Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 121-130)
Parallel 2: Interlaced (Parts 121-130)
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 Jobe has learned from Parallel that his transformation into a drow girl has progressed too far to be safely reversed.
Part one hundred and twenty one
18th January, 2007, Jobe’s lab, evening
“If I go for the last option, can you do it here and now?”, Jobe asks.
“Could in theory, but I won’t”, I say. “I want to do things by the book, and that means getting permission from the Head and then doing it in Doyle, under medical supervision. But I can’t see why they’d object. So my guess is tomorrow morning.”
“Damn it, if this was my father’s kingdom, there would be none of that.”
“Well, this is Mrs Carson’s, and I’ve annoyed her enough already. I’ll give her a call now and ask when we can meet her, if you want?”
He sighs. “Do it.”
I nudge the Head over links, “May we talk? I have a problem, concerning Jobe, and he and I would like to meet you about it.”
That gets a chuckle. “He’d like to meet me, hmm? That’s certainly not the usual way around. As it happens, I was about to ask you to meet me about another matter, and I’m available right now, so, both of you, come on over.”
Convenient, but also ominous.
A few minutes of silent walking later, we reach Schuster. The admin area is quiet and dark, after hours. Only the open door to the Head’s room lights the way in.
“Come in, both of you, sit down. What’s the problem?” Mrs Carson gestures us in, looking like she’s had a long day. “I presume it’s important.”
I look at Jobe, making it clear it’s on him to start things, and he sighs. “I accidentally injected myself with a serum I’ve been working on.”
“Then we had better get you to Doyle immediately!”
He shakes his head. “It happened Tuesday of last week.” Which quiets the Head, and she nods, “Please continue, then.”
“I was grabbing for an antidote after an accident, and I grabbed the wrong injector. I have, I had, a serum, which uses regenerator cells. To um, make someone into a drow elf. A female one.”
“And why would you have such a thing?”
“To make my ideal girlfriend.”
“With a technique that I am sure you know has an extremely high chance of runaway cancer or brain wipe. I can’t imagine you intended that to be voluntary.”
“There are people who’d accept the risk. I could guarantee them beauty and a life of riches.”
“Not in my school. But it seems like you managed to inject the one person who genuinely knew the risks, hmm? And since you are here and not in Doyle, I presume it’s not killing you.”
“It’s not. It’s working exactly as designed. Exactly as aggressively effective as I intended it to be.” He grits his teeth and then says, “Damn it. I tried to slow it, and I’ve got it down to a rate that wouldn’t finish changing me for months. But I haven’t been able to stop it. So I took it to Parallel.”
She looks at me, “And were you able to stop it?”
“It’s too far advanced. I could destroy all the invading cells, but he wouldn’t survive. Nor would there be enough left to repair and fetch him back to. The best I could offer was to use sorcery to complete the transformation quickly, and supervise it to be sure it did no harm.”
“And this time you didn’t rush to act on your own, but rather came to me”, she nods. “Jobe Wilkins, is that what you want, to finish the transformation?”
“It’s the last thing I want”, he looks sour. “But it’s better than spending months as a halfway thing.”
She nods. “Well, it’s karma, and you know it. You get to become what you intended to impose on someone else. I want you to go to Doyle, right now, Jobe, and have them confirm Parallel’s diagnosis. I’ll call ahead and tell them to expect you. And then we can decide how to handle this matter. But in principle, if they do confirm it, I’m inclined to say yes.”
“Thank you, ma’am”, Jobe sighs, and leaves.
A couple minutes later, the Head ends her call to Doyle and puts the phone down, turning her attention to me. “Well, well. You must really have shocked Jobe, for him to be so polite.”
“I took him with me, so he could see the situation at first hand”, I say. “I guess that didn’t leave him any wiggle room to pretend it isn’t happening.”
“And it really would have killed him, to just… wave your wand and undo it?”
“Rapidly. And messily.”
She nods. “Alright. Enough on that matter, because I have something else I need to talk about. This concerns the school’s negotiations with the federal government. We reached an impasse earlier today over a demand which they insisted is a precondition to resuming normal relations, and which I insisted was unacceptable. To break the deadlock, they suggested I put it to the person implicated. That would be you.”
“They want me to do something?”
“They want you, or rather an instance of you, to leave the campus and come with them. They assure me that the intention is to meet persons in authority. When I told them that they could bring those persons here, they said that the President of the United States does not make house calls.”
“You suspect that once they have me off campus, they’ll try something nefarious?”
“If they did, I would be unable to prevent it.”
I think about that. “If they want me in a lab, I’ll say yes. If they want to cut me up, I’ll say no. If they get insistent, I’ll vanish the body and leave them with egg on their faces.”
“You realise there are things they can do to you, besides physical violence? They can bring considerable psychological pressure to bear. At a minimum, you can expect a recruitment hard sell.”
“Would it help if I had a chaperone?”, I ask. “Nikki’s dad is military, and I’ve read he’s an honourable man.” She’ll know what I mean by that.
That makes her pause and think. “Hmm. I suppose that’s a possibility. Alright, leave the matter with me, and I’ll see if they’re willing to accept that.”
I smile. “Works for me. Thank you for that, and for Jobe.”
She chuckles. “Don’t repeat this outside the room, but I find myself tempted to gloat. Honestly, he doesn’t just deserve it, it might be the best thing ever to happen to him. Or rather, to her.”
“It felt to me like he hasn’t yet decided whether to identify as a girl.”
“In this case, unless it causes significant dysphoria, I believe she should be encouraged to identify as a girl. The point being to make a break with the past. As a boy, he has been channelled by his father into something of a clone, with a pat answer to everything. Clearly the Wilkins way is superior. As such he has resisted all attempts to change his behaviour. This is, at last, a gap in the armour. It represents an opportunity to undo some of the harm.”
I think on that for a moment and then say, “I trust your judgement in this. But he may come to me looking to get his sex changed.”
“And you may tell him that I have instructed you that for the moment, you are forbidden to tamper with it, at least until we know more.”
Over in Poe, there’s a knock on my door. Erin’s studying, I’ve already done my homework and was just passing time by reading human-slow. I put the book down and go answer the door, and it’s Vamp.
“Jules, can we talk?”
“Sure, come in, unless you want privacy?”
“It’s, um, about sex stuff.”
Erin grins from the desk. “I can go take a walk if you’d like? I could use the break.”
Vamp smiles, “Thank you, it’s appreciated.” Then when Erin’s out of the room, she sighs and leans back against the door frame. “I was thinking about earlier. You know I came here all sex this and sex that? But now I’m feeling like the biggest hypocrite, I can’t make myself put the old act on and I don’t know what to do. But also I’m kicking myself and saying, Vamp, you had your chance and you bottled it.”
I shake my head. “Don’t worry too much. It’s understandable. To be honest, the middle of an orgy isn’t exactly the best place for first times. And you did have a good reason.”
“My past.” She pulls a face. “I need to move past that. And honestly, I kinda want to be able to be all sex this, sex that, and mean it. But to reach that, well, I have to actually do it. So, um, this is hard but, what I’m trying to say is, would you be my first time? Please?”
I give her a grin and let some of the lust that idea makes me feel show in it. “I would absolutely love to. You set the pace. Tell me what you’d like me to do, or if you aren’t sure, ask and I’ll offer suggestions. And if you’d like me to take charge, I can do that. You can ask me to stop at any time.”
“Here and now? Um, okay… Could I see you naked? I mean, I did before, but it was kinda dark.”
“Sara’s room is good with the mood lighting”, I say, playing by making my clothes vanish slowly, in layers. “Mine’s a bit better for seeing things.” And then I’m naked. I step my legs apart and stretch my hands overhead like a cat. “Mmm. Like what you see? It’s okay to touch.”
She’s stripping out of her uniform, tossing clothes onto the bed. “Damn, Jules, you’re completely shameless. And fucking hot. You realise if we fuck here, the rest of the floor will hear?”
“Then they’ll know I’m having a good time, won’t they? Maybe they’ll touch themselves thinking about it. I know Nikki had that ‘I’ll be in my room’ look after watching Tansy. Now imagine she’s hearing you, and masturbating. Would you like that?”
“Oh god, Jules, you’re making me harder than concrete.” And said bar is now fully visible, slender, shapely, and long. Vamp, naked, is androgynous tipping slightly to the feminine. Barely there breasts, boyish hips, but full lips and a cascade of white hair. Her jutting penis just adds to the feel of ephemeral, slightly alien beauty.
“You’re lovely”, I say. “I’d love to be inside you, or have you inside me. Or both. I have more bodies, if you want to play double or more?”
The idea hadn’t occurred to her, but I can see her grin light up more. “I want to do it double. Both ways at the same time. Shit, it’s absolutely the most me I can be, boy and girl virginity at the same instant.”
So I make another body, and we say together “I’m going to really love” and one of me says “fucking you”, and the other says “being fucked by you” and we both kiss her on opposite cheeks.
One of me says, “I’m gonna sit on the desk, line yourself up over my cock, and when you’re ready, push down”. Other me says “And I’ll line myself up over yours, and push down when you do.”
She lines herself up, and I can feel she’s biting her lip. “Fuck me, here goes nothing”, and she pushes down, I’m sliding inside her warmth as other me slips down and envelops her hard warm length.
“Oh god, this is, fuck, it’s overwhelming, don’t move, let me take a moment.”
I kiss her neck. “Take as long as you need, sweetie. You’re lovely. I am really going to enjoy this.”
And then she starts to move, and the three of us give in to the instinctive rhythm of it, moving together, touching and exploring each other’s bodies as we fill each other and are filled.
Part one hundred and twenty two
“Took your time”, Erin teases, leaning against the door. “You do realise that the room absolutely reeks of sex, right? It’s making me horny, and I still have to do my homework. That is, after I’ve wiped down the desk you two were making whoopee on.”
That gets a giggle from Vamp, who’s being the little spoon on my bed. “Jealous? She’s your room-mate, I don’t imagine she’d say no.”
“Okay, maybe a little”, Erin admits, amused. “I’m still exclusive with Sara, so it’s gonna stay in my imagination where it belongs. Although, maybe I might have a talk with her. Anyway, you’re cute, but shoo. You’ve had your turn, now it’s my turn.”
I give Vamp a squeeze and say “What roomie wants, roomie gets, but there’s always tomorrow for all your other virginities.”
“Wait, others?” says a confused Vamp.
“Oh yeah. Blow jobs, getting and giving. Tongue jobs, getting and giving. Up the butt, and putting it up someone else’s. Multiple penetration. Boobs. Hands. Feet. And Sara can show you some fun things she can do with tentacles.”
Vamp snickers as she’s pulling clothes back on. “A list like that, it might even take longer than tomorrow, if I don’t wanna rush it.”
“As you prefer”, I say, grinning and rolling out of the bed, and making myself a gown to wear. Not that Erin normally minds the view, but I respect her desire to focus. “You know, I’m teasing, you can absolutely choose what you wanna do, and how fast.”
“You’ve never been anything but careful and lovely with me”, Vamp gives me a kiss on the lips. “And thank you, you were a good first.” And she heads out, blowing me a kiss at the door before closing it.
“Made a fan, I think”, says Erin.
The night passes quietly, if you ignore Erin and her extended date with her own fingers. Which I do ignore, because she’d have spoken up if she wanted me in on it. Dreams, this time, are enjoyable playthings. I do find myself pondering what the government might want with me. It’s not as if I’ve kept any particular secrets from them, although they might just want to take a closer look. I suppose I’ll find out soon.
I’m going to meet the president! A quick internet search confirms that’s Bush over in this world too. Obama has a wiki page but it’s mostly all about he got into the senate. Supposedly he’s been making noises like he’ll run in the primary, but hasn’t yet announced it. I could probably make serious cash betting on him, but that presumes things go here as they did in my world. Not a safe presumption, as he’ll be running for election in a much more influenced world. Also risks leaking that I know, if not this future, a closely related one. I don’t doubt my actions are being closely watched. Clever people will make inferences, so I should be careful.
Morning starts with emails, well, one email this time. The Head wants me in Doyle second period, they gave the green light for Jobe. Good.
As I’m heading out to go shower, I get waved over by Nikki from her room. “Can you come in here for a moment, Jules? Private conversation.”
“Sure”, I agree, stepping in to her very pretty flower filled room. “What’s up?”
“Just that dad emailed me and he says he wants to give me a call and talk about you. You know what’s up with that? And how much should I tell him?”
“I know what’s up with it, yeah. The military want an instance of me off campus, I asked for him as a chaperone. Tell him anything you want, the only thing I’d ask be kept a secret is the bit where I read about everyone on another world. If he needs to know it, I’ll tell him. But it’s why I picked him in particular.”
“I see”, she nods. “Alright, I can see how dangerous that information is, so I’ll keep it quiet. But what do the military want with you like that?”
“It’s a good question”, I admit. “They say they want me to meet people in authority. I suspect they want to get me in a lab, too.”
“My dad does research with DARPA, you know. You picked the worst possible person if you want to avoid being poked and prodded.”
“Honestly, I don’t want to avoid it, I want them to know what they’re dealing with. So I don’t mind playing lab rat for a bit, and having him for a chaperone means they’ll be polite about it.”
She nods. “Well, alright. I suppose that’s your decision. I’ll tell you how the conversation went, once he’s done calling me.”
Toni, who’s laying on her bed, says, “Go on, tell her the other thing.”
Which gets a glare from Nikki, and then a sigh. “Alright, alright. So Jules, you know I’m an empath?” I nod. “Well, basically, you and Vamp, last night, I, um, picked it up.”
“She was squirming and gasping like a fish”, Toni says, with a teasing grin.
I wince, “Sorry, I didn’t think of that. Do you want me to stop?”
Nikki looks down and says in a rushed quiet voice, “This must be the influence because I have no idea how I’m daring to say this, but… no. Just drop me a bit of warning.”
“And she will, literally, be in her bunk”, Toni says.
I agree, of course, and bow out of that conversation before poor blushing Nikki has to handle any more embarrassment. But that’s an interesting permission to be given. I admit that I’ve mostly seen Nikki as, if not asexual, also not open to other relationships beyond the ones she already has. Maybe that’s shifting? I certainly don’t mind sharing my fun with her.
I wonder if she got a front row seat for Erin’s fun and games, too? That lasted into quite late in the night, I do hope she got enough sleep.
A quick, relaxing shower and then I split, one of me to go brat herding, one of me to head outside and do Tai Chi.
The me who’s going to look after the witchlings direct-jumps to Kirby, and gives the arriving Tansy a hug. She snuggles up against me, but our opportunity to chat is spoiled by the early arrival of the three little nuisances, looking a bit twitchy and inclined to check the corners of the room.
Abra says, “Miss Parallel, Miss Walcutt, we’re all sorry, we won’t try to magic you again like that.”
“’Specially as it didn’t work”, adds Palantir, pragmatically.
Abra continues, “And we’re definitely not going to try and do anything at all to Ms Circe’s room ever again. You know she kept us frogs all day? And then the Head said we had to take extra classes to make up time at the weekend? And then I had nightmares all night that I was going to stay a frog forever.”
Clover says, “I ate several flies, and I liked them and even now I see one and I’m like, yum yum, I’ll stick my tongue out at it. And that is not something I want to be thinking because as soon as I understand what I’m doing the idea of it makes me feel ill.”
“Same”, says Palantir. “They actually taste delicious but I can’t get the thought of the taste out of my mouth.”
I say, “Maybe the three of you can try cooking or something, and try to recreate the flavour you liked with less icky foods? It might even end up being the big new thing on campus. Fly pies, get ’em while they’re hot.”
“That… might actually be a good idea”, says Abra. “Maybe Grimesy has cookbooks?” And the three rush off to bother her.
Tansy lets herself crack up giggling when they’re out of the room. “Fly pies, that’s inspired.”
“And intriguing”, says Circe, peeking in around the door. “I’ve made many frogs, but I haven’t ever been one myself. I find myself genuinely curious what that tastes like. A good way of diverting their attention, Jules.”
I give her a theatrical bow. “A pleasure to be of service.”
While the three little witches get themselves messy with flour and argue over what to include in the recipe, Tansy and I find ourselves set to do small chores around the place, which is fine by me as I get to sneak in hugs for her when we cross paths. And over on the other side, Tai Chi is going well, it seems to have a good flow today.
Soon enough, it’s breakfast time. All the cooking talk has left me hungry, so I’m looking forward to it. As we walk over, it’s also a chance to catch up with Tansy and find out how she’s feeling about yesterday. Turns out she’s feeling good about it. In fact she has plans to open up her availability, if I don’t mind - which of course I don’t. After some discussion, we figure that her rules are going to be, people she’s friends with, and that includes Pack and Kimbas, it’s an automatic yes, with at most a deferral until she has time. But if she’s not wanted somewhere else, then if I want to just put her up against a wall, pull her skirt up and knickers down and do her right there, then I just can. Don’t even have to ask. Fun fun.
For other people - girls, she’s going to say, ask first, but expect a yes unless there’s bad blood, and even then, maybe she’ll say yes and it’s a way to apologise to them. Boys, it’s still a no by default, but if they want to ask, she’ll consider if she feels interested. Maybe when there’s no power-games tainting it, she’ll be up for it? I offer, and she accepts, for me to put a contraception and anti-STD sorcery on her. So she’s basically okay to bareback the whole school if she wants, a thought which makes her giggle. In all cases, it’s sex that’s on offer, a relationship beyond friendly acquaintance isn’t implied. But it may occur, as I assure her I’m okay with sharing her, after all, I share my other loves too.
After we’ve got our trays filled, we stop off at the Kimba table for Tansy to tell them, with much blushing. I think she got interested looks from Nikki and Toni. Ayla has perfect poker face, and I can’t tell.
Toni raises an interesting point, what if she’s asked to play by a couple? She thinks and then says, same rules as for individuals. Which sucks for straight couples, I guess, but it’s her choice. But I know both Nikki and Toni have girlfriends, and if they wanted in, well, ask, but expect a yes.
And she says, it’s not gossip, it’s open information, so please do spread it around. She’ll be doing so herself, but there’s only so many people she knows.
I think, with gossips like Bunny on the roster of people who can expect to be told, there won’t be a person in school who doesn’t know it by lunchtime.
Telling the Pack is next, as we sit down with our trays to eat, which gets several nods, and a wistful look from Paige. So I let the both of them know that if Tansy wants to play with Paige, I can fix her up to be shockproof. Which she agrees to let me do after breakfast.
While I’m grinning happily at the idea of her with Paige, unexpectedly, Erin speaks up. “So, Sara. I know you keep saying that it’s okay to open up my horizons. When we met, I was wanting the security of an exclusive relationship. But now I feel more secure and I’m wondering, would it be okay if I want to, say, include Jules? Or Tansy, even?”
“It absolutely would”, Sara’s emphatic. “I don’t feel love is diminished at all if it’s shared. More beloved people, or more casual sexual flings, just adds to the fun. Yes, I am absolutely okay with you opening up our exclusive relationship. You know me, I’m already plotting three-way games.”
Erin grins, and comes around and gives her a hug. “You’ll always be my first love.” and then looks over to me, “And you, you tease, I know you aren’t really asleep when you’re asleep, you heard me all night and didn’t say a peep.”
“I enjoyed listening”, I tease back.
“Well, how do you feel about making our relationship sexual, now I have Sara’s permission?”
“I feel like I’m going to enjoy it very much.”
Part one hundred and twenty three
As it turns out, both Erin and Tansy want the Paige-proof treatment, with Erin amused at how Jason would feel about her getting an ability to ignore lightning bolts. More fun, or at least more options, for our miss sparky. No time for that immediately, though, everyone has classes. Although they both get proper kisses. Erin’s sharp teeth making that an interesting experience.
First period, I have two different kinds of fighting class, as well as Necromancy with Sara, and I suppose they’re prepping Jobe for me, over in Doyle.
Dyffud has a grin and a surprise for me, when I arrive, he isn’t alone. He says, “Meet our visiting expert in stick fighting”, and Sun Wu Kong, still in girl mode and looking cute in a golden silk kung fu suit, gives a bow.
In Tolman’s class, I get swarmed a bit while everyone is changing, they’ve seen the video of my fight, and reckon I’ve been holding back on them. To which the answer is, a bit, but mostly I’m sticking to the syllabus so they can get practise with it. Which gets grudgingly accepted as reasonable. But then I’m in for another surprise, as Sensei Tolman says that she’s got an advanced fighter in to spar with me today - and there’s Toni in her gi, smirking ear to ear.
“Sneaky”, I accuse with a grin myself. “You could have said.”
“Nah, I wanted to see your face. So worth it”, she teases. “Looks like we get a rematch.”
“Looks like we do.” Mentally I’m whistling a Morricone tune.
In Necromancy, Circe has asked us all to consider how the art would be viewed differently in a world where the soul had become a recognised reality. Rather than being upset we had brought anyone back at all, the questions would be, who or what had we brought back, had we brought them back intact, and correctly? And that leads to the question of whether contemporary necromancy should be considered inexcusable, not because it is intrinsically evil, but because of it’s sloppiness. (Me and Sara are on the ‘yes’ side of that one.) It’s an approach that leaves Beltane and the others in the never-necromancy camp a bit flustered, because they want to say yes, but they also don’t like the implication it could, or should, be done properly and with due care.
And then Circe springs the third surprise on us this morning - a class visit from officer Robin McGraw, who I saved a couple days ago. A living, breathing person, alive because I brought her back from the dead, and willing to be open about it.
The room is suddenly a hubbub of questions. Circe shushes us and has us put hands up, then picks someone.
I think she deliberately picked one of the sceptical, cynical types. “Were you really dead, or was it just a near-death experience? Because those can be explained by oxygen starvation in the brain producing hallucinations.”
She grins. “My head was bitten off, last Wednesday morning. This isn’t the original. That, well they dug it out of the monster’s guts, but it’s very dead. I’ve asked the biology department to clean it off, so I can keep my own previous skull as a souvenir. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring it in today as a prop, right now it’s full of beetles.” She pauses a moment, I think she has everyone stunned silent. “I didn’t have a near-death experience, I had a death experience. My neck hurt about as bad as you’d expect, I could feel my consciousness fading away, I felt like I was falling, and then I was stuck, somewhere, and it was dark. I think Miss Parallel’s links caught me.”
I put my hand up, Circe nods to me. “You were infalling as an identity towards your soul, which is the root of your identities, and then the links caught you and let you talk. If you’d chosen to let go, the power you’d be falling towards would be what some people would call your own higher self. That’s probably what gets translated as a light or a religious figure. Since you chose to come back, that didn’t happen.”
She nods. “That makes sense.”
Someone asks her, “If this isn’t your original head, which means it isn’t your original brain, how are you still you?”
“A good question, and one I don’t know the answer to, except that I had my memories when I was dead, and I have them now, so they must be my soul’s memories. I can tell you that they don’t work the same way they used to. I can remember every living second from my birth to the present moment. Perfect clarity, no gaps. I can read the pages on a book I last saw when I was five. I’ve been seeing weird-ass things and when I went to the docs in Doyle, they said I wasn’t hallucinating, it was spirits, and they’re real. I lucid dream, so far two nights and I’ve been in perfect control, and sometimes I end up talking to folks in those dreams that feel real. Including folks I know are dead. So maybe I got broke, or fixed, in some weird way. Certainly it’s made me feel differently about living and dying. That no longer frightens me at all.”
Beltane asks, “Do you feel you were snatched away from your rightful afterlife?”
She shakes her head. “I was caught before it went that far. I suppose that if I let go, I’d have found out what comes next. Since I asked to get brought back, I never found out. I’ve heard there’s someone who was all the way dead for much longer, you’d have to ask them.”
Circe says, “I have spoken with them, but they have not yet decided if they wish to release their identity. More than one person’s secrets are involved. But I may be able to pass written questions from the class to them, if you submit them to me by email. Or from you, if you wish a private correspondence, Ms McGraw.”
“I… might like that”, she nods. “It’d be nice to have someone to connect to who went through the same thing, or something similar.”
Circe nods. “Then we shall do that. Next question, please?”
Toni’s and my fight is distracting the others badly enough that Sensei Tolman keeps having to chivvy them to quit staring. We’re both very fast, very precise, and very athletic. I’m not winning, but I’m also not losing. And I think she’s getting frustrated how using moves on me teaches me the move. Except the ones that work by chi, but I still learn what they do.
Sun Wu Kong, on the other hand, has been handing me my ass. I’d be black and blue, if I wasn’t regenerating as fast as she puts the bruises on. We’re both using jo staffs (herself having put her fancy million-ton super stick aside) and for the moment, using them as staffs, rather than light saber stand-ins. I’m learning fast, but it isn’t helping me win. The fact she has thousands of years of experience on me kinda shows. On the other hand, her boastful-encouraging style is helping it not sting too badly.
The bell for second period doesn’t interrupt any of my classes, but does mean it’s time to send a body over to Doyle. They’ve got someone waiting for me in reception. “Miss Parallel, if you could follow me, please? You’re going to have to change into scrubs, as the operating room is a clean environment.”
I could argue that I’m in a freshly made body, I know precisely where every bacterium on and inside me is, and I can will any of them dead in an instant. But honestly, this is a ritual to reassure the staff, and it’s harmless, so I go through the motions. Besides, first time I get to authentically cosplay a doctor.
Jobe is on a wheeled bed with a bright light overhead, and wearing one of those hospital gowns. Without his synthetic skin, he looks androgynous and ink-spotted. Doc Tenent, she of the prehensile hair, is holding his hand.
“Morning Jobe, doing okay?”, I ask.
“What do you think? I’m stuck wearing an idiot suit that lets my ass hang out, and I feel like I’m making the worst mistake of my life. Other than that, peachy.”
I grin. “Doctors, they love their weird clothes, look what they got me wearing. So, your choice, do we go ahead?”
“Yeah, damn me anyway. You have my permission, do it.”
I take off the latex glove on my right hand, and grasp his hand. Life sense spreading through him as before. “I’m not going to take you along for the ride this time, so it doesn’t get too disturbing”, I say, as I install pre-emptive pain blocks in his spinal cord. “Up to you whether I describe what I’m doing.”
“Nah”, he says. “Honestly, I don’t need to know and I don’t want to know. I’d rather pretend the whole thing wasn’t happening.”
“Suits me”, I say, starting the spells that will speed up his regeneration, then beginning to pick groups of cells to lyse. “You shouldn’t feel any pain, but you may feel stuff moving around in weird ways.” Clearing the internal organs comes first, most of them are more than half way gone anyhow. Those won’t need to shift around much. Next up, I turn my attention to the skin and surface layers. He begins to visibly darken, as I say “Got anything else you’d rather talk about?”
“I heard a rumour going around that Tansy has decided she’ll fuck anyone, if they’re a girl.”
“Pretty much true, if she doesn’t see a girl as her enemy, she’ll say yes. But boys are probably off the list. Not sure how she feels about female bodied people who see themselves as boys.” His hairs were already starting to come in pure platinum white, but I use sorcery to run the change down to the ends of them so he won’t have roots.
“You’re implying I’m much more likely to have luck with her if I give up on my old life and decide to be a girl?”
“At a guess, yes.” And yes, this is a very ironic time to get to work on his privates, but it does need doing. Down they shrink, as ovaries start to form. Honestly, some of the tricks wired into this drow body are impressive. Ten times the usual neural bandwidth for orgasms. I feel like taking notes. “Nice equipment, I can see you put a lot of effort in.”
“My masterwork”, he says. “I piled in every erotic enhancement I could think of. It’s going to be near impossible to resist using it. And once I start, I won’t be able to stop myself.”
“Why try and stop, then?”, I ask, as I let the drow cells grow his chest out - and out, passing a C cup and heading towards D with no signs of slowing, making a visible tent in the chest of his gown. “It’s not harmful, and you’ve made damn sure you won’t wear anything out. School rules say it’s fine. Do it ten times a day, if the whim takes you.”
“I might end up giving Tansy a run for her money.” He laughs. “Okay, fuck it. If I get to be in a girl body, I’ll be a damn girl. Everyone’s pushing me that way, and I don’t care enough to fight it. And it’s not like it’ll interfere with my work.”
Letting his, or should I say, her bones reshape themselves is probably the bit that’s going to feel the weirdest, but it’s the last bit. Face becoming narrower and gaining a shapely chin, hips widening. Lips taking on a soft pout. The cartilage of her ears reshapes into points. “Honestly I’d recommend it. You’ll be hot as fuck, no need to fight against that, or waste time hiding it, and you’ll still be Jobe. Just, girl Jobe.” I run a last bit of sorcery through the hair on her head, telling it to grow out to mid-back length, which gives her enough leeway to pick a nice cut.
“Girl Jobe I am, then”, she says. “Fuck it anyway, are we done? I want to get back to my lab.”
“We’re done”, I say.
Part one hundred and twenty four
Eventually, Toni manages to get me into a pin that I can’t wiggle out of, and Sensei Tolman calls the fight with her as the winner. Still I don’t think I did too badly, and that’s reflected in Toni’s grin. “Damn, Jules, you got good.”
“Still a beginner”, I say, thinking of my bruised self over in Dyffud’s class. “But I guess you’re gonna have to work to stay on top, now.”
“Suits me, I like having competition”, she grins. “Especially when it isn’t those idiots in the martial arts clubs.”
“You know, you could start your own”, I say.
She shakes her head. “That’s just a whole lot of work I don’t have time for. And who would I get to join it? You, that’s one, but who’s number two? I can’t see any of those idiots in the Dragons or Tigers choosing to bow the knee to a frosh. Nah, I’ll continue to be awesome on my lonesome.”
In Dyffud’s class, Monkey bows and then puts her much abused jo staff down. “Good. You’re a beginner, we both know that, but you think and you learn. In time, you will become good.” She grins to Dyffud. “I’m willing to help out any time. And now, let’s have some meditation.”
In Circe’s class, a slightly frazzled looking officer McGraw has accepted the applause of the class, and then left. I think some of the questions cut a bit close to the bone. Who likes to be asked if they’re a zombie? Especially if they’re probably insecure about that themselves. I make a mental note to see if I can point Mr Lodgeman in her direction. It feels like she’s picking up abilities that he could help her understand.
End of second period is all change. I’m headed down to the ranges, and over to the field we’ve been using for flight class.
Unexpected interruption! Chou on the links, Kimba group.
“Emergency! I need Security to where I am, now!”
“What’s going on?” - that’s Nikki.
I’m immediately throwing a body down her link connection, and I materialise in ankle deep snow. I’m relaying coordinates to security from one instance, while the me that’s up front here tracks the gravity shape of something human sized and invisible. He’s got a ward of some sort, so he doesn’t show on life sense. Which means he’s thought ahead, but he’s also not up on the latest developments. It’s not too hard to extend my sorcery, feel out the ward, and cut the spell. And there he is, blooming in murder black and rage red.
“Stand down and surrender”, I say to him. Not that I expect anything.
To his slight credit, he doesn’t waste time snarking back, just darts in with a slash at Chou that she dodges and blocks, but it cuts her coat.
That blow was aimed to kill. I really don’t like people trying to kill my friends. For a moment I’m tempted to do something very nasty to him. The thought of the Head looking at me in disappointment is what stops me. Instead I just drag his oxygen metabolism to a crawl. He pitches forward into the snow, invisibility abandoned, gasping. And Chou darts forward and pokes him a few times, I can see the chi flashes. Whatever she did leaves him locked up, squirming but with every muscle stuck. I lift my sorcery, Chou’s got him now. “You okay? May I scan you?”, I ask her.
She nods, as the security team run up, so I run a scan over her - she has bruises, but she’s fine. “No injuries”, I say. She smiles, and suddenly we’re surrounded with security people, pointing guns at Nex. One of them tries to move his hands behind his back for the cuffs, and Chou has to release the chi lock to let them do it. Which leaves him free to scream “you fucking cunt!”
Pot calling the kettle black, I think. Chou winds up to slap him, then looks at me and smirks, letting her hand fall. “Book him for attempted murder. It’s not just my word against his, I have a witness.”
“Gladly.” The security woman who’s currently manhandling him says. Looking at Nex, she says, “You went after one of our junior officers, dumbass, and you know just how cops feel about that. Heck, you tried to kill her, and you got caught doing it. I hope you have an expensive lawyer.”
He, perhaps realising how deep he’s in trouble, keeps schtum.
Chou sighs, and says over links, “Emergency over. Jules came and helped, and we got the bastard. Got him bang to rights for attempted murder too.” She wiggles a finger through the slash in her coat.
“Nice work”, says Ayla.
Jade asks, “Did you mess him up?”
Chou looks at me. “I think we both held back quite a bit. We’ll let the legal system deal with him. I doubt he’s in for a good time.”
“A good long time, I hope”, Nikki says. “The campus will be a little bit nicer without his stink fouling the air.”
“He’ll be lucky if the MCO don’t just find a hole in their basement and drop him down it”, Toni says.
I say, “I don’t think the Head’s gonna let them do it any way but by the book, dot every i, cross every T, when it’s a student and it happened on campus. But I expect it’s a heavy-ass book.”
That gets general sounds of agreement.
Flight and ranges turn out to both be quiet classes (well, in the case of ranges, thunderously loud, but not eventful). I learn proper procedures for landing and taking off, and the expected radio chatter. I use rocket launchers to blow a few more holes in the very dented shells of tanks. Fun and in its way, calming.
In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t do something deeply unpleasant to Nex, like I was thinking about for a moment there. I’d have traded off the momentary satisfaction of seeing him squirm, for the much deeper satisfaction of seeing him caught. And I’d probably have gone down in several people’s estimation for basically taking a loophole and using it to torture. Including my own. Even the near miss gives me shudders, but I have to stick by the principle that you owe conscience for what you did, not what you considered doing. Pat self on back, anger management worked.
When lunch rolls around, I’m in a pensive mood. As we’re sitting down, the Head bangs the table for attention. “A couple of quick announcements. First up, Jobe Wilkins, please stand up.” Jobe looks good in her new girl uniform and carbon-black skin. “Due to an incident in her lab, Jobe Wilkins is now a girl, physically and legally, and she will be moving to Melville. I’m informed her species is called drow elf, and is of her own creation. The process that transformed her is dangerously experimental, and is not to be repeated without my permission.” She fixes Jobe with a glare on that. “She is not in any trouble for her accident, and I strongly recommend you treat her gently as she adjusts.”
A pause for breath and then, “The second thing is that we have completed our negotiations with the US government. The incident last Monday has been classified as a lawful heroic intervention, and as such we will immediately be resuming our normal level of contact with the outside world. All remaining visitors will be leaving today. I apologise to you all for the disruption this event has caused to your lives, and hope it won’t need to be repeated.” She smiles, clearly relieved the thing is finally over. “Thank you, carry on.”
Sara looks at me. “Jobe, hmm? I’m guessing that was you?”
“Yeah, he came to me, but I was sworn to secrecy, sorry, I couldn’t say.”
“Silly, I don’t mind that.” She smiles. “It’s just interesting to see the difference. She looked resigned to it.”
“She made the choice herself, in the end.”
“I see”, my beloved looks thoughtful. “Do you think I did it wrong, over on the other side?”
“The way it happened over there, he was coming to you as a last resort, and demanding the impossible. Tricking him saved his life. I don’t think it could have been done without the trick, he didn’t trust you enough to take a diagnosis and think it through. Difficult ethical question, but I think your answer was the right one, in context.”
She nods. “I’m glad that at least over this side, she seems to trust you. Are you planning to make her a friend?”
I grimace a bit. “She needs a heap of attitude adjustments to be someone I could get close to, without us constantly running into really fundamental ethical disagreements. But I think maybe I can be a sort of mentor to her? Like, keep in contact, be someone she can talk to. Although I’m not sure if she’ll want that.”
“Can’t hurt to try.” Sara says.
I nod agreement.
Unexpectedly, over at the Kimba table, someone’s coming over. It’s Riley, from Sensei Tolman’s class. “Um, Jules, got a moment? Only I kind of wanted to make contact outside class, because you seem nice and um, I kind of suspect you’re not gonna be in that class much longer.”
“Of course”, I say. “You’re welcome to talk to me now, or any time. Maybe you’re right about the class, too.”
Toni says, “I figure she is. Tolman was pumping me for what I thought about you, after you all left. I told her the truth, which is that you may have arrived knowing nothing much, but you’re all caught up now.”
“And you don’t even change with us much any more, because you do your instant body switch trick”, Riley says. “We don’t get time to talk.”
I wince, “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay, it’s a neat trick, just um, we should find time outside class.”
“Agreed”, I say, “Hey, email me when you have free periods and we can meet up and just chat or hang out or stuff. Um, and, do you know about links?”
It doesn’t take long to set her up with one. “Give it to nice people if you want, and tell them to give it to nice people too. And feel free to link chat me any time. I mean that literally.”
When she’s gone, Chou says thoughtfully, “What I don’t get, is how the Tao doesn’t see you telling people that, give it to nice people, as messing up the balance.”
I’m about to answer, but unexpectedly, Nikki picks it up. “Think about the nice people in your life.”
“So how many of them tip the balance?”
“Huh.” It takes a moment of thought, and Chou says, “I guess most of them don’t? I mean they’re kind and trustworthy and ready with a smile, but…”
“But they’re ordinary. Even the ones with powers, like us.” She looks around the table. “They’ve got lives, they’ve got ordinary problems, they don’t rush around forcing the world to fit their idea of good. Because that wouldn’t be nice.”
That leaves Chou at a loss for words, and very thoughtful.
I have escape class after lunch, normal for Fridays. But I also have my first lesson of Exemplar Grace coming up. I head over to my laptop in Poe to get a bit of video-watching in ahead of the class. I’ve been looking at makeup tutorials. I’d use the browser in my head, but I haven’t learned how to decode video streams yet, so physical computer it is. I’m learning the sticky-stuff way of putting the makeup on in case I need that, and I’m learning how to do the look properly with my chromatophores. Win-win. I’m looking forward to this class, although I do hope they aren’t snobs.
A link connection I wasn’t expecting nudges me. “Miss Parallel, that is you, right? I was wondering if you might spare me a moment of your time.” A man’s voice.
“It is me, and yes I can spare time to talk, how can I help you?”
“I’m Nicholas Reilly. My daughter has given me this link. I’m presently in the air and en route to meet you. I thought we might have a conversation before I land.”
Part one hundred and twenty five
“Mr Reilly, sir, a pleasure to speak to you, ahead of actually meeting you”, I say over the link. “When should I expect you here?”
“About three hours from now. I’m currently en route to Burlington air national guard base, about a hundred miles west of where you are. Then the plan is to take a helicopter from there, and set down directly on campus to pick you up. That will be in about three hours time. Then we fly back to Burlington, switch to my jet, and fly overnight to Washington DC. I hope you’re okay with sleeping on planes?”
“Never had a problem with it”, although truthfully, I haven’t flown in planes a whole lot. “Do I have to mask up and wear a costume for this?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Pack a few changes of informal clothing and at least one formal outfit for meeting dignitaries, a clean school uniform will do at a pinch.”
“I’ll have them available”, I say. “Don’t be surprised if I appear to pack light.”
“I know you super-kids have your ways”, he says amused. “If it helps, I expect you’ll be away for about a week, two at the most. Although I’m informed, you will also still be in school?”
“Yes, multiple bodies means never having to skip class.”
“Convenient. There’s no distance limit?”
“None that I’ve detected”, thinking of Gothmog’s realm, and my brain’s trip off into space. “I’ve been pretty far away from myself and had no issues.”
“A story for another time, perhaps”, he says. “I’ll put a brake on my curiosity for now.” There’s a pause and then he changes the subject, “I hear you asked for me by name?”
“Yeah, I know you’re Nikki’s dad, I hear that you’re military and in DARPA, and I have reason to believe you’re an honourable man.”
“Well, thank you. That’s a nice reputation to have. I’m not actually active duty military right now, DARPA is technically a civilian agency, although it’s run by the Department of Defense and there’s a lot of military folks here. But they were able to ask me to come over and help.”
I wince a little. “I hope I’m not getting in the way of the job by prevailing on your time like this.”
“No, you needn’t worry on that score. There’s a lot of higher-ups in Washington who are very curious about you. You’re actually one of the higher items on my priority list right now. I hope you don’t mind that?”
I can read the subtext. “Honestly, when I said yes to this trip, I figured I’d be visiting a lab. I know the government is curious, and I know you’re in research. So long as nobody tries to dissect me I’m sure I shall be fine if DARPA wants to peek and poke at me a bit.”
“Thank you. And I was remiss not to ask this straight away, but, I need to check you aren’t being pressured into this. I know they were putting pressure on the school.”
“I’m not. The Headmistress was all set to tell them no, very emphatically. She accepted it grudgingly when I gave the okay, and I think suggesting a chaperone has reassured her. Meeting the government works well with my own agenda.”
“Which would be?”
“Short term, helping people come to terms with the consequences of the way I changed the world, on the evening of Monday the 8th. Medium term, helping the world change in many positive ways. Such as the links, that we’re using right now. Long term, that’s kinda complicated to explain, and I’d prefer to put off detailing it until I have time to cover the preliminaries.”
“I can understand that. As agendas go, that doesn’t sound too terrible. Perhaps we can discuss it more on our flight? Meanwhile though, I feel I should let you go for now so that I don’t cut into your lesson time.”
“Thank you, I’ll look forward to seeing you”, I say, although he’s speaking to a dedicated instance, and I’m already most of the way walking to class.
“And I you”, he says.
Three hours from now puts his arrival at roughly the end of lessons, which is convenient. Sadly due to the time of year, it means I’ll be flying in the dark, but at least my gravity sense will let me see the outline of the view. Bonus, not even having to look out the window. I wonder what the helicopter will be like, will it be a big Chinook type thing or one of those X-Files black hawks? It will be strange, flying in a vehicle without any fear of falling. I could slipstream over and meet him myself, except I don’t have my license yet.
Should I set the helicopter pilot up with a link? I think probably yes, since it’s better than radio headsets around noise, it’s independent of the ear so it can’t be shouted down. Also it would let me protect everyone in the vehicle, if need be. I’ll offer, at least.
I’m really looking forward to this. But first, lessons. And I have my first Exemplar Grace, which I’ve also been looking forward to. I’m presuming that’s in the same location I had my try-out, the Venus Inc. clubroom, Dunn hall. I’ll come in wearing uniform because I’m not sure if they change in there, but I have a full formal look ready now, when it’s required.
I knock, and get a “come in”. Then as I step in, Miss Dennon says, “Ah, welcome. Class, this is Miss Parallel, who will be joining us. We use codenames in this class, unless people choose to give you their personal names, and so these are Miss Heartbreaker, Miss Solange, Miss Lifeline, Miss Chemtrail and Master Nephandus.” I give them a bow, and a grin to Tansy, who smiles back warmly. I didn’t know she was in this class. “Also, this is Miss Poise, my TA”, an older girl, tall and blonde. I give her a bow too. “Miss Solange, I gather you two know each other, so perhaps you could take responsibility for catching her up to speed, outside class?”
Tansy says, “Of course, Miss Dennon.” And on links to me, she says, “Don’t mind her, her bark is much worse than her bite.”
“I shan’t, don’t worry”, I say on links, and out loud, “I hope it won’t take me long to catch up. I’m sorry, though, I’m not aware of the protocol, should I change before the class?” The others are in their formal gear already.
“Yes, if you would, but feel free to change now, quickly please”, says Miss Dennon, and so I do. Push up onto my tiptoes, then a half-inch jump that gives me enough clearance to delete the uniform and replace it with the claret dress and heels. Then switch my chromatophores to a pattern for ‘elegant’ makeup I’ve practised. Which produces giggles from a few of the others. Miss Dennon, who has seen it before, just says “Very good, although you will have to learn to do your makeup properly to pass this class.”
“I also studied that, but I don’t have the gubbins, and even at maximum speed I estimate it would be a bit slower”, I say. “And that’s even after compensating the g-forces. Liquids only want to move so fast.”
“So they do”, she says amused, “and it normally isn’t a race. But please don’t say ‘gubbins’, that’s crude language and we practise elegance here.”
“Will do, yes.”
Over in escape class, I’m filling Sara and Paige in over links on the conversation I had with Mr Reilly. They both seem as enthused as I am about the fun adventure. And meanwhile, we’re learning how to break out of places you might get stuck, if for no obvious reason you were inclined to be inside, say, bank vaults. It’s a little amusing, although potentially useful and I am paying attention.
Over in Gothmog’s place, myself, Gothmog and Petra are working out how to get all the cars we predict we’ll need to park, fitted into the space. In theory we could just make enough open fields for them all to park on the flat, but that might mean a very long walk for some, and difficulty locating their vehicle for many. So we’re designing multi-storey car parks that don’t look like they were invented by a misanthrope for the purpose of calling attention to the awfulness of humanity. Given how easy this is turning out to be, it makes me wonder who was behind the existing ones, world over. Sleeper agents from Greenpeace? There is a point where brutalism crosses into brutality.
In Exemplar Grace, the lesson turns out to be dancing. Since the ratio is pretty skewed to girls, I end up paired with Lifeline, who looks a little uncomfortable in her dress, and has kinda messy blonde hair with red highlights. Something about her power feels connected to mine, but I couldn’t give more detail than that. And amongst the others there is a general scramble to avoid being paired with Nephandus. Tansy ends up with the short straw and hides her disgust behind an obviously pasted-on smile.
“Not your favourite guy?” I ask over links.
“He’s a sleaze with the ethics of a particularly unethical snake”, she replies. “He’s a devisor and demon summoner and his idea of consent is a contract you can’t wiggle out of. I’ll have to wash my hands after this to get the stink off. He got tricked into this class, and Miss Dennon won’t let him drop it.”
He’s also dressed like the pretty-boy villain of a sword-and-sails swashbuckling movie. “I think even if I was into boys, the fact he dresses like his hobby is whipping his housemaids would put me off”, I say, causing Tansy to hide a giggle behind a pretence of coughing. “Changing the subject to avoid getting you in trouble, how’s your new thing been, got any bites from curious lesbians?”
“One, just after lunch, but I had to tell her later” Her smile is genuine now, and hides a bit of blush. “You know I’m still feeling out the new me, but there’s more to it than just ‘Tansy gets horny’. There’s, I dunno, a calling, something almost spiritual? It feels like a counterbalance to the old me who was always a taker.”
We’re interrupted before I can reply by Miss Dennon who says, “Attention on your partner, please, Miss Solange.” And then we have to hush, because Tansy can’t split her focus like I can.
Sara finds my relaying of Tansy’s thoughts interesting. “We have a similar thing in my cult, giving sex as a sort of sacred service to others. Some of them have a calling to do that, and I’m happy to encourage it, provided they take precautions.”
That gets a scrunched up nose from Paige. “They can do it if they want to, but speaking for myself I only want to play with people I feel I know well. Although perhaps that’s the trauma speaking. I need to be off high alert around them, you know?” And Sara gives her a hug.
“Makes sense to me”, I say. And Sara says “Me too, sweetie. Absolutely. Boundaries are sacred space, as open or closed as they may be.”
In a pause in the lesson, Miss Dennon calls Tansy and me aside into a side room. “Miss Parallel, you’ve been doing well so far. And Miss Solange, I expect you to have caught her up with the rest of class by next Friday. However, both of you please, no further telepathy in my class unless you both can conceal it. Passing notes is not a social faux pas. Being caught doing it definitely is, am I clear?”
We both nod. I say “Clear, Miss Dennon”, and Tansy says, “Yes ma’am.”
“Good. Oh, and, Miss Solange, Nephandus is here for a reason. I know he’s distasteful. You are, amongst other things, learning not to let that show.”
Tansy pulls a face, but nods. “Yes, ma’am.”
Part one hundred and twenty six
Crypto class with Paige is interesting but calm, and Englund’s demon banishing class is about “succubi and sex demons” this time - ones that seduce and drain you, and other ones that supposedly possess you and make you horny all the time. Still sore over yesterday’s lost hearing, I guess? Maybe he’s phoning it in, or maybe I’m just too distracted to see the subtlety. The reality is that I’m all but bouncing with readiness to start off on my adventure. And it will be nice to have a weekend, too, and time to do things other than lessons. Let’s hope the panic level can be kept to a dull roar this time around. Although I’m also scheduled to meet the tunnel-thing, so maybe not.
As the bell for end of sixth period goes, I’m up and moving. I quick-switch to casual clothes and my long coat, and head outside. I’ve filled in the Pack and the Kimbas on what I’m up to, so I can see them headed the same place I’m headed, the field we use for flying practise. As codes-me exits from Schuster, I’m joined by the Head, who smiles. “An exciting adventure for you. Do you have everything you need?”
“Have, or can create”, I say. “I should be able to teleport things over if I forgot something.” With me outside the buildings, my g-sense is reaching out, scanning the air around me. And I think maybe, picking up the gravity signature of something small but heavy, approaching from the west. Hard to be sure at this range, but I suspect it’s my ride. Out of curiosity, I pop my flight instruments pack into existence under the coat. I might need a redesign of that to go on my front, if I’m gonna be wearing it inside the vehicle, so I spin off threads to do that, and meanwhile I’m listening to the radio chatter of what is now definitely an incoming helicopter.
The Head nods. “I’d like you to report in, daily, so I know how you’re doing. Email will do, or in-person if we already have other business. Tell me immediately if you’re in any trouble, don’t try and solve it yourself unless it’s an emergency.”
“Will do”, I agree. I can hear the helicopter now, a single blade whirr, and G-sense can make out some details, it looks a whole lot like a black hawk. Threads reporting back on a new design for the flight pack, so I switch over to that, it’s kind of a waist bag, which can be spun around to the front if I’m sitting. Definitely more convenient if I’m not actually flying.
The helicopter is now coming in to land, and it’s really loud, blowing a space clear of snow on the field. Me who will be travelling goes around giving people hugs, while me who’s staying behind hangs back and watches. Then it touches down, the rotor slows a little, the side door slides open and a man steps out. Tall, blonde, his hair being whirled around by the wind, and ducking a little even though I can see he has loads of clearance. He comes over and Nikki runs to give him a hug. He says something, but the rotor noise drowns it out. I group us all up on links and say “Hello, Mr Reilly, and you can use links, we’re all on it, and you won’t have to shout down a helicopter.”
“Ah good, that is a lot easier.” He grins. “Strange to be talking without talking, but I suppose it’s the coming thing.”
The Head says, “It certainly has its uses. Mr Reilly, I’d like your personal guarantee that you’ll see my student safe, look after her and if need be protect her.”
“You have it, ma’am. Unreservedly.”
“Then I release her into your care. Both of you, go well.” That gets various cheers from the assembled people.
“We’d better be going straight away, then”, Mr Reilly says. “Do you have anything else you need?”
I shake my head. “Good to go.” So he gets another hug from his daughter, and we both walk to the helicopter. He gives me a headset, “It’s loud, and you might want to talk to the pilots.”
“Do you think I should give them links?”, I ask.
“Not in the middle of a flight.” He shakes his head, “They aren’t used to using them, they haven’t trained, so they might reach for the wrong thing in a pinch and lose precious seconds.”
To which I have to say a disappointed “ah”, as it makes too much sense. Well, if push comes to shove, I probably have other ways of protecting them. I sit myself in one of the bucket seats, and buckle myself in - watching how he does it. Then I give people a wave out of the side door before one of the pilots pulls it shut with a slam.
There’s a click, and then the headset says, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the air national guard Blackhawk express to Burlington and we are about to depart, please fasten your seatbelts and hang on to your hats. We’ll be flying through the Presidential mountain range and I’m informed the view is lovely, unfortunately you won’t be able to see it. The air’s a mite nippy at the altitude we’ll be flying, so please keep the side doors closed and don’t be tempted to rubberneck. Please set your headsets to transmit on channel two, which includes only the passengers, and if you must listen on channel one please keep the conversation to a minimum, to avoid interrupting us while we do our jobs. Your estimated flight time is just under an hour. And up we go!”
I watch from the ground as the helicopter lifts its wheels and takes to the sky, going vertical then angling into a climb. And from inside, I watch the lights of Whateley dwindle. G-sense and my flight pack let me feel our course as we angle west and head out, aiming for the valley between mountains. I ask Mr Reilly, “Do we not go over the mountains, then?”
“I’m not a pilot, but I think it isn’t safe to go too close over the top, the wind does funny things, and it would probably get cold in here if we went high”, he says. “When we came here, we followed the valleys.” I nod. It’s already pretty cold, nobody designs military helicopters for comfort, but easily within range of what I can compensate.
On the ground, the Head says, “Alright, excitement over, and I’m sure some of you have jobs you should be going to.” Which is true for me and Jade, so we head over towards the maintenance room beneath the library.
“What’s it like?” Jade says.
“Mostly loud, cold and dark so far”, I say. “But still exciting. What was it like to fly in that fancy suborbital thingy, when you went babysitting?”
“Not too loud or cold, but kinda boring except the conversation”, she says. “Like okay you’re flying at amazing speeds, but it doesn’t feel like anything. So it’s either talk or read a book or play solitaire or something, you know? Me and onee san mostly talked.”
Inside the helicopter, my terrain database is in comforting agreement with my G-sense, which is good to see on its first real shake-down outside the confined airspace over Whateley. Interestingly, the helicopter itself kinda registers on my life sense a bit, in a weird cock-eyed way. It has a kind of mechanical life to it, perhaps born of the care with which it has been looked after and flown? I can feel its exhilaration to be flying and riding the wind currents. You and me both, I think. This is fun.
As I casually listen in on the pilot chatter over the radio, I let my combined life sense and G-sense feel out the helicopter, with all the interesting moving parts. I’m not much of a gear-head myself, but it’s still interesting to see how it all works, and it somehow brings me and the helicopter closer, too. I reach out a hand to pet it.
“I’m afraid it’s just a lot of waiting, at this point”, Mr Reilly says.
“I’m having fun, it’s my first time travelling like this. Would you like me to show you a bit of what I’m seeing, over links?”, I say.
He nods, so I show him the G-sense view and terrain database overlapped and a bit of how my life sense is reacting to the helicopter as well as the trees far below. And tap him into the radio chatter and its directionality too.
“Ah, interesting”, I can see he’s got his curiosity up. “You can hear radio, then?”
“Only with my flight pack”, I say. “I could probably add biological adaptations, but it’s simpler to do it in technology.”
“By biological, you mean modifying yourself?”
I nod. “I’ve got a few modifications already, stuff like heat generation, low-light vision, chromatophores and photophores. I think I could add radio antennas without much difficulty. Downside is that would make me inclined to be dazzled by radio noise, which is much easier to tune out when it’s an external piece of kit.”
“I see. I look forward to seeing what you can do with all that.”
“I look forward to showing you”, I say, but I give him a little demonstration by making my photophores flash pretty patterns on my skin, which makes him smile.
Down in maintenance, Morrie says “Stinky job tonight, we’ve got the sewers. Sadly, some of the biggest troublemakers on campus are cooling their heels in the cells under Kane hall, which means we will be doing the job ourselves today. Or rather, you two will, since you both have ways to avoid the stink, while we give you directions.”
That gets an ick face from Jade. “Even as Jinn, I still know what I’m wading in.”
Stan says, “It will distract you from worrying about our plans for tomorrow”, with an evil grin. Which gets a “Hmph” from Jade.
On the radio, I hear one of the pilots say, “Huh, that wasn’t on the forecast.” And then talking on the radio, say, “Control, I’m reading a radar return behind us that suggests heavy cloud, and it wasn’t on the forecast at all. Please tell me my instruments are playing tricks.”
“Negative, they aren’t playing tricks, we have it on our ground radar too, big storm cell forming east of your position, awfully fast. The weather guys don’t have any explanation, but there it is.” I presume that’s control. “We advise getting out of its way, it looks mean.”
“Roger that.” I can hear the engine noise increase a little, as the pilots push the speed up. Then our headset crackles and the pilot’s voice says, “Attention all passengers, some unexpected chop coming up, please make sure you’re belted in, and if you’ve got helmets, wear ’em. Barf bags are under the seat if needed.”
Mr Reilly looks at me. “That doesn’t feel accidental.” He’s been hearing all the same radio chatter.
I can feel the sorcerous power behind us building. “It’s not. At a guess, one of my enemies taking a swipe at us. I hope we can outrun it.”
“Your enemies, hmm?”, he sounds darkly amused.
“More details when and if we get out of this”, I say. “I may need my attention right now to protect us. Worst case I can probably port the lot of us back to Whateley, but I’d rather not trash the vehicle.”
He nods. “We’re in your hands, then, and those of the pilots.”
More radio from up front, “Looks like we can’t outrun it, control, do you have a place nearby we can set down and ride it out?”
“Negative, there’s nothing but trees underneath you right there, unless you want to be looking for gaps in the forest.”
“Not in the dark and with that on our tail.”
Part one hundred and twenty seven
The first obvious approach is to attack the spell behind the storm directly. But as soon as I try, the helicopter gets slapped around by turbulence enough to break my concentration. I try again, it happens again. Not going to work while I’m still inside the storm cloud, then. Looks like the controlling intelligence behind this is taking an active hand. Why not just knock us out of the air? At a guess, heavier blows would take more planning. Larger masses of air to move, more moving pieces that have to be in the right place. So there’s a strategic element to this.
If we could see the blow coming, we could avoid it. But how?
As I ask the question my thoughts are drawn to the helicopter itself, and the feeling I had earlier, of a kind of life in it, and now I reach out to that I find it’s filled with fierce joy, riding the twisting wind like the hawk it’s named after. And I find the beginnings of a song in that joy, but it’s not just the helicopter’s song, its the pilots’ too. I need permission.
I set my headset send on channel one, “Attention the pilots, this is passenger Parallel. This storm is magical and it’s an attack. I want to attempt counter magic to protect us, but it’s going to involve you and have unpredictable effects. May I?”
“Will it distract us from flying? Because we’re a bit busy right now.”
“If it works how I intend, it should help, not distract.”
The other pilot’s voice, a woman, speaks, “If it’ll help, do it.”
I let myself center in the feeling of the song, and then words come, the flow and twist of the air, and the defiant joy of riding it. As I sing, I bend it into a spell to let us feel and see the invisible air currents outside. It becomes another sense, and I feel us bank away from a hidden down-draft that would have knocked us down into the trees. I can feel the helicopter woken up, its joy blended with ours as we dodge and turn. Hailstones slash down at us, but I flick shields into their path, and they smash. Lightning slams through through the blades, but my song keeps us unharmed. Spell set, I stop my singing for now.
Little by little we’re pulling ahead, it helps to be able to feel where the air will carry us forward rather than throwing us back. We’re out of the area of taller mountains, but it’s still very hilly and wooded terrain. My terrain database shows another line of high ground ahead, too far away yet to register on G-sense. Then it will be a downhill run to the airport.
“Whatever you did, kid, it’s helping, so thanks”, the female pilot says. “Still gonna be a rough ride, but we’re making good time.”
It’s weird to feel the minutes tick by so slowly, even while we’re in the middle of a dangerous mess. I’ve done all I can for now, and we seem to be winning by inches. The storm is more behind us than on top of us, and seems to have mostly given up trying to buffet us out of the air. But I assume there’s some strategy behind it. None of my enemies are stupid.
“So, tell me about these enemies of yours?” Mr Reilly, reading my mind.
Might as well. “There’s a disagreement among Great Old Ones. Some are in favour of humans. That would be me, Sara, and her father. Some, very much not. They have inhuman minions, like the one that sent monstrosities against the school in December, and they have human minions. Darrow was one. Some of them can wield mythos magic, which is what’s behind our troubles today.”
“By implication, you don’t know which of them is behind it.”
I nod. “If it’s possible to tell them apart by the nuances of their magic, I haven’t been around long enough to learn the trick. All I know is that it wasn’t anybody weak, given the size of the spell.”
While we’re talking, I overhear the pilots getting an offer from air traffic control of a landing field below, but it’s just a field, no buildings. No use to us, given the weather. They turn it down.
“Was what you did earlier, mythos magic?”
“I think it’s something new. I discovered the ability to find songs for things by intuition. Then later I found that when I do it, it blasts out a gale of magical essence. And then I figured how to tie that essence into my sorcery, so that it doesn’t twist the world out of shape and leave a magical taint. There’s all sorts of side effects I don’t really understand. It wakes things up, brings them to life, kinda, somehow makes them more themselves. But it’s a powerful tool in a pinch. You probably heard what I did to that mountain?”
He nods. “You spell-sang that, too?”
“Yeah. But it comes with responsibilities. After I woke that mountain up, I couldn’t let Doc Diabolik swat it with his orbital cannon, which was the original plan. He agreed not to, but then Palm hijacked it and fired at us anyhow. So I had to overstrain myself a bit blocking the shot.”
He looks thoughtful. “I read that in the report, but found it hard to believe.”
“Given I’ve widened my channels since that time, I’d probably be able to do it again, without catching on fire this time. But I’d rather not. It wasn’t exactly easy or fun.”
“No, I imagine not. You caught on fire?”
“Burnout from overstraining my warping. Second time that’s happened, both times regen brought the body through kind of intact. This time I had backup bodies, although I kept the damaged one around until I could figure out how the burnout happened and fix myself so it wouldn’t happen again.”
“And the first time?”
“Arriving. An uncontrolled teleport.”
“You’ve had a busy few days, it sounds like.”
I grin. “Like you wouldn’t believe. But fun ones.”
There’s a click on our headsets and then the male pilot’s voice says, “Attention passengers. We’re coming up on mount Mansfield, and normally we’d detour around. But the storm seems to be deliberately blocking that. So we’re going to go over the top, and it may be a bumpy ride.”
Like it wasn’t already. Mr Reilly shares an amused look with me. I say, “I may have to sing again, so I need to pause our conversation”, and he nods understandingly.
The ground under us rises, then dips, then rises higher and higher, the mountain ahead filling my g-sense. What’s worse is that we’re having to spend our forward momentum on climbing, so the storm is catching up. Evidently that’s the plan. A wind buffet lashes at us, we dodge, then have to dodge again as we’re driven towards a rock outcropping. My cue, I think.
I reach, and find the song again, and this time I’m singing it just for itself, not as part of a spell. The helicopter knows where it wants that power to go. And indeed I can feel it directing the power around, now strengthening the rotors, now slipping nimbly between blasts and around stones. Lightning lashes at us. Trees reach for us, and then we’re approaching the top. The headset says “Going over, brace for a drop”, and we plummet.
Then it’s a dark, rushing fall as we dodge trees and wind swipes trying to pin us against the ground below. I can hear the pilot on the radio calling a pan-pan and telling Burlington we’re coming in hot, and all hell is on our tail. Burlington says the runway’s clear. Good. City lights below, glimpsed for a moment out of the twisting window. The storm is all around us, but we’re winning through. Falling more slowly, the land flattening beneath us. I can feel the city ahead. Gravity sense, and many lives, clustered. Rushing over suburbs and roads, lit beneath us. I can feel the airstrip ahead, harder ground, long and wide and straight. Low and fast now, coming down towards a landing.
I think we all of us spot it at once, me, the helicopter, and the pilots - one last blow, a huge rushing downward waterfall of microburst aimed right ahead of us, and we’re panic-braking, tipped back at a steep angle and slowing ourselves to dodge, and the helicopter’s runners scrunch into bushes as the runway ahead of us is blotted out by a near-hurricane force blast. It falls, and it falls, and then it dwindles and stops, and we make snapping and tearing sounds as we lift back off and drag just inches above the bushes, over the concrete and piled snow on the runway, and drop to a halt near some buildings.
I stop my song and immediately pop my seat buckle and drag the door open, I need to be outside and on solid ground, so I run out past the rotors. Wind and sleet lashes at me. Temperature regulation up. I can finally reach into the storm and feel the spell, great arching serpents of magical power, twisting, writhing - shaping the funnel of a tornado at the end of the runway that rushes toward us, g-sense picks up trees and debris whirling inside it. But if I can feel the spell, I can feel out its structure and find the weak points, and cut, and cut again. Spells unravelling. The twister funnel blows itself out suddenly, dropping debris. Cut and cut some more, spells fading. One last angry lash of malevolence, connecting charges to charges, making a ladder down, the air around me buzzes and goes blue. I should drop, but there isn’t time.
I’m thrown out of that body for a full ten seconds, before my senses start to come back. I’m horizontal, being carried. I cough. “Ow.” Tanking lightning continues to be no fun. That beast of a bolt was a whole lot nastier than the ones Jason was throwing, too, if I read the reports from my regeneration right. A line of cooked muscle, from the crown of my head to my heel, is getting rapidly replaced with functioning cells, and complaining about it. I can’t see a thing, my retinas are badly overexposed, and not at the head of the queue for attention.
“Here, get her inside”, a voice I don’t know. “Get the AED!”
“Don’ need it”, I say, croakily.
“Kid, you just got hit by lightning, your heart could stop.”
“Regen six, my heart is fine, I’m just a lil’ toasty.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Scissors please.” I can feel someone cutting away my clothes. My vision returns with a rush of light until I remember to block the retro-reflector behind my eye. Then it’s just a corridor in a building. The person over me is in military greens. I can feel the burned bits flaking away from my skin at head and feet.
“Owie and also ouch”, I say. “That was a nasty big one.”
The guy working on me sighs, and stands up. “Well, you didn’t lie, you’re all but healed over, and it hasn’t been a minute since you got hit. Sorry about your clothes, kid. But they weren’t in great shape anyhow.” They are more than slightly toasty. Also still smouldering. I’m about to say, more where those came from, but then a woman says, “She’s my size, I’ll get her some of my spares” and I don’t want to refuse a gift, so I smile thanks.
Instead I say, “Apologies, but if you have any roasted horses, I could eat one.” Regen is nice, but the appetite afterwards is a bitch.
Part one hundred and twenty eight
“…and so then I got dressed and they showed me to the cafeteria, the end.” It’s nearly dinner time, and I’m telling the folks at Whateley of my adventures.
“Tell me you didn’t just strip off in front of a room full of military”, says Nikki, who maybe knows me a bit too well.
Sara snickers, as I say “Don’t worry, your dad reminded me in time, mostly.”
“Oh, you!” Nikki laughs. “You have to remember you’re among mundanes, out there.”
“I do!” It’s true! Also, hurriedly changing the subject, “I’m gonna see if anyone magical I know can recognise the attacker from my impressions of the spell, I was thinking, Sara, Nikki, and invite Circe too?”
“Invite Grimes, if she’s willing to take a link”, Nikki says. “I know you two don’t get along that well, but she’s good at what she does.”
“I’ll see if Circe can pass that along?” Which gets a nod.
I’m sat a table at the cafeteria over here, in what is evidently the local air national guard HQ, in my snazzy new military outfit (borrowed), and enjoying my third burger and large fries (compliments of the house), when Mr Reilly comes and joins me at the table.
“Okay, so, slight change of plans”, he says, snaffling one of my fries after I nod to let him. “It’s still blowing a blizzard out there, although the bad weather’s starting to disperse now the magic’s not driving it. Apparently that twister did a number on the runway, too, and there’s snow everywhere, so they’ll have to clear all the mess off, and they’ll be doing that through the night. All of which means we won’t be flying anywhere until tomorrow morning, they guess. The air national guard have offered us bunks here. Unless you’d prefer to head into town and look for a hotel?”
“Here will be fine”, I say, not least because the bone-tired part of regeneration is already starting to make itself felt.
“Enjoying the hero’s welcome, hmm?”
“It has its perks”, I say, gesticulating with the burger. “How are the pilots doing?”
“Still seeing air currents. Even just around the base. I’m told they can feel their way around a darkened room by the way the air bends around the furniture.”
I’m not surprised by that. “Me too. Not the other bodies though, so it’s a spell effect, not a new power.”
He looks thoughtful. “Other bodies, hmm? Yes, I temporarily forgot you can do that. You haven’t been playing it up around here. If I don’t miss my guess, you could have just abandoned the damaged body, made another, and avoided all this fuss?” Indicating my food.
“But I like the fuss”, I say, taking a bite of burger, which continues to be delicious. Then after chewing, “And I don’t want to spook them. If I appear beside myself unharmed, am I the same person? Even more so if the original just vanishes. You’ve seen it, they haven’t, I’d have some fast explaining to do. Also I absolutely did fight a dangerous enemy and get swatted with a lightning bolt, and it helps to look the part if I want sympathy.”
Which makes him laugh. “Okay, I can understand that.” He looks thoughtful. “So. What was that business all about? I can’t imagine your enemy expected to hurt you in any permanent way.”
“About you, which I assume you already figured out, as well as about the pilots and the chopper to a lesser extent. About denying me travel, or forcing me to take an overland route where I’d be easier to obstruct and hassle. About interfering in my various relationships, including the ones I’m trying to build up. The side-swipe at Nikki if you were hurt would probably be all to the good from their perspective.” I consider whether to bring something up, but this seems like a good time. “Did your briefing notes tell you I brought people back to life after they were dead?”
“It was mentioned as a rumour. Not considered credible yet, but they hope to investigate, now the school’s opening back up to the outside world.”
“It’s factual. If I have a connection to someone’s soul, I can hook them back up to a new body, or their old one after repairing it. Links are a connection.”
A pause, as he flickers through various extrapolations and realisations. “Me?” I nod. “And all your friends. And very soon, a large slice of humanity.”
“Eventually all of them, I hope.”
A raised eyebrow. “Long term plans, hmm?”
I nod. “I told you there was backstory to understanding those. Souls are part of that backstory. What it means right now is, they wouldn’t have been able to kill you either, not permanently. I’m not sure if they knew it. But forcing me to resurrect you might be enough of a win anyhow. It would probably ruin your trusted position with the military and the government. My enemies are genius or better for the most part, you have to assume twisty plans.”
“I see what you mean”, he looks thoughtful. “Will they attack us again tomorrow?”
“Unlikely in the same way. Weather is expensive, lots of mass and energy to drag around, especially to make it do unnatural stuff like chase a helicopter across two states. They probably spent weeks piling up the magical fuel, based on precognitive timing, and now they’ve expended their shot.”
“Which means, maybe yes, but in some other way.”
I nod agreement. “Welcome to my life. There’s a reason I made myself so formidable.”
The link group set up to figure out the spell’s source gets assembled pretty quickly. Nikki and Sara are in. Circe is in too, and finally Grimes joins.
I’ve got two sets of impressions to work with, those from when I first tried to attack the spell, and those from when I finally got my feet on the ground and was able to dismantle it. I play them back, in sequence.
“Definitely mythos sorcery”, Nikki says, “I felt similarities with the stuff I’ve run into with Hekate, particularly over Christmas, and the voodoo wolves before that.”
“Not Hekate specifically, I think”, Circe says. “I have recent experience of her style in that circle I dismantled on Wednesday, and it felt different, but I see the resemblance.”
“It’s Cthulhu’s branch of sorcery, although with hints of a few other mythos beings, which is the commonality you’re feeling”, Sara says. “The Bastard uses the same kind, although with a more bestial taint, that’s what’s on the voodoo wolves. Hekate seems to be learning it. Uncle Darrow was a user, but he’s out of the picture now. The impressions I got from that don’t match any of them. I got a feeling of hate, but very disciplined, very blue oni, if you know the reference?”
I do, so I say, “Yeah, the thinking, calm kind of villain.”
“Still anger driven, but cold anger”, Sara agrees. “And a skilled sorcerer. I feel like I should know them, and I don’t, and that’s interesting in itself.”
“I believe I can offer a name that might match the description”, Circe says. “This is based on hearsay and speculation, but of course, the magical department keeps on top of rumours about potential problems. He is named Nimbus, and he is associated with both the Syndicate and the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom, which is a rabble of black magicians of various sorts. Of all of them, he is the only surviving member associated with mythos sorcery, although the association is merest rumour. But the cold and calculating personality fits him.”
“I’ll press my contacts to see if they have any information about him”, Sara says.
Grimes says, “I have nothing to add regarding the caster’s identity, except that I can rule out most people I know, or know of. Mythos sorcery is rare, and few who touch it keep their sanity.”
“It doesn’t really fit humans well”, I say. “You end up absorbing a lot of the mindset of the entity behind it. For a human, you’d pretty much have to warp yourself out of shape, one way or another. But that could be hidden behind a calculating front.”
Circe says, “I wonder if there is a connection to Hekate? Someone is teaching her, and they would have to be a skilled sorcerer. Unless she deals directly with the entities themselves, but I don’t believe she has the courage. And there is enough commonality in the feel to suggest that.”
Grimes says, “What worries me, is the level of knowledge of your plans, Miss Parallel. I did not know what that helicopter was doing here. Staff were not informed. I do not imagine anyone outside your friend group, the Head, and security knew the details. And I expect security were only told the what and not the why.”
“There’s the army side, they knew”, I point out, “although that would imply a lot of joined up infiltration and espionage. And there’s precognition.”
“We are screened against precognition, to an extent, on the school campus”, Circe says. “Particularly since last Halloween, we have renewed our diligence. But activities that occur outside the school, such as flying out in a rather noticeable helicopter, those would be less protected, or not at all.”
Nikki says, “So, a smart enemy, cold and calculating, but full of hate, possibly Nimbus with his connections to villain groups, possibly Hekate’s master, and either with an espionage operation in the military, or some sharp precogs. And given the size of that spell, either inhumanly powerful, or with great patience to store up essence. Honestly, that sounds rather intimidating.”
“Great good often draws commensurate evil, I have found”, Circe says. “But I agree, this is no small fish.”
Speaking of small fish, it’s time for dinner and they have fish and chips, yay. I’m not actually suffering from regeneration hunger over on this side, but the feeling refers across and it’s given me an appetite, so I load up.
On the Kimba table, Toni is complaining about the Tigers, who were pressuring her again today. Apparently they were going to send someone to ‘persuade’ her that she needed the protection of a team, except all their top picks are cooling their heels in jail. So they just came and hassled her themselves, and it worked out about the way it always does, they know she’s better than them, so does she, so the threats ring a bit hollow. And it’s not as if she doesn’t have a posse. I guess, some flies you just have to keep swatting.
Over on the Pack table, Tansy is pretty much glowing after two assignations, the one she had to put off earlier, and another spontaneous one. It seems the word is starting to spread amongst the lesbians on campus that she really means it. Vamp sounds intrigued, and might be considering doing the same thing, except for her it would be literally anyone, boys or girls or intersex. Provided they don’t mind her own intersex anatomy. She’s still looking into ways to gather enough energy to morph that around. That may need to wait until she’s got a bit more experience though, just to be sure she likes the actuality as much as the thought. Tansy then has an idea of making something like a group for people that have the same ideals. Vamp dubs it “slut club”, which makes everyone giggle. She’d be in, I think maybe I would too. Could be good fun.
Sadly our salacious discussion is cut short when there’s a banging, and Cody wants to announce something for the alphas. Or rather, as it turns out, all the seniors. They’re going to be remaking Crystal Hall into something less cramped and more fun as their senior year project. Downside: it’s going to close for the rest of term. We’re all going to have to eat in the Dunn Hall greasy spoon cafe, a notable downgrade. Ayla looks like he swallowed an entire sewer rat. Oh dear.
Speaking of oh dear - a link warning from Donna. ARC have been alerted that somebody just broke Counterpoint out of pokey. They tried to break Jason out too, but he wouldn’t go. Busy, busy enemies.
Part one hundred and twenty nine
I’m lounging on Sara’s bed and snuggling with her, while she, I and Donna have a mini council of war over links.
“They don’t know who broke him out”, Donna says. “Whoever it was used people we recognise from the security footage as mercenaries. It’s too early for us to get a line on the one who paid for it, but I’d lay odds it was done through a cut-out. Nothing too obviously sloppy about the operation.”
“Given his current monomania, I think it’s pretty clear why they want him”, Sara says.
Donna nods. “That he’s a willing weapon against Jules is obvious. What’s strange is that the mastermind behind this thinks he’s a useful weapon.”
I say, “He’s a bull in a china shop. Let him loose against me and he’ll rampage around, taking hostages and killing people, forcing me to show my nasty side.”
Sara says, “You think he’s going to be let loose in DC, then?”
“It fits the pattern”, I agree. “Whoever this is, they know they can’t just shoot me. But they can make things inconvenient for me and ruin my attempts at diplomacy.”
“We’re assuming one mastermind, then?”, Donna asks.
“For simplicity, yes”, I say. “The detail of who’s behind it doesn’t really matter for now. But the timing smells of more than coincidence. And the callous attitude is similar.”
She nods. “As for Jason, we’ve got the preliminary interview report now, he claims he’s determined to go straight and restore his honour. So he refused to leave when they opened his cell. They evidently shrugged and left.”
“He was a nice to have”, Sara says. “Someone else to cause a bit of havoc, but not important to plans.”
“Which must bug him something fierce”, I say. “I presume they didn’t let him give any direct orders?”
“They kept the two separate”, Donna agrees. “Which rather implies they didn’t expect him to go.”
“That may have been a rushed mistake we can use”, Sara says. “He’s Counterpoint’s leash, and they really shouldn’t have left him lying around. It’s likely they’ll be coming back to try and fix that.”
“I’ll pass the warning on”, Donna says. “Do you think he’d be willing to help shut Counterpoint down?”
I say, “His mythological son’s honour reflects on his. He won’t like being used, but he’ll do it.”
Donna nods. “Okay, I’ll go and pass the word, and I’ll leave you two lovelies to your fun.”
“Be safe, Donna-mama”, I say, blowing her a kiss down the link. Sara sends her something altogether more erotic, and we both get to feel her aroused and embarrassed blush back, before she steps out of the conversation.
And then Sara is entirely focused on me. She boops me on the nose with a pointy fingertip. “You, beloved, look stressed.”
“Busy day”, I admit.
“I believe I know a good remedy for that.” And her tentacles are already undressing me. Lucky me.
Over in Burlington, I’m getting ready for an early night. They’ve got small dorm rooms here with simple metal-framed beds, olive green, soldiers for the use of. One dorm for girls and one for boys, which means I’m not sharing a room with Mr Reilly. Most of the beds just have mattresses, but someone’s made mine up already, with creases sharp enough you could cut your finger. It’s almost a shame to spoil it.
Someone else unexpectedly peeks into the room. It’s the woman who loaned me a set of her clothes. And she has what looks like a set of bed sheets. “Hi there, I’m Airman First Class Kayla Torres. We don’t normally sleep over here unless we’re on training, but I asked permission to join you for the night so you wouldn’t be stuck all alone in a strange place. If you don’t mind?”
“I’d enjoy the company”, I say. “Although I warn you I’m pretty tired and I’ll probably drop right off to sleep. But thanks for the loan of your stuff.”
“No problem. I brought something to sleep in, too.” She grins and hands me pyjamas, olive green, soldiers for the use of. Which makes me giggle slightly.
When she looks curious, I say, “Sorry, it’s just the military really likes green.”
She laughs, and says, “Yeah, you get to not notice it, but you’re right. Although we’re air force kinda, so we do blue too.”
Meanwhile, she’s starting to put the sheets on the bed next to me, so I say, “Want a hand, or two?”
“Sure, it’d be appreciated”
As I help do the precise, 45 degree corner folds the way she showed me, she says “I’m not supposed to get too nosy about who you are or what you’re doing, but what you did back then was amazing. You just kinda waved your hand at the storm and the twister that was coming right for us vanished, poof. Your eyes were shining like headlights. Why do they do that, is it deliberate?”
I shake my head, “It’s one of the few bits of me that don’t light up on purpose”, flashing my photophores in sparkly fractal patterns to amuse and amaze. “Something in my power does the eyes. They shine bright when the otherworldly side of me comes forward.” Which in retrospect she was doing, I needed the extra juice.
“That, the swooshy light show, how does it work?” She’s curious.
“Photophores. Cells that can emit light. I get to choose what light they emit.”
“You must be a hit at parties.”
Heh, I literally hadn’t ever thought of that. Shows how grim my thoughts have been. “Good idea. I’m new enough to these powers that I’ve never tried. But yeah, I should be able to do some neat party tricks.”
“Can you dance?”
The answer’s no, I can’t dance yet, except the stuff we covered earlier today in lessons, but I’ve seen enough people dancing I should be able to back-extrapolate how to do the moves. So I say “Got any music?”
Turns out there’s a radio on a shelf. She dials up something danceable and I pick out some shuffle-dance moves I’ve seen and give it a try. Sync to the rhythm, predict the beat and the hooks, and play with my photophores, making pulsing vines and birds and flowers and stars. It’s fun and amusing to see the shiny lights reflected off her as we dance together.
Soon we’re giggling together and she’s a bit short of breath, so we stop. She grins. “I’ll take that for a yes. Thanks, I think I needed that. But you must be exhausted.”
I shake my head. “Nah. That’s one way I’m pretty different from regular folks.” I flip myself into a handstand, then shift my weight to my left pinky finger alone. “I can pick up and carry a small car. Lifting my own weight hardly counts as effort. I have to be running something like forty miles an hour just to break a sweat. It’s a weird feeling, believe me.”
“Huh. Yeah, I believe you.” Just like that there’s distance between us again.
“Sorry, I spooked you.” I flip back to right way up.
“No, you didn’t, I’m just, adjusting, you know?” She smiles. “Weird as you are, you’re a good kid.”
I grin, “Also a sleepy one.”
“Okay, let me show you how the showers work in here.” She’s back to pragmatic, but still smiling.
On the other side, I’m relaxing in post-orgasmic languor in Sara’s arms. Feeling rather stretched in all the good ways, and very content. “So, what do you think of Tansy’s idea, this slut club thing?” Vamp’s name for it is amusing.
Sara looks thoughtful. “I wonder how many she’ll get to join it. Other than Peeper and self serving fools of that kind.”
“It’s the idea of service that will turn them away, I think”, I say. “They only want it for themselves, and they have no clue and less interest in making it fun for the other party.”
A nod. “I told you that we do sacred prostitution in my cult. But it’s not a common calling. It needs a very open heart, a sharp eye for understanding others, a giving disposition, and a healthy libido. Also, understanding partners, if those are involved.”
“Do you think we fit, the ones who’ve already offered to sign up?”
“You know you do, silly”, she pokes me gently with a claw tip. “Vamp, now there’s an interesting one.”
“She thinks she’s selfish, but she isn’t”, I say.
Sara nods. “When she was under uncle Darrow’s thumb, she still stuck her neck out to save people. Not too far, but much further than a selfish person would. And although she sees what she did with her clients as taking advantage, she valued their friendship, and I think, she chose to use mind tricks, rather than actual sex, because she didn’t want to be a disappointment.”
“Speaking from experience, she won’t be. A little practise and she’ll be as good as she was pretending. She’s both caring and responsive. As well as humble, although she’d run a mile from the word.”
“She’s humble around you, because you’ve pretty much adopted her. Which is very sweet.” Sara gives me a reward kiss on the forehead, and I grin. “She sees you as a point of stability. Dragged out of a world of villainy and sudden death, thrown into a new school full of people who might have good reason to hate her, you drew your sword in her defence. You connected her to the Pack, and reconciled her with the Kimbas. You cared for her.”
“And I was her first time.”
“Yes, as she has gushingly told us, when you weren’t around to be embarrassed”, Sara grins. “She thinks you were absolutely lovely, dear. Such gentle and yet erotic technique.”
I look down, a little shy at the praise. “I was just figuring it out as I went along.”
“You were paying attention, feeling out her boundaries and keeping to them, and caring about giving her pleasure as well as taking your own. It’s not rocket science, love”, and she quotes a song, “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it.” Which makes us both giggle. “She did it, she fell in love. She has an enormous hero worship crush on you, love.”
Which warms my heart. “I absolutely have enough love to include her in. She’s a darling and honestly, I have a bit of a crush on her myself.”
“Then tell her, dear.”
On a whim as I make my way back towards Poe, I divert and head down the tunnels into the devisor area. As I expected, despite the late hour, there’s a light on in Jobe’s lab. I knock, and wait.
A few seconds later, the door slams open, and Jobe, in her trademark white lab coat and with her hair bound back tightly away from her face, snarls “Who is it now? I’m busy! Oh, it’s you.” She gets a suspicious look, “You aren’t trying to change the contract after the fact, and ask for money or something are you? Because the answer is going to be no.”
I have to laugh, “No, I’ve got enough of that. I was just calling by to see how you’re doing.”
“Physically fine, of course.” She sighs. “People refuse to leave me alone. Especially the girls. I am evading their attempts to have a welcome party. And idiot boys leer at me.”
“Some cutting sarcasm should bring the boys in line”, I say. “They probably figure since you’re new to it, they can take advantage. If you put your foot down, they’ll realise they’re about to piss off Jobe Wilkins, with all that implies, and then the light will go on upstairs.”
“Ha!” She looks a bit perked up. “Yes. Good point, and good reminder. I haven’t been myself today, and I don’t mean this”, a hand-wave at her body. “Being treated differently has thrown me off my stride. Including by father, damn him.”
“What did he do?”
“Disinherited me. Me! The crown prince of Karedonia, and he does that?”
“Jerk move”, I pull a face. “I bet you can talk him back around though. You’re still his kid.”
Part one hundred and thirty
20th January, 2007, Burlington, morning
I had… interesting dreams. I was just having an ordinary night’s rest, but then I became aware somehow of a melancholy feeling, and when I followed it I found the helicopter I’d woken up yesterday, feeling pretty lonely in its dark hangar. So I invited it into my dream.
Turns out an ex-four can throw a stick pretty damn far, if she puts a bit of effort into the throw. But not far enough that a frisky living helicopter can’t chase it down and catch it in flight. Fun, in a strange but nifty way. I may have to drop some suggestions for the care and feeding of living machines to the brass here. Although I doubt they’ll be willing to play throw-and-catch in a busy airfield. What counts as enrichment for a helicopter?
I’m woken by movement in the room, felt by my g-sense even if my eyes are still shut. Miss Torres, getting up. It’s 5 AM, but I’ve had enough rest so I may as well wake up too.
She notices me sitting up, smiles. “Sorry, honey, did I wake you?”
“You did, but it’s okay.” I stretch, and sit up. “I got enough sleep.” I observe that she’s taking the sheets back off her bed, so I copy her. “These go in a laundry hamper or something?”
“Got it in one. I’ll take them to actually be washed later.” She grins. “Up at five and no complaining, we’ll make a soldier of you yet.” The thought makes me giggle.
I notice that she’s moving around by feel, and ask “Shall I get the lights?”
“Sure honey. But I was wondering, the dark didn’t seem to bother you.”
“Wasn’t dark to me. The little LED over there is lighting up the room.”
“Huh.” She sounds interested. “Low light vision?”
“Uh huh”, I agree. “Reflective layer behind my eyes, it switches off when I do this”, and I turn the lights on. “Useful at night.”
We head to the showers, and I say, “so what’s the typical day for you here?”
“I’ll be hitting the gym after this, we have a workout room here. Then breakfast at six. Bit of a gap when we’d normally be making our beds and things. Some of the others will be driving in. Then we get briefed what we’re up to for the day at eight. And then it’s just work, you know?”
“Can I come along to the workout room? I’m curious. If you don’t mind me showing off a little?”
She snickers. “Sure, hon. You come along and show off if you wanna.”
Over the other side I’m up as well, and alone in the showers because it’s early. Brat herding is on weekend mornings too, and Tai Chi, and then I’ll be meeting up with the maintenance crew and Jade after breakfast for our little tunnel-delving trip. Other than that I don’t have commitments. Maybe I can go visit the weres? It’s been awhile.
This side where I’m not hiding half my powers I can enjoy my usual tricks of teleporting dry after the shower. And creating fresh clothes so I’m ready to go, a tee, a sweatshirt, and I think I’ll go with a skirt today for a change. Make a copy to check myself over - not bad. And then I’ll leave one here to do the Tai Chi while I head over to Kirby. The morning’s noticeably more blue and less black than it was at this time when I first got here. Yay for the return of the light.
As I wander over, my attention is drawn to a slight off feeling in my lower body, and when I probe it, I’m like, oh. My uterus is doing the get ready for menstruating thing. I guess it has been nearly a month since I first had this body. Shall I let it go ahead? Once, yes, I decide. And I can see what it’s like, and then if it bothers me I don’t have to do it again. Besides, I think the others would murder me if I blithely decided against bothering to menstruate, like, ever. Especially Nikki.
This would normally be when I’m at peak fertility, if I hadn’t switched my ovulation off. I wonder if I’ll get more horny?
On the other side, the gym is pretty small, about the same size as the dorm I slept in, and it has machines, treadmills, weights, and a mat with a boxing bag. There’s a few people already there when we arrive. Which means much grinning and congratulating the “new recruit”, heh. And then I get to try out ordinary people gym stuff for the first time, over here.
The machines are a bit frustrating. I set the weight to max, and it’s like they’re barely loaded at all. Meh. The treadmill goes up to a speed that’s kind of a jog to me, although the display reads 35 mph. But that’s better than nothing, so I do a bit of that. Getting curious glances. Then when I’m done there I go try the weights, and I have to scrounge for extra ones to put on the long bar, but it gets up to something I can do curls and flyes with, although it’s a bit wimpy for bench pressing or squats. That one gets me some ‘WTF’ looks. And then I put that all back and go play with the boxing bag. Strike, slip, sidestep, reverse knife hand, turn, downward palm, elbow… a bag is a bag, thankfully, and it’s the most useful thing here.
Miss Torres grins, she’s come over to watch. “Nice work kid, what style?”
“Several, I think”, I say. “Dyffud who teaches me knows them all, and he mixes them up.”
“Want to spar?”
“Light contact”, I say. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I’d enjoy that.”
In Kirby, Tansy gets a hug and a lingering good morning kiss. But we don’t have time for more than that, because the brats are already in, and busying themselves with cooking, having refined the recipe yesterday. Evidently they’re trying to get a batch of pies ready to showcase at lunch. Supervising them mostly means moving spillables back from the edge before they get knocked off, helping them fetch stuff that’s up high, and avoiding being underfoot. Oddly, they may have picked the best possible time for their project. Dunn Hall’s cafe has the reputation of being a poor second to Crystal Hall, and it’s mostly used out of hours, or by people who are too busy to walk to Schuster and back. Typical fare: packaged sandwiches, packets of crisps, and fizzy drinks in cans. It’s going to be a squeeze to get the whole school in. Goodness knows what they’ll feed us. Breakfast will be interesting.
Tansy’s going into town, real town, Boston, to speak to some lawyers and see what they say about the pickle she’s in with her dad. She offers to bring me along. I tell her about being attacked in the helicopter, going outside the grounds with her might paint a target on her back. Although I do have a snapshot for her, and she has a link, so she won’t be doing any permanent dying. She considers, then says that she’s not going to hide in a hole and neither should I. If problems happen, we two together should be enough to put the kibosh on them. Which is fair enough. So I fire off an exeat request.
Sparring with Miss Torres is proving interesting. I’m keeping my speed and power down to baseline levels, and she’s obviously more experienced than me. Nowhere near up to Dyffud’s standard, though. Sometimes I slip her attacks, sometimes she gets me, sometimes I get her. I think perhaps, my crazy-quilt mix of styles throws her off her stride. In the end, we call it a draw and stop, because it’s getting time for breakfast. And we get applause from the others, which makes us both grin. Including from Mr Reilly, who was watching from the door.
A quick second dip in the workout room showers, and then I join him walking to breakfast.
“We’ll be heading to my plane straight after we eat”, Mr Reilly says. “They’ve cleared us to fly. Have you left anything behind you need to fetch?”
I shake my head. “Nothing. How’s the weather looking?”
“Clear skies. Assuming no repeat of yesterday. Although unlike yesterday, the jet we’ll be flying in is pressurised and heated, so we can go up and over any inconvenient weather.”
“Which they’ll know, so they won’t attack us that way”, I say. “Last night I found out they, presumably the same lot, broke out someone who sees himself as my enemy from jail. Counterpoint, you know him?”
“He was in the briefing.” He chuckles. “You seem less than intimidated.”
“I expect him to be a nuisance, but I’ll try to cause minimum disruption shutting him down.”
He nods. “I’ve noticed you’re being very careful and diplomatic.”
“Friends are important”, I say. “Reminds me, I need to have a word with the boss here, about the side effects of what I did yesterday to that helicopter, would it be possible to arrange that?”
He nods. “I’ll ask. I expect so.”
Dunn Hall breakfast turns out to be sugary cereals and milk, over-warmed bacon with frazzled eggs, and fresh-from-the-plastic-packet croissants - evidently trundled over to here from the kitchens, one wheeled heated sideboard at a time. Worse, everyone is rammed in on far fewer tables, so the Pack and the Kimbas are all jumbled in together with strangers. Only room for one of me, too. Bleh.
By comparison the breakfast in Burlington is haute cuisine, I have blueberry pancakes and bacon and syrup, highly tasty. And it’s not cramped. Although we do get joined by yesterday’s pilots, looking to thank me, and also ask how long the feeling air currents thing with last. Unfortunately all I can say to that is that I don’t know, because I’ve never done that precise thing before, but it might be permanent. And then, since it’s an opportunity, I tell them about the helicopter, to Mr Reilly’s evident (but quiet) interest. The lady pilot says, “I think I dreamed about that. You were… throwing sticks?”
“Yeah, I was”, I agree. “It’s good at playing catch, too. Think friendly helicopter sized dog and you probably won’t go too far wrong.”
“Oh man”, she looks amused and a bit aghast. “We gonna have to take it out for walkies?”
“It’ll probably get bored if you don’t do something, at least. But maybe just a short flight? And be friendly, talk to it. I don’t think you’re gonna need to take it outside to poop or something, it’s still a helicopter.” Which makes both of them laugh.
A few minutes later, explaining a living helicopter to the boss goes about as well as you’d think. He listens, he nods, he evidently thinks I’m nutty as a fruitcake, while being too polite to say so, and he’ll take it under advisement. Hopefully the pilots can handle that particular mess.
And then it’s out onto the runway, seen for the first time in daylight, and cleared of snow. Mr Reilly’s plane is a Learjet type thing, sleek and pointy and without any particular markings other than the usual opaque numbers and some go-faster stripes. I wave bye to my friends here, and then head up the short steps and duck to get inside. All very swish, beige leather seats and burl veneer walls, although still cramped quarters. He grabs a seat on the other side of the aisle from me, and one of the pilots pulls up the steps and shuts the door, before heading forward to join the other in the cockpit.
“And now we wait”, says Mr Reilly. “Flying can be a bit tedious that way.” Meanwhile we’re trundling down the runway, then picking up speed, and I watch out of the window for the moment the wheels leave ground, and we’re airborne.