witness.
The supervisors introduce themselves, as they take their places. Darren Englund, who I know. Charles Lodgeman and Mr Merrow, no first name given, who I don’t. Lodgeman looks how I’d expect a native American to look - jeans, plaid shirt, he’s wearing a colourful beaded pendant that’s shining with magic to my senses, and his hair is braided back. Mr Merrow looks like a Hollywood extra hired to play ‘unnamed lawyer number three’. Middle aged, pinstripe business suit, you wouldn’t glance at him twice in a crowd. Probably evil.
Englund says, “I’m told that the other supervisors are delayed and can’t make it. So, Doctor Carstaires, why don’t you begin by presenting the problem?”
“Ahem. Very well. The facts that are not in dispute are that on the morning of last Tuesday, the sixteenth, Miss Parallel here did something to the mind of Miss Walcutt. As a result of that something, her personality was instantaneously changed and she took several actions that would have been anathema to her previous self. She publicly announced that she was a lesbian, and entered a relationship with Miss Parallel. She has also announced to several teachers that she had been cheating in their classes, with predictable consequences for her grades. Yes, Miss Walcutt?”
Tansy has her hand up to interrupt him. “I said I like girls, and I don’t think I like boys. I’m not really sure if that’s permanent, I might still be bi and just put off by past experience.”
“Duly noted”, Doc Carstaires says. “Things that are asserted, but somewhat in dispute, are that what Miss Parallel did was deliberately complete the process of Influence change in Miss Walcutt, that is affecting everyone else in a more gradual way. And that this was consensual. Obviously it is consensual now, but the Whateley canon of psychic ethics does not regard consent after the fact as valid in the case of psychic influence, for obvious reasons. Neither does the law. Conversely, some, who may have ulterior motives for the suggestion, intimated the belief that Miss Parallel overwrote her personality to create a sexual plaything for herself and remove an enemy. Yes, Miss Walcutt?”
Tansy’s breaking in to say, “We weren’t enemies. Wyatt Cody should be able to confirm that she met me and negotiated a ceasefire between me and the Kimbas, the Saturday before. Respected adversaries at worst, and that’s why I was willing to confide in her.”
“Confide what? Yes, Miss Parallel.”
I look at Tansy, “We both have good memories, we should be able to replay our conversation word for word, if that would help? That would also answer your question.”
“Very well, you may go ahead.”
And so Tansy and I act out our conversation of that morning. Her anger at my having given the three little nuisances essence enough to light up. Her frustration at how stuck she was. My analysis of the problem and suggestion of a way out. Her consent. “Okay… okay, fuck my life anyway, hit me. Do it, now. Before I chicken out.” And me doing it.
We end the replay at the point we were heading in for breakfast.
Englund says, “You talked her into it, then?”
“I talked her into it”, I agree. “I felt it would be to everyone’s benefit and especially hers. Persuasion is not against the code of ethics, unless it’s backed with mental force.”
“It is when it’s based in trickery”, he replies. “What you did changed her personality drastically. Arguably, overwrote it.”
I say, “This is where I’d like to call Jade as a witness. During an incident last year, Jade’s spirit other-self was temporarily trapped inside Tansy’s hallow. She has seen Tansy’s old personality from the inside. She can testify as to any changes.”
Mr Lodgeman says, “I’d like to hear that.”
So Jade gets up and says, “It’s like Jules said, I was kidnapped for a while, forced to ride along, and I saw what she was thinking. She never liked the things she did with boys, except physically, but putting on a smile was an act. She felt attraction to girls, but used to feel disgusted with herself and deny it. She liked the power, and the revenge on people, but not the process of gaining power. And she wasn’t happy at all. This was before Jules got here to the school.”
“And why is this relevant?”, Englund asks.
I say, “It establishes that she didn’t get overwritten. What happened was that she became unable to be dishonest with herself, and rather than fighting it, decided to embrace it.”
Doc Carstaires says, “They’ve both agreed to a full scan by Louis Geintz, and this seems like a good time to call him as a witness.” And Foob is suddenly there. “Louis, have you scanned these two, and can you confirm what they say is true?”
Foob says, “I can confirm that they remember the conversation happening as they played it back, that Jules’s intent was to persuade, but with mostly benevolent intent, although some suppressed hope for a sexual relationship, that Tansy voluntarily consented, and that Tansy’s personality altered because she is no longer capable of any significant amount of self deception, and chose to embrace her real self. I can’t confirm the claimed mechanism of the change because it doesn’t show on my scan, but I can confirm they both believe what they said about it.”
On the other side, I’m fighting several opponents now, and they’re good, some of them baseline-good like Dyffud, some exemplar-fast and strong. I can’t just power through and splat them like I could at first, I’m having to use subtle combinations of elements, sometimes more than one at a time on different hands or feet, just to manoeuvre them into a mistake I can turn into an effective strike. I’m having to run up my timebase a fair bit to take everything into account, and stretch my exemplar speed to the edge. From the outside, I imagine I must look like something out of The Matrix. Dyffud is grinning. I haven’t killed anybody yet, although I’ve been tempted.
And on the other, other side, Sara gives me a hug while we listen to Circe talk about how necromancy has affected history. Nobody mentions the terrarium she wheeled into class, or the three frogs inside it, one in a pointy hat, one with a ball, one with glasses. I think everyone figures what’s up with that.
The man beside Tansy stands. “If I may speak?” That gets a nod from Englund. “I was hired by my client’s father to represent my client’s interest in this matter. Miss Parallel, is it possible to undo what you did?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know of any way how.” I try to figure how to explain it. “The way she is now, is what being human looks like in the world after I changed it. The way she was, is just the left-over inertia of what used to be. I can’t put her back into an unnatural state, I doubt I have the ability, and it would be unethical even if I could.”
“And what gives you, a child, the right to decide that?” He turns to the supervisors. “It’s clear that these children think they consented. But I do not accept that a child has the right to consent to be so altered, or to perform such an alteration on another child’s mere say-so.”
Tansy looks shocked. “Hey! You’re fired, mister.”
Her (ex?) lawyer shakes his head. “You can’t fire me, you’re non compos mentis. I’m here to represent your interests, not your feelings. At your father’s request.”
“Then you are my enemy.” Tansy gets up from the witness seats and stands next to me. “And we are both on trial because some people want to make every decision for us. Which I do not accept. You, not Jules, are the one seeking to overwrite me to fit your idea of who I should be!”
Englund says, “Order, please! This is a hearing, not a shouting match. Miss Walcutt, sit down.”
She drags up a chair and sits beside me.
The lawyer says with a smirk, “I’d ask this hearing to please apply the school’s resources to undoing what has been done to my client. And I’d ask that Miss Parallel be separated from her, and ideally, expelled from this school, so no further harm can be done.”
Over the other side, Dyffud says, “yame!”, and when our fight has ground to an ignominious tangle of a halt, he says “I saw real anger in your eyes just then.”
I nod, extricating myself. “That asshole lawyer of Tansy’s is trying to force her back into her box.”
“And that would be justification for killing your opponent?”
I review my last movements. And it’s true, I was going for a kill shot. The realisation makes me sit down suddenly on the ground in shock at myself. It’s only a bot, it wouldn’t be really dead… but I was feeling and fighting like it was a man. And I was going to take its life. Fake life. Whichever. Ugh, this is bad.
Dyffud dismisses the opponents with a wave. “Stay sitting, take some deep breaths. You’ve had a shock, and seen your own darker side. When you fight, you don’t just confront the opponent, you confront yourself. Until then, you were precise, rational, your violence was measured. But your anger made you, briefly, willing to kill not out of need, but for spite.”
I nod, dumbly.
“Alright, lesson over for today. Let’s meditate.”
Part one hundred and fourteen
The hearing is briefly noisy after the lawyer’s demand, which hides my grim look, and then the shock on my face as Dyffud rubs my face in my mistake on the other side. Tansy notices it though, and puts her arm around me, which helps.
Ms Hartford stands up. “Quiet please! As deputy headmistress, I need to make it clear that the school does not take instructions of that sort from parents, nor from their lawyers. Not in regard of their own children, and most certainly not in regard of other third party children the parents don’t like. They may take their child out of the school, or they may accept the administration’s judgement. If we started we’d never stop, you all know that.”
She takes a moment to look at each of the supervisors, to underscore that point, then continues. “That doesn’t mean that a valid issue hasn’t been raised, though. Has Miss Parallel done harm to Tansy? We do take a broad view on consent here, our students are old enough to make their own choices, but a child cannot consent to be harmed. Some have described what was done as equivalent to a lobotomy. I hope for humanity’s sake that isn’t so. But Tansy has been a protegee and a student of mine, and I find myself wondering if her abilities are now crippled.”
Tansy puts her hand up, and Mr Lodgeman nods to her. “Alright, thank you Ms Hartford, and before I go on to answer you, I would ask that this hearing removes this man”, gesturing to the lawyer, “We have just heard how he has no place here as a representative of my father, and myself I disown him. Please have him ejected from the proceedings, since he clearly only intends to do mischief.”
The lawyer puts on maximum smarm. “I am here to represent you, Miss Walcutt. I ask that this hearing recognises that you are non compos mentis and that I am your rightful representative.”
It is, surprisingly, Mr Merrow who replies, the first time he’s said anything other than in self introduction. “You are both asking us to assume the conclusion you would prefer and then act on it. But it remains unproven.”
That gets a nod from Mr Lodgeman. “I agree that this hinges on whether Miss Walcutt has indeed, been lobotomised, or if she is still capable of representing herself. So far, I have not seen anything to make me doubt her intelligence. So, Miss Walcutt, please proceed with your answer to Ms Hartford. The hearing will take both your requests under advisement. I find myself interested to understand what this claimed influence does.”
Tansy nods. “Alright, I can accept that. It has been two full days, roughly, since Jules changed me. That’s a short time to explore a new mind, but I can tell you what I’ve experienced so far. I am unable to be dishonest with myself. My empathy is deeper and more intense than it ever was before, and my conscience has very sharp teeth. I have been forced to face my previous actions, and I have cried over their harmful consequences. I have also been forced to face my own rejected self, who ironically is what you might call my nice side. Previously I pushed that down and pursued power. Now I find joy in kindness, and in sharing love. I am blessed, that Jules and her friends accepted me into their circle so readily.” She looks at Ms Hartford. “I suspect what you’re wondering is, am I capable of being sneaky? Am I capable of being a spy, or some other sort of undercover operative? Because yes, it’s obvious what you were training me towards. And the answer as far as I can tell, is ‘it depends’. Am I capable of doing something horrid and completely against my conscience? No, I am no longer capable of that. Am I capable of sneakiness in pursuit of good ends? Yes, absolutely. Ironically my teacher here has been Jules, who is very sneaky herself, when she is planning to help or heal someone, or take down someone causing harm.”
That gets a grin from me. Ms Hartford looks thoughtful. She asks, “So, do you no longer care about power? You’ve walked away from the situation with the Alphas, it appears.”
Tansy shakes her head. “I think I might enjoy it if I obtained it honestly. As myself, by my effort and my merits, yes, I would like it. I liked it before, and that part of me hasn’t changed, but back then I thought it could be mine if I obtained it without earning it. Now I recognise that as impossible. The lie would own the power, and I would end up running around serving the lie. That was the trap I was in, before. With Jules’s influence, I gained the honesty to let that candy go, and then I could pull my hand out of the jar. But maybe some day I will have power truly of my own, and I think I would luxuriate in it.”
A curious look from Mr Lodgeman. “You wouldn’t feel the need to be modest about that?”
“Modesty is one of the things that goes away, I think”, Tansy says. “When I have gained something in a way that my conscience is flipping joyful somersaults over, why would I be modest?”
Englund asks with a sneer, “No modesty. Does this mean you plan to act like a hussy around school? I have heard you already dived into a sexual relationship with Miss Parallel.”
“What’s a hussy, Reverend?” Tansy looks amused. “I’m having lots of enjoyable sex, and will happily admit to it, but I don’t plan to do it in public. Or are you asking if I plan to go around school naked?” She considers that. “It might be fun when the weather’s warmer. Although I recognise it’s against rules now, I don’t expect that to last.”
“And you are really shameless about this?” He sounds disgusted. Personally I think he’s hamming it up, because this is the first thing Tansy has admitted to that might scandalise the others.
“I feel shame when I have done something harmful, unkind, cruel”, Tansy says. “I’ve done enough of them to know that from bitter experience. But I would feel no shame for being naked. I know that I’m beautiful. Sharing it would be a kindness.” She pauses, takes a breath. “I recognise that doesn’t match what your religion teaches, but Reverend, this is not a religious school. It is a difference of opinion and my position is not forbidden by rules.” Reminding him he isn’t here in his religious capacity, but as a supervisor of the school.
That gets a harrumph from Englund, but before he can press the point further, Mr Lodgeman says. “I move that we vote on whether to consider Miss Walcutt compos mentis, given her testimony. And I will vote yes. She has amply demonstrated reasoning and thought, and if she is changed, it does not seem to be in a harmful way.”
“And I vote no”, Englund says, with ill grace. “She has clearly been turned into some sort of wanton slut, and should be placed in care.”
The two look to Mr Merrow. And he says, “She has demonstrated the ability to drive you into a corner with her understanding of rules, Reverend Englund. She speaks clearly and does not seem harmed by the change. Her personal proclivities are of no consequence. I vote yes. And move that the hearing accede to her request.”
“Seconded”, Mr Lodgeman says. Then speaking to the lawyer, “You have been dismissed by your client, and must leave the room, and the campus, please.”
The man goes, with a look of disdainful wounded dignity. And I doubt we’ve heard the last of that business. I wonder how hard it is to get someone emancipated from a bad father? We may need that ARC income for Tansy after all.
Mr Lodgeman picks up by saying, “Given that we have ascertained that the events were consensual, and given that we have not found that Tansy was harmed, I believe this hearing is now over. Do you agree?”
Englund looks grim, but he sighs and nods. “I recognise myself as outvoted. I can do nothing further here.”
“I am satisfied”, Mr Merrow says. “I do not believe we should waste further time on this.”
“Then done. Miss Parallel, you are exonerated, and you may go.”
That gets a cheer from me, Tansy, and Jade. Hartford looks thoughtful. Englund, frustrated.
It’s the cusp of third period, which means all change in classes for me. I’ve relayed our victory to Sara, which got me a joyful hug and kiss, and to Dyffud, which got me an amused smile. Although myself I found myself thinking of the violence I had nearly done, over there. Something to speak to the doc about, after lunch.
In devisor lab, my linked phone prototype works well enough I was able to call Cecilia and arrange the exeat, which will be at lunch time. As a design, it’s not exactly finished though, since I really want something capable of acting like a call center, taking new calls while I’m already in a call, and making many calls from the same origin. That may be impossible though, since I think it would require special arrangements with the phone company. Or at least it would be expensive. But at least I’ll add the hardware support.
Costume design looks like a breath of calm and fresh air after a fraught morning. The me with Sara can go there. I’ll vanish the sweaty body with Dyffud. Tansy and Jade have classes to go to, now that they aren’t stuck in the hearing. Which leaves me a little at a loose end. Maybe I’ll go for a walk to celebrate?
As I’m heading outside, I find myself joined by someone. Mr Lodgeman. “May we walk together?”
I say, “I was heading outside, thinking about just going for a walk to let off the tension. You’re welcome to come with me, if you want. Um, it’s cold out. The cold doesn’t affect me but do you want to stop off for a coat?”
“Thank you”, he agrees. “The cold doesn’t affect you, hmm?”
“I generate heat.”
He nods, as we head for the staff cloakroom area. “It sounds like there might be a story behind that. You know, part of the reason I came here was that hearing, but another part was that I wished to meet you. I’ve been hearing interesting things about your powers. Particularly, about your ability with song. I find myself professionally interested.”
“It’s a new thing, and I’m still working out what it can do”, I say. “I seem to be able to find the song of things, so far, places, buildings, and stars, but who knows what else. When I sing it, they are… reinforced. I am told it’s like creating them, but as what they already are, only more so. They are woken up, and become more aware. A side effect is the creation of essence. And I’ve found I can weave that essence into a sorcery spell, and avoid the tainting side effect.”
“Which you disapprove of?”
“It’s inconvenient. If I do a big sorcery then it messes the place up. I already owe Nikki one favour for having to do that and then getting her to fix it.”
As we walk outside together, the sky is very blue, and the snow is bright. Thankfully well within the capabilities of GOO eyes. Mr Lodgeman says, “The one who invented sorcery, he did not see the taint it causes as a mess.”
“He and I are on opposite sides”, I say. “Sorcery is an us thing and it suits me, but I do have plans to find ways it can be gentled. Song seems to be one of them.”
“Opposite sides in regard to what?”
“Humans. I’m for them, he’s against.”
“Ah.” And we walk quietly together for a bit.
Part one hundred and fifteen
“You know, I came here today to sit as a judge at that hearing, but I also came here to meet you.” Mr Lodgeman looks at me, as we walk. “I’ve been hearing lots about you. I see myself as something of a protector of this place. I was involved in founding it, you know? And I often work with Darren Englund, who also sees himself as a protector. But we also have our differences. He seems to have decided you’re the very spawn of hell itself. Me, I’m undecided.”
I say, “He has a thing against me and Sara both. Since I met him, he’s tried to talk me away from her, he’s tried to take my guardianship with trickery so he could force us apart, and then by sending his minions to kidnap me, and since then he’s undermined me and tried to sow doubt about me at every step. He does seem to run his classes fairly, though, that I can say for him.”
“But he was not fair at that hearing”, Lodgeman nods.
“It felt like he was desperate”, I agree. “That was some bad over-acting. And he went and painted himself into a corner with Tansy, the school isn’t founded on religious principles and he knows it. It’s like, he wasn’t thinking straight, he should be smarter than that.”
“He needed to see Tansy as having been harmed, I think, because of her contact with you. And she is changed, in ways that don’t meet his ethics, but seem to fit nicely with yours.”
I ponder that, and the implied accusation. “When I wrote the change into the life laws, I wanted to go for something that would protect the future of all life. I couldn’t afford to impose my own standards when it would apply as much to amoebas as humans. This wasn’t ‘be good in the ways I see good’, it was, seek beneficial mutualism, seek complex beauty. Those were the gaps in the original laws. But I’m aware that itself was a values choice. And… I suspect that something of my nature, and my values, have spilled into it, and guided the form it takes.”
“If I understand it, you made yourself the living embodiment of the new law”, he says. “It seems reasonable that it should follow your lead. But it leaves us humans wondering what that will mean for us, and how we will be changed.”
“You heard my radio interview?” He nods to that. “Then you know about as much as I do. Since then, Tansy is the only example of someone who’s been influenced all the way. And you saw some of how she was changed today. That’s all I have too, observations and inferences.”
“And what would you do if I asked to be fully influenced, myself?”
“Take it to the Head for pre-clearance. You’re an adult, but I gave her my word. If she says yes, then I’d do it. Do you actually want that?”
“At the moment, no.”
I smile. “You’re testing my responses, then?”
I say, “Well for what it’s worth, I’m being straightforward with you.” A moment, while I consider whether to say it, then I decide to take the plunge, “Um. To be even more straightforward, I kind of need to add a bit to what I said about Reverend Englund. I know he’s your friend and I know I’ve only got circumstantial evidence so far, but, I have a suspicion that something has its claws in him. I’m not sure if that relates at all to his problem with me. Only that he blanked out in kinda telltale ways, and his anti-influence routine has a gap in it, which he conspicuously fails to notice.”
He gives me a sharp look, followed by a thoughtful pause. “I’ve had my own suspicions”, he finally says. “It’s nothing I can act on, yet.” Which is interesting.
“It may not even matter”, I say. “So long as he keeps his hands to himself, I’ll leave him alone. He seems to mostly do good.”
He nods. Then says, “I’ve heard about that, your neutrality between heroes and villains. Is there a reason you’ve chosen that particular stance?”
“Several. I need to focus on the larger picture. Villains are also human, and all humanity, all life, is what I’m trying to protect. Also if I went around forcing people to be good I’d become a tyrant, with everything bad that entails, and I’d provoke a backlash that would be completely counterproductive. I prefer to simply be myself, and they can follow my example if they choose. And also I know villains I like and trust, and heroes I don’t. So I try to take people as I find them. My rule is, I protect myself, my family and friends, the school, anyone I feel is mine to look after. I’ll stop evil if it happens in front of me. But otherwise I don’t go looking for fights. And I hope that if people know that, they’ll approach me without fear. Whether they’re villains or not.”
“Then the Necromancer…”
“Was afraid of me. He came after me pre-emptively, lost, couldn’t let it go, came after my people, and I destroyed him. I… think maybe I was guided to do that. He certainly did deserve it. But it’s the kind of thing I’d like to see less of.”
That gets me a thoughtful nod.
I’m having quiet fun in costume design, trying to make more ‘heroic good’ variants on my costume, although I like the simplicity of the present one. Tansy’s busy and can’t multi-mind yet, so I’ll have to put off checking in with her until lunch, but I can check in with Donna. So I tell her how the hearing went, and fill her in on my worries for Tansy. She’s glad I’m okay, and Tansy is too, and she agrees to check into what’s needed to get someone emancipated, in case the father (or his lawyer, who I really didn’t like) becomes an issue.
She also fills me in on the latest fallout from the business with Darrow. It seems the local police have confirmed that I won’t be charged for any of the three deaths, they apparently rate it as ‘necessary, prudent, and in good faith’, which is what a vigilante action has to be if you’re using powers, for it to be legal. There’s consideration of giving me a medal in various places, but a lot of the bigger jurisdictions are worried that his friends at ‘the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom’ would crash the party. Yes that really is the name, it seems magical villains are short on senses of irony. So I may have to go without my ticker-tape parade. Oh woe is me. Seriously though, I reassure her that it’s fine, and I really don’t want a medal anyway - certainly not for killing someone, because that’s a bit of a tragedy whichever way you slice it. She calls me sweet. I call her sweet back, it devolves into throwing the sensation of being hit with a pillow at each other, and we end up giggling like mad things. It’s nice to let off tension.
In the lab, I’m finishing up my phone. I gave up on the call center idea, because I’d need to pay a lot extra for it, but I did make it able to take multiple SIM cards and act as independent phones. I ran into another problem when I considered how it would handle addition and deletion of bodies. Cell networks don’t like it when one phone is in multiple places. That would probably get me blocked for SIM cloning. In the end the solution I worked out was to make the thing in a sort of unassuming puck shape and store just one of them in my room in Poe. It’s on the links, so I don’t need to be near it. All it needs is to be somewhere with reception.
As I’m finishing up, Bunny comes over to look. “Whatcha making?”
“Phone. One I can use over the links.” I vanish the cladding to show her the workings.
“Oh kewl, there’s like, practically nothing there.”
“Antenna and SIM stuff needs to be this side. The rest of it is soul side. I’ve got one of those gate chips I figured how to make, connecting them. Mini version of a generator for the power, and that’s all there is to it.”
“Yeah, that’s gonna change stuff alright.” She looks thoughtful. “You know, I kinda almost understand that math you dropped on me? It took a couple nights of nasty dreams, mind you.”
“Sorry”, I look sheepish. “I didn’t realise it would be that bad.”
“Water under the bridge”, she waves it off. “What’s weird is I… think I’m feeling what it’s connecting to. It’s like I’m able to see in another direction now. And I don’t know if that’s real or I broke my brain.”
“Want me to help check?”
“Oh kewl, can you? Um, if it isn’t dangerous, that is.”
That makes me consider. “I don’t think so? It might make you stretch yourself a bit further outside human norm. If you really are getting in contact with your soul part, you might be able to start offloading mental processing to that part of you too. Paige already can, and she’s learning to do more than one concurrent mind in there.”
She grins. “You’re changing us, aren’t you? All of us humans around you. Making us more like you. But I don’t hate the thought of being able to think more than one thing at once, it sounds useful.”
“It’s very useful”, I agree. “Okay, so if you want, what I can do, is soul dive with you, and then you can see for yourself if your new direction is what you think it is. We need some place to sit down, so nobody falls over.”
Luckily the lab has a more than slightly dinged up sofa, which we can use. The thing looks like people blow stuff up on it for funsies. And also spill their chemistry experiments, although that may be devisor coffee. Poor sofa! But it will suffice.
Bunny says, “Okay, so I do what? Just sit down?”
“And I sit beside you and hold your hand or something. Physical contact makes finding your soul a lot easier. I could use links, but it’s just less fuss when you’re right there.”
“Okay but like, totally platonically.”
Which makes me giggle, and I’m still snickering when I hold my hand out for her to take. “Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Much. Unless asked nicely.”
“Oh you!” She laughs. “Alright, alright. Here we go.”
We dive together, me pulling her along, and a few moments later her soul comes into view. Which gets an “oh wow” from her.
I say, “Look over there, that bit is a bit stretched. But it doesn’t look harmful to me. Does this feel familiar?”
“Yeah, I mean, you kind of make it into pictures, and I’m looking at it from math, but it… feels kinda the same? Like, it proves that I’m seeing my actual soul, which is weird.”
“I think I do math at lower levels and just translate it automatically”, I say. “I’m beginning to suspect a few of my powers are kinda hiding the workings that way. But yeah, this is you. Surface layer of your soul, there’s deeper layers, if you go a little deeper you’ll see your other-selves, which is like, reincarnation except concurrently.”
“And the links is down here?”
I point to it. From this perspective, it looks like a busily spinning ball of complicated runic squiggles on interlocking orbits, and there’s lines reaching out from it. “That’s the control code, and you can see the connections. You’ve only got a few lines out, but it uses mesh networking so that you can reach anybody. Don’t try to peek the source code while it’s running, you’ll give yourself a splitting headache. I can teach you the workings in a more easy to follow form, if you’re curious?”
“Very. Very very curious. My goodness. This is like another new world.” She grins. “Oh I cannot wait to get good at this, there’s so much potential.”
“I’m definitely happy to help, whatever you want.”
Part one hundred and sixteen
18th January, Whateley, lunchtime
I’ve been looking forward to lunch. It’ll be my chance to catch up with Tansy properly, and I’m headed over to Cecilia’s to get my dress made.
Calling her up on my new phone, I say “I’m ready to jump when you are, is the store clear of looky-loos?”
I decide to throw a new body over to the coordinates I remember, since it won’t be starving for lunch like the existing bodies. So I appear there, and smile a greeting. “Hey there.”
“Hey you too. So if I understand it, you’re here for a formal dress? Something for Miss Dennon’s class?”
“Yeah. Although I thought I’d also ask if you can do me a sim suit like the ones Ayla got? And also I kinda wanted to talk about what happens if I decide to change shape, or if, well, I just naturally do on account of growing.”
She grins. “Up to a point, I can adjust what you’ve got. Add in panels, extend the legs, and so on. The tailoring will suffer, slightly. After that point, or if you want a precise fit, you’ll need to get refitted and I make it from scratch. Downside of being a teenager, sorry. You’ll be relieved to know it mostly stops being an issue after you hit eighteen. Then you need refits, like, every decade or longer.”
“Very likely longer for me, I won’t age.”
That gets raised eyebrows. “I should be so lucky.”
“If you’d like, I can patch you that way. I’m not supposed to do medicine, but this is preventative, not curative. I’ve already done it for Doc Bellows at school, and Donna.”
“The Donna I’ve met?”
“The same. If she doesn’t have an unfortunate accident, she’ll still look as good a century from now. And fit in that gimmicked suit.”
There’s a pause as she assimilates that. “Okay, that’s heavy business, give me time to think that through. Meanwhile, clothes, I know. So lets get you checked over to see if there’s been any alterations since last time.”
The me who was out walking has headed back towards school, and after thanking Mr Lodgeman for his company, I vanish that body. So the me from devisor lab and the me from costume class head towards Crystal Hall, one for each table, as usual. Vamp seems to have joined the Pack table, which is nice. Tansy isn’t sitting down yet, but I can see her in line. One of me goes down a few in the line to join her.
“Hey there.” She gets a hug from me.
“Hey you. So, they think I’m okay, huh?”
“I think you’re more than okay.”
“Tease.” She snuggles against me. She switches to talking on links so half the school doesn’t overhear, “Some of what I said there surprised me. I’d really be okay being nude in public. I wouldn’t mind the eyes on me at all. To be honest, I’d probably be okay having sex in public, if it wasn’t for worrying about how it might upset other people who didn’t choose to be there. I really just don’t seem to have any cares about showing it all off, any more. That’s not how I’m used to feeling at all.”
“Maybe we can go half way, and let the Pack watch you”, I send the feeling of a teasing smirk while keeping my outside poker face. “I bet they’d enjoy the show. Maybe you’d enjoy being the show, too.”
That gets a ferociously red blush from Tansy. “I… would. Oh god, I didn’t know that, I really am the world’s biggest slut.”
“Unlike some people, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all.”
“You wouldn’t”, She gives me a punch in the arm. “Ass. Cute ass. Damn, but I want to grab your ass. Um, I have a free period after lunch.”
“I’ll ask the others when we get to the table”, I grin. “I’m sure some of them can come and watch.”
She just blushes and looks down, which is the cutest thing ever.
And then I think of the kicker. “Want me to invite the Kimbas too? I mean, most are gonna say no, but I bet a few would be interested.”
I didn’t think she could blush harder, but she manages it. “Um. God. That would be humiliating.”
“Which is not a no.”
“It’s… not a no. What the fuck am I turning into, that I want them to watch?”
“You aren’t turning into anything, Tansy-beloved.”
She finishes that off. “I’m just finding out who I really was all along. That’s the strangest feeling. But it’s freeing too, you know? I like the damn humiliation, I admit it, I accept it. And yes, I liked you watching me with Cody, because it was so damn humiliating. Even while I was trying to stand on my dignity, with a dick up me.”
“I could taste that in your orgasm that you threw me”, I grin. “We’re going to have so much fun together.”
“God help me.” She has a grin of her own. “I think we genuinely are.”
Cecilia has apparently had to make some slight adjustments to my stored model, because of the edits I’ve done since. I didn’t change enough to make things not fit, but they could fit with a slight bit more perfection. So the dress will be the first thing off the new model. We go with a halter neck design that makes the best of my form, with the soft silky fabric over the nipples (and my conversation with Tansy) making them stand up like little peaks. One doesn’t wear a bra with these things, it would be spoiling the fun. But the intensity of my response gets curious looks from Cecilia. None the less, we continue, and she has a couple of them made, one in silk as white as my hair, one in dark claret that brings out the glow of my eyes. Plus matching heels.
“Your choice if you want patches over the nipples to make them show a little less.”
“Let’s not. If push comes to shove, I can force-override that reflex. And in normal circumstances, I don’t mind a little showing off.”
“Your funeral.” She grins. “All right, on to more mundane matters, you wanted a sim suit? I think we’re going to have to do some testing with that, because your powers come from odd places, and I’m not sure I can intercept them all and send them through the suit.”
While we’re testing suits over in Dunwich, one of me already has her tray full and is heading to the Kimba table. I touch in, and get various grins. Billie says, “Hey there Jules, congratulations on the hearing. Nice fight too.”
That surprises me. “You got to watch that?”
“They let us watch it in team tactics. I suspect that video will be doing the rounds of the school”, Ayla says. “Evidently Dyffud thinks you’re a lesson to us. I’m no martial artist, but I could see how fast you were learning there.”
Toni nods. “Every time they used a move or a counter, if you didn’t know it before, you knew it after. You were passing their level over and over, he had to keep dialling them up. Some of that stuff even has me thinking of how to apply it. You’re not bad at all. And I definitely want a rematch, this time by the book.”
“Happy to”, I grin.
Me on the other table takes her seat beside a very red Tansy. Which gets some odd looks. “Jules, what have you said to her to get her to glow like that?”, Paige is the first to ask.
“If you want to find out, and you don’t mind hearing about sex stuff, group up on links.” In the end we get everyone, Vamp and Gypsy included. “Okay so, Paige you probably watched the hearing?” That gets a slightly guilty nod. “The rest of you probably only heard I won it. But what we covered there was how she’d changed and whether it was harm or not. One thing Tansy found when she was asking questions was that she wouldn’t mind being naked in public.”
“Let me be the first to support that”, says Vamp, sounding amused.
“Then you’re gonna love what we just talked about in line”, I say. “She said during the hearing she didn’t plan to have sex in public. She said just now, that was because she’d be worried the people seeing it wouldn’t have consented. And when I offered to go half way and just invite the whole Pack to watch… she said yes. And that she has a free period after lunch. Invitation’s open.”
“I’m in”, says Paige. “Me too”, that’s Erin. “Me three”, Vamp. “I’m going to enjoy this”, from Jet. Hippolyta considers, then nods. “I will watch.” Jamie scrunches his face up thoughtfully then nods. “I’m curious, I’ll watch.” And Gypsy, who I hadn’t expected to, says, “I will watch.” Sara of course is enthusiastic. “And I’d love to, dears. Thank you Tansy, that’s a lovely offer.”
“I haven’t even finished what we talked about”, I grin. “I’m proposing inviting the Kimbas too. I’ll make sure they know the rules, and I won’t let them make it weird. But it seems our lovely Tansy here likes a pinch of humiliation in her exhibitionism.” Which makes Tansy lean up against me and look down and blush harder.
That has them looking at each other. After a moment, Paige says, “Still in”, and that gets a chorus of the same.
I give Tansy a kiss. “There we go then. Our little private, public celebration. Now we’ll just have to see what the Kimbas say.”
Playing with sim suits, I’ve found I can make my GOO powers cooperate, but I have to choose to do it. So long as I don’t make any slips in anger, like I did with Dyffud, it should be okay. I’ll have to watch myself carefully. As Cecilia and I were talking about powers, I had a chance to bring up links. The whole truth up front, including the bit about not dying. Which got her thoughtful.
“So if you upgrade my body, you can make me ageless, and if I’m on links, and you have a snapshot, you can catch me if I die, and bring me back?”
I nod. “Yup. Want it?”
She takes a moment, then sighs and says, “Yes, I do. What do I have to do?”
So I explain how links can be passed on, and for a snapshot and upgrading her physically, I’ll need skin contact and a couple of minutes. So she gets a link, and then I hold her hand, and clear up the (extremely small) amount of existing age damage, and patch her with the fixes that will maintain it. “And there you are, done.”
“I don’t feel any different.”
“Tell me that again a century from now”, I grin.
She nods. “I’m gonna get this verified. But if it’s true, the dresses and the sim suit are free. You already more than covered the bill.”
“Glad to be of service.”
On the Kimba table, they’re listening aghast as I explain the plan with Tansy. I did warn it was sex stuff, but they told me to go ahead.
Ayla summarises, “So basically, you’re offering for us all to come and watch you fuck Tansy, and she’s into it, because it would be humiliating to have us there?”
“She’s into it because she likes to be watched”, I say. “But she likes the humiliation of being seen by her former enemies too. Think of it as an extra apology, perhaps.”
Jade says, “We’re in. All of us. Even if we aren’t sexual, because it’s her.” That gets nods all round. Although I think Nikki and Toni are a lot more into it than that, going by the blush.
I say, “There’ll be other people there doing stuff. Some of the Pack are sexual with each other. The option will be open to you too, but consent is the rule. If you’re asked, it’s okay to say no. And don’t try anything without asking, but do feel free to ask, it won’t be taken badly. And if you’re just not into any offers, tell them beforehand, and you won’t get any. But if you can’t stand seeing it at all, or seeing each other’s sexual sides, now is the time to back out.”
Nobody backs out.
Part one hundred and seventeen
Lunch break is not quite over as the whole lot of us, Pack and Kimbas together, and two copies of me, make our way over towards Sara’s room. Tansy doesn’t look nervous but she’s holding my hand, and I give it a squeeze.
As we walk I take the chance to check in with Sara on something that was worrying me. “We’ve got combat movement after the break, you had to beg off a couple days ago when we were worried about Tansy, are you going to have to do it again? I plan to split, but…”
She grins. “Secrets, dear. Wait a little while, all will be revealed.”
When we all get to Sara’s room, it has made itself noticeably bigger. Beanbags are strewn around. Everyone fits in without crowding.
Sara immediately takes the opportunity to grab attention. “Alright, before the main act, I’m going to rotate the room, because I have a secret to discuss. I trust everyone here, even if you don’t all trust me completely. You’ll understand in a moment why I have to keep this under wraps.”
The outside door vanishes as the room becomes private. “Alright, here we go.” She holds her hands out, and between them a ball of black tentacles forms in the open air. It expands rapidly, tentacles sliding over tentacles, as if it was pouring out from an invisible vent. Forming a column, contracting into the shape of a body, and suddenly its surface is skin - it’s a perfect bare-ass naked copy of Sara. And it opens eyes. “I don’t have more than one mind, like Jules, yet”, Sara says from her original body. Then the second one picks up saying, “But I can manage more than one focus. Two, for now. I expect to expand that.” She walks over to her closet, and starts getting dressed in a spare uniform. “I think you can all understand why I don’t plan to noise this around?”
It’s Ayla who ends up speaking for everyone, “I can see why you don’t want the anti-Sara faction getting wind of that. Not least because of the way you do it. The, um, tentacles rather put a hole in the nice safe miss demon image.”
Sara-copy nods. “Quite so. Now then, I need to be off to class, so that I can also stay here and enjoy the fun. Opening the room up again now, no more secrets please.” Grabbing a sports kit bag, she gives a wave and a grin and heads out with one of my copies.
Sara-here says, “All right! grab beanbags, people.”
Right now I’m making my way to combat movement, to Doc Bellows for my twice-weekly appointment, and down to the testing labs to meet Doc Hewley. I hope whatever he has planned for me doesn’t interfere with my concentration up here.
I grab a seat on the bed and pat the place next to me for Tansy to sit. Sara sits down on the other side of her. I make another copy to go sit with the audience to check everyone’s okay, as Sara says “You know, there’s no obligation in this. You can back out now if you want to.”
Tansy shakes her head. “I’m a little nervous with all the people, but honestly, I don’t mind it. Which is weird, I’ve never felt this way before. I suppose I should try and get used to it.”
Sara nods. “And do you want me to close the door, like I did just now?”
“We aren’t breaking rules, right? Everyone here is consenting.”
“We aren’t”, Sara confirms.
“Then there’s no need. If they hear, they hear.”
I think Tansy is being a bit brave, and hug her. She leans into the hug. Then the hug turns into a snuggle which turns into a kiss.
Vamp is looking a bit shocky, so the me in the audience grabs a beanbag beside her. “First time for real, huh?”
She nods. “This place is insane. I’m not complaining but… how are the rest of them so blasé?” She looks at me. “Weird enough to have you here and up there too.”
“I’m not sure they are, really”, I say. “I’m going to go around and check. But they’ve had longer under the new rules than you, and been close to me for longer.” And I grin. “As to me being in lots of places, you get used to it.”
“Makes sense, I suppose”, she sighs. “Thank you for checking. I mean… I’ve not led a normal life, I’ve seen a lot of nasty stuff, and I’ve been around hookers. But it was never personal, you know? And now I get invited to watch, and maybe I’m getting some myself. I’m not sure what to do with it.”
“If you aren’t ready, say no”, I say. “Nobody here will take offence. And there will be many other chances. If you decide to try it, say yes. Or ask. And it’s okay to tell them to go slow.”
“Gah. I shouldn’t be needing all this 101 level talk, but thank you anyhow, it’s reassuring.” She takes a closer look at me. “So what would happen if I asked you to suck my dick?” Getting back a bit of the old sparkle with her grin.
“If you ask nicely, I might well say yes.” I grin, showing the pearly-whites. “If you don’t mind the teeth. They don’t get any blunter than this, but I know how to be gentle.”
She smirks. Then looks down and back at me. “I, um, since I got here, you’ve been kind to me. Took me under your wing, smoothed things over with the Kimbas, got in a goddamn stand off with a light saber to save me, even. You’re hot and scary, including the teeth, but in a good sort of way, and I think I like you. I wouldn’t hate you being my first, um, for real. Please?”
“Then yes, sweetie, I’d love to.” I smile. “Whichever way you’d like. I have full control over my fertility, and I don’t catch or carry STDs. So we can play whatever way you’d enjoy. No consequences except fun.”
She looks up at the bed, where Sara, Tansy and I are now topless and playing fun games of titty caresses while we swap kisses. “Um, may I, um…” She looks at me, “I’d like to see.”
“You’re welcome to see, and to touch.” I make the top half of my uniform vanish. And squirm over in easy reach, on my beanbag.
She wondering reaches a hand to caress, the pointed nails tracing over me. “You’re um, the others here, they’re um, bigger.”
“I can control the size. I picked something that wouldn’t bounce around and thwap me in the face.” I smirk. “Want ’em bigger?”
She shakes her head. “How you are is fine. Mine are even smaller, if I don’t force it.”
“You’ve got an intersex body, right?”, I ask.
“Yeah. Right in the middle. Both bits work, and what I look like, that depends a lot on how I spin it with clothes and stuff. But I’ve kinda picked looking like a girl, while I’m here. And I um, hear you’re intersex too?”
“Wanna see?” I grin, which gets a nod, so bye-bye goes the skirt, and I’ve got a very happy pole showing that I enjoy the scrutiny. “And yes you may touch.”
While I’m playing over there, I decide to make a new self to wander over and check in with Jade, who’s snuggling against Billie. “Everything okay, senpai?” Which makes her giggle.
“Yeah, I’m good. We both are.” She looks up at Billie. “I think we both kinda got our ‘ew, cooties’ nonsense worn off. So it’s just nice to watch our friends play, even if it isn’t our game. Look at you though, a face full of Tansy on one end and Vamp playing with you on the other, doesn’t it get confusing?”
“Nope, just fun”, I grin. And with a glance over at Jet and Paige playing together, “Looks like you’re making some memories yourself.”
“Frustrating that I can’t get at ’em”, she sighs. “But more fun for later, I guess.”
I nod agreement with that.
Other me has arrived at the testing lab, and been shown right in, Doc Hewley is there to meet me. “So, I hear that you had an encounter with this sword, Monday two weeks ago?” It’s the same orichalcum blade, in its wooden case. Evidently Englund realised he hadn’t heard about it.
I nod to the question. “Yeah. Burned my hand back then, but there were special circumstances.”
“And you didn’t tell me about it since. Naughty.” He chuckles. “We do have our ways of finding out, though. Let’s just begin by seeing what happens when you grasp it, like last time.”
Pulling my timebase up high so I can try and figure out the effect, I move to reach for the hilt. There’s definitely something going on at the chi level. The sword is ridiculously yang, like standing next to the sun, and it’s pulling my yin to the surface - and my GOO side is very yin. And I think, if I touched it, it would blast that away, and that’s why it burned me before. But I’m a little more capable that way now - what if I pull back on my yin and fill my hand with yang? Takes some doing, but it’s possible. And my hand closes. No burn.
Timebase back to normal and I pick it up. Wave it around a bit. Dyffud’s right, the real thing has a weighting completely different from my sabers. I probably should get some practise with them.
Doc Hewley is looking disappointed. But then he gets something in his earbud, I can hear it chatter, and he says, “I’m told you went fast there for a moment. Did you do something?”
I nod. “Figured out how it works. This stuff won’t harm me any more, I think.”
He sighs. “Figured it out in an instant and closed the weakness. You know, quite a lot of people have expressed worry that you don’t have any weaknesses on your MID.”
“I’m weak against soul level attacks from something bigger than me”, I say. Then thinking of earlier, “I’m susceptible to magic if you can sneak it past me, but that shouldn’t be easy. Still, Circe managed it once. And I’m basically wide open psychically if you’re able to tolerate a class X mind.”
He nods. “None of which helps us much. The most practised wizard on campus slipped a spell past you one time; I gather you don’t expect her to be able to do it twice?”
“Not the same way. But she has a three thousand year start on me. Experience beats untrained power.”
He nods. “And your other vulnerabilities require inhuman abilities to even access.”
Thinking of Bunny, I say, “Probably more humans are going to be able to access the soul side soon. And Foob can read me like a book. Appearances to the contrary, he’s still human.”
“He hasn’t tried, I don’t think? Other than his visual projections. But I doubt it would be easy. I’m not really organised like a human mind any more, and my selves cross check each other.”
He nods, and makes notes.
In combat movement, we’re running an assault course outside. It’s cold and slippery, neither of which bothers me. Both Sara and I are nimble and can lift several times our own weight, so the obstacles are pretty trivial even without using claws or tentacles, and I’m concentrating on proper form, getting the evasive running technique right, minimizing how long I’m skylined, and so forth. Molly, Chou’s girl, is two ahead of me. She goes up the tic-tac really well, I’m impressed. I’m waiting my go at the tic-tac and watching her dashing down the length of the wall - and then she stumbles, and jumps bad. Oh heck. She hits the platform on the other side boob first, which has to hurt. And then she’s just holding it by her fingers, and falling, and I skip my turn and dash around to try and help, but I’m too late and I hear the thump of her impact on the ground. Damn, I should have slipstreamed or something, feet are slow! Even with claws punched out of the front of my sneakers. Mr Anderson is already there. “Don’t get up, Molly. We don’t want you to hurt yourself more. Help is on the way.”
I say, “I’m a healer, I’m allowed to do first aid, may I help?”, and meantime get Chou on links. “Molly’s hurt! Nasty fall. Probably not serious but she might want you for comfort.”
That gets a quick “On my way.”
Mr Anderson gives me a nod.
Part one hundred and eighteen
Memories of my first aid lessons in another world. I run through the checklist. Danger? None except the puddle of puke. She’s unconscious, but breathing, she turned to the side before she vomited, so she hasn’t aspirated any. No visible external bleeding. No visible broken bones. Pull her arm near me out, other hand over her face, lift the knee furthest from me and pull to roll her onto her side. Recovery position, safe from choking if she up-chucks again. And then I can take a look at the internal stuff.
Fingertips on her cheek, and my awareness spreads through her body. Priorities first, any brain injury? Doesn’t look like it. No torn blood vessels, no serious concussion. She’ll have a headache and probably puke again, but that’s it. No internal bleeding. She bumped her boobs something nasty, and she’ll be black and blue all over, but no bones broken. A few strain micro-fractures that will heal themselves, but I give them a nudge to speed it up. Pulled muscles and tendons, micro-tears, nothing serious.
“She’s lucky”, I say. “Bumped and thumped but that’s about it.” I can see Chou jogging over from one direction, and a medical team from Doyle from the other, with some sort of hover-stretcher bobbing along behind them.
Mr Anderson nods. “Thank you. You got here in a rush”, indicating the large divots where I kicked up icy turf trying to dash here. “What were your intentions?”
“I was trying to catch her” I say ruefully. “I should have thought and used slipstream, it’s much faster. And if she fell bad, I could do emergency repairs.”
He nods thoughtfully. “I heard about yesterday morning. You could have saved her if she was fully dead?”
“Rebuilt and reattached, yes. But I’d prefer to avoid her having the trauma.”
He nods. “Well, thank you again, but I think your services here are no longer needed, and you should make space for the medical team, and if I’m not mistaken, her girlfriend?”
I grin. “I called her over as soon as Molly fell.”
“Convenient”, is his assessment. Then as I get up and step back out of the way, he says, “It’s obvious you don’t need today’s run as training. So could you please TA the class for me, while I handle this? The rest of them can stop their run at the tic-tac, and just come down off the wall.”
“Of course”, I agree.
Chou’s sudden departure from Sara’s room gets worried looks from the others, but I explain “Molly fell”, and then a few moments later, “I’ve checked her over, no serious injuries”, which relaxes things back down again.
On the bed, Tansy cuddles naked against me. “Isn’t it confusing, being there and here?”
I think she knows the answer and it’s just idle musing, but still, “Not for me. That me and this me are separate enough we don’t share our focus, and we don’t distract each other.” I grin over at the third in the bed, my beloved Sara, “Got to wonder how miss spooky tentacles is doing, though, she’s new at it.”
“I’m doing very well, thank you very much”, Sara grins, winding a twist of Tansy’s pretty blonde hair around her fingertip. “You know, you’re hardly going to distract me with lust. Lovely as you both are.”
“So if we wanted to distract you?”, I tease.
“An interesting problem in mathematics, perhaps.”
Tansy laughs, “Mathematics she says”, and rolls over to give a mock-pout and then a kiss to Sara.
Giggles from the bed make Vamp look up from her fascinated exploration of my parts. “Um, sorry, I wasn’t ignoring you. Just kinda focused. I mean, I’ve. you know, with my own, but…”
“It’s different when it’s someone else?”
She nods. “You can see more, feels different too.” A pause, then, “You aren’t quite the same arrangement as me, no balls, why?”
“I never liked the aesthetic. I figure that preference told my BIT what to do. They’re there, but they’re up inside, next to my ovaries. Not as effective fertility wise, but it means I can get kicked between the legs without having to do the curl up in a ball and go ouch thing. And I control my fertility anyway, now, so no real downside.”
“Huh. You know, I could shift myself around like that? But I’d need to drain someone first, and I’m getting the feeling that might be hard in this school.”
“Definitely best to ask first, if you don’t want detention. But there’s probably people who could be a volunteer donor and not feel the loss. Chou, perhaps, although you two have history. Nikki. I’d offer, myself, but it would need to be super slow and carefully monitored.”
“Worried you’ll blow my socks off?”
“Or melt you into a puddle of grey goo from class X exposure. I’m really not very human and I can’t be sure that my energy is at all safe.” A smile to soften the seriousness. “Besides, I have other ways to blow your socks off. If you wanna?”
She grins, then looks thoughtful. “Nah, leave it at this, for today.”
I nod. “Works for me.”
She leans back on the beanbag, looking at the ceiling. “You know, I haven’t felt this much like a blushing virgin in, I dunno, ever. Thinking about a thing’s just thinking.” She sits up and looks at Tansy, who is gasping, open mouthed, arching on the bed in ecstasy. “Seeing makes it real. There’s parts of me, wants to be that much out of control, and there’s parts of me that want to run a mile.”
“When you get a chance, and I bet they’ll offer it, say yes to the counselling services here”, I say. “I’m with Doc Bellows, he’s nice. Literally with, right now, one of me is over there as we speak. They kinda know how to handle the fuckery that mutant kids get put through.”
She nods, although looking reluctant. “Maaaaybe. I’m not sure I want someone poking around in my head like that. There’s monsters down there I wouldn’t wanna wake back up.” Which I can understand.
This time around, Doc Bellows and I have been talking about the hearing, and how I went berserk for that one moment in the sims. We’ve talked through what happened, and how it shocked me.
He’s looking thoughtful, just pausing for a moment with steepled hands, and then he says “You know, I think he set you up. There you are, being stood up in public and judged, worried for yourself, heartsick about the danger to Tansy, and he knows you’re going to feel any injustice there like a knife in the heart. And at the same time he has you fighting, probably harder than you’ve ever fought in your life, against not one opponent but several, with abilities and skills that stretch you to your limit. No space left for conscious thought.”
Which makes a lot of sense. “He wanted me to kill.”
“To lose control and lash out, because you are normally very controlled, and he wanted you to meet what lies underneath.”
Which is not exactly exoneration, but still. “He wanted me to meet my dark side.”
“For lack of a less dramatic term, yes.”
I sigh, and lean back on the chair. “I guess he succeeded. My dark side is angry with mean people, and could kill as easily as breaking a twig. I’m controlled because I can imagine what that would be like.” Mountain of raw corpses, bloodied hands with claws out, screaming anger and violent death at a red moon. “There’s a level of myself where I’m a rage-monster like something out of an anime.”
“So why don’t we start taking a look at where all that anger’s coming from?”
And we’re back to the reasonable world of counsellors and coffee. “Yeah, seems like a plan.”
Keeping an eye on the combat movement class is definitely easier with being able to park a body next to each obstacle. I’m not the teacher, so I limit myself to giving encouraging pep talk to the kids who are struggling. And of course, telling each of them to just come off the wall after the tic-tac, don’t try the jump. They’ve got Molly loaded onto the floating gurney, and then off she goes with the medics and Chou to Doyle.
“Going well?” Mr Anderson is finally able to turn his attention back to me.
“Nobody’s dead yet”, I grin. “They’re all doing pretty okay, although a few of them got spooked by hearing somebody fell. I had to tell them stuff like, you’ll be scared when it’s serious, too, so keep on moving.”
He nods. “I know you’ve not been in this class long, but I’m thinking of just passing you. Don’t think that makes you special, it’s pretty normal for the exemplars to test out. But I’m wondering if you could stay on as a TA?”
Unexpected, but I can live with that. “Sure, I’d love to.”
He smiles. “Great. When they’re all through, herd ’em up, and we can talk about how they did.”
With the bell having gone for end of fourth period, I’m headed out of the mental health annex at Doyle. As I walk through the entrance, I notice someone pretty obviously loitering. Jadis Diabolik, at a guess, recognisable by the white hair with horn-like forelocks. “Miss Parallel, could I have a moment of your time?”, she says.
“Sure.” I’m curious what she wants.
“Shall we walk? I’ve got a free period, I know you’re headed over to psychic ethics.”
I nod. Evidently whatever it is, is not something to be discussed inside where ears might be listening.
Once we’re outside, she says, “So, I gather you know me?” I nod. Beside the time she called in to the radio station, I’ve read about her, and seen her around. She continues, “I’m something of a fixer, I’m someone people come to when they want something arranged. Or when they want a go-between.”
“Someone wants my help, but they don’t want to approach me directly.”
That gets a nod from her. “That person wants a thing done, but they want to keep it confidential. They couldn’t just come over and talk to you at lunch, because it would draw attention. Are you willing to promise to keep this in confidence, sight unseen, whether you agree to do it or not?”
That’s interesting. It implies a lot of trust. “I give my word that I won’t reveal it, unless it’s harmful or seriously unethical or puts people at risk.”
“None of the above, it’s just embarrassing. Alright. It’s Jobe, he wants to meet you.”
Which brings back amusing memories. Not that I’ll say what I think, I don’t plan to reveal my reading to Jadis. “I’d be happy to meet him, at a time and location of his convenience. What does he want me to do?”
“He’s infected himself with a serum he made, that’s turning him into a female drow elf. I’m told it uses regenerator cells. He wants it stopped, and the changes undone.”
As I thought. “I’ll take a look. No promises of results. And if I take action, I may need to bring others in on the problem, including staff.”
“Acceptable, subject to his option of refusal. He also wants to know what it will cost.”
That makes me think a moment. “He probably won’t trust this, but the answer is, no cost. I’m someone who doesn’t hate him, I’m willing to come and take a look and see if I can use my abilities to help. If he wants to see it transactionally, he can see it as a favour. But I’m neither a flunky nor a hireling.”
She winces at that. “I’ll tell him. He won’t like it, but I think he’ll take it.”
I nod. “He has my email. He can contact me to meet, anytime, anywhere that I can get to without an exeat.”
“Which does simplify things. Alright, thank you, and pleasure doing business.”
I smile. “Any time.”
Part one hundred and nineteen
Psychic ethics turned out better than I had feared. A small class, and most of the people there were on the young side, making me suspect they were actually learning it for the first time, rather than being forced back in as a remedial chore. Late joiners like me, perhaps. The formal text of the canon of psychic ethics isn’t too long, and we went through the whole of it, for my benefit, Doc Carstaires reading it out, section by section, then asking us all a few questions on each part to make sure we understood the phrasing. Then the rest of the class he gave us a series of ethical problems that we had to figure how to deal with. Some of the dilemmas were subtle. How much should I change my behaviour based on something I’d inadvertently picked up? I’m not telepathic, yet, but I suspect I will be, so it’s a valid thing to ponder. My own attitude of ‘don’t butt in if they aren’t asking, but maybe take a few quiet steps to smooth their way’ seems to fit the canon fairly well. My approach of ‘maybe convince them to ask’ is a mite more iffy, but hey, I recognise it’s skating on thin ice. With Tansy, it feels like it was right. But that isn’t precedent.
While I’m crunching on ethical dilemmas over there, our little group in Sara’s room has had to break up and head to various lessons, Tansy staggering out on wobbly legs with a smile and a glow, and that leaves me and Sara alone to snuggle.
“Something I was wanting to ask you”, I say, leaning against her as she boots up GEO on the computer. “Realms, like the one your dad has, or this room, how hard are they to make?”
“Oh, fancy one of your own?” I can hear the grin in her tone, even if she’s facing the wrong way for me to see it.
“Might need one. My dreams have been bothering me to find my own song.” I figure she understands what kind of song I mean. My true nature, amplified.
“And you worry it would have a blast radius, hmm?”
“Yeah”, I sigh. “It’s just worries and guesses, like, what if it full-influences everyone in a multi mile radius, what if it puts out more essence than is safe to be around, what if it just bends their all-too-human minds like toffee? But with worries like that, there’s no way I can do it here, at school. Still, I feel like I’m going to need to do it somewhere.”
“Daddy’s realm is no good?”
“It’s his”, I shrug against her. “Feels like it’s not mine to do that in.”
“He probably wouldn’t mind, you know?”
I sigh. “He’s a sweetie and I know he wouldn’t. It’s the fallback option. But it would be better to be off on my own, in my own place.”
“Would it?” She turns and looks at me. “You’re a life power, not a solo power, love. You’ve defined yourself into the middle of all the webs of relationships of all the living creatures in the universe. This universe, specifically. I don’t think anywhere else is going to be as much your place as here is.”
I ponder that. “Then maybe it has to be here.”
She nods. “But the caveats still apply. Quite the dilemma.”
“Not an urgent one, but it feels like I need to do it… kinda soonish.”
She winces. “Well, if I have any helpful ideas, I’ll let you know. I’ve got nothing offhand, but I’ll give it some thought.”
“Good enough for me”, I grin and lean back against her.
After we’ve all got changed from our outdoor exertions (or in my case, changed to a new and clean body), Mr Anderson herds us together in the sports hall we use as a base for physical lessons.
“Will the following students please stand forward.” And he lists a few names, mine and Sara’s included. I recognise the people I’d seen finding the class easy.
Then when we’re all arranged together up in front of the class, he says, “As of right now, I’m passing you for this class, congratulations. None of you will be required to attend further lessons in combat movement this term. However, Miss Parallel has already agreed to help me TA the class, and I’m asking now, are any of the rest of you interested? Raise hands please.”
Sara’s hand goes straight up. I guess the others are cool with having a free period, because their hands stay down. Mr Anderson nods. “Alright. The rest of you are dismissed, Miss Waite and Miss Parallel stay behind, please.”
As they’re filing out, I catch a whinge from my old friend Sweetheart about how it makes sense that this class would be TA’d by demons. Which just amuses me. Maybe Sara and I will get to cut loose on them a bit, insert evil laugh here. After all, I know what she can do when she plays red team.
The bell for the end of lessons goes as Sara’s finishing up on GEO. Looks like the bi-location experiment has worked out well, although I’m not sure how much she plans to continue to use it, it’s a bit more limited and a lot more secret than the thing I do. While she and I are reviewing future lesson plans over in Laird, I decide to head back to Poe and chill, with a stop first at the library to pick up a book to read. I’ll make another body to go do maintenance.
As I wander over, I check in with Chou on her link. Seems like Molly got discharged from Doyle and is presently recuperating in her room, well rubbed with Kimba bruise salve, so that’s good. Then as we’re speaking, there’s a pause in the conversation, then she says, “Sorry, I’m getting dragged into some martial arts nonsense, it seems there’s some stupid huge fight brewing between the dragons and the tigers. I’m gonna pull Toni in on this, I’d ask you along too, but I don’t want to get you in trouble for the armband thing.”
“It’s cool”, I say. “Call me if you need my help. I can jump to your link.”
“Will do.” It’s a curt end to the conversation, but she’s busy, and I can deal with that.
Getting to Poe, I get waved over by Billie, who is watching something on a laptop in the Kimba Korner. It’s… a video of my fight in the arena, someone has uploaded it to a public site. I guess Dyffud was right to worry about cameras. Billie grins. “It’s getting emailed around. Everyone’s saying you’re really impressive. Toni was raving about it, before she got called away for some martial arts thing. At first she thought you’d been holding out on her in your spar. But then she went back through it slow, and said you learned stuff as you went along.”
Not something I consciously remember doing. “Play it over, I’m curious, I didn’t get to watch myself from outside”, I say.
She nods and rewinds it. “I’ve watched Toni fight any number of times”, she says, “She’s all style and fancy moves and dancing, and I know she’s way better at it than you, but I think there’s something of the way I look at fights in how you move. I can see you’re always trying to end it. She wants to drag it out and make them feel the loss. You just want them down, KO, fight over.”
As I’m watching, I can see what Toni meant about the learning. I’m half unconsciously picking up the moves used against me and integrating them into my responses. “Yeah, I don’t fight for glory or really for fun, although it can be fun when it’s light hearted, it makes for different priorities. I want them to stop, so I practise that.”
“And you fight like it’s chess”, Billie grins. “Like see there, where you dodged and put that one guy in the other’s path, I bet you planned that a few moves ahead. Toni was saying it’s how Dyffud fights, and it makes him a nightmare to hit.”
“Lemme guess, she wants a rematch?”
“Sooo badly.” Billie grins. “Sorry, I think you may be stuck with that.”
“There are worse fates”, I snicker. Wondering how Toni is doing over in the business with the dragons and tigers. Will they start bothering me too, now?
The end of the fight is still uncomfortable to watch. My expression doesn’t change, but I remember the rage. And I can see the trachea punch I was halfway through when Dyffud called a halt.
Billie says, “Everyone’s arguing about why he stopped it, but Toni said it was that last punch?”
I nod. “I was going for the kill. Spill-over from the hearing, I was angry, I lost my rag.”
Billie nods and puts her arm around me. “I can see that it bothers you. I know the feeling. Mine is more, I did kill, a whole lot. But similar.”
“Someone else did, and later they got to be part of you”, I say. “But memories feel like memories, I guess. For my part, I need to learn how to handle my rage, because it’s definitely down there, we figured that much out in my shrink session after.”
“And I need to learn to handle my guilt”, she agrees.
“Not doing so badly, from the outside”, I say. “You’ve got your smile back.”
She nods and sighs. “Some of that is putting up a front. But yeah. I’m just glad Stygian went easy on me. That could have been so much worse.”
Over in maintenance, Jade’s gushing about the video too. “Pow, whack, four guys at once and no trouble. You’re not bad, you know.”
“I’m totally a beginner”, I counter, as we dangle from the roof, helping steady a busted gutter as the adults cut it loose with a plasma arc.
“You’d give Jackie Chan a run for his money.”
“He’s a baseline. And an actor.” I grin. “Might be fun though.”
The gutter drops loose into our hands. “Okay, haul ’em up”, Morrie says.
As we carry the gutter up, I get the weirdest feeling. Like, suddenly there’s something utterly huge and powerful and yet somehow serene, on campus below us, and I’d guess in the tunnels from the angle. "You feel that?, I ask Jade.
“Never mind. Something big and weird, down that-a-way.”
She shakes her head. “Nothing, sorry.”
Billie, on the other hand, can sense it loud and clear. “That’s Chou. She’s got her work clothes on.”
That gets a nod. “Yeah. I hope there isn’t trouble.”
I send a nudge over the link. “Need help?” Keeping it short to avoid distraction.
But the response I get back is calm and unworried. And not Chou’s voice, which gives me chills. “Greetings to you, new life power. Thank you, but I do not require your help at this time. Nor that of Billie, who is with you.”
“And greetings to the handmaid of the Tao”, I say. “Okay, but feel free to request it at any time. I hope to be an ally.”
“If it becomes needful, I will do so.” Which comes with a feeling of being dismissed. Okay.
After I’ve relayed the conversation, Billie says, “If she’s not in trouble, then she’s schooling somebody. I wouldn’t want to be them. She can be pretty terrifying.”
“Probably the martial arts stuff”, I guess. “I wonder if the dragons and tigers have finally managed to seriously annoy the handmaid?”
“Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of morons”, is Billie’s verdict.
Part one hundred and twenty
18th January, 2007, Crystal Hall, dinnertime
“So basically it’s this huge pitched battle, over us, like as in owning Chou and me, would you believe it? As if that’s a remotely modern way to behave.” Toni’s narrating the fight, as we sit around the table. Chou looks a little withdrawn, herself, and isn’t joining in. “Anyhow, they’re snarling at each other, she lobs this magic flash-bang thing in between them, shazam! And there we are. Except it’s not her, you know? It’s the other one. Like literally, her clothes have changed into some kinda robes out of a kung fu movie.”
“It’s a hanfu, Toni. It’s Chinese.” Chou sounds a little grumpy.
“It’s cosplay is what it is. Except I guess, with her it ain’t, she’s not dressing up, she’s the original real deal. You can feel it too.”
Jade says, “Yeah, Jules and I were up hanging off a roof fixing gutters, and she felt it.”
“And I felt it clear across campus”, Billie agrees. “It’s like the whole universe is suddenly paying attention in one particular place, it’s kinda loud.”
“Anyway!” Toni says, grabbing back the conversational initiative, “So we basically try to talk sense into them together, but they’re not having it. So she up and challenges them to a duel. One from each side, against her. It ended up being Sledge and her buddy Dorjee, except he wasn’t being her buddy right then. Sledge comes at her first with his hammer and she’s like, slappy fighting him with a sword that could as easily chop him into chunky salsa. Completely schooling his ass. So the bosses figure, well gee, one ninja at a time doesn’t work, who knew. And they call a truce and get Sledge and Dorjee to come at her together. They actually end up working together pretty well, too. At which point, her robeyness takes an exit and leaves Chou there looking like she just woke up in the middle of an ass kicking.”
“I caught a couple of Dorjee’s tasers and I was down and out, and Sledge missed me deliberately, fight over”, Chou says. “And everyone celebrated and was happy, the end.”
“I figure, your other-self wanted the truce, and when she got it, she was done”, Toni says with a sympathetic look. “That she dropped you in the soup is neither here nor there to her.”
“That attitude of hers does make me tired, sometimes”, Chou says, and sighs.
“I guess it’s motivation to train”, Toni says. “No use having all this magical skill that goes away when it’s done, not when you’re done. You’re gonna need your own.”
That just gets a grunt of agreement. Then Chou glances up, clearly sees someone, and says, “Gotta go. Later, all”, and gets up from her seat.
Toni’s eyes follow where she was looking. “Huh, Dorjee. I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.”
“Oh no you don’t”, it’s Nikki. “That’s her love life and it’s none of your business.”
“I know, I know.” Toni grins. “Meantime, Jules, damn that was some fighting in that video.”
While we’re dissecting my exploits (again), I get an email, “My lab, after dinner.” It’s from Jobe, I guess my answer got back to him. I fire back with “I’ll be there”. I don’t know precisely where his lab is in the tunnels, because it would be inside one of the areas I stopped my exploration at a locked door, but I can make a good guess. If I need more, I’ll ask.
As I’m heading out of the hall, a girl I don’t know says “Miss Parallel, can I have a moment of your time?” She’s older, platinum blonde, cute but not exemplar hot. She’s also trying to slip a spell on me. Speed up my time, look at it - it’s a control and speak the truth spell. I could cut it, but I’m curious, so instead I let it attach, but switch the body to outside control.
I say, “of course, although I’m expected, so if you need more than a couple minutes, I’ll make a copy.”
“That won’t be necessary”, she says, probably worried that the copy would be outside the spell. “This is not really an introduction, because you won’t remember this, but I’m Spellbinder. I’m a little surprised you didn’t break my spell when I put it on you, you have a reputation for being able to do that.”
“You wanted me to speak freely, I don’t have anything in particular to hide.” Let her think I didn’t notice the control.
“If you say so.” Evidently thinking, more fool you. “Anyhow, I work with Hekate and she’s a bit pissed off at you. You led Circe right up to her spell circle and helped trash it, and you killed her protector.”
“Darrow? She’s better off without him.”
“She’s had to run and hide, without him. It hasn’t put her in a good mood.”
“You know, I can offer her sanctuary. Not just from Nikki’s revenge spell. She’s probably dug herself into a bunch of trouble with the mythos magic she uses. Of course there would be conditions, she’d have to face the music with the human justice system. But it’s an open offer. You know I don’t go after the villains.”
“Which is weird because you hang with the Kimbas, and they’re some of the worst goody two-shoes on campus.”
“Have you ever heard them go around stirring trouble, when it didn’t come looking for them first?” Thinking of Pucelle and her rant. The Kimbas are good, but none of them are exactly capes, except perhaps Chou.
“Huh.” That obviously made her think. “Looking back… you may have a point. Anyhow, I’ll tell her what you’re offering, but don’t expect her to take that one up. What she really wants to know is what this ‘influence’ thing is going to do to her.”
Interesting question. “For people who already have a conscience, that seems to get bigger. But as far as I know, Hekate is basically a sociopath, and how influence mixes with personality disorders is an unknown. It will definitely change her. I’m not sure if that will be gaining a freshly minted conscience, or becoming a nicer kind of sociopath. I’m interested to find out.”
“Maybe I’ll tell you, when I know”, she says with a sigh. “Not that I’d let you remember, but still. Okay, off you go before you’re missed, and forget this.”
So off I go, taking care to cut the spell in a way that doesn’t report back. Interesting conversation. She, I think, will grow a conscience.
Speaking of sociopaths, it turns out to be fairly easy to find Jobe’s lab. Just look for the biohazard signs and the ranty warnings about doom for intruders. I knock.
“Parallel? Good, come in quickly, before you’re seen.” It’s been just over a week since I last saw him, and his disguise would be good if it wasn’t for that time-lapse comparison. His voice has changed timbre, and he’s pretty obviously concealing other changes.
I follow him in, through a sort of airlock system of double doors. His lab is busy, but organised. A lot of interesting lifeforms.
“I got a little delayed, someone wanted to talk. But I’m here now. We need a place to work, somewhere where you won’t fall in a heap if you lose voluntary muscle control.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I’m not just going to scan you and hem-and-haw and make a decision. I’m going to take you with me, so you can see for yourself. Since you aren’t used to multiple focus, you might forget your balance. So we need a sofa, or a bed, or you need to lie on the floor.”
He hmphs, and nods. “I have a lab bed.”
That turns out to be basically a padded gurney with, amusingly, heavy leather bondage straps. Evidently not always used to hold volunteers.
I say, “Alright, get up on it and lie down. I’ll need to touch an area of exposed skin, so you’ll need to peel that synthetic stuff back from a hand or something.”
He frowns, but does it. His hand, exposed, is dotted with spots and patches of coal black. Alright, let’s begin. I put my hand over his, and my senses expand through his body. I pull him in.
“This is you, as you are now”, I say. “I’m filtering it down, so we’re looking at the organ level, rather than a deep dive into every single cell. I’m seeing the whole thing.”
I can feel his fascination. “This is… I could do so much with this. Why are you filtering it?”
I zoom the view in on the liver, in on one cell in the liver, and I let him have the whole blast of that one cell. Organelles, busily moving around and doing reactions. DNA getting unzipped and transcribed. Proteins being synthesized. Surface proteins grabbing stuff in and spitting it out.
“Gah! Enough, it’s giving me a headache.” And we’re back to the organ level.
“I have that much resolution and more, in every cell. I can read their genetic code, too. So it’s pretty obvious to me which cells are drow, and which aren’t. I’ll colourise them to show you. Green for original, red for drow.” His body goes mostly yellow, with patches of orange and some areas outright red. “All the fast replicating cells have been replaced. All the stem cells, bone marrow, immune system. All the gut lining. Any organ that’s been taking damage, the healed tissue is drow. A lot of your endothelium. About a third of your nerve cells.”
I think I’ve shocked him into silence. So I continue. “I’ll run through some non-options and options. First off, I’ll show you what’s left if I just destroy the drow cells.” I hide all the red cells from the visualisation. What’s left is visibly spongy. “No organs and no blood vessels with coherence. Everything would leak into everything else, you’d go straight into hypovolaemic shock and multiple organ failure. Which you wouldn’t feel, because your brain would be having a seizure. I’ve brought someone back from the dead, but they had enough of a working body that I could boot it back up, tell it to rebuild the head, and then move the soul back in. This, there wouldn’t be enough coherent parts to do that. I could try simulating the missing cells with solid sorcery, but it could leave me juggling too many balls. I’ve been warned against trying to run a whole body on manual. Non option.”
We can both see his stomach blanch and churn. “Damn. I left it too late, then.”
“For that approach. Given how aggressive the cellular transformation is, that window probably passed after a day. Second non option, is rewriting the regeneration template back to your original body. I don’t feel I could do that without risking killing you by messing it up and creating a regen cancer or something.”
“So what are the actual options? Stop telling me what you can’t do.”
“I can make you a new body using the genetic template in the green cells, and move your soul over. Unfortunately I don’t have a cell-for-cell snapshot of how you used to be, so it would be more like a clone than a copy. The biometrics might not match, because some of them are developmental. Worse, legally, it would be on very shaky ground. The law right now doesn’t track the soul as the person, and legally, I might have committed murder and created a whole new person, nameless, age zero, heir of nobody, owning nothing.”
That gets a shudder. “It’s like my dad’s plan to clone me and copy the engrams over.”
“That wouldn’t even be the same soul, it would be somebody else with your memories. And it neatly omits what would happen to you, the original.”
“There’s a reason I haven’t taken him up on it.”
“And so, last option so far as I can see, other than just doing nothing and letting it continue. Force the pace of the change with sorcery, and guide it under conscious control so it completes safely and with no harm to your personality and without going haywire along the way. Then we can see what options present without the complication of working with two competing cell lines at war in the same body. The downside is, of course, becoming fully drow, and fully female. But that’s the option I’d recommend. You’ve seen my reasoning why.”
“And I’d have to become a girl?”
“Your choice whether you see yourself as a girl, or a temporarily inconvenienced boy.”