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 Parallel has set off flying to Washington DC with Mr Reilly.
20th January, 2007, in the air en route to Washington DC, morning
Clouds in flight are pretty amazing, vast fluffy mountains, and they feel properly three dimensional, because you’re moving fast enough to see the shape as you pass by.
“Enjoying the view?” Mr Reilly sounds amused.
“It’s lovely”, I say. “I need my license before they’ll let me go this high solo.”
“Something to look forward to”, he smiles. “We’ve got some time alone now, so why don’t you tell me about your terrifying master-plans for humanity?”
“Tasty, tasty snacks”, I tease. Then, “Sure, I can do that. I take it you’ve been briefed on the contents of my WARS radio address?”
“And I’ve told you about the GOO war. Oh by the way, I generally say GOO instead of Great Old One. Anyhow, that’s a thing, but honestly to me it’s a bit of a distraction. My primary focus is helping humanity to grow. Right now, that means helping you through the bumpy start of influence. And spreading links carefully, so it doesn’t create havoc, but it does connect people together, and connect them to me. A bit later, it’ll mean helping you all adjust to a soul-first view of life, where being alive and being dead are just two different ways to be people, and you can move at will between them. And I’ll be trying to kind of uplift humans to my level. But those are longer term things.”
“You view a war with ‘intelligences from beyond the stars’”, he makes air quotes, “as a distraction?”
“I have to do it, because they’re trying to send humans down the path into total xenophobic war. But I’ve already struck the big blow against them with my new life law. So now it’s mostly just a holding action, while influence runs down the clock.”
“And you anticipate a bumpy start to that.”
“As soon as the hardcore bigots recognise what’s happening, they’ll riot. Influence drives out self-deception, that’s one pronounced effect I’ve seen. Bigotry as a lifestyle is self-deception, putting yourself on a pedestal by pushing others down. They’ll be all like, we don’t want to be forced to accept mutants, rah rah, smash things.”
He smiles at my description. “I can see them being upset about that, yes.”
“It gets worse. The early stages affect self-righteous types. Me big hero, therefore my 1950s opinions about gay people are heroic. Influence makes their consciences poke them, and that makes them double down. Rarr, hero sense tingling, gay people must be the problem. We’ve been seeing that in Whateley.”
“Didn’t your whole Poe cottage just come out publicly?”
“Yeah, we did.”
“Then they’re being forced to face a situation where their assumptions about what’s normal are being challenged hard. Perhaps cut them a little slack?”
“We are, believe me, we’re gonna fight back with a Pride fashion show rather than add to the violence. But that same kind of thing is bound to happen elsewhere. Influence was behind Poe’s decision to come out. I expect similar seismic shocks in the larger world.”
He nods thoughtfully. “I can see that.”
Over in Whateley, one of me is suiting up in the gear they use for tunnel delving, alongside Jade, who is less than delighted.
“I hate these things.” She indicates the explosive vest they want us to wear.
“If you have to set it off, I’ll bring you back”, I say. “Don’t let it worry you too much.”
“I’d rather not get blown up, all the same”, she says. And the cabbit plushie she’s bringing along says “Miya!” in emphatic agreement.
“Me too”, I agree. “We’ll be careful, and nobody will need to do any exploding.”
“Is a good attitude”, Stan says. “You in particular, do not get arrogant and poke the bear. We go in, we clean, we leave.”
“Sir, yes sir”, I do a mock salute, which makes him laugh and pat me on the head.
My exeat request for Tansy’s trip has come back with a “see me” from Ms Hartford. So another of me is waiting in the admin area of Schuster, while she does the ol’ too busy and important to notice you shtick, staring down at her paperwork. This doesn’t bother me, I can just wait, so she eventually stops, and looks at me. “Miss Parallel. Why are you so interested to rush off to Boston with Miss Walcutt?”
“She’s a friend, and she invited me along. I’d like to see Boston, it’s a place I haven’t been yet. You know I’ve barely left campus since I got here.”
“You’re aware that you were attacked the last time you left campus?”
“I am. We might be attacked this time, but I see that as less likely, I’m not on a diplomatic mission to Boston. And we can both bodyguard each other. She might be a target due to her association with me.”
She pauses and considers that. “Miss Walcutt also has a mission from me. I don’t want you getting under her feet for that.”
“I know how to take instructions.”
“You do. And you’ve shown a reasonable propensity to work with authorities and avoid rushing in like a Kimba. If you run into trouble, I want you, both of you, to stay out of it. Leave, report it, and don’t involve yourselves.”
She takes a moment to look at me, then nods. “Exeat granted. Do not make me regret this.”
“I won’t, ma’am.” I figure with links, I can probably swing a rather rapid reaction if there’s trouble, I don’t personally have to run in and punch the trouble, so I’m cool with giving my word.
Immediately I’m relaying the result to Tansy, who responds with a happy whoop. We’ll be catching the shuttle bus to the station, and Ms Hartford has left the timing a little tight, but we both make it. Me with a little teleporting involved, Tansy was already waiting.
“Seems like you’re in all sorts of places today”, she says with a grin.
And indeed, it’s true, and I smile at the joke, as another of me heads into the forest, towards the were village. Busy day, but hopefully mostly busy with nice things.
It’s the first time I’ve been deep into the forest here in the daytime for awhile, and I’m noticing subtle differences. The beginnings of buds on trees. A few green things other than snow flowers poking up through the white. But interestingly, a few things I’m pretty sure are new. A very brightly coloured bird, green and red, with an iridescent shimmer like a butterfly’s wing. Lines of bioluminescent dots in tree bark. Ants flickering glows at each other when they meet and touch antennae. Maybe the biology around here has been affected more than I knew?
“Noticing, are you?” Ben. He didn’t sneak up on me, but he was pretty quiet.
“Since you sang that song. Perhaps it pushed things further along the way they were already going?”
“Interesting.” I grin. “Nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you too, kid.” He looks at me. “You’ve grown, I think. And not in height. You feel a bit different than the last time you came out here.”
“I haven’t put on that much weight”, I tease. Which just makes him laugh.
Mr Reilly is telling me the plans for when we land. “We’ll be landing in Washington national airport, which is right in the center of town and just a short ride from the DARPA building where I work. There’ll be a car waiting to pick us up. We go over there, I introduce you around a bit. It’s possible the lab boys might want to meet you. Then after that, we’ll be headed over to the Pentagon for the first of your meetings there. You’ll want to dress smart for that.”
“School uniform smart, I presume?”
He nods. “Military brass are used to inspecting troops. Can you pull off immaculate?”
I grin. “I think I can. You can check me over before we go.”
“I will. It will help your case, if only subconsciously. And then after that, although it may go on until late, we head back to my house where you’ll be staying. You’ll have the guest room. Troy, my son, lives with me. Given your performance in the gym earlier, you might get along.”
“I’ll certainly try”, I agree. “I admit I’m not super into working out. If I wanted to bulk up, I’d just tell my muscles to do that. The intermediate step of picking up weights is more about enjoying movement for me, than necessity.”
“You have that level of control over your body?”
“Way more than that, if I wanted to push it. But I’m already shaped the way I like being shaped.”
He chuckles. “He may be a bit jealous, I think.”
“I’m told that the journey is as important as the destination.”
That makes him laugh. “A good comeback. I wonder if it will work.”
The electric maintenance truck whines to a halt in a wide spot in the dirt road. G-sense shows me that the hillside beside us is pierced by a tunnel, but the door is cleverly hidden in shadow in an outcropping. By the mass of it, something metal, and sturdy. We hop down and head over.
There’s a sign on the door done by engraving deep into the metal. ‘Leave immediately. This is a Class X site. Consult your student handbook. There is nothing valuable or useful here, and nothing that can be carried away. Entry will be fatal or worse.’
“You used the Sandia report messages.” I’ve read the story, but seeing it brings it home a bit.
“Similar problem”, says Morrie. “We want people to leave this place alone, and not go playing Indiana Jones. Any time you lock a place, somebody wants to break in. But we can’t just pretend it’s a cave and leave it open, someone might go in. Or something might come out.”
“Make the door of stone, blend it seamlessly with the surrounding rock?”, I suggest, thinking of the doors of Moria.
“Works until somebody comes along with some devisor gadget that sees through rock and says, oh hey there’s a door. And then it’s an adventure, right up until they get et. Best to just be up front about it.”
I nod. “I suppose that makes sense.”
It’s my first time seeing Dunwich station, and it’s about as pokey as the stories suggest. The train’s due soon, but I can’t see it yet.
“We go from here through Concord to Manchester at the speed of mud, stopping at every one-horse town”, Tansy says, “Then we pick up the fast train direct to Boston center. I’m afraid it’s a bit long. But we should get there ahead of lunchtime.”
“I’m sure I’ll enjoy the scenery on the way”, I tease, looking at her.
Which makes her laugh and punch me. “Ass.”
“That too.” Which gets me another punch, and we both crack up with giggles.
A few minutes later, we’re taking our seats on a nearly empty train. They’re arranged as quads, two facing two with a table between. Tansy picks a window seat looking backwards, and I get one opposite her. “Go on, I’ve seen the view, you haven’t”, she says. “You’ve never been through the mountains in the daytime, have you?”
“I haven’t”, I agree. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As Ben and I make our way in, I find the were village much as I remember it. Dirt roads, simple but homely houses, a few old cars, some under tarps to keep the weather off. A slight feel of tension in the air. And Eli, outside her house, with a smile. “Welcome back, kid. So you didn’t forget us after all.”
To which I put out my tongue, and then grin and hug her. “I’d never forget you. I’ve finally got some slack time, and I came over. There’s others of me elsewhere and they’re likely to draw any enemy fire. And I have so much to tell you!”
“Well, come on in, have a seat, have a coffee, and we can catch each other up.”
“Jules, you’ll be taking point this time, so grab the flame thrower and give it a test, just a quick squirt into there.” Morrie gestures at the opened door, which now reveals a short hallway and an open hole. “You can fly so you don’t need to touch the ladder or the ground. Anything moving down there, toast it. Anything not moving, toast it too. And if you see Roy, give him a wave hi, then he gets the extra toasty treatment until he stops trying to get up. Making sense?”
“Burn all the things”, I summarise.
“Got it in one.” He grins. “Okay, in your own time.”
This particular flamethrower has its own oxidiser tank, when I first test squeezing the trigger, it puts out a long smoky puff of yellow flame, but as I dial the oxidiser in, it goes blue, sharp and long, like a vastly oversized Bunsen burner. Nice toy.
Time to go in. The janitor suits we’re wearing don’t leave much exposed skin, but I light up the photophores on my head and hands, lift up off the ground, and glide in. Low light vision switches on. G-sense is showing me the shape of the place, a junction like an upside down T where the vertical hole drops down to meet a long horizontal. Off to one side, though, that gets iffy. Something’s twisty about the dimensions there, and I’m getting contradictory reports. I’m guessing that’s our bugaboo.
Life sense, meanwhile, does not like this place one bit. The rock feels deader than it should be. Like some ambient level of aliveness has been drained out. Some of the crud from down below has been climbing the access tunnel, it looks like lichen on the walls and ladder, but it registers dead, except that it has a weird twisty sorcery-like animating energy in it. That gets the blue flame treatment, and frazzles to ash.
The others start down behind me, as I reach the tunnel level. “Ladder might be a bit hot”, I call up.
“Don’t worry, is insulating ceramic.” Stan’s voice. “Doesn’t stay hot.” Good to know.
The tunnel itself is pretty overgrown with lichen stuff, clinging to the walls and hanging down in rags. I blast it, it burns. There’s a rivulet of the usual sewer ick trickling a couple inches under my feet, stinky, but completely sterile. Which somehow makes it worse. Definitely happy I don’t have to wade in it.
I make my way deeper in. It’s pretty easy to spot the weird unlife, and it all gets to meet mister toasty. Including the flat diamond shaped things I remember reading about. Sort of quasi-animals, except dead as a doornail. And animated by something that’s just like Jinn described it, not bounded by the body, but sort of hanging around in a cloud I’d rather not get anywhere near. Flame, ash, problem solved. I won’t be missing any, the animating sorcery blinks out when they burn.
I’m starting to feel a feeling about this place that might be best described as righteous anger. It’s wrong, it’s bad, and it needs fixing. If I can’t do it now, it’s going on my list. This is a wound in the world, and my heart cries out to heal it.
Memo to self, not poking the bear - this time. But it’s frustrating.
“I can feel what you’re feeling, love” - Sara, over the mark, she’s been peeking over my shoulder. “It’s nasty stuff, and I know you hate it, but stick to the plan.”
I send her back the feeling of snuggling up against her. “It bothers me.”
“We’ll deal with it, together.” The feeling of absolute promise in that reassures me.
From behind me, Morrie says “Damn, this place has got bad. Nice burning, by the way. But I’m glad we moved the schedule ahead.”
“Sorry about that”, I say, because it’s my fault the place got stirred up.
“Happens”, he sounds philosophical about it. “If we have to clean it more often, then we have to. You can’t help who you are.”
I reach the area with the red line Jade described, except I can also see the spell Jinn described, a few feet deeper in, like a wall of force across the tunnel. Damned strong bit of mythos sorcery, although the flavour isn’t one I recognise. And I can see the glyph glowing on it. For me, it doesn’t flicker.
“Yog-Sothoth’s style”, Sara comments. “I haven’t seen much of that, but the dimensional twistiness is characteristic. It’s fraying, use your warping and look at the edges.”
The spell does get clearer when I sort of twist myself to look at it. And yeah, it looks ragged. “Looks like it’s going to come apart”, I say. “Who do we know that can shore it up?”
“Repairing it in place? Nobody I can think of”, Sara sounds thoughtful and a bit worried. “You could learn Yog’s style, I think you’d be compatible, but perhaps not quickly enough. I could patch it over with a new one of mine, although it would be a different spell.”
“I’m going to see if I can talk them into bringing you down here tomorrow”, I say.
Morrie hands me a piece of flexible sticky backed plastic. “Put this one on the wall over the old sign, and melt it on. Give it a good long blast. You doing okay, kid? You’re staring down there a whole lot.” Of course, he can’t hear Sara.
“I’m worried…”, I start to say while I’m doing that, but suddenly the atmosphere in the place changes somehow, and there’s someone standing on the other side of the wall. A man, and he’s looking at me with dead-thing white eyes. I can feel the thing on the other side, looking at me through him, hating. His lips peel back from his teeth in a rictus grin.
Morrie hisses a breath. “Roy.”
I swing up the flamethrower to incinerate him, but Sara says “Don’t!” I move my finger off the trigger, asking, “Why?”
Except, Morrie sees me hesitate, and he must figure I’ve frozen up because he takes the flamethrower right out of my hands before I can object, and gives Roy a good long blast. Right through the seal.
The seal, which is just suddenly gone. Roy is briefly outlined in flame. Then a triumphant hate fills the tunnel and he slumps forwards into this sort of white gelatinous mass that somehow grows as it rolls squishily towards us. The flame isn’t even singeing it.
Morrie says, “Get back, everyone back!” and grabs me, but then the air goes out of the tunnel and he’s choking on an alien atmosphere. I cut over to generated oxygen and I can breathe but what should I do? I feel like I need to find a song to reinforce this place against being overwritten by the thing in front of me, but the stone here is too drained to have one.
I remember Sara’s words in the dream, “find your own song.”
Well shit, this is going to have consequences, but if I don’t want my friends and perhaps the whole school to be eaten… I find it, big me slides forwards to help, and I’m singing. Life, love, friendship, beauty, defiance against the dark, and a new dawn of kindness rising… it’s working, I’m asserting my power here, driving it back.
But I’m not just in one place.
In Mr Reilly’s jet I strain mightily to keep the power bottled in, he sees me doubled over and says “Are you alright?”
In Eli’s cabin, I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t stop it!” as the power bursts out of me in a blast of pink light that fills the room.
In the train, I’m desperately trying to hold it so I don’t cause a crash and kill everyone, but Tansy takes my hand and looks me in the eye and it’s like our souls meet, and she somehow understands and welcomes me in, and the power rushes into her in a brilliant stream.
In the skies over DC, a pink star shines.
In the tunnel, the force of my song is blasting out, pushing the thing back by grudging inches, back across the painted red line, back into where the seal was, and then the connection between wherever-that-is and here snaps, and there’s just a wall of blank stone in front of me. It’s gone, it won’t be back. I stop my song.
It’s as if I’m in a different place. The tunnel around me is wider, almost a cave, and it’s dripping and festooned with new life, phosphorescent vines and flowers, insect-plant things moving around and glowing and little motes of colour and white, dancing in the air. Which is back to breathable, in fact, it smells like the inside of a tropical greenhouse. The poop smells somehow blend into the scent of green growth.
The pink star over DC fades, and is just a Learjet again. I turn to Mr Reilly. “I really am genuinely sorry. I had no time to stop it. I suddenly had to fight something awful, but the power I had to use to fight it came out from all my bodies.”
He looks himself over. “I… don’t feel harmed. Healthy as a horse, if anything.”
The train carriage is festooned with strange vines and flowers, but it didn’t completely morph and derail, so yay. Tansy closes her eyes, blinks, croaks “wow”.
Eli’s cabin is a jungle. The place is more than half wood, and all of it has sprouted into branches, vines and flowers, everything smells wonderful but it’s like being tied up with old roots. Luckily everyone here is strong enough to rip loose of the stuff around us. Ben looks around. “Gonna need a new cabin, I think.”
Morrie looks around. “Well, fuck me. Thanks, Jules, but also, damn.”
Stan says, “I think we can cross off coming back down here.”
“Gonna need to close off the flow, upstream”, Morrie says. “No more hole to poop into.” He looks at me, “Do you think this stuff will try and come up the tunnel, back towards the school?”, indicating the new made life.
I look at it. It glows back at me contentedly. “It was made down here, it should be perfectly adapted. Yes, seems likely. Might not do any harm, though. Might even liven the place up.” Which gets a laugh.
Jade says, “Ow, what happened?” She’s sat on her butt in the ick. “Jann sensei fainted and then I couldn’t breathe and you were singing. What is all this stuff?”
“Is new, I think”, Stan says. “Jules creating life, hmm? I feel different, though. Are you okay?”
“I feel different too”, Jade sighs, standing up and making a vain effort to brush the ick off. “Like a weight’s been lifted, I don’t understand that. But nice as it suddenly is down here, I think I’d like some fresh air. And a shower.”
“Alright, let’s all get out”, Morrie says. “We’re done down here, and by the looks of it, we won’t need to come back.”
Tansy and I have staggered to the loo on the train, where I can check her over properly and explain what happened. Her eyes have changed to a lovely pink. “Um, I feel really weird, and also really good, and I think I can feel everything alive in the train and around it”, Tansy is babbling a bit, as I give her a scan.
“So I’ve got good news, and maybe-it’s-good news”, I tell her. “You’re uninjured, very healthy, all that power seems to have tied itself into you, so you’re kind of an extension of my power now. Um, but, I suggest you pull your skirt and knickers down.”
She looks curious, but does it, and then gasps.
I say, “I think you’ve gained a cup size or two up top, but you gained something else down below. The same system I have. Both kinds of undercarriage, both as far as I can tell fully operational. The balls are inside. You still have a clit, it’s underneath.” She also has a very pretty penis. Which comes erect as we look at it. “Do you want to keep it?”
She looks at me. “It came from you, so yes. It’s beautiful. Can I, can I touch it?”
“It’s yours, silly. Go ahead.”
I swirl the taste of Tansy’s first ever blowjob from the receiving side around in my mouth, then stand and kiss her, so she can share it. Delicious Tansy.
“I can feel the life in that, like sparkles”, she says, amazed.
“Mhm, that’s some lovely healthy living sperm”, I say. “I need to extend my contraceptive spell over your new bits, or you could get someone pregnant.”
“Am I perverted for really liking that idea?”
“If you are, so am I”, I grin. “Soon, when the Head takes down the rule against babies.”
“You sound so certain she will.”
“I can feel it”, I say. “And god, I’m looking forward to it. I want to carry Sara’s so bad. As well as impregnate half the school. But for now”, I adjust the spell, “You’re back to firing blanks, which means you can get in lots of lovely practise.”
She looks down at her now soft and saliva-shiny penis. “I think with this, I can handle boys. But I kind of want to get them pregnant.”
“Can be done”, I say amused. “I’d need to adjust their bodies a bit, give them a womb and ovaries connected to their ass, widen their hips so the baby can fit out. Their body would take care of the rest, growing a child is one of the oldest instincts. It’s kind of hot as an idea. Maybe you’ll get some takers when the influence gets stronger?”
“Mmm, I’d like that”, says Tansy, and she’s hard again.
I don’t mention my half-worry that what I did a few minutes ago might have given everyone in the school a whole big whack of influence.
In the skies over DC, as we descend towards a landing, I explain what just happened.
“So the only way you had to fight this thing was do a spell song for yourself?”
“Not exactly a spell song, I wasn’t tying sorcery into it, I was just amplifying myself, and my life powers. Asserting that I had a right to be there and it didn’t.”
“And it came out from all your other bodies too?”
“Less than at ground zero, but yeah. And as to what that means, truthfully, I have no idea. I’ve never done that before. But it might mean a whole lot of influence. And since you and a few others were right next to it, I’d not be surprised if you’ve been influenced all the way.”
“Do you have any way to test it?”
I pull big me forward and consult. “We can test. Please give us your hand.” Then when he does, we say, “Fully influenced.” Big me slides back down. “Sorry. It’s not something I can undo.”
“Me and half of DC, I shouldn’t wonder.” He sounds a bit shocked. “Well, this is a fine mess, but there’s nothing for it but to own up and tell them the truth.”
I nod agreement.
The test comes back the same on Jade, Stan and Morrie. “Fully influenced, all of you. Um, and Jade, you should sit down, I’ve got some news, I couldn’t help picking it up. Um, good news.”
“Not like I can get dirtier”, she says, sitting. “What kind of news needs me sat down?”
“You know your, um, surgical alterations?” She nods. “I found your regen has started undoing them. But you’re not going back to boy. You’re already about one third the way to a cis girl, and it’s still shifting. I estimate five minutes to completion. Whatever curse you were under, standing next to that blast blew it out like a candle in a hurricane.”
As I explain I watch her face shift from worry, to hope, to shocked joy. “I get to be a real girl?”
“You always were, dummy, but you get to have a real girl body now. Or rather in about five minutes’ time.”
“And will I grow up?”
“I think it’s likely. Give me a day or two for comparison and I’ll see if you’re changing that way too. I don’t think the age will just come straight back, but it might go faster than normal.”
She’s on her feet and jumping. “Woo! So awesome!”
I look to Stan and Morrie. “That’s the good news. The bad news is, I don’t know how far the blast radius from that song went, but we’re right next to Dunwich and I’d be wildly unsurprised if they’re all fully influenced too.”
Not to mention, I realise, right next to Donna.
While Morrie is telling me that it couldn’t be helped, and things are as they are, I send a link nudge to Donna. “Donna mama, I need to check in. Did you see a pink light a few minutes ago?”
“Shining right through the wall, and the trees, yes”, she sounds amused. “I thought that was you, love.”
“Feeling any different?”
She nods. “I’ve come to recognise how your influence feels, sweetie. And I just got a big dose of it. It feels good, though. Kind of like having cobwebs cleared out of my head.”
“You’d best get on the line to ARC. I’m not sure whether we need to do any clean-up or containment, but I suspect you and most of Dunwich got dragged all the way. I’ll explain in a bit.”
“On it. Love you lots.”
“Love you too, mama.”
Tansy and me don’t get to try out any more uses of her new bits, because the guard has come banging on the loo door, wanting answers. Which promises to be no fun.
Worse, I get a nudge on links from the Head. “Miss Parallel, those two pink glows a couple minutes ago, the ones that shone right through solid brickwork as if it was frosted glass, those wouldn’t be you, would they?”
“Um, yes, ma’am, and sorry.”
“Doyle informs me they are dealing with half a dozen sudden psychological breaks. Students and staff are in a panic and asking me what happened. I would like you to explain to me in small words, like the silly old headmistress I am, what in the bloody hell you were up to?”
While I’m explaining to her, I’m also explaining to Eli and the wolves. It’s made more complicated by the fact they haven’t been keeping up with developments, so I have to explain influence to them from scratch. And meanwhile we’re seeing if the cabin can be salvaged, with me using a saber to trim back the new growth. The whole forest around us looks different, though.
“And there was no alternative?” the Head asks, interrupting the end of my explanation.
“None that wouldn’t have left Jade, Stan and Morrie dead, and that thing loose.”
“And you couldn’t have just avoided… no, I suppose you did try.”
“Sometimes the bear pokes you, ma’am.”
“Sometimes it does”, she agrees with a sigh. “We should have been more careful about that site. I was informed it was being managed. I should have sought an expert second opinion.”
“I think it was me, my coming here, and my hatching that stirred it up.”
“It was already leaking”, she says. “Sometimes it’s easy to take the status quo as timeless, rather than a warning of trouble to come. A leaking dam will eventually burst. If I’d had it dealt with properly a decade ago, that thing might still be in its box.”
“Upside, it’s well and truly gone. Even a danger in a box is just a problem set aside. Where it is now, it won’t be coming back.”
“Yes, that is the upside. The downside is a massive surge in influence in my school.”
“Couldn’t be helped. Very well, I shall get off the line, I have things to explain to people.”
By the time the maintenance truck gets back to school grounds, Jade has finished her change. And is all but glowing with happiness. As soon as we get near Poe, she jumps off the moving truck. “Gotta go tell people!”
“Shower first!”, I yell after her, making the others laugh.
“You can jump down too if you want, too?” Morrie says, stopping the truck. “And, um, I’m sorry for grabbing that flamethrower. You knew the seal would tear if you flamed it, didn’t you? That’s why you stopped.”
“Sara knew it”, I say. “I just stopped because she said to. But it’s okay, these things happen, and it worked out for the best.”
He nods, and I jump off too. A teleport takes me into my room in Poe, and startles Erin, who tells me to get out of the stinky uniform, so I make it vanish. Then I make a gown and head to the showers, only to be nearly run into by a completely naked Jade. “Oh hey Jules, sorry, I’m off to shower too.”
“Bare ass naked?”
“I’m showing it off. You like?”
“Hot stuff for a twelve year old”, I tease. Which gets me punched, in an amused way. “How does it feel?”
“Better. You would not believe how much better.” She sighs. “I don’t yet know what being fully influenced means, I think I’m not a slut yet, but I’d love to walk around school like this all day and let everyone look. Not sexually, just, look at me being a girl. And I can’t wait to show Stephen.”
“He’ll appreciate it”, I say.
Everyone has had to get off the train at Concord, and they’re sending a new one to pick everyone up and carry on to Manchester, while the old one gets towed into a siding to be gone over by engineers. Meanwhile, Tansy and me are stuck explaining ourselves to station staff and a slightly incredulous looking cop. I have to demonstrate the multi body thing, which is easy enough. But there’s no way I can demonstrate having to fight a blob-monster in a school sewer. Short of throwing them links and replaying it, which I think would be extremely inadvisable. In the end we give them our school address, they call up and confirm it’s genuine, and then they let us go in time to catch the replacement train. Once they’ve totalled the damages, it might get expensive. A problem for another day.
Tansy meanwhile is grumpy that her top doesn’t fit any more, even after she took off the pinching bra. So we’re going to have to stop off and do shopping as soon as we hit Boston. Upside, she’s offered to guide me around the nice places, too.
Mr Reilly’s jet has landed at Washington airport, but we’ve been met by a delegation of military, instead of the expected car. It seems my little light show over the city has resulted in my meeting with the brass getting bumped forward. No reason to panic there then…
Eli, Ben and I survey the restored cabin. “It’ll need new doors, and a few new fittings, but I’d call it liveable”, Ben says. “We can go round with a plane and smooth off all the nubs and stumps.”
“Sorry, I kinda wrecked your morning.”
“Keeps us on our toes, kid.”
Me in Poe gets a nudge from Sara on links, she feels strained. “Jules, sorry, could I have your attention. Do you know where Jade is?”
“In the shower stall next to me, singing about being a girl.”
“You need to get her out of there and find a bathtub in a hurry.”
“When you knocked Jade’s curse loose, you broke the anchor for Jet’s. It’s fraying fast. Sorry, I’ve been busy trying to get a grasp on it, but I don’t think I can hold on to it for much longer.”
Mweh-oh. “Um, Jade, problem.”
“I think Jet’s memories might be coming back. Like, real soon now on the order of minutes or less. Including the shoggoth ones.”
“Well, poop. Okay, showerus interruptus.”
We both make a naked dash for Mrs Horton’s rooms, since she’s the only one either of us knows has a bathtub. She comes to the door at our banging, and then we rush Jade to the tub. She sits there, looking soaked and a little shocked.
And then Jade just suddenly goes bloop. One second, girl, the next, an equal volume of quivering black goo.
We were in time, I guess? I look at Mrs Horton, and then realise I’m naked, and dripping water on her floor.
While I’m explaining shoggoth memories to Mrs Horton (and helping mop up the mess we left, running in dripping wet), I send a body to Sara’s room, and peek in. She’s on the bed, curled around and comforting a sobbing Jet. I come over to sit beside them. “Got her to the tub in time, she’ll be okay.”
Sara glances up and smiles, and Jet says in a small voice, “good”.
I just sit by them for a moment, reaching down to pet Jet. Then Sara says, “I’m sorry for making you run around like that on no notice, Jules. I was just in an awful rush. When we saw that pink light, Jet felt something had changed, right away. Then when I took a look, I found her curse was weakening. I was still peeking over your shoulder, and when you figured out that Jade’s curse had been blown away, I connected the dots. Bad Kellith had linked them.”
Jet says, “And it was coming unravelled and at first I was happy, yay, I could go back to being Jade. But then I realised I’d no longer be me, and I suddenly didn’t want that.”
Sara picks up, “And then I was fighting to stabilise her and re-anchor it so we could have some time to think what to do, but that curse was deliberately made to slip through my fingers. So I just had to yell at you to grab Jade, and at least that way one of them would be alright.”
“We were both expecting me to die”, Jet says. “When I felt the memories go, I thought that was the last thing. And then I was still here, and I just don’t understand.”
“It’s a Jet-shaped miracle”, says Sara. “I’m happy to accept it as it is.”
“But who am I?”, Jet says. “I don’t think I’ll go back to being Jade, but am I stuck forever like this, inhabiting a bit of cloth? What does that make me?”
I have a thought. “Can I scan you?”
“Sure, if you want to”, she sounds glum, like she doesn’t expect anything. And indeed, if you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have expected a scan on Jet to just return ‘non-alive’. I’ve never picked her up as alive by just being around her. But the business with the helicopter has made me wonder. She does register as a null, but is it the null of absence, or the null of resistance?
And I find what I half expected. Life sense can’t scan into her, it stops at her surface. “Sweetie, try and deliberately let my scan in?”
And then she does, and I have to conscript a heap of extra parallels just to handle the data surge. Whoa. Her body is emulating human form and human organs, even human cells, but it’s far from inanimate cloth. There’s a complexity to it that goes down to the atomic level. As well as an intelligence. I can feel it, her body, looking back at me. It sees my scan. It chooses to permit it.
I look at Sara. “What exactly did you make her body from?”
She gets thoughtful, and does the feathering out a tentacle tip thing and strokes Jet. Then, “Oh! That explains it. You see, when I made that liquid cloth stuff, I told the humans a particular story about it, to make it sound like my own invention. But actually I was following a template. It was a simplified version of shoggoth-stuff. Theirs is complex and alive, mine was simple, repetitive, and merely physical, so I thought. But it’s been hosting someone with shoggoth memories for a while now. And I think, the parts of your mind that think that way, Jet, saw my simplifications as damage, and repaired them.”
“Then why didn’t I notice?”, Jet asks quietly.
I say, “You’ve been used to seeing yourself as one of the J-team, inhabiting and controlling something, but not identifying with it.”
“And I’m not any more, am I? I’m not in the J-team at all, that part of me went back. But what does that make me now?”
“It might be like Paige and Petra”, I say. “A soul stretched across two bodies can anchor down. We haven’t been thinking of your form as a body, but whatever it started as, it definitely is one now. And I guess, if we go by those two, that makes you Jade’s sister?”
“Not biologically, though”, Sara says thoughtfully. “Biologically, you’re one of the stranger things on campus. And that may be a strength, once you learn to use it.”
“I don’t even want to think about it right now”, Jet says. “I’m glad to just be here and alive. I guess I am actually alive, too, now. This is just weird. Gah.” And she hides her face against Sara, hugging close. Then muffled, “I guess I’m still your bodyguard, then?”
“Sweetie, all your debts are paid, in full and more than full”, Sara says. “You can still be my bodyguard if you want to. But it’s not an obligation.”
“I’ll think about it”, comes the muffled reply.
What with switching trains and missing our connection, it’s surprising we’re only an hour late into Boston. But Tansy definitely has the frustrated zoomies, and as soon as the train door whooshes open, we’re off and power-walking, her leading and me in tow, since she knows her way around.
“The original plan is toast”, she says, as we go through the ticket gates and head for the taxi rank. “I can’t go anywhere looking like this. So priority one is we hit a mall. And we’ll have to see if they have somewhere to grab lunch in a rush, because I have to get to my lawyer in just under an hour. After that, the schedule gets a bit more relaxed.”
“Hartford mentioned you had other business, too. If I can help by being present, or being absent, or just never mentioning it again, give the word.”
“You can help. But we’ll talk about that later.”
We reach the taxi, she gives directions, then we jump in.
As we drive, she leans up against me, and says, “I’m trying not to let it mess with me, but I can’t get over how crammed with life this place feels. I can pinpoint every driver in the cars around me. I can feel the bugs in the footwell. I can feel them loving me, and I can’t help but love them a little back. And when I’m in a building, it’s like being in a galaxy. Is this how it is with you all the time?”
“Yeah”, I put my arm around her and snuggle. “Particularly when I get charged up, you haven’t seen me do my Disney princess thing have you? All surrounded by tweety birds and talking to them.”
She giggles at the image. “Not yet, but it sounds fun. Maybe I can do that, now, too.” A pause. “God, that was ridiculous what we did. You just coming out with this immense blast of power, like a sneeze or an orgasm you couldn’t control, and me just wide eyed and drinking it down. I have no idea how I didn’t die.”
“Life power, duh”, I tease, which makes her punch me in the arm.
“Ass. And don’t say, that too!”
We’re both laughing when we pull up outside the mall.
While we were waiting to get off Mr Reilly’s plane, I had a chance to switch up for a fresh body and a fresh uniform. So at least I don’t look like a complete urchin, while waiting nervously in a big meeting room in the outer ring of the Pentagon. Mr Reilly still finds a few things to straighten and align, and I let him.
Then a man comes in, and shuts the door behind him. He’s not too tall, but there’s a whole lot of ribbons pinned to his jacket, and five stars on his shoulders. “I’m General Pace. Are you Miss Parallel and Mr Reilly?”
I nod. “We are.”
“Good. Sorry for moving the schedule up, but we have an urgent need to understand what that business with the pink light was.”
“An accidental power spill-over. I did something in one body, that caused my power to overflow uncontrollably in all the others, including the one in that plane. Have you been briefed on WARS radio interview I gave?” He nods curtly, which means he knows what influence is. “In the other locations affected, the effects it had were full influence out to a certain distance, and partial influence beyond that. If you saw the light, I expect that means you were affected. Also spontaneous creation of lifeforms, but that’s probably less pressing.”
“What radius for the full effect?”
“I have limited data. Mr Reilly, who was right next to me, is fully influenced. Almost certainly everyone right under our flight path. Maybe some other large percentage of the city too. Full influence didn’t reach all the way from Dunwich to Whateley school, so there’s a limit. This was the first time I’ve used that ability, because I expected it to be messy, and it was. I’m not sure if you care about the back story, but I had an urgent good reason to use it.”
“We’ll debrief you on all the details later”, he says, “For now, I need to know what effects to expect. Beyond those I already know from your radio interview.”
“In Whateley, we’ve had a few students having mental breakdowns, and my guess is that they’ve been slammed face first into the lies they’ve been telling themselves, without the benefit of a counsellor or taking it slow. On the other hand, people who’re honest with themselves may barely show any difference. I don’t think there’s any immediate public health danger. But of course, that’s conjecture.”
He nods. “Alright, I think that covers what I need to know. I’m letting you go, but stay contactable, both of you. I’ll send someone to escort you out.”
We’re picked up by the proper DARPA-car this time, and while we’re driving, Mr Reilly says, “General Pace is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. About as senior as it gets. For him to come and interview us personally, I expect you must have caught the President in your influence, and they want to know what to do about it.”
“Yeah. And he recognised what I was talking about when I mentioned breakdowns”, I say.
Mr Reilly smirks. “I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if a few members of Congress suddenly had to face a few home truths they’d been avoiding. And are presently taking an unplanned vacation in a calming environment.”
“With or without straitjacket”, I agree.
In Boston, Tansy has got her boobs re-measured (36 double-D) and then scandalised a Victoria’s Secret by browsing the bras topless, and trying them on in situ. Before plomping half a dozen on the sales counter (causing the cute and possibly lesbian clerk to glow almost incandescent), and then asking for them to take the tags off the white one, and putting it on right there. I’m not sure if the sigh that went around the shop was relief or sadness. We bustled out of there and found a shop with the kind of suits she likes, and sat down for more measuring. She insisted they measure me up too. Hence my current state of mostly undress. Tits out but knickers on is evidently de rigeur around tailors. I would be in my bra, but I rarely bother to wear one. Then we go through the kinds of options, and I pick simple black over white, with a skirt, and can they get a pleated one so it gives me freedom of movement?
Tansy assures me that in my first real suit, I’ll knock ’em dead. Let’s hope that stays metaphorical.
While I’m catching up the Kimbas and Pack on the Jade and Jet situation, I’m helping the weres with the damage I accidentally did to their village. There’s several other overgrown cabins near ground zero, although thankfully my lightsaber is very effective at trimming the various vines and trunks. It’s worth wondering what’s new in the forest, too. I can see several new kinds of plant. And a few new kinds of bird. Most of them are marked with some sort of bioluminescence, that seems to be a thing my power likes to make. To be fair, I do find it beautiful.
Eli comes over with sandwiches. “Here, I salvaged breakfast.”
I accept mine gratefully. “Thanks. Sorry, every time I come over, I seem to bring complications.”
She grins. “From what I understand, you’ve made my people basically unable to lie to themselves. For all it’s a complication, I’ll take it. Some of us might have trouble with it in the short term. But as a group we’ll be stronger for it.”
“Speaking of”, says Ben. He’s looking at a young man who’s approaching us - he’s somewhere in the 18 to 20 range by looks. Although it’s a little hard to judge because of the lattice of scars covering his face and bare chest. “Carl.” There’s a note of warning in Ben’s voice.
“So she is here”, Carl says, looking at me. The scars are visibly fading as we speak, they must be only moments old. “That thing just now, that was you, wasn’t it?”
“It was me”, I admit.
“Well, congratulations, you loused up the plans I had. I’ve been following you when you went into the woods. I could smell Sara on you, like you’d been rolling all around in her scent. I was going to call a formal challenge. But whatever you did just smashed my face into how much of a fuck-up I am. She’s not my mate, never was, no matter what the laws have to say on it. I’m just some dumb shit trying to make like he’s a big man, and failing to fucking learn I’m not. And”, he looks around at the chopped up wood, “blinded by my stupidity too, because I didn’t hear no damn chainsaw, all of this was you, wasn’t it? I would have lost that fight. You’d have cut me up like one of these logs.”
“Yeah, if I was fighting for serious”, I say. “But I wouldn’t be. I’d be fighting to teach. Although I think you’d still have lost.” Because he looks like he has zero self control, and some of the opponents in my sim fight were werewolf-tough and cunning with it.
“Lookit you on your high horse.” He spits. “Before that pink light, I wouldn’t have learned, no matter how much you pounded it into me. Now, I don’t have to. I can see you’re sure. I can see Ben’s sure. And there’d be no damn point anyway, because I know I don’t have a mate. Which means”, he looks at Ben and Eli, then at me, “that there is one thing you can do for me. Fucking end me. Use whatever you used to cut up that wood, and cut me up, and then the law will be done and this game can end. I interfered with a minor, and she’s not my mate, so it’s death. That’s the law.”
“So change the law”, I say, and it’s my turn to look at Eli. “I don’t think, with everyone influenced, you’ll be getting any more rapists. And the last thing your people would want on their consciences is having to kill someone for a mistake they won’t repeat. Sara hasn’t asked for his life.”
Eli nods. “She hasn’t. All of us have been content to leave things as they were.”
“Except me, you know that, right?” Carl snarls. “Caught between my own stupid ego and a lie everyone pretends is true. Everyone would rather say up is down, than just kill me and get it over with. Do you have any clue how that feels? How worthless that makes my life feel?”
Ben says, “Our people weren’t meant to live inside a lie”, and there’s compassion in his voice. “Eli, we should take it to the council, but Jules has a point. Ways change.”
Eli nods. “You won’t be dying yet, Carl. We need to decide if the law that condemns you is in need of being rewritten. So get back home, help your folks clean up the mess, and keep your head down.”
“And you won’t just fob me off forever, and leave me in limbo again?”
“We won’t. You aren’t at the top of our agenda, but you’ll be on it. I recognise my own failing in this. No more limbo.”
“For that, at least, thank you”, he makes a bow that takes in me and Eli, and then turns and goes.
With him gone, Ben looks at Eli. “Thirty second blast of power, and he learns more than he did in the last three months.”
“No, we can’t put this on him”, Eli shakes her head. “How could he learn? The truth would mean he was dead. No one else was willing to face it, I wasn’t, you weren’t. He’s just a kid, he stayed alive, that’s what we expect cubs to do. No, I say Jules has the right of it, that law has done him a wrong and it needs changing.”
“Let’s hope the others agree”, Ben says.
Lunch with Tansy is fresh lobster in a bread roll at a cute little bar-stool eatery in the mall. Seems it’s a Boston speciality, and I can vouch that it’s delicious - even when eaten in a hurry. Then we have to flag down another taxi and dash to her appointment.
Tansy’s lawyer, Mr Dalgliesh, has a kind of fusty, Victorian feel to him. Formally dressed, frizzy white hair, slight frown. “Miss Walcutt, attorney-client privilege means that I cannot be required to testify or provide evidence about anything I hear from, or say to you, in my role as your attorney. Your friend, however, is not my client and neither is she your attorney. So she is not protected, and if she is present, neither is our conversation.”
“Which would be an issue if I was going to spill any secrets, but I’m not.” Tansy says. “I’m trying to get emancipated from my father, who has been trying to declare me non compos mentis and have me dragged out of school against my wishes. That’s in the public record already.”
“The events in your school’s disciplinary hearing are in the public record. Your choice to seek emancipation in response is not.”
“It will be. I want to know what’s involved, and if you can do this for me.”
Which gets a frown from Tansy, and it looks like she’s going to say something back, but he cuts across. “You are paying for my time with your father’s money, Miss Walcutt. Your father hired me, and although I am your attorney, not his, for me to oppose him in court would be a conflict of interest. For any attorney to do so, with money coming from his bank account and not yours, would be stupid. He can turn off the tap on that card of yours with one telephone call.”
That leaves Tansy looking frustrated, but she nods. “I see.”
“What I can do, is help you understand the law that will apply to your case. Happily, New Hampshire has just recently passed a law permitting partial emancipation of minors. It sets out the requirements you will need to meet. Which we shall now review.”
Over in Whateley, lunch begins with the Head calling for everyone’s attention. She looks like she’s had a rough morning.
“Alright, quiet down. So, you’ve probably heard rumours going around already, but that pink light earlier was in fact Miss Parallel fighting a monster that could have endangered the school, and thank goodness, defeating it. Unfortunately the technique she used has side effects. Everyone present here has received a strong burst of her influence. In addition, pretty much everyone in Dunwich has been fully influenced, which includes several students out on exeats. At the moment, we’ve been asked by the authorities to keep this quiet. I expect, though, that word will leak out, and there will be a media feeding frenzy. If you are contacted by reporters, the two words I want you to remember please, are ‘no comment’. Unless you have a burning desire to be on sewer detention for the rest of term.”
She takes a moment for that to sink in, then, “Several students have had emotional problems as a result of this, and they will be taking a temporary break from classes. Doyle has informed me the mental health department has been placed on alert and is is open for walk-ins without appointments. Please do take advantage of this if you need it.”
A pause, then, “I have instructed the staff to be lenient with students, while we all adjust to this change. I will determine in due course whether any further rules need adjusting. For now, let me just clarify that the rule for fraternisation is that you must keep it to places where you do not expect to be seen by anyone who doesn’t consent. That means keeping it inside your rooms on a red or yellow flag day, please, as strangers may be visiting any of the public areas. And otherwise, keep it out of the halls. And that goes for sexual displays of affection, too.”
A hand goes up. “Yes?”
“What if we’re somewhere private, and someone who doesn’t consent barges in?”
“Then it will be on them to leave. Unless it’s a place they have an overriding right to be, such as their own room.”
No more hands go up. I think the whole school is a bit shocky, with one thing and another.
As we settle down to eat, or in Ayla’s case, pick grimly at the food, Sara says, “I wonder if she realises she’s just green-lighted closed door orgies?”
Which gets a smirk from Toni. “She knows, she’s not stupid. I figure she thinks they’re inevitable, and it would be best to make rules that say where you can’t do ’em.”
“Sadly, no fucking in the halls”, says Paige with a grin to Sara. “I wonder what the boundary for sexual PDA is? A kiss? A hand on the ass?”
“We shall have to find out”, Sara looks amused, and play-acts, “Miss, is it okay, if I do this? How about this?” Which makes several of the others snicker.
“I don’t envy her”, Ayla says. “So many fiddly little corner cases.” He sighs, “my own big announcement is completely overshadowed, but anyway, next week is my birthday, and I’m planning on inviting you all out to lunch on the 27th, all the Kimbas, Jules, and Sara, the people who know me well. I’ll also extend that to the rest of the Pack, if they’re interested. We’ll be going to Harrison’s Restaurant in Boston, all expenses paid.”
There’s a pause, as people assimilate that, then Toni says, “You’re going to throw your own birthday party?”
“In my circles, it’s normal. If you want an elaborate wine tasting party at a Bordeaux vineyard, you arrange the entire thing. Or rather, your personal assistant arranges it for you. Now I’m not doing anything that fancy. Just lunch together, in a nice restaurant.”
“In Boston,” Hank says. “We haven’t had a lot of luck getting out of there without major collateral damage.”
Ayla nods, “Yeah, but this time, we’ll go with some Whateley Security officers, and we’ll alert Captain Tilley. It’ll be just fine. We just won’t go attack bank robbers that are on the television.”
Toni rolls her eyes. “Oh yeah, that’ll take care of everything.”
“Oh, come on!” Ayla grumps. “The first time in Boston was our fault! We went out of our way to stick our noses in and fight bad guys. Twice. Then, the second time we went to Boston, we knew damned well Captain Tilley was going to throw us at the Arch-Fiend, if not a couple of his pals too. Okay, it escalated beyond that. This time, we just don’t have to dive into the nearest fracas. Besides, we can all bring friends. Or dates. And maybe that’ll keep some of us occupied.”
“Dates, huh?”, Nikki says, sounding interested.
“Can you put a keep-out spell on the door?”, Tansy asks.
We’re in the ladies’ loos in a small shopping arcade, and right now we’re the only ones in the room. I make a small sorcery to make people think it’s closed, then say “Sure, done, what’s up?”
“It’s the first time I haven’t been in a rush since I got here.” She’s stripping out of her clothes, and piling them carefully on the counter by the wash basins. “I wanna see what’s changed, and not in some scratched up postage stamp of a mirror on a moving train. This”, she gestures to the large wall mirror, “will do nicely.”
Tansy naked continues to be amazingly beautiful, the additions haven’t changed that at all. She strikes some poses, looking at herself. “The pink eyes are kind of unsubtle, but I like them, they remind me of you. And I guess these knockers really aren’t out of proportion, even if I’m not used to the size. I wonder why they grew?”
“Dunno, I wasn’t trying to reshape you, I wasn’t really trying to do anything at all except push the power into you. Maybe it represents you feeling more maternal or something?”
She considers that. “Might be. I do, you know. Except it’s kind of towards everything, all the living things?” She sounds thoughtful, then gets distracted by looking at her new undercarriage. She tilts her hips to the side, then tries wagging her butt side to side. “This wiggles when it’s soft, I love it, it’s so cute. I had no idea I wanted one, but now it’s here, I’m keeping it. I wonder what it looks like from behind?”
“Allow me”, I make a warp so she can see herself from the back, Portal style.
“Huh, my ass is hot”, she laughs. Then bends forward at the waist and looks. “Just kinda hangs down like a big clit. I can live with that. Oops, and it popped up.”
“Means you’re horny for yourself.” A feeling I know well, and enjoy indulging.
“It’s not wrong, I need to learn to do your multi body trick. Huh, speaking of tricks, is my pee gonna come out of this now?”
I release the warp. “Yeah, your urethra got rerouted. Just point it at the bowl. Or if you’re sitting down to pee, you might have to push it down a bit with your finger. If it’s erect, it will usually refuse to let the pee out until you think about cold water and cabbages for a bit.”
Which makes her laugh. She walks into a stall, not bothering to close the door, and lets fly experimentally with a stream. “Oh heck, how do you aim it?”
“Ohhh, right.” Followed by the sound of water hitting water. “This is kind of neat. How’d you reckon I ought to tell the school I’ve got one? I can’t really just pull it out and wave it around at dinner when we get back. Even if that would be simplest.”
“I reckon, come with me to Poe, and I’ll see if I can’t get Mrs Horton to call a meeting for the lesbians there, which is most of them in the school. Then the word will get out, quick as gossip.”
“Huh, yeah, that would work.” Sound of the toilet flushing. “That is so convenient. It hardly gets wet, one dab and it’s dry.”
“Don’t forget to peel the skin back from the end bit when you dry it or wash it”, I say, “Otherwise it can get icky.” Not advice mothers usually give girls.
“Yeah, I’ve met my fair share of those”, she makes a gag-me-with-a-finger gesture, then goes to wash her hands. “You know, I was thinking about that group I’m meaning to start. Vamp’s name for it is cute, and it’s not like they won’t just call us slut club no matter what we pick. But it doesn’t really capture what I’m trying to achieve. So I was thinking of calling it the ‘givers’. Giver, singular, for one of us. That says what I’m trying to mean, we give ourselves to others.”
“Huh. I like it. It might keep out the horny heterosexual hordes, too.”
She giggles. “Yeah. Like, we want to recruit some hetero boys, but we want ones that want to give, not to take. I don’t think I’ve met any like that, except maybe Cody, and he’s more give and take at the same time. Although maybe I was hanging with the wrong crowd?”
“I guess we’ll find that out when we open up membership”, I say. “Reminds me, have you had any thoughts about how we mark ourselves out so people know who’s a member?”
She nods. “Needs to be something big and obvious from a distance, easy to recognise with no fiddly detail, but nothing crude so it doesn’t get banned. So I thought, chunky plastic pendants, just a big plain disc, and colour them according to who you’re offering yourself to. Like, I dunno, pink for girls, blue for boys, obviously. Purple for fem intersex. Teal for masc intersex. Green for true androgyny. If it’s more than one, stripe them.”
“White if it’s everybody, rather than having it striped like a candy”, I offer.
She snickers. “Vamp will like that. Easier to coordinate with her outfits. Yeah, that works. And if you’re on an off day or haven’t the time to play, you can just take it off. I’ll see if I can find someone who’ll make them for us when we get back.” She grins and sits up on the counter. “Okay, next up is my errand for Hartford. It’s just a simple delivery. You can come along with me. You look smart enough in that suit they’ll figure we’re together. Just don’t ask any questions, don’t talk unless someone talks to you, don’t stare people down if they stare at you. Smile and be invisible, hmm?”
I nod, “I figure I can do that.”
She jumps down off the counter. “Cool, alright, let’s go.”
She looks at the pile, and then snickers. “God damn, I am going to get myself in trouble, aren’t I?”
“Until everyone else catches up”, I agree.
In DC, I’m currently enjoying a burger in the DARPA staff canteen. My first proper calm moment after getting here, since I’ve been telling various boffins the details of what happened and what they might expect the effect on the city to be. I think everyone is a bit frustrated with how much I don’t know, but I guess we’ll all find out more shortly. They’ve got the news on the TV in the canteen, although of course the news anchor has no clue. Was it space aliens? Was it mutants? Was it some new military thing? And why has it covered a several mile swathe of DC north of the airport in vines, flowers and critters that seem to be new to science? Is Mars attacking, or possibly Venus?
Mr Reilly, who’s sat opposite me, sighs. “They’re going to trace it to my plane, you know. It’s listed as a military flight, but all the data is public - timings, flight paths. This may end up with you having to explain yourself into a microphone. We’ll see what the brass decide to do. Sorry, this has thrown all my plans into disarray. I was going to take you out for lunch somewhere nice, as a kind of welcome to DC.”
“I can’t complain it wasn’t an exciting morning, though.” I grin. “We can go out for dinner, perhaps. Meanwhile this burger suits me fine.”
“Easy to please, I like it.” He nods. “Would you be alright doing a stint in the labs after this? For obvious reasons, everyone’s curiosity about you has only increased.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
As I’m done with lunch in Whateley and heading out of Dunn along with Sara, she says, “So, a couple of bits of news about the conference and our plans. It seems the Seattle PD is famously awful, so instead we’re going to be working with a local super team, the Seattle Knights, to handle security and anti-terrorism. I’m hoping we can go over there and introduce ourselves to them, with Daddy’s help, tomorrow. Will you be up for that?”
I nod. “Might as well send the me that’s already in his realm. Avoids having to ask for an exeat, I’m not sure if I’m exactly in good odour right now.”
“Oh they know it wasn’t your fault, silly.” She ruffles my hair.
“Doesn’t mean they won’t be mad at me.”
“Perhaps”, she admits. “Well, and the second thing is, there’s somebody from my cult who has been running that side of the project, and they’ve asked me for a favour in return. They’d like to meet you. They have a favour to ask you.”
“Okay, go on? Because that’s a very cagey request.” I grin.
“They want secrecy. Their name doesn’t get out, their request doesn’t get out, you don’t identify them as a member of my cult to anyone. It stays between them, you, and me.”
“A villain huh? If they’re in your cult, love, they can’t be somebody awful.”
Sara grins, and it’s a bit of a toothy, predatory grin. “Not any more, I cleaned those out. So, do you agree?”
“Sweetheart, you know perfectly well that I trust you beyond absolutely, and if you think it’s okay, then it’s okay. So yes, I sign on the dotted line, sight unseen.”
She gives me a kiss. “Thank you, love. You’ll find out more when you and she meet.”
Well, that’s one binary bit of data…
Amusingly, outside Dunn, the three little witches have got their stall set up, a little late for most of the lunch rush, but with enthusiasm. “Fly pies, try a sample, first one’s free!” Wisely, they’ve cooked very small pies, barely more than party nibble sized. We join the curious crowd. The sign over the stall says in large letters painted on what was probably previously a bed sheet, ‘Delishus fly pies made with no flys’.
Ayla, who I suspect has joined the throng out of fascination at the awfulness, asks, “If there are no flies in them, what are they made from?”
Clover says “There’s shrimps and mushrooms and…” but Abra puts a hand over her mouth so the rest comes out as ‘mmmph’. “The recipe is a secret. If you have allergies you shouldn’t eat them. But they’re good. Try one?”
Ayla looks unconvinced, but after a moment, nods. “After Dunn Hall food, maybe it will be an improvement.” He accepts a pie on its individual tinfoil dish, and sniffs, then tries a nibble. “The pastry is a little overdone, but hmm, the taste really is quite interesting. Not bad, not bad.” Which is pretty high praise coming from him.
“Okay, I want one now”, Toni says from behind me.
And the rush begins. I can’t help giggling, but I also snag one for Sara and one for me. They’re tasty, with a flavour somewhere between fish pie and mushrooms, with a hint of some interesting, perhaps Chinese spices? I think the kids are on to a hit.
Telling Tansy this - and letting her try the flavour, over links - puts her into an uncontrollable fit of giggles, and she has to stop and lean against a wall for a while. “Oh my god, they actually did it. And made it work. That is so wonderful.”
“I wonder if it will take the sting out of being transformed into a frog? People might be lining up for it, just to try the original.” The mental image of Circe nonplussed as people ask to spend a day as a frog makes me crack up too.
In the end we have to spend several minutes trying to breathe deeply and think about anything except frogs before we can gather up enough seriousness not to randomly explode into giggles again.
With a bit of quiet time back at Whateley, I decide to go wandering in search of Vamp. Conveniently she’s in the first place I look, which is her room, but I can tell from the sound that she’s got somebody over. Should I interrupt? Well, worst case I can ask her if she wants to talk later. So I peek in at the conveniently open door. “Hey Vamp, busy?”
“Oh hey Jules!” Vamp bounces up from the bed where she’d been sitting. “Come in, meet Tara, her codename is X-O, although, do you two know each other already?”
“I think we’ve just seen each other in passing”, I say, “Hi, I’m Jules, codename Parallel.” She’s a cute, brown haired girl, presumably from the lesbian side of Poe.
“Pleased to meecha”, she smiles.
“And sorry about that pink light business”, I say.
“Doesn’t seem to have done me any harm”, Tara says.
And Vamp nods, “yeah, me too, I think if you’d got me with that a week ago, it would have twisted me in knots. But I’ve kinda faced up to a whole lot of my bullshit already, so it just kinda patted me on the back, attavamp.”
Which makes me grin. “Well good. You’ve earned that. Sorry though, I totally interrupted you two, were you talking about anything nifty?”
“We were just talking about her power”, Vamp says. “It’s this shiny metallic carapace thing, except it eats electronics for some reason.”
“X-O as in exoskeleton”, confirms Tara, suddenly going metallic silver. “It trashes stuff like wristwatches and phones, and then it brings them back, for some strange reason”, she shows a watch on her wrist she wasn’t wearing a moment ago. “Even keeps time.”
“Huh, interesting.” I’m pretty curious. “May I touch it with a tentacle tip? That’s so I can feel what it’s made of.”
“Um, take it slow?” She sounds dubious.
So I make a small tentacle from a finger tip and feather up the end. “This lets me touch very small things.”
“That’s weird. it kinda disappears at the tip”, Tara says looking at it. “Okay, go ahead.” Then when I touch her, she says, “Feels just like the wind.”
Interesting indeed. “Whatever that stuff is made of, it isn’t atoms”, I say. “It’s smooth.” I touch the watch. “Huh. And this one is atoms. Do they persist after you drop the carapace?”
“If I don’t reabsorb them”, she nods.
“What else can you make?”, Vamp asks, curious.
“Um, a radio”, she demonstrates, it plays some tinny music. “And I trashed a bunch of cell phones, but the trouble is, the patterns in my head kinda all ran together, so I can’t re-create them.”
Vamp says, “What if you don’t think too hard, and just try and recreate a generic cell phone from that pattern… now!”
And there’s a cell phone in Tara’s hand. She looks confused, and pokes at it. “Wow… it’s got all the features that I liked! It’s like all the best parts of the phones that I screwed up!” Fiddling with the menus, “I don’t believe this! I’ve got messages from November! And September! And August!”
“I’m guessing that’s when you blew away the cell phones?” I say.
She nods. “But this isn’t any one of the ones I lost. This is like, all merged up, but somehow it works. If anything, it works better.”
I can see gears turning in Vamp’s head. “This, this could be useful. Tara, do you think you could merge up anything, if you had enough examples? Like maybe we get a bunch of fancy devises, and you zap them, and then you make some really smart combination of them that’s better than any of the originals?”
“I dunno, maybe?”, she clearly hasn’t thought along those lines before. “Couldn’t hurt to try, I guess.”
Vamp looks at me, “Who’d be the best person to contact, to get in direct touch with the devisers who might be into that?”
“Zenith is the Poe fixer”, I say. “She has contacts, and she’s nice. Um, closer to home, Ayla has a heap of contacts.”
“Fixer, huh”, she sounds thoughtful. “I kinda want to do it myself, not go through a fixer. And I’m not sure I want to owe Ayla, it’s not like I hate him but”, she shrugs, “I don’t think we’ll ever exactly get along. Too different, you know? He’s allergic to the razzle-dazzle, and I live for it.”
“There’s Jadis?” I say, because I really don’t know much of anyone else who does the introducing thing. “She seems nice enough, although I get the feeling she charges a steep price for favours. But her brother is a devisor, and she knows everyone. She sits with the bad seeds.”
“A group of kids with villains for parents”, I say.
And Tara adds, “Some of them are jerks, but some of them just had bad luck with the family. I’ve heard of Jadis, she’s a little scary and viciously smart, but she gets things done. She and Mal are Dr Diabolik’s kids.”
“That mad scientist who goes around raiding entire cities with a paralytic device?” Vamp sounds surprised. I guess nobody figures villains for the family type.
Tara nods. “Yeah, him. She’ll probably assume you’re coming to complain about what he did to your family, when you first approach her.”
I say, “I’ve met him, and I liked him. He’s got reasons for what he does. Even if I don’t completely approve of his methods, I think of him as an ally, perhaps a friend.”
Which gets the both of them looking at me like I grew horns. “Seriously?” Tara asks.
“He was in on the thing where we all went over to fetch Paige from the army base. It was his orbital cannon I blocked a shot from, although the Palm was firing it.”
Evidently my horns grew longer. Tara says, “That is some heavy business.” And Vamp says, “Jules, you are freaking awesome, you know that?”
Which makes me giggle. “Anyhow, anyhow. If you tell Jadis that I referred you, that might get you a foot in the door. She and I have had positive dealings.”
“I’ll do that”, she grins. “So what were you coming in here for, anyhow? We completely side-tracked you.”
I grin and grab a seat on the bed beside Vamp. “Wanted to tell you I’ve fallen in love with you. Wanted to ask if you would like to be my girlfriend? Or non-binary friend. Enbyfriend. Whichever.”
“Wait, really?” Vamp sounds caught between caution and hope.
“Really really. You’re wonderful and I love the time I spend with you. You know I already have Sara and Tansy and I play with lots of others. But I’m ridiculously polyamorous and I fell for you pretty much as soon as I met you. Want in on the family?”
Vamp bounces and squees and then grabs me and hugs tightly. “Yes and very yes, I fell in love with you too, and now I get to have you, this is so wonderful. What was that word you made, enbyfriend? I’m your that, now and forever.”
To which I respond by pulling her in for a long kiss. And then when we break apart, because I saw that look Tara was giving, I say, “You know I’m okay with sharing you too, right? If someone else wants to court you, I’m absolutely delighted. More loves for my beloved.”
Vamp figures that one out quick, and looks at Tara, “Wait, you were hitting on me?”
She blushes and looks down. “Um, yes, I was. Jules isn’t wrong that you’re wonderful.”
“Oh my god, two in one day!” Vamp laughs and jumps over to sit in a shocked Tara’s lap. “If you can handle the other relationships I’m in, then I say yes to you too. Please say yes?”
There’s a pause, then Tara says, “Alright, yes. But I think I might go a lot slower than Jules, she has an, um, reputation for being sexual.”
“It’s completely earned”, Vamp grins. “She’s also the most absolutely lovely sex partner. But you don’t have to do anything like that if you don’t want to, we can go slow. Start with a coffee date or something.”
Tara nods to that.
I decide not to break the news to Tansy yet, as we’re currently in-role, inside a lift in a very corporate-looking office building, and probably on a dozen security cameras. The door dings, and we head out onto our floor, where some bouncer looking guy with a wand is waiting for us. I’m guessing, this universe over, it’s set to detect more than metal. But it passes over both of us silently.
“You can go in. Mr De Luca is expecting you.” But he’s saying that to Tansy, not me. To me, he says, “You, please wait here.”
Tansy shakes her head. “We go in together, or we leave together.”
He pulls out a walkie-talkie, and speaks quietly into it in Italian, “She insists on bringing her friend.” A pause. “All right.”
Then he turns back to us. “Mr De Luca is expecting you both. My apologies for the mistake.” Which is a blatant lie, but, I think we can all live with that.
It would look like a normal corporate bigwig’s office, with filing cabinets and framed diplomas, and a slightly weaselly guy behind the desk - except for the two muscle goons stationed on either side of him. Mr De Luca smiles without standing up, speaking to Tansy, “Welcome. Have you brought the item?”
“Not physically. But I memorised it. Give me a pencil and some paper and I’ll duplicate it for you.”
He nods, and one of the goons brings the requested items over, and Tansy borrows the desk and writes something on it. I don’t peek. Not my business, and best for everyone if I’m clear about that. She pushes it over to him. He reads it, and nods.
Except I’m spotting something worrying. He probably doesn’t know that walls don’t block g-sense. I say over links, “Tansy, don’t flinch, but there’s a bunch of people gathering outside the door.”
“We play it by ear”, she says back.
Mr De Luca says, “Thank you. I will be reporting my satisfaction to your boss. Or rather, I would, except, well, circumstances.” And the door opens and a half dozen muscle guys come in - surrounding that fool of a lawyer who was at the hearing. Oh hey, an ambush, how fun, not.
“Really? You’re going to betray me to this idiot, why?” Tansy sounds disgusted.
“Me, betray you?” Mr De Luca sounds amused. “No, you’re just gonna sign some papers like a good girl, and then leave with him in an orderly manner. Which is what I will report to your boss.”
The lawyer walks over to the desk with a sheaf of paper. “Miss Walcutt, sign here please.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then it will go badly for your friend.” As he says that, a couple of the muscle guys grab me. Feels like more than baseline strength, so he isn’t a complete yutz.
Is Ms Hartford on links? I suppose it’s worth trying, and when I send a probe, it connects. Bless whoever broke my rules. I group her up with me and Tansy, then, “Ms Hartford, apologies, could I have a moment of your time?”
“What is it, Miss Parallel? I’m a busy woman.” She sounds grumpy, but then she always does.
“Tansy and I are being kidnapped while doing your delivery. Should I pull us both out, or should we stay in the trap so you can send someone to catch the trappers?”
“And why bring this to me directly?”
“I thought you might prefer discretion.”
I get a feeling of amusement. “I do. But I don’t have any assets I can field at short enough notice. Pull yourselves out, please. Do not use your powers to attack, they might be setting you up for criminal charges. Leave that to us.”
I send a nod. “Tansy, can you get close to the paperwork? It might be evidence.”
Mr De Luca looks worried, like, maybe we aren’t panicking enough? But the lawyer looks smug as Tansy heads over to the paperwork and picks up the pencil. “In pen, please”, he says.
“We’ve got him, this has his name all over it”, Tansy says.
And then I make a warp that bends space around me so I can step right out of the goons’ suddenly outsized grasp and over to Tansy in one room-crossing step. And I grab a hold of her, and the paperwork, and fold space, and we’re on the field outside Poe with our feet sinking into snow.
“We’re out”, I report.
“Yes, I noticed.” Ms Hartford sounds amused. “Your little hundred mile teleport through all the school’s wards just set off about fifty alarms. Report to my office, please.”
Ms Hartford has the paperwork in her hands, and is paging through it. She sees my worried look, and says “Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling evidence. This is hopelessly compromised to introduce in a court of law. You picked it up, and you teleported it to a place chock full of mutants and the children of supervillains. They could easily claim you hired someone here to alter it. But it convinces me. This is a conservatorship agreement, Tansy, and you were right not to sign it, because it would obliterate your legal rights as an individual. It’s in the name of one Theodore Covington.”
“Not a name I know, but I’m guessing that’s the lawyer”, Tansy says glumly.
“It matches the name he used to sign in for the hearing”, Ms Hartford nods. “If he had been confronting you alone, perhaps he would have succeeded in the kidnap. And even a coerced signature on a document like this would be hard to argue with, if he also had you in his possession.”
I say, “snatching her back out wouldn’t be terribly hard, but I’m guessing complicated legally?”
Ms Hartford nods. “It would arguably be kidnapping. A very neat trap.”
“One that we completely ruined thanks to Jules”, Tansy says, putting an arm around me. “They have nothing, and we have evidence.”
“Yes, Miss Parallel and her rather impressive teleport. I checked the distance, out of curiosity, and it’s just shy of a hundred and forty miles. And through a layered ward system that should normally stop any unauthorised teleporting.”
I wince a little. “I had the coordinates, and I just jumped us over. Sorry if I messed anything up.”
“You didn’t. The wards detected your arrival, but not your passage. However, please don’t do that again outside of an emergency. I should note that it’s possible to teleport into an area outside the wards, and then walk onto school grounds. That raises far fewer alarms.” She sighs, and takes a breath. “At any rate, Miss Walcutt, no further exeats for you until we’ve sorted out this business. I acknowledge your delivery as well done, and I’m satisfied with your efforts there. But right now, we can’t risk having you off school grounds in case he tries again, and is better prepared.”
Tansy nods. “I expected that. And it’s not over, is it? He’ll try again.”
“Very likely”, Ms Hartford agrees. “If your father cuts you off financially, I would be willing to offer you a full scholarship here. But he may choose to formally pull you out of school, and we would have little legal recourse.”
“I’m going for emancipation”, Tansy says. “I need an income, and my own bank account. I think we can say I’m living independently here? And of course, I plan to continue my studies.”
“I can help you set up a bank account in your own name. And I will have paying jobs you can take, although they may be risky.”
“I think I can handle that, perhaps with a little help from my friends”, Tansy grins at me. “Besides, I might also still have an offer at ARC.”
“Exeats to ARC would be acceptable, if they send one of their agents to keep an eye on you”, Ms Hartford smiles.
“I should introduce you to Donna”, I say to Tansy. “You’ll like her.” Which gets a grin in reply.
“Before you go, one thing”, Ms Hartford says. “Tansy, I met you just this morning, and you’ve changed physically since then. Your eyes were grey. And unless that suit is very padded, you’ve grown.”
“I’ve grown”, admits Tansy. “Want to see?” She’s stripping out of her clothes, which gets a raised eyebrow from Ms Hartford, but she doesn’t say stop. Nor does Tansy stop, until she’s completely bare naked. And looking casually proud.
Ms Hartford takes a walk around her. “From the eyes, I guess this relates to the pink light incident?” I nod. She looks down between Tansy’s legs. “And that is operational?”
I can answer that one. “Both parts fully operational. I extended the contraceptive spell she has over the new equipment.”
“After this, take yourself to Doyle, please, Miss Walcutt. I can see you don’t feel ill, but I’d like them to check you over, and if nothing else, to update your records. Do you still wish to be recognised as female?”
Tansy starts getting dressed again. “Yes, I do, but I think the school ought to update its rules and allow more flexibility. Some of us really aren’t either girls or boys, or all one or the other, and don’t deserve to be stuffed in a box. That goes for our official sex on the records, and it goes for our uniforms and cottage assignments too.”
A thoughtful nod in reply. “I’ll speak to the Head about it. Alright, will there be anything else?”
“Just one thing”, Tansy says. “We left our shopping in a locker, several bags, and I don’t think either of us will be going back to get them.”
Ms Hartford smiles. “Give me the details, and I’ll have them fetched.”
As we walk over to Doyle, I fill Tansy in on Vamp, which makes her smile happily. “She’s a sweet kid, and she’s exactly what I meant about not being either girls or boys. She’s kinda half and half, and that ought to be recognised. And yay, new family. What do you think of this Tara? I don’t know her.”
“Same year as me, seems chatty and friendly, but perhaps a bit overwhelmed.”
“We are a bit much”, she grins.
While I’m sat waiting over at Doyle, other me is trying to get Mrs Horton to help Tansy do her announcing. Which isn’t going so well.
“I am not going to call a formal cottage meeting for the entire lesbian half of Poe just because of one girl’s sex game!”
“It’s not a game. It’s more like a kind of service. Or a promise, which she has already made one way and needs to explain about the changed circumstances.”
“Well, I won’t make an official thing of it, and that’s final.” Mrs Horton sighs. “But I also won’t stand in the way of you setting it up yourself, since you clearly feel strongly about it. That’s as much compromise as you’ll get out of me.”
I’ll have to take it, then. I bow and say “thank you”.
I probe to see if anyone’s given Zenith a link, and yup. Links must be really spreading, now. “Hi Zenith, it’s Jules, are you available?”
“Yeah, come on up to my room. Oh, and your biggest fan is here”, that’s said with a bit of a smirk.
Shrike, is my biggest fan? Interesting. It doesn’t take me long to get there, and Zenith answers the door. “Hey, come on in, what kind of world-shattering news do you have to drop on me today?”
“Oh she already dropped that, right on the heads of the President and half of DC”, Shrike looks very amused as I make my way in. “Those news dweebs have no clue what’s happening, but yeah, not too hard to figure it out. Big pink light.”
I wince a bit. “Oddly enough, that wasn’t what I came about. Although I guess that kind of moves my phase two up a few notches. But no, I came to talk about Tansy.”
“She of the easily dropped knickers? I haven’t had a chance to try her out myself yet, but it’s on my list.” Shrike sounds amused.
“The option’s still there, but the terms of the deal have changed a little. And she wants to gather up all the lesbians and tell them, because otherwise she’ll have to explain it over and over, and it might make them feel she broke her word.”
“What, she changed into a boy?”
“Good guess but no. She changed to be the same way I am, a functional bilateral hermaphrodite. As of the pink light incident. We were together, massive uncontrolled power leakage happened, and shazam. And no, it wasn’t deliberate.”
Zenith winces. “I see, and she’s worried some girls won’t like that?”
“Well, it’s not what she was advertising”, I say. “It’s up to them if they like her new arrangements. She just wants to get the news out, so nobody feels cheated or tricked.”
Zenith nods. “Okay. That sounds reasonable. I’ll see if I can set something up for this evening.”
“I am so going to ask her to show us everything”, Shrike smirks.
In the DARPA labs, I’ve been through an MRI (very loud), and an X-ray (a pretty colour, but they won’t let me see more than flashes), and several devisor scanners. They’ve taken blood and DNA swabs. I get the feeling they aren’t finding anything interesting, which is what I could have told them ahead of time. The important parts of me aren’t here.
It’s a relief when Mr Reilly comes and rescues me. “I can see you’re about tested out for the day. Want to come for a drive? We can go see the tourist sights.”
“I’d love to”, I admit.
This time, when we get to the parking garage level, Mr Reilly goes for the driver’s seat. Once we’re underway, he says on links, “This car has been swept for bugs, but there’s no reason to make the snoops’ job easy. So, I’m going to fill you in on what’s going on. A lot of this is very classified, but it involves you and you’ve been given clearance to hear it. Please don’t blab it around.”
“I promise I won’t”, I agree.
“I’ll take you at your word. And so. While you were having your time wasted getting scanned every which way, I was being debriefed and then updated on the impact of what just happened.”
He pauses, then, “Your flash of power got the president, the vice president, nearly the entirety of congress, the whole supreme court, and the entire military command. They don’t have your ability to touch someone and measure how influenced they are, but it’s full or as close to it as makes no difference. Several people in all of those organisations have had mental breakdowns or gone suddenly AWOL, including the vice president. The remaining members of the cabinet and joint chiefs of staff have been meeting to decide what to do. They’ve heard your explanation through me, and they’ve contacted the school and ARC and verified it, so they accept your story, that you didn’t intend any harm and couldn’t control the outburst.”
“I guess I’m not going to jail, then?”
“You aren’t. They’ve decided to treat you as, effectively, a diplomat from an alien species. Your accidental demonstration proved very convincing in backing up your story, including the parts I personally found hard to believe. Some of the people having breakdowns have admitted working for your enemy.”
“I see.” I consider that. “It may not be all of them, and you should warn them of that. Cultists, anyone who is too close to him, his influence might have protected them.”
Mr Reilly nods. “I’ll pass that along. The next big issue though, is what to tell the public. It can’t be nothing, the public impact is far too large to cover up. Nobody is going to believe this was the planet Venus, or Chinese drones.”
“And they’re interested in my suggestions?”
“They’d like to hear them.”
“Tell the truth, but don’t drown them in detail. Tell them that everyone globally has already been subjected to an influence which is progressing at its own pace, but people in DC have been subjected to a second burst of power that moved the pace along. Tell them that the effects are expected to be mostly positive, but some people may need treatment for mental distress. And tell them to watch the big conference in Seattle, on the first.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Yes, I was meaning to ask you about that.”
Hank hands me the ring binder, which says in all-caps on the front ‘REQUIRED AND OPTIONAL PREPARATION ROUTINES FOR WHATELEY HOLOGRAPHIC SIMULATION RUNS’. It’s one I’ve seen before in passing, when the Kimbas were all getting set up for their disastrous first try. I never did get to read it back then.
“We’ve been thinking about trying you out for the Kimbas. Or at least doing some practise runs together with you, so you know how to coordinate with us if we get in trouble and we all need to fight.”
“I thought I might end up doing something like that, so I’ve already got the sim suit”, I grin. “If I hack up a power template from this, we could give it a go today?” I pass the binder to a second me, so I can start reading it without being rude.
He laughs as other me starts flipping through the pages at speed. “I sometimes forget how fast you are at things. I don’t think we can do anything on short notice with the whole team today, but I’m free, maybe we could try a scenario together? Something introductory.”
The team, mostly, are busy bustling and chattering about the waitressing they’re going to do for Ayla’s rich kids party he’s putting on this evening. Some very skimpy maid uniforms are evidently involved.
“Works for me”, I offer. “I should have a config file ready in about five minutes.” Ring binders can’t be flipped quite as quickly as books.
“Well, it’ll take me a bit longer than that to set something up, so no rush.” He looks amused. Then, after looking around at the bustle, “It doesn’t bother you that you weren’t invited to waitress with the others?”
I shake my head. “Ayla explained it to me. He’s dealing with a bunch of skittish rich kids. Me and Sara, we’re the ooky spooky monsters under the bed, maybe not to all of them, but enough of them. He’s worried he’d have people come in, see us, turn right around and leave.”
“One of which would be him, if he was honest about it. I wish he would settle down from worrying that the two of you are about to eat the school.”
“Only in the fun way”, I say. “Both of us are kinda doing our damnedest to protect the whole of humanity, which definitely includes the school and all our friends here. But it has been hard to persuade people.”
“Can’t win for losing”, Hank agrees. A pause, then, “That business earlier, the Head said you were fighting something that was a danger to the school?”
I wince, “Sorry, I’ve been so busy with this and that, I completely forgot to brief everyone on what happened. And of course Jade can’t. Yeah, it was the beastie in the tunnel, Jade probably told you all about it last year. This time, we went down, and the seal had been trashed, and the monster busted itself loose. Briefly, before I pushed it back into its own realm and tore off the realm anchor. So now that tunnel just dead-ends in rock.”
Hank nods. “So to you, it was a fight for the school. But for the rest of the people over here, it was a damn spooky light that shone through walls, their buddies have been rushed over to Doyle with the crazy, and now they have to try and live with the way their mind got wrenched several months down the slope of influence in as many seconds. Which, speaking from experience, is not easy.”
“Yeah, sorry”, I sigh. “None of that was deliberate. It was just the only tool I could reach for. I didn’t expect the thing to get loose. I was going to leave it alone, and I figured we’d all be safe if I didn’t start something. There wasn’t time to strategise.”
“Sims are good for reminding you to plan for all those kind of contingencies ahead of time. Everheart’s a sneaky little monster. and so’s Bardue”, Hank smiles. “Email the file to me when you’re done, I’ll pass it along.”
I nod, and he leaves me to my reading.
Meanwhile, Hartford has sent out an email.
“After discussion with the Headmistress, we have agreed that the school should recognise that not all students are male or female, and not all are girls or boys. Some are both and some are neither, and others are in between. For this reason, the following rule changes will apply immediately.”
“Any student may now wear the girls’ or boys’ uniform. In addition, any mixture between the two that is presentable will be considered a valid uniform. The school will introduce an intermediate uniform as an option from the spring term; your suggestions and designs for this would be welcomed. In the mean time, any student wishing to wear presentable black culottes as an alternative to skirts or trousers when they are in uniform is permitted to do so. The school shop will have a stock of these from Monday.”
“Any student who wishes to transfer to male or female accommodation may apply to their current cottage parent. Your reasons will be judged before your application is approved. Wanting to ogle people in the showers is not an acceptable reason. Do not try my patience on this.”
“Students who are physically intersexed may apply to have the school recognise them as intersexed. Students who do not feel they are girls or boys may apply to have the school recognise this.”
“Staff have been instructed that cross dressing, to any full or partial extent, is not a violation of rules. Bullying people for cross dressing definitely is. We will come down on any such incidents with considerable force.”
“And lastly, the Headmistress has asked me to remind you that there will be a Pride themed fashion show, along with various other events, in Laird Hall tomorrow.”
Good news for Vamp, although she’s currently off having a ‘get to know you’ date with Tara, so I doubt she’s seen it yet.
Over in Doyle, Tansy’s finally done being poked and prodded, and back in the reception area. I pull her into a hug. “Hey there love. All okay?”
“Frustrated, but yes.” She sighs. “They don’t like not understanding how ‘a healthy girl with an established BIT’”, she makes air quotes, “could suddenly change sex, so they plugged me into this and scanned me with that, and it took them a long time to reach the same answer they started with, they still don’t know, but they reluctantly agreed I wasn’t sick or anything. So I can go.”
“Sara will know”, I say. “She understands this kind of thing.”
“Mhm” Tansy sounds a bit tired.
“Would you prefer a rest?”
She shakes her head. “Let’s get this over with. I do want to understand, and Sara is definitely the one to ask. But I am going to need some quiet time after this, because it’s been a big rush all day and no time to just sit and think and feel.”
I nod, understanding. “Felt like we were bouncing from pillar to post.”
“We never really got to see the town, either, and I did want to show you all the good places I know.” She sighs. “I feel like saying, next time, but I don’t know when that will be.”
I hug her reassuringly. “Soon, I’m sure. We’ll get this mess sorted. And I did get to see a little of the town and have a tasty lunch, so I don’t feel cheated.”
She just smiles.
The funky runes by Sara’s door say ‘the Sara is in’. And indeed, she is in, sitting on the bed next to a contented looking sleeping Jet. I didn’t think Jet could sleep, so maybe that’s a new thing.
“Hey there, you two. Welcome back. Grab a seat and snuggle. And yes, she can sleep now, isn’t it cute?”
“Very cute”, Tansy agrees with a tired but charmed smile.
We grab spots to sit on each side of her, and she puts an arm around each of us. “And so, I expect you want aunty Sara to explain what’s up?”
I say, “Yeah, we were there, but neither of us really understands it.”
“Luckily, I do. I could feel it from across the room”, Sara smiles. “Tansy, when Jules grounded out all of that power in you, it forged a link between your souls. Not quite a mark, but something similar. You’re now her high priestess. You can draw on her power, through that connection. Not too much though, dear, it can be dangerous. But I can see that little of it is flowing through you all the time, which is why you’ve got those very pretty eyes.”
“And I can feel all the living stuff around me, all the bugs and plants”, Tansy nods. “I’m her high priestess, so, does that mean she gets to give me orders?” She doesn’t sound terribly averse.
“Not unless you want her to, dear”, Sara smirks. “Which I notice maybe you do. But no, there’s no defined boss in that relationship, even though it’s from something larger to something smaller. Paige is my lover and my friend, not my minion.” She smiles. “As for the physical stuff, I have a theory.”
“Oh?” Tansy sounds curious.
“Yes, dear. I think your BIT was already changing. It’s a pattern that reflects your ideal, after all. And you had rather beautifully set your ideal on Jules. But also on publicly flaunting your sexuality a bit more, which I have to say, I am all in favour of. So maybe you’d have changed shape gradually, anyhow? But all that spare power allowed your body to just reorganise itself on the spot.”
“I… see.” Tansy sounds thoughtful. “That’s why it feels so absolutely right, even though I don’t really understand anything about it yet.”
“I’m sure we can find time to explore it together.” Sara grins. “Although I feel like, right now what you need is a nice long soak to work the tensions out. And I have just the bath for you, if you want it.”
A sigh of contentment, and Tansy says “I do, yes. I feel like I could soak for a week.”
As we run the bath, Tansy gets naked, stashing her clothes safely away from the splash zone. And I decide to vanish mine, too. Goodbye, nice new suit, but it’s in my patterns now. Sara smirks, evidently enjoying the view, but decides not to say anything.
Tansy sighs contentedly, as she slips into the bath, and then snickers amused, “Periscope!” as a very cute part of her is poking up above the bubbles. As I rather anticipated, she likes being watched.
“Very pretty periscope”, I say, reaching through bubbles to caress it.
“Mhm, and she loves what your fingers are doing. You know, it’s interesting. I always thought of that as a boy part. But it’s not, is it? I know yours is a little in between, but mine is just all girl.”
“Because you are”, I say. “She’s a part of you, after all.”
“I wonder if the others will think so?”
“I think they will”, I say, and grin, the bath’s big enough and so I step in with a foot on either side of her and lower myself down. “I think you shouldn’t worry about them right now, though.”
“Mhm, I have better things to think about”, she says as her periscope pops inside me. “Like how not to splash all this bathwater over Sara’s nice clean floor.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that”, I say.
Mr Reilly is as good as his word, and we end up parked on a street near the waterside, a short distance from the big park where the White House and stuff is. As we head out and walk, a big pointy thing is visible on the skyline, and when I point it out, it’s apparently the Washington monument.
“That one’s fun to see at night, because they light it up, and you can see it from a real distance, so it helps navigating. Everything here’s either a monument to somebody, or part of the government, or a museum”, Mr Reilly says. “Some of them are quite good though. We won’t be doing much more than just walking around today, but it’s still a lot of distance, and it’s pretty exposed to the cold wind. Are you going to be okay with that?”
“I will be if you will”, I say.
He nods to that. “Park rules, no eating or drinking in the memorials, but we can grab something and munch it while we walk over. And although we won’t be going inside, if you see someplace you’d like to visit, we can come back.”
“I figure I might end up seeing some of these places from the non touristy bits too, on official business”, I grin.
“Might”, he smiles. Then he picks up our earlier topic, using links to avoid anyone overhearing. “This conference of yours, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it sounds a little like you’re trying to set yourself up as a god?”
“I am a life power, but that isn’t exactly the same thing as a god”, I explain. “So ‘religious figure’ is probably closer to the truth. And I don’t want to break up anyone’s relationship with their existing god or gods.”
“But still, an ecumenical conference, off planet, that is going to shatter a lot of people’s ideas of what’s real, and what’s normal.”
“That’s kinda what I’m trying to achieve, yeah. I need to get people taking this stuff seriously. The business earlier today will help, and this conference will let me talk to them directly.”
He pauses, and looks at me in a suspicious way. “You’re going to get the whole world listening, and then offer to throw them all a link, aren’t you?”
I smirk. “Maaaaybe. Okay, yes.”
“Talk to them directly, she says…”
“I can make an instance per caller. I could literally talk to everyone at the same time. It wouldn’t even distract me from school.”
“Thus making you the most actively responsive religious figure in history.”
“If the others want to up their game, I’m not stopping them.”
It must look strange to anyone watching us, as we crack up together.
Over in Whateley, Hank and I are headed across to the holographic simulators.
“You’re aware that the config file you sent me is an unreadable pile of robot barf, right? Even if the computers seem to have eaten it up.” He’s teasing, I think.
“Big me put it together as accurately to my real abilities as she could. And then Paige helped to tune it. The sim machines tend to grind gears on transfinite numbers.” I’m snarking a little. If you can do something perfectly, why not?
“Horrendously over-engineered, got it”, he grins. “Alright. So today we’re just going to get you started in an introductory scenario. Our team will be you and me, the chain of command has me in charge. I hope you don’t have a problem with that?”
“You know the sims, you are in team tactics and I’m not, both of those things qualify you even without anything else”, I say. “I figure you also know military stuff better than me. And I’m a noob, and low dog in relation to the other Kimbas. I recognise you all have experience I don’t. So don’t worry, I can follow orders.”
He looks over at me, like he didn’t expect that. “And you’re not going to give me attitude over you being a GOO and a galaxy brain and me just being a lowly human?”
“Cower, mortal”, I say, putting on a fake deep voice. “But also no.”
He laughs. “Okay. I think we can all live with that.”
Everheart meets us at the entrance to the simulator area. She looks a whole lot like an ordinary, if striking, older teenage girl, but my life sense tells a different story. A swarm of machine life, over a small amount of physically human matter. And not bounded at her skin, but surrounded by a cloud of ranging sub-cellular machines that have just enough life-nature to them to register as specks.
“Miss Parallel, right?”
I nod. “Yes, that’s me. Rear Admiral Everheart, I presume?”
“Got it on one, kid. I’m here as a favour, I’m going to run the scenario for you, and I’m going to stay here and engaged at all times, there won’t be a repeat of last Saturday. I’ll play red team, you two will dive together. Got your suit?”
I bounce in place, and flip across to my sim suit.
She conspicuously ignores the trick and nods, “Then come this way. Lancer, bay two for you, I’ll leave you to do your own prep.”
The room has a chair that looks kinda like a dentist’s chair, if it was a very technological dentist. Everheart says, “You sit in that, and it takes your body’s weight, that’s why it’s all curved. While you’re in the sim, you’ll be paralysed and floppy, like in REM sleep. Climb up, please. Got a helmet wherever you made that suit come from?”
I nod, and make it pop into place on my head. Everything goes dark, although of course I still have my other senses.
“Good. Lay back, I’ll plug you in.”
G-sense let’s me see her plugging in a cable. I can feel the simulator blanking my body’s senses, and I decide to allow that, while setting a few background threads to watch over the real world. Big me will help me direct my powers into the sim suit, so I won’t accidentally trash the room.
And then suddenly I’m standing in an empty city. It feels pretty real, I get life sense and gravity sense, I can tell they aren’t the real thing, but I can also choose to ignore that and immerse myself. A moment later, Hank appears, in his Kimba gear. Yes, super-suits look silly. No, I will not snicker. Besides, looking down, I’m in my own, and that probably looks silly too.
Hank smiles, “Welcome to the sims. Let’s just walk around, try your powers a little?”
Wandering around the National Mall (which is a park and not a mall) is a whole lot of walking, but thankfully that’s not an issue in this body. Mr Reilly seems okay with it too. We’ve seen the Lincoln Memorial (biiiig chair) and the White House (from a distance), and we’re headed towards the Capitol (the hat on it kinda looks like St Paul’s in London). Sadly though, the black armoured jeep thing bouncing our way across the park grass is lowering the tone. Don’t you minion types read the ‘keep off the grass’ signs?
Mr Reilly is evidently more worried about it than I am. “This looks like it could be a problem. Whatever happens, keep behind me.”
I just say “okay”, and when I get a suspicious look from him, I elaborate, “I can operate my powers as well from behind as in front. One of us is squishy and it isn’t me, but don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”
Which breaks the tension a bit and makes him laugh. Then the jeep thing pulls to a halt in front of us and a bunch of soldiers jump out. In unmarked black BDUs and helmets, naturally. One of them says “Step away from the mutant, sir.”
“Who the hell are you and what is your authority? This girl is a guest of the US government.” I love him a bit for being protective like that.
“Sir, step away from the mutant, or I will shoot.” He looks really serious about it too.
I say on links, “Step aside, let them think they’ve won, I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You’ll like getting into a firefight even less. I could kill the lot of them, but we don’t know who they are yet, or who they work for, and I don’t want to annoy anybody. Do what the nice man says.”
Mr Reilly, reluctantly, steps aside. One of the minions puts a pair of handcuffs on me. I recognise the same teleport-following kind we played with at school. Thanks Mr Robertson! They bundle me into the jeep, and we’re off. I give it until we’re out of line of sight and then flip a new body to where I was before.
Mr Reilly is talking angrily on his phone. He closes it, starts swearing up a storm, and then sees me and does a double-take. Which makes me smirk a bit. “Language”, I tease.
“You teleported free?” A pause. “If they know you’re missing, they might come back.”
“Nope, still kidnapped. They really should fit better suspension on that thing.”
That takes him a moment. “You made another body.”
I nod. “I want to find out who my new friends are. And, like you say, if I go missing, they might come back to look. But sadly for our day in tourist-land, they might still have snipers or something, so we should probably head back to the car. Grab my hand, please?”
Since I remember where the car is, jumping us back there is easy, saves about half an hour’s walk, and should mess with any surveillance they have pointed at us. We mildly startle a few tourists, but a few moments later we’re safely on the road and headed back towards the DARPA building.
Hank and I are discussing how the sim scenario went. He says, “So it was a good idea to sneak up on the bad guy while you’re invisible. But you should anticipate the risk of being spotted by a psychic despite your camouflage. Particularly if he’s already mind controlling a whole city, that implies he’s good.”
I nod. “I’m not sure how to do surveillance without being spotted, in that case.”
“Something like a spy drone, perhaps? Those don’t have minds. Anyhow, when he spotted you, you successfully stopped him telling the whole city to go jump off roofs or something, but the downside is that your solution would have left a lot of casualties of its own.”
I nod. “A wide area spell like that, there’s not much I can do about people who might be driving, or flying, or in a hospital, or something. It was a last resort.”
“Have a think about what you might have done instead. On the other hand, infiltrating with your warping, and then bringing me over in a teleport to fight, was a good plan. Compared to you, I’m not really very mobile and I can’t see through walls, but I’m definitely tougher in a scrap.”
I smile. “I think we didn’t do too terribly on the teamwork thing?”
“A good beginning”, he agrees with a grin.
“Oh, and I have a thought, about the spy drone thing.” My parallels have been chewing on it for the last few seconds.
“You know I can make bone stuff, and it’s basically me, my body?” So I make a little sphere of bone in my hand.
“So I think I can extend my powers through it, the ones that don’t need a body.” And I make the bone sphere float - on its own gravity. “Means I can sense through it too, g-sense and life sense, even without any organs. Which isn’t as good as sight or hearing, but it isn’t terrible.”
“Spooky flying bone spies. Got it.” He laughs. “Somehow that is so you.”
“That one’s just a prototype. But it kind of feels like a possibility.” I grin, “Even if I’m not sure I’ll ever have to confront a mastermind controlling a city in real life, it’s wise to prepare.”
“Can’t hurt to”, Hank agrees.