Ayla and the Mad Scientist: (Chap 20)
Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 20 – Le Rouge et le Noir
Ayla and the Mad Scientist
CHAPTER 20 – Le Rouge et le Noir
a Whateley novel
by Diane Castle
Alex clenched her jaws and stepped forward. She carefully put her hand on Ayla’s face and drew in enough energy that Ayla lapsed into unconsciousness so deep she wouldn’t even dream.
She didn’t bother to leave the room. Ayla wouldn’t wake up for hours, no matter what anyone did. She pulled out her phone and dialed Steve. “Yo, Stevie.”
She could hear him scrambling out of his room and down the hall so he could talk without waking anyone up. He asked, “Are you ready? I got everything in two gymbags for easy carrying.”
She glanced over her shoulder and lied, “No, I’m not ready. Ayla’s still awake. The stuff Jobe gave her is keeping her awake, and she’s too uncomfortable to fall asleep or let me get close enough to knock her out. Sorry, but the prank’s off.”
Alex cut him off. “Look, I know, Phase is a stuck-up snob. But the prank is off until further notice. I’ll owe you one. Okay, sweetcheeks?”
“Well… I guess so…”
She said, “Good. Talk to you tomorrow.” And she hung up.
She stared at the now-silent girl in the bed. She wondered what Ayla would be like tomorrow – and the next couple weeks – when she was like this.
She sighed and muttered, “Oh well, no good deed goes unpunished.” She looked at Ayla’s alarm clock. A wicked smile broke out across her face. “Oh, what the hell.”
* * * * *
Sunday, March 11, morning
“I’m a Barbie girl,
in the Barbie wo-o-orld,
Life in plastic, it's fantastic!
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere,
Imagination, life is your cre-”
I woke up when the alarm clock started blaring an absolutely atrocious Aqua song. I slapped the snooze button with Exemplar-3 speed, just to make the damn thing stop.
Someone in the bed above me couldn’t stop snickering.
I growled, “Fine, it’s going to be Brass Monkey every morning this week.”
Vamp snorted derisively and shoved her head back under her pillow.
I got out of the bed, fully aware that my boobs felt even heavier than they had last night. God. Damn. It. And several much more colorful objurations and vilifications.
A different giggle came from the other side of my room. I looked around and spotted an eclectic collection of objects sitting on my desk: a tape measure, a two-inch speaker disk, a couple throwing knives, a Swiss army knife, and a small steel cable. There were probably a few nanowires hiding in the debris as well.
The collection of junk floated into the air and moved to the back of my door to bring me my bathrobe. It said, “Come on. Let’s do the measuring thing and get it out of the way. Okay?”
I sighed, “Go for it, Jinn.”
“I’m Jayna. Jinn and Jann and Jamie are all busy doing stuff.”
Vamp muttered, “Jesus.”
“No, we don’t use boys’ names,” the debris said.
I put my arms out to the sides, and the tape measure slid carefully around my chest. Really, if you have to get measured with a tape measure, the J-Team is your optimal choice.
“Okay, you’re thirty-two inches around, and… oh crap.”
I groaned, “Hit me with the bad news.”
If a tape measure could wince, it winced. “Umm, forty-three inches?”
I sighed, “Great. Just fucking great.” I vividly remembered all those stupid brassiere measurement charts, and by the American sizing for the bra I had worn last night, I was now a 32K. Or a 32JJ. Or maybe even a 32HHHH. For some unknown reason, the size chart skipped over the letter I. Maybe in the original version, it was difficult to distinguish between the ‘I’ and a ‘1’.
And there was no guarantee I would stay this size for more than a couple hours.
Jayna said, “It’s a shame you can’t share some of that cup size. I wouldn’t mind being a solid B cup.”
“You’re a tape measure,” I pointed out. “You don’t even have a human body.”
“You know what I mean!” she fussed. “Jinn’s just a B cup, and I could stand to go up another cup size. And Jade’s not even a solid A cup. I’m really only an AA cup, but don’t tell Stephen.”
The lump in the upper bunk murmured, “I wouldn’t mind gettin’ a few cup sizes out of you.”
I complained, “I’d be happy to give all of them away. I was trying to end up with no cup size at all!”
The tape measure slid back to the hovering speaker disk, and the bathrobe drifted closer to me. It appeared to have two wires down each sleeve, so the entire robe hung in mid-air like there was a somewhat angular ghost lurking inside it. I turned around and shrugged into the robe, my chest mountains bouncing like a pair of soccer balls being juggled on Pele’s knees.
32K? I had boobs jutting out like a pair of ICBMs. Like a pair of dirigibles. They were huge. Immense. Godzilla-sized. Even porn starlets would be pointing at them and laughing. What the hell was I going to do?
The weight of the things was miserable, too. They were trying to rip the skin off my chest, and they pulled me so far forward I kept worrying I’d fall on my face as soon as I wasn’t paying attention. My back muscles would have been killing me already if I weren’t an Exemplar-3.
But I remembered yesterday’s lessons. I went heavy, and the effect of gravity became far less noticeable. My hooters stopped jiggling with my every movement. In fact, they stuck straight out like they were made of styrofoam. Since they had the consistency of solid steel while I was heavy, I was going to have to make sure I didn’t walk into anyone. Or anything.
I asked, “You haven’t been waiting here all night, have you?”
The speaker disk said, “Nah, Jade sent me over here a little while ago when she got back from her job. Ya know, Stan and Morrie are really funny. There was this snake thing with two heads and really big fangs, and they were blasting all over the place trying to hit it while we were down in the water doing cleaning, and I thought Stan was gonna have a cow, and they were shouting stuff I’m pretty sure we aren’t supposed to hear. I don’t think most of those swear words were even English. Then the thing was so dumb it tried to eat Jinn! Hello-o! I guess she was the warmest thing in the tunnel after we left a bunch of her work stuff on the heat last night to dry out. She kinda chopped it up into half a dozen pieces when it wouldn’t leave her alone. Morrie kind of freaked when one head went for Jinn’s face and she let it have it with the bear trap. Boy, that was one surprised snake thing. And one surprised plumber. I think Morrie said the F-word about twenty times in one sentence. It was really hard not to laugh.”
It was impossible to keep half my team out of my room without taking extraordinary measures, so I just didn’t try anymore. Still, I didn’t know whether to be grateful that Jade was so concerned, or annoyed that I had a conglomerate of sundries lurking in my room without my knowledge.
Okay, I was going to opt for both emotions simultaneously. There’s no reason I can’t be complex.
I grabbed my shower kit and walked off to the bathroom, with a tape measure dancing around me, singing.
“I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world, life in plastic, it's fantastic! You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere, imagination, life is your creation…”
“Can you stop singing, or change to something less annoying?” I asked, even though I wasn’t expecting a lot of success.
“Oh sure! Do you like anime?” it checked.
“Probably not,” I muttered.
“I think you’ll like this!” the tape measure chirped. Then it began singing what sounded like a Japanese ballad. “Kohaku ni somaru michi, ashiato wo kizande, koko made yatto kita, kyou mo mae dake wo mitsumete…”
I let her sing. She didn’t have perfect pitch, like Vanessa, but she could carry a tune better than, say, Hank. And the lyrics even made sense, as far as I could tell. Granted, my Japanese isn’t perfect, so there were words I missed. So she sang about a presumably-female traveler walking down the road of life, while we walked down a hallway to a bathroom.
Taking a shower was just as annoying as it had been yesterday, but now I was faced with being stuck with these things for good. Granted, washing them wasn’t as annoying as trying to dry off underneath them. What the heck did women with sagging boobs do? Get the neighbor to come over and hold the things up so you could use a towel under there?
While I was having to towel off my hair, the tape measure and other gear ran away. When I took the towel off my head, Jade was hopping into the bathroom. I lied, “Good morning.”
She said, “I saw about the bra and the tape measure, so I’m going downstairs to get you a new supertop. Only this time, I’m getting three so if you get even bigger you’ll still be set.”
“Thanks. Thanks a ton.”
She smiled, “And speaking of tons, are you gonna go heavy and stay that way? Jody says big boobs start sagging faster than little ones. Unless you’re a decent Exemplar. Or you can Shift ‘em back into place. Or magic ‘em up.”
I complained, “I’d rather Warp them off, but Jobe managed to tack on some Regen-3, so now they’ll just grow back.”
She insisted, “Hey! Regen is the best thing ever! And Regen-3? Really good. At least you can get a nosebleed and not be a hazardous waste site.”
“There is that issue,” I agreed. Regeneration was a potent defensive tool, but the higher your Regen level rose, the more disturbing the consequences became.
And not getting hurt in the first place was always better than being able to heal up afterward. Sun Tzu had some good points, which were just as applicable to business as to war. A rational mediation was always better than a costly war. A subtle series of tactics which defeated your foe without putting you at risk was always better than costly battles, whether you could afford the losses or not. I needed to apply business strategies to my life more often, because I was pretty tired of getting painfully injured in massive superbattles.
On the other hand, if I was out of Team Kimba and out of my friends’ struggles because I was in Hawthorne with a pair of weather balloon breasts for the rest of my life, that would be worse. If I couldn’t help my friends, and I couldn’t protect the people who needed me, that would really be hell.
Maybe I needed to talk to Dr. Yablonsky and get him to tell me how he managed to adjust. Or maybe Circe could give me some insights. Maybe I should talk to her about a lot of things. I had a weekly appointment with a psychiatrist, but I could talk out my problems elsewhere as well.
Okay, I talked about my problems with half a dozen whackos on almost a daily basis, and sometimes they even had good advice for me. Of course, lots of the time the advice was more along the lines of ‘give him a wedgie’ or ‘give him a ki-powered wedgie’ or even ‘please please PLEASE let me go give him a ginormous wedgie!’ On the gripping hand, once in a long, long while, the good advice was to go give someone a wedgie.
Just then, Jade blinked and said, “We need to go down and see Mrs. Horton about supertops for you.”
“What went down to talk to her about it?” I asked.
“My lion. I always go for the cutest thing I’ve got handy when I ask Mrs. Horton for stuff.”
That was probably extremely savvy of her. She had probably experimented on Mrs. Horton, trying out a variety of choices, from her own cutesy self, through Jinn and the lion, all the way up to some truly outré options. So she probably knew precisely what to send down in order to have the best chance of getting Horton to say ‘yes’.
It might also be valuable to know what to send down in order to have the highest likelihood that Mrs. Horton would say ‘no’.
I slipped on my bathrobe, trying not to think about the massive balloons bulging out of the ‘V’ of my bathrobe. I wrapped my towel around my neck and used the ends to cover up my cleavage. The towel was fairly dry, since I had only used it on my hair, so it wasn’t uncomfortable.
I squeezed my feet into my houseshoes. Having grown somewhere around half a shoe size or a full shoe size, my once-perfect shoes were now all too small. Only my sandals were really usable until I acquired new footwear.
Still, I made do with a pair of cramped houseshoes so I could go downstairs and find out what Mrs. Horton wanted. I was really hoping she wasn’t going to tell me that there were no supertops that would fit me. I was fairly sure that the school had enough female students like Attributes and Compiler that they had plenty of supertops made for the ‘superheroine figure’.
We got to the stairwell, and Jade stopped me with one raised hand. “Uh-oh. There’s something magic around the bottom two steps.”
“Prob’ly. There’s no way it’s Fey.”
There was really only one suspect if you were looking for Poesies who set up magical pranks. Kendall. But it wasn’t as if a magical prank on a step was much of a hindrance for us. Jade did a little bunny hop and flew through the air to the landing. I flew after her, and reached the landing in time to see her bunny hop down all the way to the main level. It was undoubtedly Jann giving her flight, but it looked harmless. Harmless and silly. That was probably a really good skill to develop before she was out among the baselines again.
<(Phase) Heads up. Magical prank on the bottom two steps above the landing between our floor and first floor.>
<(Generator) Belle’s at it again.>
<(Chaka) What’s it do?>
<(Generator) No idea. I see magic, I don’t understand what it’s doing.>
<(Phase) Hey Chaka, feel free to step on it and find out.>
<(Lancer) How many people even walk down those stairs anyway? Plenty of people just fly up the steps.>
<(Generator) Gotta go. Mrs. Horton to talk into stuff.>
We flew around the corner and over to Mrs. Horton’s office. The door was open, and Mrs. Horton was sitting at it, going through paperwork.
Jade hopped in, wearing a great big smile. “Hi! Is it okay if I get my lion back? Kimba shouldn’t be running off by himself like that.”
Mrs. Horton gave her a tolerant smile. I couldn’t tell whether she knew Jade was feeding her a line and didn’t mind because Jade was so cute, or if she knew Jade was feeding her a line and wanted to find out what Jade was up to. But Jade was carrying Jann around in her – well, it was probably Jann, but it could be any one of the J-Team – and so she would know what emotions Mrs. Horton was projecting, and would see how to play this. Unless Mrs. Horton was masking her emotions or projecting the wrong emotions.
Yes, I know. Sometimes I over-complicate things. I can’t help it.
Mrs. Horton gave me a gentle smile. “Ayla? Jade’s little lion explained about your continued growth, and I dug out some more tops. I couldn’t find any bra that will fit you in our little emergency storage area, but they do have some in your size in the school store.” I nodded unhappily. “But I do have a couple tops in your size. These have a lot more spandex and tendex, and a lot less Kevlar and armourlon, but they’ll work for what you need right now.”
That was better than I had expected, so I simply said, “Thank you.”
She asked, “How are you doing? I mean, how are you coping? Many students who go through changes this abrupt become…”
I interrupted, “Violent? Furious? Insanely angry about what happened to them?”
I just said, “Me too. I’m furious.”
“You look… rather calm for someone who claims to be furious.”
I said, “That’s because you can’t see the freaking cartoon steam pouring out of my ears.”
She gave me a pensive look. “That seems rather mild, considering what we usually hear from students experiencing these sorts of changes.”
“Like Reach?” I wondered.
“Among others,” she nodded.
I assumed from her tone that she wasn’t going to give me any more information. But I knew the most likely suspects in the building: Zenith and Shrike. There were probably others who weren’t in Poe, but I knew I would have to expend resources to track them down, and it would be for very little gain. I couldn’t see that it would be worth the effort right now.
Now if it turned out that someone like Don Sebastiano or Imperious was desperately covering up the fact that he used to be a girl, then that would be blackmail material that would be well worth the cost of acquisition.
I flew back up to my room with the two supertops, one to fit my current condition and the other in case I grew more than another cup size. As I flew up the stairs, I realized that I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t thirsty. My appetite felt normal, for the first time in a couple days. That had to be a good sign.
I kept telling myself that ad infinitem. I really needed something that wasn’t drastically disastrous.
Vamp was still trying to sleep, and I really did think Jade had gone beyond the pale with that MC Hammer dancing alarm clock the other morning. Seriously. MC Hammer? Wasn’t that a violation of the Geneva conventions? So I made an effort to be quiet. And maybe I was just feeling better at the idea that my growth had finally stopped, and I could go down to Dunwich for some decently-fitting clothing today.
The supershorts still fit properly, even if they were as revealing as ever. On the other hand, my regular super-uniform was pretty much skin-tight as well. Several people had commented on that after my combat final. Apparently, even Peeper had made an issue of my butt and my legs during his broadcast. So maybe I needed a heavier supersuit. Or a concealing cloak secretly powered by Jinn.
The smaller of the two new supertops fit me, even if the curves underneath were annoying. Annoying and frustrating and infuriating. Why was I the one who ended up looking more like Zenith? Why couldn’t I end up looking like Pendragon? Or Lancer? Or even Trevor James Goodkind? Hell, I’d settle for looking like Peeper. He had no idea how much worse his life could be.
Okay, on the other hand, it looked like I was getting out of this without looking like Fubar or Tisiphone or Phlegm.
I adjusted my sandals and grabbed my cloak. I figured it was time to round up the team and go off to breakfast. But my bPhone buzzed.
I grabbed it off my desk. As soon as I saw who it was, I stepped outside into the hallway. “Phase here.”
I knew it was Jobe’s lab, so I was unsurprised when I heard Bova on the other end of the line. “It’s Bova. I hope I’m not calling too early?”
“Of course not,” I told her. “I’m always pleased to hear from you. It doesn’t even have to be official Jobe business.”
She said, “Well, Jobe thinks it’s good news. I don’t understand the science part of it, but she was able to work out some way of recovering the traces from that bottle, and so she’s figured a few things out.”
A different voice cut in. “A few things? I have ‘figured out’ everything,” Jobe declared. “Come in at once.”
I wasn’t going to take issue with her ‘Princess Jobe’ attitude, because that attitude was part of what had created this breakthrough. If Jobe hadn’t been so self-absorbed, and so convinced that she was so amazing, and so insanely determined to make things conform to the way she insisted they be, she wouldn’t have tried so hard and so effectively to get this advancement. Instead, I said, “I’ll be in as soon as I can.”
That didn’t mean that I was going to fly through the wall and rush right over. Even if I wanted to rush right over. No, I needed to address a couple problems first. I wasn’t hungry, but I couldn’t simply skip breakfast and not regret it later. And I needed to keep my team apprised of developments.
Wait, I could do both at the same time.
<(Phase) Just an FYI. Jobe thinks she knows what went wrong. I’m headed over there now.>
<(Generator) Need some backup?>
<(Phase) Sure. Preferably bearing glad tidings. Could Shroud go get me a cup of coffee and a couple croissants and bring them over?>
<(Generator) You know she can’t see which ones are baked just right, right?>
<(Phase) Oh yeah. Maybe a cup of the good coffee – she can ask the chefs and tell them it’s for me – and if they don’t have a treat for me, she can ask one of them to pick out two or three croissants.>
<(Generator) Sure! That’ll work. Same lab? Same robot guard?>
<(Chaka) Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel?>
<(Fey) You’re watching too much old tv again.>
<(Chaka) Hey, it’s a classic! And if anyone ever attacks me with umbrellas, I’ll know what to do!>
<(Lancer) I think we all know who’s most likely around here to attack with something weird like an umbrella, and it’s you.>
<(Tennyo) And if you work out some katas for umbrellas, I wanna learn ‘em too.>
<(Generator) It’s dull. It’ll hurt more!>
At least that time, I knew the reference. The movies on our team movie nights tended to be something silly and crazy, so I was now familiar with the entire Mel Brooks oeuvre. The only downside was that my team was also.
All right, there was another downside. Jade’s Yiddish vocabulary was now a significant fraction of my own. I was going to have to look up some more Yiddish words and phrases. After all, I was the New Yorker. I was the one who was supposed to know this kind of thing.
I grabbed my utility belt. Then, just in case, I folded the second new supertop and tucked it into the right front pocket. And just in case a miracle occurred, I fished from the laundry basket the one intact one from yesterday, even though it was currently too small for me. I also grabbed the triangle bikini top, since it was going to be usable over a variety of cup sizes.
I put on my cloak, wrapped it tightly around myself so I could take all of it light with me, and flew off toward Jobe’s lab. While I went, I pulled out my bPhone and made a hasty check. Yes, there were books on Yiddish. I would just check later and see if the library had either “The Joy of Yiddish” or “The Joy of Yinglish” in the stacks.
I flew to a spot I had mentally marked. It was roughly halfway between Melville and Dunn Hall, just about fifty yards off the main path to Poe and Hawthorne, where a big pine tree had a broken limb that had been trimmed. I assumed that the grounds crew had some trained silviculturalists, because the limb had been trimmed expertly, but also artistically, so that there wasn’t an ugly butt jutting out for all to see.
I dove straight down just ten feet west of the trimmed spot. I really wasn’t comfortable doing it. My claustrophobia meant that I was never at ease when I dove into the ground, even though I could easily stop at any point and just fly back to the surface.
I passed through one particular dusty storage room, so I knew I was in the right place. I passed through a hallway that led off toward central campus. I went farther down. And I emerged into one of the many large Workshop corridors. The short hallway to Jobe’s lab – or what I assumed was her primary lab – was just around the corner. I flew around the corner into the hall.
And Mister Roboto was standing there, facing a Whateley guard. The guard was holding five cards in his hand and was saying, “No, trying to fill an inside straight isn’t a good gamble. You should… Oh. Hi, Phase.”
The robot turned to face me. I could see it had five cards in one hand, and the rest of the deck in its other hand. It said, “Identity: Phase. You have already been verified. Please move forward to the entry door.”
I moved past the two guards and pressed the buzzer beside the security door.
Bova pulled the door open and smiled, “Hi, Phase. That was fast.”
I said, “I did state that I would come in as soon as I could.”
Jobe didn’t look up from what was possibly a deviser version of an electron microscope. She grumbled, “Most people say that and they mean ‘when I feel like it, so perhaps next week’.”
Bova looked at Jobe and calmly asked, “Do we have to be mean to people when they’re not the one who made you upset?”
Jobe growled, “Don’t you have somewhere you’re supposed to be?”
Bova smiled, “Not for forty minutes.”
“Thirty-seven minutes,” Jobe corrected.
“If you say so,” Bova said calmly. “You’re much better with math than me.”
“What’s in thirty-seven minutes?” I wondered, even though I had a good idea.
She said, “Morning martial arts lessons. And I need to check on Belphoebe too.”
“Some people see slacking off as a viable career option,” grumbled Jobe.
Bova stayed calm and defended Belphoebe. “She’s not slacking off. She’s just tired. She’ll be there.”
Jobe snorted in derision. “While you’re wasting your time, why don’t you run Phase there through a full scan. We can probably use the data for something.”
Wow, that was really encouraging me to hop right into the thing.
I still did it. Even though I had to take everything off first, and stand naked in the stupid machine for a minute or so. When Bova was done, she walked away to get my clothes. Jobe took the opportunity to stroll over.
She stared right at my boobs, the horny little drow. She said, “Well, the excellent shape and conformation are certainly not due to the contaminants.”
What a dickhead. She was not only ogling my chest, but she was taking credit for how my breasts looked.
She continued, “The regeneration’s solid, and definitely at level three. I’m quite proud of that. And those testes should be standard on every male. When I transform back to my old self, I fully intend to ensure that my testes can retract like that, for maximal protection under unexpected circumstances, but the ability to lower them when I feel like it so I can enhance fertility.”
I tried not to growl. “I can’t get them to descend.”
“Sure you can,” she said blithely. “Focus on the muscles in that region. Start with the muscles involved in bladder control and sphincter control. DO NOT urinate in my scanner!”
“I think I should get dressed instead.”
She nodded, “Good idea. I have some adult diapers over by the clothes.”
“I have no intention of doing anything that would entail adult diapers!” I fumed.
The door swung open, and Jadis walked in. “And how are we doing this mor…” She abruptly wheeled around so her back was to me. “Nobody told me Ayla was standing in here naked!”
I complained, “Blame the weirdo who has the devise. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Just… put some clothes on!”
I looked over at Jobe and asked, “Can I get out of your devise now?”
“Yes, yes, obviously you can,” she fumed. “Just get those balls working somewhere else other than my delicate instruments.”
“What?” asked Jadis suspiciously.
Jobe waved off Jadis’ reaction. “Oh, Ayla’s obsessing that she’s lost her testes, when all they did was ascend into her abdominal cavity. All she has to do is focus on the right muscle groups, and she’ll be able to lower them. It’s not rocket science.”
Jadis looked at me out of the corner of her eye and asked, “Do I want to know?”
I already had my supershorts on, and I was trying to get my top on over my hooters. I muttered, “No, not really. Just another surprise side effect.”
Jobe insisted, “Side effect? It’s obviously a direct consequence of the sabotage! Still, it’s a very useful ability. Once I return to my normal, manly self, I fully intend to adopt the idea. No more getting kicked in the balls, the ability to control my own sperm viability merely through temperature adjustment… I should make it available to every guy on the planet!”
Jadis glared at me with a “this is all your fault” look. How was any of this my fault? She re-focused her glare on the guilty party. “Now. Jobe. You called me and told me you had worked this out, and you had me run a magical test for you. What did you find?”
Jobe said, “I had to re-design the protocols for the usual PCR because of the mess that some people left behind…” She huffed, “Some people shouldn’t be allowed within miles of a decent lab.”
Jadis gave me a raised eyebrow, so I mouthed ‘Freight Train’ and she gave me a terse nod.
Jobe continued, “At any rate, once I was able to reverse-engineer what FT actually did, instead of what she was supposed to do, I was able to work out the precise details. Someone removed roughly eighty percent of the serum and injected some new components, plural. There were three ‘components’ added that are clearly other devisors’ work, and there were two components which wouldn’t run through a standard PCR because they’re magical or technomantic in nature.”
I checked, “Technomantic? Like what Nephandus does?”
Jobe shook her head with an overbearing smirk, “No, I checked with him. Not his work. Not Mal’s either.”
Jadis glared at her for implying Mal might do such a thing. She interrupted, “Not J-Arm’s style, either. He doesn’t even have a reason to sabotage your serum. He’s rather enjoyed you making fools of the Masterminds and the Secret Squirrels and the Good Ol’ Pricks. If anything, he’d slip in somewhere and do something to help you. Anyway, Jobe whined-” “I did not whine!” “-for help and so I did a magical test for him, and it’s definitely technomantic in nature. So…”
She was dying to get to play Sherlock Holmes, so I asked the leading question she wanted. “So who?”
“Who has a motive?” Jobe smirked, breaking in on Jadis’ big reveal.
Jadis persisted, “The old Alphas are out. Hekate’s gone, and Don Sebastiano doesn’t have the contacts anymore. The Good Ol’ Boyz don’t have the know-how.”
Jobe interrupted snidely, “Ferret couldn’t tell the difference between technomancy and adamancy. Or Katamari Damacy.”
Jadis ignored her and moved forward. “The campus bullies don’t have the means. The New Olympians would have to go through Knick-Knack for something technomantic, and Mal says he’s been busy working on his school projects since the start of term. Majestic’s strong on standard magic and spellwork, but not on anything newer than about 400 CE.”
Jobe complained, “I’m surprised most of the New Olympians can operate a DVD player. I’m surprised Counterpoint can operate a toaster.”
Jadis snarked, “Cytherea just gets some guy to do the work for her.”
I added, “I think that’s true for every aspect of Cytherea’s life.”
Jadis concentrated. “Anyway, as I was saying, the number of people around here who could perform technomancy is limited, and we can rule out most of them, so…”
Jobe interrupted her just as she was getting to the big summation. “Jads, why must this take more than two seconds? It’s obvious. Devisor? Revenge factor? Hello!”
“You really think it could be Belphegor?” I checked. I had considered Belphegor as soon as I heard that someone had gotten into Jobe’s lab and mucked with a devise, but I had assumed that Belphoebe would know how to keep Belphegor out of anywhere.
Jobe sneered, “Ah yes, I did think you might catch up if I slowed down long enough for the laggards.”
I still pointed out, “But Belph knows what happens to people who try to get revenge for the sims and the finals.” That was the main reason I had eliminated him from my short list. Belph might be an ingenious deviser, but he was also a cowardly little weasel who wouldn’t risk the kinds of punishments that got visited upon the heads of those who couldn’t leave it behind in the sims. At least, I had assumed I knew him well enough to make that call.
She smiled wickedly, “But if he were to perpetrate a vengeance that no one would suspect…”
“You suspected,” Jadis pointed out.
Jobe smiled mercilessly, “But that’s only because I’m so much smarter than that floating flummox. He’d never think anyone would catch him.”
“I certainly agree with that part,” I muttered.
Jadis complained, “If anyone around here has delusions of grandeur…”
Jobe interrupted, “Delusions of grandeur? He has delusions of competence.”
Jadis smirked, “And yet he got past your security.”
Jobe scowled, “He wouldn’t have if I weren’t surrounded by incompetents! All they had to do was to turn the system on before they left!”
“Would that be the system that requires non-Exemplars to memorize a 120-character genome sequence?” I asked casually.
“WHY does everyone act like that’s so HARD?” Jobe complained theatrically.
Jadis and I exchanged eyerolls. If Jobe hadn’t been around to hear, I would have asked Jadis if William Shatner taught acting classes in Karedonia in exchange for a few weeks in a cozy timeshare. Well, at least Jobe didn’t stare up at the sky and make exaggerated arm gestures too.
I said, “I was under the impression that the intruder used a tranquilizer dart on the security guard, instead of the ‘Men in Black neuralizer’ that Belph has been using.”
Jobe frowned, “Where did you hear about that? Jads? Are you talking out of school again?”
Jadis snapped, “It wasn’t me, as you would know if you thought about it.”
Jobe said, “It was rather convenient that Belphy was willing to expose that particular tidbit about him.”
Jadis admitted, “It’s been rather convenient that she has one herself.”
Jobe said, “Fortunately, it’s a rather trivial system that uses alpha-wave and beta-wave patterns in the visible and near-visible spectrum to interrupt the cognitive process of transfer from short-term to long-term memory. We merely needed to tweak the pattern emitted by my overhead lights, and it will interfere with any use of his devise within my laboratories or my dorm room.”
Naturally, she didn’t stop to consider all the other Workshoppers, or all the other people who might in turn be victimized by Belphegor in future.
Jobe grumbled, “I still think it’s suspicious that someone informed on Bel-fatso. It would have to be someone that Belphy or Jadis talks to, or else someone who saw it in use, assuming it was being used on someone else…”
Jadis groaned, as she realized how I found out.
Jobe leapt to her own conclusions. “Aha! It was Hazard! You did take her to Boston, and she’s one of Phase’s peons.”
I objected, “None of the bookies is my peon. Not even Risk.” I deliberately didn’t deny that my informant was Hazard. There were too many people around Whateley who could detect a lie or misrepresentation, and Jadis could be carrying around an amulet or something that could do it for her. Instead, I moved for the distraction. I asked Jobe, “Now, did you ask me down here because you had an antidote for my condition?”
She fussed, “You know the answer to that. I made it very clear. If my intermediaries are not up to the task, then it is not my fault, other than the issue of not picking the optimal people to enjoy the benefits of my drow serum. And furthermore-”
Pardon me, Your Highness. There is a visitor here with non-threatening objects for one of your guests.
Jobe grimaced at the robot’s voice as it came over the speaker. “I am going to have to have a talk with Belphy about reprogramming my work.”
It is Shroud.
Jobe frowned, “Phase, would you please stop urging your minions to bring your unimportant junk here? And would you go deal with Shroud?”
I was dressed, so I nodded, “Of course. I’d be happy to.” I was happy to do so, since it involved breakfast for me. I walked out of Jobe’s lab and a few yards down the hall. Shroud was in her skinpours, so she looked like one more flying superpowered mutant. She was explaining to the robot, “No, you need to work on your dance moves. Everybody expects you to do the robot, you know.”
I did not know that. And working on dance moves is not required for this task.
Shroud pouted, “Well, you’re… Oh, hi Phase!”
She flew closer to me and handed me a to-go cup of what I hoped was the good coffee, and a paper bag that looked like it had more than just two croissants in it.
She said, “Okay, they were super-nice when they heard I was running an errand for you, and Jana got two croissants for you, and one of the chefs with the sexy French accents had some pastry for you. So eat up! I put a few napkins in there too.”
“Thank you, Shroud. I really appreciate your taking the time to get this for me. And please thank Generator. But really, I think Jobe would be a lot happier if you’d leave her robots alone.”
“Well, why do you think I’m not?” she grinned, before she spun about and flew off down the hallway. She stopped at the intersection, turned to face me, and did a couple seconds of the robot before taking off again.
I walked into the lab again, to find Jobe and Jadis standing and watching the hallway on a monitor. Color me surprised.
Jobe growled, “I swear, I think it’s impossible to tell which of them is less stable: Shroud or Generator.”
Jadis smiled behind Jobe’s back.
I said, “They’re sisters. I think they share the craziness. When Generator does some of her operations for Shroud, I think she might even infect Shroud with more insanity.”
Jadis smirked, “As I’ve said before, if a devise operates by doing something crazy-”
Jobe interrupted her, “Just because a deviser can make something that apparently violates known scientific principles, that does not mean that the deviser has to be mentally unstable! Unless you’re talking about Mega-Death.”
“Just because MD has a known medical condition, that doesn’t make his inventions crazy. If anything, it makes his inventions fail,” I said with some asperity.
I took a sip of the coffee and enjoyed the richness. Jinn had managed to get the good coffee, even though she had added too much sugar and too much milk. I wasn’t going to complain about it. After all, no one was making her do anything nice for me, and she was probably trying her hardest to get the coffee the way she thought I would like it. I just didn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as some people. I looked around and cautiously asked, “Is there a place I can set food where it won’t contaminate any of your experiments, and vice versa?”
Jadis looked around the room and said, “I could hold something for you. Just in case.”
Jobe glared at her and said, “Yes, there is a surface specifically for objects brought in from the outside. I try not to let anyone use it, but Freight Train only hears what she wants to hear.”
I handed Jadis my coffee and said, “Help yourself. It has a little too much sugar and milk, but it’s okay.” Then I opened up the paper bag. I took out a croissant and offered it to her. “Breakfast?”
“What do you have in there?” she wondered.
“Two of the good croissants, and two…” I inhaled the rich aroma wafting up from the baked goods as I studied the contents of the bag. “…of the good apple turnovers.”
Jobe sniffed the air and said, “Those do smell much better than the usual garbage the cooks dump in front of the students.”
Jadis said to Jobe, “She bribes the chefs.”
I shrugged, “They seem to like having someone who appreciates their artistry, rather than someone who would happily eat an entire tray of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”
“Or an entire charred steer,” griped Jobe.
I asked Jadis, “Would you rather have one of the turnovers?”
She said, “I already ate breakfast…” She sniffed the air and then smiled, “But I suppose I have room for half a turnover.”
I tore an apple turnover in half, and gave her one part. Then I took a bite and savored the goodness. The pastry was light and flaky and buttery. The apple filling was thick, and full of perfectly-baked apple pieces, instead of being mostly that yellowish goo that I had seen Jade eating the other day, even though she claimed that it was apple filling. The filling was redolent with tart apple and sweet honey, along with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg and allspice to bring out the depth of the apple taste.
Jobe stood there, watching us eat, until Jadis finished her last bite and moaned, “Mmm, that was excellent.”
At that point, Jobe finally got around to voicing the complaint she had been silently projecting. “Why are you feeding Jadis and not me?”
“Why do you think that might be?” I replied. I didn’t really think that I could use the Socratic method effectively on Jobe, but it seemed worth trying.
“Is it because I neglected something trivial, and probably politically correct or an antiquated politeness?”
“That would be a negative,” I said.
“Is it because you like Jadis much better?”
I replied, “Only in part, although there is no question that I like her better.”
“Is it because you have some distorted viewpoint about my researches or my past history?”
I gave her a raised eyebrow and said, “Oddly enough, that isn’t it either.”
Jadis finally intervened. “Is it because I’m giving the impression that I’m interested in your problem, and I appear to be trying to help you, instead of focusing on other issues?”
“A brilliant induction, Holmes. Jolly good. Have a little of a croissant,” I smirked.
“Jobe tried, “So… all that would be needed is for me to pretend to be concerned about your feeble little problem, and make some token effort to help you with it?”
Missed it by that much. I glanced at Jadis, who gave me a ‘what did you expect’ look. So I said, “That would be a reasonable starting point, even though most people would expect more than that.”
“And why would I care about most people?” Jobe asked.
The really distressing part of that query was that it wasn’t malicious, or spiteful. It sounded as if she really didn’t see why she should bother with the uneducated hoi polloi out there. All right, another distressing part of her query was that she didn’t sound all that different from my sister Heather when she asked it, but I wasn’t going to discuss that with anyone in the room. Not even Jadis.
There was also the problem that Jobe thought that ‘the great unwashed’ comprised something well over 99.99% of the earth’s population. As far as I had been able to gather, the list of people who didn’t make that category was comprised of her father, a couple other relatives, Jadis and Mal, perhaps a dozen supervillains, and perhaps another half dozen researchers tops. So about a score of people, out of roughly 6.6 billion. That pushed the percentage up to about 99.9999997% approximately. And I wasn’t deluding myself by including Ayla Goodkind anywhere on the short list.
Jobe sniffed the air again and grumbled, “Very well. What are you expecting of me that I haven’t already done?”
I handed her a nice, toasty-warm croissant and a napkin.
She took a bite and chewed. “Mmm. That’s rather better than I expected. I should start bribing the chefs here as well.”
I said patiently, “I am expecting you to think through the process like one of the best biochemists on the planet.”
She blithely replied, “That goes without saying.”
I continued, “And I expect you to live up to the details of the contract.”
She nodded, “As I have.”
I repressed a smile, even if Jadis didn’t bother. “Not quite. According to section 17, paragraph 22, since the serum failed to work as expected, you are contractually obligated to take a dose yourself.”
Jobe regally insisted, “But the serum was perfect. I made no mistakes.”
Jadis looked like she was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from giggling.
I pointed out, “But you did make a mistake. You injected me with something that failed to work as you and I expected, even if it wasn’t one hundred percent your work. And, as it plainly says in section 17, paragraph 54, you are obligated under any circumstances where the administered serum fails to work as at least one of us expected. And it most certainly failed, as far as I am concerned.”
Jobe glared at Jadis and said, “See? I told you that one can’t trust a Goodkind, especially when it comes to contractual agreements!”
Jadis said, “You read that section and agreed to it. And I believe I recommended that you two not start this process at all.”
I said, “But this doesn’t have to be a penalty clause. Assuming it is one is going to be problematic. Instead, we should look at this in light of section 17, paragraphs 56 through 59.”
She raised one delicate finger to argue… and froze. She stared at the ceiling for long seconds. She finally murmured, “Yes, I believe you have an excellent idea, Phase. I’ve been struggling with the downside of turning myself into a Regen 5. This could work. If the serum can overcome the Regen reversion issues, then I’ll have an approach to restore my body to my former manly self.”
Jadis rolled her eyes.
I managed to refrain, despite the intense temptation. On the other hand, I failed to keep my mouth closed. I groused, “I wasn’t trying to do something nice for you.” I shouldn’t have said it out loud, but Jobe knew I was thinking it anyway.
“Oh, I know, I know… That was obvious. But if my corporeal reversion syndrome continues to work as effectively as it has so far, then I’ll be able to study my own lymphocyte repair mechanisms and see how to formulate an antidote for you.”
“So it’s not exactly a win-win scenario,” I said.
“No, it should be a zero-sum game. Only one of us will win.”
I smiled, “Have I mentioned how nice it is to deal with someone who even knows what a zero sum game is?”
Oh God, I was complimenting Jobe. The serum must have made me insane.
She went on as though compliments like that were her due, “But the other won’t be any worse off, and I might be able to learn more about my own telomerase expression and phenotypic plasticity, in the process.”
She scurried over to a rack of test tubes and biomedical machines. As she worked she muttered, “Since we know what the relevant components of the serum are, we can dispense with the distractions, but that means we can work with a concentrate of the technomantic distillate… After all, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the precipitate… And a simple modification of the…”
She turned around with a hypodermic syringe and a slightly deranged smile. I had a sudden urge to go light. Or go heavy. Or just go. She quickly injected it into a vein in her forearm, and then nodded to herself. “May I have that last turnover? I am about to need a substantial caloric loading in addition to fluids, electrolytes, and a sound dietary combination of vitamins and minerals.”
I fished the apple turnover out of the bag and handed it over. She ate it rather delicately for a boy in a hurry. Then she stepped over to a cabinet on the far wall. She drank two entire bottles of Pedialyte™, took four different vitamins and dietary supplements in pill form, and then drank three glasses of water.
She glanced at the wall clock and said, “And the effects ought to become noticeable about… now.”
She hung up her labcoat. She took off her blouse and pants, dumping them on the floor. I thought it was interesting that Jobe clearly cared more about her labcoat than about clothing, even after her change.
Jobe removed her bra just as her breasts began to bulge a little about the edges of the cups. I made an effort not to stare at her chest, even though the hot pink nipples just screamed for attention against their jet black background. Still, I had objected to Jobe’s staring at my gazongas, so I could at least minimize the hypocrisy, even if my hormones were urging me to take a good look.
Jobe stepped out of her panties too, and moved over to the spare clothing. Apparently, Jobe didn’t care about clothing even if it was nothing but a string bikini. She fastened the bikini bottom about her hips, using what looked like surgical knots instead of ordinary bows. Then she adjusted the bikini top about her chest. She stepped over to a cabinet of tiny drawers, and found a small, stretchy cylinder about four inches long. She tied the remaining strings of the bikini top to both sides of the cylinder, and then looped it over her head so it rested at the back of her neck. Once she had it in place, she tugged the strings tighter, so the triangles of the bikini top held up her melons.
It was pretty obvious that the stretching cylinder at the nape of her neck was going to allow her to continuously adjust the strings of the bikini top without huge amounts of hassle. And it was pretty obvious to me that she just hadn’t cared enough to loan one to me when I was having my growth problems. Thanks so much for your concern, princess.
But by the time Jobe was done fiddling with her bikini top, her chest was noticeably larger. Jadis tried not to scowl, but I could tell she was pretty irritated that the one person in the room who wanted to have larger breasts was the one who wasn’t getting any growth. On the other hand, Jadis might have wanted to jump up to a B cup or a C cup, but there was no way she would want to leap all the way to a K cup, or possibly something even larger.
Jobe slipped on her specially-equipped and highly-weaponized labcoat, and then began regular measurements and scans. I had thought she was asking me for a lot of scans and evaluations, but she went far past that for herself. She hooked up a utility belt that would broadcast continuous EEGs, EKGs, blood chemistry, heart rhythms, body temperature, blood pressure, and another couple dozen measurements to her monitors. All she had to do was to insert three hypodermic needles into her arteries, all of them feeding directly into the belt, along with seventeen patches wired to the belt and two small meters she actually shoved through her skin into her musculature. Jeez, was I glad she hadn’t insisted on doing all of that to me.
I had been quite perturbed and angry when my breasts were growing, but Jobe’s boobs started growing so fast that the changes were visible. It wasn’t just unpleasant, it was freaky. Okay, it was somewhere up close to frightening.
Jadis murmured in the tones of a policeman, “Be on the lookout for a large female breast. About a four thousand with an X cup.”
Jobe turned and glared at her. “What have I told you about quoting Woody Allen movies?”
Jadis impishly said, “Sorry. It won’t happen again… this morning. Dr. Bernardo.”
Jobe doubled the intensity of her glare. “That does it! Do something useful, or leave!”
I thought what she had been doing was pretty useful, as far as I was concerned.
Jadis said, “Fine, fine, I’ll do something useful.”
She pulled out her phone, which I now knew was a gift from her father. That meant it had features that even my bPhone probably didn’t have, although Bunny had designed an entire phone OS so that she could write or update apps for the phone to give it new functionality whenever she felt like it. She pushed the touchscreen a couple times. “Mal?”
She didn’t bother to use earbuds or a WiFi earjack, so I could hear his reply. “Hi. More problems with Jobe and Phase?”
She glanced at me and said, “They’re being oddly rational about this.”
I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at her.
He said, “So, you still working the same angles as before?”
He said, “Okay. He’s just left the caff and he’s walking with his little robot buddy down toward the main Workshop lab. He’s taking his time, since he’s gotten attacked a few times the last couple weeks when he went down there.”
Jadis smiled wickedly. “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
Mal said, “Yeah, most of the attacks have been pretty plebeian. Paintballs, Cobra ammo… The swarm of hornets was pretty good, though, and-”
I couldn’t help slapping my forehead and muttering, “Gah!”
Jadis glanced at me and said, “That was Generator.”
Mal said, “Cool. Like I’ve said before, you don’t have to be a DEV-6 if you’re creative enough. Anyway, I’m giving the hornets third place. The best was-”
Jadis interrupted him, “Could you just keep track of Bel-fatty for us? We’re most likely going to want to have a little chat with him before too much longer.”
Mal said, “Sure thing. I’ll tell you the top two at lunch. Oh, and is Phase there?”
“Put it on speakerphone.”
Jadis groaned softly but obliged. “You’re up, Mal.”
He said, “Hey Phase. Can you tell me whether Generator’s hornets are genetic engineering, bio-manipulation, or micro-surgery?”
I had no intention of telling him they were actually little plastic toy hornets, animated with one of the J-Team. I lied, “I have no idea. Just go ask her. She loves showing off. But if she holds out her purse and asks if you want to take a look into it, just say no.”
“Gotcha. Thanks for the FYI.” He hung up from his end.
Jadis tapped a couple spots on the touchscreen before putting it away. I assumed she was locking the screen to keep anyone from getting into it if they managed to steal it from her, but it was also possible that she was doing something more interesting. After all, my bPhone had an automatic security lock and a fingerprint reader. I decided to hope that she was doing something that would embarrass Jobe fairly soon, not that I thought she would really do that in front of someone outside the Bad Seeds.
Jobe snitched my last croissant, without asking. Of course. Then she drank another bottle of the Pedialyte™. I wasn’t sure how someone with enhanced senses could gulp down that junk like it was tasty, but she managed it. She followed that up with four energy bars and another glass of water.
By then, her breasts were getting somewhere close to my size. I was starting to wonder if she was going to end up in worse condition than me. But she suddenly dashed over to several monitors and began typing rapidly.
I stepped to the side, so I could see what was happening on the monitors. One monitor had what looked like DNA and RNA strands that were obviously mutating in what I assumed was real time. I was guessing that the screen colors and the arrows were showing which segments of the molecules were in flux, while the little boxes were showing what was actually happening.
Jobe stared at one screen and said, “Aha! So that’s what we need!”
And as she started working at a different machine, her breasts started shrinking. They didn’t collapse like a punctured balloon, but it was rapid enough to notice if you looked at them every few minutes. Frankly, it was a lot more disturbing than seeing them grow.
On the other hand, it could have been a lot more disturbing. Imagine if they had wrinkled like grapes on a vine turning into raisins. Or if they had shrunk and withered like an aging old crone. And I’m sure Jobe could have managed either effect if she had wanted to. No, they simply shrank back down, leaving smooth skin behind, like someone was messing about with Photoshop instead of trying to create something ‘lifelike’.
I finally noticed the time. It was nearly noon. So the creepiness hadn’t been a matter of minutes. It had been spread out over nearly two hours.
Okay, I had been checking my bPhone. I was monitoring some financial blogs and financial newslines. DeBoers-Goodkind was having a fit over the diamonds being mined in Karedonia, since they were interfering with a nearly monopolistic control over the diamond markets. Joe Quesada and Stan Lee had given a statement on Friday about how pleased they were with the new Marvel management, and stocks had jumped accordingly. But Sony was launching an investigation into accounting irregularities on the last two Spiderman movies, and both Sony and Marvel stocks were expected to take a hit from that news, come Monday morning. Goodkind International was announcing that Goodkind Space Research was going to launch the test flight for Project Asterix at the beginning of May, and they were inviting every interested journalist in the world to come down to the GSR equatorial launch site and see their foolproof technology; they were also announcing a contest for the best lightweight camera gear anyone could put together, and they would take the top several along as payload, so the entire world could watch over the internet as the payload deflected an asteroid’s course over the next ten months or so.
I smiled to myself. NASA and ESA were going to have egg on their faces over this one. And it looked like Paul, or the marketing people, had figured out how to turn our concern about people’s suspicions into a ‘welcoming’ approach to alleviate said qualms. If five different people had miniature cameras onboard, and all five had transmissions being sent to Earth for public view, then the transparency should allay a lot of the worries about what ‘those Goodkinds’ were doing.
Jadis hadn’t left either, but she appeared to be designing some sort of spellwork using a drawing app on her DoctorDadPhone. I had tried to sneak a peek a couple times, but she had shooed me away. Okay, if she didn’t want me to look, I would respect her privacy. For now.
I decided I need to do something about the time. <(Phase) I’m still in Jobe’s laBORatory…>
<(Chaka) Now with extra bore!>
<(Phase) Can I prevail on anyone to bring me some lunch? And an extra sandwich for Jadis? And… Oh what the hell, Jobe’s actually making an effort and it looks like she’s close to a breakthrough, so maybe something for her too.>
<(Lancer) What do drow eat, anyway?>
<(Fey) Besides the people they assimilate?>
<(Chaka) Ooh, cranky!>
<(Phase) Apparently, they eat the same things they ate before, although judging by the snacks in one cupboard down here, they all have a taste for almonds. And Freight Train has a ziplock bag of licorice whips, with an angry handwritten note for everyone else to leave her stuff alone.>
<(Tennyo) The note is angry?>
<(Phase) I once read a book on handwriting analysis.>
<(Chaka) OF COURSE!>
<(Phase) Also, the large, capitalized ‘GODDAMMIT’ with five exclamation points was a slight hint.>
<(Generator) Hey, one of me will go by the cafeteria and see if the chefs have more treats for you.>
<(Shroud) I could do it.>
<(Generator2) I’ve got a Spot. I could do it.>
<(Generator) No flying cabbits in the caff. Not after the thing with Akira and Ash.>
<(Shroud) Hey! Those ‘noodles’ were hilarious!>
<(Generator) Oh totally. We laughed so hard I had to cast Jayna to hold my bladder.>
<(Generator2) That was gross. I don’t wanna do that part again.>
<(Generator) You’d rather have underwear and a skirt that were all pee-flooded?>
<(Generator2) No, but…>
<(Tennyo) Can you not talk about peeing yourself? Now I have to go!>
<(Phase) Maybe you could argue with yourself more effectively if you recombined first.>
<(Generator) But that way’s no fun!>
<(Chaka) It is pretty darn funny like this. Gotta represent.>
<(Shroud) Okay, I’m already most of the way across the Quad, and heading into the cafeteria. I’ll be down there in a few.>
<(Generator) Remember what Bunny said about Jobe.>
<(Shroud) Oh. Right.>
<(Tennyo) G? What was that?>
<(Generator) I didn’t say that out loud over the Spots, did I?>
Oh crap. Well, there was no point in asking Jade what she was up to. I knew from experience that wouldn’t work, unless she was planning on telling me anyway. I would just have to deal with events as they unfolded. Knowing Jade, I expected they would unfold into a bizarre origami Hello Kitty shape. Carrying a chainsaw. Or maybe carrying a linear induction grenade launcher. Or possibly even a Cobra linear induction system that fired running chainsaws. With Jade, a lot of impossible things became possible.
Perhaps even probable.
Jobe began working with some sort of chemical synthesis system that used a computer control to introduce particular liquids at particular places at the top of the network of glass tubes and vials and black boxes. At least one of the black boxes was a heating system, because Jobe stopped and manually adjusted the desired temperature on the box as the computer switched the connections for the tubing.
She caught me looking and pointed at the part of the system she was manipulating. “Fractional distillation. It’s disgusting how few people have adopted my mechanism, even though it works eighty-seven percent more efficiently, controls temperatures better by a factor of three, and produces sequenced distillates roughly six times faster than the standard junk, with a far higher purity.”
I had a feeling that it was only Jobe Classic’s irritating egomania that kept the system from gaining more popular acceptance, because it looked like it was doing an impressive job. Jobe might be a self-centered prima donna, but if she quoted exact numbers, based on prior experience I was going to assume they were extremely accurate.
Jobe worked away on her synthesis, while the computer did auxiliary processing and drew specified quantities of precursor chemicals from who-knew-where. Okay, I more or less knew. According to plans of this level of the workshop labs that I had managed to obtain from a trusted source, Jobe’s lab had to be a lot larger than the visible work area. So there were chemical storage areas and computers and other equipment hidden away, probably behind the wall I was facing. I didn’t bother to ask about the maintenance hatch. It was probably a biological devise that opened up when something inside ‘felt unwell’, and it probably resembled a sphincter more than I wanted to consider. Jobe probably had no qualms about crawling through a giant anus to get into the bowels of his lab, but I certainly did.
And anyway, there was probably a spot on that wall where a density changer could simply walk through without a lot of trouble.
Jadis elbowed me slightly and smirked, “…but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles.”
I snorted in amusement. I quietly replied with another quote from the same story: “A mind of moderate capacity which closely pursues one study must infallibly arrive at great proficiency in that study; and I, who continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was solely wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two years I made some discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments, which procured me great esteem and admiration at the university.”
Doctor Knife-Ears over at the equipment angrily protested, “I heard that! A mind of moderate capacity? MODERATE CAPACITY? Who do you think you’re talking about?!”
Jadis couldn’t wipe the smirk off her face as she said, “We’re quoting from English literature. It is certainly not my fault if you hear the words ‘mind of moderate capacity’ and assume the conversation is about you.”
<(Phase) Hey, guess what?>
<(Chaka) You got a pair of hooters like weather balloons now?>
<(Fey) Stop it! That’s not funny!>
<(Phase) Jobe’s drow have enhanced hearing that’s at least as good as Fey’s. A word to the wise.>
<(Lancer) Yeah, we’re already assuming Princess Jobette loaded up the drow with every weird option at the dealership.>
<(Chaka) Yeah, they definitely got the dual front airbags.>
<(Fey) And the flashy paintjob.>
<(Chaka) Probably got the heated seats too.>
<(Lancer) Can we stop now?>
<(Tennyo) You think any of ‘em got that after-market undercoating?>
<(Lancer) I am never using a simile in front of you guys ever again.>
<(Phase) It was a metaphor.>
<(Phase) Should I have said ‘litotes’ instead?>
<(Lancer) You guys? You are all… poopyheads.>
<(Phase) Wow, that really put me in my place.>
<(Shroud) Okay, I got lunches and I’m heading your way.>
<(Tennyo) Is ‘litotes’ even a real word?>
<(Generator) Phase said it, so it has to be.>
<(Chaka) It’s an English lit word. It was in one of my magazines. It’s like if you say ‘Jobe is not a bad inventor’ when you mean she’s a really good inventor. So it’s understatement, and you do it by saying the negative of the opposite condition.>
<(Phase) Very good! There’s a reward in it for you.>
<(Fey) As long as she doesn’t read it out loud out of those stupid magazines and make Koehnes cry again.>
<(Tennyo) So… Litotes wasn’t the right word at all?>
<(Phase) Right. I was just helping to drive Lancer insane. That way, he’ll fit in with us a lot better.>
<(Shroud) Hey Phase, I’m coming down the hall right now! Open up.>
I turned to Jobe and asked, “Would you like some lunch?”
“I’m too busy,” she grumbled.
Jadis said, “That’s right, don’t think about that stomach, growling hungrily, or the excess stomach acids flaring in preparation for a meal that won’t be coming, or…”
“All right! Yes, I could use some lunch. But I have no intention of stopping now,” Jobe fumed.
“I’ve got it under control,” I smiled. I glanced up at the monitor that showed the hall outside the door, so I could time things just right.
Jinn came flying around the corner at about three inches above the floor, and cut right between the robot’s feet. I opened the door and she sailed in, rising to her normal height as soon as she was past me.
Attention. Attention. An intruder has just passed by this station.
Jobe slapped a control in her labcoat pocket. “Condition alpha niner. Return to standard protocols.” Then she faced me and Jinn. “Why must you cause me so much grief? What have I done to deserve this?”
Jinn smiled, “Well, at least I’m not singing the Mister Roboto song. And I brought you some lunch!”
She was grinning way too much for someone just delivering lunch. I said, “Thank you.”
She reached into her abdomen and pulled out a brown paper bag. “Here you go!” She repeated the process and handed the next bag to Jadis. “Phase said you should get lunch too.” And she did it a third time, handing Jobe the last bag. “And she said you were doing a great job and you deserved some lunch too.”
That wasn’t exactly what I had said, but I was willing to let it go. I told her, “Thank you very much. This goes above and beyond.”
I opened my bag and found a paper-wrapped sandwich, an apple and a carton of whole milk. Jadis and Jobe had the same, although I could see the shapes of the sandwiches weren’t the same.
I quickly opened up my sandwich to see if Jade’s little surprise was going to affect me in any way. I had a freshly-baked, still warm Kaiser roll holding a layer of oakleaf lettuce, some thick-sliced roast turkey breast, and a thick layer of a pink chutney atop that. I took a bite and savored it. The chutney went interestingly well with the turkey, because it combined a host of traditional turkey-related foods. It was ground cranberries, some honey for sweetener, some finely chopped onions, and some creamy horseradish. There were also hints of raisin and orange underneath the cranberry tartness. It tasted considerably better than it sounded, but that was often the case for chutneys.
Jadis opened her lunch and said, “Thank you, Shroud.” She had a more plebeian turkey sandwich on rye, with mayonnaise on one side and yellow mustard on the other, along with some iceberg lettuce and a couple slices of tomato.
Jinn said, “I hope it’s okay. I didn’t know if there was too much mayo, or the wrong kind of mustard, or anything like that. But I figured no one’s as hard to get food for as Phase, so you’d probably be okay with it.”
Jobe opened his bag, and Shroud smiled, “I didn’t know what drows eat, so I didn’t get you any meat, because Fey doesn’t do meat anymore, and I didn’t know if you had any weird allergies like she does. So I picked something I’d like. I figure since we’re both devisers, we’d like the same thing.”
Jobe scowled. “The plural of drow is still drow. And there is no reason on earth why two devisers would like the same foods just because they share a mutant power set.”
She ripped open the paper around her sandwich and scowled even more. “Peanut butter and jelly? Peanut butter and jelly?”
“I love P B & J’s!” Shroud smiled. “And it’s real Welch’s grape jelly too.”
“Ugh,” Jobe groaned. She took a bite… and froze. She forced herself to chew and swallow. Then she complained, “Chunky peanut butter is not a ‘butter’! By definition, a food butter must be a thick, SMOOTH emulsion. Chunky peanut butter is a contradiction in terms! And grape jelly? Blech! Grapes are for winemaking. They don’t belong in jellies and jams!”
Shroud shrugged, “Gee, I don’t get it. I love chunky peanut butter. And grape jelly is delish.” She flew over to the door and let herself out. She waved at the camera as she left the hallway. “Oh well, next time I’ll get you a nice cheeseburger, maybe western style with the spicy sauce and the spicy cheese and the jalapenos.”
Jobe stared in horror at the monitor screen. “I knew she was insane, but I didn’t realize she had the tastebuds of the Beverly Hillbillies.”
“I did warn you about the wackiness, didn’t I?” I managed not to smile, either. I also managed not to mention that the J-Team had no doubt deliberately gotten Jobe a sandwich she would detest and provided it in such a way that they would get to see Jobe take a big bite.
“And why did you get something edible?” Jobe frowned at me.
I explained, “I’m sure she just checked to see if the chefs had something special for me, and she went from there. She didn’t have anything to do with the sandwich creation.”
Jobe stared in revulsion at her sandwich. “At least there’s an apple and some milk. And I have snacks in the supply cupboard.” She stared at the sandwich and muttered, “Grape. Why did it have to be grape?”
Jadis and I glanced at each other, and I knew exactly what she was going to say. In an unfortunately weak Harrison Ford imitation, she groaned, “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” I still broke out in a grin.
Jobe scowled, “There’s nothing wrong with snakes. There’s a lot we can learn about biodiversity of attacks just by studying the vast array of toxins that snakes employ. And they are not slimy!”
While I savored my turkey sandwich, and Jadis made do with hers, Jobe forced herself to eat several more bites of her ‘lunch’ before finally giving up and dropping it down the hazardous waste disposal chute. She ate the apple and drank the milk, but I was still enjoying the memory of watching Jobe eat something she hated. I was also enjoying the memory of Jade Sinclair outsmarting the dreaded Jobe Wilkins.
On the other hand, I was almost certain that Jadis had seen right through the J-Team’s performance. That could be a problem someday in the future.
On the gripping hand, while I was enjoying my lunch, Jobe was making progress. Her boobs were nearly back to their normal, pneumatic size and shape, which told me she had Regen that was probably a solid level five, like Jade’s. That was worth knowing. Anyone who attacked her and expected a pain to disable her, or an injury to stop her, was going to be in for a nasty surprise. I suspected that had something to do with her triumph over Counterpoint. CP was a nasty opponent and a wicked fighter, but his stronger features weren’t between his ears.
She spent another ten minutes working with all the chemicals she had synthesized, and then she loaded a large syringe with a thick, sickly-yellow solution. Just the color was making me have second thoughts.
Jobe said, “This will definitely reduce your breast size, even though I think it’s a waste when you have such a hot pair of torpedoes.” She even took the time to stare right at my nipples, like she was channeling Peeper.
You’ll be surprised to hear it, but I didn’t punch her. I thought about it. I also thought about kicking her in the crotch, but she no longer had what I wanted to injure. Oh, I know, kicking a woman in the crotch hurts a lot. Toni and Jade weren’t sparring while wearing those strips of kinetic gel in their panties just for the chance to get some extra chafing in inconvenient places. I managed to just stand there. I didn’t even glare at her, which would also have been a waste of time.
She said, “We will use the interaction of your Regen-3 power and this serum to induce your body to retrain itself into the form that your DNA and your BIT would prefer. This is naturally complicated by your completely fragmented BIT that Knick-Knack didn’t have the intellect to make sense of. Now you should keep your current height, but we may not be able to move forward yet on our original contractual design with only this injection. Are you ready?”
I didn’t gulp. I didn’t choke. I calmly extended one forearm and said, “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.”
to be continued