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Heal Thy Self

4 years 2 months ago - 4 years 2 months ago #20111 by Paradox
Paradox created the topic: Heal Thy Self
(Edit July 16, 2016....I'm including a google docs link here in case people are having trouble reading the condensed format of the forum. The link will give you the full book in its original MS Word-style formatting and might make for an easier read: docs.google.com/document/d/1--kh8B31PJ7-...8xA/edit?usp=sharing )

Heal Thy Self
Book 1
By Paradox

Somewhere in San Francisco

It was cold, rainy, and miserable that night as I walked along the dark streets. It reflected my mood perfectly as I ineffectually tried to pull the collar of my windbreaker a little higher against my neck. For maybe the hundredth time, I questioned the wisdom and sanity of my decision to run away from home. Of course, I could barely complete that thought before the last two years of my life flooded into the forefront of my brain and easily crushed any second-guessing into oblivion. There was no way I could go back to what, in truth, couldn't even be called a home without a shiver of horror going down my spine. If I had stayed there, for maybe even one more day, I had serious doubts that I would still even be alive. Oh sure, thoughts like that could easily be chalked up to the overactive imagination of a sixteen-year-old, but I think in my case it held a bit more weight.
When I was fourteen, my parents died after they had been broadsided on their way home from dinner by a girl who thought it was perfectly fine to be cruising down city streets doing sixty miles per hour while having a lengthy chat on her phone's instant messenger. I suppose some would say I could take solace in the fact that they died instantly, as did the driver who apparently also thought seat belts were for the uncool until she met her windshield, and the pavement, very intimately. Those people have undoubtedly never lost their parents, their only family in the world, at a young age. I had no grandparents, no aunts, uncles, or cousins any times removed. My parents were all I had and I had loved them with everything in my heart. The night that the police detectives came and told me what happened...well, I don't exactly remember what happened for the next several hours. I'm pretty sure I just sat there in shock while the detectives and social worker talked to me, offering sympathies and assurances that everything would be okay. Though I hardly remembered any of it, I do remember one of the detectives, Sarah Hamlin, didn't bother trying to heap sugary promises for the future on me. While the other detective and the social worker were off in another room discussion the logistics of my placement in a home, she just sat next to me and held my hand or rubbed my shoulder. She even held me when I just broke down into heart-wrenching sobs and gently shushed me like one would do with an infant. In the end, when the social worker had come to a decision about my family placement, Detective Hamlin gave me her business card and told me to call her if I ever needed anything, at any time. That was the last good memory I had for the next two years.
To this day, even with my expanded knowledge of how badly broken the legal and child welfare system is, I still don't know how an agency, whose one and only responsibility is to the care and safety of children, could put me into such an horrific environment. I was taken from my home and brought from my modestly well to-do community to a definitively low-class area of the city. Now, when I say low-class, I don't mean in the snooty way rich folks like to look down on people who live in relatively nice homes in the suburbs. I mean low-class, as in a tiny two bedroom apartment in a neighborhood infested with gangs, drug dealers and users, prostitutes, and I didn't even want to know what else. My new "family" was a man and woman named Harold and Jackie Smith. When I was first introduced to them, even in my state of shock, I still looked at the social worker in utter confusion. Harold himself was in his forties, balding, and had answered the door in dirty sweatpants and an equally dirty "wife-beater" undershirt. Jackie, his late-thirties wife, had stringy blonde hair that was obviously from a bottle and wore nothing more than a pair of dirty cutoffs and a very well-worn tank top. Initially I thought maybe they just weren't expecting us, but two seconds later Harold and the social worker, whose name I couldn't ever remember even hearing, started talking and I knew we had been expected. In short order, a few papers were signed and Harold and Jackie were suddenly my legal guardians. I didn't really grasp the full concept of this until about five minutes after the social worker left and I was introduced into my new life. That new life consisted of me being beaten, often quite badly, whenever I didn't "mind" either of my guardians properly. The problem was, "minding" them was never clearly defined to me, so even when I tried to be on my best behavior they still found cause to hit me.
Now, before any thoughts of me deserving it by being a bad kid can surface, let me just explain something. I won't ever profess to being a perfect child. I had my share of problems the same as any teenager might have. However, I always showed respect to my parents and I always did as much as I could to help around the house. I had never been arrested, never even so much as encountered a police officer outside of when they would come to school and talk about drugs or gangs, and I didn't hang out with a "bad crowd". My extracurricular activities were typically studying, researching things on the internet that grasped my interest, offering help at my local animal shelter when my school schedule allowed for it, and generally just being a kid. I didn't really have any friends because, unfortunately, I was almost painfully shy, but I did okay with my life and stayed away from trouble. I was actually very interested in medicine, though I was flip-flopping between veterinary and regular. Before this dramatic change in my life, I had actually started making plans to try and shadow some doctors at the local hospital and vet clinics to try and narrow my decision down.
To Harold and Jackie, though, my past made no difference. From the word go I was considered a burden, a bad kid, and I should be treated as such. Later in life I came to understand that this was just all a part of their plan, one that they had used many times in the past, to keep my will beaten down so I would just obey them without creating a fuss or threat of going to the authorities. Very early on, as in ten minutes after being dumped in their home, it was made painfully clear that if I attempted to contact the authorities about my treatment I would either be dead or wish I was. I suppose I was the perfect victim for them. With my already existing shyness and the fact that I no longer had any familial connections left in the world, my feelings of self-worth were already quite low. It really didn't take much on their part to keep me well cowed and bent to their will. However, that didn't keep me from noticing everything that went on in that tiny apartment. The bedroom I was "given" was maybe the size of a closet and consisted of a bed and a two drawer dresser and that was it. I suppose it was fortunate that I only had a small suitcase of clothes with me because that dresser was the only place I could put them. The walls were so thin I could not only hear what went on in our own apartment, but what went on in the apartments on either side of us and above us. Needless to say, I received quite an education when it came to drug deals, gang activities, and what went on with prostitutes.
I also received an education on just how horrible people can really be. Starting with my first day there and every day after, it was my sole responsibility to clean the entire apartment with the most meager of supplies, cook breakfast and dinner (and it best taste good), do all of the laundry, and still go to school. That last part wasn't actually required by Harold and Jackie, they would just as soon as me not attend school at all, but I somehow managed to bargain with them to allow me to continue my education if I was able to perform all of my household duties. I did my best, with all of it, but quite regularly it wasn't considered good enough and I would be subject to physical discipline. Often, it would simply being beaten in ways that wouldn't easily show marks, but just as often it would be punishment in the form of not being allowed to eat or being locked in my closet of a room with absolutely nothing to occupy myself, not even school work. I managed to maintain good grades; though it wasn't very difficult to do given the school I now attended was not exactly known for its ability to challenge its students intellectually. In reality, it was just a weigh station for kids that just pushed students from grade to grade in the hopes that they wouldn't start any gang or drug wars in its halls. From what I heard within those halls, most of the students that "graduated" never left the area and ended up just being another junkie or pusher. Still, even living in this nightmare, I was still able to eke away a few moments in the school's library to continue my own education on the internet. The truth was, I educated myself better than any teacher in that school did since most of them were either too afraid of their students or had just plain given up and were just collecting a paycheck.
It was four hours ago that I finally reached a breaking point I didn't even know I had anymore. I had just finished making dinner, for Harold and Jackie only since I had not cleaned the apartment to their specifications that morning, and had just started heading to my room to do some homework when I felt Harold's meaty hand close around my arm. Before I could even open my mouth to ask what I had done, he flung me against the wall so hard I saw stars and lost my breath. I had just managed to get one good intake of air when it was forced right back out of me by Harold's fist burying itself in my stomach. As I laid there desperately trying to keep from passing out from lack of oxygen, the blood roaring in my ears, I dimly heard Harold yelling something about not cooking the roast, the one that he paid for with the money he got from the state for being my guardian, just the way he wanted it. This point was made even clearer when Jackie kicked me viciously in the back and the side. I wanted to beg them to stop, to tell them I would do anything if they would just stop hitting me, but my voice was gone along with my breath and I fought just to remain conscious. Fortunately, the two of them decided they were bored with me and left the apartment to go out drinking with the clear threat that I would get worse if I didn't have the kitchen cleaned up by the time they got back. The sound of the door slamming was so sharp I actually jumped, thinking Harold had gotten a gun at some point and had shot at me.
For a long time, I just laid there, curled in a ball, trying not to let the pain I was feeling overcome me. Some people think that after you've been abused long enough it starts to feel normal, that the abused person actually expects it. Maybe there are people like that out there, but I wasn't one of them. I felt every bit of pain in my body and it wasn't something I wanted in any way. I knew I didn't deserve to be treated this way, yet I had nowhere to go. When I managed to pull myself up to my hands and knees and took a breath, I fell into a fit of painful coughing that felt as if my throat was on fire. When my eyes finally cleared of the mist of tears, I saw several drops of blood on the kitchen floor and felt wetness on my lips. When I felt my mouth with two fingers, they came away stained with crimson. That was when I knew, without a doubt, that I would die in that apartment. Maybe not that night and maybe not for several months, but I would never make it to my eighteenth birthday when I could leave on my own. They would kill me before that could happen. With the kind of desperation only those who have fought to stay alive can understand, I stumbled and staggered my way to the door. I didn't even bother to try and get any of my few articles of clothes from my room; I just knew I had to get out of there as fast as I could before they came back. The only thing I did grab was my windbreaker that was hanging from the coat rack, and that was only because it was right next to the door.
The next five minutes were some of the most nerve-wracking of my life. From the moment my hand touched the doorknob, I fully expected to see Harold and Jackie return, which would most certainly mean my death. I wanted to run, to sprint down the stairs of that apartment building and out the door, but I was in too much pain to do more than walk at a slow limp. While most people might take one look at me, a sixteen-year-old kid with a sickly pale complexion made even more so by a head full of dark red hair in filthy clothes and obviously in severe pain, and instantly call for help, the people in my apartment building just glanced at me and then looked the other way. Somehow, I made it down the five flights of stairs without falling and breaking my neck and out the front door into that dark, rainy night. I walked...well, staggered...for what must have been hours after that. The intellectual part of my brain, the one that had absorbed as much about medicine as it could with the limited resources at my disposal, knew that I could very well have a punctured lung or a ruptured kidney, and that I needed to seek medical attention as soon as possible. That could have easily been accomplished by dialing nine-one-one from any number of payphones on the street. My survival instincts, however, wouldn't allow for that and they were in full control. While it wasn't logical, I just knew that if I called for help, the hospital would call Harold and Jackie, and then I was certainly dead. Even though I knew that the hospital would report my abuse to the police immediately and officers would be there before Harold and Jackie, that part of me that was like a frightened animal somehow just knew that the two of them would be able to talk their way out of it somehow and get me back in that hell of an apartment. I just needed to keep moving, keep putting distance between myself and that place of pain and terror that had been my prison for two years.
That was how I came to be walking down that street that night. The sharpness of the pain my body felt had eased back to a consistent throbbing. I still wasn't able to fully walk yet, but my limp had lessened somewhat. My awareness had returned full force to the point that I was hyper-aware. Every car that drove down the street, every voice I heard, caused me to tense and look around wildly, certain that Harold and Jackie would suddenly fill my vision. I must have looked quite the sight, but the streets were quiet at such a late hour and the kinds of people who were out and about probably mistook me for a meth-head in need of a fix. I suppose that wasn't too far from the truth, but it was a different kind of fix that I needed, the kind that filled your stomach. I had no money and no belongings, and my stomach had started to clench in protest of not having eaten anything since breakfast. If I couldn't think of something soon, I would be forced to resort to begging for money and pray that no one called the police on me. Perhaps it was because of my increased awareness of my surroundings that I noticed the two cars that approached the intersection ahead at right angles to one another. Given the late hour, both were driving a bit too fast for city streets, but nothing that wasn't manageable if the person behind the wheel was a competent driver. This might have been true, and nothing probably would have happened, except the traffic signal for the intersection malfunctioned and all directions of traffic were given a green light.
It seemed to happen in slow motion in front of me. The first car to reach the intersection, an ordinary-looking dark sedan, proceeded on through as though nothing was amiss. it had only reached halfway through, however, before the other car, a compact decked out with all kinds of after-market spoilers and ground effects with bass pounding out of the speakers, slammed right into the driver's side of the sedan without so much as a squeal of brakes. The scream of crumpling metal was almost deafening against the quiet street. I watched in horror as the sedan lifted up onto its side and rolled completely over until it rested on its wheels once more. For several seconds, the air was uncannily quiet and I could hear my own ragged breathing loudly in my ears. Sound suddenly came flooding back to me and I could hear car horns blaring as well as voices yelling. Smoke was billowing from beneath the hood of the sedan. I watched in shock as the men in the compact scrambled out of the car and took off at a sprint away from the accident.
"Hey!" I yelled, "Come back!"
They didn't listen to me, of course. They didn't even acknowledge that I had spoken. By that time, I noticed a faint glow coming from between the seams of the hood of the sedan and its frame, leaving little doubt that the vehicle was on fire. That survival part of me that had been guiding my actions told me to run, run away fast, and don't be anywhere near here when the authorities show up. I actually had taken a step to do just that when I heard a faint moan over the perpetually sounding car horns. The driver of the sedan was alive. Clearly hurt, but alive. That was when the part of me so dedicated to medicine and the preservation of human life took control. I was still in a considerable amount of pain, but I rushed over to the sedan as fast as I could limp. When I reached the driver's side, I saw the air bags had deployed. Unfortunately, they did little to help in a roll over crash. The driver, a middle-aged man in a nice suit, was bleeding profusely from the head and his eyes were closed. He moaned, though, to show he was still alive.
Since the windows were all shattered, I reached in and gently shook his shoulder. "Mister, Mister, you need to get up, your car's on fire!" His only response was another moan and a slight lolling of his head. Tamping down on my rising panic, I quickly assessed his condition. The bleeding was likely the result of a scalp laceration, though I couldn't rule out concussion. The fact that he could move his head, even slightly, while unconscious, indicated that there might not necessarily be spinal trauma, but that couldn't be ruled out just yet. A quick look inside the car didn't show any other obvious signs of trauma but that didn't mean there couldn't have been a closed or compound fracture. In a normal situation, the proper thing to do would be to wait for the fire department and EMS to come and perform an extrication so as to keep cerebral spinal alignment and do proper assessment. With the flames now licking out from beneath the hood though, that wasn't an option.
Unfortunately, the driver's door was completely jammed from the impact of the other vehicle and there was no way I would get it open even if I wasn't hurt myself. Fortunately, the passenger door had suffered less injury and I was able to open it without trouble. As quickly as I could, I scrambled into the vehicle, shoving aside the man's briefcase, coffee thermos, and other belongings that had been thrown about during the collision. Luck was on my side when I found the seatbelt release still worked and I was able to free him of the restraint. Grabbing the man under the arms, I pulled as hard as I could. The sudden explosion of fire in my side stopped me cold. For several moments, I could only gasp for breath and try to ride out the pain of my injuries. When it didn't seem to be going away, I gritted my teeth and yanked as hard as I could. The agony in my side tore a scream from my mouth as the driver slowly slid across the seats of the car. It almost seemed like he had barely moved an inch and a part of me was yelling to just give up and get away while I still could. By this time, the heat in my side was eclipsed by the heat coming from the fire that was beginning to completely engulf the car. It had become so intense that the man's coffee thermos blew its seal and sprayed its contents all over my face. The scalding hot…coffee?...by itself would have normally been enough to have me crying out in pain, but by this point I was somewhere beyond pain and was only focusing on my survival instincts to try and get myself and this man out of this deathtrap. Perhaps it was desperation, or perhaps it was due to the adrenaline coursing through my veins by then, but I somehow managed to give one more heave that brought both of us tumbling out of the car and onto the debris-littered pavement. It was a small victory, though, because my strength was completely sapped. I'd gotten the man out of the burning car, but now I lacked the strength to get either of us to safety before the vehicle's gas tank ruptured right next to us. I tried to somehow pull the man along the ground, but my arms simply wouldn’t respond to my commands anymore. I barely had enough strength to do more than just breathe.
That was when the first cramp hit. At first, I thought it was ironic that I would be feeling hunger pains when my entire body felt like I’d just gone a few rounds in the WWE. However, the cramping in my stomach quickly escalated into full-blown body cramp that had me screaming in pain. Without consciously doing so, I writhed and convulsed on the ground with my hands desperately grasping at the air for something that could stop what was happening to me. On the heels of that, my entire body started burning up, as though the flames from the car had leapt from its steel chassis and enveloped me. Sweat poured out from every pore, mixing with the rain that poured from the sky that continued to fail at cooling the furnace that I had become.
With one particular thrash, I felt my hand strike something solid. Hardly able to do so, I turned my head to see that I had grasped the ankle of the man whom I had pulled out of the car. Despite the pain lashing through me, I was somehow able to see that his face was bashed and bloody, probably from the driver’s door being forcibly smashed into him by the other car. His left arm was at a clearly unnatural angle and it didn’t look like his chest was moving, indicating that he likely wasn’t breathing. It was pretty clear, even with my mind and body in such a state of painful chaos that if he didn’t receive medical attention within a few minutes that he would likely die, and everything I had just put myself through would have been for nothing. In that moment, I fervently wished that I had been able to do more. Even if I was to die on this cold, wet street, I wished that I had at least been able to save this man, this complete stranger, who just so happened to be a victim of faulty wiring and a callous individual who had chosen to run and avoid any trouble with the law rather than try to help save this man. I knew it wouldn’t do anything, but I mentally tried to push health back into him, tried to will life back into his quickly failing body. Even just trying to do that cause agony to erupt inside of me, consuming me with pain and heat to the point that I screamed soundlessly since my tortured vocal cords had been taxed to uselessness. Yet I didn’t allow it to stop my desperate attempts to imaginarily push life into his body, even as my vision quickly began to gray and then go black.
As the world faded into darkness, my last thought was that at least I wouldn't have to worry about being caught by Harold and Jackie anymore.

UCSF Medical Center Emergency Room

At first, it sounded far off, just a stirring at the edge of my consciousness. It wasn’t anything that could be considered an identifiable sound, but it was enough to ease me out of the dark just a little bit. I reached out to that sound but just couldn’t quite grasp it. It was like something that was just beyond the reach of my fingertips no matter how much I stretched for it. I knew that it signaled the path I needed to take, likely to the great beyond, whatever or wherever that might be. The sound increased ever so slightly and that was just enough for me to latch onto it and use it to slowly crawl my way out of the dark. Even as I pulled myself further along, getting closer and closer to that sound, the darkness around me seemed to enfold me within its depths. It was warm and comforting, like the hugs I used to get from my mother so often before she died. I wanted to stay there, in that warm darkness. I wanted to just let it wrap itself around me and hold me until the end of time.
That sound, however, was insistent. Not only that, but it was slowly growing in volume. Despite my desire to just stay wrapped in that warmth, a part of my just had to follow that sound, to see where it led. Call it curiosity, call it stubbornness, call it whatever you wanted, but with great reluctance I untangled myself from the dark and allowed the sound to pull me closer to its source. Once I surrendered myself to this course, everything happened very rapidly. One moment, I was seeking out a pinpoint of sound, and the next…
…Awareness came to me like a splash of ice water. In an instant, my eyes were open and a gasp tore from my lips. Though blurry for a few moments, my vision quickly cleared and I found myself staring at a plain, white ceiling. That sound that had been drawing me out was quickly identified as an ECG monitoring system that softly chimed with every beat of my heart. Turning my head, which surprisingly caused no pain, I looked around and noted the sterile setting of a hospital room with me as its only occupant. Is this what the afterlife looked like, a hospital room?
Before I could begin to try sitting up, the door to my room opened and two people quickly entered. Even without my interest in medicine, it was obvious that the blond woman in the pink scrubs was a nurse and the man in the lab coat was a doctor. While the doctor went to the room’s medical cabinet, the woman sat down on the edge of my bed and covered my hand with hers. “It’s okay sweetheart,” she said soothingly, “You’re okay. You’re in the hospital.”
By that time, the doctor had retrieved whatever it was he was looking for and had stepped to the opposite side of my bed. Placing the stethoscope in his ears, he leaned down to touch the bell to my chest. After listening, presumably to my heart and lungs, he slipped the scope around his neck and took my wrist in his hand to check my pulse. “What is the last thing you remember?” he asked, splitting his attention between looking me in the eye and the second hand on the wall clock.
It took me a few tries since I’m sure I’d screamed myself hoarse at the car crash, but I finally managed to croak out, “Car crash. Man hurt.”
The nurse nodded, looking over at the doctor who nodded as well. “That’s right,” the nurse said, “There was a very bad car accident and you pulled one of the drivers from the car.”
With the nurse’s statement, the memory of it came flooding back and sent my heart racing. This was echoed by the ECG to start chiming faster, letting the doctor, nurse, and whomever might be monitoring it from the nurses’ station know that something was wrong. “He…he was dead,” I whispered haltingly, thankfully without croaking, though my voice still sounded odd to me. “His arm was badly broken. His face was all bashed up. I saw him stop breathing. I tried to help him.”
That caused the doctor and nurse to look at one another with a rather surprised expression on their face. It seemed as though there was some kind of unspoken communication between the two of them because the doctor immediately stood and hurried from the room. Before I could question that, the nurse gave my hand a squeeze and shook her head. “Honey, the man you pulled out of the car is fine. In fact, he wasn’t injured at all.”
Frowning a bit, I shook my head in denial. That didn’t make sense. I knew his arm had at the very least a compound fracture, he had who knew how many cuts, abrasions, and fractures on his face, and I knew I had seen him stop breathing. The conflicting story I was hearing was so distracting that I didn’t even notice my normally short hair brushing against my cheeks and shoulders. “No, that’s not right,” I said, still in a whisper but a bit stronger, “His arm was broken for sure, and his face was beaten up and bloody. He stopped breathing for sure.”
The nurse said nothing to me for several long moments, only stared at me with a speculative look in her eyes. “What’s your name honey?”
“It’s…it’s Ashley.” I almost had to bite down on my tongue to keep from blurting out my last name as well. Fortunately, I’d remembered at the last possible moment not to say anything. If I had, I would have just given the nurse my identity and if Harold and Jackie had filed a missing persons report it was very likely they would almost certainly contact them and the police and have me sent back to that living hell.
Perhaps it was the sight of my eyes going wide as my own thoughts ran wild, or the fact that the heart monitor started beeping like crazy, but it seemed like the nurse knew exactly what I was thinking because she took both of my hands in hers and squeezed them tightly. “You’re safe here honey,” she said in what I’m guessing was supposed to be a soothing manner. I know the words were supposed to be comforting, but I’d already been a victim of a completely broken system that not only failed to protect me, but hand-delivered me straight into a nightmare. Her telling me that no one would hurt me was really just a platitude at this point. She must have seen the skepticism and distrust on my face, because she only smiled to me and gently tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. It was that simple action that caused me to go very still. With the nurse looking at me with confusion, I slowly reached up and felt my hair. It was then that I noticed two things, almost simultaneously.
First, my normally short, coppery hair was gone. In its place was what I could only describe as a mane of thick, silky hair that, judging by what I was able to gather in my hand, must have easily been able to tumble down my back. What’s more it was a rich, vibrant, fire engine red that almost certainly didn’t exist in natural hair color. While I suppose the argument could have been made that I had been in a coma so long that my hair had grown out to such lengthy proportions, it wouldn’t explain why it had such a soft and luxurious texture, not to mention a color that I’d only seen possible with the use of hair dye.
The second and far more notable thing that was the forefront of my attention was one of the two mounds resting on my chest that I’d nudged lightly with the movement of my arm. With wide, unbelieving eyes, I stared at the twin protuberances that stuck out from my chest under the hospital gown and knew there was no mistaking what they were. This couldn’t be right. It wasn’t possible. Could I be hallucinating? I had to be hallucinating. That was the only explanation as to why I suddenly had…
“Sweetheart,” the nurse asked quietly, “What’s wrong?”
My gaze slowly tracked from my chest back up to her. From the look on her face she was clearly worried about the wide-eyed fear that surely covered my entire face. “I…I…” the words just didn’t want to come out. “I have…”
Her gaze flicked to my chest, then back to my eyes, and then hers widened with understanding. “Oh, I see.”
“You have manifested, young lady,” the doctor said in a professional, yet gentle manner as he rolled a stool to my bedside and sat down, “And from what I can tell, you have done so in a way that caused a burnout.”
Up to this point in my life, I only had what could perhaps be a basic understanding of mutants and their manifestation. You would think that because I was interested in medicine that I would be very interested in mutants and how their biological and genetic differences would be from regular baselines. Had I been undertaking a formal education in medical school, I’m sure that would have been the case. However, I was only sixteen, and with my interests split between human and veterinary science I hadn’t really broached the topic of mutants beyond the basic things that most people knew about them. That being said, I knew more than enough to realize that I’d apparently manifested as a mutant, and that my changes were a result of that. “I’m not a girl!” I whispered, almost desperately, perhaps thinking that saying it out loud would make it go away. “I’m a boy!”
“Not anymore,” the doctor said with a bit of a smile, “Sometime between when you were brought in here twelve hours ago and now you have, obviously, changed sex. Obviously this was brought on by your mutation.”
Slowly, my eyes still focused on those twin protuberances, I cupped my breasts and lifted them slightly. Two things happened then. First, I could feel the soft roundness that was the female breast under my hands that I would definitely recognize even though I’d never touched another woman’s breast in my life. Secondly, I felt the touch of my hands upon said breasts, which was both alien and pleasant at the same time. I could feel their weight move upon my chest, lightly tugging at my chest wall. There was no denying that these breasts were a part of me, they were mine.
The doctor cleared his throat, a reminder that I wasn’t alone, and I blushed before quickly dropping my hands. “I understand you’re probably very confused right now,” he said sympathetically, “However despite suffering a burnout, you seem to have recovered fully from it. I’d like to keep you here for a little while longer just to be sure but if everything checks out okay you can be released to your parents. How can we contact them?”
I doubt that there was very little on this planet that could have pulled my attention away from my own self-examination, however those words were more than enough to do it. “No!” I cried in horror, “You can’t!”
The two of them looked surprised at my outburst before they shared a look of understanding with one another. “Honey,” the nurse asked me quietly, “Are your parents Humanity First sympathizers?”
I shook my head even as I pressed back against the head of the bed and looked about frantically in anticipation of making an escape attempt. “I don’t know, and they aren’t my parents.”
“Foster parents?” I responded to this with a nod and the two exchanged looks again. “Honey,” the nurse asked quietly, “Did your foster parents abuse you?”
Maybe it was the soft tone the nurse used, or maybe it was the way both her and the doctor were looking at me with concern. Whatever it was caused my eyes to burn as tears welled within them and quickly started rolling down my cheeks. When I felt the nurses arms envelop me in a comforting hug I simply started bawling. For the first time in two years someone actually cared about me, about how I felt, about my health and my safety, and it completely undid me. She had asked me a question, one that I wanted to simply scream out the word ‘yes’, but my voice was lost. The only thing I could do was cry and moan as huge, body wracking sobs shook me violently.
The nurse, bless her, just held onto me the whole time. I have no idea what the doctor did and, quite frankly, I didn’t care at the time. All that mattered was the feeling of her arms around me, her hand gently stroking my hair, and her voice making soft, gentle sounds that I’m sure were words but I couldn’t make them out. When my sobs finally reduced themselves to sniffles the nurse disengaged from me and used a tissue from the bedside shelf to gently wipe my eyes. “I think you needed that,” she observed with a smile.
I nodded and sniffled a bit before blowing my nose so I wouldn’t have snot running down my mouth. No matter what you see in the movies, real crying is messy and I’d just been through a dozy of one. “Yeah,” I said, my voice a bit hoarse, “I did.”
“Are you feeling any better?” I heard the doctor ask and looked over to see that he’d never left. In fact, he was still sitting on the stool next to my bed patiently waiting for me to cry it all out with a sympathetic smile on his face.
“I think so,” I said and wiped at my eyes again.
“All right,” he said and I could see he was once again in doctor mode, “I want to make a few phone calls and see what kind of options are available to us. We don’t want you going right back into the same situation you just came out of. We’ll keep you here for now and I’ll come back when I have some news for you, okay?”
“I won’t have to go back to them will I?” I asked in a small voice, “They’ll kill me if I do.”
“I’m going to do everything in my power to try to keep that from happening,” the doctor promised me. “For right now just get some rest. I’ll have a meal brought to you since you slept through breakfast.”
“Thank you,” I whispered as the nurse started to carefully peel the ECG leads from my skin, “Both of you, thank you so much.”
The doctor offered me a smile before departing from the room, presumably to start making those calls. The nurse finished peeling off the leads and then gently wiped the adhesive from my skin with an alcohol prep wipe. “I’ll see if I can scrounge up some pajamas for you. They probably won’t be much, but yours clothes were pretty much ruined in the fire.”
“Thank you, that’s very nice of you.”
She smiled and then, to my surprise, leaned down to kiss the top of my head. I blinked in surprise since I was quite certain that was probably against most hospital protocols. When she saw my expression she merely gave me a sheepish smile, shrugged, and then hurried out of the room and closed the door.
Once I was alone I did what I had been wanting to do from the moment I’d discovered I was now a girl. Slipping out of bed, I pulled the hospital gown off and looked over at the mirror positioned above the sink that was in the room. I had to move and shift a bit so I could see all of it, but I got my first real look at what I’d become.
The girl in the mirror was lovely. She was still five foot two, but the skinniness that I’d formerly possessed had morphed into feminine curves that would have any man, and possibly even woman, drooling. My face no longer had a slightly squarish look that one associates with the male visage. Instead, it was now more oval in appearance, with a dainty chin, soft, full lips and a cute little upturned nose. The most arresting quality was my eyes. They looked simply huge, with a slight upward tilt at the outer corners. I suppose that could be because my eyebrows had thinned into delicate arches, but I definitely had that wide-eyed babe in the woods look. But the size and shape of them was nothing compared to the coloration I now possessed. Before, my eyes had been a simple blue. They hadn’t been bright or deep or anything like that, just a simple blue. Now, they were a green so bright and sharp they almost glowed. It was if someone had taken a pair of the richest colored emeralds and transposed them into my eyes. For a few moments, I was held captive by their hypnotic gaze. When I finally managed to shake myself free of, well, my spell, I continued a quick inventory.
My skin was now a soft, rich peaches and cream, that absolute picture of health, youth, and vitality. It was a far cry from what I knew had been a paler complexion that came from my abysmal living conditions for the last couple of years. Tracking down from my face, I had a graceful, swan-like neck that blended into my shoulders, which were a graceful slope. My arms and hands had slimmed down and become sleeker, with small hands and slender fingers capped with nails slightly longer than they had been before.
My breasts, and yes despite what my disbelieving brain was trying to scream at me, I did realize they were mine, were full and perky, though not overly large to comical proportions. If I had to guess, I’d have categorized them as a C cup, but I was no expert when it came to breast sizing. From there, I saw that I had a trim and taut belly that I’d only seen on some of the hottest bikini models in magazines which swelled out into gracefully feminine hips. They weren’t too large or too small. The best I could think to describe them is they were perfectly proportioned. A quick turned revealed what I’d already suspected, that I had a well-defined and perfectly sculpted ass. Nice and tight without being too much so, with a faint heart shape to it.
My….private area was also nicely shaped, at least to my eyes. I won’t go into detail but I must say that if I had to look like a girl, at least my private area had a, shall we say, demure look as opposed to an outrageous or slutty look. Interestingly enough, there was absolutely no hair in my pubic region. While I’d possessed pubic hair as a boy, my new form didn’t have any trace of it, not even signs of stubble. It was as though my body didn’t possess any hair follicles in that area. Odd. Lastly, there were my legs, which despite my height were long, slim, and shapely. I had no doubt that they would look absolutely stunning in a pair of high heels (where the hell had that come from?) settled on what were now dainty feet.
I took all of this in in but a few moments but one thing truly stood out in my self-examination. Apart from being completely female instead of male now, one thing struck me about my appearance on a whole. While physically I felt good, and my attributes were certainly generous, I looked…delicate. That was the only word I could think of to describe how I looked now. I looked like a beautiful, yet delicate image of femininity, as though it would take very little to shatter the image I saw before me.
Shaking my head I pulled the hospital gown back on before I found myself in the embarrassing position of someone walking into the room with me standing there stark naked. Climbing back into the bed and drawing up the blanket I went over the events of the previous night in my mind. I remembered the car crash and the driver of the other vehicle running away, I remembered that I’d been able to somehow pull the door to the sedan open, and I remembered stupidly crawling into the car to try and get the driver out. What happened after that? Everything had happened so fast it was hard to really remember other than flashes. Obviously I’d gotten him out of the car because I could remember how badly he’d been hurt in the accident. The nurse had told me that he was completely unhurt but I just knew that wasn’t right. So what the hell had happened?
With a frustrated sigh I forced the thoughts from my mind. I knew if I just kept thinking about it I’d probably only drive myself crazy. The only thing I could do right now was just wait and see what the doctor was able to come up with and just go from there.

UCSF Medical Center, Office of Doctor Taylor

Reginald Taylor looked at the files that were scattered across his desk. He’d been over then at least a dozen times to make sure he hadn’t missed even the smallest detail. Fortunately the EMT’s had given a very thorough accounting of what happened in their report and he had even been able to get the reports of what happened from the police including a few witness statements. Given that this case involved a mutant experiencing a burnout, he’d had little trouble in obtaining the information so he would be able to provide the best treatment possible for his patient. Based on everything he’d looked over, the young lady had been quite heroic in her efforts. While the witness statements had to be taken with a grain of salt since they came from some homeless people that were likely jonesing for a drug fix, their stories seemed to coincide with the physical and photographic evidence from the scene.
When pieced together it appeared that the young lady, and Taylor was hard pressed to even think of that lovely girl as a boy like she claimed she had been, had done quite the heroic deed. While her efforts to extract the driver from the vehicle while it was on fire were commendable indeed, it was what occurred after she’d pulled the driver from the flaming wreck that interested him. According to the witnesses, the girl had merely touched the man’s foot and a green glow had formed around her hand. That glow had quickly expanded to encompass the man’s entire body for the span of approximately twenty to thirty seconds before it faded away completely. Barely ten seconds after that, the man was reported as having awakened and feeling perfectly healthy and did not present with a single injury. Other than being unconscious, the girl, Ashley she called herself, also was absent of any injuries. By all accounts, it appeared that neither of them had sustained any damage or injury over the course of the entire event.
This flew in the face of the physical evidence at the scene, that of the copious amounts of blood on the pavement and the fact that the man’s suit was almost completely charred by the car fire. There were no other victims at the scene so that only left one reasonable explanation: The girl possessed the mutant ability to heal. Whether this was limited to only healing others as she had done with the driver or if she possessed an internal regenerative ability as well had yet to be seen. Regardless, her external healing ability presented Taylor with an opportunity that, if he worked it carefully, would prove to be supremely beneficial to him.
Since he had already established an at least tenuous bond of trust with the girl, he didn’t foresee any great difficulty in coaxing her along the path of his choosing. After all, he’d had experience with children afflicted by parental abuse far too many times in his profession and each of them all had something in common: they were desperate for kindness.
After a quick look through his contacts on his smartphone he touched on one in particular. Ten seconds later he heard a deep voice on the other end of the line, “Jacobs.”
“This is Reginald Taylor,” he explained, trusting in his name being enough of an introduction, “I have a potential situation that I’d like to speak to you about.”
“Is this line secure?”
“Yes it is,” he responded confidently.
“Is the situation volatile?”
“No,” Taylor said and managed to hold back his sigh. Why did these people always have to play twenty questions first? “I have a subject immediately available.”
“Is the subject dangerous?”
“As far as I’ve determined, no, but I would recommend using coercion rather than force. It would prove more beneficial overall.” He could only imagine how badly it would damage or destroy any potential trust he had with the girl if she was suddenly confronted by an aggressive hit squad.
“Go through regular channels,” the voice that had identified itself as Jacobs said before the line went dead.
“Hmph,” the doctor snorted as he set down the cell and picked up the landline on his desk. After dialing a number he was greeted by a friendly female voice that said, “Good afternoon, Bay area MCO.”
“Yes,” he said and didn’t bother to try and hide the smile creeping across his mouth, “I would like to report a mutant manifestation with special circumstances.”

San Francisco , Bay Area MCO Headquarters

One by one, Keith Mathews clicked through the day’s emails with his chin propped up in his hand. Boring, boring, boring. As per usual there was nothing going on and every email was just useless information about things happening in other cities elsewhere in the country. It was pretty much the same every other day as well. Ever since he’d gotten out of the academy and been stationed in San Francisco six months ago it had been a parade of boring days. Every once in a great while he had the chance to investigate something interesting like a mutant with the potential to go supervillain, but by and large his days consisted mostly of running down false leads or the metaphorical cat in a tree. He supposed he should be grateful. After all, landing a job as an MCO investigating agent was a sweet paying gig and in a mutant-light town like San Fran the need for his services was fairly sparse. Still, he missed the opportunities to really stretch his investigative legs like he had during his time with the SFPD detective division and he wanted to show the higher ups just what he was capable of.
Closing down the email application Keith pushed back from his desk and headed for the coffee maker on the far side of the empty room. It wasn’t a surprise that the other three investigator desks were absent their agents since one of them was out with the flu and the other two were running down a lead on a supposed supervillain base. Considering this supposed base was reportedly inside a McDonald’s he knew it wouldn’t be long before his co-workers returned with bags of fast food goodness and a grumbling about how they had to check out every lead that came their way no matter how stupid it sounded. Keith had gotten his share of those kinds of cases and more than once wished the MCO had enough authority and money to establish some kind of a patrol service.
He had just finished stirring in his cream and sugar to get the perfect coloring in his coffee when a rather large man with hair cut very much in military fashion stepped through the entryway. Immediately Keith stiffened and resisted the urge to salute. “Chief Jacobs, what brings you down here?”
Chief Investigator Ronald Jacobs was well known in the Bay Area branch. Once a top flight investigator in New York, he’d been reassigned to head up the San Francisco division two years ago. No one knew why it had happened but the scuttlebutt was that he’d pissed off someone high up in the ranks something fierce. The fact that Chief Jacobs ran a very tight ship and was always seemed to have a scowl on his face tended to lend credence to that theory.
Unfortunately for Keith, that scowl was aimed directly at him. “Are you the only one here Mathews?” he fairly growled.
“Yes sir,” Keith responded immediately, “Beakes and Anderson are working a lead on a potential super lair.”
That seemed to get the big man’s attention and one eyebrow winged up. “Is it something serious enough to prep the RRT?”
The junior investigator had to struggle to keep from laughing at the very thought of the MCO’s Rapid Response Team deploying from Los Angeles just to raid a McDonald’s. “No sir,” he said confidently, “More than likely it’s just another wild goose chase. The details of the case have the feel of a disgruntled worker who was recently fired.”
The Chief nodded before eyeing his subordinate critically. “What about you Mathews? Do you have anything in the works?”
Although he wasn’t happy doing so, Keith shook his head negatively. He didn’t like acknowledging the fact that he was kicked back sipping coffee instead of being out there busting the bad guys, but there wasn’t anything happening that allowed him to come up with a plausible lie. “No sir, it’s been pretty quiet lately and the board is clear.”
There were a few moments of silence during which Keith felt like he was a bug under a microscope while Chief Jacobs seemed to silently consider him. Was his boss pissed that he wasn’t doing anything? It wasn’t his fault after all. It wasn’t like he could go out and force mutants to start rampaging through the streets. “You were with SFPD right?” the big man finally asked.
“Yes sir, three years in the detective division.”
“And you’ve handled child abuse cases.” It was a statement rather than a question.
That was the last thing Keith expected to be asked. He’d handled plenty of child abuse cases before, both in patrol and investigation, and he had yet to encounter one that didn’t tear at his heart. “Yes sir, too many,” he said in a quieter voice.
The completely neutral expression on the Chief’s face said implied he either completely missed the emotion in his investigator’s voice or was simply ignoring it. “Then you’re with me.” So said, he turned and strode out of the room, leaving Keith to blink in shock for several seconds before he recovered and raced after his boss, remembering at the last second to snatch his sidearm from his desk drawer and slip it into its holster.
“Do we have many details?” Keith asked once he caught up with the Chief.
“Some,” he replied and held up a file that the younger agent hadn’t even realized his boss had. “Car crash happened last night. It looks like there was mutant involvement.”
Taking the file Keith did his best to try and peruse the information while still watching where he was going. It took him nearly walking into a wall a few seconds later to realize the idea was stupid and decided it was best to wait until they were at the car. “So the mutant caused the crash?”
“No, she was a bystander. Our reports say she helped the driver.”
By that time they’d reached the unit’s garage and not for the first time Keith wished he had the kind of pull his Chief did. While him and his co-workers drive basic Ford sedans outfitted with some pretty simple computer gear so they could run background checks, the Chief had a much more powerful Mustang GT 350. Not only that, but because he was rated as an RRT commander there was a veritable arsenal in the trunk of the vehicle that would have made L.A’s SWAT team jealous in addition to computer equipment Keith and his co-workers could only dream of getting.
Trying to put his tech envy aside, Keith slid into the passenger seat and had barely secured his seatbelt when the car shot out of the carport and onto the street. Since the Chief knew how to drive like a pro, the junior investigator didn’t bother with worries of dying in a fiery crash and opened the file so he could review the case. A quick scan revealed that the mutant in question for the case had indeed not caused the car crash, but had in fact completely healed the injured driver simply by touching him. The file also indicated the mutant had experienced a burnout at that time and had woken up in the hospital with his sex reversed, turning him into a her. “Tough luck,” Keith muttered when he read that.
“What’s that?” Jacobs asked without taking his eyes from the road.
“Nothing,” Keith said, “Just looking over the case.”
As he looked further he came to understand why the Chief had chosen to take him along instead of waiting for one of the other two to get back. According to the doctor’s report, the now girl had been with foster parents ever since her birth parents died two years prior in a car accident. If the girl was being truthful, and the doctor’s report indicated he believed that she was, the foster parents she’d been placed with had been abusing her for the last two years. Last night she’d finally run away from home only to stumble across the car accident as it happened. She was also convinced she’d be killed if she was returned home. Whether she though that because she’d manifested as a mutant or simply because she’d run away from her foster parents was up for debate. More than likely it was probably a combination of both.
“So this girl is a victim, not a suspect.” It was an unnecessary statement, but Keith wanted to be sure he and the Chief were on the same page with this case.
“For now,” Jacobs said carefully, “When we get to the hospital she’s at you’ll interview the girl and I’ll talk to her attending.”
“What about the SFPD and social services?” Keith asked, “I’m assuming we’re doing a joint investigation.”
“They haven’t been called in yet.”
That had the junior agent blinking in surprise. While the MCO was certainly authorized to conduct investigations regarding mutants and their activities, it had no jurisdiction when it came to other criminal activities. Sure this case involved a mutant, but she wasn’t the offender. By all rights the SFPD should have been called immediately along with Child Services. “That’s highly unusual sir,” Keith said carefully.
“Yes it is,” his boss admitted, “But we want to determine at least some extent of the girl’s mutation before bringing in other agencies. I don’t want the hospital blowing up because she ends up being a high level energizer who ends up triggering her powers because she gets emotional during questioning.”
The explanation made sense, but something niggled at the back of Keith’s mind. He’d only been a detective in the SFPD for three years, but he’d been a good one and he’d learned to trust his instincts on investigations. At that moment, those same instincts were telling him something wasn’t right and he was pretty sure it didn’t have everything to do with the mutant they were going to see.

UCSF Medical Center, Emergency Department

During the four hours after I’d woken up and discovered I was now a girl I’d been lucky enough to have the nurse who I’d first met be my almost constant companion. Tina Brightman (please just call me Tina) had been so wonderful helping not to completely freak out at my sudden change of anatomy. When I’d first gotten a good look at myself I thought that I’d be okay with it, that I’d be able to adapt to such a dramatic change. After all, it wasn’t like I’d turned into some kind of grotesque monster with bat wings and a pig snout. I’d just changed into a normal looking girl. Okay, so I’d changed into a drop-dead gorgeous girl with hair so brightly red that I looked like I belonged in an anime, but otherwise a normal girl.
Unfortunately, my traitorous brain quickly proved me wrong when I started thinking about all of the drastic changes that would now happen in my life. I couldn’t stand to pee anymore, I’d probably start having periods (shudder), I’d have to worry about a lot more than my face when it came to shaving, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All of those thoughts had me shaking with fear and by the time Tina had come back to bring me a late breakfast I thought for sure I was going to have a nervous breakdown. As it was, it took her about ten minutes of just holding me and gently shushing while I had another crying jag that threatened to never end. I’d apologized profusely for it afterwards and she assured me it was nothing to be ashamed of.
“Girls are much more expressive with their emotions,” she explained.
“I just feel like I can’t get a handle on mine,” I complained as I sniffed away the last of my tears. “When I got a good look at myself I thought, ‘Okay, I can handle this’ and then the next thing I know I’m sobbing like a baby.”
“It’s a lot to take in,” she assured me, “Not only being a mutant, but suddenly being a girl would be tough on most people. Unless you’re transgendered and wanted to become a girl,” she said carefully.
“I didn’t,” I said with a shake of my head and felt that still odd sensation of my hair brushing back and forth along my shoulders and back, “I was perfectly happy being a boy.”
“I thought as much. Still, I think I should probably give you a little bit of a crash course on womanhood while we wait for the doctor.”
And so I was taught a few things I would need to know about the distaff side of life. The first thing Tina made sure I had a good grasp of was my new sanitary needs. Not only was I taught the proper way to handle a period, something I was most assuredly not looking forward to, but I was also instructed on how to keep my new equipment clean so as to avoid infections. Once that rather disgusting lesson, complete with hands-on demonstrations (shudder), was completed we moved on to some more rather harmless things. Hair care, clothing selection, makeup, shoes, and even accessorizing were all discussed in somewhat broad strokes. Tina didn’t want to overwhelm me but she thought it might be good for me to start learning about those things so I wouldn’t look like an unorganized mess when I finally left the hospital. She’d also managed to acquire some clothing for me so I wouldn’t be stuck in a backless hospital gown. It wasn’t much, just a pair of thin pajama pants and a white T-shirt, but it made me feel far less exposed. I can’t even remember how many times I’d thanked her for being so kind to me during those few hours.
By the time the doctor Taylor (Tina had told me his name) had returned I was eating lunch with Tina since she’d insisted on taking her break with me. “Well,” he said happily as he walked into the room, “I’m glad to see you’ve got your appetite.”
“Me too,” I said and returned his smile, “And the food isn’t nearly as bad as the stereotypes make it out to be.” That got a laugh from Tina.
“Tell me,” he asked as he pulled up the rolling stool to sit next to my bed, “Have you noticed if your appetite has increased? Do you still feel hungry after eating a meal or perhaps having second helpings?”
I shook my head without even needing to think about it. “No doctor, I was pretty full after I had that late breakfast and I’m almost full from this now.”
“I see,” he mused and made a note in the chart he was carrying.
“Is that bad?” I asked worriedly. Was I supposed to have a huge appetite now that I’d mutated?
“No not at all,” he assured me and smiled, “But it does indicate that it’s likely you don’t fall into the energizer class of mutant. They burn up calories so quickly that they have quite…healthy appetites.”
“But that’s purely speculation right now,” he clarified, “Until you get proper power testing we can’t be sure what abilities you have and which category they fall under.”
“You mean with the MCO?” I asked nervously. I’d heard plenty of stories regarding the mutant policing agency and admittedly most of them were good. According to general media accounts, the MCO worked to make sure the mutant population didn’t go out of control with their powers. That was why they’d established power testing centers across the country, so mutants could learn what abilities they had so they would be able to control them. Still, I had my doubts about what the organization actually did. There had been plenty of times when Harold and Jackie would watch a news broadcast involving a mutant being taken into custody by the MCO and comment on how great it was they were making another mutant disappear. At the time I just chalked it up to drunken ramblings, but now I found myself wondering if there might have been a kernel of truth to what they were saying.
“Yes,” Doctor Taylor told me and placed his hand atop mine, “I actually have been in contact with them about you and they are sending two of their agents over to speak with you.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong,” I protested fearfully, “I just tried to help that man.”
“No one said you did anything wrong,” Doctor Taylor soothed while Tina slipped a comforting arm around my shoulders, “I called them because any time a mutant manifests they need to go see their agency for power testing. Because of your situation with your foster parents I thought it best for them to come and speak with you before Child Services did. Given that you’re understandably leery of them after what happened with your foster parents, I thought perhaps the MCO agents might be able to come up with an alternate solution other than Child Services. If you’re not comfortable with that I can contact the police and Child Services immediately and have them here by the time the MCO agents arrive.”
I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of being interviewed by MCO agents. Regardless of their press I didn’t want them thinking I’d been the one to cause the accident to begin with. However, if it was a choice between dealing with the MCO or Child Services, the MCO definitely had a leg up. I’d already dealt with CPS once and they’d dropped me into that hell of a foster home without a care. I had no plans to give them another chance to do even worse if I could help it. “No, it’s okay,” I demurred, “I’ll talk to the agents when they get here.”
“Wonderful,” Doctor Taylor said with a clap of his hands, “I think you’re making the right decision. Now, before they do arrive I would like to conduct a physical exam on you so it’s out of the way.”
I blinked in surprise at his request. “But, didn’t you already examine me earlier when I was brought in?”
He nodded but smiled wanly, “Yes you were given a thorough physical exam; however you were in the throes of a burnout which can skew our findings at the time. Now that your burnout has passed I would like to do another exam to see if there are any significant physical changes that the MCO should be made aware of. While you certainly don’t show any signs of Gross Structural Dystrophy other than your rather unique hair color,” I blushed at that and self-consciously brushed some of my hair back, “It will be necessary to make sure and physical changes are noted for your records. Tina will be here with us the entire time but I can have a female doctor conduct the exam if that would make you more comfortable.”
“Just how…physical is the exam?” I asked in a quiet and embarrassed voice.
“Rather thorough I’m afraid,” he replied honestly, “Though it will not be as invasive as a gynecological exam. I would suggest you have one soon, though, just to be sure everything is in good order.”
Except for educational purposes I’d spent very little time in hospitals, especially as a patient. The most I’d ever had done to me was the typical ‘turn your head and cough’ thing doctors did for sports physicals. Now Doctor Taylor was basically wanting me to strip down so he could look at everything. I couldn’t quite pin down how I felt about that. On one hand I still had a substantial male minset so having another man conduct a physical on me didn’t seem all that outrageous. On the other, I had what was now a distinctly female persona that was gaining more and more footholds as time progressed. I wasn’t quite at the point of wholly identifying myself as a girl, but I could feel it getting closer all the time. I mean, it wasn’t like I could go back. Tina had told me right of the bat that there was no way to reverse the effects of my BIT, or Body Image Template, that were caused by my mutation. I was a girl now until the day I died. Logically I understood that but the emotional part of me was still struggling to come to terms with it, and that included having Doctor Taylor, a man, perform a physical examination on me.
Still, both Doctor Taylor and Tina had been nothing but kind and understanding to me since the moment I’d woken up. Tina herself had surely given up so much of her free time and time that she could have spent caring for other patients just to stay with me so I wouldn’t be alone and scared. If she was with me I knew I could probably get through this.
“No, it’s okay Doctor Taylor I trust you, you can do the physical. Where do you want me?”
He smiled and I caught a gleam of what looked like pride in his eyes. “Well first I’ll need you to remove your pants and shirt. Was Tina able to find you underwear?” Tina answered for me by shaking her head. “Well,” he sighed, “I suppose it does make things a little easier in the long run. Let me close the door while you undress.”
When he turned to do just that, and I was reaching for the hem of my shirt, I caught a look on Tina’s face out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t quite sure what it was and when I turned my head slightly to look at her she only smiled reassuringly to me. Maybe I was just being hyper aware and seeing things that weren’t really there. Between my impending interview with MCO agents and now this physical exam I was naturally feeling quite nervous and shaky. Unfortunately that feeling didn’t ease at all when I bared myself before Doctor Taylor and Tina. At the time I was still far too new at being a girl to truly understand how girls think and feel when it comes to men looking at them. That being said, when I saw the man’s eyes lock onto my breasts before dropping down to the softness between my legs I felt a very strong feeling of vulnerability. Though he only glanced for perhaps a moment before his gaze moved on, there was no mistaking the quick flash of abject male appreciation in his eyes.
While he turned to snap on a pair of nitrile exam gloves I cast a worried and nervous look to Tina. “It’s okay,” she said quietly, “This won’t take long and Doctor Taylor is very gentle.”
Swallowing hard I nodded as Doctor Taylor turned back around with his pleasant and professional smile back on his face. “Shall we?”
I nodded and he started the exam. Truth be told it wasn’t all that bad. He checked my arms and legs, noting the changes in musculature, as well as my neck and back. All seemed to be in perfect condition, according to him. I felt a hot blush climb up my neck when he hefted my breasts but he did so only momentarily before pronouncing that they were perfect.
Then came the vaginal exam. To call it unpleasant would be a gross misrepresentation. Now to be fair the physical portion of it wasn’t bad. From what I’ve been told it wasn’t nearly as invasive as gynecological exams typically are. All the doctor did was physically examine the exterior of my vagina, which he ended up pronouncing as also being perfect. What made it so incredibly uncomfortable was the feeling of abject humiliation and vulnerability. Here I was, a newly minted young woman, getting a very intimate part of her body poked and prodded by a man who was most assuredly not a lover. I realize it was irrational, and I didn’t know at the time whether other women felt the same way, but I had this horrifying thought that perhaps I was ugly down there and that I would be judged on the whole as a person because of it.
Of course it was the first time I’d ever been so closely examined down there and I had what I was later told was a completely understandable reaction to it, but at the time it caused me to seemingly blush endlessly. The addition of seeing, I don’t know, something in Doctor Taylor’s eyes when he completed the exam between my legs did absolutely nothing to calm my speeding heart.
“You can put your clothes back on now,” he said as he made a few notations in the chart. “Tell me Ashley, did you have any problems or issues with hair growth before your mutation?”
“No,” I said with a frown of confusion as I pulled up my pants and drew on my shirt, “I mean I was never very hairy but it seemed normal. Why?”
“Interesting,” he muttered seemingly to himself before looking at me once again. “Well, I ask because while I was conducting your physical I noticed something odd. You’ve been with us for a little over sixteen hours now. While I wouldn’t expect any hair growth on your face anymore, I’m rather surprised at a distinct absence of growth on the rest of your body. When I examined your legs I didn’t even detect any traces stubble. Even if we look at the possibility that your burnout and transformation cause what amounts to a ‘system reset’ of your bodily functions there should have at least been something.”
Tina nodded in agreement, her lips pursed slightly in thought. “That’s true,” she agreed with what I could tell was for my benefit, “Most women have at least some growth on their legs even after one day.”
“Yes,” Doctor Taylor agreed, “However in your case you are, if you’ll pardon the vernacular, as smooth as a baby.”
I blushed at his compliment as well as the undeniably appreciative look that was in his eyes that I don’t think he was aware he had. “Maybe I just have really slow hair growth now?”
“Maybe,” the physician muttered as he reached for a head harness that had what appeared to be a magnifier on it. Slipping the band around his head and positioning the magnifying lens before his eye he took my arm and carefully examined the forearm section of it. He seemed to focus only on one spot for quite some time before shifting and looking at a particular spot on my bicep. Once he saw whatever it was he might have been looking for he did the same with my other arm, only he examined totally different locations on that arm. The process was repeated with my legs, though fortunately all I had to do was roll up the legs of the pajamas instead of drop them completely, as well as multiple areas of my face.
Once he was finished closely looking at my four limbs he sat up and pulled the magnifier off his head. “I thought as much,” he said, clearly confirming a hypothesis he’d already formed, “I would need to take a tissue sample to be sure but I feel quite confident in saying that your body no longer possesses hair follicles anywhere beneath your eyes. Your hair growth isn’t simply regressed or retarded; the very ability for you to grow hair anywhere on your body other than your head, eyebrows, and eyelashes has been completely eliminated.”
I blinked in surprise and looked at my arm as though somehow I would be able to look down to a cellular level to see what the doctor had seen. “No hair follicles? But how is that possible?” I shook my head before either he or Tina could answer, “I’m sorry, I understand how it’s possible with my mutation, but does it present a danger to me?”
“No,” Doctor Taylor assured me, “At least not the kind of danger you may be thinking. For the most part body hair is utilized as a means of helping to regulate temperature, i.e keeping us cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather. Women have historically had very little body hair except their legs, which as you know most shave almost daily so clearly it is no threat to your life. At the very most you might anticipate feeling just a little warmer than most in hot temperatures and colder in cool temperatures, that’s all.”
“And on the plus side,” Tina said with a mix of enthusiasm and jealousy, “You never have to worry about shaving your legs or underarms again. Trust me you should be thankful for that, it’ll a huge time saver.”
“It also,” added Doctor Taylor, “Provides you with added benefit of not needing to use any kind of shaving implements so your skin won’t be affected by the results of razor burn and the like. I would wager that with minimal maintenance you will continue to have remarkably flawless and soft skin.”
I thought for sure I detected a trace of something, maybe anticipation or even lust, in his voice, but when I looked over at Tina it was clear she hadn’t heard anything other than a professional giving his expert opinion. “I guess that’s a good thing,” I said quietly.
“It’s a really good thing,” Tina assured me, giving my hand a squeeze, “Having good skin is something most women are constantly trying to get and when you add that to everything else about your changes well…honey, pretty much every woman I know would kill too look as good as you do right now, and you haven’t even tried to do anything with your appearance.”
Oh there came that blush again. Why was it so easy for me to do that now? “I’m not anything special,” I tried to insist but I just couldn’t put any real weight behind the argument. I knew how I looked and I wasn’t under some false delusion that I didn’t recognize the beauty I now possessed. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still uncomfortable with it, but I knew it was there.
Instead of doing what I fully expected Tina to do and start heaping platitudes and assurances that I was totally wrong, all she did was pat my hand and offer me a warm smile. “There are a few more tests I’d like to conduct,” Doctor Taylor said as he put the chart back in its holder on the outside of the door. “Fortunately,” he continued before I could say anything, “They aren’t invasive at all. I just want to get a good, complete set of x-rays. While we don’t have any previous ones to compare with, we will be able to see if there any deviations from that of a healthy sixteen-year-old girl.”
“Oh,” I said, following the logic, “That makes sense. When do you want to do them?”
“I’ll have Tina take you down right now. You may have a bit of a wait since this won’t classify as an immediate emergency but I don’t expect it to be very long. The x-ray department is usually quite good at getting patients in and out quickly.”
Nodding, I hopped off the bed and followed Tina out of the room.

UCSF Medical Center, Parking Lot

As Chief Jacobs pulled into the parking lot of the hospital and began looking for a parking space Keith went over the file one last time. He’d have it with him during his interview with the girl but he always liked to have knowledge of a case firmly planted in his mind so he wouldn’t have to pause to look information up. More than once he’d found that even a brief lull in an interview could give a suspect or witness the opportunity to really start thinking and thus contrive a falsehood that could potentially be difficult to disprove. While riding shotgun with the Chief of Investigations was certainly a chance that was few and far between, Keith knew he would cast himself in a more positive light by focusing on the case instead of making small talk. Given that Chief Jacobs, by all accounts, was a very intense and driven man, talking about the latest Giants game was probably not the best way into his good graces.
When the Chief finally found a parking space Keith closed the file and tucked it under his arm while releasing his seatbelt. Still without two words being said between the two investigators, the pair exited the vehicle and started towards the main entrance of the hospital. “I picked you for this because of your law enforcement experience,” the Chief said, surprising Keith since not a word had been spoken between the two since they’d left the parking garage, “You’ll be conducting the interview with the girl. Our primary purpose here is to confirm she had no involvement in the car crash and to determine whether or not she is a threat to society at large.”
Keith nodded, not needing his boss to explain what he was angling at. While the girl might not be a supervillain at the moment, far too many children that came from broken and abused homes ended up being very dangerous, and they didn’t have superpowers. When you added mutations to the mix it had the potential to be a very…explosive situation. Given the Chief’s rather gruff, no-nonsense approach it made perfect sense that he would be the one talking to the girl. He didn’t look forward to it since cases like this were always hard on a cop’s emotions, but it was pretty obvious that he would be able to provide much more empathy than the Chief could. “Do we know if she’s had any problems with the police in the past? There’s no previous contacts with police in the file.”
“That’s because she’s had none,” the Chief said in a clipped voice, “Other than when she was informed of her parents’ deaths there’s been no police contact whatsoever.”
“Do we know how it went for that one contact?”
Chief Jacobs actually sighed ever so slightly and Keith had a feeling that having knowledge of this information was an exercise in wasting time. “No we do not.”
Keith frowned slightly but kept silent. It would have been good to know how the girl handled the police telling her about her parents’ death because it would give him some insight in how to initially approach her. If she handled it well he could open with sympathy, while if she had been hostile and angry he could try to use calm mixed with a hard edge. Since he was going in blind now he would need to be a little extra observant and try to adjust to her mental and emotional state on the fly. It actually surprised Keith that his boss didn’t think of that since this was pretty basic investigative stuff.
After showing the hospital reception/information desk their ID’s they were directed back into the emergency department where Chief Jacobs immediately walked over to the charge nurse’s desk. “Chief Jacobs and Agent Mathews from the MCO, we were contacted by Doctor Taylor,” he said in a brusque tone.
The nurse seemed a bit taken aback by the Chief’s abrupt statement and had a clearly miffed expression on her face when she picked up her desk phone. Keith tried to smooth the woman’s ruffled feathers by offering her a pleasant smile but apparently the damage was done because she completely ignored it. Yeah, it was definitely a good thing he was doing the interview.
“There are some gentlemen from the MCO here to see you,” the woman said into the phone before nodding at what she was told from the other end of the line and hanging up. “The doctor will meet you at treatment room ten.”
The Chief nodded and started walking without saying a word. Still determined to try and salvage at least a little good will Keith once again smiled to the nurse. “Thank you,”
“You’re welcome,” she replied, though she pointedly glared at Chief Jacob’s back.
Hurrying after his boss Keith took note of the current happenings in the ER. After all, should there be a medical incident here that involved a mutant it would be good to already have a heads-up about it coming their way. Fortunately the ER was rather quiet that day and soon they found themselves at room ten, the furthest one away from all of the other patients. Since it was housing an unknown mutant it made sense for them to keep her away from everyone else just in case something went haywire and an evacuation was needed.
A man Keith assumed was the doctor who had contacted them was waiting just outside the door of the room. When he caught sight of them walking over his eyes seemed to actually light up and he practically leapt to intercept them. “Ah you must be…the agents from the MCO.”
Right away there was something about this man that had Keith’s ‘detective sense’ tingling. While any medical professional might be a bit anxious when it came to a mutant coming into their ER, this man seemed almost downright excited. There was a look of eager anticipation in his eyes that the investigator just flat out didn’t like. However as Chief Jacobs shook the man’s hand firmly he elected to keep that opinion to himself for the time being. No need to toss out accusations at the man who’d contacted them…yet.
“We’re glad you contacted us,” the Chief replied, “Are there any new developments?”
“Nothing extreme,” the doctor replied, “Other than a few minor physical malformations, unusual hair coloring and lack of follicle production to be specific, the patient appears to be in perfect health, albeit of the completely opposite gender of her birth.”
“Is there any indication of violent behavior we should be concerned with?”
“Oh no,” the doctor assured them, “The young lady was certainly scared when confronted with her mutation which is a perfectly reasonable reaction, particularly given her change in gender. Other than that she was been quite friendly if rather shy. I wish I had more patients as charming as her.”
Laying it on a bit thick there doctor, Keith thought and looked over at the room so neither the doctor nor his boss would notice his frown. That frown only deepened when he discovered the room was empty. “Where is she?”
“Oh I sent her for a set x-rays for her file just to determine if she has any skeletal abnormalities. Though based on my examinations so far I don’t anticipate there to be anything. The nurse should be bringing her back shortly.”
“You wait here,” Chief Jacobs ordered Keith, “I’m going to speak with the doctor and get a few more details about the case. Go ahead and start your interview when she gets back.” He didn’t even wait to see if Keith had understood his directive before walking out of the ER through the nearby exit doors.
Keith frowned. What was supposed to be a great chance to have some face-time with the boss and show him his abilities seemed to be rapidly turning into an excuse for a higher up to pawn off some busy work. Or maybe the Chief couldn’t handle a case of child abuse so he decided to spare himself the grief of it by handing it off to an underling. Whatever the reason, the investigator wasn’t exactly pleased with the way this was going, especially since he now had to wait for the subject to his interview to even get there.
Sighing, he headed back to the nurses station to see if he could mend a few fences with the charge nurse and try to sweet talk his way to a cup of coffee.

UCSF Medical Center, Office of Reginald Taylor

“I do appreciate you coming,” Doctor Taylor said as he escorted the Chief Investigator Jacobs into his office and closed the door.
“I hope this is worth my time,” the MCO man said with a meaningful look at the doctor.
“I think it will be. The young lady in question that I called you about seems to possess a rather impressive ability to heal.”
“Mutant regeneration is nothing new,” Jacobs said, already shifting to exit from the office and clearly upset at his time being wasted, “It’s actually one of the biggest problems the MCO deals with when it comes to supervillains and rogue mutants.”
“I’m not talking about regeneration,” Taylor said with a small, self-satisfied smile, “I’m talking about healing others.”
“That’s also nothing new,” Jacobs countered, his scowl deepening.
“True, but if what I suspect is true this young woman has the capacity to heal far more effectively and to a much higher degree than any that I personally have encountered.”
The sardonic twist of Jacob’s mouth clearly indicated what the MCO officer thought of this doctor’s so called “experience” with mutants. “Exactly what are you looking to get out of this doctor? Frankly I’m more than a little surprised you used your one chit to call me just because a newly manifested mutant happened to grace your ER.”
“I assume you have seen photos of the accident the girl was present for? The amount of damage it sustained from the impact coupled with the fire damage should have had the EMT’s bringing in what amount to a corpse. They reported approximately two liters of blood on the ground, all from the driver, as well as his clothes being charred so badly I would have expected a tremendous amount of third degree burns covering most of his body. Instead, I was presented with a completely healthy man with absolutely no sign of any injury whatsoever. That tells me this girl has a tremendous amount of healing ability within her, possibly enough to mend any injury and possibly cure any illness.”
Jacobs was starting to see where the man was going with this, and it actually wasn’t a bad idea. He was starting to rethink his initial regret for giving the doctor a one-time use private cell number. Of course, he’d given the man the number a year and a half ago as a way of thanking him for saving the life of one of the RRT involved in a raid he had orchestrated. At the time it had been, to him at least, a meaningless gesture that he assumed would be used up getting the self-important doctor out of a drunk driving ticket or something. Perhaps he had misjudged the man.
“So what exactly are you proposing doctor?”
The man sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “I suggest you take the girl.”
“I hope there’s more to it than that,” Jacobs said with a frown, “I can’t simply take a minor into custody just because you want me to. She may be a mutant but by all accounts she’s done nothing illegal.”
Doctor Taylor shook his head while his smile only grew and became more wicked. “I didn’t say take her into custody, I said take her. Right now she is in a situation where she is a child that has been abused by her foster parents. I surmise your junior agent is taking her statement as we speak. That puts you in a position to offer her a measure of protection and safety away from her abusive foster parents.”
“We’re not Child Services, Doctor Taylor, we don’t place children in foster care.”
“True, but does she know that?” He chuckled when he saw the light of understanding flash in the agent’s eyes, “I’m quite aware of how the MCO has something of an underground reputation of making mutants ‘disappear’. In fact, didn’t just such a thing happen in New York about two years ago?”
It took a significant amount of effort to keep from laughing when he saw the look of shock appear on the agent’s face for a moment before he visibly forced it back into an expression of neutrality. Oh yes, he made sure to do his research on the man before contacting him. Even though it had been done through public channels such as media sites and even Wikipedia, Taylor had gotten himself well versed in the incident in Queens that saw ten supposed mutants rounded up before disappearing from the face of the Earth. The MCO had tried to cover it up, making statements that the reports were inflated and greatly exaggerated when it came to the number of mutants and how they had vanished. However, Taylor had easily been able to read between the lines; especially when the lead agent on the case, one Ronald Jacobs, had taken the brunt of the media’s fury for weeks afterward. The review of the incident by the FBI had ended up clearing Jacobs of any wrong doing, which wasn’t difficult to do since there were no victims, witnesses, or bodies to indicate anything illegal had happened, but Jacobs’ reputation had clearly been trashed by the press. It stood to reason that was why he was now in San Francisco, to make him essentially disappear from the ranks of the MCO and based on the reaction Jacobs had at the mentioning of it the doctor was right.
“That operation was cleared by the FBI,” Jacobs said, though he couldn’t keep the tightness out of his voice.
“Regardless,” Taylor said, waving the issue away, “What I am proposing would go a long way in elevating us in our respective fields. If you are able to have the MCO retain custody of the girl then perhaps you might be able to sway her to your side. Just think of what she can do for the MCO. Instead of needing to send agents or tactical operatives to the hospital when trying to take down a supervillain, you have your own complete medical service right there on site to completely heal your men and get them back into the fight within minutes.”
It might have sounded ridiculous to someone else, but Jacobs had spent too many days being involved in raids and firefights with mutants that ended up putting most of his team in the hospital and sometimes allowed the mutant to escape. What the doctor was suggesting not only made rather good tactical sense, but it could potentially re-elevate him back into the higher ranks of the MCO.
“What exactly are you getting out of this doctor? Right now this all sounds one-sided in my favor.”
“Very astute,” Taylor replied, and Jacobs swore that he saw that wicked smile turn damn near evil, “In exchange for serving the young lady up to you, I want to have full access to her. I want to find out just how her ability works. Once I do that, I might be able to duplicate the process.”
Taylor saw by the MCO man’s expression that he realized what the physician was looking to accomplish and hoped he’d been right about the man. Taylor had spent a great deal of time during his college years in research as well as practice. He’d seen how countless diseases and illnesses were formed and created and had spent countless hours working on ways to cure the supposedly incurable. He’d had little success at it, but not for lack of knowledge and application. His appetite had been whetted for that sort of work but unfortunately positions in the viral research community were few and far between these days even though he knew he possessed an aptitude for the area of study.
All of that could be accomplished in one fell swoop if the girl possessed the amount of healing power he suspected and he could somehow extract the process from her. Of course, it would likely require some rather invasive and painful procedures. This was inconsequential to Taylor as mutants were, in his eyes, little more than guinea pigs waiting for experimentation; though he’d always been very careful to hide this opinion.
“So,” Jacobs said, interrupting the man’s thoughts, “You want me to take this girl into protective custody and essentially make her disappear, thus granting you unrestrained access to her.”
“Essentially, yes.”
This was the biggest part of Taylor’s gamble. If he’d pegged the MCO agent incorrectly and the man was still possessed of morals he would likely find himself in a pair of handcuffs in short order. Since the man wasn’t giving him anything to work with by keeping that blank expression he wasn’t sure if he’d just signed his own prison sentence.
His relief was nearly explosive when the big man slowly smiled and held out his hand to the doctor. “I think something can be arranged.”
As the two men shook on their agreement, neither of them noticed that Taylor had failed to properly shut his office door when they’d first entered. They also failed to notice the slight form in powder blue that dashed away when the two men made to leave.

UCSF Medical Center, Emergency Department

It had taken ten minutes, but by the end of their conversation Keith was pretty sure he had been able to sway the charge nurse’s opinion that not every MCO agent was an emotionless ass. He’d even managed to get himself a decent cup of coffee in the bargain that he was sipping from when the two women walked into the ER. He was hanging out by the nurses’ station at the time so he was only able to view them from a distance but what he saw was enough to know these were the two he’d been waiting for. The nurse in pink scrubs was accompanying a young girl with shockingly bright red hair that would easily have her standing out in a crowd. It wasn’t garish by any means, but it was a bright candy apple red that one typically only saw on custom car paint jobs. When they turned into her room he silently made a count to thirty while sipping his coffee before pushing away from the nurses’ station and strolling down the hallway. His positioning and timing held the purpose of not scaring the girl by simply being there waiting for her when she got back. While the MCO had a good reputation in general there were more than a few issues with bad press that sometimes had them labeled as boogeymen in the mutant community. Since this was a case of child abuse followed by a heroic and selfless rescue of a stranger he didn’t want to do anything to reinforce the negative stereotype.
It was also for those reasons that he didn’t simply walk into the room but instead lightly knocked on the partially closed door and waited for a voice to say, “Yes?” before he walked in. That was when he got his first good look at the girl who had caused such a stir and the reports he had didn’t do her any form of justice at all.
The girl was in the middle of turning around to see who was walking in and the first thing he saw were her eyes. Good god they were green. Even though he knew they didn’t it almost seemed as though they glowed with some inner light and while projecting a wide-eyed innocent look at the same time. That incredibly colored hair swirled about to frame a gentle and delicate face that looked like it was airbrushed in real life. From just the quick first glance Keith couldn’t detect a single flaw in her features or complexion. Add to that a petite, slim body that, even garbed in drab and ill-fitting hospital pajama bottoms and T-shirt, was clearly that of a knockout and the agent knew he’d have to be very careful to keep his professional demeanor firmly in place. The last thing he wanted to be accused of was mentally undressing this frightened sixteen-year-old with his eyes even though it was very tempting to do exactly that.
“Hi,” he said with a friendly smile, “I’m Agent Keith Mathews from the MCO, are you Ashley Logan?”
“Yes,” she said slowly in a quiet and cautious voice as she took one tiny step backward.
“Doctor Taylor called our office and asked us to come over to talk with you,” Keith said, pitching his voice so it was light and friendly, “You just manifested recently, right?” When the girl only nodded mutely he continued. “From what I hear your actions saved a man’s life.”
“I…He needed help,” the girl stammered, shifting closer to the nurse who slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“Well,” Keith said, indicating the rolling stool and settling himself on it when the nurse gave a nod of approval, “We don’t have too many details about what happened so could I ask you a few questions about it, just so we can get a complete record?”
“I suppose that would be okay,” Ashley said hesitantly as she perched herself on the edge of the bed with a body posture that clearly indicated she was tensed to run if threatened.
“Your nurse…I’m sorry, what’s your name ma’am?”
“Tina,” the nurse replied, sitting on the bed beside Ashley so was between him and the girl. It didn’t take someone with detective skills to know this woman felt protective about her charge.
“Tina is free to stay here the whole time. In fact, I have to insist she does since right now she’s the closest thing we have to a child representative for you and I can’t interview you without one.”
The girl’s body seemed to relax ever so slightly and a faint glimmer of relief shone in her eyes. “Thank you,” she said quietly and Keith had no doubt she meant it.
“Now,” he started, taking out a small spiral notebook and pen from his coat pocket, “Why don’t you just start at the beginning.”
For a minute the girl was silent, not because she didn’t want to talk but it was clear to Keith’s eyes that she was trying to figure out where to start. Eventually she seemed to settle on an event in her mind and said, “I’d just run away from home…”
For the next ten minutes Ashley recounted her story of how she’d fled from her foster parents’ apartment, had wandered around the streets of San Francisco, and had witnessed the car crash. When she started recounting what happened after the crash had occurred he saw how difficult the event had been for her. This wasn’t some fire fighter or police officer who did something like this because it was their job. This was a sixteen-year-old kid who was scared out of her…well his at the time…mind but acting purely on an instinct that demanded she help someone in trouble. It was that right there, the fact that she hadn’t hesitated to put herself in harm’s way just because some stranger needed help, that Keith knew he wasn’t looking at someone who was going to turn villain. This girl had a good, kind, and giving heart and in his line of work that was a rarity.
“So tell me about how you healed the man,” Keith said as they got to the meat of the story regarding her manifestation.
“I’m…I’m not really sure,” she said, “It’s all kind of a blur at that point but I managed to pull him out of the car and then just kind of collapsed. I was so tired and hurting I thought for sure we were both going to die right there. The man was really hurt and I’m pretty sure he was going to die anyway. Then, I think my hand touched him and I was thinking I didn’t want him to die. I thought maybe I could just…I don’t know, will him to be okay. I did that as hard as I could until I finally blacked out. Then I woke up here, found out I’d turned into a girl, and that the man I’d pulled out of the car was perfectly fine.”
“So,” Keith said slowly while making notes in his book, “You don’t remember any unusual feelings or emotions or sensations when you used your power?”
Ashley shook her head and wiped a few tears that had formed from the memory from her eyes. “No, nothing. I just tried to will him to be okay, that’s all. I was hurting pretty bad though so I really don’t know what I might have felt when it happened.”
“That’s understandable,” the agent assured her as he flipped the page on his notebook. “Now, I’d like to talk about your time with your foster parents. I know it was bad,” he said quickly when she gasped and drew back into the nurse’s arms in fear, “But it’s also possible your manifestation might have begun when you were living with them or it could even have been triggered by them without you realizing it. Just because you used your power at the crash doesn’t mean they weren’t already active at that point. Plus, you might have other powers that you don’t know about that may have already manifested during your time with them and you didn’t recognize them for what they were at the time.”
“Does she have to?” Tina asked with a narrowed gaze as she held the girl protectively.
“No,” Keith admitted with a shake of his head, “But I would like to hear about it. As I said, it may give us some more clues about her manifestation timeline and will also serve as double duty of getting an official report on what her foster parents did. As a policing agency, our report can be used by Child Services and the police to work on building a criminal case against…” He quickly checked his notes, “Harold and Jackie Smith.”
Ashley gasped in terror when the names were mentioned and hugged the nurse even tighter. “They were monsters,” she whispered as fresh tears filled her eyes.
“I don’t doubt that,” Keith told her gently, “And I can promise you you’ll never have to go back there. I can’t tell you how sorry I am you were put in that place, and while I won’t try to tell you I know how you feel I will say that I want to try and understand. The decision is completely yours,” he assured her, “But if you want to talk about it I’d be glad to listen.”
When the girl looked up at the nurse she was clinging to, the older woman gently brushed back her hair and offered her a soft smile. “It might help you to talk about it,” she told her, “Sometimes the only way to start moving passed the pain is to let it out in the open.”
For a while the girl said nothing. Keith didn’t push or prod or even say anything to try and coax her to talk. He knew if he did that he was just as likely to make her clam up then open up. Instead, he offered to get Ashley something to drink and left the two alone while he did just that. He knew from too many past experiences that when it came to child abuse you couldn’t push the child too fast, especially when the memories were so fresh and raw. Since it seemed like she had developed a bond with the nurse it would be best to give them some time alone to talk. He was pretty confident that the older woman would be able to nudge the girl towards talking with him.
When he returned with glass of cold lemonade donated by one of the nurses, they all really did love this girl, Ashley looked more calm and composed. The fear was still there, making her eyes huge, but the set of her pretty mouth told him she was ready to talk.
“I was placed with Harold and Jackie after my parents died…”
For the next hour Keith was given an account of what he readily considered one of the worst cases of abuse he’d ever heard. How these people had ever been cleared by Child Services to be adequate foster parents was something he was definitely going to suggest SFPD look into. His gut instinct was they had some kind of deal going with the social worker that had placed her, which meant this could go further than he was able to deal with as an MCO agent. More than once the girl had to stop because she’d broken down into heart-wrenching sobs that completely robbed her of her voice. Thankfully, nurse Tina was able to offer her the support that Keith didn’t have the luxury of giving as an investigating officer and it allowed the girl to continue.
By the end of her story the MCO agent was ready to steal his boss’s car, drive as fast as he could to that small apartment, and empty every round he had, plus the entire arsenal in his boss’s trunk, into those two pieces of shit. The fact that this girl was still so sweet and kind instead of becoming a raving lunatic, or had gone down that dark path of drugs, gangs, and sex, was the biggest testament to her character. He didn’t know many people, children or adult, that could do it.
When her story finally ended and she was crying softly in Tina’s arms Keith closed his notebook and slipped it into his coat. “Ashley, I don’t think you realize just strong you are. You went through a nightmare and very few people could do that and still be what everyone here has told me is a wonderful girl. I don’t think your time with those…people,” he ground it, barely keeping from calling her former foster parents something decidedly unprofessional, “Caused anything with your mutation, but my next phone call is going to be to SFPD and I guarantee you they won’t be able to do this to you or anyone else ever again.”
“So where does that leave Ashley now?” Tina asked while holding the still quietly crying girl.
“I need to talk with my Chief,” Keith said as he stood. “I’m not sure what options we have through the MCO but we’ll definitely be contacting SFPD to get a case started on the Smiths. I’ll go talk with my boss and be right back, okay?”
Tina nodded as Ashley lifted her head. “Agent Mathews?” she called softly, halting Keith’s progress to the door and causing him to turn back and freeze. Ashley’s eyes were red and still shone with her tears but that only seemed to make her even more heartbreakingly delicate and beautiful. It took everything in the agent not to stride across the room and hug her until her pain went away. Through her tears she smiled at him and his heart stuttered. “Thank you for being so kind.”
Pulling himself back together Keith returned her smile and even gave her a wink before stepping out of the room to go find his boss. Fortunately that didn’t take very long as both he and the doctor were entering the ER just as he was walking out. With purposeful strides he met them halfway. “I think I have everything we need Chief,” he said grimly.
“Is there any threat?” his boss asked.
Shaking his head, Keith glanced back at the room before turning back. “I don’t believe so. While we won’t know until power testing, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of abilities beyond healing. She gave me a really detailed account of her time with her foster parents and I didn’t hear anything that indicated additional powers or that her time there triggered her manifestation. I’m no doctor,” he glanced at the physician for confirmation, “But I’d say it was her actions at the car crash and the burnout that jump-started her mutation.”
“That was our consensus as well,” the doctor confirmed.
Chief Jacobs nodded and looked passed the junior investigator to the room. “Suggestions on how to proceed?”
Keith wasn’t sure if this was a test or not, so he gave an honest answer. “Well, everything I’ve got tells me she’s not dangerous. She’s exhibited no violent power and she definitely doesn’t have a violent personality. I think she needs to go into some kind of protective custody since I’d say most foster parents aren’t keen on taking a kid in who’s a mutant.”
From the corner of his eye Keith thought he saw a wicked smile curve the doctor’s mouth but when he looked it was gone. Chief Jacobs continued to remain stone-faced as he nodded. “I agree. We’ll take the girl into protective custody and transport her back to headquarters.”
That made Keith blink in surprise. “Ummm, sir, are we even allowed to do that? We aren’t Child Services. I don’t want her going to an orphanage but won’t there be a problem if we take her?”
The Chief gave his underling a look that had Keith wondering if he’d just caused himself to go on bitch duty for the next two months. “Article three two seven five subsection twelve paragraph c allows MCO agents to take a minor mutant into protective custody and house them in appropriate facilities until adequate living arrangements can be made.”
Keith winced at the way the directive was delivered and mentally flogged himself for not looking into that before they’d gotten to the hospital. “Of course sir. Do you want me to go and inform her?”
“Do that,” Jacobs nearly snapped before turning and walking to the nurses’ station with the doctor, presumably to take care of the paperwork.
Sighing and silently berating himself for looking like an idiot in front of the boss, Keith trudged back to the room and knocked on the door. When he heard Tina’s voice bid him to enter he did so to see Ashley wiping away the last of her tears and sipping the remnants of her lemonade. She blinked in surprise when she saw the agent enter. “That was fast,” she observed.
“Looks like the boss and I are on the same wavelength,” Keith said with a smile. “Apparently there’s an MCO article that allows us to take a mutant who is a minor into protective custody and house him or her until we can come up with more permanent arrangements.”
“That’s great,” Tina said, though she wasn’t completely enthusiastic-sounding, “When will Ashley be leaving?”
“I’d say as soon as my boss and the doctor finish with the paperwork, so we should probably get you ready to go.”
“So soon?” the girl asked in surprise and looked at Tina with a little fear in her eyes.
“Yeah,” he said, suspecting the girl was a bit nervous about leaving what had come to be a safe place. “We’ll take you over to our headquarters and then work out somewhere safe for you to stay.” What he didn’t say is he had absolutely no clue where that would be, and who would be with her. After all, Ashley was a minor and though he wasn’t familiar with the statute that allowed them to take her into protective custody he was pretty damn sure there would need to be an authorized adult with her at all times.
Slowly the young woman stood up and took one step towards Keith before spinning and wrapping Tina in a bone-crushing hug. “Thank you so much for everything,” she whispered against the woman’s shoulder.
“Oh sweetheart,” Tina replied, stroking her hair, “You don’t need to thank me, I was happy to help.”
When the two finally released from one another Ashley gave the woman a watery smile, “I promise I’ll come back to visit, just not as a patient.”
The two of them laughed and Keith escorted the girl from the room. As they started down the hallway the agent realized that she was still only wearing the flimsy hospital pajama pants, a thin T-shirt, and paper slippers. Slipping out of his suit jacket he gently draped it over her shoulders. Because the girl was so small it practically dwarfed her and draped down to her thighs. Her cheeks flushed with color and she smiled shyly up at him. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” he said with a wave of his hand, “It’s a bit cool out right now and until we can find you some better clothes I don’t want you to freeze.”
As they approached the nurses’ station, Keith watched in fascination as Ashley thanked the nurses there for all they had done for her. Once again the agent was struck by how people just seemed to gravitate towards kindness with this girl as each one of them offered heartfelt goodbyes. When she finally reached Doctor Taylor and Chief Jacobs she looked up at the physician for a moment before embracing him in a warm hug. He was too far away to hear the quiet words spoken by both of them but he suspected Ashley was thanking him as well.
When she finally released Taylor and turned to Jacobs she stopped and looked up at him. The Chief was looking down at the girl with no real expression on his face though Keith thought he might have seen a calculating gleam in his eye. “Chief Jacobs?” Ashley asked politely.
“Yes miss.”
“Agent Mathews told me you’re the one I should thank for making sure I don’t go back to…there,” she finished quickly.
“We’re just doing what’s in your best interest miss,” he replied in an even tone.
“Well, thank you anyway,” she replied, though she didn’t make any move to hug him too. Keith couldn’t blame her, one didn’t regularly mistake the Chief as the affectionate time.
For a moment, however, the junior investigator thought he might have been proven wrong as Jacobs’ expression began to thaw ever so slightly and the corner of his mouth ticked as he looked into those grateful eyes and warm smile. Then, just as quickly, the ice was back and he was striding for the exit doors.
As Keith lightly took Ashley by the arm to urge her to follow he cast her a smile. “You know, I think that’s the closest I’ve ever seen the man come to smiling.”
Ashley covered her mouth to hide her giggle as they stepped from the hospital.

Downtown Chicago, The Roof of the Willis Tower

The night was warm and comfortable…for most people. For the figure crouched on the edge of what was once considered the tallest building in the world the air should have been bitterly cold. Had it not been for the specially designed clothing, jacket, and helmet he wore he would surely have frozen to death long ago. As it was, he had been in that same spot for nearly an hour and felt perfectly comfortable, as he would feel if he was there for several hours more. Though there was no sign of eye movement beneath the shiny, black surface of the form-fitting helmet, its occupant was constantly casting his eyes about the city. Through specialized circuitry contained within its structure, the helmet zoomed in and out, brought up technical data, range data, and more via almost imperceptible muscle movement of its wearer’s face. “Sixth district police band,” the gravelly voice intoned quietly and instantly the radio traffic whispered in his ear, loud enough to be made out clearly but not so loud that he wouldn’t be able to hear his immediate surroundings. He listened to the radio cars communicating with their dispatch center for several minutes before intoning, “Police band off,” which plunged him into silence once more save for the moderate wind rushing passed him. For the moment, the city was quiet.
He knew that wouldn’t last long. If there was anything that was certain in Chicago it was there was never a dearth of crime. While the current superhero team, the Windy City Guardians, did what they could to combat any super-powered threats, there was simply too much street level crime for them to be effective. After all, they liked to work within the boundaries of the law, and that method simply didn’t work. When justice worked within a system that cared more about helping the criminal than the victim, it was clear that the system was broken. He’d heard all of the excuses:
Don’t lower yourself to the criminal’s level.
Trust in the system.
Prove that you’re better than them.
It was all bullshit, even if the majority of the population couldn’t see that. That was why he took the steps no one else would, why he allowed himself to be looked upon as the outsider. If he was the only one willing to do what was necessary and get his hands dirty, he was fine with being thought of as a monster.
A small notification symbol flashed in the corner of his vision and instantly his gaze centered on a particular street block. With little more than a thought the image before his eyes zoomed in rapidly until a slanted view of a warehouse interior filled his vision. Within that space he saw a cluster of ten men separated into two groups. Two men stood at the rear of a pair of SUV’s with their lift gates open, one containing two briefcases of cash and the other two briefcases of white bricks wrapped in plastic. This was what he had been waiting for. He had been tracking these two groups for months and knew it had only been a matter of time before their paths crossed. Now it was time to once again do what no one else had the stomach for.
Rising from his crouch, he quickly calculated the necessary maneuvers he would need to utilize before leaning forward and falling into nothing. The sound of the rushing wind was dampened by the noise cancelation feature of his helmet while red-hued digital readouts kept him constantly updated to the second on his speed and altitude. When both numbers reached a certain, predetermined level, one arm extended and flexed slightly. From beneath the sleeve of the short, black jacket a monofilament line fired out with barely a puff of air. A moment later he felt the line go taut as the tiny, barbed point at the end buried itself into the brick of a nearby building. With a subtle twist of his body he swung down in a very wide arc, using the change in direction to slow his descent in such a way that it wouldn’t affect an immediate arrest and snap a multitude of bones. He waited until he swung almost completely through the arc until his momentum had slowed almost to a complete stop before triggering a line in his other arm. As that second line fired through the air and buried itself into a roof edge, the primary anchor retracted its barbs and rapidly began to spin, dislodging itself from the brick it had buried itself in before it and the line rapidly zipped back up beneath the sleeve of his jacket. Now held aloft by the secondary line alone, he swung up unto another building roof near the target warehouse and alighted on its edge. As the secondary line retracted the same as the first had, he lowered into a crouch and reassessed the situation.
Fortunately, the travel time from his primary observation point on high to the secondary had been quite brief. The men were still doing their deal, though that wouldn’t last long. He estimated he had perhaps five minutes before both would be on their way and disappearing into the city. Springing from his perch, he utilized a neighboring building to springboard himself back and forth as a means of maintaining a manageable speed until reaching the pavement.
He was close now, so close he didn’t need to use the optics to see his targets. They were beginning to finish their deal and both briefcases were closing. With steps as silent as falling snow he sprinted across the brief distance separating his hiding place from the warehouse until he was once again shrouded in shadow. A few carefully placed steps more and he was in the optimal position to strike.
The men had exchanged briefcases now and each was loading their new bounty into concealed compartments within their respective vehicles while their remaining crew, armed with an assortment of handguns and assault rifles, scanned the area for any sign of police or rival criminals. They were good. They’d positioned themselves so they weren’t bunched up and there was no way he’d be able to drop a group of them with a single strike. These men actually posed a small challenge, one he hadn’t had in a while. Good. He didn’t want his skills to get rusty. Slipping six slim, black, metal spikes from sheathes inlaid into the tactical suit, three for each hand, he watched and waited for his moment. That moment came when one of the two leaders signaled they were ready to go and the crew all turned and he struck without hesitation.
Without sacrificing the concealment of the shadows, both hands snapped and sent the six spikes whispering through the air. Ideally, all six should penetrate the throat, but he learned a long time ago not to be that stupid. Instead, he was satisfied when two of the six spikes penetrated two throats while the others found their targets in other vital soft areas such as the ear or the eye. The six men all dropped to the ground, unfortunately one managed to utter a death gurgle and alert the remaining members of the crews.
Giving credit where it’s due, the men responded quickly and all brought their weapons to bear. Though they had no idea where the attack had come from, all started firing wildly into the shadows. It was a rookie move and his opinion of their abilities went down a few notches. As the men effected a spray-and-pray mentality, he slipped the two black semi-auto pistols from the holsters tightly strapped to his thighs. He took a spare moment to lock onto two of his targets before raising the weapons and firing. The pistols barked as the two leaders, trying to scramble for the driver’s seats of their respective vehicles, collapsed to the ground with rounds slamming high into both of their thighs. A split second later he was rolling to the side, still wrapped in the shadows while the rest of the crew stupidly focused all of their firepower on the spot he no longer occupied.
That was when the real assault began.
Racing out of the shadows he let loose with the pistols, firing round after round at the panicking crew. Unlike his prey, who simply sprayed bullets in whatever direction they thought an attack was coming from, he made sure every shot he fired went precisely where it was intended to go. There was no waste of ammunition here. Each shot was calculated and aimed in a way that the moment the round struck it would end the life of its target. The entire firefight lasted five seconds and none of them had ever stood a chance.
When the echo from the last shot faded, ten men lay dead upon spreading pools of blood while the two that yet remained alive were frantically trying to drag themselves into their respective vehicles. Idiots. Didn’t they realize that both of their legs were completely disabled and wouldn’t be able to work the pedals? Sighing at the stupidity of today’s criminal he walked over to first grab one man and then the other by the throat before dragging them away from the SUV’s. He made sure to keep enough pressure on the windpipe so their desperation to try and draw decent breath would distract them from trying to defend themselves.
Once they were at what he considered a sufficient distance from the vehicles he tossed them to the ground where they landed with a wet splat in their comrades’ blood. “What the fuck man!” one yelled as he tried to scramble backwards only to have his hands slip in the blood and land him flat on his back.
“Where is your supply line?” he demanded in an eerily calm tone, his voice surprisingly clear through the helmet.
“Fuck you asshole!” the other leader yelled. It was clearly false bravado as a quick zoom and enhance by the helmet showed his pupil dilation indicated utter fear.
As means of response to the leader’s words, he simply raised his weapon and fired, causing his neighbor’s head to erupt into a mass of blood, bone, and grey matter. The now lone surviving man looked in horror at the carnage, emptied his bladder and bowels, and proceeded to spill every scrap of knowledge about their operation he possessed. Thirty seconds later, he two lay headless upon the ground. It took less time than that for the secret compartment in one of the SUV’s to be located, opened, and have the briefcases containing the money removed. A quick placement of two thick disks on the underside of the vehicles’ gas tanks and he left the scene as silently and invisibly as he arrived. He made sure he was a good four blocks away, and that the police were still six blocks away, before he sent the signal to the disks. Even from the distance he was at the fireball was clearly visible as the explosives detonated and ruptured the SUVs’ fuel tanks. The only thing left now was for the CPD to come in, clean up the scene, and cross off a few more names on their most wanted lists.
He was heading back to his base of operations when an incoming call flashed in the upper corner of his vision accompanied by a particular ring only he could hear. It was that particular ring that had him stopping dead in his tracks on a rooftop and swiftly ducking into the shadows. “Alice?” he asked quietly.
“Ashe,” the woman replied breathlessly on the other end of the line. Normally he might chastise her for using his name but he knew the line was secure; he’d set it up himself after all. “There’s something happening here and I didn’t know who else to call.”
The rushed quality of her voice had his complete attention. Alice had a good head on her shoulders and for her to sound as panicked as she did meant this was something serious. “Are you in danger?”
“No, not me anyway.”
Ashe scowled beneath the helmet. “No games Alice, just tell me.”
“Okay,” the woman said and audibly took a breath to calm down. “I was working in the ER tonight and a mutant teenaged girl was brought in. Apparently she pulled a man from his car after it got into a serious accident and caught fire before manifesting and healing every one of his injuries right then and there.”
“Sounds like she deserves a medal,” he replied sarcastically.
“She does,” the woman named Alice snapped angrily, “From what I’ve heard from my friend here this girl has been through absolute hell with her foster family yet she risked her life to save a complete stranger just because she thought it was the right thing to do.”
“And she’s been nothing but kind and grateful to everyone here from the moment she woke up,” Alice continued, cutting off whatever he had planned to say.
“All right,” Ashe said patiently. He knew Alice would get to the point soon enough, it just took her bleeding heart a little while sometimes.
“Her attending, Doctor Taylor, called the MCO in. Now I know that’s standard procedure when a new mutant manifests in a situation like this but when I went to go give him a blood lab from another case he’d left his door open and I heard him talking with one of the MCO guys.”
“Sounds like pretty standard operating procedure so far,” Ashe hedged.
“Except they weren’t talking about how to help her,” Alice said, her voice getting higher with emotion, “They were talking about tricking her into coming with them so they could kidnap her and use her powers to heal MCO strike teams in the field and the doctor wants to do experiments on her to try and figure out how her powers work!”
Ashe felt his blood run cold. He’d seen a lot of things over the years but the one thing that always held a special place of vengeance in his heart was violence against children. If Alice was right about this…
“Why haven’t you contacted the West Coast League or the California Crusaders? That’s their territory.”
He heard the heavy sigh over the connection. “Because they work within the system. With something like this involving the MCO they won’t do anything about it because the agent is hiding his actions under an umbrella of legal activity. He’s making like he’s going to help this girl and then he’s going to make her disappear. The same goes for the SFPD or FBI.”
Ashe had to admit her logic was dead on the mark. The superhero teams made it a point not to engage with the MCO since they worked in concert with them so often and by the time an SFPD or FBI investigation even got off the ground the girl would already be gone from the face of the Earth.
“Ashe, I need the Ghost Wolf.”
He allowed himself a sigh and shook his head muttering, “I should never have let you start calling me that in the first place. All right, I’ll come. It’ll take a couple of days.”
“I think she’ll be okay for that long,” she said, “If they really are going to try tricking her first they’ll probably have to play nice for at least a little while.”
Ashe couldn’t hold back the slight, proud smile. “You’re learning.”
“Hey, what can I say, you rub off on me big brother.”
Shaking his head, Ashe started sprinting across the rooftops, the two briefcases left behind. “I’ll get in touch with you when I get there,” and he severed the phone connection. A few moments later he initiated an encrypted com line. “Gear, you get all that?”
“Loud and clear,” a youthful voice tinged with excitement replied over the com, “I’m already getting things here prepped for transport. We going by ground?”
“It’s our only option to bring the equipment.”
“We should be ready to move by the time you get back.”
“Copy that,” and he broke the connection.
Last Edit: 4 years 2 months ago by Paradox. Reason: Attempt for easier reading.
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4 years 2 months ago #20138 by Paradox
Paradox replied the topic: Heal Thy Self
(Author's Note: Once again I'll be including a link to a google docs version of this book since I can't get it to translate well here from my MS Word format. I Hope you enjoy it. docs.google.com/document/d/1lxyIUPw5887F...-Mg/edit?usp=sharing )

Heal Thy Self
Book 2
By Paradox

UCSF Parking Lot, San Francisco

“Wow,” I couldn’t help but gush as Agent Mathews, Agent Jacobs, and I approached what looked like a brand new Ford Mustang, “That’s your car? A Mustang GT 350?”
Instantly the large form of Agent Jacobs turned and his hard gaze bore into me with such intensity that I was forced to look down at my paper slippers. “Are you very familiar with cars?” he asked pointedly.
“No,” I mumbled, shuffling my feet a little, “I just think it’s a nice looking car. It reminds me of the Shelby GT 500 Cobra from Gone in 60 Seconds.”
Agent Jacobs grunted and turned to resume walking to the car while simultaneously hitting the unlock button on the remote. As he did that Agent Mathews gave me a crooked little smile. “I always thought so too. Did you know Nick Cage really drove that car in a lot of the scenes?”
“Really?” I said, blinking in surprise, “I thought it was just all done on a set.”
“Nope, apparently he actually drove it in all of the scenes that didn’t involve the near misses. He couldn’t do it for those since they didn’t want to lose their star because of a stunt accident.” He opened the passenger door and rocked the front seat forward so I would be able to climb in the back.
“That’s pretty cool,” I said as I settled into the soft, molded leather seats and let out a long sigh. “Oh this is nice,” I murmured and quickly shut up when I caught Agent Jacobs’ hard glare in the rearview mirror.
“Nothing but the best for the boss,” Agent Mathews quipped as he settled into the passenger seat and pulled on the safety belt.
“The MCO must be pretty great to work for if you get to drive cars like this,” I commented and offered Agent Jacobs a shy smile when he once again glared at me in the rearview mirror. It looked like Mathews was going to comment as well but was quickly silenced when Jacobs’ glare was directed his way. Boy, this guy was really serious. I knew it would be a bad idea to piss him off with too many questions but there were some things I just had to know right away. “Agent Jacobs,” I asked, unable to keep my voice from sounding tiny beneath that hard look in the large man’s eyes, “Agent Mathews said you’d be placing me in protective custody.”
“That is correct,” came the curt reply.
“And that you’re talking me to your headquarters?”
“Well, where am I going to be staying then?”
That was something that I was a little worried about. I was still pretty much in the dark about the whole “protective custody” thing other than the MCO would be keeping me somewhere presumably until proper arrangements could be made to go live with another set of foster parents. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by that prospect since the last ones I’d been placed with had been a living nightmare, but I knew that I didn’t have any choice other than running away and living on the street. Since my mutation had turned me into a beautiful girl with rather uniquely-colored hair I knew my odds of survival in that scenario were very slim.
Apparently this issue had already been considered because he didn’t hesitate in his response. “We have guest quarters available for agents visiting for training. You’ll be staying in them for the time being.”
“Oh, that’s very nice of you,” I said with a grateful smile, “I was worried I’d have to sleep on the floor in interrogation room or something.”
“Now would we do that to you?” Mathews asked as he turned in his seat to grin at me.
“I dunno,” I said with a shrug, “This is all so new to me.”
“Well don’t worry,” he said, pointedly ignoring his boss’s glare, “We’ll get you set up and then see about getting you something nicer to wear than hospital cast-offs.”
I looked down at myself when he said that and blushed self-consciously. Since all of my clothes had been destroyed when I’d climbed into a burning car to try and rescue its driver I’d been stuck with whatever Tina, the nurse I’d befriended, had been able to scrounge up. That had left me with a pair of hospital pajama bottoms, a thin white T-shirt, and paper slippers. It had been pretty embarrassing wearing that shirt since its thinness did very little to hide my new…ahem…endowments. Fortunately Agent Mathews had been kind enough to loan me his suit jacket when we left the hospital so I wasn’t giving everyone a show when we’d walked through the parking lot. I’d used to be one of those guys who’d ogled girls when their nipples hardened and poked through their tops, now here I was one of those girls. I was still trying to get used to it, especially the drastic change in anatomy, but I think I was coping okay. Actually, it was kind of worrying me how well I was coping with it. Shouldn’t I have been in a near constant state of panic about the fact that I’d permanently switched genders? I’m pretty sure most guys would have been yelling for the doctors to do something to change them back, yet I’d sort of taken it all in stride without really knowing why. Maybe it had something to do with my mutation, that it had affected my brain somehow. Hopefully I’d be able to get some answers when my power testing as done. Speaking of which…
“Umm, Agent Mathews?”
“Hmmm?” He turned in his seat to look back at me again.
“When are you going to do my power testing?”
Instead of answering he looked over at Agent Jacobs and lifted an inquisitive eyebrow. “We’ll get you in for testing in the morning,” the man behind the wheel said, “As long as there are no other pressing scheduled appointments.”
“Okay,” I replied and settled back to watch the scenery go by for a while.
Unfortunately I couldn’t simply just sit back and watch things go by, my mind just wouldn’t stop going. There were so many questions that I had that I knew I’d have to wait to get answers. Where was I going to end up staying once “protective custody” was over? What kind of powers did I have? Would anyone go after Harold and Jackie for what they did to me? These were just a few of the questions rebounding through my brain as Agent Jacobs navigated through the evening traffic.
One of those questions seemed to be answered when Agent Mathews dug his phone out of his pocket. “I’m going to put in a call to SFPD about Harold and Jackie Smith. I don’t want to risk them running on the chance they think Ashley might have told someone about them. They could also tip off the social worker that placed her if the three of them were working together.”
“It can probably wait until morning,” his boss replied, and oddly enough sounded like he was against the idea altogether. Why would he have a problem calling the police about them?
“I’d prefer to do it now,” Mathews argued, “I can have one of the detectives meet us at headquarters.”
“Do you really want to put her through that again so soon?” the larger man asked, turning his head slightly to pin the junior agent with a hard look and raised eyebrow.
When I saw Agent Mathews get a defeated look on his face I knew I had to say something. “I’ll talk to them.” I had to swallow a lump of fear when those cold eyes suddenly snapped to look at me in the rearview mirror. “I’ll do it,” I asserted though I knew I didn’t sound very confident. “If it means putting those two monsters away, the social worker too if she was involved, then I’ll do it. I can’t let them do what they did to me to another kid, even if it hurts to talk about it.”
For several seconds not a word was said as the car sped down the road and I thought for sure Agent Jacobs was still going to outright refuse. Then I saw his shoulders slump slightly and he snorted out a sigh. “Fine, call them. You’ll stay with her in loco parentis Mathews.”
I’m not sure if Agent Jacobs thought that was a punishment but Mathews only smiled and turned slightly to wink at me before intoning in a serious voice, “Understood Chief.” He then dialed a number on his cell phone. “Yes this is Agent Mathews with the MCO, we have a minor mutant in protective custody en route to our headquarters that is the victim of child abuse. Would you be able to dispatch a detective? Great, just tell them to come to the investigations division. Thanks. All set,” he told us as he hung up and pocketed his phone. Agent…no, Mathews had called him Chief…Chief Jacobs merely grunted a response while I smiled with more confidence than I felt and nodded.
It was a relatively short time later that we pulled up at the Bay Area MCO Headquarters. It wasn’t an overly impressive building but it was a rather nice three story office-style building in white with a large attached garage. Chief Jacobs pulled the car into the garage, got out, and headed inside without so much as a word to either of us. Agent Mathews got out on his side and pulled the seat forward so I could wiggle out of the back seat before the two of us headed inside as well.
By the time we exited the garage Chief Jacobs was nowhere to be seen, presumably heading for his own office and leaving me in the care of Agent Mathews. The garage exited into a decent-sized foyer area with a few potted plants, a waiting area with couches, coffee tables, and the requisite out of date magazines. There was also a circular information desk that, despite the late hour, was occupied by a slightly overweight older woman who cheerfully smiled and waved to us. The floor was a shining marble, or at least a good facsimile of it, and large, twin MCO symbols adorned the walls on either side of a bank of two elevators.
“Hey Ellen,” Agent Mathews called out as we headed for the elevators, “There’s a couple of SFPD detectives on their way over to speak with Miss Logan. Send them up to me when they get here would you?”
“Sure think Keith,” the woman replied and sent another smile my way as the elevator doors closed.
A quick ride later and we arrived on the third floor of the building with the doors opening to reveal a not overly large office area. There were five different desk areas though it looked like only three were in use based on the desktop adornments. “Those two belong to Agents Beakes and Anderson. You’ll probably get to meet them tomorrow.”
“Are they like you or Chief Jacobs?” I asked teasingly though I was actually cautiously curious. I really didn’t want to deal with another Chief Jacobs or two.
“I’d say somewhere in the middle,” he replied as he led me over to what was his desk. “They’ve worked here longer than I have so they typically get partnered up together.”
Now that was interesting. “So you usually work alone?” I asked as I took the seat he offered me beside his desk.
“Yup,” he said as he walked over to the coffee maker on the counter of the small kitchenette on the far side of the room, “I don’t mind too much since I usually worked alone back on the job anyway.”
“The job?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I was a detective for the SFPD for about three years before the MCO finally accepted my recruitment application.”
“Oh, you were a cop,” I said with a nod, “That makes sense. I suppose most MCO agents started out as policemen.”
“Cops, FBI, military, we get them from all walks of life.”
“Did you like being a detective?” I asked. It seemed strange to leave his position if he did just to come to the MCO.
“I liked it well enough,” he replied and walked back to his desk to set a bottle of water in front of me that he’d snagged from the kitchenette’s fridge. “But the opportunity to work with mutants through the MCO seemed like a better opportunity. I mean, what could be more exciting then tracking down and putting away supervillains right?”
I giggled at his enthusiasm and opened my bottle of water before taking a sip. “I suppose when you put it that way.” He chuckled and took a sip from his cup of coffee before stopping and looking at me with an odd expression that I wasn’t entirely sure I liked. “Is something wrong?” I asked cautiously.
Shaking his head he offered me a crooked smile. “No nothing’s wrong. I just don’t think I’ve ever talked about myself so much to someone before.”
Oh, I hoped he didn’t think I was trying to dig for information. “I’m sorry,” I apologized quickly, “I didn’t mean to pry or anything.”
“Oh you didn’t,” he assured me, “I’m just don’t usually do it. Too focused on work I guess.”
Though he waved it away I could tell he was considering why he had done it to begin with. I was too, actually. Could one of my powers be some kind of telepathy that made people tell me the truth? Shaking my head to clear away such a silly thought I took another sip of water as Agent Mathews looked me over and suddenly snapped his fingers, making me jump a little in surprise.
“I damn near forgot,” he said as he smacked his forehead, “I need to find you some better clothes. You gonna be okay here for a couple of minutes?”
“Sure,” I said with a nod.
“Promise you won’t run off on me?” he asked and jokingly glared at me.
I laughed and nodded. “I promise I won’t go anywhere. Well, maybe to the bathroom,” I conceded with a little grin.
“It’s right through there,” he said and pointed to a pair of doors at the far side of the room with the word washroom stenciled into a plaque before heading out of the office.
Once I was left alone I took the opportunity to explore a little. Oh I didn’t plan to go anywhere but it would probably be a good idea to try and get to know a little more about these people that wanted to help me. After all, I might be grateful for what they were doing for me but two years in a living hell had taught me that it was far better to be careful than just go into something blind. So, with my bottle of water in hand I did a slow circuit of the office.
Since I had been sitting at it, Keith Mathews’ desk was first. He didn’t have very much in the way of personal effects, just a small framed picture of two older people who must have been his parents and the SFPD coffee mug he’d used. The other two desks were just as sparsely decorated. The one whose nameplate indicated it belonged to Agent Angela Beakes just had a photo of a German Shephard sitting in that regal way only Shephards can do and Agent Derek Anderson’s only had a photo of a cute tow-haired boy of four that I assumed was his son. Other than their computer monitors, which were off, there was nothing else. Maybe the MCO had regulations on what kind of “flair” agents could have at their desks.
I will admit it was very tempting not to give into that natural teenage curiosity to snoop around and open drawers and file folders I saw on the desktops. However, it was very easy not to give into that temptation since these MCO agents, especially agent Mathews, had done so much for me already and apparently even gone out of their way to make sure I was in a safe place. The fact that probably would have been illegal was really kind of secondary to this. I don’t mean to imply that I was the kind of person that happily ran around doing illegal things because I’m not. It’s more that how I’d been treated and cared for was first and foremost on my mind and the legality of it was secondary.
Since there was a distinct lack of personal touches on the desks I instead turned my focus to the rest of the room in general. There really wasn’t very much to it. Other than a large white board showing open cases (which at present there were none) it really did look like your standard, dull office.
I didn’t have more time to ponder how boring being an agent in this office really was because Agent Mathews reappeared with a bundle in his arms and a mischievous smile on his face.
“I’m afraid we don’t have much in the way of spare clothes,” he explained apologetically as we both met back up at his desk. “The only thing we have is prisoner jumpsuits and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to wear those.” I wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment. “I was able to find some underwear that, unfortunately, is prisoner issue too but they’re plain black.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I said with an embarrassed blush lighting up my cheeks as the undergarments were placed in my hand. It wasn’t every day that a boy turned girl was presented with women’s underwear.
“I wasn’t sure what your, ah, size might be so I got several different ones. We’ve got a decent amount of stock so if none of them fit just let me know.”
I nodded and just couldn’t get passed the embarrassment and even humiliation I was feeling at the situation as I headed for the bathroom with the clothes clutched to my chest. The embarrassment was kind of understandable but the humiliation crept on me. Where had that come from? I shouldn’t have been feeling that just because Agent Mathews was being nice to me and giving me some decent clothes to wear. Was it because of the underwear thing? I wasn’t sure since I was still very new to this girl thing, though it felt like I was getting used to it more and more as time went on. I was even holding the bundle to my breasts like I’d seen most girls do.
Shaking my head to try and clear my thoughts as I slipped into the bathroom I first took care of my personal business. It wasn’t the first time since I’d had to use the bathroom at the hospital but it still felt a little weird to have to do the whole wiping after you pee thing. Once that was done I looked over the packages of underwear and bras. They were all sealed in plastic so I knew they weren’t just washed and re-used, thank god. Since I had no clue what I was in women’s size I tried to pick carefully so he wouldn’t have to throw away ones I tried on that didn’t fit. I had no idea if that’s what they actually did but since they were all sealed I suspected it was standard procedure.
Still, despite my attempt at careful choices I ended up going through two packages of panties and three bras before I was able to find ones that seemed to fit properly. Despite being plain cotton, the panties definitely felt different than my old boy underwear. They were much more snug fitting, seeming to mold to my contours, and felt might lighter and smoother. The bra took some time to figure out. I’d never been on a date before to say nothing of getting a girl out of her bra, so the alien contraption was a bit confusing. Fortunately, modern media of all varieties had minimized the stigma of showing a woman in her underwear somewhat and I recalled seeing how the straps and hooks worked on some show or another so I was able to figure it out reasonably quickly.
When the underwear was in place I could my image in the bathroom mirror out of the corner of my eye and couldn’t resist turning to see how I looked. The gasp that came from me was involuntary but understandable. Even in plain, prison issue underwear there was no denying that the girl standing there in nothing but bra and panties was hot. Even with my hair looking like a mess and no makeup I thought she would put any Victoria’s Secret model to shame. Should I be feeling that way about my own reflection? Shouldn’t I be freaking out that the smoking hot girl I was staring at was me?
“Stop it Ashley,” I whispered to myself and forced my eyes from the image in the mirror to focus on the dark blue bundle that was the clothes Agent Mathews had found for me. Picking up the item on top of the pile I shook it out to discover it was a hooded sweatshirt with the letters MCO in bright yellow on the upper left portion of the chest and across the back. The matching sweatpants also had the MCO lettering on the left thigh. There was also a dark blue T-shirt with stenciling that matched the sweatshirt. The moment I pulled on the sweatpants I realized that this wasn’t some prison issue or new recruit issue clothing. The fact that it was way too big for me meant this belonged to someone, probably someone in this office. It took rolling up the legs and rolling down the waist to get it to form even some semblance of a proper fit. The T-shirt was likewise too big and hung down to my thighs. The sweatshirt…well when I glanced at myself in the mirror again I looked like some little kid playing in her big brother’s clothes. I rolled up the sleeves as best I could but there was no way I didn’t look like a ragamuffin, just in decent clothes. A pair of thin yet serviceable black socks that were obviously prison issue and I was as dressed as I could be.
When I peeked out of the bathroom Agent Mathews looked up from where he was typing on his computer and cast a smile my way before waving for me to come out. I really didn’t want to since I was sure I looked absolutely ridiculous in these clothes but when he waved a little harder as I hesitated I knew I couldn’t hide in this bathroom forever. Taking a deep breath I pushed opened the door and stepped out while simultaneously bracing for the laughter I knew was coming.
He did chuckle, which I couldn’t fault him for doing, but there were no great guffaws designed to make me feel small and insignificant. Instead he stood at his desk and looked me over before giving me a sheepish grin. “Sorry about the sweats,” he apologized, “I figured I’d loan them to you until we could come up with something better.”
That caused me to blink in surprise as I first looked down at the clothes I was wearing before looking back up at him. “These are yours?”
“Uh huh,” he said absently as he sat back down and resumed typing. “They were all I could find. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no,” I assured him as I sat down in the chair beside the desk, “It’s fine, I really appreciate it.”
As he nodded once again, his attention clearly focused on what I was guessing was his report involving me, I couldn’t help but turn my head slightly into the folded back cowl of the hood breathe in deeply. Instantly my nostrils filled with the faint smell of laundry detergent so I knew it was clean. Beneath that though, there was another. It was hard to describe, but it was pleasant one and I was certain it was Agent Mathews’ own, unique scent. As I breathed it in my eyes slid back to look at him and I realized that he was a rather handsome man. On the heels of that I wondered what it would be like for him to hold me in his arms and take my mouth in a gentle, yet demanding kiss.
The instant that thought went through my brain I froze. Where in the hell had that though come from? Never in my life had I ever had a homosexual thought or urge in my entire life. I wasn’t opposed to people who were homosexual, I just simply wasn’t wired that way. Now, all of a sudden, I’m thinking about having this MCO agent take me into his arms and kiss my brains out…and liking it! Good god had my manifestation really changed me that much that I’d completely reversed my sexual orientation?
Almost in desperation I tried to bring images of bikini and lingerie models into my mind and slowly roamed my mind’s eye over their considerable assets, assets which I now possessed and they would likely be jealous of. No, stop that! Think about them not yourself. Are they attractive? Yes, they were absolutely attractive. Was I attracted to them?
I actually let out an audible sigh of relief when I realized that yes I still found women attractive. My physical reaction was different since I stiffened much higher up on my body than before while the lower half felt sort of…soft and gooey. Okay that’s going to take some getting used to. Hard nipples were okay since even as a guy they would sometimes pucker up if it was cold or something, though this time there was a poignant heat and throbbing in them. The feeling down below was altogether much more strange and alien-feeling, though I’m ashamed to admit that I really kind of liked it. This was definitely going to take some getting used to.
Unfortunately my sigh attracted Agent Mathews attention and he looked up from his computer with a raised eyebrow. “Everything okay?” he asked with concern.
“Oh, fine,” I said quickly and looked down to try and hide my blush of embarrassment. I really didn’t want this man knowing I had been thinking naughty thoughts about him, even if it had been for just a second.
“Nervous about the detectives huh?”
I don’t think I’d ever been quite so happy for someone to misunderstand me as I did at that moment. “Yeah,” I said as though admitting to exactly that, “But I know it’s something I have to do. I can’t let those…people…do something like this to another child that’s in need of love and affection.”
He nodded and sat back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. “I have to tell you Ashley, I’m really impressed with how you’ve handled all of this.”
“Really?” I asked, looking up at him in surprise, “How do you mean?”
“I’ve handled more than my fair share of cases of child abuse. Too many really,” he explained and I could tell from the change in his expression it was something that had stayed with him since his SFPD days. “The ones that were really bad, similar to yours, was very hard on the kids involved. I’ve had more than a few that were nearly catatonic because they simply couldn’t deal with what had happened to them. Not only are you still able to smile so soon afterwards, but you actually risked your life to save a stranger on the very same night you ran away from your foster parents. I really can’t think of anyone who would have that kind of strength and courage.”
My cheeks flushed with embarrassment…jeeze was my face going to be permanently red from bushing so much!...and looked down at my feet. “I don’t think it-”
“Stop right there,” he ordered and reached over to grasp my hand, causing me to inhale sharply at the feel of his firm grip on me, “Don’t sell yourself short on this. I can tell from the time I’ve spent with you that you don’t think of yourself as being special, but let me tell you something: You are. That isn’t sarcasm, it isn’t just telling you pretty words to make you feel better, though I do hope it’s a nice side effect. I’m being completely honest here when I tell you that you’re a special girl and I think you’re going to keep on doing great things. I don’t think it’s going to happen anyway, but don’t let what happened with your foster parents change the person you are because from everything I’ve seen so far the person you are is pretty damn great.”
I just sat there in open-mouthed silence for I don’t even know how long just staring at him in shock and amazement at his words. While I’d received plenty of loving encouragement from my parents when they were still alive, this was the one person I’d met since they’d died that had professed it with such a strong level of passion that I had no choice but to believe him. My gut instinct was to downplay his words, to insist I wasn’t anything other than ordinary but the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice made that simply impossible. This man, who was really still very much a stranger to me, told me in no uncertain terms that he thought I was special and believed in me as no one beyond my parents had. How could I not take him at his word?
Sniffling a little I wiped at the tears of emotion that had formed in my eyes and threatened to start spilling down my cheeks. When he silently held out a tissue to me I whispered my thanks and dabbed at my eyes while he continued to look at me with that same intensity. I think I knew what he was waiting for and for the first time in a long while I wasn’t automatically ready to disagree. “Okay,” I managed in a choked voice, “You’re right, I’m special.”
His lips twisted slightly and his eyes narrowed, but it was a teasing kind of look so I didn’t think he was upset. “You’ll get there,” he assured me.

Bay Area MCO Headquarters, Office of Ronald Jacobs

Jacobs watched the investigator bull pen via the security feed link on his computer as first Mathews left, the girl wandered around a little bit but didn’t poke her nose into anything, and then Mathews returned with some clothes for her. He frowned when he utilized the zoom on the security camera and saw that other than some prisoner issue underwear and socks he was loaning the girl a T-shirt, sweatpants, and sweatshirt all with the MCO logo on it. Obviously the man was letting the girl use his own clothes since he wouldn’t dare pilfer those of his colleagues from the locker room. That bothered the Chief. It meant that instead of getting a prisoner issue jumpsuit for the mutant he was treating her like she was human which simply cut against the grain. If it had been him, the girl would have been in prison clothes and secured in a cell until she could be moved to a more secure location that the general public had no knowledge of.
It was exactly because of his gut instinct and visceral reaction to the mutant girl that he was allowing Mathews to keep watch over her. For the time being he wanted her to think they were helping her since her cooperation would make the move to the secure facility. The other option was to simply render her unconscious using drugs or physical force but that would mean facilitating the extra effort of transporting of an unconscious girl. Given the demeanors he knew of his junior investigators that would make things rather complicated, especially when it came to Mathews. Beakes and Anderson he might be able to sway with some elaborate fiction, but he knew that wouldn’t work with Mathews.
The investigator had already established a bond with the girl between their time in the hospital and now in the bullpen. She seemed to trust him almost implicitly and there was little doubt that the agent felt protective of her. His concerns were only justified when the man held the girls hand and told her she was special. That bond meant that Mathews would not only strongly object to the treatment, it was likely he would take any number of steps to stop them. There was the possibility that he could simply eliminate Mathews and make it look like the girl had attacked him since she had yet to be power tested. He could always say that it was a power she had yet to demonstrate.
No, that wasn’t the best way to go. Not only would it bring the eyes of the higher ranks into his building, but the girl would be taken out of his grasp along with his chance at redemption. The safest course of action at this point was to continue the charade of being the kind and gentle MCO with Mathews being its poster boy for the mutant girl.
When the two detectives from the SFPD arrived at the bullpen he set the footage to record so he could view it later on his private encrypted server before turning his attention to dealing with the girl’s power testing. Since the Bay Area Headquarters was rather small their testing facilities were rather limited. This was especially true in matters of mutants possessing regenerative or healing capabilities. Because of this, they had typically brought in medical professionals from the local hospitals to conduct that area of testing and work in conjunction with their power techs. Thankfully, he didn’t need to worry about calling a physician on short notice in this case.
Picking up his desk phone he dialed a number and heard a female voice on the other end of the line say, “UCSF Medical Center, how may I direct your call?”
“Doctor Reginald Taylor please,” he nearly demanded.
The phone rang for a second time before it was picked up and he heard the doctor’s voice. “Doctor Taylor.”
“Doctor, this is Agent Jacobs from the MCO.”
“Ah Agent Jacobs.” There was a positively childlike glee in the man’s voice, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“We will be contacting the power testing for Ashley Logan tomorrow afternoon. For the regeneration and healing portions of the testing we require the assistance of a medical professional and-”
“Say no more,” the doctor interrupted, causing Jacobs to frown. If anyone had tapped this line and listened to the call they might be able to hear how anxious the man was and that was not a good thing. “Would you prefer me to come to your facility or would you like to use the hospital?”
“Stand procedure is that we use our facilities doctor,” he said carefully, trying to silently convey to the man that he needed to calm down.
“Perfectly understandable,” came the chipper reply, “However might I offer an alternative?”
“As I said doctor, our protocol dictates-”
“What I was thinking,” Taylor went on as if Jacobs hadn’t even spoken, “Is that you could bring her here and we could test for regeneration in the ER. Once that is done we could perhaps test her healing capabilities on some of our patients.”
“Doctor,” Jacobs snapped, “That is against MCO testing guidelines. You will be conducting the tests here, or do I should I contact another physician.”
Perhaps it was the rapidly growing anger in his voice that finally broke through the doctor’s exuberance because his reply was much more subdued this time. “Yes, of course, I do apologize. I was just thinking outside the box, so to speak. I wouldn’t want to compromise your protocols after all. Do you have the necessary…supplies…to test the girl’s healing abilities?”
Jacobs didn’t need a translator for that one. The idiot was actually suggesting bringing patients from the hospital to headquarters so the mutant could heal them. “No doctor, we have all the supplies we need. Your presence is only required to ensure the mutant is not severely injured during the regenerative testing and to validate the healing testing, that is all.”
“Of course,” the physician replied, not quite managing to hide the fact that he was a bit crestfallen from his voice, “What time do you wish me to be there?”
“Three o’clock should be fine,” Jacobs said and hung the phone without bothering to make sure the doctor understood or even offer a farewell. It actually took a great deal of control to keep from slamming the phone down on its cradle in frustration. As it was, Jacobs needed a few moments to just sit and take deep breaths to bring his emotions under control.
That moron was going to get them both in trouble if he wasn’t careful. He had been dangerously close to sounding like a devisor on the cusp of a Dietrich’s outbreak he had been so giddy. If anyone had been listening in they would surely have suspected something wasn’t right with the doctor, and anything discovered involving this mutant would certainly get traced back to him in some way. After New York that was attention he couldn’t afford to have.
Glancing at the monitors he saw the SFPD detectives were preparing to leave after obviously having gotten enough information from the girl. Tapping a key on his keyboard he brought up the audio feed from the room.
“We appreciate how hard this has been for you Ashley,” the woman was saying while the man made a few last minute notes. “I think we have more than enough information to put out a warrant for the Smiths and start an investigation into the social worker that placed you with them. Is there anything else you wanted to tell us about what happened? Anyone else you can think might be involved that you didn’t consider before now?”
The girl shook her head and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Jacobs ground his teeth when Mathews draped an arm around her shoulders and gave one a comforting squeeze. “No, the one social worker is the only one I ever met, even during the checkup visits.”
“Well we’ll start looking into the social worker in the morning,” the male detective assured her as he put his notebook away, “And we’ll get the warrant pushed through on the Smiths tonight. With a little luck we’ll have them in custody before you even wake up.”
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of this,” Ashley said as she looked up at the two detectives with those wide, innocent eyes and smiled at them.
When he saw the male detective give her a bit of a sheepish smile in return he wanted to just scream and throw the monitor across the room. Didn’t they realize this mutant bitch was just pulling an act? Couldn’t they see that she was acting nice just as a means of putting them at ease? At the first opportunity he was certain that she would fry them all to a crisp or melt their brains or whatever power it was she possessed. That’s how mutants operated. He’d seen it hundreds of times and yet people still refused to listen to him when he tried to warn them. It was disgusting and pathetic and he refused to be conned.
Taking another few moments to calm himself down and regain control, he watched the detectives leave before she and Mathews start chatting again. Deciding that enough was enough for the night he left his office and strode down the hall to where the bullpen was. When he entered he kept an iron grip on his emotions when he heard the girl laughing softly at some joke Mathews had told. They both turned to look at him as he approached though both were still smiling. “Have the police spoken with you yet?” he asked the girl directly.
“Yes sir,” she replied, instantly shrinking under his gaze. Good, she knew who her betters were. He was so focused on the slut that he failed to see Mathews’ narrowed gaze and the hints of anger in it.
“Then I’ll take you to the room you’ll be staying in for the time being. You can go home Mathews,” he said and turned to walk out without waiting to see if his orders would be obeyed.
“Sir, it wouldn’t be any trouble for me to get Ms. Logan situated,” he heard Mathews say.
“That’s quite alright Mathews,” he said without turning or breaking stride, “I’ll see to our guest.”
There was the quiet sound of stocking feet thumping on the carpet rapidly before he caught sight of the girl walking quickly beside him in order to keep up. He barely acknowledged her presence as they headed for the elevator bank and then stepped inside when the car arrived and started its journey upward.
“I wanted to thank you again for all of this Chief Jacobs,” the girl said quietly after a few moments.
The proper use of his title caused the big man’s eyes to briefly flicker towards the shy girl before once again focusing on the closed elevator doors. His opinion of her went up fractionally at the fact that she had done so without any prompting on his part. “I’m simply following the guides and protocols that are in place to protect mutants.” He felt a measure of pride that he managed to say that in an even tone instead of a turning the word ‘protect’ into a sneer.
“Well I’m very happy that those terrible rumors about the MCO hunting mutants are wrong,” she said in that lilting voice of hers that tried to tempt him into softening towards her.
“There are many misconceptions about the MCO that we are constantly battling against.”
“But there’s that show, Tales of the MCO, that must help.”
Now he did look down at the girl. He was pleased that she quickly looked down when their eyes met. “That show makes a mockery of what we do. The real agents of the MCO put their lives on the line every day just as much as the police do to make sure that mutants don’t kill thousands in some wild quests for power.”
“Not all mutants,” the girl whispered and lifted her gaze to look up at him for the first time, “I don’t want to kill anyone.”
For several moments, Jacobs unwillingly found himself captivated by those huge, innocent eyes. He hadn’t noticed before just how damned green they were. It was like looking at a pair of emeralds that were so bright they were nearly luminescent. And they were honest. Jacobs had looked into the eyes of more criminals than he could count, but not one of them held a look of such pure honesty and goodness in them like the ones he was in the presence of now. This girl was being truthful; she didn’t want to hurt anyone. What’s more, her actions the previous night proved that when she risked her own life to save that of another. Maybe, just maybe, his hardened belief of mutants was wrong.
It was that last thought that had him clamping down so hard on emotions he thought he might grunt with the effort. So, it looked like the bitch might also possess some kind of telepathic ability as well, possibly even mind control. It was the only explanation for why he’d suddenly started feeling affection towards her. He’d have to be very careful around the girl until they could get her power testing completed in the morning. Once that was done he’d be able to come up with the means of resisting her abilities until she had been transported to the secured facility he was already working on. Once that was done he wouldn’t need to conceal his feelings for her any longer. The hell with trying to convince her to help the MCO, once the doctor extracted her method of healing and replicated it he wouldn’t need to worry about her cooperation. Then he could eliminate her from society and move onto something bigger.
“Did I say something wrong Chief Jacobs?” Ashley asked nervously.
Damn. Obviously he hadn’t done quite as good of a job concealing his emotions as he thought. “I’m just thinking about another case, that’s all,” he improvised as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. Stepping out of the car quickly, and trying to convince himself it wasn’t a quasi-form of escaping from the girl’s presence, he led her down a hall until reaching a door that had the words Guest Quarters #2 stenciled into a plaque beside it. Using a key he unlocked and opened the door to reveal a living space roughly the size of an average college dorm. In the singular room was a bed, a small desk, a tiny kitchenette complete with a mini fridge and stovetop, a modest-sized flat screen tv mounted to the wall, and a tiny bathroom complete with a miniscule shower. “These will be your quarters for the duration. Someone will come get you tomorrow afternoon for your power testing. I will see about having breakfast and lunch delivered to you until arrangements can be made for you to obtain groceries. It would be best that you don’t leave your room until someone comes to get you so you aren’t wandering the halls.”
The girl nodded and accepted the door key from him before stepping inside and doing a slow circle before facing him once again with a happy smile. “It’s great. I didn’t think I’d have a room so big.”
That had Jacobs blinking in surprise. Big? He’d deliberately given her the smallest possible room. In truth it was little better than a hostel and wasn’t often used for visiting agents unless they were severely overbooked, yet this girl thought it was big? Shaking his head in disbelief he merely turned and closed the door behind him. Just before it shut he heard the girl call out a friendly, “Goodnight,” before her voice was cut off.
With the girl safely tucked away for the night, Jacobs headed for the elevators. He’d sleep in his office tonight since he wanted to stay close to the mutant. It wouldn’t be the first time the couch there had doubled as a bed and likely wouldn’t be the last.

Bay Area MCO Headquarters, Guest Quarters

Considering that for the first time in two years I was in a safe place with people who cared for my safety watching out for me, I should have slept like a baby that night. Unfortunately, as any victim of horrible and sustained violence will tell you, that usually isn’t the case. Some might continue to sleep on the floor. Some might stay in a closet for days or even weeks. For me, it was coming awake screaming in terror as I relived dozens of episodes of abuse and torture all at once.
I was able to stop not very long after I was awake, maybe two or three minutes, but that still left me hugging my knees tightly to my chest and rocking back and forth while whimpering softly. I just couldn’t seem to stop my eyes from darting to every dark corner, my heart hammering in my chest every time I looked as my mind fully expected Harold and Jackie to just suddenly manifest out of the shadows and drag me scratching, clawing, and screaming back into that hell. I swear I could feel them somehow watching me, just waiting to strike.
I’d been awake a total of perhaps twenty minutes before my heartbeat started to slow to around something normal and I wasn’t seeing Harold and Jackie demon shapes in the shadows. When I was finally able to breathe with gasping or sobbing I let my head fall onto my knees and just sat there for a little while longer while the tears streamed down my cheeks and dripped off my chin onto the blanket. I wondered then if I would ever be able to sleep again. Would this happen to me every night when I closed my eyes? Would I ever be able to sleep again without waking up screaming? Was I doomed to be haunted by my memories for the rest of my life?
Grinding away sleep and my tears with my palms I swung my legs over the side of the bed and just took a few moments to simply breathe. The tears had stopped now, that was a plus, and my shaking had reduced to a fine trembling instead of a full body quake, also a plus. Of course, my shaking could have also been shivering since I realized it was bit chilly in my room that morning and the only thing I was wearing were a pair of panties and the oversized T-shirt Agent Mathews had let me borrow. Hurrying to the tiny bathroom I flipped on the light and started the shower, turning it up nice and hot.
While I waited for the water to heat up I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror and couldn’t help but wince. My hair was all over the place, not unsurprising since I’m sure I was thrashing about in my sleep. My eyes were red and even looked a bit sunken in, but that could have been a combination trick of the light and the dark circles under my eyes. Overall I looked pale, as in white as a sheet kind of pale. Again, this wasn’t much of a surprise given the night I’d had but it still made me shudder at the sight of the girl staring back at me.
And that’s what did it. The sight of that terrified, haunted girl in the mirror made me realize that Harold and Jackie were winning. Their one goal from the moment I’d come under their twisted version of care, aside from collecting money from the government for housing me, was to instill and cement feelings of fear, helplessness, and submissiveness towards them. In their eyes I doubt I ranked much higher than a dirty mutt whose only purpose was to be kicked for their amusement. But I wasn’t some mongrel dog anymore. I was someone new, something new. It wasn’t in me to take revenge, but I’d be damn sure that the next time I laid eyes on them (likely in court) that the person they saw would be a self-assure and confident girl who had taken everything they’d given and not only survived, but thrived despite them.
Of course, that was easier said than done, and I’d likely revert to my naturally shy state within the next hour or so, but in that moment I felt strong and good about myself. When I showered I did so with authority. Yes, I realized just how stupid that sounded about halfway through the shower and ended up cracking up laughing at myself. But that in itself was good, almost therapeutic. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever be able to laugh again so the fact that I was proved that I wasn’t completely gone yet.
Once I’d finished showering using the tiny hotel portion bottles of soap, shampoo, and conditioner (a new first), I wrapped a towel around myself, girl-style so my breasts were covered, and brushed my teeth with the provided toothbrush and toothpaste before once again looking in the mirror. Well, I looked a little better anyway. There were still bags under my eyes but they weren’t so red and sunken in looking anymore. The hot water had pinkened up my skin and my hair now hung down my back in a straight mass of dark red. I knew it would lighten when it dried and take on that unusual hue that came with my mutation. Candy apple red, Agent Mathews had described it last night. I smiled a little and started running the cheap plastic comb that came with the toothbrush and toothpaste through my hair until it was reasonably free of tangles. I would have probably had more success with an actual brush but I had to do with what was available to me for the moment.
Of course, that also meant I’d have to wear the same clothes that I’d worn yesterday. I wrinkled my nose at the thought of it but until there was nothing I could really do. I didn’t want to ask the MCO agents to just buy me something because it wouldn’t feel right to do that. After all, I’d be asking them to spend their own money on me and there was no way I’d be able to pay it back to them. So, I’d just suck it up and wear the same clothes and underwear for another day.
I had just walked out of the bathroom and was leaning down to pick up my bra and panties when I noticed a small slip of paper stuck halfway under the door. At first I felt icy fingers of fear skim down my spine and that irrational prey animal part of my brain was sure it was from Harold and Jackie. Had they managed to slip passed the police and found out where I was? Were they tormenting me? With shaking hands I slowly drew the slip all the way from underneath the door with two fingers as though I thought it would bite me. When I flipped it over my sigh of relief could be heard throughout the entirety of my living quarters.

Got you a few more things. Hope the sizes are right. We can swap them out if they aren’t. Courtesy of the MCO victim dispensation fund.

Opening the door I discovered two plastic shopping bags with a big yellow smiley face on them sitting right outside on the floor. Looking up and down the hallway I hoped I’d see who my benefactor was but there was no one there. Of course that shouldn’t have been very surprising since once I brought the bags inside and turned on the television I discovered it was only just after six in the morning. Well, at least I managed to get more than four hours of sleep. That was a lot better than what my normal typically was.
I started digging through the bags like it was Christmas Day, pulling out packages and clothing articles and laying them all out on the bed so I could see everything. In total there were two pairs of jeans, two T-shirts one white and the other pink, two white blouses, a package of ankle socks with colored trim, a package of mixed style panties in white, two plain white bras, and a pair of white sneakers. I squealed in delight at my bounty and quickly ripped open the package of panties, drawing on the first pair my fingers touched.
The moment they slid up between my legs I froze. Whoops. I hadn’t looked at the packaging so I didn’t realize that one of the styles included in the mix was a thong. Why in the world would I want to have a permanent wedgie? I was about to skin them right off but as I slowly shifted my hips back and forth a little I realized it really wasn’t too bad. Sure it felt a little weird but a touch of adjustment here and there and it felt okay. Hell, I reasoned, lots of women wore thongs on a daily basis and they seemed to be okay with them, maybe even enjoyed wearing them. Would I? Did I look okay in them? Curiosity at that last question had me hurrying back to the bathroom to look in the mirror. Unfortunately there was no full length one available so I had to hop up on the toilet so I could see.
Damn. Now I had a bit better understanding why women wore these so often. As narcissistic as it was, and let’s face it I’d had a pretty good dose of that as of late, the thong made my ass look outstanding. I had a feeling that I would definitely rock a pair of yoga pants with these underneath.
Giggling almost wildly, I hopped down off the toilet and rushed back out to the clothes arranged on the bed. I was actually anxious to see what I looked like when I had actual, properly fitting clothes on. Well I hoped they fit properly since even I didn’t know what my current sizes were much less my mysterious benefactor. The bra was first and it seemed and felt to be the right size, declaring me a thirty-two C. It felt weird and a bit constricting, but then my one and only experience ever wearing one had been late last night so I assumed I’d just get used to it. The jeans were next and while they were definitely snug they weren’t oppressively so. The denim molded to my hips and thighs before loosening slightly at my calves. Since this was my first real day out as a girl instead of being a victim in ill-fitting dress I decided to put my best face forward out of what I now had so I donned the blouse. It took a moment to re-orient my thinking with the buttons on the reverse side of how I was used to but soon I was fully dressed save for socks and shoes.
Bouncing back over to the bathroom I hopped back up on the toilet so I could get a look at myself. The jeans hugged my curves and showed off what I had to say was a great figure while the blouse added a nice little touch of gentler femininity without being blatant about it. All in all I looked like a typical teenage girl, albeit a beautiful one. I knew that back when I’d been a boy I surely would have wanted to go out with me, and do a whole lot more. But damn if I wasn’t the little hottie. I struck a couple of poses, blew sexy kisses at myself, tossed off a saucy wink. Looking like I did I was sure I could have any guy I wanted.
It was that last thought that had be freezing in place, mid pose, and blinking at myself in the mirror with wide-eyed disbelief. What the hell am I doing? I thought wildly. I’d been a girl for only two days and now I was turning into some teenaged sexpot? I’d never in my life had this kind of attitude before. Physical beauty aside, there was no reason why I should suddenly be acting or even thinking like some hot seductress. Even since I woke up two days ago I’d felt, talked, and acted just like I had before my change. What had happened that I was suddenly racing and ready to tease and please? Had my mutation changed my mind and personality as well?
Shaking with fear now, I walked back into the living area and sat down on the bed before hugging my knees tightly. Dear god did I get a mental change along with a physical change? Was the person I’d always been happy and was comfortable with going to suddenly go away? I wasn’t fully versed on how a mutant’s BIT worked but I supposed it was possible for something like that to happen. Maybe I was starting to experience Dietrich’s Syndrome. No, that couldn’t be right. I wasn’t having delusions of some grand scheme or plots to take over the world and destroy my enemies. So what the hell had just caused that bout of extreme narcissism?
Shaking my head to try and clear it I decided that maybe I was just still tired and all of my synapses weren’t firing quite right yet. I was still me and I wasn’t thinking about running around seducing men anymore so maybe, please god, it was something else. Coffee. Coffee would be good. It would wake me up and kick my brain into gear.
Fortunately the room came equipped with one of those little coffee makers you’d find in a hotel and soon I had the small four-cup carafe brewing and filling the air with a wondrous promise of caffeine goodness. While waiting for it to finish I grabbed the tv remote off the desk and turned on the flat screen, making sure the volume was down so I wouldn’t disturb anyone. Since I had no idea who else might be on this floor right now prudence in manners was the best course of action.
Flipping through the channels I finally landed on the morning news and decided to just let it play while I poured myself a cup of coffee and added cream and sugar. I was just starting to stir the mixture when a report came on that had my actions slowing to a stop.
“Two nights ago,” the news anchor was saying as a picture of a blazing car wreck appeared in the upper corner of the screen, “A fiery crash occurred near the Tenderloin District. The crash appeared to have been caused when one vehicle failed to stop of a stop sign and struck another passing vehicle, causing a very serious accident that almost resulted in the death of its driver. Fox News has now learned more details regarding the events that undoubtedly saved the life of this driver. Tony Gonzales has the story.”
As I slowly sipped my coffee, not realizing my hand was shaking so badly that I almost spilled it all over myself, I watched the screen change to show a slow panning of an intersection. It was daylight and there was no sign of carnage, but there was no mistaking it. That was the intersection where I’d been. “Though the streets are clear now,” a man’s voice said over the image, “Two nights ago this intersection at the corner of Ellis and Hyde was the scene a horrific traffic crash that nearly resulted in one driver losing his life.” The image continued to pan over until the field reporter himself entered the screen. “According to witnesses,” he continued, “Thomas Jones was driving his sedan through this intersection on Ellis Street at approximately midnight when another vehicle drove down Hyde Street at a high rate of speed. This speeding vehicle blew through the stop sign and then impacted Jones’ vehicle on the driver’s side. The resulting crash not only caused significant damage to both vehicles, but also sparked a fire that quickly began to consume both cars. While the driver of the car who caused the crash fled the scene, Jones was knocked unconscious and left trapped in the burning vehicle. It was at that point that a young woman who happened to be walking down the sidewalk at that time leapt into action, action that saved the man’s life.”
The image on the television changed to show a professional-looking man in his thirties wearing a suit speaking to the camera. “I really can’t remember too much about what happened,” he said, “I was just driving down the street when everything just seemed to explode. I guess that was when I’d been hit by that other car. The next thing I knew everything was hot and red and something was yanking at me while a voice was screaming. I kind of blacked out again but when I woke up there were police cars and ambulances around and I was lying on the ground with this girl unconscious next to me and holding my ankle and I was perfectly fine. My clothes were burned really bad but I didn’t hurt at all. Things happened pretty fast then and the EMT’s loaded me and the girl into ambulances and went to the hospital. The doctors there told me I didn’t have any kind of injuries but I’m sure I should have had at least broken bones and burns.”
“So,” the reporter said off-screen, “Are you saying that mysterious girl healed you?”
“It’s the only explanation,” Jones said with a shrug, “I guess she’s a mutant and used her power on me.”
The screen changed again to show the reporter front and center before the camera again. “Because the young woman was determined to be a minor the hospital can’t release her name to the media but they did state that she was uninjured and released late last night after observation. When we contacted the Bay Area Mutant Commission Office to inquire about mutant involvement in this accident they told us in an emailed statement that their office was made aware of the situation. They conducted an investigation into the suspected mutant involvement and determined the young woman in question was indeed a mutant and a minor and thus couldn’t disclose her identity. They did however say that based upon their investigation it was determined she committed no felonious acts that could have contributed to the crash and that her only actions involved the heroic rescue of the injured driver. We’ll bring you more information about this story as it happens. Back to you in the studio.”
I thumbed the power button on the remote and took another shaky sip of coffee. So much staying under the radar. At least they didn’t have my name or the fact that I’d once been a boy since that would have really made things sticky. While there was more tolerance in the world towards transgender people than in the past, combining a sex change with mutation was something people just weren’t fully prepared to embrace just yet, even in San Francisco. I was just lucky that it had been dark at the time so that man, Thomas Jones, hadn’t really been able to see the color of my hair. Since it was such an unusual color it would have been a dead giveaway and there wouldn’t have been a way to stay anonymous. Still, how many people had been in the ER when I’d been brought in that had seen me and seen this broadcast and were now putting two and two together. I had a bad feeling that my anonymity wouldn’t be lasting for very long.
A light knock at the door pulled me from my thoughts and I glanced over. “Ashley,” I heard Agent Mathews say from the other side, “Are you awake yet?”
“Yes,” I called back, “One second.” Walking over to the door I flipped the lock before opening it to reveal the smiling agent holding a brown bag on the other side. “Good morning,” I said, trying to sound smiling and chipper and just not quite able to do it.”
Like a good investigator, Agent Mathews was instantly able to tell something was wrong and he sighed. “You saw the news,” he deduced.
“Uh huh. How long before they figure out who I am do you think?”
“I’d like to say they won’t,” he replied, stepping into the room after I motioned an invitation and sitting on the desk chair, “But we both know how much these news agencies will dig at a mystery if it gets them a good story.”
“Yeah,” I said, sitting on the bed and hugging my knees. “I was just thinking about all of the people who might have seen me come into the hospital that night. They’re probably calling the news station right now to give them a tip.”
“Probably,” Agent Mathews admitted as he rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “We may want to look at getting out in front of this before it gets too crazy, but I need to talk with my boss and the PR department first. But anyway,” he said with a sudden clap of his hands that made me jump a little, “We’ll worry about that later. First things first,” and he held up the bag with the yellow M on it. “Hungry?”
“Starving,” I said meaningfully before my eyes widened with the realization that I might be giving the wrong impression, “I mean I haven’t really eaten much since the hospital last night, not that I can eat as much as three people.”
“Relax,” Mathews laughed knowingly, “I think we already established last night that you don’t have an energizer’s appetite.” Opening the bag he removed the paper and Styrofoam-wrapped wrapped goodies and arranged them on the desk top. “I wasn’t sure what you liked so I got a few things. Don’t worry,” he assured me when I opened my mouth to protest him buying all of that food, “I haven’t had breakfast yet either so whatever you don’t want I’ll eat.”
“In that case,” I said with a happy smile, “I’ll take the pancakes please, and one of the hash browns.”
He slid the items across the desk towards me before unwrapping a breakfast sandwich for himself and started eating while I popped the lid off my pancakes and drenched them in the provided syrup. “It looks like the clothes fit you okay,” he commented, confirming my suspicions that it was him who had gotten them, and I could see his gaze roam over me with a critical eye, “Any problems with any of it?”
“No,” I assured him around a mouthful of pancake, “Everything fits pretty good, though I’m not sure if the bra is supposed to feel a bit constricting or not.”
“Afraid I can’t help you there,” he admitted with a sheepish smile, “Though you can ask Agent Beakes if we see her later.”
“Okay. Is there anything I need to do before the power testing this afternoon?” I inquired. Despite appreciating the safe haven that the MCO was giving me I was starting to feel a bit cooped up spending all my time in either a hospital room or the MCO building.
“Nothing I can think of, but I’m afraid you can’t just out for a walk right now,” he told me apologetically, clearly catching my meaning behind the question. “Since you’re still in our immediate protective custody we can’t let you just go out on your own since legally speaking we’re still responsible for your well-being.”
I sighed and forked up another bite of pancake and chased it with a sip of coffee. “I’m just feeling a bit stir crazy,” I complained and winced at the slightly whiny quality to my voice, “I don’t want to be a problem but seeing the same four walls is kinda making me want to start climbing ‘em.”
“I hear ya,” he smiled understandingly, “I’m not sure what we can do to get rid of some of the boredom but I’ll try and come up with something. In the meantime you can come hang out in the bull pen until your power testing and I can set you up as a guest on one of the unused computers. At least then you’ll be able to surf the net and have something to do.”
It was better than a kick in the head, as the saying goes, but I would have much rather been able to get out in the sun and fresh air. Still, I understood the position Agent Mathews as in as far as the MCO being responsible for me. While I certainly had no intentions to do so, they were probably worried I might suddenly take off on them. “I’ll talk to Chief Jacobs too and see how he wants to handle the press.” I nodded and gathered up my now empty styrofoam container as well as Agent Mathews wrapper and placed them in the garbage before washing my hands in the bathroom.
“Ready when you are.”

Bay Area MCO Headquarters, Office of Ronald Jacobs

He’d lost count of how many times he’d done so already that morning, but Jacobs once again rewound the video footage until a certain point before stopping it and resuming the playback. The footage on the monitor displayed Ashley just finishing examining her new living quarters before slipping out of the sweatshirt, sweatpants, and T-shirt. When she was left standing in nothing but her bra and panties he felt his pulse quicken. There was no denying this girl was beautiful and her youthful innocence about her appearance was like a siren’s call to him that he was having great difficulty ignoring. When she awkwardly unfastened her bra and let it drop to the floor he felt his breath catch as those shapely and firm breasts were exposed to the camera’s lens. For a few minutes her fingers lightly explored her still new curves and valleys in a deliciously sensual dance made all the more tantalizing by the fact that it was done with the innocence of not knowing she was being watched.
He’d actually been very lucky to get tiny wide-angle lens camera in place and hidden the previous night while Mathews had kept the girl occupied since he’d encountered one of the overnight security personnel in that very hallway just as he’d been about to start the highly illegal task. Fortunately the man completely bought the story he’d given him about ensuring the room was properly ready to receive their guest while palming the tiny camera and had been on his way in no time. Now he had a completely unobstructed view of the girl thanks to that tiny piece of spy technology he’d managed to surreptitiously liberate from the surveillance division.
He was so entranced by the display before him on the monitor he didn’t even really consider how inappropriate and illegal this was. He also didn’t seem to realize how out of character it was for him. While his hate and disgust with mutants was a well-cemented yet outwardly hidden character trait, this sudden desire for the girl was completely alien to him. He had a healthy appreciation for the female form, but there was no denying that this was starting to border on obsession. He had initially rationalized it away as wanting to fully understand his target so there would be no surprises when the time came to spirit her away but now those lines were starting to get muddled in the face of his baser instincts. This was further complicated by the way the girl had been so grateful to him and his agency for helping her. When she’d expressed her thanks for her living quarters last night he had been worried the girl might actually hug him. Had that happened there was a very serious possibility it might very well have undone him and ruined his efforts to without any form of affection from the girl.
With visible effort the man killed the video feed and his monitor flashed back to its standard desktop. He couldn’t do that anymore, he told himself. He had to remain focused and in control so he could be sure that the plan he and Doctor Taylor had hatched could be executed properly. Allowing himself to continue to indulge in this obsession would only cause him to become sloppy and possibly even develop…shudder…feelings for this mutant. That simply wouldn’t do and he knew part of the solution would be to distance himself from the girl as much as possible.
However it seemed fate was trying to conspire against him when the knock at his office door announced the arrival of the very object of his consternation. She was accompanied by Mathews, which was good because it would help create a buffer between him and the mutant. “Yes?” he inquired, not needing to fake the irritation in his voice.
“Chief, we wanted to talk to you about the news coverage this morning,” Mathews said as they stepped into the office. Jacobs didn’t miss the fact that the girl stood slightly back and behind the agent in a subtle but clear gesture of using him as protection. “We discussed it earlier this morning and it’s pretty obvious that someone who was in the ER that night is going to talk to the media about Ashley. Since we don’t know just how much information about her is out there it might be best if we held a small press conference and maybe even let her make a statement to them.”
“Out of the question,” Jacobs snapped, his eyes flashing accusingly at the girl since this was obviously her idea. “We don’t want the public to think the MCO makes it a habit of taking in strays, otherwise we’ll have every downtrodden mutant pounding at our door wanting sanctuary.”
“I understand that Chief,” the junior investigator said in a voice that told Jacobs he had already anticipated that argument, “But I’m not saying she should tell the world that we’re housing her until we can find suitable placement. I’m thinking she could let the press know who she is and simply tell them that we made sure she was safe. That’s all.”
“And exactly how is that different from what I just said?” the Chief demanded angrily, causing the girl to flinch and gulp audibly.
“We don’t need to say anything about housing her,” Mathews went on, nonplussed by his boss’s outburst, “Just that after we determined she wasn’t involved in causing the crash we wanted to make sure she wasn’t suffering any latent issues stemming from her rescue efforts.”
As much as he didn’t want to admit it, the man couldn’t find very much fault in the junior agent’s logic. He had seen the news report that morning as well and knew it was only a matter of time before some reporter started making phone calls over his head to the L.A office. Unless he wanted a pissed off PR department he needed to get this nipped in the bud immediately. However he still didn’t want such an even putting out a false image that the MCO was some kind of charity organization. They were still a law enforcement agency not a daycare.
“Chief Jacobs?” Ashely asked quietly and peeked out from behind Agent Mathews.
“What?” he demanded and was a bit proud that he didn’t actually snap at the girl.
She still winced at his tone and looked like she was ready to withdraw back to the safety behind the junior agent. Taking a deep breath she did the opposite and stepped out from behind him and walked up to the front of his desk. “I understand you don’t want the general public to look at the MCO like you’re running some kind of shelter for wayward mutants. I know that isn’t what this is all about and I’d like the chance let people know that. What you and your agency are doing for me is so much more than what Child and Social Services did and I’d like to able to let at least San Francisco know that those rumors floating around about the MCO making mutants disappear is wrong,” she finished a little breathlessly.
The girl could certainly talk when she wanted to, and he had to admit what she said actually had merit. He himself was still under something of a black cloud for what happened in New York, even if most of the details were wrong. While Jacobs was the furthest thing from being a politician, he understood how useful good press was to any law enforcement agency. Plus it would have the added benefit of further endearing the girl to them, which would certainly help their plans.
“We won’t be able to have any press conference until after your power testing,” he said, deliberately pitching his voice to sound like he was grudgingly giving in, “That way we can make proper assurances that you aren’t a danger to the public.” The girl smiled happily and nodded rapidly, “Also we will have to go over what you are going to say to make certain there are no miscommunications.”
“You don’t mean like a prepared script do you?” she asked hesitantly.
That caused Jacobs to raise a speculative eyebrow. “Would you have a problem with that?”
Ashley swallowed nervously and shook her head a little. “I…I suppose not, I just don’t really like reading from a script. It just doesn’t feel genuine.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell the girl it wasn’t her place to make the decisions on how a press conference should be handled when Mathews interrupted him. “Maybe not necessarily a prepared statement,” he offered, “But we can set some guidelines about what you can or can’t talk about. We can’t let you say something that could compromise any current investigations,” he concluded. The reasonableness of the statement made Jacobs think a little better of his subordinate.
“That makes sense,” Ashley reasoned. “What about the case against…Harold and Jackie?”
The hesitation in her voice did nothing to hide the tremor of fear when she spoke the names of her former foster parents, causing an imperceptive narrowing of Jacobs’ gaze. So even after two days of being away from them, plus the obvious care and attention she had received from both that nurse and Agent Mathews, she still lived in terror of those two people coming for her. That was something that could be potentially useful in quelling any unproductiveness from the girl. Past experience had taught the Chief that a properly aimed threat, even if it couldn’t be fulfilled, was quite useful in gaining compliance.
“We should probably leave that one alone,” Mathews was saying. “It’s still an active police investigation and any mention of it would bring the press to SFPD’s doors not to mention potentially tip off the social worker they’re investigating.”
“And if any of the press happens to have found out something about it I will dissuade their line of questioning,” Jacobs said with authority.
“What if they ask about her parents?” Mathews mused almost to himself. “Do we want to tell the press that we have temporary custody?”
“Absolutely not,” the Chief said in a voice that brooked no argument, “I will be making a phone call shortly to Child Services and having someone come by shortly to speak with Ms. Logan regarding placement. With a small measure of luck,” which Jacobs knew had no place in his plans, “We will be able to find suitable foster care by tomorrow.”
“One that isn’t like the Smiths,” Mathews assured the girl when she stiffened and her eyes widened in obvious fear, “I’ll make sure of that.”
“If you will excuse me,” the big man said as he reached for his phone and gave the girl a pointed look that in no uncertain terms told her she was dismissed.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” she said quickly and hurried out of the office. Agent Mathews followed after her but paused in the doorway to give his boss a brief nod of approval before departing.
Jacobs ground his teeth at that gesture once the man was gone. The very last thing he required was for a subordinate to offer any kind of approval for his actions. If anything, the little piss ant should have been looking to him for approval not the other way around. As he angrily punched in a number onto his desk phone he considered ways of making the junior agent pay for his little display. His plans for revenge were sidetracked when a voice on the other end of the line announced, “Child Services.”
“I need to speak with Linda Warren please.”

Interstate 80 West, Somewhere in Nebraska

“You sure you don’t want me to drive for a while?” the man asked from the passenger seat.
“Yes,” replied the driver, never once taking his eyes from the road as he skillfully wove through the moderate amount of highway traffic.
“Fine,” the passenger replied with a grin and settled back in the leather bucket seat and folded his arms behind his head.
For a time they drove in silence without even the radio playing. Trees flew passed them in a blur which telegraphed the speed at which they were traveling. “You know,” the passenger remarked off-handedly, “It won’t help things to get pulled over for speeding.”
“The speed limit for this highway is eighty,” the driver replied evenly, “And the traffic citation records for the last year indicated the highway patrol in this area doesn’t pull over someone for speeding unless they are doing ninety-five or higher except for the last week of the month when they are doing sweeps.”
“You could always get one that’s bored,” the passenger reasoned. The driver was about to respond when the passenger suddenly sat upright, his attention fixed firmly forward. “I’ve got something.”
“Tell me,” the driver ordered with a split second flick of his eyes in his companion’s direction.
“Looks like the Bay Area MCO office is going to be holding a press conference this afternoon around five o’clock or five-thirty.”
“A response to the morning story?” the driver inquired. They’d both seen the local news broadcast for San Francisco that morning.
“Seems like it,” the passenger replied, his eyes darting from side to side rapidly as though speed reading the air. “It’s a bit hard to get a feel for the tone since the MCO Chief sounds like he’s a bit of a hard ass, but it looks like they’re going to let the girl make a statement about what happened two nights ago.”
“That’s pretty stupid of them,” the driver mused almost to himself, “If they pain her in a positive light it’s going to be that much harder to make her disappear.”
“You’d think that,” the passenger agreed, “Except just before the office contacted the news agency the chief investigator made a call to Child Services.” He was silent for a moment as his head tilted to the side slightly, almost as if he was listening to something. “A Linda Warren. Sounds like they know each other pretty well based on how they’re talking. The MCO guy is talking about getting her placed with him as the girl’s foster parent.”
That revelation made the driver frown in both confusion and concern. “Child Services typically doesn’t place foster children in single-parent homes.”
“I’d agree,” the passenger said, “But from the way the conversation went it seems like this social worker owes the MCO guy pretty big and didn’t make any arguments about it. She said the paperwork would be ready to sign as soon as the press conference was over.” He blinked rapidly as though to clear his eyes and looked over at the driver with obvious concern. “You don’t think-”
“That he’s going to use foster care as a means to cover up the girl’s disappearance by claiming he extended his hand to her and she rejected it by running away afterwards never to be heard from again,” the driver finished.
“So then the girl will turn into another written off statistic while they really have her housed in some secret MCO facility where they can experiment on her with impunity,” the passenger reasoned grimly. “How long do you think she has?”
The only response the driver gave was to slam the gas pedal to the floor.

Bay Area MCO Headquarters, San Francisco

“So you have a testing facility right here in your headquarters?” I asked excitedly as Agent Mathews and I walked from the bull pen to the elevator.
“Yeah,” he smiled, “All MCO offices have them. That way we have authorized MCO personnel running the tests and we get the most accurate readings. I heard that a long while back when the testing started and they used civilian contractors that some of them would fudge the tests. Some that hated mutants would make it seem like the person was overpowered and dangerous so they would get locked away. Others I heard got bought off so the tech would read them as being underpowered and no one would think twice about it until the mutant went supervillain.”
“That’s horrible,” I exclaimed quietly.
Agent Mathews nodded in agreement. “It put both mutants and the MCO in a pretty bad light for a while but we quickly put the kibosh on that when we started doing the testing in our own facilities with our own people.”
“So now it can be done under more tightly controlled conditions and limit any potential outside influences from skewing the tests,” I reasoned, following the general train of thought.
“Exactly.” He tilted his head and looked at me with an odd smile, “That was pretty good.”
I blushed and shrugged, trying to be nonchalant about it. “I want to go into medicine, there’s a lot of testing involved when it comes to figuring out a diagnosis. This is sort of the same thing.”
“Hmmm,” he hummed, pushing a button on the elevator marked B2 before inserting a circular key into a lock beside it and turning. “So did you enjoy lunch?”
I nodded and smiled gratefully at him. “I did, but you didn’t have to go to all the trouble of a getting full on Italian. I would have been happy with McDonald’s again.” Despite my mild protest I still couldn’t help but remember how delicious that antipasto had been. Even now I was trying to lick some last remaining taste of it from my lips. I quickly stopped that, though, when I caught Agent Mathew’s raised eyebrow and blushed sheepishly. Oops. Don’t want him to think I’m trying to come onto him or something. “It was really good,” I explained lamely.
He chuckled and shook his head before looking forward ahead to the doors and the rest of the ride was silent. It allowed me to once again appreciate that Agent Mathews was indeed a handsome man and I had become okay thinking that. It was something I had come to terms with during the course of the morning. For the most part I’d spent my time just looking around the internet on one of the empty computers in the bull pen. It was during that time I decided to do a bit of research on mutants, their BIT’s, and what kind of changes can take place. Interestingly enough there was quite a wealth of information on the subject ranging from bloggers making outlandish claims to actual scientific research. I spent the majority of my time looking at the last group and though a great deal of it was over my head in terms of technicality I was able to glean a bit more information about what had happened to me. Apparently when I’d rescued that man from the burning car, the combination of intensely high stress and extreme pain from the fire had stimulated the mutant gene I possessed. Instead of slowly manifesting over the course of months or years like most did, my body responded to the exterior pain and fear stimuli and threw my system into emergency overload in order to try and protect me. The end result was my burnout, which had had the potential to kill me right on the spot. Because I went through that burnout my powers manifested instantly, along with my BIT. I’d been in so much pain from both the fire and the burnout I’d never even realized that my body had completely changed in the span of perhaps a few minutes. By the time my hand had struck the man’s ankle and I’d become fully female and my powers had become active which was why I’d been able to heal him.
Further research into the area of BIT’s didn’t provide me with any answers as to why I now a girl. There was very little real hard science on why a BIT formed the way it did. Some scientists speculated it was tied to the owner’s desires, others postulated it was influenced by exterior sources, but none had any concrete evidence to support their theories. When I looked to see if there was a way to reverse or change one’s BIT I found it was impossible. Once my BIT was established and the change completed any further attempt to alter it would result in me literally being torn apart. So, I was stuck as a girl for the rest of my life.
I have to say, knowing I would be spending the rest of my life as one of the fairer sex still didn’t really seem to bother me, and that kind of bothered me still. I tried to look up some information that might explain why I wasn’t freaking out over the whole thing but again there was very limited data on the subject. The only thing some scientists considered is that it was a mental defense mechanism. Since the changes came about from my own body anyway, my mind was protecting me by simply letting me think it was okay. That was a pretty broad-based explanation and there wasn’t all that much science or data to back it up but it was the only one most scientists and psychologists could come up with.
As far as my sudden change in sexual orientation, that was primarily explained by the sudden change in chromosomes and a massive flood of feminine hormones in my bloodstream. There were several documented cases where a mutant changed sex through their mutation but their sexuality remained the same as it had been originally. Others reported a complete reversal of their sexual orientation, while a third group developed a more flexible orientation, i.e became bi-sexual. After some careful soul searching I decided that I probably fell into the third category. I still found women sexually attractive as evidenced by my feelings of arousal when looking through Victoria’s Secret online catalogue (every young man’s go-to in the absence of porn), but I also couldn’t ignore similar feelings when it came to men as well. I didn’t only use Agent Mathews as my yardstick for this self-discovery. I went on various sites and did a couple of searches depicting what would be socially considered attractive. I’m not ashamed to admit that I am most assuredly now one of those women who absolutely drools over Brad Pitt. Dear god the man is h-o-t.
So, I was able to learn quite a bit about myself during the few hours I had that morning to myself. Now I was on my way to learn about one of the biggest parts, my powers. I couldn’t quite place my feelings firmly into the excited or scared category. Really it was a messy soup mix of both fighting for emotional dominance. On one hand I was anxious to know what powers I had, but on the other I was scared that I might possess abilities that could be considered too dangerous for the public and would require I be locked away. Fortunately Agent Mathews had eased my nerves in that regard by telling me I had yet to display any kind of powers except for the one instance where I used my healing, so it was unlikely that I was dangerous.
When the elevator toned its arrival with the classic *ding* the doors opened to reveal an enormous, cavern-like space that was easily at least two football fields in length and had a ceiling reaching at least thirty feet up. The walls were clearly a very heavy, likely military grade steel and polished to a high shine. Boy, what poor sap has that job? It would take forever. Large dome lights were inset at various points in the ceiling and pumped out enough candlepower to illuminate every inch of the testing facility. A multitude of partitions were erected, obviously designating various testing zones though I couldn’t yet tell what each zone tested for, yet. Everywhere I looked there was some kind of monitor or control panel or electronics that, I was told, were designed to monitor every aspect of a mutant when they used their powers
Standing there waiting for us were Agent Jacobs, Doctor Taylor (who was smiling broadly), and a man I had yet to meet wearing a white lab coat with the words:
Power Test Lab Tech
Trevor Barrows
Right away Doctor Taylor hurried forward to take both of my hands in a gesture of such exuberance it actually had me stepping back in surprise. “Ashley,” he fairly gushed, “How wonderful to see you again. You appear to be looking well.”
“I am Doctor,” I replied carefully since his almost excited demeanor had me seriously questioning why the man was present, “Thank you. What are you doing here? You didn’t find something in one of my tests did you?”
“Oh nothing like that,” he assured me and patted my hand until I pretty much had to pull it from him so he’d stop. I think he finally realized he was acting unprofessionally when I did that because he straightened himself and his expression smoothed itself until it was once again the mien of a man of medicine. “I’m here as a medical expert. Agent Jacobs asked for my assistance in determining the extent of your healing ability.”
“How are you going to do that?” I asked, tilting my head slightly in curiosity.
Doctor Taylor opened his mouth to respond when Chief Jacobs’, who was looking less and less pleased by the doctor every moment, cut him off. “We’ll get to that when we reach the healing portion of the testing.”
Doctor Taylor seemed surprised to be interrupted in this fashion but one look at the MCO man’s face and he was immediately nodding his understanding. “Ah, yes, of course.”
“We’ll need you to change clothes,” the lab tech, Burrows, said as he held out a shiny black one-piece garment. “This sensor suit will monitor your body’s responses to the testing. You can change in there,” he indicated towards a door marked ‘changing room’, “And you’ll need to remove your underwear as well. We need skin contact on every surface for the testing.”
Nodding and trying very hard not to blush at the fact that every man in this room now knew I was going to be naked under this suit, I went into the room and quickly shimmied out of my clothes before doing a reverse shimmy and pulled on the sensor suit. It actually slipped on pretty easy and felt like its fabric lycra with a hint of satin built in to make it easier to don. Once on I was covered from neck to toe in black shininess. That was when I realized there might be a problem.
Even though there was no mirror in the changing room…why would there be, it wasn’t a clothing store…There was no mistaking the fact that this suit clung, and I mean clung. Every curve, every swell, every minute bodily dimension was completely revealed by the tight bodysuit and the various diodes and wires fitted into the fabric did nothing to detract from it. I might as well just have gone out there naked I felt so exposed. My inherent shyness was rearing its head and a part of my brain was shouting at me to take it off, tell them I couldn’t do it, tell them there’s been a mistake, anything to keep those four men out there from seeing me like this.
But that other part of my mind, the one that had been so instrumental in my adaptation to the events of the last couple of days, came to the rescue and batted my insecurities away. I wasn’t the first person to wear this suit and I sure as hell wouldn’t be the last. So what if the thing was form-fitting, it was a scientific instrument. I wanted to go into the field of scientific medicine and there was a good probability that mutant testing could very well be a part of that. What better way to know about it than to experience it first hand? Yeah, that made perfect sense. Besides, if nothing else, I had a body that without a doubt rocked this suit. There wasn’t an unsightly bulge or roll anywhere to be found. So, taking a deep and calming breath, I made the resolution that the men waiting for me could eat their hearts out.
At the last second I decided to take this new, confident attitude a little further and flung the door open before striking a pose in the portal; hip cocked out, one hand slid up the frame until it was stretched over my head with the other hand resting playfully on my thrust out hip. “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. Deville,” I purred. Damn I was good at that.
The reactions of the men were shall we say mixed. Agent Mathews laughed while Technician Barrows beamed a clearly amused smile. Chief Jacobs, who already had his practically permanent frown on his face, depended into an actual scowl. Doctor Taylor…the way he was looking at me actually sent a chill down my spine. He was able to hide it after maybe a second or two, but there was no mistaking the raw lust that had been in his eyes for those brief ticks of the clock before they snapped into gleams of merriment and he joined in Agent Mathews’ laughter. I was starting to wonder if I’d made a mistake putting such trust in the physician back in the hospital.
“You can definitely work that suit Ashley,” Agent Mathews complimented.
“We’ve had exemplars wear it before,” Chief Jacobs reminded him grumpily.
Technician Barrows elected not to partake in the commenting as he indicated I should follow him to the first station, which looked like your slightly above average home gym. “The first thing we’re going to do is test your base physical abilities,” he explained, “Running, jumping, the amount of weight you can lift, and so on. Want to start with the treadmill?”
I shrugged, “Why not?” and headed over to it. For the next hour I was subjected to a rather intense workout that was clearly designed to try and push me to my limits. Now, I was in decent shape before, I wasn’t overweight nor was I pathetically skinny. The best I could be described as was average for my body weight and height. From what I’d experienced up to this point the same could be said about my new body. While it was beautiful and sexy body, I had yet to get any indications it possessed any kind of ability above and beyond a normal teenager with my physical proportions and believe me these workouts were designed to get me to go as far beyond my limits as possible. By the end of it I was completely exhausted and about ready to collapse right there on the gym mat. However, the tests proved what I already knew other than being more agile than I once was. Both the technician and doctor determined that this wasn’t some metaphysical trait, it was just a natural human ability that came with my new body. Apparently I was now naturally quite graceful with excellent balance. Plus it had actually been really cool being able to do a full split to the ground and only feeling the slightest twinge in my thighs and groin.
“We’ll keep testing to be sure, of course,” Barrows said as he made several notations on the tablet he was carrying, “But I’m pretty confident right that you don’t have any Exemplar traits. Your gender has been flipped (blush) and you have unusual hair coloring that doesn’t exist in normal human hair pigmentation as well as no hair below the eyes, but that could be accomplished by your BIT, which a mutant can have without being an Exemplar. Your physical abilities match those of an average teenager of your size and build however there a few other factors we can test for later to make a more solid determination.”
I nodded my understanding but obviously wasn’t very surprised. If I’d possessed the strength to lift half a ton I’m sure I would have at least stumbled upon that already. “Do you mind if I take a few minutes before the next one?” I asked breathlessly as I blotted the sweat from my face with a towel and took a slug of ice cold water from the bottle Technician Barrows provided, “I’m feeling pretty worn out.”
“We can take ten minutes,” he nodded and moved on to the next section, presumably to get it prepped, while I rested on the weight bench.
While Chief Jacobs and Doctor Taylor quietly conferred off to the side Agent Mathews took a seat on the bench and handed me a fresh towel. “Thanks,” I said gratefully and discarded the sweat-soaked one I’d been using in a cloth laundry bin nearby before taking the clean one. “I never thought power testing would be like doing a boot camp workout,” I confessed while gathering up my hair at the back of my head as best I could and blotting the back of my neck with the towel.
“The hard part is pretty much over,” he assured me. “Most of the rest of the testing isn’t as physical and focuses mainly on mental and projection-type abilities. I’m guessing you’ll probably get through them pretty quick and then we can get to your healing abilities. Barrows saved them for last so we can really focus on them.”
“Sounds good.” Standing up and chugging back some more water I followed him over to the next station which held several plastic tubs filled almost to bursting with electronics parts. “Gadeteer and Devisor testing?” I guessed.
The technician nodded and tapped his tablet. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Well this shouldn’t take long,” I muttered and within five minutes I was proven right.
“Average sixteen-year-old knowledge of electronics,” Technician Barrows confirmed before we moved onto the next station.
It was the same result for the next several stations, meaning I possessed no magical affinity, Energizer capacity, telepathy, or telekinesis. “I’m starting to wonder why we’re even bothering with these,” I quipped as we walked from the telepathy station over to a rather large enclosed area.
“We have to be sure,” the technician explained as he opened the door to the room and led me inside, “Sometimes a mutant’s powers don’t really reveal themselves until the testing procedure.”
“I suppose. Hey, where are you going?” I asked when he made to leave after positioning me in the center of the room.
“I can’t be in here during the test,” he explained without pausing in his stride, “It would screw up the results.”
“But what-”
I never got to finish my question because at that moment he closed the door behind him and left me alone inside this large, empty room. Well, it was only empty for maybe a second after he closed the door when I felt something hard slam into the back of my head. I pitched forward with a cry that was more surprise than pain, though it sure did sting, and ended up on my hands and knees. A moment later I felt another impact strike me in the side, pulling another startled sound from my lips. Scrambling on all fours I wildly looked around to try and see what was attacking me. For several seconds there was nothing and I was able to see there were two red rubber balls about double the size of a tennis ball lazily rolling about on the ground. “What the hell?” I whispered just before I felt a stinging impact against my thigh. Crying out I leapt to my feet and cast my eyes about to try and find the source of whatever it was that was attacking me.
That was when I heard it. I hadn’t noticed it before since my initial reaction had been panic but this time, just before a ball struck me in the shoulder, there was a faint sound of what seemed to be a compressed air explosion. It wasn’t very loud and I suspect the only reason why I even noticed it was because I was straining every sense I had in an effort to locate the source of whatever was firing these balls. However, now I knew what to listen for. Unfortunately that didn’t help me very much. I managed to avoid a couple of the balls fired at me thanks to my new body’s more agile nature but more often than not the rounds found their mark and sent a quick flash of pain through whatever body part they struck. They were simply too fast for me to get out of the way if I didn’t react within a split second of hearing the sound of compressed air firing.
By the time the test was over I was curled up in a ball on the floor sobbing softly, my entire body feeling sore and stinging. I heard the door to the testing chamber open followed by several footsteps before I was gently lifted into a sitting position and my face was being bathed with a wet, cool towel. When my vision was cleared of my tears I saw Agent Mathews’ concerned expression before me. “Are you okay?”
I nodded and took several deep, shaky breaths to bring myself back under control though the air still hitched in my throat a little. “I think so. It was just so scary all of that coming at me from all sides. I couldn’t do anything to get away.”
“It was to test for any danger sense,” Barrows explained as I took the towel from him so I could finish wiping my face of tears, “You don’t seem to have one but I’m actually surprised you were able to get out of the way of the three that missed you.”
“I figured out what to listen for,” I explained and smiled a bit when he looked confused. “There was a sound of compressed air firing just before I got hit so every time I heard it I just tried to be somewhere else. It didn’t really work.”
“Interesting,” Barrows mused as he rapidly started tapping away at his tablet. “This is the first time I’ve heard of anyone hearing the canons firing. Have you had any other experiences of being able to hear things that other people find too quiet?”
Shaking my head I carefully got to my feet and found I was still a little wobbly. “No. I think I was just so panicked and afraid I was trying to see or hear even the tiniest thing and I just happened to pick up on it. I think I just got lucky with the three that missed me.”
The man nodded and made a few notations on his tablet. “Well, if nothing else, you’re going to help us improve this testing area for the future. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” I returned the smile he sent my way before the three of us made our way out of what I was thinking of as the Danger Chamber. “So what’s next? You’re not going to beat me up some more are you?” I tried to make it sound like a joke but I couldn’t keep the tremor of fear out of my voice.
“No,” the technician assured me, “We’ve finished with all of the testing except for one, regeneration and healing.”
That brightened my spirits since this was the test I’d been anxiously awaiting. I’d finally be able to see just what my one known ability could do. I knew I could heal people, but only in the broadest sense. Ever since the car crash I hadn’t had the opportunity to try using my power again and quite frankly I was chomping at the bit to use it again. After all, what’s the point of having mutant powers if you can’t use them?
As we walked to the room housing the last test we were joined by Chief Jacobs and Doctor Taylor, who explained that due to the fact that these tests involved injury of some sort he would be on hand for any medical assistance and expert opinion. To say that I was a bit nervous about the injury part is an understatement but I was glad the doctor would be right there in case anything went wrong. The station we’d be using for these tests was set up in a room that reminded me of a combination surgical theater and bio lab, complete with full instrumentation and diagnostic equipment for both functions, only about five times larger. I found that a bit odd, particularly since there was a set of quite sizable double doors on the far side of the room. I was led to the operating table in the center and instructed to hop up on it before the technician opened up a hidden zipper at my wrist that I hadn’t even realized existed in the suit before peeling off the glove portion. “This one is pretty simple,” he explained while Doctor Taylor went over to a tray of medical implements, “All we’re going to do to start is prick your finger and see how long it takes for you to clot.”
“I know about the clotting test,” I told him with a nod of understanding. “My blood should clot in nine to eleven seconds.”
“Very good,” Doctor Taylor said as he approached and I could see a bit of pride in his eyes as well as…something else. In his hand was a standard auto laceration device used in tests like these. It was a small white box with a small needle-like attachment cocked back on a spring. When a button was depressed on the device the attachment would snap down and lacerate the pad of the finger the blood was being drawn from. It made me wince a little when it was used on me but then I was kind of a wimp when it came to pain. All of us watched as blood beaded up on the pad of my forefinger and slowly dripped down the side. While the ‘wound’ wasn’t staunched for testing purposes, Doctor Taylor gathered the tiny rivulet of blood onto a slide, presumably for other testing. After nine seconds he declared I had clotted.
“Clotting time normal,” he declared and took the sample over to a digital microscope/monitor combination set up on a table along one wall. Placing the slide under the microscope he dialed in the focus using the machine’s keyboard and carefully examined the image on the screen. “Interesting,” he mused to himself for a moment before making a few adjustments to the image zoom and picture quality. “It appears that you have an abnormally high white blood cell count,” he said as he turned back to us. “Since you aren’t suffering from any adverse effects that would indicate a compromised immune system I feel confident in saying that you likely possess an enhanced immune system. I couldn’t tell you how enhanced without further testing but it seems likely that you won’t be effected by viruses such as the common cold or flu.”
“I think I can live without ever having a cold or flu,” I responded happily.
“It also means,” Technician Barrows said, picking up the train of thought, “That in conjunction with your physical tests that you are likely an Exemplar One.” He made a notation on his tablet before looking up at the two MCO agents. “Can I shanghai you guys to help me with the next part?”
Though Agent Mathews looked confused Chief Jacobs nodded immediately and had the junior agent follow him to the large double doors before throwing him open. Instantly the smell of barn animals filled my sinuses and I clamped my hand over my nose with a grunt of disgust. Hey, I may love animals but that doesn’t mean I have to love the smell of a barn. The two agents maneuvered and led a decent sized cow from the adjoining chamber into the operating theater. Now I understood why it was so much larger than normal, to accommodate an animal of this size.
After securing its lead to a stout ring anchored into the floor the two agents stepped out of the way, Agent Mathews simply moving to the side while Chief Jacobs moved to the door. With a gentle urging by Doctor Taylor I was brought over to where the cow was looking about the room with its characteristic dull expression. While Barrows started working on his tablet Doctor Taylor picked up a scalpel from a nearby tray of surgical tools. The sight of that razor sharp steel in the man’s hand caused a chill to race up my spine and I instinctively took a step back.
Clearly misinterpreting my general fear of the potentially deadly weapon the doctor lifted his free hand in a reassuring gesture. “I’m not going to use this on you Ashley. I’m going to make an incision in the cow that I want you to heal.”
Nodding my understanding but still not liking it, I watched as the doctor carefully and skillfully made a single incision three inches long in the side of the animal. The cow barely even twitched since for an animal possessed of this much fat and meat probably didn’t even feel it. With his job done for now Doctor Taylor stood back as Barrows directed me to try and heal the wound.
Taking a deep breath I stepped forward and extended my hand. Moving slowly so as not to spook the animal, I gently placed my hand on the seeping wound and, after concentrating for a few seconds on trying to push out healing energy I could…well…just feel the injury to the animal. It wasn’t anything I could tangibly describe, but I was able to somehow just know that the cow had this three inch cut in its side without actually looking at it or feeling it with my hand. It was as though I’d obtained a sixth sense in my mind that was able to detect an abnormality in the bovine’s physiology and translate it into a mental image that I could comprehend. Not only that, but I also received flashes of knowledge that there were other things happening within the animal that were not conducive to natural health. While I had a definite sense of what they might have looked or felt like, I wasn’t able to identify what exactly they were. Whatever it was, there was a lot of it.
Shaking my head so I could focus on the task of healing the animal, I sought to reach down into myself like I had with the victim of the car crash and will the injury to heal. My power responded instantly and I could feel some kind of otherworldly energy in me flowing out from my chest, into my arm, down my hand, and into the cow. As I pushed this energy into the animal I could not only sense the wound in its side stitching closed at a remarkable rate, but the other physiological abnormalities were also being consumed by this power, essentially distilling them and breaking them down into their base components so they could be harmlessly be absorbed and redistributed into the body. When I felt the last anomaly within the cow’s body disappear I shut off my power…
…and woke up on the floor. Almost immediately I was surrounded by concerned faces that I couldn’t identify. It was as though they were watercolor paintings that had been left out in a rainstorm and had started to run, their features becoming a mess of color and shape that would have made Picasso proud. I tried to ask what was happening but I didn’t even have the strength to open my mouth. Every muscle felt like it had turned to mush and all I could do was whimper softly as something lifted me up and laid me on the operating table.
Things were moving very fast then and I felt the zipper on my suit quickly slide down, followed by the suit itself being pulled down along my body. I wanted to try and stop those hands, to keep them from exposing my naked body, but the only thing that happened was my fingers twitched slightly. I moaned helplessly as my breasts were exposed to the air and something cold pressed against my chest.
“Heart rate is elevated,” I heard a voice say, though it was faint and echoing as though it reached my ears from the end of a long tunnel, “But it is slowing. Pulse rapid but strong. Lungs are clear and there are good breath sounds.” That last part came more clearly and the colors before my eyes began to coalesce into discernable shapes. A minute later and I was able to make out the faces of Agent Mathews, Doctor Taylor, and Technician Barrows all standing around me with expressions of worry and concern. “I’m okay,” I managed to whisper after two attempts. A minute later and my voice felt strong enough for me to ask in a weak voice, “What happened?”
“I’m not sure,” Doctor Taylor said, though his tone seemed to express more excitement than concern to my ears. “If I were to speculate I would say that the use of your power was very taxing on your body, causing a severe drop in blood pressure. Is this what happened to you last time you used your power?”
I managed to shake my head weakly in response. “No, I don’t think so, but the last time I had been in so much pain I couldn’t feel anything else.”
Doctor Taylor shook his head as his brow knit with a look of confusion. “This doesn’t make sense,” he muttered, “How could healing a three inch incision caused such a severe reaction?”
“There wasn’t just the cut.”
That got everyone’s attention and I felt four sets of eyes lock onto me, even Chief Jacobs’ from across the room. Gulping nervously I tried to explain what I’d experienced. “When I first touched the cow I…well…I don’t know how to really describe it but I just kind of knew about the cut, but not because I’d seen Doctor Taylor make it. It was as if I could somehow feel it in my mind, and I could feel other things too. Things that seemed out of place or wrong inside the cow,” I clarified before the question could be asked, “I don’t know exactly what they were but I could just tell they weren’t a normal part of its physiology. When I started to use my power I could feel it not only healing the cut but whatever else was inside of it that was wrong too.”
“There wasn’t anything else wrong with the cow,” Barrows assured me, “We check to make sure we only get healthy specimens-” His voice faded off at the end and I realized he was looking down at the tablet in his hand with an expression of confusion. “Wait a second,” he said quietly, almost to himself as he started to rapidly work the tablet, “This can’t be right.”
“What is it?” Chief Jacobs demanded from his place at the door.
“Son of a bitch!” the technician exclaimed in quiet horror.
“What?” Agent Mathews and Doctor Taylor yelled simultaneously.
Shaking his head Barrows spun the tablet around so the other two could see what he was seeing. I’d like to say I could see it too but I was still flat on my back so the only thing I saw was that the thing used a micro USB to charge and not a lightning cable.
Thankfully, Technician Barrows provided me with a vocal running commentary. “Our livestock supplier royally screwed up the order. Instead of giving us a healthy cow with no antibiotics or other health-sustaining medications, they gave us one that was supposed to be slated for slaughter and disposal. This cow that Ashley just healed was riddled with Bovine Respiratory Disease, Endometritis, Milk Fever, Iodine Deficiency, and god knows what else. It looks like it was being used by the California Institute for Medical Research and its shipping tag was misprinted so it got sent to us instead.” He shook his head in stunned amazement at such a monumental screw up. “This thing was a goddamn walking viral petri dish!”
“We need to get hazmat in here now!” Jacobs snapped, already yanking his phone out of his coat before he’d even finished the sentence. “Everyone initiate decontamination protocols.”
I’m sure I was just as afraid as everyone else about the technician’s announcement that the cow was essentially a walking biohazard, maybe even more so because I had physically been touching an open wound on it. However, I was also positive I’d eliminated every single virus and pathogen that had been floating around in its body when I’d performed my healing. There should have been no risk of contamination anymore and a hazmat protocol would undoubtedly waste a lot of time. Not only that but we would be in lockdown probably for hours and that would mean we would have to cancel the press conference. Not only that, but the news agencies would undoubtedly react once they found out that the entire headquarters had been locked down for hazmat protocols, which would only further fuel negative publicity for not only me but for mutants I general, regardless of the truth of the matter. I knew I couldn’t let that happen.
Before Chief Jacobs could start dialing, I reached those few scant inches and grasped the hands of both Agent Mathews and Doctor Taylor while activating my power. It was amazingly easier this time, almost like the use of my power could be attributed to muscle memory or even flipping a mental switch. In just a few seconds, while they both looked at me in surprised confusion, I knew they hadn’t been infected by anything the cow had been carrying. While I couldn’t connect the feeling I had received when locating the various viruses and diseases to specific categories or even names, I did know that neither man had anything with the same kind of feel inside of him. “It’s okay,” I assured Chief Jacobs quickly while he was in the middle of dialing, “I don’t think anyone was infected.”
“Think?” the Chief practically growled, “We’re dealing with a biohazard situation here and I will not risk a pandemic just because some idiot girl thinks she’s right!”
Now, I might still have been feeling pretty weak, and lord knew Chief Jacobs made nervous as hell, but I would be damned if I was going to let him bully and insult me just because I was a teenage girl! “I know I’m right,” I snapped. Well, I tried to snap, but I just couldn’t get that much steel into my voice at the moment. Based on how the Chief was glaring at me so hard I was glad he didn’t have laser eyes, I was going to blame that on my still recovering physical weakness. “What I meant by I don’t think anyone was infected is I can know for sure if I diagnose you and Technician Barrows.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Ignoring the Chief’s outburst, Agent Mathews leaned over me with a confused but not angry or afraid look on his face. “What do you mean Ashley?”
“Apparently part of my power is being able to diagnose someone by touching them. The second I touched the cow after it had been cut I had been able to sense not only the injury, but everything that was physiologically wrong with it. I didn’t know what it specifically was at the time because I don’t know what individual viruses and diseases feel like, but I could definitely sense them. When I just checked you and Doctor Taylor I didn’t sense any diseases in either of you. If either of you had been infected by anything the cow had I would have recognized it.” I had regained enough strength to sit up by this point and I looked over at Technician Barrows, who was just kind of blinking at me dumbly. I reached out my hand to him in an invitational gesture and, with only a slight bit of hesitation, he placed his hand in mine. The moment our hands touched I instantly knew that he was clear of any infections as well. “You’re okay too.” Turning slightly I looked at Chief Jacobs who was still paused in mid dial as he glared at me with eyes narrowed angrily nearly to slits. While he might have been intimidating before, right now the man was damn terrifying and I heard myself gulp audibly as I couldn’t help but shrink back under that powerful gaze. Regardless, I still held out my hand palm up to him. “I can check you too Chief Jacobs,” I offered meekly before making an anticipatory wince at the expected cruel words.
For several moments I think the Chief was considering exactly that, spewing a stream of anger and possibly profanity at me, probably because he thought I was making light of what could prove to be a very wide spread and deadly situation. However, instead of doing that he merely thumbed his phone back into standby, slipped it back in his pocket, and walked over to me before touching one finger to my palm. That was enough contact for me to know that the Chief was also clear and I told him so. I’m pretty sure it was my imagination but I thought I saw a brief flicker of relief in the man’s eyes.
“Doctor Taylor I still want you to test blood samples on everyone in this room right now and Barrows lock down the entire test facility.”
Both men nodded and moved to comply with their orders, Doctor Taylor gathering up blood collection supplies while Barrows rapidly typed in a series of commands into his tablet that resulted in multiple, heavy metallic thuds sounding all around us. “We’re in lockdown sir,” the technician reported after the last thud.
“Our equipment here should be sufficient to verify Ashley’s findings,” the doctor also report as he quickly and efficiently went about collecting blood samples from all of us including from himself.
“Doctor, maybe you should take a sample from the cow as well,” Agent Mathews suggested.
The doctor was in the process of transferring the samples to slides and tiny test tubes to be placed into the mass-spectrometer when he looked up in confusion. “Why?”
“To see if Ashley eliminated the diseases and viruses as well as healing the injury,” the agent replied in a voice that made it clear that the answer should have been obvious.
“Ah, excellent point.”
While the doctor extracted a blood sample from the cow and added it to the collection of samples to be tested, Agent Mathews procured a bottle of water from a small refrigerator in the room and gave it to me to drink while we waited for the results. “How are you feeling?” he asked quietly, his eyes flickering briefly to Chief Jacobs as though he didn’t want his boss to hear.
“I’m okay,” I answered honestly and rolled my shoulders to loosen a bit of tightness still there. “I’m not feeling so weak anymore and my heart doesn’t feel like it’s ready to explode out of my chest.”
He nodded and looked like he was about to say more when we all heard the doctor sigh in relief. “All of the samples are clear, including the cow’s,” he announced. “There are no traces of any viruses whatsoever.”
“Are you absolutely sure doctor?” Chief Jacobs demanded. It was clear from the critical look on his face that he wanted to be sure of the findings and not get blamed for some kind of massive viral outbreak in the city.
“Completely,” Doctor Taylor assured him, “Your diagnostic equipment is more than sufficient to determine that both we and the cow itself do not possess any of the pathogens, what it was infected with or otherwise.”
The two agents shared the physician’s expression of relief while the technician, who had been reviewing some data on his tablet up until this point, looked at me with wide, unbelieving eyes. He did it for so long it actually had me squirming uncomfortably on the table. “What?” I finally demanded, drawing everyone else’s attention.
“You not only healed that cow’s injury,” he said in a voice of amazement, “But you cleaned out a total of fifty-six very powerful viruses and diseases from the thing’s system in about sixty seconds. The average mutant healer would require probably at least a full day to accomplish that.”
The room was silent for several long moments as the implications of the man’s words sunk into everyone’s brain, especially mine. I not only had the ability to heal, but it sounded like I was the most powerful he’d ever encountered. It was actually quite hard to wrap my head around that since even at this point I still didn’t really consider myself anything special. Now, no matter how hard I tried, there was no longer any denying that I couldn’t say that any longer. I had a power that not many mutants possessed, and that did indeed make me special.
“But look at what it did to her,” Agent Mathews put in. “From what Doctor Taylor said her blood pressure went nearly through the floor and for all intents she blacked out.”
“I’m not saying it wasn’t a strain on her,” Barrows allowed, “But it was still a hell of a lot more than any healing power I’ve ever tested.”
My eyes were bouncing back and forth between Agent Mathews and Technician Barrows during their little verbal spar, and it was because of that I caught the subtle but very pointed look that Doctor Taylor and Chief Jacobs briefly shared. It happened in perhaps for the length of an eye blink, but I knew I had seen it. That I had such strong healing powers was important to them, but why? When Doctor Taylor’s attention returned to me I was certain now that I could see a gleam in his eye that made me decidedly uncomfortable. There was that trace of lust that I was worriedly starting to associate with that of a pedophile, while at the same time there was some kind of mad desire that was different but no less powerful. Now more than ever I was worried that I had completely misjudged the physician.
“Do you have enough data for an accurate MID?” Chief Jacobs inquired.
“I think so Chief.”
The large man nodded and fished his phone out of his pocket as it began to ring. “Then release the lockdown and get one made up, we have a news conference in one hour we need to start getting ready for.”
Technician Barrows nodded and, after ending the lockdown via his tablet, led me out of the operating theater and back into the main testing hall before nudging me towards the changing area. “Think of a codename while you’re changing, I should have your MID ready by the time you’re done,” he assured me and headed for the main computer terminal for the testing center situated at its front entrance.
I’d forgotten about that part, choosing a codename. I knew when I’d first been told I would have a power testing I’d need to choose one but until now it hadn’t really occurred to me to think of one. My mind was racing as I closed the change room door and struggled out of the testing suit. I know lots of superheroes chose really cool names like Skyrider or F/X, but I thought that it should be a name that fit my powers or personality. Of course, the only real power I possessed was my ability to heal people and right then I was drawing a blank on what a good code name would be. The most obvious one, Healer, was immediately cast aside. Medic was as well since it sort of felt too plain.
As I pulled on my panties and clipped my bra back into place, I thought about everything my powers could do and realized I actually could do more than heal. I could actually diagnose someone’s injuries or illnesses. That was, after all, what allowed me to realize that the cow was full of pathogens but also ensure that no one had been infected once I’d healed them away. Still, the name Diagnose really didn’t roll off the tongue so it was put into the discard pile. So what did that leave? What could I do with my power that would made for a good code name, other than fall unconscious after using it?
That part was actually pretty frightening. Both times I’d healed someone I’d blacked out instantly afterwards. True I’d been in immense pain and going through a burnout the first time, but this second time I’d been perfectly fine yet as soon as I’d healed that cow I’d fallen unconscious. From what Doctor Taylor said, the use of my power seemed to almost overload my body. He hadn’t seemed overly concerned about it once I’d recovered, but I was starting to get a sinking feeling that his medical expertise might not be one hundred percent reliable when it came to me. Maybe it was time to start looking into finding an expert on mutant healing powers.
Shaking my head as I wiggled into my jeans I turned my thoughts back to the task at hand, a codename. Other than healing once and then needing to recover afterwards, the only other thing was diagnosing. That part, at least, didn’t completely drain me and leave me gasping on the floor weak as a newborn kitten. I could go around diagnosing as many people as I wanted. I suppose that would be useful in a mass casualty situation when there were lots of people injured. I could go from person to person and figure out what kind of injuries each one had and help medical personnel determine who needed care the most urgently. What was it they called that again?
I had my blouse half-buttoned when the term came to me and froze. A slow smile started to form on my lips as I rolled the word around in my mind a few times. Yeah, that sounded pretty good, and it fit with my powers too.
Quickly finishing with my blouse I hurried out of the change room and trotted over to where Barrows was inputting data into his computer with Agent Mathews looking over his shoulder at the data. Doctor Taylor and Chief Jacobs were a short distance away speaking quietly with one another. When I drew near all four of them looked over and Agent Mathews cocked an eyebrow when I flounced into the chair. “You think of a name?”
Nodding eagerly, I couldn’t keep the pleased grin off my face. “Triage. I’d like my codename to be Triage.”

MCO Headquarters, Office of Ronald Jacobs

“You need to control yourself Doctor,” Chief Jacobs nearly snarled. “In case it’s missed your attention that girl is starting to notice the way you keep looking at her.”
Doctor Taylor waved the MCO man’s clearly paranoid statement away and smiled. “Nonsense Agent Jacobs-”
“Chief!” the other man snapped, “I hold the title of Chief Investigator in this office.”
“Of course Chief,” Doctor Taylor corrected, sounding like he didn’t care a whit, “But I think you’re overreacting. The girl only sees me as a man of medicine with nothing but her best interests in mind. She doesn’t even have any inkling as to the plans we have for her. Why I imagine-”
“She might be a mutant,” Jacobs said while gritting his teeth and wondering if the good doctor had hit his head on the way to the office that morning, “But she’s not stupid. The way you keep leering at her is starting to get her defenses up. If you’re not careful I wouldn’t be surprised to hear from Agent Mathews telling me she’s requested you not be around her anymore.”
“Ah yes,” Taylor mused, his expression growing darkly thoughtful, “Mathews. The young lady seems to have established quite a rapport with the young agent hasn’t she? That could potentially present a problem don’t you think?”
The Chief had already considered that long ago, unlike the doctor, but made a show of looking confused. “How do you mean?”
“Well,” the physician explained, looking quite pleased with himself that he had thought of something the supposedly professional law enforcement officer hadn’t, “What happens when the girl disappears? As close as he’s grown to her it would stand to reason that he might open an investigation into trying to find her.”
“MCO agents can’t conduct investigations that don’t have active mutant involvement,” Jacobs explained as though speaking to a child, “Any missing persons cases that don’t present evidence of that are handled by the police, even if the victim is a mutant.”
“He’s former SFPD is he not?” Taylor challenged, “You don’t think he still has friends on the police force he would contact to be kept in the loop or even an active part of the investigation?”
That he had considered that specific possibility long ago only confirmed to Jacobs that when it came to planning this man was a moron. “What do you suggest?”
“I think Agent Mathews will need to be eliminated.”
The words hung in the air for several moments, but not for the reasons the physician might have thought. When this plan of theirs had first been put into place, Jacobs had already considered how to deal with Mathews. Everything from reassignment to bringing the man in with them had been examined. In the end Jacobs knew that the junior agent would likely need to be done away with, the only question was the method of doing so and how to spin the event so it would not come back on him or…well on him anyway.
“You realize you are talking about the premeditated murder of a law enforcement officer,” Jacobs said, making sure to pick his words carefully.
“Of course,” Taylor said as casually as if he was ordering a tuna fish sandwich, “But I’m sure you realize that he is the only person in a position to cause us any real trouble with acquiring the girl.”
“I suppose you’re correct,” Jacobs seemed to acquiesce, “How do you think it would be best to handle?”
“Simplest is typically best,” the doctor reasoned and rubbed his chin in thought. “Maybe ensure he suffers a myocardial infarction at home. Better yet, here at the office. We could make it look like the girl used her powers to stop his heart.”
“The girl heals people, not hurts them.”
“Who’s to say she doesn’t have the ability to reverse the effects of her power? Maybe in addition to healing injuries she can cause or perhaps amplify existing ones. Perhaps the good agent had an underlying condition she exasperated, resulting in his death. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, only if it is believable.”
“That could bring into question my technician’s competence when it came to her power testing since we didn’t check for that. He could very well be fired because of it.” Mentally Jacobs was kicking himself for not considering testing for that very ability, though it could be forgiven since the sudden fear of viral outbreak had dominated everyone’s immediate concerns at the time.
Taylor shrugged, clearly thinking such a thing was inconsequential. “An acceptable loss considering what we will be accomplishing with the girl. And since he was considered technical and not investigations it shouldn’t come back on you.”
Damn, maybe the man wasn’t as clueless as Jacobs thought. He was actually correct in the assumption that his investigations office wouldn’t fall under scrutiny because the testing division screwed up their results. “I suppose you’re correct,” he allowed, “When can you have your testing facility ready to receive?”
“It already is,” Doctor Taylor proclaimed proudly, “Just notify me through our…discreet channel when you are ready and I will give you the location.” When Jacobs nodded his understanding the medical man stood and straightened his jacket. “I look forward to hearing from you Chief Jacobs.”
As the man walked out Jacobs had to dig his nails into his palm with the effort it took not to leap across his desk and strangle his unofficial partner. The way in which the man had sneered his own title at him, clearly thinking he was the one in a position of superiority, was more than enough to have him seriously questioning whether or not he’d made a mistake. True, if the doctor could deliver on his promise to extract the source of the girl’s healing ability and replicate it into MCO agents it would make the two of them heroes.
However, in the last two days he had noticed something of a psychological decline in the man. When they had first met at the hospital to interview the girl, the physician had been calm and composed, a man of medicine with an outrageous but workable idea on how to further both of their careers. Since that first meeting, he had seen the doctor’s demeanor slowly slide into what he could only describe as growing madness. His eyes no longer held medical concern for his then patient. Now, between undeniably sick lust for the beautiful teen and the wild desire to probably start dissecting the girl, he had serious concerns that the doctor would be able to keep it together and not to flat out flay her or fuck her. Even though Taylor was the expert when it came to the science, Chief Jacobs knew that he would need to step things up when it came reining the man’s impulses in, at least as far as killing the girl. A dead mutant couldn’t give up the secrets to their powers after all. If he wanted to fuck the girl what did he care? True she was a minor, but she was a mutant so it really didn’t count in his eyes. Just so long as their mutual goal was accomplished the sick freak could do whatever he wanted.
That left the complication of Agent Mathews. The physician had been quite correct about how close his subordinate had gotten to the girl and that it would present a problem. He did, however, disagree about the method in which to take care of the issue. Since this was something he had already been brooding over for some time a number of methods of disposal had already been considered. All of them had their own merit and method of execution; it would largely be situational concerns that dictated which one would be utilized. Fortunately, the Chief was well versed in the concept of preparation and he already had things in place for each option that could be initiated at a moment’s notice. He had a moment of regret that his initial plan of using the girl’s guardianship wouldn’t bear more fruit, but it would serve as a means to get her into the proper position he needed.
Now, the only thing he needed to do was wait and choose the optimal time to strike.

San Francisco, Transamerica Pyramid

While it wasn’t the Willis Tower, the arrowhead-like structure proved to be an adequate perch for the shadowed figure to use as a means of looking out over the city spread out below. While San Francisco wasn’t as dark and gritty as his familiar Chicago territory, he was able appreciate why its inhabitants took pride in the brightly lit seaside metropolis. To them it was considered a shining example of a quality of life much of the rest of the country couldn’t touch. With always pleasant weather, thriving industry, and a positive societal tolerance that had more than once set the standard for the rest of the country, the city was a shining example of possibility.
Unfortunately, he knew that wasn’t how human nature worked. Beneath the sparkling veneer, he knew there was an underbelly that could probably rival most larger cities in terms of depravity. While most of its citizens would try to deny it, there was a ruthless drug and gang culture that constantly threatened to rip its society apart. The police were barely able to put a dent in it and the local superhero group’s primary focus, of course, was on villains who were threatening grand scale, one-shot kind of destruction schemes. Not that people of that variety were willing to do what needed to be done. They might have killed during the course of saving the city or perhaps even the world, but that kind of action was viewed as a last resort instead of standard operating procedure. They didn’t have the stomach or the wherewithal to understand and appreciate that lighter touches and hiding criminals away for a few years was barely a half measure. In an time when prisons were nearly overflowing and criminals responsible for “lesser” crimes were released to make room for a couple more hardened killers, none of them had come to the realization that there was only one real solution to this cancer that was rapidly spreading throughout the country.
But he wasn’t in The Golden City to help ease its problems. He was there because he was asked for help. The fact that this call had come from one of perhaps a handful of people on the planet that he would lay his life down for was the mitigating factor that currently had him in a position of observation in the heart of the day. It was a risky place to choose, but the sheer high and design of the building would do well enough to conceal his presence from any prying eyes. He’d have to keep an eye out for news helicopters that tended to permeate the air, but with the news conference at the MCO building rapidly approaching he knew there would be no danger of encountering any flybys.
Toggling the zoom in his optics, he watched as the aforementioned reports were gathered at the front of the building a respectable distance back from the short podium that had been erected. So far there were no signs of the girl or the MCO agents that would be accompanying her and the time was drawing near.
“Status update,” he demanded into the encrypted communications connection.
“Nothing yet,” came the calm reply, though he thought he could hear a tinge of excitement in his partner’s voice. “The news is running teasers and a live stream of the press conference. They wouldn’t try something while live on the news would they?”
“No,” he admitted, “But I want to get an organic look at them instead of still photos and pre-recorded video. I need to know where their heads are at right now.”
“Well I’ve tapped into every station and am recording all of the raw data just in case. Ah, there we go,” his partner said in a satisfied voice.
“What do you have?”
“Just got through the MCO’s firewall and decryptions. They really need to work on toughening those things up. It only took me about thirty seconds.”
“Stop boasting and give me a report,” the dark man snapped into the com.
“Touchy are we?” his partner mumbled, “So they’ve completed her power testing with a results of Exemplar One and Healing…damn,” his voice changed from casual and uncaring to intensely focused, “Healing Six. That’s damn high.”
The man agreed though he chose not to vocalize the opinion. It also made sense why this MCO agent and doctor had chosen to use this girl for their experiments. With a healing power that strong it would likely allow for greater, more intense examination and experimentation, not to mention the potential of creating nearly unstoppable agents if the physician was actually successful in extracting the secrets to the girl’s abilities. Not only that, but there was a very real possibility the doctor might elect to start selling his enhancements to dictators or supervillains. The mission just took on a new level of importance.
His focus immediately sharpened on the scene in front of the MCO building when his partner announced in his ear, “They’re coming out.”

San Francisco, Bay Area MCO Headquarters

Keith Mathews made sure to stay close to Ashley as they made their way to the front doors of the building. Already he could see the tenseness and uncertainty on the young girl’s face as they drew closer and closer to the throng of reporters eagerly awaiting them on the front steps. “You’re going to be fine,” he assured her quietly for what must have been the fourth time and gave her hand another comforting squeeze.
She nodded but he could tell it lacked much confidence. He couldn’t say he blamed her for being nervous. After all, she was about to be put in front of probably half a dozen news cameras where she would be making a statement to at the very least the city, possibly the entire country. Though it was a bit selfish to think so, Keith was glad he wasn’t in her shoes.
Chief Jacobs, who had taken the lead in their small procession followed by Doctor Taylor, and then them, opened the front doors and approached the prepared podium complete with the MCO’s insignia. Immediately he held up a hand demanding silence when reporters instantly started firing questions at him. “Ladies and gentlemen,” his voice boomed authoritatively while Doctor Taylor, Keith, and Ashley all lined up slightly behind him, “I will be issuing a statement on behalf of the Bay Area Mutant Commissions Office regarding the traffic crash and its mutant involvement that occurred two days ago. Immediately following that the young lady who was involved will also be making a statement. There will be no questions and I would like to remind everyone that the young lady is a minor. As such, beyond her first name, which she has given consent to be published, no personal information may be legally disclosed by your agencies.” There were a few murmurs amongst the gathered reporters, undoubtedly communicating with their home offices, before all went silent as the Chief prepared to speak once again.
“Two days ago, at the intersection of Ellis St. and Hyde St., there was a very serious traffic collision that occurred. While the young lady standing behind me was present at the time of the collision, our office has determined that she was not the cause of the accident. The cause resulted from one driver operating his vehicle in a reckless manner and disregarding the stop sign posted at the intersection. It was, in fact, her actions that saved the life of the drivers of the vehicles involved. This office has provided her with a complete power testing, the results of which indicate she poses no threat to the public. At this time I will relinquish the podium to the young lady as she has requested permission to address the press.”
Stepping back from the podium and assorted microphones, he looked over at Ashley and gave her a curt nod. She, in turn, looked over at Keith with wide, worried eyes. Stage fright, the agent reasoned and gave her a nod to go ahead along with a reassuring smile. When she swallowed hard enough he could hear it, his hand gently squeezed hers before giving it an imperceptible tug. It proved to be just enough encouragement and she stepped up to the mics. After nervously smoothing at her dress for a moment she opened her mouth …and uttered a tiny squeak.
There were a few quiet chuckles from the assembled reporters as the girl’s face turned bright red and she glanced frantically over at Keith. He could tell by the panicked look in those bright green eyes that she was perhaps a breath away from fleeing back into the building. While the decision was hers whether or not she wanted to even make a statement, she had been very passionate about wanting to let it be known all that the MCO had done for her. He also knew that she would hate herself for chickening out of speaking. Subtly, so the cameras wouldn’t pick it up, he mouthed, “You can do this.”
There was a moment where a mask of indecisiveness covered her features before her mouth tightened and she nodded firmly. Turning back to the microphones she took a moment to clear her throat. When she finally spoke her voice rang clear and strong.
“Hi, my name is Ashley. When I pulled that man out of the car crash two days ago I was scared out of my mind. I was also really scared when I woke up in the hospital afterwards and found out…I was a mutant.” Keith winced slightly at the pause but understood that she’d almost slipped up and blurted out her sex change and had been trying to cover it. “I’d heard the stories that the MCO treated mutants badly, but from the moment I woke up in the hospital I was treated with nothing less than dignity and kindness from both the hospital staff and Chief Jacobs and Agent Mathews from the MCO. I owe a great deal of thanks to them for not making me feel like a freak that should just be put down.” She paused and looked over at Keith, offering him a thankful smile. “I just hope that one day I can return their kindness in some way. Thank you,” she finished and stepped back from the podium.
While the Chief had told the press there would be no questions, Keith knew it was likely they wouldn’t heed his word and quickly ushered her back into the building. Sure enough, the reporters were just starting to shout out questions as the door closed behind them. As they headed for the elevators she glanced over at the investigator with a hopeful expression. “Did I do okay?”
“You did just fine,” he assured her, “Now we just need to work on finding you a good home.”
“That has already been arranged,” Chief Jacobs said, giving Doctor Taylor a nod before the two parted from where they had been talking. The physician made his way to an alternative exit so as to avoid the reporters while the Chief strode towards the pair. “I have been working with Child Services for the last day and a suitable foster family has been located for Ms. Logan. I’m going to be taking her there once the media has cleared out.”
“Oh,” Keith blinked in surprise. As much as he’d invested into this case, and this girl for that matter, it came as something of a shock that it was suddenly going to be over. By the surprised look on her face it seemed that Ashley felt the same way. “Well then, I guess good luck Ashley. I hope you’ll come and visit.” Oh wow that was a lame thing to say.
Instead of answering, Ashley threw herself against Keith and hugged him tightly. Though he staggered at the sudden burst of affection he quickly regained his balance and returned the embrace. “Thank you so much,” she whispered against him.
“All part of the service,” he replied quietly and forced himself to resist the impulse to kiss the top of her head. When they finally disengaged she gave him one last watery smile before the Chief took her arm and guided her towards the entrance to the parking garage. When they turned the corner he smiled and shook his head as he started for the elevators. He still had some paperwork to finish on whole case and if he didn’t get started he’d likely be there all night.
He had taken just a couple of steps when a small flash of light on the ground caught his eye. Crouching down, his swore lightly when he saw that the flash had been the holographic decal from Ashley’s new MID laying on the floor. She must have just dropped it when they had been passing the elevators. Quickly scooping it up he hurried after Ashley and the Chief. If they left without it in her possession it she would have to come all the way back to retrieve it again. Of course he wouldn’t mind that happening since he’d get to see the beautiful girl again, but he knew the inconvenience would annoy his boss.
Pushing open the door to the parking garage he saw the pair of them walking towards the Chief’s car. Ashley was asking the man something but he was too far away and she was speaking too softly for him to hear. There was an expression of concern on her face. Obviously she just realized she’d lost her ID card. “Got it right here Ashley,” he called out as he trotted over. The girl turned and cocked her head slightly. Her eyes gleamed with kind warmth that was such an integral part of who she was as she gave him a confused smile.
It was the last thing he ever saw before the razor-sharp blade slipped between his second and third vertebrae.

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4 years 2 months ago - 4 years 2 months ago #20184 by Paradox
Paradox replied the topic: Heal Thy Self
(Book 3, the final part in this series. Here is the Google Docs link as well : docs.google.com/document/d/1roI3chsYTGxk..._Qc/edit?usp=sharing )

Heal Thy Self
Book 3
By Paradox

San Francisco…somewhere

As consciousness slowly started to seep back into my mind the first thing sensation I could discern was pain. It wasn’t that all-encompassing variety that I associated with one of Harold and Jackie’s beatings, but focused on a singular point at the back of my head that seemed to wrap around the circumference of my skull and dig needle points into the back of my eyes. The sharp pain spilled a moan from my lips as I silently pleaded for it to go away. It receded slowly, but failed to depart completely and left a dull, throbbing ache behind. As more physical sensation started to return I thought I could feel something wet and sticky and I reached back to try and figure out what it was. When my body refused to perform the actions my mind directed it to do I was at first confused. When I tried again a new feeling of pain emerged, only this one was located in my hands and not as intense.
Awareness suddenly snapped into place. Sounds and sensations suddenly flooded my senses so quickly it was almost overwhelming. I could hear an engine running and the ground beneath me rolled and pitched erratically while still maintaining a constant vibration. I opened my eyes but they seemed to be covered with a gauzy film that made everything hazy and indistinct. I shook my head and rubbed at my eyes to try and clear them.
When my body failed to respond to my commands once again I came to the sudden realization that my hands were trapped behind my back with something thin binding them tightly together. I tried to yank them free but that only caused a quick flash of pain in my wrists which in turn made me utter a yelp. At least, I tried to yelp. My inability to project that sound made me realize that something was completely filling my mouth, cutting off the sound I had just tried to involuntarily make. That is when it suddenly came to me in crystal clarity. My hands were bound, I was gagged, and when I tried to scramble to my feet I also realized not only were my ankles were bound as well but they were tethered closely to my feet behind my back. I could barely move as I struggled frantically to try and escape the bindings that held my limbs so tightly and tried to scream for help through whatever it was that had been stuffed into my mouth.
“You should probably save your strength,” an all too familiar voice said from ahead of me. When my gaze shot towards it I realized that I was lying in the back of an empty cargo van. I couldn’t see him driving because as far back as I was the narrow portal connecting the driving cargo area obstructed my view, but I knew instantly who it was. “You’re going to want to conserve all of your energy for what’s to come.”
As the van continued to speed to who knew where I berated myself for not following my instincts earlier that day. If I had, I wouldn’t be tied and gagged in the back of a van being driven to god knew where for what could only be something terrible.
As I continued to struggle against my bindings I wracked my brain to try and think of why Doctor Taylor had kidnapped me.

* * * *

For what must have been the tenth time in the last half an hour Chief Jacobs swore ruthlessly at his own stupidity. He should have recognized the look his co-conspirator had increasingly possessed in his eyes over the course of the last two days. He’d seen it too many times before, typically in devisors starting to succumb to the influence of a Dietrich’s-induced madness. He blamed himself for not seeing it sooner. He’d been so involved in making careful preparations to ensure they wouldn’t be caught he’d chosen to ignore the very thing that would take all of his careful planning and send it straight to the incinerator. Now he was scrambling to try and clean up the mess that damned crazy doctor had left behind while still trying to salvage something from the operation. As he piloted his car slowly yet skillfully through the evening traffic, he didn’t want to appear to be in a rush after all, his cell phone’s ringtone filled the cabin. Stabbing the call pickup button on the bluetooth-enabled stereo console he barked, “Jacobs.”
“Sir,” a hesitant voice he recognized as belonging to Agent Beakes inquired, “Have you seen Keith…I mean Agent Mathews? I needed to compare some notes on a case with him and I haven’t been able to find him all evening.”
“He mentioned something about doing some follow-up on the Logan investigation with the SFPD,” the Chief explained while ensuring his voice maintained its even and commanding tone he was so well known for.
“Well he isn’t answering his cell,” Beakes went on, the concern in the agent’s voice easily transmitting over the cell line.
“Have you tried contacting the local police district yet? Some of the areas in their facility are designed to block cellular reception.”
“No, I didn’t think of that. I’ll call them right away Chief.” Though there was a bit of relief in the agent’s voice, Jacobs could tell she was still concerned for her co-worker.
“Very good Agent Beakes, please inform me if you have any other difficulties.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir,” she replied and broke the connection.
Jacobs let out a slow breath as he turned down a street before maneuvering into a mostly darkened section of the city. He knew he had little time to finish his task. Not only did he need to ensure his current objective was complete but he needed to get back and make certain Doctor Taylor didn’t completely give in to his growing mania to the point where all of his work would be a total loss.
Extinguishing his lights and pulling up in front of the darkened pier, the man carefully backed his vehicle up until it reached the very edge of the aging wooden structure before parking. After gathering up several items from the passenger seat he hauled the heavy load towards the rear of the vehicle before resting it on the wood. A quick press of a button and the trunk lid of the car popped open to reveal a large, plastic wrapped bundle amongst his collection of assault tools and weapons carefully arranged within the trunk. Because the large man always took care to keep himself in top physical condition, only a little more than normal effort was required to remove the plastic bundle from the trunk bed and set it on the pier. Out of the collection of items that had been brought from the passenger seat, the MCO Chief wrapped three stout chains tightly around the bundle before interlinking them with another single length of chain. All of this was secured via four heavy-gauge locks designed to be highly resistant to the elements. A large cinder block was placed at each end of the bundle before they too were secured to the collection of metal and plastic via two short chains and padlocks.
The Chief gave the entire arrangement a careful looking over, inspecting the quality of the chains as well as making certain the locks were all secure. Once he was satisfied with his work the collection of plastic, steel, and cinder block was shoved over the edge of the pier where it splashed into the water. He made sure the whole apparatus slipped beneath the surface before closing the trunk and slipping back behind the wheel.
Making sure he dove calmly and carefully, the MCO Chief departed from the area, leaving the body of Agent Keith Mathews to be dragged down by the icy grip of the bay.

* * * *

A choice had had to be made, but he realized now that choice had been the wrong one. It had been a crap shoot either way since when both vehicles had left from the MCO parking garage there had been two head signatures in each. Unfortunately, Gear had yet to be able to formulate a method of integrating x-ray into the helmet’s substantial amount of technological accoutrements without compromising its sleek and close-fitting structure. So, he had to make a choice of which vehicle to follow. Since the Chief’s car had a single heat signature in the trunk caution dictated it was the one to follow as opposed to the van with a signature behind the wheel and one in the passenger section.
Leaping from rooftop to rooftop or using the monofilament lines to maintain pace with the vehicle’s progress, the rapidly cooling heat signature in the trunk told him that either he’d made the wrong call or he was too late. Knowing he had to see this one through he keyed the coms in the helmet as he swung out onto another building. “Gear, do we still have a lock on the van?”
“Negative,” came the disappointed response, “I lost the sat feed for a few seconds when ground control issued a system diagnostic and re-orient burst. I’m digging through traffic cam footage to try and pick it back up.”
“Keep on it,” he ordered as he raced across the rooftops, “I think my lead is going to be a bust. At least I hope it will be,” he finished with a mutter.
“What’s wrong,” his partner asked with clear concern.
“One of the heat signatures has dropped off,” was all that was needed for an explanation. Both of them knew what that meant.
“Shit!” the other man hissed.
“Just keep looking,” he ordered and fired the line into the eve of another building before swinging into the air.
He followed the car for another ten minutes before it finally stopped at a darkened pier. Crouching at the edge of a building three blocks away he toggled the zoom in as the man popped the trunk and took out a mass of clear plastic. Adjusting the zoom further he waited with breath held for the second it took for the focus adjusted to the sudden change. It released in a slow, careful exhalation when he was able to just make out the hair. Short and dark.
“It’s not her,” he said quietly into the com as the large man carefully secured the plastic with chains and cinder blocks before tipping it into the bay. “Have you found the van yet?”
“Negative,” came the sighed reply, “There’s too many of the same make, model, and color on the road right now and we don’t have a destination to narrow it down.”
“Keep on it,” he ordered, preparing to fire a line in order to resume his tail of the Chief’s vehicle, “And start digging into Ronald Jacobs’ and Reginald Taylor’s lives. There’s got to be something there to give us a clue where they’re heading.”
“What about Keith Mathews? Think he’s tied into this?”
Casting a look at the water he watched the last ripple indicating where the bundle had struck fade away. Marking the spot with a geo-tag on the digital map the helmet provided he fired the piton and resumed his track. “No, he’s not involved.”

San Francisco, Mission District

While he certainly didn’t need the MCO man’s advice on many things, Reginald Taylor did heed the bit he’d been told about driving slowly and normally. Of course, it had been completely unnecessary since the physician knew no one was coming after them. For him it was holding back the anxious energy he possessed stemming from his desire to get to work. Already he was preparing his mind to run a multitude of tests and take a variety of samples from the subject while also anticipating the possible results. He was also considering what other testing and diagnostic equipment he might need to have the MCO agent procure for him.
A hungry smile tilted his mouth upward when he heard his passenger in the back strain against her bindings and manage barely a whimper as she tried to scream for help once again. It had been the third time in the last half an hour and the results were the same as the first. Obviously the idiot girl had yet to work her feeble mind around the fact that he had taken expert care of ensuring her silence…at least until they arrived at his prepared facility. There she could scream all she wanted and it wouldn’t matter. In fact, he was eagerly anticipating it.
Piloting the van through the streets he finally arrived at the darkened building he’d selected as his worksite two days ago and pulled it into the large docking bay. Once the roll door had banged shut he slid out from behind the wheel and collected the hand truck resting against the slightly elevated dock platform. with a skip in his step and whistle on his lips he wheeled the cart to the rear cargo doors before throwing them open. He didn’t even bother trying to stop the hungry grin from forming at the sight that greeted him.
The girl had certainly fought hard to escape the bondage he’d placed her in. Her wrists and ankles were chaffed almost raw where they’d rubbed against the hard plastic zip ties he’d used to secure her. Her struggles had caused the plain, yet lovely white dress she wore to become rucked up about her hips and thighs, exposing the innocent white panties beneath.
A thong Ashley? he mused silently, licking his lips as he eyed the feminine undergarment and the shapely flesh it highlighted, How naughty of you. Were you perhaps hoping you would get to show off such sexy lingerie?
His gaze slowly tracked up the length of her youthful and sexy body until it reached those brilliant green eyes that were widened with terror. Tears had been freely spilling down her cheeks, likely for some time now, and had caused the mass of silver tape wrapped round and round her mouth to gleam with their moisture. He noticed her jaw working furiously as she seemed to be attempting to say something to him but between it and the large rag he had stuffed into her mouth the only sounds she was able to produce were tantalizing little whimpers and mewls.
As he removed a scalpel from his jacket pocket the girl went wild, thrashing desperately against her bindings and doing everything she could to try and scream through the gag. “Now now young lady,” he chided, bringing a hand down sharply between her shoulders to pin her to the floor of the van, “Unless you wish for me to accidently cut you it would be best to stay still.” She froze when he laid the flat of the scalpel against her forearm and slowly traced it back across her bound hands until he reached the zip tie that connected her wrists to her ankles. With a flick of his wrist the connecting tie separated, allowing her legs to fully extend once more.
Wasting little time, he pulled the girl from the van and dragged her over to the awaiting hand cart. By then her struggles had resumed and her frantic kicks caused the sandals to fly from her feet to land a short distance away. “Now stop that,” he ordered sharply as he slammed her back against the upright portion of the cart. Her struggles once again ceased instantly when he brought the scalpel back into view. “Unless you behave yourself like a good girl I might be forced to…encourage you.” With her eyes never leaving the naked blade just scant inches from her eye, she gave a tiny, quick nod. “Excellent,” the doctor said pleasantly and slid the protective cover over the blade before replacing it in his pocket. “Now, let’s see about getting you settled.”
Whistling jauntily once again, the deranged physician rolled the hand truck and its sexily writhing cargo into the building.

* * * *

Every instinct in me was screaming to run. It didn’t matter that I was helplessly bound and gagged, that primordial part of my brain that identified itself as prey was shouting at me to try and struggle free and get as far away from this place and this man as fast as possible. As I was rolled through the hallways of the clearly abandoned building I cast my eyes about to try and figure out where I was and how I could escape. My mind raced as I wondered if anyone even knew what had happened to me.
During the length of the drive here I’d replayed my last moments of consciousness to try and figure out what had happened. Chief Jacobs had been escorting me to the parking garage after having told me that a suitable foster family had been located. I’d been a bit leery about it given my history with foster parents but the man had seemed quite confident that I would be happy with this particular family. That was when I heard Agent Mathews call out to us and I had turned to see him running over holding my MID above his head. I guess it must have slipped out of the pocket of the dress he’d thoughtfully picked up for me that morning before my power testing. He’d just reached us when I had caught a flash of movement behind them just before the entire world exploded in white and then went black. When I’d woken up I was tied up in the back of the van driven by Doctor Taylor.
Obviously Doctor Taylor had done…something to Agent Mathews and Chief Jacobs. I prayed he hadn’t killed them but I knew by the look in his eyes that he held only the most tenuous of grips on his sanity and their deaths were almost a certainty. How he had been able to kill two well trained agents I didn’t know, but the fact that he had me in this place and they were nowhere to be seen made it very clear he had.
After wheeling me the full length of the darkened hallway lit only occasionally by a sputtering bulb here and there, he pushed open the large double doors to reveal two rooms separated by a full-length wall with a large bay-type window set into it and a small door off to the side. An odd-looking examination table was placed in the center of the room that contained multiple straps and was held up by a complicated looking mechanism with what seemed to be several articulation points. I was wheeled through the door and over to the exam table before the doctor easily lifted me off my feet and dropped me down onto the table with enough force to make me lose my breath for a moment.
When I was able to breathe again I found his scalpel once more before my eyes. I stayed as still as possible while he said, “Now be a good girl and stay very still while I get you situated.” I gave a very slight nod and he used the scalpel to slice through the bindings at my ankles. With that razor sharp blade so close to my flesh I didn’t dare move or try to resist as he positioned my feet shoulder-width apart and then tightly buckled the straps around my ankles, calves, and just above my knees. When he had me sit up so he could cut my wrist bindings I had a flash of desire to just lash out at him and maybe try to get the scalpel away so I could escape. However I didn’t act on my impulse because with my legs strapped down the way they were he would have no trouble fending off any attack and would likely bury that blade in my throat. So, trembling in fear, I allowed him to place my hands into the straps above my head before cinching them tightly along with straps at my forearms and biceps. Once my limbs were tightly locked in he drew up a strap from beneath the table around my waist and buckled it tight. I was strapped down to the table so tightly I couldn’t even wiggle.
“There we go,” he said conversationally, “That wasn’t so bad was it? Now, hold quite still…”
I didn’t even try to stop my whimpers of terror as he brought the blade close to my face once more. I tried to track its movements but it dipped below and behind my line of sight and I didn’t dare move my head to follow it. When the cold steel touched my cheek I couldn’t help but scream. “I said hold still bitch,” he snarled before his voice returned to its hauntingly calm and professional demeanor, “I don’t wish you to be damaged.”
Doing as ordered and trying not to move a muscle, I felt the surgical steel slip beneath the tape stuck to my jaw and carefully work its way upward until it had sliced completely through the silver band and thankfully left my flesh unmarred. The tape and the rag that had been stuffed into my mouth were then rudely torn from my face, pulling several hairs from the back of my scalp, causing my skin to redden angrily, and make me cry out in pain.
“There we are,” he smiled, “Now I need to gather up a few things so I will be back shortly and then we can begin.”
“Please,” I begged him, “Please let me go Doctor Taylor.”
“Let you go?” He looked positively confused by my request. “Why in the world would I let you go? You’re the key to finding out how to make the world better. Within your body lies the secret to eliminating every illness and disease in the world and possibly even the building blocks to immortality. Let you go? Oh no no no my dear. That simply won’t happen.” He grinned wickedly at me before walking to the door of the room. Just before passing through he paused and glanced over his shoulder at me. “Oh and don’t fret about making too much noise. This was an old sound studio so this room is quite soundproof. Ta for now.”
I started to struggle against the straps even before he’d closed the door and discovered in less than a minute I was utterly pinned to the examination table. The most I was able to accomplish was I could flex my hands and feet and toss my head, but that was all. I was completely helpless and in likely a short amount of time that sick man who claimed to be a man of medicine would be returning to do who knows what kind unspeakable things to me.
Regardless of his parting words, I desperately started screaming for help.

* * * *

“I suppose it was too much to hope for that he’d lead us right back to them?” the voice asked over the com channel.
“We figured as much would happen,” the man replied as he watched the MCO agent pilot his vehicle through the city streets from his perch on high. “Have you found anything that can help narrow down a possible location?”
“Not yet. The Doctor’s records all show clean. According to his transcripts from medical school he was a slightly above average physician but where he really seemed to excel at was biomedical research. He spent a lot of time doing lab work and even wrote his doctoral thesis on a hypothetic means of transmuting mutant genomes into baseline ones to artificially create mutants.”
“So we know why he’s doing this, but it doesn’t help with the where,” the hunter commented evenly.
“No, and his cell’s gps is putting him at home but when I access it and his computer’s webcam it’s pretty clear no one’s there. He must have left it at home so it couldn’t be tracked. Not much luck with Chief Jacobs either. Other than the fact that he’s had a stellar career including plenty of awards and combat certifications I haven’t been able to come up with much else. There was that thing in New York a few years back and it was suspected that he was spearheading it but…hang on, what’s this?”
“Got something?” the hunter asked.
The sigh was enough of an answer but his partner elaborated anyway. “No. I thought I did but it’s just all of his buried secrets proving he was responsible for a full on mass murder of mutants. You remember, that thing that happened in New York a couple years ago. Nothing that helps us right now.”
“I’ll have to do it the hard way then.”

San Francisco, Residence of Robert Jacobs

It had taken two hours for the Chief to finally make it to his house. After ensuring Agent Mathews’ body wouldn’t be found, at least not for a long time, he made certain to undertake a rather casual circuit around the city. In order for it to appear like he wasn’t deliberately attempting not to look suspicious he first stopped at a Chinese restaurant he frequented for a late dinner followed by picking up a few grocery items he didn’t actually need from the corner store near his home. While he was quite certain there was only one other person who knew what had occurred in the parking garage of the MCO headquarters, prudency was always something the veteran agent practiced. Thus, if anyone was following him in an effort to locate the girl it was likely they had long since given up and moved on to try and find other leads. He hoped that the doctor had taken his advice when it came to preparations to ensure he wouldn’t be found. Then again, it would be just like that idiot to bring his cell phone with him and allow himself to be tracked electronically. Since he couldn’t risk exposing their lab’s location he would have to wait until the following evening to get over there and make certain every effort was being made to conceal their location.
Once the car was parked and the garage door lowered, the Chief stepped inside his house and disabled the primary alarm. Thirty seconds afterwards he input a second code into the pin pad and was rewarded with a short beep while the words: No Previous Attempts scrolled across the small LED screen. Nodding his satisfaction he walked into the dark kitchen and put the few groceries he’d purchased as a ruse away before rising…
…And yanking his weapon from its holster at his hip while simultaneously spinning and dropping into a crouch. His weapon had traveled halfway into a position of readiness when a dark shape flashed out of the shadows, striking his hand twice simultaneously in the nerve clusters of the wrist. As the gun flew out of his hand to skitter across the kitchen tile floor he leapt back and snatched a large butcher knife from the block at his elbow. As he gripped the blade firmly in a reverse grip he narrowed his eyes in an effort make out dark shape before him.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark he saw it was a man of average height dressed in all black and dark gray with a jacket and a hooded sweatshirt on. The hood was pulled up so he couldn’t make out any of the man’s face but his stance clearly indicated someone who was calm and in control. “We need to talk Ronald,” the man said in a low, gravelly voice.
The Chief didn’t respond and slowly moved to try and get himself in a better position to attack with the knife.
The man didn’t even shift his position. Only the movement of the hood told Jacobs that the man was following him. “Where’s the girl?”
“With her new foster family,” he replied and suddenly darted forward, slashing with the knife. He knew that the man wouldn’t be expecting him to strike while talking so conversationally.
The stranger deflected the blow almost casually, sending Jacobs’ arm wide before a fist buried itself in the larger man’s solar plexus. Jacobs stumbled back gasping for breath and wildly slashing his blade to keep the man at bay for at least a few seconds while he recovered. When he did, he saw the intruder still standing in the same spot he’d been in from the start. He had made no move to come after him. Why?
“Where’s the girl?” he repeated as though an attempt to kill him hadn’t just happened.
“Fuck you,” Jacobs snarled.
He could hear the wicked smile in the strangers voice when he said, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
The next thing the Chief knew he was flying across the room and crashing into his couch. The hard frame slammed into his back and sent pain shooting up his spine. For a second he was worried he’d just been paralyzed but was relieved when he found he could get back up. Unfortunately he’d lost his grip on the knife so he was now weaponless. Gritting his teeth he brought up his fists in a boxer’s stance and waited while the dark man walked towards him.
“Come on,” he goaded and unleashed a flurry of punches. Having been extensively trained in unarmed combat, the Chief carefully picked his targets. Instead of going for the head like most would expect, he aimed for the larger soft targets like the stomach, the chest, and the sides. He even lashed out with his feet in an effort to dislocate a kneecap. Very few people would have been capable of defending against such a skilled onslaught.
Not a single blow landed. Every strike was easily parried away or blocked. The attempt at the kneecap only resulted in the stranger completing the exact same strike a split second faster. When Jacobs felt his leg explode in pain he had to grit his teeth almost hard enough to break to keep from crying out. As he stumbled back his foot caught the edge of the area rug in the living room and sent him spilling to the floor.
The stranger was on him in a heartbeat. This time it was the MCO agent that was the recipient of a flurry of blows that twisted his guts, cracked his ribs, fractured his collarbone, and blasted into his face. By the time it ended the Chief was experiencing a level of pain he’d never encountered in his life. Each breath he took was agony and when he coughed it sent a small spray of blood flying from his lips. Every part of his body sang a tortured song as the dark stranger crouched over him.
“Where’s the girl?” the man asked once again, “You have about ten minutes before you either bleed out from the ruptured spleen or you drown from the punctured lung.”
It was a trick, and Jacobs knew it. Even if he did tell this man where Taylor had taken the girl, there was no way paramedics would reach him in time to save his life. The only chance he would have had is if Ashley herself had been there to use her powers on him. In any case, he was done and he knew it, but he didn’t have to like it.
“Okay,” he half wheezed half choked in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’ll tell you.”
As the stranger leaned down slightly to hear him better, he never saw the experienced law enforcement officer slip the pistol from his ankle holster and shove it into his chest before pulling the trigger.

San Francisco, Mission District

“Oh you might just swing on a star. Carry moonbeams home in a jar. If you’re better off where you are…”
The Reginald Taylor swayed to the time of the music crooning out from the portable speaker perched on the tabletop as he dancingly laid out all of his instruments on the rolling stainless steel tray. His initial impulse had been to go whole hog into the testing procedures, extract a great plethora of tissue samples, liters of blood, hair and nail clippings, the works. However upon a now rare moment of logical reflection he realized that doing so would most likely result in the death of the test subject. While that part was indeed an eventuality, he would require her to remain alive for the time being if his initial tests failed to bear ripened fruit and more sampling was needed. Besides, he fully intended to explore every avenue when it came to extracting her power. If some of those avenues required the ravishing girl to be naked and servicing him sexually…well it was all in the name of science after all. He was certain he would be able to make her understand this, but there were other methods at his disposal should reason fail.
Bringing the surgical tray with him he made his way back from the spare office he’d converted into a makeshift lab to the sound studio where she was currently absconded. By the look of sheer exhaustion on her face he reasoned that she had likely attempted to scream for help the moment he’d departed earlier. His supposition proved to be correct when she lifted her head at the sound of his entry sent a pleading gaze his way. “Please,” she whispered hoarsely, “Don’t do this.”
“Come now my dear,” he responded airily, “You should know better than most that medical science requires experimentation to further itself. Why, it’s the very reason why we have cures for diseases like small pox and polio. Had there been no medical science working to find causes for things like this the human race could very well have died out from a second outbreak of Spanish Flu.”
“They…” she swallowed hard, trying to get some moisture back into her raw throat, “They didn’t use people like guinea pigs.”
“Ah but that’s where you’re wrong,” he cried happily as he rolled the surgical tray next to her, “Throughout history there have been a great many medical breakthroughs that owe themselves to human testing. In the early days it was indeed man who was the guinea pig, not the animal, which cures were tested on.” Plucking a needle from the tray he lightly tapped her arm at the bend in the elbow. “I am simply following in that tradition with mutants.”
Though the girl pulled against the straps with all her strength, her arm only faintly quivered as the needle stabbed into her vein. A sharp cry of pain flew from her mouth as a test tube was fitted into the needle housing, causing blood to rapidly fill the glass tube. Once the first was filled to capacity he swapped it out with a second, and then a third.
He didn’t even bother to staunch the puncture wound as the needle was removed, allowing a rivulet of blood to roll down her arm. Setting the vials on the surgical tray he smiled up at his terrified subject. “There, that wasn’t so bad was it?”
“You’re a monster!” she whispered in horror.
The wickedly insane smile froze on his lips before slowly melting away. It happened so gradually Ashley didn’t even realize it was gone until he was glaring at her with such intensity it had her skin crawling. “I’m not a monster,” he explained to her in such a cold and rational voice it was even more jarring than that singsong tone of insanity he’d been using up to this point. “I’m a scientist.”
Her gasp filled the still air when she felt his hand on her thigh just above the strap pinning it in place. Surprised, she looked down to see his fingers slowly traveling up her leg, measuring the gentle swell of muscle that lay just beneath the skin. When his hand disappeared beneath her rucked up dress her eyes flew to his, growing large as panic raced through her chest. She tried to scream “No!” but her voice was stolen from her by fear and all she could do was mouth the word at him. His expression still remained cold and hard as his fingers inched high and higher beneath her skirt. When she felt them brush the softness of her panties Ashley went wild, struggling crazily, trying to wiggle her hips away from him, screaming desperately for him to stop as the pads of his fingers began to trace the soft mound of girlhood that she’d only just recently been able to accept. When he lightly pressed into that soft flesh beneath the thin cotton tears streamed down her face and she started pleading with in babbled words that ran into one another until they were nothing more than inarticulate sobs. When she felt her panties drawn aside and his finger slip ever so slightly into her she thought for sure she’d die from her heart shattering.
Ashley was so consumed the despair washing through her she never realized the doctor had shifted slightly so his lips were directly by her ear until she heard him quietly say, “Now I am a monster. Do you understand the difference?”
She nodded frantically, whispering over and over again, “I understand! I understand!”
“Excellent,” he replied with a bright smile as the once again overly happy persona seemed to reclaim the doctor’s body and he stepped back over to the surgical tray. “Now I’ll need to get a tissue sample from you.” Picking up a scalpel, a new one as opposed to the one contained in his coat, from the tray he stepped over to the shivering and weeping girl and touched her bicep with the flat of the blade. Sudden touch of cold made her jump and scream in fear, which in turn caused the doctor to chuckle. “Calm down my dear. Now, wing or thigh?”
Ashley couldn’t answer him. Instead, she could only gape in disbelief as the madman made fried chicken jokes about hacking off a piece of her flesh. “Ah well,” he decided, “I was always a leg man myself.” As he lowered the scalpel to her thigh, laughing at his own dark joke, something in his pocket beeped softly. “Damn interruptions,” he swore quietly and set down the blade before fishing his phone out of his pocket. Swiping the lock screen away he smiled as a video image appeared on the phone’s screen. On the screen, a familiar Mustang GT was pulling into the garage of the building. “Well,” he announced, “It looks like we have company.” Slipping the phone back into his pocket he stood and collected the vials of blood he’d drawn earlier. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Agent Jacobs will be more than happy to assist me in obtaining some tissue samples from you.”
When the girl’s eyes widened in shock the maniacal physical laughed. “You didn’t know that Jacobs was my partner, did you? Well I’ll be sure you get a proper reunion with him, though I wouldn’t expect him to be as nice as me. He has a rather strong dislike for mutants you know.”
The girl burst into fresh tears as the soundproofed door closed.

* * * *

Taylor was whistling happily as he strolled down the hall towards the loading bay. Things were clicking along quite nicely. Oh certainly that soft-hearted Jacobs had become strangely upset when he’d killed that agent of his, but hadn’t they already talked about that? He told the man that Agent Mathews needed to be eliminated. Since clearly the MCO man was moving far too slowly he’d simply taken matters into his own hands and alleviated the investigator of the responsibility. He should have been thanking the doctor, not yelling at him. They would have to have a little chat about that in the near future so the man knew who was in charge here. After all, he had plenty of recorded evidence of their conversations regarding the kidnapping of the girl. He imagined it wouldn’t at all be difficult to find an expert, maybe a gadgeteer or devisor, who could alter the recordings so he sounded like a saint and Jacobs a ruthless psychopath. The sound of the cargo bay door opening drew the physician from his thoughts and he plastered a charming and welcoming smile on his face. No need to let the man think anything other than the plan was proceeding fine.
Then the lights went out.
Taylor blinked in surprise as the hallway was plunged into darkness. Well that was unfortunate. He was glad he’d thought ahead to outfit his equipment with portable gas generators in case such an unfortunate thing were to occur. Digging out his phone he keyed the flashlight feature and shone the light down the hallway calling, “Jacobs? What ha-”
His words died in his throat when the light swept over the figure standing in the hallway. It was a man, but it wasn’t Jacobs. Instead this man was slightly over average height and wearing a bodysuit of mottled black and dark gray with a black hooded sweatshirt and black jacket over it. The hood had been drawn up, obscuring the man’s face and a pistol rested in a holster on either thigh.
“Who the hell are you?” Taylor yelled in outrage, furious that some disgusting homeless person would intrude upon his important work.
The man didn’t respond. Instead, he only seemed to…flicker. A split second later there was a crack of glass and plastic and a white hot pain pierced through the physician’s hand and he let out a scream of pain. As his phone’s light flickered drunkenly in an effort to remain functioning, he realized that a steel spine had punched through both his phone and hand, pinning the two together. Already he could barely feel his fingers and knew his hand was functionally useless. To a doctor, there was no greater tragedy than losing one’s hands.
“You bastard!” he screamed wildly, “How dare you take my hand!” and spinning he sprinted back down the hall. There were no sounds of footsteps indicating a pursuit but his prey hindbrain knew that this man, this predator, was hunting him. That fear allowed him to put on a short burst of speed that took him into the sound studio and into the soundproof room where Ashley looked up in a mixture of surprise and horror. When she saw the black spike protruding from his phone and hand she screamed. “Shut up!” he snapped at her and wildly grabbed for one of the tools on the surgical tray.
His fingers had just closed on a small bone saw when the explosion came.

* * * *

For several second all I could hear was a ringing in my ears. As it slowly faded other sounds began to filter in though they sounded as if I was under water and I couldn’t make them out. As the sound slowly became clearer I was able to discern that the only sound I was hearing was screaming. At first I thought it was coming from me, but as I opened eyes that I hadn’t even realized I’d shut I saw it was Doctor Taylor who was giving voice to it. The hand that he had been using to hold the bone saw, presumably to use on me, now possessed a very sizable hole where the palm used to be. Fingers that had become nothing more than useless appendages flopped bonelessly now that the nerves required to use them had been blown into oblivion. When he lifted a gaze filled with a mixture of anger and fear I followed it up to the object of his attention.
Standing there was a man covered from head to toe in black. I couldn’t see his face because he had the hood of his sweatshirt drawn up and his entire head was shrouded in darkness. He stood with a casualness that belied the lethality of the still smoking pistol he held aimed at the doctor. He said nothing as the doctor cursed and swore at him before spinning towards me.
Crying out, I felt my head ripped back by my hair and the point of the spike sticking out of his one remaining functional hand, if it was indeed still functional, pressed against my throat. “Twitch and I give the bitch a non-medically approved tracheotomy. Hey, twitch? Bitch?” He laughed hysterically at his sick rhyme. “Now back away,” he ordered the man, his voice suddenly becoming deadly serious.
The man didn’t respond verbally, he simply maintained his point of aim at the doctor, who by this point was half using me as a shield. “You may be able to shoot me,” the doctor explained in a cold tone, “But I’ll open this bitch’s throat if you do. You’re obviously here for her so do you want her to die?”
I knew the words were only just for show. There was no doubt in my mind that Doctor Taylor would kill me one way or the other after this. Whether it happened in this moment or after this standoff was complete, my life would be over. As much as it terrified me to realize that, it angered me as well. From the moment I’d woken in that hospital I had been nothing but grateful to this man for his kindness while caring for a poor, abused mutant now-girl. He had been steadfast at my side the entire time I had been in the custody of the MCO and it had been him who had helped me to understand my powers a little bit better. For that I had also been grateful and never shied away from expressing that. This man, this doctor whom I had placed so much trust in had taken that and twisted it into something evil and disgusting just to fulfill his own sick and depraved desires. It was horrifying, but beyond that it was enraging.
As he shifted even closer to me his forearm pressed harshly against my cheek even as his chin brushed against the fingertips of one of my bound hands. Whether it was because of the extreme intensity of emotion I was feeling or because it was some kind of survival instinct I don’t know, but I felt my powers activate.
I could sense the severe damage that had been done to the doctor’s hands and I knew they were both now useless. The only reason why he was even able to hold the spike to my throat was because it was braced by the flesh of his hand and the phone it has also penetrated. I could feel the ragged flesh and the prevailing absence in one hand and the fine, white hot point in the other that had neatly severed the nerves leading to his fingers. There was also a faint trace of something, some kind of abnormality that I didn’t recognize as an injury but couldn’t identify. It was almost like a strange expansion within his artery. Whatever it was, it was not a normal bodily process. I felt his injuries and I knew I could heal them. With a push of my power I would be able to make his hands whole. They would once again possess the power to heal, but also the power to kill. There were other injuries that I could sense. Tiny little pinpricks here and there that might have occurred when he had blindly been searching for a weapon or making his desperate flight back into this room. They were almost insignificant, but I could sense them and I knew I could heal them.
But as my mind whirled with a combination of terror and anger I suddenly understood something. I could mend those injuries, I knew that much, but instead of pushing that healing energy I did something else entirely.
I pulled. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, and I wasn’t sure it would even do anything, but I reached into the man’s body with my power and simply pulled. The doctor’s bodily response was immediate and horrifying. Every single injury he possessed, regardless of how big or small it was, suddenly tore open as though dozens of invisible hands had reached into the flesh of his injuries and ripped them wide. His scream of pain was deafening in my ear as those tiny little pinpricks suddenly became gaping maws spewing blood. Both of his hands practically came apart, almost as though the skin had lost its cohesiveness and unraveled like a quilt until nothing was less except for stumps. He raised those now severely diminished appendages to his face in abject horror and released a howl of agony…
…that was abruptly silenced when the carotid artery in his neck exploded out his throat. His head lolled back just before he collapsed to the floor where he lay motionless. There was no need to use my power to know with absolute certainty that he was dead.
As darkness suddenly and rapidly swallowed me into its depths I thought, At least he went before I did.

* * * *

“I’m not sure how much I can do with this. I do tech, not medicine.”
“Just do your best, it’ll be enough.”
The two voices slowly drew me towards the waking world, though it was certainly not an easy trip. Unlike before, trying to regain consciousness this time felt as though I was swimming through molasses. Sensations were distant and the voices I’d heard I could only just make out as it sounded like I was wearing earplugs. As I fought close and closer, using the voices as a reference point, a faint glimmer of light began to filter in and around my consciousness. It grew stronger and stronger until my mind broke free of its fog and my eyes snapped open.
Terrified that I would see the soundproofed sound studio once again, I was surprised to discover that my face was half buried in a soft pillow and a blanket was tucked around me. Blinking to clear my vision, I saw I was actually lying on a twin-sized bed in what appeared to be a simple but nice-looking hotel bedroom. The lights were off save for the small bedside lamp but it was more than enough for me to see several open cases resting on a second twin bed.
“How did you let this happen?” I heard a voice say, from what I presumed was in the bathroom, in annoyance.
“I knew he carried a backup in the ankle holster,” a second voice, this one lower and more serious-sounding, replied. “I didn’t know it was a hot-load three fifty-seven.”
There was a sigh from the other voice as I slowly sat up. I had no idea where I was or who belonged to those voices, but I wasn’t going to take the chance that this was another bunch of psychopathic scientists ready to cut me open for my secrets. I had a moment of relief when I pulled the blankets back and found I was still dressed, sans sandals, and slowly set my feet down on the carpet. Moving on tiptoe with my ears straining to their limit to try and hear if either of the owners of those voices heard me, I slowly walked towards the door of the hotel room. I knew that once I reached the bathroom I would need to run since they would see me passing it. I would maybe have a second or two to get out the door before they were on me. I just prayed I was fast enough.
I’d barely taken two steps when a rather average looking man in his mid to late twenties with short brown hair in jeans and a blue T-shirt with the words MIT is for suckers written in yellow stepped out of the bathroom. He smiled at me and raised both of his hands in a surrendering gesture. “Hi, nice to see you’re up. You’re safe here, we’re the ones who rescued you.”
I froze when he said and did that, immediately looking around for some other avenue to escape. The flight part of my brain was screaming to leap out the window but the rational side reminded me that most hotel windows didn’t open and those that did only a couple of inches. The door that the man was standing in front of was my only way out.
“Let me go.” I tried to make it sound like a demand but it came out as a plea. Still, I clenched my fists tightly and prepared myself to kick, claw, punch, and even bite my way free if that’s what it took. There was no way I was going to let them experiment on me and if I died trying to escape then so be it.
“Easy sweetheart,” the man said calmly, “You’re not a prisoner here, but right now the MCO is in a full on search for you ever since you went missing along with that jackass Jacobs and that psycho doctor of yours.”
“What are you talking about?” I demanded, shifting to the side a little and hoping I’d be able to catch him by surprise.
“He’s saying that right now you’re a person of interest in the disappearance of two MCO agents and respected physician.” My eyes flicked over to the entrance to the bathroom as another man walked out and I couldn’t hold back my gasp.
The reaction was a dual purpose one. For starters, the man who walked out of the bathroom was…well, he was gorgeous. At maybe five foot ten every inch of visible flesh, which considering he was only wearing a pair of what looked like bike shorts was quite a bit, was lean, taut muscle leading up to a chiseled face and black hair that hung loosely just past his ears. Sharp, steel gray eyes looked steadily at me in an expression of neutrality that tried to hold me captive with their gaze.
The second reason for my gasp was the condition he was in. There were a multitude of scars on his body ranging from what looked like knife wounds to bullet wounds. What really stood out was the large four by four gauze pad taped to the man’s side. I didn’t know how long ago it had been applied but it was already completely saturated with blood that was rolling down his side.
“What…what happened?” I whispered, unable to tear my gaze away from the hidden, bloody wound.
“Why don’t we sit down and we’ll tell you what we have figured out so far. Maybe you can help us fill in a couple of gaps. I swear we aren’t going to hurt you,” the man in the T-shirt finished when I cast him an untrusting look.
The injured man looked at me for a moment before disappearing into the bathroom. When he returned a moment later I leapt back as he held a wicked looking automatic pistol in his hand. He seemed to ignore my sudden spike in fear, as well as his associate’s protests, and ejected the clip, showed me it contained bullets, slapped it back into the pistol, and pulled the slide back before letting it snap forward. Without a word he turned the pistol around so he was holding it by the barrel and moved past the other man to extend the gun out to me.
When I didn’t move to take it he gave it a small shake in my direction and said, “Go ahead, take it.” With slow movements, my eyes never leaving his, I reached out with a trembling hand to take the gun from him. “Keep your finger off the trigger unless you plan to kill something,” he warned me before sitting down heavily on the bed with the cases. When he did that I noticed just how pale he was and there was a light sheen of sweat on his face. Whoever this man was, he was hurt badly and had probably lost a lot of blood.
“Ashe we need to get you to the hospital,” the other man insisted as he crouched down to examine the wound.
“It can wait until we explain what happened,” the man called Ashe stated, his eyes never leaving mine. “Do you feel safe enough having that to talk with us?”
I’d never held a gun in my life, much less fired one, and the truth was I was terrified even thinking about using it. I wasn’t a violent person, though to defend myself I supposed I was capable, but the idea of just shooting someone for no reason made me feel physically ill.
Still, that rational part of my mind that was struggling to keep its place in the forefront of my consciousness told me that this man giving me a gun, one he actually showed me was loaded and ready to fire, was his way of trying to show me that their intention wasn’t to hurt me. Still, my paranoia levels were at an all-time high at the moment so I kept the gun aimed at the man wearing the T-shirt as I sat down. “Okay,” I said in a shaky voice, “Talk.”
“Why the hell are you pointing the gun at me?” the man in the shirt demanded, sounding almost petulant about it.
“Because she’s smart,” the other man said with approval in his voice, “You’re uninjured. You pose more of a threat right now.”
I blinked in surprise that this man was able to discern the motive behind my actions seemingly without even thinking about it. “You said you were going to explain,” I prodded. While I wanted answers I also didn’t want this man bleeding out and dying right there.
“A…friend,” the man in the shirt started, “Called us and told us about how Chief Jacobs and Doctor Taylor were planning on kidnapping you to try and figure out how your power worked. We came and rescued you.”
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. “That’s all?”
He shrugged and smiled, “What can I say, we’re do-gooders.”
“Shut up Gear,” Ashe muttered before redirecting his attention to me. “An associate of ours overheard a conversation between the two men detailing their plans so she contacted us and asked for our help. Since there was no real evidence against either man detailing what their intentions were, and they’d already presented such a positive public image regarding your case, she knew she couldn’t call local law enforcement or the local superhero team for help since they wouldn’t do anything.”
“So you work outside the law?” I asked, “You’re criminals?”
“Work outside the law, yes,” he replied, “But no we aren’t criminals. We stop the criminals the police can’t.”
“But why-”
My words were cut short when I saw the man start swaying unsteadily before his eyes fluttered and he slumped to the floor, pitching to his side. “Ashe!” the man called Gear cried and was instantly at his side. “Dammitt, you’ve lost too much blood.”
Cursing that part of my nature that demanded I help people, it was what had gotten me into this fix to begin with after all, I dropped the gun on the bed and quickly knelt down beside Gear to also examine the wound. The moment my fingers touched him I opened myself to feel for his injuries. Immediately I could tell that he was suffering from three very serious bullet wounds. They had penetrated deeply and had done a fantastic job of breaking a few rubs and practically shredding his liver and spleen, causing him to bleed internally as well as externally. There was no way he was going to survive even if we got him to the hospital in the next five minutes.
Without any hesitation I reached into that well of power within myself and started shoving the energy into him as hard as I could. Immediately I could feel the bullets, which were still inside of him, get worked back out of his body until they were expelled completely and dropped silently to the floor. From there my power went to work repairing the internal damage, reconstituting the liver and spleen. It set about knitting the bones of his ribs back together as well before taking care of drawing the wound path closed until his skin had sealed itself back up flawlessly. As one final means of helping, my power strengthened and quickened his body’s blood production for several seconds, flushing his veins with that crimson, life sustaining fluid. Only when I was certain that the injury was healed completely and that he was stabilized did I shut off my power…
…And woke up on the floor with the two men leaning over me, concerned looks on their faces. “How…how long?” I whispered, my throat feeling as dry as a desert.
“About ten minutes,” Gear told me as both of them helped me to sit up and Ashe held a plastic cup of water to my lips. “A lot less than last time.”
“Last time?” I wondered quietly as I worked to clear the fog from my mind.
“You were out a little over an hour after I got to you,” Ashe explained as he helped me sip from the cup and ease the dryness in my throat. I nodded but wasn’t surprised. I wish I knew why I passed out every time I used my power because I had gotten more than a little tired of it.
That was when I realized Ashe was looking very healthy as he gently held me up and administered the water to me. Reaching up to lightly push the glass away I peered at him with concern. “You’re okay then? The wound healed?”
“The wound?” Gear barked with a laugh, “Sweetheart you not only took care of that but every scar he’s ever gotten vanished.”
I looked at Ashe’s exposed flesh in surprise. He’d pulled on a pair of well-worn jeans while I was out but he was still shirtless and I could see that the plethora of scar tissue that had decorated his skin was gone. All that was left was perfectly smooth, unblemished skin. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed, “I didn’t mean to do that.”
“It’s okay,” Ashe assured me as we stood up, “I’m not the type to get sentimental over scars and I’m sure I’ll collect a new set before long.”
“I didn’t even realize my power was doing that,” I said, shaking my head, “I was so focused on your bullet wounds I didn’t even notice them healing as well.”
Ashe got a thoughtful expression on his face when I said that, causing Gear to look at him critically. “What are you thinking?”
“Postulating a theory,” he replied, though it seemed more like he was talking to himself than to us before his eyes regained their sharp focus, “But that’s something to worry about later. Right now our main concern is how stop the MCO, police, and possibly even the FBI from coming after you.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” I protested.
“We know that,” Gear told me, nodding in agreement with my statement, “But right now all three agencies are looking for you since you were the last one seen with Chief Jacobs, Agent Mathews, and Doctor Taylor.”
“Well where are they?” I asked. While Doctor Taylor had died right in front of me, hell I’d been the one to kill him, I had no clue about Chief Jacobs or Agent Mathews. “The last thing I remember before waking up tied up in that van with Doctor Taylor was Agent Mathews running over waving my MID. Everything went black after that.”
Gear nodded and sat down on the bed across from me while Ashe went about gathering up very items around the room and carefully packing them into the cases. “After Ashe rescued you I was finally able to get into the MCO systems. Hacking isn’t really my strong suit so it took a little while to get through their firewalls so I wouldn’t be noticed and access their security system. When Agent Mathews had been coming over to you Doctor Taylor stepped out from behind the van he’d driven into the garage earlier and used a scalpel to slice through his second and third vertebrae. He was dead without even knowing something had hit him.”
I uttered a choked gasp, both at the descriptions of the actions and the unnervingly casual way Gear related them to me. Tears immediately filled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. The one person in that building who had been supportive and even someone I could call a friend had been killed so coldly and casually just so those sick bastards could do experiments on me. The unfairness and senselessness of it made me want to scream.
“After that,” Gear went on, though his voice had gentled when he saw my tears, “Doctor Taylor tied you up and put you into the van while Chief Jacobs wrapped Agent Mathews up in plastic from his truck and put him in. The two went separate ways after that. Ashe tracked Jacobs since we didn’t have access to the footage at the time and didn’t know what vehicle you were in while I tracked the van using a satellite that I hitchhiked on. Unfortunately I lost the signal before you got to that abandoned building so we didn’t know where he had gone.”
Sniffling and wiping my tears with the tissue Ashe handed me I looked over at Gear in confusion. “Then how did you find me?”
“I convinced Chief Jacobs to disclose the doctor’s location,” Ashe said without a hint of inflection in his voice. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what he meant by ‘convinced.
“After taking three slugs in the side,” Gear quipped. “You’re damn lucky you didn’t die on the spot.”
“The armor slowed them down enough to keep them from being fatal,” Ashe explained, more for my benefit than Gear’s I thought. “That’s something we’ll need to work on.”
“If you want to keep the flexibility you have I won’t be able to pack any more protection into it,” Gear told him, then added in a snarky tone, “You’ll just need to keep from taking contact hits from large caliber weapons.”
“Armor?” I quietly thought out loud, though neither Ashe nor Gear chose to elaborate on the subject. Of course it wasn’t hard to figure out that the dark suit I’d seen Ashe wearing when he’d rescued me was some kind of high tech body armor. Given the way they had just been discussing it I wagered that while it could withstand bullets fired from a distance it wasn’t nearly as effective at point blank range. “You built that suit he was wearing?”
“Yeah,” Gear said proudly, “I’m a gadgeteer with a specialty in weapons and armor making though I try to dabble in other stuff.”
That made sense since he seemed to be rather technologically savy. “So then you must be an exemplar,” I said to Ashe, making the leap as he clearly possessed superior physical skills.
“I’m not a mutant.”
“Oh. So what do we do next?” I asked, getting back onto the subject of the various law enforcement agencies looking for me. I suppose I should have been more surprised that my rescuer was just a normal human, but really ‘normal’ was a relative term these days. If he wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it then neither would I.
“I’ve been considering several options,” Ashe told me as he pulled on a simple gunmetal gray T-shirt, “And the one that is most effective in keeping you out of harm is for me to deliver a thumb drive to the SFPD, FBI, and L.A MCO offices containing all of the data we have about Jacobs’ and Taylor’s plan. We’ll include the security camera footage from the garage, text and phone calls the two made to one another, the gps location of Mathews’ body, and the footage I collected during my interrogation of Jacobs and your rescue. All of that should be enough for the various agencies to understand that you were not complicit in any of their actions.”
“But they’ll still probably want to talk with me,” I insisted.
“No,” Ashe said as Gear went about setting up a handheld camera on a tripod, “They won’t.”

San Francisco, Molly’s Diner

Phil Hartsong had been a detective in SFPD’s Homicide Division for ten years. You didn’t put in that much time in and not have your fair share of clandestine meetings to talk with a confidential informant or witness. Dealing with people who were afraid of reprisals or just flat out didn’t want to get involved with either the cops or criminals was just a fact of life when doing this job. So when the anonymous caller first requested to speak with him about a multiple murder that wasn’t even on the board it got his attention. That attention turned into riveting when the caller said he had information on the deaths of two MCO agents, including Keith Mathews, and a Doctor Taylor from UCSF Medical Center. Phil remembered Keith from a few years ago. He’d been a good kid and a good detective. While his instincts for police work hadn’t been the best in the world, they were more than adequate for this occupation. He’d actually been sorry to see him leave to join the ranks of the MCO since he’d only had the chance to work with him a handful of times and each time the kid had been solid.
Phil, like every law enforcement officer in this town, knew that Keith and his commanding officer Roland Jacobs had gone missing two days ago and cops were combing the streets looking for any clues. When this mysterious caller had gotten in touch with him he had been the last one about to leave the officer and call it a night. Normally he’d have wanted at least a partner with him on the interview, possibly even some backup, but the time and location hadn’t allowed him to even call in one of the off-duty guys. He’d considered calling in a couple of uniforms but something told him marked squad cars would spook the informant and any good information would be lost.
So that was how Phil found himself standing deep in the alley next to Molly’s Diner at two in the morning instead of being fast asleep in his comfy bed. He’d already been there for ten minutes and still there’d been no sign of this mystery man. “If he doesn’t show in five minutes I’m gone,” he muttered and lit a cigarette.
Phil spun, flinging the just lit cigarette away as his hand dove into his jacket to close around the grip of his pistol.
“Please don’t do that,” the voice within the shadows requested quite casually, “I’d rather do what I planned on coming here for instead of wasting my time.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Phil snapped, not relaxing the grip on his gun and even thumbing open the strap and easing it out of the holster slightly.
“My name isn’t important,” the shadows told the detective, “What is, is the information I have about the missing agents and doctor. You’re looking for a girl named Ashley Logan?”
The detective nodded cautiously since he didn’t want to give away too much on the case. “She’s a person of interest, last one to see them.”
“Stop looking for her,” came the demand, though it actually sounded suspiciously like a request, “Ashley Logan was actually the victim of a kidnapping, torture, and experimentation attempts by Doctor Taylor and Chief Jacobs.”
Phil snorted and drew his gun another inch from its holster. “Uh huh, sure. The head investigator and a well-respected doctor, both of whom were on tv with the girl practically singing their praises, were going to dissect her. Try another one pal.”
The sigh that slithered from the darkness sounded like its owner was disappointed. “You should know better than most that people are not always what they appear to be.” A sudden movement had Phil seeing a square, black object lazily loft through the air towards him. Out of instinct, the detective released his weapon to use both hands to catch what turned out to be a basic, run of the mill computer tablet. “There is a micro SD card in that with all the information you need. You’ll find that Ashley won’t be required to close the case so leave her alone.” Those last four words held an edge of warning so sharp he actually expected something to leap from the dark and attack him. “She’s safely out of reach anyway so there’s no need to look for her.”
“What is this?” he demanded, though he knew his voice wasn’t as strong as he wanted it to be, “How the hell did you get the girl?”
When no answer came out of the shadows Phil set the tablet on the ground and drew both his pistol and a small flashlight. Taking up a tactical grip that allowing him to essentially merge the two items as one he activated the small torch and bathed the alleyway in light while simultaneously preparing to take aim at…
…Nothing. Other than a few fluttering pieces of paper the alleyway was completely empty. Phil knew that shouldn’t be possible. Even though the shadows had obviously obscured whoever had been in that alley, he had a clear view of the exit on the far side and there was no way anyone could have gotten passed him. So where the hell did the owner of that voice go?
“Damn,” he muttered and holstered his weapon, put the flashlight back in his pocket, and picked up the tablet. With adrenaline slowly starting to thin out in his veins, the detective knew he would be awake for at least a couple more hours now after that little episode. Turning, he walked into Molly’s Diner and ordered a cup of coffee before taking a seat at a corner booth. For several minutes he just stared at the tablet resting on the tabletop where he’d set it down. By all rights he should be taking it back to the station and handing it right over to the lab boys to check for fingerprints and to make sure it wasn’t a bomb or something. But then, this didn’t feel like a bomb kind of situation. That guy had the drop on and could have taken him out if he wanted but he didn’t. From the way he’d been talking, that guy had seemed more concerned about ensuring that girl, Ashley Logan, was kept blameless in the disappearances of the MCO agents and the doc. His goal wouldn’t be served by blowing up the very person who could help with that.
“I’m an idiot,” he chided himself quietly and powered on the tablet.
Less than three seconds later an image of an eye filled the screen along with a scattering of small technobabble test he couldn’t even begin to understand. Two seconds later the words Identity Confirmed: Detective Phil Hartsong scrolled across the bottom of the screen. The whole image then blinked out and he was staring at a beautiful teenage girl.
Her hair was the instant giveaway that this was Ashley Logan. It was one of the things that had been in the briefing, that she would easily be identified because of her unusual hair coloring. She was smiling and generally looked well, but he could see there was a faintly haunted look in her eyes that said she had lived through things no one should have to experience. “Hello,” she said in a lovely, lilting voice, “My name is Ashley Logan. I’ve heard you have been looking for me. First I want to say that I’m okay, that I’m safe, and no one is forcing me to make this video. Oh, I’m supposed to show you these…” Reaching off screen she first held up an MID. The camera zoomed in close enough so the viewer could easily read that it was the MID of Ashley Logan, complete with photo, before zooming out. Once the zooming had been complete she set her ID aside and picked up a newspaper from off screen. Once again the camera zoomed in and the detective could see the date was that morning. Well, the previous morning since it was after midnight, but it meant the video had been made less than twenty-four hours ago. “I was kidnapped two days ago,” the girl continued when the camera zoomed back out again, “By Doctor Reginald Taylor, who worked at UCSF Medical Center. He and Chief Investigator Roland Jacobs of the MCO planned on using me as an experiment to try and figure out how my mutant power to heal people worked. I was rescued from Doctor Taylor, who died during that rescue. Chief Jacobs also died trying to keep from telling my rescuers where I had been taken to by Doctor Taylor. Agent Keith Mathews-”
She choked up then and had to stop for nearly half a minute as she struggled with tears. Though he had no idea what this girl’s relationship with Agent Mathews had been, she had clearly been close to him to elicit such a reaction just mentioning his name.
“Agent Mathews,” she finally continued, though her voice was strained now, “Was killed by Doctor Taylor in the MCO parking garage. Chief Jacobs disposed of the body in the bay later that night.” Taking a deep breath, she wiped her eyes and continued on. “Contained on this SD card is all of the information pertaining to the plans that Chief Jacobs and Doctor Taylor had, as well as video footage of Agent Mathews murder by Doctor Taylor and my abduction. I understand that you’d like me to come in to your department to speak with you in a more controlled environment and get a formal statement, but I can’t do that. I was abducted and set to be experimented on by both a respected doctor and a high-ranking MCO agent. Before that, I was placed into the home of a couple of torturing sadists by a social worker who I suspect was more interested in getting her cut of their monthly stipend than making sure I was placed in a home with people who would care for me. I hope you can understand that I really don’t trust that the law enforcement and protective service agencies of San Francisco have my best interests in mind. I’m with people who have proven they are willing to protect me by nearly sacrificing their lives to rescue me and that’s far more than anyone has done for me in two years. Don’t try to locate me because by this time I’ve already left the state. I hope this information will give your case some closure and I hope it will allow you to give Keith Mathews the proper burial a good man like him deserves.”
Her image winked off the screen after she said that and a standard home screen popped up with at least twenty different file folders, each one bearing a different designation. Tapping through the files Phil discovered the girl was being truthful about what was contained on the memory card. There was everything there from text and audio files of phone conversations, video files complete with audio detailing plans being made by the doctor and MCO Chief, Agent Mathews’ murder by Doctor Taylor and his subsequent dumping by Chief Jacobs, and a great deal more.
Shaking his head, Phil drained his coffee and headed out to his car, pulling his cell phone from his pocket as he did so. A quick dial later and a sleepy voice was demanding to know what the hell he wanted.
“Tony,” he said into the phone as he slid behind the wheel of his car, “I need you to meet me at the station in twenty minutes, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

I80, Just passed the Nevada border

“The San Francisco Police Department announced today that they have received vital information pertaining to the disappearances of MCO agents Keith Mathews and Ronald Jacobs as well as UCSF Medical Center’s Doctor Reginald Taylor. According to Public Relations Officer Patricia Reynolds, The SFPD is cooperating with local FBI and L.A’s MCO office, who also received the same information regarding the disappearances. This information also included a message from Ashley Logan, the young mutant who was responsible for saving the life of Thomas Jones when he was involved in a nearly fatal car crash several days ago. While we don’t have any details yet regarding what was contained within that message, police have stated that she appears safe and healthy and while she is not deemed a suspect in the disappearances they still wish to speak with her about what happened.”
I shut off the tablet with a sigh and turned my gaze out the window to watch the scenery fly by. I guess maybe I’d been naïve to hope that Ashe’s plan would just wipe the slate clean when it came to my involvement with the MCO and Doctor Taylor. I should have known that the police would still want to talk to me about what happened and probably get some kind of a statement. In that regard I shared Ashe and Gear’s opinion that simply walking into the SFPD or FBI to talk with them was not an option. While mutants certainly had rights, general opinion of them was still sharply divided and often you might not know who a mutant-hater was until it was too late. Not everyone proudly wore a Humanity First pin or waved a flag. Chief Jacobs was the perfect example of that. He had been a high ranking officer in an organization that supposedly was dedicated to fairly policing and defending mutants’ legal rights, at least outwardly. Hidden underneath that hard, professional demeanor had beat the heart of a man who thought nothing of spiriting me away and making me disappear from the world so a sick madman could conduct experiments on me. It was a painful lesson that not everyone was what they appeared to be.
So why go with Ashe and Gear? Wasn’t it possible they were also hiding things from me? Well in their case they were more of an exception than the rule. Right from the get go, even before I’d recorded that message to law enforcement, they’d laid all their cards on the table. Ashe didn’t even try to hide the fact that he killed people and that he’d accumulated quite a body count over the years. Initially I’d been revolted by the very idea that the man sitting across from me was a killer. However, once he explained himself and his actions at length I found myself beginning to understand why he and Gear did what they did.
While I wasn’t exactly up to date on the goings on in the world, I wasn’t so blind that I didn’t see a growing epidemic of crime and violence in this country, but by humans and supervillains. Gangs and drugs were ever increasing in size and intensity while more and more supervillains were coming onto the scene despite the efforts by local superhero groups. The problem, as Ashe explained it, was both the police and superhero teams continued to try and operate within the guidelines of the law.
Unfortunately, after hundreds of years the legal system had been systematically broken down, ripped apart, and stitched back together in such a way that it no longer functioned to protect the people it was created for in the first place. Instead, the legal and justice system now operated in a way that was offering more protection and sanctions to aid criminals than it did for the people that actually tried to live their lives within its boundaries. The system was broken beyond repair, and until it was completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch it would continue to fail society.
Given my own experiences within this system, at least from the Child Services perspective, I couldn’t help but agree with what he was saying. While my own situation with Harold and Jackie had been unique and far from the norm, there were tens of thousands of children in the country that were victims of abuse that ended up damaged for life because the system wouldn’t help them. I’d seen the effects of gangs and drugs in the area I’d lived in with Harold and Jackie, and I’d seen the violence that came from them on nearly a daily basis. I’d also seen how ill-equipped the police had been to deal with it. Whether they had been outgunned by gangs with assault rifles or unable to remove these threats from the street because of legal loopholes or a flooded prison system that continually paroled criminals early, it was clear this was a losing battle. If Ashe’s predictions were to be believed, the entire country would devolve into complete anarchy within fifty years at the current rate.
That was why Ashe did what he did. He refused to stand idly by and hope the politicians and judges would do what needed to be done to strengthen the legal system and allow the police and the courts to actually do their jobs. He was taking the fight to those who would willfully cause harm to others and removed them from the Earth. It was a cold and harsh way of doing things, but in light of his involvement being directly responsible for saving my life I couldn’t argue its effectiveness.
So, I had chosen to trust them. They, unlike Social Services and the MCO, had proven they were willing to go to great lengths to ensure my safety. They would kill to protect me for no reason other than it was the right thing to do while others had killed to exploit and harm me. Really, it didn’t take a lot of contemplation to come to the conclusion that I was far better off with them than government agencies that had already failed me twice.
“Do you think they’ll still come after me?” I asked quietly as I continued to gaze out the window from the backseat of the car.
“Possibly,” Ashe said as he piloted the powerful muscle car down the highway, “But when we get back Gear will begin taking steps to make sure their efforts are severely hindered.”
“Well,” Gear said as he turned in his seat to smile back at me, “I may not be the strongest hacker in the world, but I do know people who are. If the police, FBI, or MCO want to still try and come find you they’ll…convince them it would be best to just leave it alone.”
“Convince? I don’t want more people’s lives ruined because of me,” I insisted.
The tech specialist shook his head. “No life ruining,” he assured me, “We’ll just let them know that there’s certain information that might be made public if they keep pushing for you to come in. But I don’t think it’s going to come to that. The amount of evidence we gave them should be more than enough to close their case. After all, other than the kidnapping itself by Taylor you had no knowledge of anything else. The only reason for you to come in would be as news fodder and to make them look good, and they know it.”
“You’ll stay safe,” Ashe told me, his eyes never leaving the road, “The only question is where you want to go from here.”
I slumped in the plush, leather seat and ran my hands through my hair. “Honestly I have no idea. Back when I was with Harold and Jackie all I could do was try to survive until I got out on my own. When the MCO had me I thought maybe I’d be placed in a decent family and could just get on with my life. Now, after everything that’s happened, I just don’t know where I can go.”
“We can find someone to take you in,” Ashe said, “It might not necessarily be a family, but we know quite a few good people who I don’t doubt would be happy to have you.”
“Not you?”
I’m not sure why, maybe it was some kid fantasy I had, but I thought maybe I would stay with them. True they were the furthest thing from a traditional family and their lives were practically surrounded by violence, but they were the first ones to show me care to such a degree they were willing to kill. It wouldn’t be an easy life, but it was one I knew would mean safety and at that moment being protected was the most important thing to me.
“No,” Ashe said even as Gear opened his mouth, “Staying with us isn’t an option. Everything you’ve told us about yourself says you want to help people. We feel the same, but our methods are far too different. Your passion and abilities would be squandered and that’s not something I’m going to allow.”
The man’s partner looked at him for a moment before shrugging and turning back to me. “He’s right. While I know right now it doesn’t feel like it, that power you have is a gift that matches who you are pretty damn perfectly. If you stayed with us we’d end up tainting your outlook on life and that would just be criminal.”
I wanted to protest that anyone else I went with would just amount to a roll of the dice when it came to being a good home, but then I realized something. Everything Ashe did thus far spoke about intense forethought. He had yet to do anything that wasn’t planned out in great detail, even if it had been done on the fly, and he seemed to always have a backup. Heck, he had a backup for the backup. “You already have someone in mind, don’t you.”
In the rearview mirror I saw the man smile slightly in approval. “There’s a woman who lives in rural Wyoming whom I’ve known for quite a long time. She’s a good person and I think the two of you will get along very well.”
“And if we don’t?” I asked cautiously. If they were planning to force me into a home I’d rather just jump out of the car the next time we stopped and take my chances on my own.
“If you don’t,” Ashe replied, his eyes finding mine in the rearview mirror, “Then we keep looking.”
I could tell by that steady, unwavering look that he was being honest with me. Like all of his actions up to this point, his goal was to make sure I was safe and clearly that wouldn’t be accomplished by forcing me into living conditions that I was unhappy with. “All right,” I acquiesced, “I’ll meet this friend of yours, but I can’t give you any promises.”
“Good,” he said and returned his eyes to the road.

Wolf Springs, Wyoming

One thing about living in a town with a population of only around one hundred spread out over a one hundred square mile area, there really wasn’t a problem with nosy neighbors. It was just one of the reasons why Rowen McKinnon’s parents had chosen this location to build their home so many years ago and it was the reason why Rowen herself had chosen to remain here after their deaths ten years ago. Now, at thirty-five (and still looking good if she said so herself), things had nicely fallen into a peaceful routine that thankfully never got boring.
Because the town was located at the fringes of Wolf’s Path National Forest, the area was largely untouched by human hands save for the road leading to it from I25, two square miles where the town itself resided, and the roadways that led out from the town to the few houses that existed outside its borders. Rowen’s home was one such house and she never tired of standing on her large front porch and staring out at the pure, unsullied beauty of the forest while enjoying a cup of tea like she was doing now. A faint stirring within the trees caught her attention and she shifted only her eyes to locate it. A smile formed on her lips when she caught sight of the young deer carefully picking its way through the brush, occasionally stopping to nibble at some leaves or berries growing wild. “Hello again,” she whispered. This was the third time this week she had seen this particular deer grace her with its presence. Its mother had unfortunately been killed shortly before by an overzealous sport hunter who failed to heed the townspeople’s warnings about hunting in these woods. The hunter himself had been dealt with but alas the damage had been done and the youngling had been left motherless. He was old enough to be able to survive on his own, but Rowen knew that even a deer could experience the feelings of loss when losing a parent. She also understood it, her own parents having been the victims of a violent and senseless mugging during a vacation in New York.
Sipping from her tea, she lightly flicked to the next page of the book she was reading on the tablet in her lap when the deer’s head suddenly came up before it bounded off into the woods as though fleeing a predator. It was only moments later that Rowen faintly heard the engine far down the road that led to her house. Finishing her tea, she set the cup on the small table beside her before standing and walking to the porch railing in order to watch the dark shape of the vehicle slowly approaching from the distance. As it drew closer, Rowen closed her eyes and reached out with her senses before nodding at her suspicions. Right on time, though with him she would expect nothing less.
Minutes later, traveling at quite a slow pace, the powerful black muscle car rolled to a stop before her house. She smiled when the doors opened and two men exited the vehicle. “Hello Ashe, Hello Gear,” she greeted warmly.
“Hi Rowen,” Ashe replied and ascended the porch to embrace the woman. “It’s good to see you,” he said, holding her at arms-length to look her over. “You’re looking well.”
“As are you,” she commented, cocking her head slightly and scrutinizing his face before lifting a hand to touch her fingertips to his eyebrow. “You seem to be missing something.”
A ghost of a smile flickered over his mouth before it was once again that flat, neutral expression he always seemed to wear. “Courtesy of the young lady we discussed.”
“Interesting,” she mused as her gaze returned to the car in time to see a beautiful young girl with incredibly bright red hair climb out of the back seat. “So this is the Ashley Logan I’ve heard so much about?”
Having heard her name being spoken, the girl in question blushed in embarrassment and ducked her head. “Come child, let me have a look at you,” Rowen bade.
The girl hesitated, her eyes flicking nervously to Ashe and Rowen didn’t need the Ghost Wolf’s skill with reading people to know that this young lady had some serious trust issues. Based on what Ashe had told her about Ashley she wasn’t at all surprised, given everything the girl had gone through. “It’s okay sweetheart,” she assured her, giving the timid youth a warm smile, “You should know by now that Ashe wouldn’t bring you anywhere he didn’t consider safe.”
It wasn’t until Ashe nodded his approval that she finally walked up the two steps onto the porch and stood before the older woman with her hands folded before her. Clothed in a simple white sundress with thin spaghetti straps and tan sandals, and combined with her shy demeanor, the girl was the epitome of beautiful innocence. “I have to say, Ashe didn’t do you justice when he told me about you. You’re very lovely.”
“Thank you,” Ashley said quietly and peeked up at Rowen through her lashes.
Dear god those eyes, Rowen thought. They seemed to practically glow they were so bright. In conjunction with her remarkable hair there seemed to be an almost ethereal quality to her, as though she were an artist’s rendering of a wood spirit come to life. “Why don’t we go inside and talk. You can tell me all about your latest adventures Ashe,” she said with a wink before leading the trio into the house. “And Gear,” she tossed over her shoulder, “Kindly go wash your hands so I don’t find grease fingerprints everywhere after your gone.”
“No respect,” the tech quipped, “I tell ya I get no respect.” However he did as he was bade by the mistress of the house and immediately set off towards a nearby bathroom while Ashley giggled at his antics.
Guiding them into the very spacious living room Rowen sat down in one of the plush leather chairs and arranged her ankle-length skirt before crossing her legs. As Ashe and Ashley took their own seats she asked, “Would anyone like anything to drink?”
“I’ll have some coffee if you have any brewed,” Ashe said.
“Actually,” Rowen said with a proud smile, “I just got one of those new single-cup coffee makers, a Keurig it’s called?”
“And what possessed you to buythat?” Ashe inquired, clearly surprised by her choice of appliance.
“It was a gift, actually,” she said as she waved her hand, “From the Childs’ for helping their youngest the other day. Poor thing accidently stepped into a rabbit burrow and broke her ankle.”
The man shook his head seemingly in disbelief. “I never thought I’d see the day you would forgo traditional brewing for pre-packaged automation.”
“Oh it isn’t for me,” she corrected him, “I kept it for guests so they don’t have to wait for me to heat up a kettle. You know how people are always rushing about these days.”
“Want me to take a look at it?” Gear asked clearly anxious since his fingers were already twitching at the idea as he came back into the room, “I can get it working a lot faster and more efficiently.”
“You stay away from it Thomas Kincaid,” Rowen warned him teasingly, “If I let you at it you’ll end up having my entire kitchen torn apart trying to ‘upgrade’ it.”
“Thomas Kincaid?” Ashley asked in quiet confusion, looking over at Gear.
“My real name,” he supplied with a sheepish smile, “I don’t really use it and most people don’t know it.”
“It’s safer that way,” Ashe further explained, “Gear isn’t on his MID either so it can’t be traced back to him.”
“Oh, that makes sense I guess,” Ashley admitted, then blushed when she realized she’d left Rowen waiting for an answer regarding a drink, “Ummm, could I have some tea please?”
“A girl after my own heart,” the woman said appreciatively, “And you’ll simply have to settle for black coffee Gear, I don’t keep any of that devisor coffee drivel around.”
“Yeah I know,” the weaponsmith sighed sadly, “You know I could always send you some.”
“It would only go to waste.”
Ashley opened her mouth to say something, most likely to inquire about what devisor coffee was, but her words died in her throat when she saw four mugs come floating into the room. Her eyes went so wide Rowen was actually a bit concerned they would fly from her head. “How-?” she squeaked out.
“Didn’t Ashe tell you I was a witch?” the older woman inquired, looking at the man in question chidingly.
“I know how you like dramatics,” he responded with a hint of a smile before looking to Ashley. “Rowen is a wizard level four.”
“So,” Ashley said carefully as she watched her mug of tea float down into her waiting hands, “You can do magic?”
“That is what a person with the wizard trait means,” the woman smiled from behind her own mug as she took a sip.
“Technically,” Gear piped up, “She’s a mutant, but her power is in the form of magic.”
“Oh just take all of the mystery out of it,” Rowen chided, eliciting a shrug from the gadgeteer.
Ashley sipped from her own mug before her eyes widened a little as a thought struck her. “Wait, you said you helped a little girl with a broken ankle? Then,” she continued after the woman nodded, “Does that mean you can heal people?”
“It isn’t one of my stronger suits,” the witch admitted, “But I do have a small talent with it.”
“Then, does that mean I have a wizard trait too?”
Now that was something Rowen hadn’t anticipated being asked. It was, however, something Ashe had. “No,” he explained, “Your power doesn’t come from magic, it stems directly from your mutation. You can only heal while healing is just a small part of what Rowen can do.” He waved at the mugs that had moments ago floated into the room by way of example.
“Oh,” Ashley said dejectedly.
“You were hoping there was more to your power than healing?” Rowen guessed.
“Maybe,” the girl allowed, “I mean the fact that I can heal people is amazing all by itself, but the idea that it could have been more…” she trailed off with a helpless shrug. “I guess I should be grateful I can even do that.”
“Well,” Gear considered, “Technically speaking you can do more than heal-”
“No!” Ashley nearly yelled, surprising everyone by her vehemence and the way her eyes became both frightened and determined at the same time, “I won’t ever do anything like that again!”
Rowen blinked at the sudden outburst of emotion but chose not to address it outright at the moment. Based on the way Ashley was clenching her mug with both hands so tightly she trembled it was clear something significant was troubling the girl that was not going to simply go away on its own. “Ashe,” she said, deliberately pitching her tone so it seemed offhanded, “I need your opinion on something I came across recently. Would you mind taking a look at it?”
While Gear looked confused at the request, obviously because he figured he would want both of their expertise on whatever question she had, Ashe simply nodded and set his mug down on the low coffee table before following Rowen into the kitchen.
“What aren’t you telling me?” she asked quietly when they were out of hearing range.
“When I rescued her,” Ashe explained without hesitation, “She was the one that eliminated the good doctor. Apparently her power allows her not only to heal, but harm as well.”
Rowen frowned. “How can a healing ability cause harm?”
“She would need testing by people with knowledge and resources far beyond what I have. The best I can determine from what I saw, she was somehow essentially able to reverse the effects of her powers. While they didn’t outright inflict injury on the man, they did cause a very severe and nearly instantaneous exaggeration of existing wounds.” He went on to explain how the injuries he himself had inflicted upon the doctor’s hands expanded to the point of annihilating the appendages, while what normally would have been barely scratches from broken glass or glancing impacts of sharp furniture edges had erupted into gaping wounds hemorrhaging blood. He also speculated that the doctor had an undiagnosed aneurism that her power had caused to suddenly expand with explosive force, thus violently rupturing the man’s carotid artery.
“Goddess,” Rowen exclaimed softly, “No wonder she was so insistent.”
Ashe nodded in agreement and looked back into the living room where Ashely and Gear were talking. Based on the way she was smiling a little he gathered the equipment specialist was trying to cheer her up by regaling to her some of his more spectacular failures. “Based upon what I know of her I don’t think she’ll ever use that ability again unless her life is in mortal danger, and even then she still might resist.”
“She has a good heart,” the witch attested, “I could tell the moment I saw her. You said she had aspirations of being a doctor?”
“Or a vet. She hadn’t chosen a specialty yet, only that she wanted to go into medicine.”
“And she falls unconscious every time she uses her power?”
The man nodded. “The length of time she’s out varies each time it seems. When she used her power to kill the doctor she was unconscious for an hour. When she used it to heal my injuries it was only ten minutes. Gear said when she used her ability during testing she had multiple reactions from weakness to complete unconsciousness but she also did multiple healings.”
“Interesting,” Rowen mused as she considered the information Ashe had provided her. “Do you have any theories?”
“I do,” he admitted, “But without proper testing and knowledgeable personnel I didn’t want to speculate and give Ashley any false or incorrect theories. I take it you have your own thoughts on it,” he said with a knowing expression.
“Like you, I have a few theories. Unlike you,” she said with a smile to gentle the light ego-blow, “I think I can adequately test those theories.”
“If she chooses to stay with you.”
Rowen nodded her understanding to that. Like her friend, she would not force the girl to remain here. With her what had happened to her in the past, forcing her to live with someone she did not wish to would only cause harm and eliminate any potential good that could come. The last thing either wanted was to treat Ashley the same as the government had treated her. “Give me a little time alone with her so we can talk. You can use my office computer to check on things back in Chicago if you’d like.”
Ashe nodded and returned to the living room to collect Gear and walk through the house to the aforementioned office. In truth there was no need to check on the current level of criminal activity taking place in Chicago since he always made certain he was up to date on the current activities, however it served as a reasonable excuse to give Rowen the time she needed with Ashley without making the girl feel put on the spot.
Once the two men had left the room, Rowen asked Ashley to join her out on the porch for some fresh air. The girl agreed, though she was clearly much more hesitant now that her protector wasn’t at her side. Once they had both settled into wooden rocking chairs that were clearly hand crafted and not mass produced, the witch smile at Ashley before sipping from her tea once more. She didn’t speak right away, instead offering the young woman the power to steer the conversation as she wished in the beginning. For several minutes the two sat in silence with only the sounds of nature around them.
“I wasn’t born a girl,” Ashley suddenly blurted out.
Well, it certainly wasn’t the way Rowen had expected their conversation to begin, but it was a start. “Really?”
The young woman nodded and took a shaky little sip from her tea. “When I manifested my mutation I changed into this,” she indicated with a wave of her hand.
“It’s not unheard of,” the older woman assured her, “And it can happen both ways. How are you coping with the change?”
“Okay I think,” Ashley allowed, “Actually surprisingly well. It kind of worried me how easily I seem to have accepted being a girl and how quickly I started acting like one.”
“Oh?” the witch inquired with a tilt of her head, “How do you mean?”
“Well, this for one,” and indicated how her legs were crossed in a demure, lady-like fashion beneath her skirt. “And I’ve also noticed I’m…well… I feel…” She gulped and took a long swallow of tea.
That drew a quiet chuckle from the older woman as she reached over and covered the girl’s hand with her own. “You’ve found yourself attracted to boys.” That elicited a rapid, head-bobbing style nod. “Are you concerned about this?”
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing,” came the response in a tiny voice, “I mean I wasn’t gay before I changed so now I’m wondering if I always felt this way or if it’s because of my mutation.”
It was an excellent question. Rowen only wished she had a suitable answer for it. “Unfortunately something like that is beyond the current reach of science when it comes to mutation at the moment. If you are very sure you weren’t gay when you were a boy,” this was affirmed by a nod, “Then it could stand to reason that when your mutation changed your body it also subtly changed your sexual preferences. Not very much, mind you, but in a small, subtle way that mated with your new female hormones and allowed you to find men attractive.”
“Well,” she said in what some referred to as her ‘teacher’s tone’, “Despite the fact we are mutants, we are still biological creatures that thrive based upon three simple directives: finding and consuming food and water, forming structures to house us from the elements, and reproducing. Since at this stage of evolution we still require a male and a female subject to accomplish this, it seems very likely your mutation adjusted your sexual preference to allow you the drive to reproduce one day.”
“That,” Ashley said slowly as she digested all of that information, “Makes sense. I mean, I could have sex with a man even if I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, but it would probably be a horrible experience. By being attracted to men as well as women it makes it more likely that I will want to go through the actions that could cause reproduction instead of avoiding them.”
“Spoken like a woman of science and medicine,” Rowen said proudly, causing Ashley to blush.
“Ashe told you huh?”
“He did, it’s why he thought you might like living here.”
That caused the girl to tilt her head slightly in confusion. “How so? You said your specialty wasn’t in healing.”
“True,” the witch allowed, “But I do have the ability. Granted it isn’t anywhere near what I hear yours is,” which caused the girl to blush, “But perhaps I may be able to help you understand it a little better. But that’s not the real reason why Ashe thought it would be a good idea for you to come see me.”
“And what reason is that?”
“Peace. This place, my home, is one of peacefulness and safety. In case you didn’t notice we are far from any major cities. True there is the town down the road, but it is a small one that allows for a sense of community without infringing upon one another’s privacy. While we certainly get the occasional tourist or hunter who happens to stumble upon us, the world largely leaves us alone. This is a place where you don’t have to worry about the police or the MCO looking for you and isn’t infected by psychotic scientists who want to try and harvest your powers. Here you can live, learn, and maybe find some happiness in your life.”
For a brief while Ashley didn’t respond to that. Instead she gently rocked back and forth and enjoyed her tea while looking out at the forest that completely surrounded the woman’s home. She watched a rabbit nibble at some leaves before lazily hopping away. She smiled at the sight of a brightly-colored bird flit from tree branch to tree branch. She even giggled in delight when a curious squirrel scampered up onto the porch, climbed up onto the railing, and looked her right in the eye for several moments before racing away. “You said I could learn,” she finally said, though he gaze was still focused on the forest, “But I didn’t see any schools close to this area.”
“Internet,” Rowen explained, then laughed at the girl’s expression of surprise, “Just because I live out in the middle of nowhere and like to do some things in a more traditional fashion doesn’t mean I live like a hermit. Gear himself installed the enhanced solar collection system on my roof as well as several high-yield wind turbines that allow me to always have power in my house without needing to be attached to the power grid. He also put in the satellite system that gets me tv and internet at speeds businesses in New York would be jealous of. Trust me, it may look rustic here but I’m quite modernized.”
“I’d think a witch wouldn’t want anything to do with technology.”
“Ah, so you’re stereotyping me now,” the witch snarked, then laughed and waved her own statement away when she saw the girl’s chagrined look. “I’m only teasing you sweetheart. “Being a magic user doesn’t automatically make one a technophobe. I appreciate the old traditions but I’m not ruled by them. The witches of old used leather bound tomes simply because computers were centuries away from being invented. Magic isn’t limited to only Old World-style thinking, it isn’t even sentient. It’s merely a tool that is utilized by its user regardless of what century it takes place in.”
“So,” Ashley wondered, “Do you think my powers are magical? The testing with the MCO didn’t show me having any wizard traits.”
Rowen shook her head and smiled. “No, I’d say your powers aren’t based on magic. Usually I can tell when someone possesses the wizard trait, they usually present a very faint kind of magical aura. Your power is purely mutagenic but it works very much like magical healing would. The only question is why it causes such a strain on your body every time you use it.”
“Yeah,” the girl agreed, “It’s actually kind of scary. I want to use it to help people, but what if it kills me in the process? It hasn’t happened yet but I’m worried it might.”
“That’s something we can look into, if you choose to stay that is,” the older woman amended, “There are other means of gauging a mutant’s power than just testing by the MCO. Why don’t I show you the rest of the house?” she said changing the subject, “I’m sure you wouldn’t want to commit to anything without seeing where you’d live. Your bedroom could be a closet after all.” Instantly Rowen knew she’d said the wrong thing as Ashley’s expression became pale and haunted. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No,” the young woman said, shaking her head and squeezing her eyes shut for a moment as though trying to force something from her mind, “It’s just bad memories. My foster parents kept me in a bedroom that wasn’t much more than a closet. When they weren’t taking turns ordering me around or beating me.” The last part was said with such pain in the girl’s voice it broke Rowen’s heart.
“Well I swear to you,” she promised, “My house is a place of kindness and love. There will be no beatings happening here by anyone and if you choose it to be yours as well you will most definitely not be staying in a closet.”
Though she didn’t quite look convinced Ashley nodded and the two rose to walk back inside. For the next hour Rowen proudly showed off the home her parents had built so many years ago. It was an impressive structure with large, open-aired rooms that included the living room, a dining room, a surprisingly modern kitchen with what looked like brand new appliances in gleaming black, and three different bedrooms. Rowen’s, of course, was the largest and contained its own sitting area. The other bedrooms were also quite large and even had sliding glass doors that led out onto a balcony that actually wrapped around three fourths of the structure, allowing every bedroom access out onto it.
The final stop was a wide open stone basement slightly larger in size than the length and width of the house itself. From the moment they stepped into it Ashley knew this was a place of magical power. All around her were accents and accoutrements befitting someone attuned to the mystic arts. In the center of the floor was a large pentacle painted in pure white. Rowen assured her that it was perfectly safe to walk on but one would have to exercise caution when large magics were being conducted. “If I’m ever involved in magic that could leave me vulnerable to either magical or mundane attacks this functions as a protective circle that I can work within,” she explained.
“Is that something that I should be worried about,” Ashley inquired nervously, “People or things attacking you?”
The witch shook her head with a calming smile. “No, but as Ashe has reminded me time and again it is better to take proper precautions and not need them than not be safe and have it bite you in the ass.”
The girl giggled, her eyes twinkling. “He did not say that.”
Rowen shrugged. “So maybe he said, ‘Would you rather have a shield and not need it or get a bullet in the head?’”
“That sounds like Ashe,” came the nodded response. “By the way, how do you two know each other?”
The question caused the older woman to smile wistfully as she sat down in one of the comfortable looking leather chairs in the room, with Ashley sitting as well after Rowen bade her to with a wave of her hand. “I was in Chicago several years ago for a meeting with several members of a group of magic users I communicate regularly with. We like to get together now and then to compare notes and spells and generally have a nice get together. We were all enjoying ourselves at a little outdoor café on Michigan Avenue when a team of supervillains decided they wanted to rob the bank across the street. Now, while we weren’t superheroes, all of us strongly believe in good and the sanctity of life. These supervillains executed their robbery in a very brutal fashion, grievously injuring people that just happened to get in their way. I and my friends tried to intervene but by and large our magic was not very offensive in nature. We could slow them down a little or maybe distract them, but that was all. For the most part we were trying to heal those that were injured so they could flee before the Windy City Guardians arrived to help.”
“So Ashe was part of a superhero team?” Ashley interrupted, sounding both in awe and confused. “He doesn’t seem like the type.”
Rowen chuckled and shook her head. “You’re right, he isn’t, and he wasn’t. It later turned out that the Windy City Guardians were helping with a very serious building fire on the other side of the city and weren’t even aware of the robbery until much later. No, Ashe was alone against five quite powerful supervillains.”
Remembering how Ashe was only human, as evidenced by the very severe bullet wounds he had suffered from Chief Jacobs, the young woman shuddered. “They must have really hurt him.”
The smile the witch had held up to that point faded and her expression became quite serious. “Hurt him? They barely touched him. You might not have seen any true examples of it yet, and for that you should probably be thankful, but Ashe is one of the most effective and ruthless warriors I have ever known. Don’t let his lack of powers delude you into thinking he is weak. He has trained himself to be a living weapon, one very few people can even hope to stand against both human and mutant alike. When he attacked, he cut a bloody swath through those villains that they had no hope of even trying to stop. When it was over, the team of villains was in pieces, some quite literally so, and I’m not even sure he was breathing hard. Of course with that helmet he wears it was hard to tell.”
Ashley sat there staring at Rowen in shock for several moments. She knew Ashe was capable of violence, heck she’d seen an example of it up close and personal, but never had she imagined he would be possessed of a level of skill that enabled him to eliminate an entire team of powerful villains. “I had no idea,” she whispered.
Reaching over, the witch patted the girl’s hand and smiled. “Believe me when I tell you that having our Ghost Wolf as a friend is a far better alternative than having him as an enemy.”
“Ghost Wolf?”
“Ah,” Rowen realized with a chuckle, “They didn’t tell you about his little nickname. Ashe doesn’t have a superhero name, per se. He considers it a waste of time giving himself a label when a nameless mystery is much more effective. His…friend gave him the title a long time ago. I’m not entirely sure what spawned it but only a very select few know him well enough to know it.”
“Ghost Wolf,” Ashley said quietly, rolling the nom de guerre around on her tongue, “I think it suits him.”
“As do I,” the witch agreed with a smile before rising. “Why don’t go back upstairs, it’s a bit more comfortable than this stuffy basement.”
Ashley agreed with a nod but slowly looked around as she too stood from her chair. “Actually, it feels surprisingly cozy down here. I would have expected it to be cold and damp but it feels…I don’t know…” She struggled for the right word before finally saying, “Comforting.”
Rowen only gave a little knowing smile as the pair ascended the staircase back into the house proper and made their way to the living room where Ashe and Gear were discussing what sounded like new improvements to Ashe’s arsenal.
“I wish you’d let me reconfigure the guns to rail-rounds. You’d punch through pretty much anything,” Gear was insisting.
“No,” Ashe said with a shake of his head, “There’s no way to control the penetration and that could result in not only passing through the target but any walls, vehicles, and people that might be behind it. That’s unacceptable.” Ashley noted that no mention was made about the possibility of Ashe missing.
“Talking more shop boys?” the older woman said with a smile as they walked in.
“I got bored,” Gear said with a shameless shrug while Ashe said nothing. Rowen knew that the weapon/armor smith wasn’t all that comfortable in an all-natural environment and much preferred to be in the city where he was surrounded by technology.
“Well this isn’t something that can be rushed,” Rowen admonished gently, “We’re not talking about dropping off a stray puppy here. If Ashley chooses to stay I want it to be because she feels comfortable doing so, not because she feels forced.”
“I agree,” the dark vigilante stated, his eyes shifting to look at the girl in question. “If you do not wish to stay here with Rowen we will be happy to continue looking for a place for you to stay.”
Ashley looked between the three adults and felt more than a little put on the spot. The decision of whether or not she wanted to stay with this woman had been on her mind from the moment Ashe had told her where they were going. It was rather sudden, but at the same time she had been given far more warning, a much longer introduction period, and even a choice as to whether or not she wanted to stay. That was far more than she’d had when dealing with either Child Services or the MCO.
Additionally, thus far, her instincts had been proven right when it came to the people she’d met. While Doctor Taylor had initially presented a caring and professional front, something in his eyes had niggled at her from the very beginning. The same was true of Chief Jacobs, though without the caring part. In both cases her concerns had ultimate been justified by the actions they’d taken against her. Alternatively, her initial instincts about Agent Mathews and Ashe had also proven correct, in that their concern and care for her had been genuine. She felt the same kind of care and concern for her well-being in Rowen as well, along with something else she just couldn’t quite put her finger on. It wasn’t a bad something, in fact she suspected it was a good something, but whatever it was sat just outside her ability to quantify it at the moment. Regardless, Ashley now knew that her instincts were something she should be trusting more, and that would start right now.
“I’d like to stay,” she said quietly and not quite with as much conviction as she wanted. Her gaze flitted to Rowen’s and she quickly added, “If that’s okay I mean.”
The older woman smiled and stepped to her side, resting a hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “I’d be very happy to have you here. This house is too big and has been too empty for far too long. It needs the energy of someone young and vibrant to fill its walls and I’ll wager you’d be the perfect person for the job.”
While the two women smiled at one another, Ashe watched the scene with careful, calculating eyes. He trusted Rowen implicitly, but he wanted to be sure that Ashley wasn’t making a decision based on a perceived pressure from the three of them. The last thing he wanted was to leave the girl here only to find out later she felt pushed or forced into the living arrangements.
However when they started chatting about living arrangements and going shopping, a subject that amusingly enough caused Ashley to both beam and look nervous about, he felt confident he’d been correct in his choice to contact his old magical friend. “I think it’s time we were leaving,” he said as he and Gear both stood.
“Are you sure you can’t stay a little longer?” Rowen inquired even though she already knew the answer.
“One of our leads seems to be panning out and we need to get back in time to intercept a delivery coming into O’Hare from Columbia.”
“Well it was good to see you old friend,” the witch said as she took both of his hands and gave them a squeeze. “Try not to stay out of touch for quite so long this time.”
“I’ll do what I can,” he responded ambiguously before turning towards Ashely while Gear gave Rowen a friendly hug. “Ashley, if you ever find yourself in trouble-”
He never got to finish his sentence before the girl launched herself and wrapped her arms around him in a bone-crushing hug. For several moments the man who was both a mystery and a nightmare to the criminal element was completely at a loss and could do nothing but blink in surprise at the top of the redheaded girl. Eventually he seemed to overcome his shock at someone expressing gratitude in this particular way and returned her hug even as she whispered, “I know, you’ll find me.”
Ashe nodded and stepped back from the teenager, giving her one more nod of acknowledgement before turning and heading out to the car parked in front of the house. As he did, Gear took his turn to hug Ashley, only he didn’t hesitate as his partner had. “We’ll come visit,” he assured her, “It’ll take some convincing, but we’ll come.”
“I can’t wait,” Ashley said and rose on her toes to kiss the weapon/armor smith’s cheek, something she knew Ashe wouldn’t have responded well to had she done it to him. “I’m guessing you’ll be able to get my email address once I actually make one.”
Gear only winked in response before heading out the front door to catch up with his partner. Barely twenty seconds later the car had turned around and was roaring away from the house. As she watched it go, Ashley couldn’t stop a few tears from welling up in her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. She quickly dashed them away when she felt Rowen’s hand on her shoulder.
“It’s all right to cry,” she assured the young woman, “Especially when it comes to saying goodbye to someone special and believe me, there aren’t many people as special as those two.”
“I owe them my life,” Ashely said quietly, her eyes still on the now empty road.
“As do I,” the witch agreed, “And yet neither have ever asked me for anything. Even when they contacted me about you and your situation they weren’t demanding that I open my home to you. Instead they asked if I would be interested in meeting with you.”
“They act tough,” the redhead remarked, “Especially Ashe, but I think deep down they have a kind heart.”
“Gear, yes. Ashe…” the older woman paused and seemed to consider her words carefully. “Ashe has a good heart as well, but not in the same way. He defends his friends with a fierceness I’ve rarely encountered. Maybe it’s because he’s so closed off to the rest of the world, maybe it’s because of something in his past, or maybe it’s just simply who he is. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad he’s on our side.”
Shaking herself of the morose feelings that were threatening to come up, she smiled at the young girl and led her back towards the house. “Come on, we’ve got some shopping for you to do.”

* * * *

“Ashley and Rowen seem like a really good fit,” Gear said, glancing over at his friend behind the wheel and grinning, “But then you knew they would be.”
Ashe didn’t respond to the dig and kept his eyes focused on the highway traffic as he steered the car on a course that would take them back to Chicago.
“Do you really think she’ll be happy there?” Gear asked, this time without any of the sarcastic joking in his voice.
“It’ll give her a good couple of months to recover from everything that’s happened to her. By then she should be ready.”
“Ready for what?” the weapon smith asked.
“To return to a more social environment for school.”
Now Gear turned fully in his seat to look at his partner in confusion. “Wait a minute, I thought she was going to do distance learning over the internet at Rowen’s house.”
Ashe shook his head and wove through the slower traffic in front of him. “That was so she wouldn’t be under any pressure. By the time school is ready to begin she’s going to want to be with other people her age. She won’t be satisfied with a mostly solitary life like Rowen is.”
“Oh and you know that how? All right, all right,” he conceded when the driver turned his head slightly to cast him a look that clearly was saying ‘Don’t be an idiot’, “So you already knew she’d want to go back to school. Where is she supposed to go? That area of Wyoming isn’t exactly known for its scholastic excellence.”
“New Hampshire.”
Gear actually smacked himself on the forehead for not having even considered that. Of course she would go there. How in the hell had he not even considered it? Given the girl’s powers and the difficulty she was having them it made perfect sense that she would seek out people who specialized in helping mutants control their abilities. “Geeze I’m a moron sometimes,” he muttered.
“I usually don’t hold it against you.”
The tech responded with a glare before settling back into his seat. “How do you know Rowen won’t have things well in hand by then when it comes to her power?”
“Rowen’s talent with healing is only minor. At the most she’s only capable of mending a mildly broken bone. Plus her method is through magic while Ashely’s is directly from her mutation. They’re too different for Rowen to be able to adequately teach her.”
“But what about the cost?” Gear wondered, “It’s damn expensive for tuition, not to mention all of the supplies she’ll need plus spending money.”
Ashe’s expression remained completely neutral and the tone of his voice failed to convey any emotion other than cold facts. “When she or Rowen accesses their website to conduct research, it will trigger a virus that will activate an account that is currently being held in trust. That trust contains funds that have been siphoned off from the accounts of the last three supplier organizations we dismantled.”
Gear just goggled at his partner for several moments as he took in just what he was being told. “Wait a second, you already had a trust set up for Ashley before you even met her? I know you didn’t do it after we’d gotten her away from Taylor because I’ve been with you the whole time.”
“You did use the bathroom several times.”
The man sputtered several times trying to come up with something clever to say to that but in the end he just slumped back in his seat and folded his arms in what suspiciously looked like a sulk. For a while he didn’t say anything and the car was filled with silence save for the hum of the engine. It gave Gear time to think about what he’d just been told. In the brief moments when he hadn’t been in the room with his friend he’d not only set up a trust account but also programed and deployed a computer virus that would set Ashley up for her entire high school education. For someone without a gadgeteer’s abilities, it was a pretty impressive feat that actually made the mutant feel pretty damn proud. “You’re a good guy Ashe, no matter how you try to hide it.”
The remark only got the weapon and armor smith a brief glare before those steel gray eyes once again focused on the road. “Give me an update on that delivery Red Cobra is getting at O’Hare. I want three cohesive plans of attack by the time we reach Nebraska.”
Last Edit: 4 years 2 months ago by Paradox.

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