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Max Does the Splits
Chapter one: Manifestation
MARCH 31, 2014
“HALT! YOU ARE NOT PROPERLY ATTIRED!”
“Properly attire this, Lancebot!” I retorted as I rounded the corner where the trap was set, ducking around-
Brass Monkey! That funky monkey!
I groaned and raised my hand in preparation for smiting the source of the wretched noise. Nothing against, um, whoever does that song – it’s weird, but nothing wrong with that – but 7 AM is just too early to be forced into consciousness, especially when it interrupts interesting dreams about time travel and pretend medieval societies.
I slapped down toward the snooze button. My hand was stopped by an unexpected barrier of flesh before it could reach that point. My hand swung uninterrupted and shut off the device as expected.
My eyes snapped open. I could see only a mess of brown hair an inch from my face. I saw my desk and floor, cluttered as ever, with dim light coming in through the door.
I screamed, and I heard two voices screaming.
It was a few seconds before I returned to anything resembling rational thought. My first action was to flop back down onto my back.
That made things slightly more manageable. Instead of two completely different images, I now had two slightly different views of the hamper of stuffed animals on my ceiling, like watching a 3-D movie with your eyes adjusted wrong. I didn’t even mind that my arm was digging into my back.
Feeling a little less like my brain was going to explode, I braved looking to the side. Left: a head of long brown hair slash the cluttered room, like before. Right: the wall slash my own very dark brown hair. Okay.
I decided I should at least attempt to get up, and reached over to the desk to steady myself. As I did, though, I made contact with a body part I didn’t know I had. I froze in shock, and my mom chose that exact moment to storm into the room.
“Maximilian Lawrence Johnson,” she screeched after a surprised second, “you stop groping that girl this instant!”
Luckily, I managed to explain in time to avoid the brunt of mom-rage. And by “explain”, I mean “confusedly stammer in sync enough that she noticed something was weird and figured it out herself.”
Unluckily, that didn’t stop the whole household from hearing her outburst.
“Hey Maaax,” my sister teased, poking her head into the hallway, “Who’s the lucky lady?”
“Goddamit, Mel, not right now,” I muttered under my breath(s?). Aloud, I replied in unison, “She’s me, okay?”
Melanie paused, then said, “Talking in sync like that is really creepy, you know that, right?”
“Yes, Mel, Dad and Joe both already told me,” I responded, rolling my eyes. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m trying not to kill myselves on the stairs.” Harder than it sounds, when you have two bodies walking down them that can only move in unison.
“You know what this means,” she said after I safely reached the bottom. “You could be the best at synchronized swimming!”
“Yeah – or, you know, marching band.”
“Ah, come on, don’t be like that. You’re at least half a girl now, you gotta keep an open mind!”
“I’m trying not to think about that yet, thanks.”
“Besides, I know you hate that saxophone,” she continued as though I hadn’t interrupted her.
That was entirely true; I’d gotten it mainly because I’d thought it would make me cooler (partially because of that “Sexy Sax Man” video). As it turned out, though, I sucked at it and didn’t enjoy playing at all. I had a hard time admitting it to myself, and an even harder time admitting it to my parents, since they’d bought the thing at my insistence. Now the case lay on my floor, unopened in the last few months, a useless reminder of my folly.
By the time I finished that trip down memory lane, I’d reached the bathroom with only a couple new bumps to my name. I steeled myself (okay, more like coppered, I wasn’t that confident) and looked in the mirror.
Yup. Definitely a girl.
Definitely my twin sister, to be exact. Except for her eyes and hair, and that whole “girl” thing, she looked just like me. Same thin, straight nose, same high cheekbones, same bushy eyebrows, even the same mole just to the right of my eyes. We weren’t quite identical twins, but we definitely looked more alike than most fraternal ones, and I do mean including those of the same gender.
All that similarity, though, just served to emphasize where we differed, especially with the way I was looking at us. My hand(s) flew, involuntarily it seemed, to the top of my head, to feel the difference between her long, silky hair and my own soft fuzz. I dropped my hand and gazed deeply into her eyes… and nearly gave myself a headache with the double vision, with only her green eyes to my blue different between the images. I shook my head to clear it, and reached my hands up to my chest.
“Wow, you haven’t been a girl ten minutes yet, and you’ve already fondled yourself twice. That’s got to be some kind of record.”
“Mel!” I groaned through gritted teeth, turning away to hide my blush – something that had always worked before, but
“Ooh, your new body’s a blusher!”
I looked back at the mirror, and it was true – her whole face was bright red.
“Finally, I can have my revenge!” Mel cackled. “Hey Maaaaax, remember that time after you were playing in the snow, and you thought we were all gone, so you took off all your wet clothes and sat by the fire…?”
Impossibly, my new face got even brighter. “Mel!” I hissed, “Will you get out of here?! I may have gotten a bit distracted but I do need to… use… the toilet….”
“What’s the matter? Scared of your first time as a girl?”
“No, but… How can I use the bathroom when my bodies are stuck in sync?”
Luckily, that little piece of motivation helped me figure out how to move my bodies independently before too long. Not in any elegant fashion, though – the best I could do was to have one body stand stock still while the other lurched around like a zombie with arthritis. I managed to fall down three times in the process of getting my bodies into and out of the bathroom. I suppose I could’ve had only one, but even when they’re both me, there’s just something wrong about a guy being in the bathroom while a girl is using it, or vice versa.
Also luckily, I didn’t have any particular problem working internal muscles independently, or there would have been a mess in the hall.
That task done, I moved on to the next biological imperative: Breakfast. Mom was cooking eggs and bacon, which came as some surprise. Usually she’s long gone by the time I’m showered and ready to eat, except on the weekends, when she’s too tired to do any cooking.
“No shower today?” she asked.
“With how many times I fell just walking in and out of the bathroom, I didn’t think it was worth the risk.” I could see her flinch as I started speaking. I need to figure out speech in only one body, and soon.
She nodded in reply. “It’ll be about ten minutes before this is ready. Go ahead and grab a snack, I don’t think it’ll be enough for everyone anyway.”
I settled on a granola bar and a glass of milk each. I caught an odd look from mom as my girl body mimed pouring with no glass or milk jug, but I definitely would’ve spilled, probably more than would’ve gotten in the glass, if I’d tried to stop the mimicry.
Eating and drinking was more difficult than I’d imagined. Things didn’t line up quite right relative to my two bodies, so I had to move independently to grab them. I got a little better as I went, but it was still like playing that surgeon simulator game. At least I could move normally once I’d gotten a solid grip. I even managed not to spill any milk.
“I made some calls,” Mom said after a couple minutes. “You’ve got school off today and maybe longer depending how things turn out, and I’ve got the same for my work.” I merely nodded. “And I called Doctor Schnaidt and set up an appointment.”
“Has he ever heard of – of someone like me?” I inquired, trying not to sound desperate.
“I didn’t tell him your situation, dear, just said that you’d manifested and we needed an appointment for today. We’re set for 10 o’ clock.”
I nodded again and checked the time. It was already 7:45; apparently I’d spent more time stumbling around the house than I thought.
“Hey, sport,” Dad said as he sat down with a slice of toast covered by eggs.
I sighed. Dad never used stupid nicknames like that. “Dad, don’t try to use change to convince me that nothing has changed.”
“Sorry, pumpkin.” This time I just glared at him. “Er, I mean… Sorry, Max.”
“Whew! That double glare is pretty scary!” Joe said as he sat down with his own eggs and bacon and started drowning them in syrup. I turned the aforementioned glare on him, but I couldn’t keep a straight face. “And the simultaneous chuckle and giggle, kiiiinda creepy.”
That killed my humor quickly and I returned to wrestling with my own food. If eating a granola bar was like playing Surgeon Simulator 2013, eating eggs with a fork was like playing Enviro-Bear 2000. Using only a trackball. Which was in turn controlled by playing Surgeon Simulator.
“So, uh,” Dad said to break the awkward silence, “Do you think we prepared you enough?”
“For this? No.” At his crestfallen look, I amended, “Dad, nothing could have prepared me for this. I’m having to learn how to process two separate sets of inputs, move muscles only in one body at a time, and get used to the idea of being in two places at once, not to mention the whole girl thing. It was enough just to know that something was going to happen, and what kind of things it might be. …Even if this wasn’t among them.” I sighed again, as he still looked a little guilty. “Look, just worry about what you do from here on, okay?”
“Right,” he said, but he still seemed upset. “Um, but I do still have to work today….”
“DAD. Look at me.” He seemed confused for a second, but eventually looked straight at my original body. I continued, “I’m fine. Mom’ll be here, she’s taking me to Dr. Schnaidt, you’ll probably be back by the time we finish with that anyway. I’ll be fine.” He started to look away, but I caught his shoulder. “Hey, come on. I love you, you know that,” I said, and gave him a big hug.
Unfortunately, as I did, my girl body knocked over my milk. Oops.
I started to get up, but
“I’ll get it!” Joe called. “Hansel and Gretel here would probably end up polishin' Dad’s head if they tried.”
“Joe…” I grumbled, though I knew he was probably right. Not that that in particular would happen, of course, but I’d probably end up making more of a mess somehow.
“Wait, Hansel and Gretel? What’s that even supposed to mean?”
“Hey, you try comin' up with an uncoordinated pair of twins on the spot,” he retorted.
I did so, and failed to come up with anything.
There was another lull in the conversation, so my thoughts began to wander. Where had that bit I’d pulled with Dad come from? Not that I regretted it; au contraire, I thought I’d handled it perfectly. But that was exactly the mystery. Before, I doubted I’d have even noticed his initial disappointment. I know I wouldn’t have spotted that he needed the hug at the end. So what had changed? (Beyond the obvious, I mean.) Did I have some esper ability now? Did I gain better empathy from having a girl’s body? (Hey, it sounds stupid, but I’ve heard girls are more empathic…) Did I just get lucky and read too much into it?
Well, if it was something to do with my power, we’d find out at the power testing with Julian. That’s what it’s for, after all. For now, I was more concerned with how everyone was handling this. Dad seemed to be blaming himself, which kind of made sense, but it’s not like he could control his crazy mutant sperm, especially when he didn’t even know he was a mutant. Mom was trying to act like everything was normal, probably so that I wouldn’t freak out. Joe was acting weird and I wasn’t sure why. And Mel… wait. “Where’s Mel?”
Apparently, since everyone was distracted, and there were still five people at the table, nobody’d really noticed that Mel wasn’t among them.
She was locked in her room and didn’t want to talk to me, so Mom went in to calm her down. I’m not sure quite what was said, but I heard some yelling and some sobbing from each of them.
For my part, I gave up on the rest of my eggs and sat on the couch to rest my eyes. And by “my eyes” I really mean “my visual cortex” because all the double vision was starting to give me a headache.
“And why aren’t you freaking out right now?” Joe asked.
I gave him a quizzical look. It was a fair enough question, but the way he said it….
“You know, that’s a good question,” I told him, ignoring his flinch as I started speaking. “I mean, this is stuff that should by all rights be panic-worthy, but it just doesn’t seem that bad. Maybe I’m in shock?”
He didn’t seem to know how to respond to that. After he left I went back to resting my brain.
“All aboard the Los Gatos Education Express!” Dad called from the back door. I started to get up before remembering that I wasn’t going to school today.
“Hey bro. And sis, I guess,” Mel said, poking her head in from the hall.
“Hey yourself.” I opened my eyes and smiled at her. She looked a bit bedraggled, but definitely a lot better than she’d sounded when I knocked on her door. “You doing alright?”
“I should be the one asking you that.”
“Yeah, but I’m not the one who was crying in her room.”
She looked a little guilty for that. “I’ll be fine. It’s just so weird, suddenly having a sister who is also my brother….”
“You should try it from this end,” I groused lightheartedly.
That did the trick; she smiled. “I’ll pass. Anyway, I just wanted to say good luck with the testing, and I hope you find something cool.”
“Thanks, little sis,” I smiled back. “If anyone tries to bully you again, tell ‘em you’ve got a big scary mutie sister who’ll beat ‘em up.”
She smiled again and hugged each of my bodies in turn. “You’re the best brother and sister a girl could have. I should go now, though, Dad’s probably getting impatient.”
“See ya, Mel. Ace that math test.”
“You feeling okay, honey?” Mom asked, worry obvious in her voice.
“I’m alright. Why?”
“It’s just, you’re normally so active… I don’t think I’ve ever seen you not doing anything, except when you’re sick.”
“I am doing something.” I indicated the stereo which was playing the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio play. “I just didn’t feel up to looking at… well, anything, really. The double vision was giving me a headache.”
“You’re going to have to get used to it, you know.”
“Yeah, but no reason I can’t take it slow.”
After a brief pause, she said, “Well, I came in here to let you know it’s 8:45, so we need to be getting ready to go.”
“That means you need to get dressed, young man.”
“Oh, right.” I finally opened my eyes.
“–And woman. I chose some things from Mel’s wardrobe that should fit you well enough; good thing she had that growth spurt.”
“Okay.” Then I flushed, “Actually, I may need your help….”
“Of course, you’ve never worn a bra before.”
“No, I mean with everything. You may not have noticed, but I’m not exactly coordinated in my new duality.”
“Oh, come on; how hard could it possibly be?”
“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“I suppose not,” I admitted. “I maintain that I needed the help, though.”
“I barely did anything, dear. Except with the bra.”
“Suuure you didn’t.”
“Mom, can we stop for a bit? I’m starting to get carsick.”
“Of course, dear.” It was a while longer before we reached a spot on the windy highway that had enough room to pull over, by which point I was pretty desperate to get out of the car.
Luckily, I didn’t get so nauseous as to actually barf, but it was a pretty close thing.
“You okay, honey?” Mom asked.
“I, think so,” I said between gulps of fresh air.
“Can you make the rest of the trip?”
“I think, it’ll help, if I sit closer together,”
“Okay, dear. I’ll try to drive tamer, too. I’ll call Dr. Schnaidt and let him know we might be late.”
After the call, I felt recovered enough to climb into the back seat. I guess Mom thought I looked cute snuggling with my girl body, because she took a picture before resuming the drive to Santa Cruz.
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Usually, going to the University of California, Santa Cruz would make any day better. The campus was beautiful, built among the trees of the redwood forest, and no amount of medical poking and prodding could ruin that. Today, though, I wasn’t in any state to appreciate it.
We were lucky enough to find a spot in the tiny parking lot next to the medical center. Not that I minded walking across campus normally, but I didn’t want to tempt fate. The bay area may be notoriously liberal, but it still has its share of bigots.
After I recovered from the ride, we made our way to the waiting room on the second floor of the newly renovated medical center. We didn’t have long to wait before a student employee called me in – or at least I assumed he was, since I didn’t recognize him.
“I’m sorry,” he said as we approached the door, “but powers testing is strictly confidential.”
“Of course, I understand,” Mom said, returning to her seat.
“Er, miss,” he nervously addressed my girl body, “that means you, too.”
I debated for a couple seconds, but eventually elected just to say “No, it doesn’t,” and brush past him.
Dr. Schnaidt entered with his usual greeting of “It’s a beautiful day in the Santa Cruz neighborhood!”
The student started apologizing for letting my ‘sister’ in, but I just said “Hello, Julian,” over him.
“Hello, Max,” he smiled. “And what is she? Manifested matter? Astral projection? Mind-controlled and shifted?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. She was there when I woke up. …I really hope not that last one though,” I shuddered.
“So do we all, but I’ve seen worse. Okay, Max, we’re going to get the basic physical done here, then head to Science Hill for the really interesting stuff. Alex, why don’t you get him started while I try to figure out what she is.”
“Um,” I said, “I don’t think that’s going to work. I’m very uncoordinated at moving with only one body so far.”
“Really?! Hm.” Julian seemed very interested by that. “Well. Maybe we’d better start with the description of how you think your powers work, then.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “It’s pretty simple, really. I’m me,” I pointed to myself with one thumb, “but I’m also her,” and I pointed across the room to my girl body.
“And when you say you are her, you mean…?”
“Well… just that. I see what she sees, hear what she hears, move her body like it’s my own.”
“And touch, do you share that?”
“Yeah, and taste and probably smell.”
“And can you tell the difference between her sensations and yours?”
“I… hmm, I think so, but it could just be context. We should test it. Here, poke us a few times.” I closed my eyes.
“That’s her.” “That’s me.” “Me again.” “Back to her.” “Oh come on, that doesn’t even test anything.” I opened my eyes and glared at Julian, who had just poked my girl body in the breast.
“It tests how you react,” he contradicted me, eyes twinkling. “All correct, by the way. But we should be getting on with the checkup. Alex, why don’t you measure him… no, both of them, while I take notes on what we’ve learned so far.”
The rest of the time at the medical center was spent on pretty standard physical stuff – you know, height, weight, eye dilation, reflex hammer. Well, except the gynecological exam. That was a little uncomfortable, but not as bad as I’d feared. At least Julian didn’t do that part.
“Well,” Julian told me at the end, “it seems you’re a perfectly healthy, average, teenage boy and girl.” Apparently he was expecting some reaction to that, because he paused a bit before continuing, “Now for the powers testing. We have two choices, we can sneak out the back and leave your mom in the waiting room all day, or we can bring her with us.”
“Of course I want her with us,” I said giving Julian a funny look, “but I thought the testing was ‘strictly confidential’?”
“Only if you want it to be,” he winked at me. “We say that for the benefit of kids that want to keep it private, but don’t want to say that to their parents.”
“Ah, right,” I nodded sagely. “Shall I go get her then?”
“Best if I do it,” he said, “we need to keep up appearances. You just wait here.”
“So Dr. Schnaidt,” Mom asked Julian on the walk to the genetics lab, “I know Max was asking earlier if you’d heard of someone with his… situation before.”
I started – I’d actually forgotten about that entirely. It was only a few hours ago, but it seemed so long. And it didn’t seem so important anymore.
“Hm. You already know that gender changes are pretty common, so I’ll assume you meant the splitting.” He waited for me to nod before continuing, “Well, I haven’t encountered any myself before, but I’ve heard of some things among the Whateley students. I know there was one girl that split in half, but she also had a split personality and each one went into a different body….”
“There was that one girl with the TK construct that she shared memories with,” Alex offered.
“Yeah, but that turned out to be her sister’s ghost, so that’s not really the same at all.” Julian pondered a bit longer. “I think the closest I’ve heard of is some shifters that can split their body, but they tend to lose control after a few minutes.”
“So there’s really nobody that’d understand.” My voice sounded oddly flat.
For some reason, the conversation ended there.
We left Alex with some genetic samples – from both my bodies, just in case – and continued on to the Kerr testing center. I’d had my whole genome sequenced before, of course, but it was always a good idea to check again with new mutants, and doubly so in my case.
While we waited for him to get back, Julian started me on the math portion of what he called the standard Xavier test. I had trouble for a while, until I had him give me a blindfold for my girl body. Once I could actually read the thing, I did pretty well, even on some things I remembered having trouble with only a couple days ago. And I saw through most of the stupid trick questions. Of course there were also some stupidly advanced questions, but you have to expect that on an assessment test for new mutants. The weirder part is I swear there were some reading comprehension questions in there.
I was busy trying to figure out if I could figure out the prime factorization of 3,823,574 when Alex returned.
“Professor Schnaidt,” he said, “there’s something weird about the result.”
I sighed and put my pencil down. “Yes, I have five copies of every chromosome, nobody understands how I’m alive, moving on.”
“Not that,” Alex snapped back. “I did read your medical record you know, and your pentaploidy is the first thing they mention. In big red capital letters. Also, no, you don’t, not anymore.” He paused a second, then amended, “Well, sort of.”
As I blinked in surprise and confusion, Julian massaged his temples. “Why don’t you take a break from the test, and we can all review these results,” he suggested.
“First, and most obviously, the subject has changed from pentaploid to triploid,” Alex opened.
“Alex, he’s right here; try to have at least a little bit of respect,” Julian said, massaging his temples again.
Personally, I was too shocked by the news to care. Now I only had three of each chromosome? “Which ones did I lose?” I blurted out.
Alex looked smug. “None of them.” Now I was even more confused.
“Of the four sets from your father,” Alex explained after a Look from Julian, “your male body has two of them, including both Y chromosomes, and your female body has the other two. Both have a copy of the set from your mother.”
“Huh,” was all I could say. So despite being a girl now, I was more a guy than ever before? No, that was stupid; my active genes were the same as always.
“It may be worth noting that the active set in your female body is the opposite of that of your male body. You now have an active copy of each of your father’s genes.”
“Huh,” I repeated dumbly. There was something else about that explanation… something that rang wrong….
“Also…” Alex whispered something in Julian’s ear, who nodded.
“Oh!” I suddenly exclaimed, bringing all eyes to me. Mom didn’t have the X-linked meta-gene, so, “Does that mean I’m not a mutant anymore?” And since I’m still triploid… “Am I going to die and then I’ll just be her?” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes.
“Oh, honey,” Mom said, quickly sweeping both of me into a big hug.
After a few seconds’ pause, Julian cleared his throat.
“Okay, I think I can trust you with this, Max, but you have to swear that what I tell you now does not under any circumstance leave this room.”
I hesitated – Julian rarely got this serious… but I trusted him. I nodded, trying (and failing) to clear the tears from my eyes.
“You too, Mrs. Johnson. This information could cause quite a panic if it got out to the public.”
There was a long pause as Mom thought, but eventually… “Go ahead, Dr. Schnaidt.”
“Okay, let me begin by saying that your assumptions, while reasonable, are incorrect. You are still a mutant – in both your bodies – and as such, you are… as stable, and mysterious, as ever.”
I could feel myself untense as I heard that. Wow, I hadn’t realized I was that tense. “Okay… but how?”
“I’m getting to that,” Julian chuckled. “You’ve undergone a process Alex and I discovered, which we’re tentatively calling ‘meta-spread’. As you might guess by the name, ‘meta-spread’ is a process by which the meta-gene complex spreads itself onto chromosomes which don’t currently contain it. In your case, it copied the X-linked portion of the complex onto the X chromosome from your mother.”
I was shocked into silence, but Mom asked nervously, “can… Can this happen to anyone?”
“It’s most common in Examplar and Regen mutants, but we’ve seen it in other types as well. We haven’t yet seen it occur in non-mutants, but we don’t have enough repeated genetic tests to have any confidence that it doesn’t happen.”
“So I’m the first documented?” I offered.
“Well…” Julian waffled, “You’re enough of an unusual case that I don’t know if we can consider you a baseline. But yes, I suppose you’re the first known case of meta-spread without an active meta-gene complex.” His eyes started to get that researcher sparkle. “Say, can I use your data in my next paper?”
“Sure, Doc,” I jived him, trying to distract him before he got lost in the research. “But for now, you’ve got to help me get back!”
“Back? Back where?” he asked distantly, not catching on but still giving me the correct line.
“Back to the testing!” I returned in my best Marty McFly. Which, coming partly from a girl’s mouth, was not so great; but I guess it was good enough, because…
Julian had me complete the rest of the math test (turns out I could factor the number, it just took a while) before moving on to the physical test.
After setting up another treadmill next to the standard one, he started me on endurance testing. I was just starting to get warmed up when the wrecking ball came in like Miley Cyrus.
“…wish it could be some other way, but there has to be real danger or it invalidates the test.”
“YOU HIT HIM WITH A WRECKING BALL!”
“Quiet please,” I mumbled, rolling over.
“Oh! You’re still awake!” Mom ran over and gave me a crushing mom-hug.
“I said quiet,” I muttered, “’ve got a splitting headache.”
“Oh! Sorry,” Mom whispered, while Julian joked, “You sure you didn’t have that last night?” I glared at him. Not for the joke, just for saying it too loud.
As the fuzziness clouding my thoughts started to clear, I realized I was no longer dualized. This would have been a good thing, except I wasn’t myself, but instead, her.
“Mom,” I asked quietly, “Where am I?”
“YOU SEE?!” she screeched, making my head hurt again. “YOU GAVE HER AMNESIA!”
As the pain and fuzz cleared, I realized Mom was giving me a recap of the day’s events. “No, Mom, stop.” I tried again, “I meant, where is me?”
Mom looked confused, but Julian chuckled and told me, “Your original body is in the other room, being tended to by Alex. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine; he’s a healer.”
“Oh.” Still quiet, I asked, “Why does my head hurt?”
“Because THIS MAN,” Mom started, then noticed my wince and continued more quietly, “this man hit you in the head with a wrecking ball.”
“Really?” I asked. “Both of me?”
Julian blanched. “Heavens, no! Only your male body, and that just to test for a danger sense.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” I paused. “But I can’t feel that head. Why does this head hurt?”
After a short while, I noticed that there was… something I was doing mentally that was causing the pain. Naturally, I cut it off.
This may have been a mistake, because I immediately broke down into a blubbering mess.
“W-why me? Why do I have to be first? Why can’t somebody help?” I sobbed into Mom’s dress.
She was surprised at first, but it didn’t take her long to start consoling me. “It’ll be alright, honey… We’ll make it through… We still love you no matter what….”
“A-and why am I a girl? Why do there have to be two of me? Why can’t I just be ME?”
When I had calmed down some, Julian spoke up again. “Well, that was a relief, if surprising.”
“A relief?” Mom nearly screeched. “My daughter breaks down into a crying mess on the floor and you say it’s a RELIEF?!”
“Certainly,” Julian said, unfazed. “He’s going through a very trying time, and he seemed to be repressing his emotions. Without some release I fear he would have cracked before long.
“Although,” he continued, “I am troubled that it came out of nowhere. Having an emotional fit with no trigger is a sign of someone in a far worse state than I believed Max to be.”
“Not no trigger,” I blubbered, “made the hurting stop.”
“What?” Julian and Mom said in sync.
“I…” I tried to compose myself, and explained as best I could, “I stopped doing what made me hurt, and that… made me really sad.”
“Why would the hu-the pain stopping make you sad?” Julian asked, confused.
“I don’t know!” I screamed. “That’s just what happened!”
Julian’s eyes widened briefly, then he looked thoughtful. “Max,” he said, “do you think you can do… whatever it was, that caused the pain, again?”
“Why?! You just want to see me hurting, don’t you! That’s the real reason you hit me with the wrecking ball!”
“Max, you know that I don’t enjoy seeing you in pain. I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t think it was important for understanding your powers.
“…Fine.” I allowed myself to do… whatever it was again. Immediately I winced. “Ow!”
“Okay Max, how do you feel?”
“In pain, mostly.” I paused. “…Not much of anything beyond that, actually. Ow. Can I stop now?”
“Oh, yes, certainly.”
Luckily, the emotions didn't come immediately flooding back this time.
“Hyeeg. That is creepy. All the emotions, just gone.” I shuddered. “Why are all my powers creepy?”
“Eh,” hedged Julian, “I’ve seen worse. Like this one girl that actually did the pea soup thing from Exorcist.” He shivered. “Now that was creepy.”
“…pea soup thing?” I asked, at a loss.
“What, you don’t know that one?” Julian chuckled. I shook my head. “Kids these days, no appreciation for the classics….”
“Honey,” Mom said, worry obvious in her voice, “we’ve seen that movie. At Joe’s 16th birthday. Don’t you remember?”
“You filled a super soaker with pea soup and pranked your friends with it?”
“I….” There was a glimmer, but… “It’s like it’s behind a wall….” I could feel tears welling up again, but I fought them back; three times was too many to cry in one day.
“I grounded you for two weeks because of the mess you made!” Mom yelled, starting to panic.
“Why can’t I remember…?” I gave up and let the tears flow.
“YOU REALLY DID GIVE HER AMNESIA!” Mom screamed at Julian, who looked guilty, but also confused.
I just kept trying as Mom went into full rage mode; I should remember this. Joe’s birthday; kind of a big deal. But no good. What about my birthday? …Nothing, again. I couldn’t even remember when it was. I sniffled and tried more things. That movie I referenced earlier, Back to the Future… it was a good movie about time travel, and that’s all I knew. Everything else, the entire content of the film, was behind the wall.
What could I remember? I remembered waking up today. I recalled the entire day’s events. I didn’t remember going to bed last night; that was also behind the barrier.
…My barrier, I belatedly realized. It was the one I’d made to stop the pain and the emotionlessness. And that meant I could push past it. I did so, and
By the time I recovered from the biggest ball of pain and fuzz yet, Mom had stopped her tirade and was embracing me again.
“Max, what happened?” Julian asked, concern in his voice for the first time.
“I pushed past the wall, my wall, to find the memories,” I sniffled, “but there was only more pain and fuzz behind it.”
Mom just hugged me tighter on hearing that, but Julian looked like he was about to manifest a lightbulb. At least, he did for a second, but then his face fell.
“Max,” he finally said, “I think I may know what’s going on, but… If I’m right, the only way to test it would involve more ‘pain and fuzz’.”
I sniffled a few more times, but slowly nodded. I wanted to know too; it was my body, after all. Even if not my only one.
“Okay,” he said, “try moving… say, your arm.”
I just stared at him and lifted my hand to chest height.
“Ha! I suppose that wasn’t too clear, was it?” Julian asked ruefully. “No, I meant the arm of your original body.”
“But I can’t feel my body….” His expression made it clear that he still expected me to try. Okay, okay… “Ow!”
“Yes!” Julian exclaimed. I glared at him. “Okay, sorry. It’s just always exciting to figure out the powers of an unusual mutant.”
“Tell me that I don’t have to do that again, and I might forgive you,” I said quietly.
“Gladly,” said Julian before launching into exposition mode. “As you probably figured out as well, that pain seems to be the result of interacting with your other body. While it’s unconscious, of course,” he continued before I could object, “obviously that doesn’t happen when you’re awake.”
I considered that. “Okay, that explains the arm and the memories,” (thank god, I don’t actually have amnesia!) “but what about the emotions?”
“Yes, that’s a bit trickier, isn’t it?” Julian chuckled. “But tell me; have you noticed, since your manifestation, that you’re calmer?”
“No I’m n….” Hmm. I was in mood swing central now, but when I was awake…. “Now that you mention it, I guess so. But that was just regular calm, not ‘BEEP BOOP I HAVE NO EMOTIONS’.”
Julian tried to pretend he wasn’t amused. “Quite. It seems that the calming effect is increased while your other body is unconscious. Though I can’t imagine why that would be,” he frowned; “I would expect it to stop, like it does when you’re… disconnected, shall we say.”
“Yeah…. Connection drains me…” I mused. Then the terms I’d used presented an obvious conclusion. “Like a ground?”
Julian blinked. “Why yes, I suppose it could be like that. And when you’re awake, it’s like… putting in a resistor?”
I frowned. “More like… having a tub full of… no wait, like putting in another element in, um, I think it’s series? So neither one can get as much power.”
Julian nodded at that, but hesitantly, and Mom just looked confused.
“Well, I thought it was a good analogy,” I grumbled.
Julian decided that I should wait until I wake up to continue with the physical portions of the Xavier test, and instead gave me another written part. He claimed it was the reading comprehension portion, but it looked suspiciously similar to the “math portion.” I even recognized some of the problems (with different numbers, of course).
Which made it all the more upsetting when I realized I couldn’t figure them out.
About twenty minutes in, Alex entered and had a quiet discussion with Julian. After which Julian asked me how far into the test I’d gotten, and then had me continue as before and left the room briefly. It was obvious he was testing something more there, but I had no idea what.
So I just went back to the test, which somehow seemed twice as hard as the nearly identical one I’d taken an hour ago.
I may have broken a pencil or two in the process. Luckily, Julian had about a thousand extras. I guess you need those when you’re testing kids several times stronger than they’re used to. That wasn’t me, though; I was just taking out my frustration on poor innocent pencils.
By the time Julian told me the hour for the test was over, I was glad to be quit of the thing.
“So how bad did I do?”
“Well,” Julian hedged, “it’s a bit early to say, since we haven’t corrected the tests yet. But, based just on completion… On the math portion-”
“Don’t give me that,” I interrupted. “Those were obviously the same test, just with specifics changed.”
“Yes, quite.” He continued, “Okay, the first time you took it, you showed a pretty significant increase over where I expected you’d be, based on your grades and previous tests.”
I nodded. “And the second time?”
“The second time, you seemed to be right around that expected level.”
“Hmh.” So she wasn’t as smart as me. Or was that just because she was alone? Apparently she was as smart as I should be….
“But for now,” Julian said, “we should talk about your body.”
I looked down at myself – no, at her, I don’t have boobs – hesitantly. “Uh…. What about it?”
“Well, it seems to be asleep, for starters,” Julian said wryly, clearly amused by my response.
“What? What does tha- oh, you mean me, le duh.” I frowned, “Still? That’s a long time to be knocked out, isn’t it?”
“Not unconscious, not anymore. Sleeping.”
“Uh… okay then… so… you gonna wake me up…?”
“Oh, we tried, right after we realized,” Julian said, clearly enjoying this far too much, “but based on our results, I suspect that only you will be able to rouse… yourself.”
I countered his wryness with some of my own, saying “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you aren’t expecting me to go shake myself awake.”
“Heh. No, I expect you’ll have to – what were we calling it before? – connect with your body.”
“But if you’re wrong,” I said with some trepidation, “I’ll get more pain and fuzz.”
“But if I’m right,” he countered smoothly, “your body will keep laying there until you try.”
“You have a bad habit of making sense,” I pointed out. I steeled myself (well, maybe ironed, this time) and connected, and unceremoniously found myself staring at the ceiling in another room.
“You know,” I said after lurching out of the hospital bed, “it depends where this room is, but this is probably the farthest I’ve gotten from myself.”
“Hmm – another thing to test,” said Julian.
Meanwhile, in the other room, Mom told me, “It’s just down the hall from the testing room, but I think you’re still right.”
“Oh! I didn’t realize you were in here!” I turned around and opened up for a hug.
Julian watched me awkwardly as I hugged, to his viewpoint, nobody.
“Ah, geez; it’s like talking to someone in the room while you’re on the phone, only worse,” I groused. “Plus it’s making me dizzy.”
“Well then, why don’t I take you to where your other body is, and then we can break for lunch,” Julian suggested.
“Sounds good to me, and my stomachs,” I replied, ignoring the weird look from Mom.
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Lunch at the Porter dining hall was okay, but somewhat ruined by carsickness. Lunch at the Santa Cruz Diner seemed likely to be better, both in terms of food and conversation.
“Well, I’m not having any connection problems,” I opened hopefully. “And this is what, a good couple miles?”
“Pretty close to three,” Mom replied. Julian, back on campus, responded similarly, though he said five.
“You two need to get your facts straight,” I told them, to the (brief) confusion of each.
“Yeah, I know I need a codename,” I admitted after swallowing my shrimp, “but at the moment, all I can really think of is Meepo.”
“What does that mean?” Julian asked. Mom had a better idea, but still asked, “Who was that again?”
“He’s a video game character that splits into five bodies, and it’s a pain and a half coordinating him, so it’s pretty appropriate. But that also means he’s copyrighted, so….”
“You really have no other ideas?” Mom asked. Julian stayed silent; they were getting better at telling when I was listening to the other. Admittedly, I was helping by looking very intently at the speaker.
“Well, I thought of Legion, but that’s almost certainly taken by now, and it has some connotations that I’d rather… not.”
“I know,” Julian said, “you could be Max-a-million!”
I groaned and made palm-to-face contact. And then, since I thought it deserved it, moved on to a 2xfacepalm combo.
“What?” Mom asked, bewildered. “What did he say?”
“Max-a-million,” I repeated for her, and watched as she performed a very similar maneuver, although with less redundancy. “Okay, bad pun aside, even I know using your real name in your code name is a Bad Idea, capitals and all. Not to mention, I’m currently two, probably four eventually, not even close to a million.”
“True,” Julian countered, “but it’s always a good idea to be a little misleading in your code name. Especially if you have any plans of being a super.”
“I don’t think I’d be much use,” I muttered, “and besides, wouldn’t I want them to underestimate me?”
“Not always,” Julian smirked, “paranoia is a powerful thing. And give yourself some credit – you’d be great at recon, if nothing else.”
I just shrugged and returned my attention to my delicious pasta. At least it was easier eating one at a time, even if it did look weird on the other end.
“How about Clone?” Mom suggested after a couple seconds.
“Probably taken, and not all that accurate,” I dismissed the idea. “Mitosis or something would be closer.”
“Meiosis, actually,” Julian corrected me. “Or better, the result from meiosis, which is a gamete I guess?”
“Yeah, um – I’m not gonna use the name ‘Gamete’, thanks.”
“Gemini?” Mom offered.
“Eh, probably taken, probably inaccurate eventually, and anyway, I’m a Cancer.”
“How about Tetrous?” Julian suggested.
“Tetris? Like the game?”
“O-U-S,” he corrected me.
“Yeah, the association’s still there, I don’t really want to be a tetromino.”
I just gave him a Look.
“You could just be Four,” Mom suggested.
“I think we should steer away from the numbers, on account we don’t know for sure I’ll reach that.”
“Harem,” Julian offered.
“Ew, god no.” I shuddered. “Why would anyone want to be called Harem?”
“…Actually, it’s apparently taken,” he informed me.
“I don’t wanna know.”
“Maybe focus on the mental stuff?” Mom suggested. “Like, you could be Overmind or something.”
“I’m not the friggin’ Zerg,” I countered. “Although I guess I could do something like Hive Mind….”
“Actually,” said Julian, “there’s a Whateley security officer called Hive, and it’s generally accepted you should avoid getting that close codename-wise to people you’re likely to actually interact with.”
“Fair enough. Hive Mind would creep people out anyway, at that point I might as well call myself Why Am I So Creepy Man.”
“In that vein, though, you could be Gestalt,” Julian offered.
“Yeah I don’t even know what that means so I’m gonna say no.”
“Network?” Mom threw out.
“Yeah, making people think I’m a cyberpath is a great idea.”
“That’s almost as bad. You know what, screw it; I’ll just be Pentaploid after all.”
“You were considering this before?” Mom asked. Meanwhile, Julian objected, “But you aren’t anymore….”
“Yeah,” I responded to Mom first, “I figured it was a good default if nothing interesting came from my powers. It’s unique, it sounds cool even if you don’t know what it is, and, well, it’s been a part of my life for long enough.” Turning to Julian, I said, “And as far as I’m concerned, I’ve still got all five, so it’s still true, and it still will be even if I split more.”
Julian didn’t seem to like that logic, but he accepted it.
“You know,” Mom said after a few moments’ silence, “there’s still another name you need.”
I made a show of slowly sighing before I turned to her. “What.”
“You need a girl’s name for your new body,” she replied, unimpressed.
“Ugh, really?” I groused, though I knew she was right. “Okay, whatever, she can be Maxine and then you can call us both Max.”
“Is this another thing you thought of before?” I nodded. “Well, I can see the sense of it if you had changed, but I think it’s better if we can refer to you individually.”
“Fine, you have any ideas then?”
“Well, we already used Melanie – that was what we were going to name you, if you’d been a girl – and Josie’s a bad idea for similar reasons.”
I scowled. “I don’t really want to get that far from my real name anyway.”
Julian spoke up, “How about May, then? It’s about as close as you could possibly get.”
“May,” I tried it out. “Yeah, I can live with that. And then we can name the next one Maz.”
Mom ejected milk from her nose. Julian took it in much better stride, saying, “No, the obvious next pair would be Mab and Mac.”
“Mab?” I asked. “Is that even a name?”
“It’s the name of a faerie queen in one of Shakespeare’s plays. Midsummer Night’s Dream, presumably, since that’s the one about faeries.”
“Okay, sure, whatever; theme naming is go.”
After lunch, Mom and I drove back up to campus, where Julian and May – yeah, having a name to refer to her by helps – where we were waiting for us. I decided to disconnect rather than risk another dining hall mishap.
Julian had a few more questions in mind to explore aspects of my abilities. After that, it was back to standardized testing. Specifically, the “endurance testing” that previously resulted in me recovering from wrecking-ball based injuries.
Needless to say, I was a little paranoid. I still wasn’t expecting the treadmills to turn sideways and dump me on my asses, though.
“Really?” I asked Julian, annoyed. “The wrecking ball for danger sense makes sense, I guess, but why this?”
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t realize they can climb walls until they’re doing it,” he responded.
It continued in that manner. Just when I started getting warmed up, the treadmill would make a ridiculous spurt of speed, or buck up and down, or reverse direction and make me run backwards. I was getting really tired of this so-called “Xavier test”.
Eventually, Julian had me do an actual endurance test – after I was already worn out from all the other nonsense.
“Okay,” he spoke to my puffing, prone forms, “now for the weights.”
“Are they going to suddenly crunch my arms to check for hardness and regen?” I asked bitterly.
“No, nothing like that,” he chuckled, “though that reminds me, we should get started on the sunburn test.”
That, at least, was exactly what it sounded like – he had me put my arms (one for each body) under a UV lamp until it burnt, and then checked it at various intervals for healing.
Lifting weights was even more painful than usual with a sunburn on my arm. After that I got to play crazy death dodgeball, which was actually pretty fun until the room contained more balls than air.
Of course, Julian had me try almost everything both linked, and by myself. Playing dodgeball with two bodies was not an improvement; I almost retched afterwards. Admittedly, that was as much due to getting pegged right in the stomach as to the main experience, but still.
Then we got to the really fun part.
“This game,” said Julian, “is called Mao. The rules in it change every five minutes, and I will tell you none of them. Go.”
When he declared me finished, I asked if there was somewhere I could get the game to play at home. He chuckled and pointed me to Google Play.
More basic tests followed – the standard ESP cards, a table with a pile of mysterious components (I managed to figure out that plug A went into socket B before he called me off), a room full of supposedly-magic rocks, all kinds of junk. Just about every one left me standing around with no idea what I was doing.
He also set up a few things to test my connectivity. These generally consisted of me standing inside something that would block a certain kind of signal – a lead room, a Faraday cage, a vacuum-sealed containment room, among others – and trying to connect to May outside it. No matter what he tried, I never had any trouble.
“Well, I think we’re done here,” he said finally, defeated. “Let’s go back out to where your mom is waiting and go over the results.”
“The first thing I should say is that these results are tentative,” Julian said partly to us, partly to the tape recorder. “Mutants discover new powers all the time, and as Pentaploid only manifested this morning, powers such as Exemplar haven’t had time to develop. In fact, Pentaploid’s eyes don’t even show any signs of change yet.
“That said, there is one power which is impossible to miss. This is Pentaploid’s duplication, or perhaps ‘splitting’ would be more appropriate. Pentaploid tells me that his new female body simply appeared overnight. Thus far, she appears to be permanent. Pentaploid controls both bodies at once, and shares sensations from both as well. Currently, Pentaploid is limited to moving both bodies synchronously, or moving one haltingly while the other remains still; this, however, is likely an issue of coordination. It should be noted that when moving in sync, Pentaploid subconsciously makes minor corrections to their movements to keep the bodies in a stable relative position and direction.” Oh, huh, I hadn’t noticed that.
“Pentaploid also has the ability to ‘disconnect’ from either of his bodies, leaving his consciousness in the other. He can maintain this state for at least an hour with no observed ill effects. When disconnected, his body appears to fall into a deep sleep and cannot be roused except by him reconnecting. Also of note, when connected to only one body, Pentaploid can only access memories of experiences had in this body.”
“That’s not quite right,” I interrupted Julian. “I can also remember things that I thought about while in both bodies.”
“I defer to your expertise, then, Pentaploid,” Julian responded for the recorder’s benefit. He went on, “When Pentaploid is connected to both bodies, he shows a marked increase in intelligence across the board, as well as in emotional stability.
“The means by which Pentaploid ‘connects’ to his bodies remains unknown. He is able to connect at a distance of at least two miles, as well as through lead, vacuum, tin foil, a Faraday cage, rubber, and magical containment wards, all with no difficulty or noticeable delay.
“It happened during the testing that one of Pentaploid’s bodies was knocked unconscious. When this occurred, Pentaploid’s other body remained conscious but collapsed and was briefly unresponsive. Pentaploid attempted to maintain the connection to the unconscious body, but doing so resulted in quote ‘pain and fuzz’ as well as a complete deadening of his emotions. While in this state, Pentaploid was also unable to access the memories of his other body. I suspect, but did not test, that Pentaploid also would not have increased intelligence in this state.
“Another unusual aspect of this power relates to Pentaploid’s code name. Prior to Pentaploid’s manifestation, it was discovered that he was, as you might guess, pentaploid. For those not versed in genetics, that means he had five distinct copies of each chromosome. As this is usually a fatal condition, it was investigated further and eventually it was determined that all but two of each chromosome were inactivated. It was also determined that each of the three inactive sets were from Pentaploid’s father, and to all appearances, these and the active set were all produced from the same primary spermatocyte.
“Since Pentaploid’s manifestation, this situation has changed. Two of the inactive sets, including both X chromosomes, no longer appear in his original body; now, they appear only in his new body, where one of these sets is now active. The other active set of chromosomes in his new body is a copy of the single set from his mother. This makes each of his bodies currently triploid. This situation makes me suspect that he will split twice more, eventually forming four bodies and activating all his chromosomes, but at this point that is only speculation.
“I must admit to uncertainty about how to categorize this power. I’m tentatively assigning it as Telepath-1/Empath-1 due to the mental connection. Since we don’t know how the female body came to appear, I cannot assign a power to this aspect, although it is likely a Manifestor or Warper ability. I realize that this classification is somewhat misleading, but I don’t know how else to express his power.
“I also subjected Pentaploid to the Xavier test, version 2c. This uncovered one other power, level one Regen, in both bodies. Although no other powers were detected, I recommend a repeat of the test in several months’ time, after more powers have had time to express themselves.”
“So Max,” Mom inquired on the way back up Highway 17, “have you thought about whether you want to go to Whateley?”
“Are you kidding?” I returned. “The place is basically Hogwarts with modern conveniences and future tech. I’d want to go there even if I had just had Exemplar 1 like Dad..” I paused a bit before continuing, “The real question is if it’s worth it, since it costs basically all of the money.”
After a couple seconds, Mom asked expectantly, “And is it?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I definitely could use help controlling my power, but given how unique it apparently is, I’m not sure how much help they’ll be able to give….”
“Don’t forget, they also train you in self defense.”
“Oh yeah. “ I scowled, “I probably will need that at some point, this isn’t exactly an easy power to hide… not unless I get a lot of practice at it, at least.” I paused. “I suppose that’s one thing they can give me, at least – a safe place to practice.
“I guess it’s probably worth it,” I hedged. “It’s just….” Thoughts of saxophones ran through my head.
Mom seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. “Darling, if there’s even a chance that going to Whateley will save you from a single dangerous incident, it’ll be worth every cent, because that’s all it would take to take you away from us.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to ignore that she’d used an appellation normally reserved for Mel, “yeah, you’re right, Mom.”
Since I wasn’t willing to risk more carsickness by doing anything other than staring out the window, I noticed right away when we missed our exit.
“Where are we going?” I asked a bit wearily.
“We need to get a wardrobe for May,” Mom pointed out. “Including underwear.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but she was right. Especially on the underwear count; May’s boobs were getting sore where the bra was pressing them in too much. “Okay, but nothing too girly yet.”
Mom paused a second before responding, “Of course, honey.”
“And I’m staying in the car.”
“We’ll need to get you fitted, dear, and-”
“No,” I interrupted her, “just me, not May. I don’t want to go bumbling around the stores.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Okay, yes, that probably makes sense.”
Fortunately, the shopping center we went to didn’t have a Victoria’s Secret. Unfortunately, that meant I had to find my size by trial and error, and some of the errors were rather painful.
A dozen taupe (new word!) bras and panties in bag, and a few other colors, and we were moving on to outerclothes.
I tried to get pants with sufficient pocket room, but there just weren’t any. I managed one pair of slightly ill-fitting cargo shorts, but mostly got skinny jeans, and a couple plain colored long skirts. I guess I’d need a purse after all. Not today, though.
For tops I’d have preferred to go to Hot Topic, but there wasn’t one of those in this center either. I settled on getting a few plain shirts and a couple camisoles (another new word, which made this a Good Day, at least in the formal definition). I’d get an order of We Love Fine shirts later to complete my wardrobe.
Socks were almost as simple as before; I grabbed a few different colors rather than a big pack of just white ones. Mom wanted me to get some pantyhose, but I balked at that, and she backed off quickly.
That just left shoes. I walked into the store looking for one pair that fit well and looked alright. I walked out with three; tennis shoes for walking, nice black flats for impressing people, and some cute blue slip-ons for… just because. Oh, and slippers, but those don’t count.
“Why did we get these?!”
“Don’t blame me,” Mom said, “you went for the skirts all on your own.”
“Yeah, but… What was I thinking? Skirts? Camisoles? Three pairs of shoes?!”
“You seemed happy enough when you were picking them out.”
“Yeah, but that’s exactly the…” I could feel my eyes widen as I realized, “No. No, I wasn’t. She was.”
“Honey,” Mom said reprovingly, “you’re the same person, even-”
“Apparently not,” I snapped, “because if I was in there, I wouldn’t have gotten half this crap!”
“Max,” Mom tried again after a brief pause, “are a couple skirts really that bad?”
“I don’t care about the bloody clothes!” I yelled. “They’re just clothes! I could just not wear them! I care that she got things I didn’t want!”
“Oh, honey,” Mom said consolingly. I just cried into her hug, not caring that she still didn’t get it.
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When we got home, I roused May from sleeping on my shoulder and immediately retreated upstairs to my room.
I left her disconnected on the bed and booted up my computer for a much-needed break from the day’s craziness.
When the DotA random number god decreed that I would be playing Meepo, I almost rage quit on the spot. Almost. Despite the unpleasant reminder, though, his body splitting made him one of my favorite characters, so I stuck with it.
My door creaked open a couple times during the match, but whoever it was knew better than to expect conversation.
“Max,” Dad told me near the end of the match, “Dinner’s almost ready.”
“Okay, I should be done soon,” I replied.
I noticed he waited a couple seconds before leaving, but I couldn’t look away from the screen to see why.
“Max,” Mom said disapprovingly as I approached the dinner table, “where’s May?”
I shrugged. “Sleeping.”
She gave me the beginning of a Mom Glare. “She’s got to be starving; Dr. Schnaidt told me she didn’t eat well, and with all the exercise….”
“I suppose,” I said noncommittally.
“Bring her down here.” The Glare was starting to heat up.
“Alright, fine.” I trudged back up the stairs, hoping she’d cool down by the time I returned.
“So,” Mel said excitedly, “what’d you find out?”
I had to smile at her enthusiasm. “Well, I’m being counted as a Telepath 1, Esper 1 for the multiple bodies bit, and we also found I have Regen 1. That’s all so far but Doc Schnaidt said I might still get Exemplar or other stuff.”
“Cool! Do you have a mutant card yet?”
“Not yet. Speaking of which, Dad, we need to swing by the MCO office after school tomorrow.”
“Okay, Max. So I take it you think you’re up to going to school?”
“I don’t see why not,” I responded. “We found out I can disconnect from May and then she sleeps and everything’s like normal, so it should be fine.”
“May?!” Mel squealed.
“Oh yeah, Mom insisted we should name her.”
“So cute!” Mel seemed entirely too pleased with my doppelganger’s name.
I inhaled the forkfuls of spaghetti I’d been wrestling with before continuing. “What else… Oh, it turns out May got half my dad-genes. Now I’m an XYY guy.”
I speared a meatball with May’s fork and scarfed that before looking up. Mel still seemed distracted by the new name, but Dad was looking confused, and even Joe was looking thoughtful.
“…Hmm. I guess we can probably tell them, huh, Mom?”
“Tell them?” Mom said before connecting the dots. “Oh, that… Yes, that’s probably fine….”
“Okay, but first, you guys have to promise that you don’t tell anyone else. It stops here, okay?”
Dad nodded reverently. Joe just said, “Sure.”
“Tell us what?” demanded Mel.
“You have to promise,” I insisted, and Mom nodded to back me up.
“Okay, I promise, I won’t tell anyone, even Sarah or Auntie Grace,” Mel swore solemnly.
“Okay.” I took a deep breath. “So it turns out that sometimes, mutants can get parts of the meta-gene complex copied onto chromosomes that didn’t have them before.”
“What,” Joe asked, “like getting the chromosome 14 gene on chromosome 19 or something?”
“No, just getting it onto the other copy of chromosome 14. At least, I think so,” I frowned, “I didn’t actually ask about that situation.”
“So,” Dad connected it, “your X chromosome from Mom…”
“…now contains your X-linked meta-gene, yeah.”
I took a good look around the table. Mom had heard it before, of course, so not much reaction there. Dad was looking a bit wild-eyed. Joe seemed to be in awe. And Mel was looking a bit confused – she’d been really young when all this genetics stuff came up before, so she was a bit lacking in background.
“The important part,” I told her, “is that both me and May are mutants, even though she took away what originally made me a mutant.”
“Oh, okay,” Mel said. “Why’d she do that? Is she a meanieface?”
“No,” I said, trying not to laugh, “she didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t really know what she’s like yet, except that she likes girlier clothes than me,” I finished wryly.
“Well, of course she does, she’s a girl,” Mel replied innocently.
I wasn’t sure what Dad and Joe’s reactions to my last statement would be, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to deal with them yet. “So, uh, you guys hear about that goat simulator?”
After dinner, I was feeling brave enough to stay downstairs and socialize.
Joe excused himself to his room, and Mom and Dad also went upstairs looking like they were going to have a Discussion, so it ended up being just me and Mel and May.
Mel wanted to watch My Little Pony, and I gave in for a couple episodes (yeah, it’s a good show, but being a guy under the age of twenty I at least have to pretend not to like it) but we spent most of the night playing Mario Kart.
We even gave May a controller one race… which resulted in both me and her losing horribly, and then I had to spend the next race with my eyes closed.
All in all, though, despite May sitting next to me the whole time, it was a pretty normal night, which was just what I needed.
Dad was waiting for me by the time I reached the top of the stairs.
“About what you said at dinner…” he began hesitantly.
“About the goat simulator?” I joked. “I’ve got it on Steam if you really want to play it that bad.”
“No, about May. She..."
I indicated for him to go on.
“Well... You implied... She has her own personality...?"
I sighed, “Seems that way. But then, nobody else’s noticed. Guess I could be imagining it.”
“Mm.” He nodded slightly. Then something struck him. “Where is she sleeping?”
“I figured we’d share the bed.” To his disapproving look, I retorted, “Oh, come on. We’re literally the same person; you can’t think that….”
“No, of course not,” he said, but his frown persisted.
I sighed again. “I’m going to bed, okay?”
He said nothing, but he got out of the way.
Turns out that when each of your bodies takes an hour-or-so long nap in the afternoon, it makes it a lot harder to get to sleep.
Thus I was still awake when Mom and Dad started arguing.
I couldn’t tell what they were saying from my bed, and I really didn’t want to, but given what’d happened today I knew there was basically no chance that they weren’t talking about me. It never got very loud, so I held onto hope that it was something minor, but it still made me depressed to know that my parents were arguing about me.
My pillow was damp by the time I fell asleep.
April 1, 2014
72 hours remain
“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”
I looked over the strange man. He held a mask in each hand, and wore a large sack covered in more. The masks depicted characters of different races, genders, and species; they ranged from mildly creepy to absolutely terrifying.
“Who are you?” I demanded of the happy mask salesman.
“No. The question is, who are you?” He produced from somewhere a pair of masks and laid them out on the table. They were nearly identical, even with matching dots to the left of the eyes, but one was rounder and had green eyes.
“I’m me,” I responded, and pointed to my lifeless blue-eyed visage.
“Are you sure?” The salesman flourished a Meepo mask.
“Of course!” I grabbed my mask to prove it, but as soon as I did a body formed under it. Suddenly I was seeing through his eyes as well, but when he looked at me I couldn’t see my own face.
“You aren’t me,” Max said.
Panicking, I grabbed at the May mask, but again when I touched it a body formed and I was seeing through her eyes.
“You aren’t me, either, jerk!”
I stumbled through the halls, touching all the masks, but every time the body that formed rejected me.
“You aren’t me!”
“Me, you are not!”
“Sure as hell ain’t me, mate!”
“You are not of the Swarm!”
I woke up in a panic, my pajamas sticky with sweat.
Once I had control of my breathing, I checked my alarm clock. 6:30 AM; too late to bother going back to sleep. Might as well take a shower before someone used up all the hot water. …Make that two showers.
As I selected clothing to change into afterwards, I contemplated the dream. Might it be an Avatar spirit trying to talk to me? Probably not; sure, there COULD be a Happy Mask Salesman spirit, but it seemed more likely that it was just my brain mashing up video games like usual.
I didn’t want to think about what it meant that I would have a dream like that on my own, though.
The showers were nice and relaxing. May’s took a little longer because I ended up exploring her body. No, not masturbating – I’d rather do that in my own body first, thank you – just feeling how different it was to my own.
I also found out why Mom and Mel always bring two towels into the bathroom. Luckily, I was dry and dressed by that point, so I could fetch her a second one.
This left me with nothing left to do but eat breakfast at a time when the rest of the household, except Mom, was just starting to wake up.
“You’re up early,” Mom commented as I entered the kitchen.
“Had a nightmare,” I admitted.
“Oh, I’m sorry, honey; I keep forgetting how hard this must be for you. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” I decided to have May’s breakfast first, so I’d be less likely to get hungry during class.
“Okay, if you’re sure, dear.”
I explored the cupboards. English muffin and blueberries in rice cereal sounded good.
“You don’t think it was a result of your powers, do you?” Mom asked worriedly.
“Not directly. I had a normal dream the night before.”
“ ‘Not directly’?”
“Well.” I hedged. “It was obviously about them….”
“You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I scowled.
Unlike in the shower, I stayed connected to May as she ate, although it made me even hungrier.
“Well, dear, I must be going,” Mom said after she finished eating. “You sure you’re okay with going to school?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” I smiled. “I don’t get to say it often, so, have a good day at work.”
“Why, thank you, dear.” She smiled back. “You have a good day at school. And call me right away if there’s any trouble!”
“I’ll try not to,” I said, and hugged her goodbye (as May).
“Ah, honey,” she said, amused, after we broke off, “you got a bit of butter on your shirt, there.”
“What? Oh, geez.” I went to get a paper towel. “Note to self: hugging at table is dangerous.”
“Apparently,” she chuckled, then checked the time. “Okay, I really need to go now.”
“Okay, byyye!” I waved pointlessly, since she’d already turned to go.
Even eating slowly and one at a time, I was still done with breakfast before anyone else made it to the table.
“Heeyaaaawaaaaaaa,” Joe yawned by way of greeting.
“Good morning to you too,” I replied cheerily.
“…so, what, you’ve got some mutant shit that makes it so you don’t need sleep?” he mumbled.
“Naw, just a nightmare. Blueberries?”
I busied myself washing a handful while Dad ambled his way in.
“Good morrow, Dad.” He started as I spoke. “Blueberries?”
“Uh… yeah, sure, why not.”
I fetched a bowl to keep up with demand.
“Oh, Dad,” Joe stated, “I gotta do some shit today, so I’ll be comin’ back with Ian.”
Dad just nodded; Joe’d done this before enough times for everyone to be comfortable with it.
“Speaking of ‘doing shit’,” I chimed in, “don’t forget I need to go to the MCO office to get my MID.”
“Yeah,” was his reply.
As usual, Dad ate a quick breakfast then retreated to the office for the next fifteen minutes. Joe and I didn’t bother to hold a conversation.
“Good morning, Maxine!” Mel opened.
I laughed in that groaning way that the butt of a joke does. “Mom told you about that, huh?”
“Neh? No, I made it up. What’s there to tell?” Mel asked evilly.
“Not much; just it was my plan if I’d switched the ‘normal’ way. Blueberries?”
“Naw, I’m good.”
Having no further reason to stay in the kitchen, I elected to sit on the couch.
“So how’d the math test go?” I inquired over my shoulder to Mel.
“Good, I think,” she replied. “Your tutoring really helped.”
“Good,” I smiled. “And the bullies?”
“Someone left a mean note on my desk,” she told me, “but they’ve been pretty quiet for a while.”
“Hopefully they stay that way.”
“Yeah,” she said, but I could tell she didn’t believe they would.
“Oh, Becca said her sister is a mutant, too!” she blurted out.
“Oh yeah?” Apparently this was a rather well-kept secret, since Mel had known Rebecca almost three years.
“Uh-huh, she went to Whateley this year. They call her Itchy or something like that.”
“I guess I’ll have to look her up when I get there,” I said.
“Oh!” The clatter of a spoon made me look over to the table, where tears were in Mel’s eyes. “S-so you are going away?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that last night, didn’t I? Yeah, probably not until next year, but yeah.”
“I’m gonna miss you!” she yelled, running over to the couch to tackle-hug me.
“Oof! I’ll miss you too, Mel. But I’ll Skype you, and I’ll come home for holidays and stuff.”
“I promise,” I said, holding out my pinky in Proper Swearing Posture.
“Okay,” she said, hooking it with her own, “but I’ll still miss you.”
“Me too,” I smiled, “but hey, maybe next year you’ll manifest too, and then you can come with me!”
“Yeah,” she said excitedly, “maybe!”
Back at the table, Joe sighed loudly.
“Oh, uh, sorry, Joe,” I said sincerely. “I guess that was kind of rubbing it in a little, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” he said bitterly, “I’m used to it.”
“Yeah, but no reason for me to make it worse.”
“No, really though,” he continued more sincerely, “I’m fine, you got better things to worry about than my baseline jealousy.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” I said. “And you,” I told Mel, “need to finish your breakfast, Young Lady!”
She snickered. “Your Mom impression is a lot better when May does it.”
“All aboard the Magic School Bus!” Dad yelled. “Tickets please, aaaaaaall aboard!”
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I reconnected to May once I was in the car. Sure, it’d probably end up making me carsick again, but I wanted to test for a range limit beyond the couple miles I’d gone yesterday.
Except for the radio, there was a comfortable quiet in the vehicle, as Joe and Mel settled into their respective devices.
“She’s up all night ‘till the sun,” I sang along, “I’m up all night to get some; she’s up all night for good fun; we’re up all night to get lucky.”
May’s rendition was a bit off-key, though, so I stopped before long. I guess singing in key was something I’d have to figure out later.
Before long, we were at “our Cats High transfer stop”, as Dad called it.
“See ya, Dad, Mel,” I said as I got out. Joe just silently left and waited at the bus stop.
We were the first to arrive at the stop today, though not by much.
“’Sup, Joe?” Chad called as he rounded the corner.
“Chad, my man!” They shared a fistbump. “Well, this dork’s back,” Joe said, indicating me.
“So I see,” Chad said, sidling up to me. “So I hear you made yourself a girlfriend.”
“She’s not-” I started.
“You bang her yet?” he sleazed, putting his arm over my chest to pin me.
“What? No! She’s-”
“Haha, I knew you were a wimp!” He started giving me a noogie. “Girl literally does whatever you want and you still can’t get some! Well, let me know when you get around to it.”
“I’m not gonna bang my goddamn sister!” I yelled.
That gave Chad some pause. “Sister?” he asked Joe. I took advantage of his distraction to slip out of his hold.
“Yeah, he’s callin’ her May,” Joe responded. “I think it’s some kinda weird roleplay thing.” I bristled at that, but stayed silent; I didn’t want to bring their attention back to me-in-the-present. “Oh, and check this out….”
I tuned them out and waited for a more friendly face to arrive. Luckily, it didn’t take her long.
“Hey, Sami,” I called as she turned the corner.
“Hi, Max!” Samantha responded cheerily. “Where were you yesterday?”
“Uh… Doctor’s appointment,” I said, which was true, if not honest. I’d tell her eventually, but I wanted to get the whole gang together first.
“You missed a particularly good Thomas moment.”
“What did he do this time?”
“Well, you know he saw Tangled recently, right?”
“Yeah…” I returned expectantly.
“Well, he gets the bright idea to make one of those floating lanterns.” Right about then the bus pulled up.
“Oh god,” I said, as we boarded.
“Out of a Bunsen burner,” she continued.
I started giggling uncontrollably and pinched the bridge of my nose.
“So of course the origami part catches on fire, and being Thomas, he doesn’t think to turn the gas off.”
“Of course not,” I managed to say between laughs.
“So he just shoves the whole thing in the sink, scalding his hand in the process, and then he’s trying to put out the fire while simultaneously running cold water over his hand.”
I was laughing too hard to respond.
“And then when Mr. Young finally turns off the gas and scolds him for abusing lab equipment, he says ‘But it was for SCIENCE!’”
“God dammit, Thomas,” I managed to get out as the bus stopped again.
“I see I missed something hilarious,” Hannah said as she sat across from us.
“Just telling him about Thomas’s little adventure yesterday,” Sami said.
“Did you tell him how he asked to make up for not doing the lab by writing a paper on hot air buoyancy?”
I cracked up again at that. Sami joined me this time.
“I hadn’t heard that part,” she said after recovering.
“Then you also missed the part where the teacher said he could do that only if he also involved the lab’s actual subject – and he agreed!”
“So now he’s trying to make hot air balloons with magnesium as fuel?” Sami asked incredulously.
“Don’t worry, I convinced him not to try anything himself this time.”
“Thank the lord for small mercies,” I muttered.
I started to notice an odd stretching sensation.
“God, remember his last set of experiments?” Hannah segued.
“I’m trying not to,” Sami shivered.
“I know, right? And that was just with a rubber ducky and an RC car. I don’t want to see what….” I lost track of her sentence as the stretching became too distracting.
Somehow I could feel it was coming from my connection with May, so I broke it.
“…all right?” Hannah was asking me.
I was doubled over, my head between my legs. When did that happen?
“I’ll be okay,” I told them as I sat back up.
“What happened?” Hannah demanded.
“… I’ll tell you later,” I said. “It won’t happen again.”
Neither of them liked that answer, but they accepted it for now.
“…and then, after weeks of us trying to figure it out, it just disappears overnight!” Sami finished just as the bus stopped.
“Did you ever figure out who left it there?” Hannah asked, getting up.
“Not for sure – I think it was Kevin, but…”
“…he never admits to anything, yeah.”
“So who knows? Maybe it was aliens,” Sami joked.
“Yeah, and maybe mutant genes are contagious,” Hannah returned.
I kept my mouth firmly shut.
“You’ve been quiet today,” Hannah noted of me as we walked down the hall. “What gives?”
The only thing I can really even think about I’m not ready to talk about yet. “…I’ll tell you later.”
She was just opening her mouth when the bell went off.
“…You’d better,” she warned me before heading for her class.
I found it hard to pay attention in Algebra; I was too worried about how my friends were going to react. I couldn’t tell Chris, obviously, but the other three… sure, I’d sounded them out to some extent, but I still didn’t know how they’d take it on a personal level.
I didn’t notice it was time to start on the classwork until Mr. King walked up to my desk.
“A bit distracted today, eh, Max?” he said.
“Ah,” I said guiltily, “yeah, a bit.”
“Well,” he replied understandingly, “just try your hardest. Yesterday was Chapter 6.3, problems 12 through 26 even.” He waited for me to write that down before continuing, “I assume you have Friday’s work done?”
“Ah, yeah,” I said, digging the aforementioned work out of my backpack, “here it is.”
“Good. Feel free to ask me if you have any questions, as always.”
I nodded and turned my attention to the math. I was worried since I’d missed yesterday’s class, but the problems were a kind I’d figured out how to do on the Xavier test. I just had to remember how I’d done them then. Which was easier said than done, but at least I didn’t have to ask Mr. King about them.
I managed to get almost all of yesterday’s work done by the time the bell rang, which put me ahead of where I thought I’d be.
Cryptography 101, aka World History, went about the same as usual.
“Where were you yesterday?” Chris’s first note said with an easy cipher.
“A doctor’s appointment I forgot I had. Just routine stuff,” I returned with a similarly simple encryption.
After that the focus returned to the codes themselves, with longer messages like “Thomas makes lighter-than-air craft out of metal. They are still not quite Led Zeppelin. Magnesium Balloon just doesn’t have the same ring,” or just random quotes. I put “The wheels on the bus go round and round” into a code involving turning letters into concentric circles.
The bell rang with me stumped on his last code, which looked like a simple cipher except for the part where there were twenty-nine different letters.
Third period English was unexceptional. I didn’t dare talk with Sami since Mrs. Ingram was so harsh, which also meant I didn’t have to explain anything. I was starting to regret not telling them on the bus, though. The tension was driving me crazy.
“Alright, out with it,” Hannah demanded before the start of Chemistry. “What’s been eating you?”
“Tell you before Spanish”, I said as Thomas slowly wandered over to our table.
“Spanish? Why not… You just manifested as a mutant, didn’t you.”
I blinked. “How’d you know?”
She started listing points. “You disappear suddenly for a day, then you’re back the next day looking no worse for wear; you say you had a doctor’s appointment but we all know that’s bullshit; you’ve got some weird fainting problem but you’re totally confident it won’t come back; and you’ve got something you want to share with all of us except the guy whose dad is in the MCO. Either you’ve manifested or you’ve got some great April Fools’ prank in the works.”
“…okay, fair enough,” I conceded. “-wait, I completely-”
“Did I hear that right?” Thomas asked. “Max is a mutant now? No April Fools’?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Don’t tell Chris, okay?”
“You won’t be able to hide it forever, you know,” Hannah observed. “If nothing else, eventually your eyes will start changing.”
“So what can you do?” Thomas butted in excitedly.
“Well, I-” I started, but the tardy bell interrupted me.
“…Tell you later, ok?” I was getting really tired of saying that, and Hannah was probably getting even more tired of hearing it, but between the lab and Thomas damage control, I was going to need to concentrate.
Hannah must have told Sami about me in the lunch line, because as soon as she sat down she flashed me a thumbs-up and a big grin.
Conversation was awkward as four of the five of us desperately wanted to talk about something the other wasn’t allowed to know. Hopefully it just came across as us having some prank in store, even though we usually didn’t do anything major. I did manage to confirm that the only thing they’d pulled thus far was a fake Flash spoiler, which I hadn’t paid attention to anyway.
Eventually Chris got up to use the bathroom. Thomas waited until he was out of sight, then demanded, “Okay, man, you gotta show us something real quick. We’re dying here!”
“Alright, I can… hm.” What could I show them without May being here? “…How about… give me something to Google.”
“Huh? What’re you going to do with that?” Thomas asked.
“Google it, obviously. Just say something.”
“The capital of Assyria,” Sami suggested.
“Sure.” I tried to connect to May, but I got that weird stretching feeling again. I tried harder, pushing as it stretched more and more, closing my eyes to concentrate….
Finally I got past it; the stretching feeling was gone, and I was connected to May.
I opened my eyes and saw only my room back home. Twice.
I paced the room in a panic. What did I do now? Try to “connect” toward the school? I couldn’t; it wasn’t directional. Obviously the stretching was important but I didn’t know how to produce that. Maybe I could try pushing like I did when I was trying to connect? But how, without something to push against?
My phone rang. I checked the screen; it was Hannah.
“Uh, hi,” I opened.
“Where the hell are you?! Chris’ll be back any second now!”
Shit. “Um. I’m back home.”
“Well get back here right away!”
“I don’t know how!”
“I didn’t know I could teleport!” I yelled frantically. “I was trying to show you something else!” I took a couple quick breaths. “You gotta cover for me, okay?”
“And how do you expect us to do that?”
“I don’t know! Just say I had to go somewhere! I gotta call my mom!” I hung up without waiting for a reply.
I waited about a minute to get my breathing under control before making the call.
“Good Samaritan Hospital, Mission Oaks, Amber Johnson speaking.”
“Max! Did something happen? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mom. But… yeah, something definitely happened.”
“Are you in trouble? Where are you?” she demanded.
“I’m not in trouble… not yet, anyway,” I said, thinking of Spanish class about to start. “I’m at home. Apparently I teleport now.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Why did you go there?” she asked, venom creeping into her voice.
“I didn’t mean to, and I can’t figure out how to get back.”
Another pause, then she replied without the venom, “I see. Well, you’d better call your dad and ask him to pick you up, then. I need to get back to work.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. I would’ve called him first, but you told me….”
“I suppose I did, didn’t I?” She chuckled. “Well, it’s nice to hear from you anyway. Now you get back to school, Young Man!”
“Okay, I will. Bye, Mom.”
As I hung up the phone I noticed I had a text from Chris. [“why are sami and thomas quoting yesterday at me”].
I replied brilliantly, [“Whut?”]
After a few seconds, he elaborated, [“why he had to go i dont know he wouldnt say”].
I quickly made hand-to-face contact. Really, guys?
“This had better not be a ruse to get out of class,” Dad threatened me as I got in the car.
“Honestly, you guys,” I rolled my eyes. “If I was going to cut class, why would I skip lunch and my favorite class of the day?”
“Maybe you had a test?” he speculated.
“We don’t have tests in Spanish, we have pop quizzes,” I grumbled. “And I bet I have missed this week’s…” At his “Aha!” I returned, “No, that’s bad for me. Her makeup quizzes are hard.”
“Oh.” He changed the subject, “So why is… May… why is she here?”
“Well, I didn’t think about it this morning,” I said, “but she needs an MID too, right?”
“I suppose so.” He sounded a little surprised. “Uh, so are you taking her to school, or…?”
“I figured I’d let her sleep in the car.”
“I don’t know about that,” he warned. “She’s stuck there unless you connect to her, right?”
“She could get heatstroke, baking in the car. Or what if someone sees her and tries something?”
“Why would anyone do something like that?”
“You can’t be too careful. I think you’d better at least have her come in to the back room.”
“Alright,” I conceded, “but you might have to carry her. I don’t know if Zach’s is too far for me.”
“Oh right, I didn’t tell you, did I. That’s how this all started; I tried to connect to her from school, but I guess it was too far, so I teleported.
“And now that I think about it it’d probably be bad to have me away from class for the time it’d take to walk her in anyway,” I added.
“Great,” Dad said, “so I get to carry an unconscious fourteen-year-old girl into the back room of the store. That’ll be fun to explain.”
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “there’s enough family resemblance that it’s obvious she’s your daughter.”
“That might make it worse, actually,” he said wryly.
I didn’t quite miss all of Spanish, but I ended up spending the rest of the period on the make-up quiz. Joy.
Thomas and the girls ambushed me the instant the bell rang.
“So what else can you-” “-expect us to keep this-” “-so cool, I wish I-” “-or maybe a speedster, or-”
“Whoa, slow down, guys!” I said, putting my hands up.
Hannah and Sami immediately stopped talking, and Thomas did too once Hannah elbowed him.
“Okay, that’s better. As far as what else I can do, well, it’d really be best if you came over sometime, so I can show you. It’s complicated enough.”
“You can’t show us here?” Thomas asked.
“No, I really can’t.”
“What if we went into the gym after school? Nobody’s ever there,” Sami suggested.
“No, I mean, I actually can’t. Not without… um… something that’s not here.”
“Devisor!” Thomas said a little too loud.
“No, and shush. Also, we do need to get to our next classes.”
“Oh yeah,” Thomas said, and immediately split.
Sami also left shortly, but Hannah hung back.
“Look, about Chris,” she said. “He’s already asking us about-”
“Yeah, I know, I can’t hide it from him.” I scowled. “I just want to savor what time we have left, you know?”
“You know his dad is-” she started, but I was already leaving. I did need to get all the way across campus, after all.
After the rest of the day, it was actually a relief that none of my friends were in Choir. It was just the normal routine. And I always enjoyed singing – and I was pretty good at it too, if I say so myself. Unlike most of the guys in class, who didn’t so much sing as speak in tune.
Maybe I could be a barbershop quartet once I’d finished spawning. And figured out how to match my own key.
After the last bell rang, an idea struck me. Why wait for Dad to pick me up, when I could….
I found a secluded section of hallway and tried connecting to May. When I got the stretching feeling, I pushed the same way I had before. It was a lot easier this time.
I opened my eyes and saw the back room of Zach’s Macs. I felt so good about skipping the traffic, it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders.
Wait, no, that was because I’d left my backpack behind.
Outside of Max’s awareness…
“Good afternoon, Mr. Johnson. Might I ask why you arranged this meeting?”
“I have a proposition for you…”
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After the ‘fun’ experience of waiting through the school’s-out traffic jam, I managed to retrieve my backpack. Luckily, it hadn’t been disturbed. Then it was on to the MCO office.
Given the MCO’s reputation, I was half expecting armed guards and iron bars. The truth was much less exciting; the office looked more or less like a DMV field office, except smaller and less crowded. And the posters were all about keeping your MID on you and reporting new powers instead of keeping your registration in your car and reporting sale of your vehicle. They even had equivalents to the DUI posters, with the rather pathetic slogan ‘Poor Judgement Leads To Poor Control’. The Hancock screenshots were a nice touch.
Unlike when we’d gotten Joe his permit, we barely had to wait, which gave the MCO one point over the DMV. Heh, comparing those two, that’s a surefire way to make… well, certainly make one of them look better; I wasn’t quite sure which one. Maybe both.
“Welcome to the San Jose Mutant Commission Office, how may I help you today?” the lady at the front chirped. Her fake smile looked extremely strained.
“We’re here to get my son his first MID card,” Dad said.
“And daughter,” I reminded him.
“Er, and daughter, yes.”
“Very well. Do you have codenames picked out?”
“Pentaploid,” I supplied. Dad started.
The lady – Allison Summers, said the plate on her desk – Ms. Summers looked between me and May. “I’m sorry, but one of you is going to have to give it up. We can’t have two mutants with the same codename.”
I sighed; this sort of thing was getting annoying quickly. “No,” I told her, “I think in this situation it would be best if we shared it.” Her eyes widened as she realized we hadn’t just happened to talk in sync. “May we move on?”
“Ah,” she stammered, “ye- yes, of course. Go to window fi- no, actually, better make it window seven.” Her smile reappeared, slightly more convincing this time. “Have a nice day.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, feeling like I had just been thrown to the wolves.
“Max,” Dad rebuked me as we walked to the other window, “I know you’re going through a hard time right now, but that’s no excuse to be rude.”
“She didn’t like me,” I grumbled. “Her smile was fake.”
“Lots of people fake smiles all the time,” Dad pointed out. He might have said more, but we were already at the window.
“ Hello there,” the burly man behind it said with a more convincing smile. “And which of you is Pentaploid?”
“Both of us,” I responded.
“I’m sorry, but only one person can have a particular codename at any one time.” He actually sounded sorry, too. He must have been a really good actor.
“That’s okay,” I told him, “since we’re both the same person.”
He blinked and ran his fingers through his beard. “They do like to give me the weird ones, don’t they? Right then, I’ll need your full name.”
“Maximilian Johnson,” I told him, “and we’re calling her May.”
“Maximilian Johnson,” he repeated as he typed it in. “Say, that sounds familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Huh?” I noticed his nametag for the first time, Walter Simmons. Simmons? “Ah, no, sir,” I lied. They gave me to Chris’s dad? What were the odds?
“Hmm, must be confused.” Now that I was thinking about it, I could see the resemblance – the same short, wide nose, same round eyes, though his were blue; the beard and baldness had just distracted me. “And May, you said?”
“Yeah,” I said, still shaken.
“And I’m guessing, by the way you said it, that I won’t find any records for her?”
“Not before yesterday, no.”
“Indeed. Your birth date, Max? can I call you Max?”
“June- hey, wait,” I interrupted myself, “the MCO isn’t supposed to keep records of my real identity!” I’d been caught up enough with comparisons to the DMV he almost managed to trick me!
“Oh, I’m not,” he assured me too quickly, “just sending it to the DPA. See?” He turned his screen around, and it was on the DPA website. I had to give him credit, he was good at covering his tracks.
“Well, that shouldn’t be necessary,” Dad said, “we’ve already had him registered.”
“Oh. Okay then, Max, if you’ll come with me to the testing area?”
“That’s also already been done.”
“Ah, you’re really on top of things!” Mr. Simmons said, nodding. “And I should have asked, I’m sorry. What facility did the testing?”
“The University of California, Santa Cruz,” Dad replied.
Simmons’s eyebrows rose. “Very well, I’ll send them a request.” There was silence, except for his typing.
“Okay,” he finally said, pushing away from his computer, “while we wait for that, have you discovered any new powers since your test?”
“Yeah,” I admitted. I hadn’t wanted to volunteer the information, but I wasn’t about to lie to a government organization, either, even if it was the MCO. “Seems I can teleport.”
“Oh, excellent!” he enthused. “We may get to do some testing after all. Can you show it off for me?”
“I… don’t know?” I replied honestly. “Haven’t got it really figured out yet.”
“It’s out of control?” he asked, slightly alarmed.
“No!” I denied hastily. “It’s… Well, I have the trigger figured out, but not the prerequisites.”
“Oh.” He visibly relaxed. “Well, how about we go down to the testing lab and figure them out, then?”
‘Down’ was literal – we climbed down two flights of stairs before reaching the lab. It was also down a hallway a fair bit longer than the surface-level building. So much for this place seeming normal.
“Teleporter lab,” said Mr. Simmons as we entered. “Basically just an empty room with a high-speed camera. We also use it for speedsters and exemplars.”
“Neat,” I responded. “Well, uh, let’s get started, yeah?” I disconnected from May and started walking across the room.
“Whoa!” Simmons exclaimed. “What happened to her?”
“Oh, yes, that’s a thing he does,” Dad said. “Don’t bother; she won’t wake up until he reconnects.”
“Astounding,” Simmons breathed. “I assume this is covered in the report from Santa Cruz?”
“I’d think so, but I never saw it myself,” Dad responded.
“Yeah, Julian covered that,” I said, turning around. “Um, you might want to back off, I don’t know if I have telefrag protection.” Now that was a scary thought. Maybe I should be testing with May. Actually, could she even teleport?
“Back off from…?” Mr. Simmons indicated the wide expanse of floor. Dad was already moving away.
“From her. As far as I know, she’s my only destination.”
“Oh, okay.” He began walking to the other side of the room. “What exactly do you mean by tele-whatever, by the way?”
“Telefrag. Just… bad stuff that happens if you teleport into occupied space.”
“I see. You aren’t worried about ‘telefragging’ with her?”
“Well, I am now. Thanks.”
“I’m sorry. If it helps any, most teleporters do have protection against that sort of thing.”
“Yeah, I know, but…” if I was one that didn’t…. “Anyway, here goes nothing.”
“Um.” I’d intended to push in the midst of connecting, but it happened too fast. And there was no stretching to push against, either. How on earth was I going to do this?
I disconnected again and tried pushing before connecting, but that was no good either; without the connection I couldn’t feel which way to push. Not that it corresponded to actual directions, but….
“Anytime you’re ready,” said Simmons.
“Hey, shut up, I tried two different ways already,” I snapped.
“Max!” Dad reproached me, but I ignored him; it was just an MCO officer.
Well, before and during didn’t work. How about after? I connected again and closed my eyes to focus on the link. Once I felt it, I pushed, but it wasn’t quite right; it felt like I was pushing it from both ends. Which, I supposed, I very well could be. Still, that didn’t seem like it would-
“Well!” Mr. Simmons said, “That wasn’t quite what I expected.”
“Eh?” I opened my eyes to find that we hadn’t moved. “What do you-” Wait… now I was by the door. “Well, that’s different.”
“Do you know why?” Simmons asked in a way that seemed more threatening than curious.
“Because I pushed from both sides, I guess?” He seemed to accept that, so I decided to try more experiments. I guess I found out May could teleport too, so that was one off the list.
This time, I tried to push only from May’s end. It was like moving in only one body while connected – that is, awkward and took a lot of concentration – but I managed it, and the results were as expected; she ended up in my corner. What I wasn’t expecting was the transit time; though very brief (less than a deci-second) there was a noticeable time when she just wasn’t there. It was different from being disconnected, too; closer to when I’d been knocked out, but without the pain and fuzz.
“Oh, well done!” Mr. Simmons congratulated me. I knew he’d been watching, of course, but it still startled me. “So. Can you hit an arbitrary point?”
“…I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“I believe most teleporters imagine a place in their mind, and then… well, do something; the descriptions vary. For you, I guess you would ‘push’, as you said?”
“Uh, right.” I disconnected from myself, closed my eyes, and pictured the hall outside as best I could. I tried pushing, but again I couldn’t get a bearing to push on. Well, maybe I just needed a clearer picture. I tried my room back home (no worry if it did work, after all, I could just teleport back via myself); again, no dice.
“Doesn’t seem to be working,” I admitted.
“Shame,” he said. “Well, I guess we’re done down here, then?”
“Actually,” I disagreed, “there’s one more thing I wanted to try.”
After a couple seconds of watching May take a step, pause, take another step, pause, he finally admitted, “Okay, I’m stumped. What are you doing?”
“Minimum range,” I ‘explained’.
“Okay, there it is,” I said after getting about ten feet out.
“Hate to say it, but, you didn’t move,” Simmons pointed out.
“Eh?” I opened my eyes, and it was true; I was still there. “But… I felt it….”
Simmons just shrugged. Yeah, real helpful there.
Experimentally, I took a step further, and ‘ported again. When I opened my eyes this time, I was about half a step back.
“Well, that’s bloody useless.”
“Clearly it gets more effective as you get farther apart,” Simmons pointed out.
“Whatever, let’s just finish up.”
I stared at my new MID cards with a mixture of pride and revulsion. You know how weird a mixture that is? Well, let’s just say it topped my list.
“Joe’s almost done, so we’re picking him up on the way back,” Dad said.
“Mm-hmm,” I responded, barely processing the information.
“You alright back there?”
“…Funny,” I mused, “how even after two days, it only now sinks in that, all that stuff I’ve read about mutants and the MCO and Whateley… that’s my world now.”
“Well,” Dad replied, “don’t forget you’ve still got the old world to support you. I may not say it enough, but I love you, and that’s not going to change no matter how many of you there are.”
“I know,” I said fondly. “Thanks, Dad.”
“You know,” Dad commented as we stopped at the side of the road, “I’m not used to you just looking out the window as we drive.”
“Yeah, me neither,” I returned, “but May makes me too….” Oh my gosh, I’m an idiot; I could just disconnect. I slapped myself on the head to emphasize my idiocy. “Ow!”
“What? What happened?”
“Oh, nothing,” I sighed as Joe opened the passenger door, “just had a head-elbow collision.”
“Yet another hitch in the life of Larry and Curly, huh?” Joe taunted.
“Why not Moe? His name is closer.”
“Naw, he’s the smart one.”
“There’s a smart one?” I asked disbelievingly. “Also, gee, thanks.” I overloaded the sarcasm to make up for the intervening statement.
“Any time, little bro. …Sibs.”
“So who’s in the bag today?” I asked, referring to the unmarked paper bag that, knowing Joe, contained a figurine of some anime character.
“Nobody. Shut up,” he snapped evasively. I just nodded in response; that meant it was some scantily-clad chick, and I wasn’t going to get any more detail from him. Rather than try, I matched my earlier thoughts to actions, disconnected from May, and started playing 2048 on my phone.
[“U gaiz r slooooo”] came the first text from Mel.
I paused my game of Mao and responded, [“That happens when you have to test a new power with the MCO.”]
[“Nu power? What is what is?”] she asked in typical Mel fashion.
I decided to adopt her ways, messaging [“i can has telprots”]. Aloud, I commented, “Oh yeah, Joe, you haven’t heard about my teleporting either, have you?”
“I heard you vanished from the cafeteria,” he responded.
“Aw, shit.” (“Language!” Dad reprimanded.) “Does everyone know?”
“Nah, don’t worry,” Joe dismissed my concerns, “Nate was only watchin’ ‘cause I told him ‘bout you; he knows better than to spread it around.”
“Oh, okay,” I sighed in relief.
I checked Mel’s message. [“Then y u no here yet :((((”]
[“I can only teleport to May and she’s with us.”]
“So yeah,” I told Joe, “I can teleport to May and her to me, but that seems to be it.”
“Cool,” he responded absently, already absorbed into Facebook. Welp. So much for that conversation.
[“Wat! how she got there?”] Mel texted, reminding me that I had another one going.
[“Dad picked her up along with me after the first time.”]
[“U no tell me nething :(”]
I had to laugh at that one. [“Nope. You don’t even know my real name.”]
[“Wat! isn’t it Mayx?”]
‘Mayx’? That was new. Well, the thing to do with absurdity is play along. [“Nope. Mabcyx.”]
[“For reals? u is Mac, Mab?”]
[“Well, not yet, but eventually probably. Iz Da Plan.”]
[“Y4 u plan 4?”]
I decided to answer her question in the most confusing way possible, [“Because 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 5.”]
[“U no make sense :(“] she complained.
[“I’m a girl and a guy at the same time but not a hermaphrodite, and you expect me to start making sense now?”]
[“Not rly, but can hope.”]
[“Meh, I’d not bother. Hope still goes bad after a couple days, sealed or not.”] I replied in a bad attempt at humor.
[“U suck. puns r worst.”]
[“No, sausages are wurst.”]
A minute’s silence indicated she was refusing to reply to that, so I returned to my game.
When we got home, I of course immediately went upstairs to drop off my backpack and May.
Upon reemerging from the room, I was confronted with the sight of Mel wielding a frozen hotdog menacingly.
“Explain what bad math has to do with there being four of you, or you’ll only ever reach three!” she threatened.
“Have at her,” I replied, stepping out of the doorway.
“Who said I was threatening her?” Mel retorted, pinning me against the wall.
“Oh nooooooo!” I cried in mock terror, flailing my arms for effect. “I’ll tell you whatever you want; just don’t kill me!”
“I win again, Mr. Johnson!” she cackled. “No but seriously why four?”
“Genetics stuff,” I told her, to which she immediately made a face. “No, it’s okay, I’ll explain. Um, right, you know people normally have one set of chromosomes each from their mom and dad, right?”
“I got that much,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Not that anyone ever tells me what a chromosome is….”
“It’s, uh…” I started before realizing I wasn’t too clear myself. “It’s like a box full of genes, I guess?”
“And always with the pants!”
I blinked; really? “No, uh, genes are-”
“I know what genes are,” she admitted, “I was just trolling you.”
“Oh.” I made an exaggerated pout. “Anyway, so in my case, apparently Dad’s hidden mutant powers kicked in and he gave me four sets of chromosomes instead.”
“And so you had five and everyone freaked out and gave you about a million medical exams, yeah.”
“Pretty much,” I confirmed wryly. “So when May… appeared, or split off, or whatever she did, she took two of the sets that Dad gave me. In addition to copying the one from Mom.” I paused to let her work the rest out.
“So… you’re expecting to get two more, because when that happens, you’ll have as many sets of chromosomes as a normal person?”
“Well, or four normal people. But yeah.”
“Okay, but I still don’t get the math,” she said.
“Ah, it’s mostly silly,” I told her. “But when – if – that happens, I’ll have two different sets in my body, and two different sets in May’s body, and two in Mab’s, and two in Mac’s… but a total of only five different sets.”
“Hmm.” She considered that. “You’re weird, you know that?”
“You’re normal, you know that?” I returned.
“How dare you say such a thing!” she cried in mock grief, flailing her hotdog around.
“Well, okay. Relatively normal.”
“…” She squinted at me. “…Fine!” she yelled, storming off… but I could hear her laughing as she went down the stairs.
Having missed a day of school, I had a lot of homework to make up. Buuuuuut I didn’t need to start just yet. I could take a short Skyrim break first.
Yup, just a short Skyrim break….
“Max, it’s time for dinner.”
I blinked. “Oh.” I checked my phone; yup, 7:00 already. How could I forget that ‘short Skyrim break’ was an oxymoron?
I went back upstairs to fetch May, then to the bathroom to wash our hands. It wasn’t very pleasant; her elbow was sore (I guess I must have left her in a bad position) and she was very hungry. I’d have to remember to have her eat more lunch. Which… might be difficult, given I couldn’t actually connect with her at lunchtime.
“So Max,” Dad said in a way that sounded casual, but we all knew wasn’t, “have you done your homework?”
“…Not yet,” I admitted. “Skyrim is too addicting.”
“I swear, we’re going to have to ban that game on weekdays,” Mom mused.
“I’ll do it after dinner, okay?” I said defensively. “May can help me, we’ll be done in no time.” Mom and Dad exchanged looks. “What?”
“Is that… honest?” asked Dad.
“Why shouldn’t it be? She’s still me,” I pointed out. “If anything it’s better this way, ‘cause we both learn.”
“I… suppose,” Dad nodded hesitantly.
With double brainpower working on the homework, I managed to finish it in just under an hour and a half. That left me with half an hour before bedtime; maybe enough for a game of FTL, depending how well I did.
I was running on two hull when Mom announced bedtime. “Okay,” I responded, “I’ll probably lose pretty soon here anyway.” As if on cue, a missile punched through my shields to finish me off. “...Or right now.” Someday I would figure out how to use the Vortex, but today was not that day.
Last use of the toilet, brushing teeth, getting into pajamas, and I was in bed, trying to sleep. And having a lot of trouble with it; I was exhausted, but it seemed May was still wide awake. Well, screw it; I cut off her connection and drifted away.
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“Come!” said Julian the Grey. “We must make haste to the west, to the caverns of Markarth, where we may destroy the Ring of Firebending!”
“Couldn’t I just use it instead?” I grumbled. “That sounds awesome.”
“Absolutely not!” Gandalf insisted. “Only the Ring-bearer may carry it without alerting the Dark Lord Simmons.”
“I am sworn to carry your burdens,” May confirmed from behind us.
The three of us delved deeper into the caves, spiderwebs blanketing the brass Dwemer architecture.
Suddenly, the construct tubes opened and a band of frostbite spiders, each with legs four feet long, swarmed out.
“Never fear! I’ll take care of these beasts!” Sami cried, charging into the hollow, sword drawn.
“And I’ll make sure she doesn’t get killed,” Hannah sighed with arrow nocked.
“And my axe!” Thomas yelled enthusiastically. “…What?”
I rolled my eyes, picked my way through the chaos and advanced to the next chamber, where more spiders lurked with bow-wielding skeletons on their backs.
“Take that! And that!” Sami bellowed as she chopped the spiders apart with her diamond sword.
A banner appeared over Hannah’s head as her arrow knocked off the skull of a particularly distant skeleton.
May and I hid in the corner, but the webs gave way and dropped us into a chamber even thicker with them.
“Look what’s dropped into my web,” said Shelob, licking her mandibles.
Panicking, I connected to May so that-
Suddenly, I was awake.
“Bluh?” I was bleary from the interruption, but May was wide awake. I had a new weirdest combination of feelings.
I disconnected again and tried to get back to sleep.
“Oh, come now, Captain,” said Discord. “We can be civilized. After all, we’re friends, aren’t we?”
“Turn that screen off,” I told the ship. “Well, any suggestions?” I asked my crew.
“We could bounce the graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish,” suggested Chris.
“Make it so, number one. What about the captured landing party?”
“They should challenge their captors in single combat. It is the only honorable way,” said Thomas.
“I’ll… keep that in mind,” I said diplomatically. “Counselor Green?”
“I’m sensing… fear, and compassion,” Hannah said. “The Merogens don’t want to hurt our people. They’re just scared for their children.”
“Now that’s actionable information.” I connected to May to-
“Bwuh.” Again? This was clearly not working.
Okay, different strategy. I disconnected from myself instead and sat up to check the time. 3:30 AM, lovely. So what was I going to do with three and a half hours?
I quickly realized that I had very little idea what options were available. Stupid memory disconnection.
Well, I didn’t want to wake anybody, so Mario Kart, or anything else that used the TV, was out. Computer? …I didn’t know how to use it, and I didn’t feel like spending time learning how to do something I was sure I already knew. Okay, how about a book; that ought to be feasible.
I quietly made my way down the stairs to the library in the office.
Not recognizing any of the titles (of course) I picked one arbitrarily. Twilight? Seemed appropriate to the time of day, at least.
“Max? What are-“ Mom interrupted herself upon looking in the room, then started again. “May, what are you doing up?”
“I kept waking up by connecting to May, so I disconnected from myself to sleep that way.”
“Mom?” I asked her after it looked like she’d waded through enough pronouns to understand that sentence. “What’s a vampire, and why do they sparkle?”
Mom looked at me, startled, and then burst out laughing.
Mom refused to explain what was so funny, telling me to “Ask your brother” (indicating my sleeping body).
…It suddenly occurred to me how odd it was to watch myself sleep.
Well, it was 6:45 already and I wanted to know, so I went ahead and woke myself up.
Suddenly I was very groggy. I yawned and – wait, did May just stay up all night reading goddamn Twilight? I was going to have to disown that girl. At least she wasn’t in danger of going fangirl any time soon; the plot confused her (though that was only because she didn’t know what vampires were), and she thought Bella was an idiot and Edward was a jerk.
Anyway, enough of that; time to get ready for school.
“So,” Dad said with an evil smirk as he sat down at the table, “Twilight, huh?”
“Huh? Twilight?” Joe asked blearily. For my part, I just groaned.
“No reason to be ashamed, Max,” Dad continued. “It’s a perfectly normal book for a teenage girl to read.”
“Wait, you read Twilight?” Joe demanded, laughing.
“No, May read Twilight,” I countered.
“So, whatcha sayin’ is, you read Twilight.”
“It’s not like she even enjoyed it.”
“But, you read Twilight,” Joe insisted.
“I’m never gonna live this down, am I.”
“Max read Twilight?” Mel squeaked.
I slowly engulfed my face in my hands.
“You read Twilight?” Chad asked. “Pff, you’re such a girl.”
“For christ’s sake, would you shut up about it already?”
“How about ‘No’.”
“Shut up about what?” Sami said as she appeared from around the corner.
“He read Twilight,” Joe said predictably.
“No I didn’t!” I protested to maintain a small scrap of dignity. “May did!”
“May?” she asked. Oh yeah, Sami didn’t know about May. How was it Joe’s friends knew more about my powers than my friends did?
I sighed deeply. “It’s about my powers.”
“So why not tell me about them?!” Sami demanded.
“’Cause they’re complicated and I don’t want to explain three times, okay?”
“Oh yeah!” Sami continued as the bus pulled up. “Me and Hannah and Thomas wanted to ask if we could visit this afternoon. We would’ve asked yesterday, but you disappeared on us,” she said accusingly.
“Oh, yeah, Dad had to pick me up so I could get an MID.”
“And that’s why you left your backpack in the middle of the hallway?”
“You suck at lying, you know that?” Sami asked.
“I wasn’t lying!” I protested. “We did have to go to the MCO office, I just tried teleporting to Dad’s work so we could skip the school traffic.”
“And you left your backpack behind.”
“Hey, my clothes came with me, how was I supposed to know my backpack wouldn’t?”
“Okay, sure,” Sami relented. “…Chris is gonna find out within the day.”
“What?” I gaped. “What did you do?!”
“Nothing. You’re just a sucky liar.”
I huffed and got out my Kindle.
“So, uh, visiting?” she reminded me.
“Oh yeah, let me call Dad.”
It went through to voicemail, of course, since he was driving. “Hey Dad, Sami and Thomas and Hannah want to come over today to see May. I figure that’s probably fine but I wanted to check with you just in case. Um, call me when you get this and let me know.”
“May?” Hannah asked. I hadn’t noticed her sitting down.
After a couple seconds, Sami responded, “I think he has a familiar or something.”
“She’s not a familiar,” I replied absently.
“So what is she?” she asked.
I didn’t want to get into this right now, so I just went back to reading.
The bus ride ended with me having told them nothing more on the subject, and them having given up and moved on to other topics, like who died in Game of Thrones last week, why Let it Go was the best Disney song ever made, and what they were going to do over spring break. Right, spring break; with all the excitement I'd practically forgotten it was next week.
Anyway, I got fifteen pages further into Ender’s Game even with Dad calling back to approve the visit, so I was satisfied with the trip.
“The MCO has a mostly-deserved bad reputation, but the local office is one of the most accepting and even employs several mutants,” said Chris’s first code in today’s Cryptography lesson.
I looked over to him, but he was busy taking inane notes to satisfy Mr. Harris. Did he know? Was that why he was giving me messages about the MCO? …No, couldn’t be; he would have confronted me if he knew. It must be just a coincidence.
I sent him back one demanding a clue for his final code yesterday.
“Okay, come on, tell us, man!” Thomas cajoled me in Chemistry.
I sighed. “Not yet; I want Sami to be there too.”
“So in Spanish then,” Hannah stated rather than asking.
I raised an eyebrow. “You really expect me to be able to explain this in Spanish?”
“Oh, you’re impossible!”
“No, just very, very improbable.”
“So where did you disappear to yesterday?” Chris asked at the start of lunch.
“Um… I had another doctor’s appointment. That I forgot about,” I said, thinking fast.
“…And it was over in forty-five minutes?” he asked dubiously.
“Uh, yeah, they only needed a blood draw.”
“And you left your backpack and half your lunch because…?”
Shit, I forgot about that. “Well, I was expecting to be done before lunch ended.”
“…Riiiight…. So hey Thomas, how’s your devising going?”
I breathed a sigh of relief as the subject was changed. One bullet dodged.
“Anyway, if I was a devisor, wouldn’t more of my stuff work?” Thomas rebutted as we sat for Spanish class.
“Well, devises are notoriously finicky,” Sami pointed out. “Some devisors have as bad as a 70% failure rate.”
“Yeah, but they’d still work sometimes.”
“So speaking of mutants and failure,” Hannah segued, “you’re an idiot, Max, you know that?”
“Say what now?” I demanded just as the bell rang.
“Chris obviously knows about you,” she responded.
“En Español!” Ms. Temeña interjected, reminding us that during her class, we were only allowed to talk to each other in Spanish.
“No… um… no peude es,” I struggled to articulate. “El padre es en el… um, MCO.”
Hannah sighed and told me something I didn’t quite understand about Chris’s dad and mutants – that he hated them, presumably. “Sí, yo sabes,” I told her, but that only prompted a frustrated shrug.
Getting on the bus, I let out yet another of the yawns I’d been suppressing during choir.
“Long night, eh, Max?” Thomas teased. “May keep you up all night?”
“Yeah, she-“ I started, but, “What. Why are you all laughing.”
“Oh, nothing,” he said, moving one finger in and out of his other fist.
“…No,” I said, horrified. “No. That is gross, sir. Ew, no.”
“Aha, some kind of animal, then,” he went on smoothly.
“And why would you assume that?” I countered.
“I was gonna say, he’s just that innocent,” Hannah told him.
“Oh, so maybe in a couple years then?” He winked.
“God no! That’s like….” Masturbation? Incest? I wasn’t even sure. “…Why do you guys have to keep teasing me about this anyway?”
“Because it’s the only way we can get you to say anything about it,” Sami informed me.
Well. If it was gonna be that way….
“Oh great,” said Hannah. “You had to tell him. Now we won’t get anything out of him.”
“I dunno,” said Sami, smirking, “maybe if we…” She whispered the rest of the sentence in Hannah’s ear.
“No, not even that. You haven’t seen him in one of his really stubborn moods. Trust me, he won’t say a word.”
Damn right I wouldn’t.
“Oh shoot. How did we not think of this earlier?” I reproached myself as we started to pile into the car.
“What?” asked Thomas.
“We still need to pick up Mel, there aren’t enough seats.”
“…Couldn’t you just teleport?”
“…” I opened my mouth to protest, but, “I certainly could. Just let me throw my backpack in the back first.”
“What, you’re not even gonna wait-”
And then I was home, and May was hungry.
“Okay, Max, no more stalling,” Hannah called from the back doorway. “We’re all here, you can show us now.” She paused for a bit. “Max?”
“In here,” I responded after swallowing my bite of sandwich.
A few seconds passed before she entered the kitchen. “You must be May?” When I nodded assent, she continued, “Nice to meet you. I’m Hannah.”
“Yeah, I remember you,” I smiled.
“Remember me? Have we met?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but had to close it again to think. “Not exactly,” I finally answered, “but I saw you on the bus when you were telling Max about Thomas’s Science Adventure.”
“My Science Adventure? Which one?” asked a boy I assumed was Thomas. He had a pretty average build, but he had a distinctive fat nose and freckled cheeks. His brown eyes carried good humor so I figured he must be a pretty jovial guy.
“The most recent one, with the Bunsen burner balloon. At least, I hope that’s the most recent,” I amended. “You know, I should probably get myself so we can explain this all to you, huh?”
“Get your-” I heard before I disconnected.
It didn’t take long for me to get back to the kitchen, but by the time I did all three of my friends were gathered around May (with Mel watching in amusement).
“Max!” Hannah cried as she spotted me. “What happened? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, she’s fine, I just disconnected.”
“What?” was the general response from all three.
“Oh, I get it!” Sami declared after a second. “That’s why you read Twilight!”
“Say what now?” I queried, confused. (“He did what?” Thomas asked incredulously.)
“Because she’s you, so when she read Twilight, actually it was you reading! Right?”
“Uh… more or less,” I answered, “although she actually has her own memories and personality.”
“Oh, okay.” She had a moment of thought. “Wait, how is she you at all then?”
“Mostly, this,” I said after connecting.
This time, the general response was “Gah!”
“Dude,” said Thomas, “that is creepy as hell.”
“So says everybody ever,” I retorted, then returned to being just May, because sandwich.
“Over here again.”
“Oh, you can-” Thomas started.
“Geez, give us some warning next time, wouldja?” Hannah demanded. I just shrugged.
“So… how does it feel?” Thomas asked.
I arched an eyebrow. “Mostly the same. Except for these-” I hefted May’s breasts “-but they didn’t take too long to get used to.”
“I meant being both at once,” he clarified, blushing.
“Oh, now that’s a headache and a half.”
“Have you ever tried holding up a different picture to each of your eyes? Cause it’s kind of like that, except for all the senses at once.”
“So you said May doesn’t share your memories unless you’re connected and doesn’t have her own?” Sami asked, a gleam in her eye.
“Well, she has her own memories of the last two days, but yeah, more or less. Why?” I asked warily.
“Can you be May, and only May, for, say, about four hours today?”
“Um…” Well, it was only three, and considering how fast we did my homework yesterday… “I suppose, but why?”
“I can’t tell you until you start. Otherwise it’d ruin it,” she said enigmatically.
“Fine,” I said, “fine, let me go get comfortable, and I guess I’ll play along.”
After depositing myself upstairs on my bed, I demanded, “Okay, I’m just May now, now what’s the big secret?”
“We’re going to watch Star Wars!”
Well that wasn’t what I was expecting. “That’s it? Why did I have to go through all that?”
“You know how few people get to watch Star Wars without having already been spoilered? Of course you don’t, don’t answer that. But anyway, it’s a great opportunity!”
“Luke,” began Thomas, “I-“
“Don’t. You. Dare.” I never would’ve guessed Sami had such an effective death glare.
"No, Luke. I am your father."
“Hmm… Yes, I think I can make this work, Mr. Johnson. I’ll need more samples, though. One more each of the next two days, at minimum.”
“I can do that. I should get going before they miss me, though.”
"Okay, ya little munchkins," Dad said as the credits for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back ended, "I’ve got takeout for you, so don't start Return just yet.”
"So... should I be worried about spoilers for that one too?" I asked.
"Wellllll..." Sami hedged, "It doesn't have big ones that society will ruin you for..."
"If I understand how your 'connecting' works, Max will probably spoiler you if you think about Star Wars at all though," Hannah told me.
"So I need to be just May for a couple more hours. And miss dinner," I groused.
"Oh, I didn't think about that! I'm so sorry," Sami said regretfully.
"I don't really mind; it's worth it," I told her truthfully. "I can eat later, and I've been sleeping all this time so I don't need to worry about getting enough sleep either."
"Getting enough sleep? It's only 7, Return of the Jedi isn't that long," Sami said, confused.
"Yeah, well, I still have homework to do. At least, I think so," I amended, not actually sure if I'd gotten any today.
"Oh shoot, homework!" Sami covered her mouth. "I guess I'll have to leave after dinner."
"Yeah, I think we all will," Hannah said.
"I could stay for a while after..." Thomas offered.
"Hah. You'd find something else to show May and you'd both stay up half the night and never get any homework done, or sleep. No, for your own good, you have to leave too," Hannah informed him.
"Aww," Thomas protested, but he didn't argue.
By the time I woke myself up, it was nearly ten o' clock, so it was no surprise I was a bit hungry. The takeout was still good reheated, though, and filling in the way only rice and noodles can be.
I returned upstairs to do homework and mull on the Star Wars Expedition. She definitely enjoyed it more than I would have by rewatching it. I'd have to try that on other movies. Like Back to the Future, maybe, or... wait, thinking about the movie ruins it. Don't think about the plot. Don't think about how the clock tower is - okay, stop, homework time now.
Despite my best efforts, I ended up thinking about Back to the Future enough that it'd probably spoil it for her. But oh well, there were plenty of other good movies for her to watch. Like NO DON'T THINK ABOUT IT.
Frustrated, I disconnected from her. There. Now it was safe to think. And now the homework was hard enough to require my full attention. I wasn't sure if that was frustrating or a relief.
It was 1:00 AM by the time I was ready to go back to sleep. And since I wasn't tired, I did this by switching back to May.
I was hungry and my elbow was sore again. What was I doing wrong? Was I keeping it too straight? I'd heard of things like that for knees, anyway... although didn't that just prevent the blood from flowing back up? I would've thought I was lying on it funny, but it was the one on top that was sore.
Well, takeout took care of both the hunger and the soreness (that’s the regen at work, I guess), even if it took about half of what was left.
Being it was after midnight, and I still didn't want to waste time learning how to use a computer I already knew how to use, I decided to read again. Not Twilight, though, because that sucked. Hmm... Lord of the Flies? I guessed it was about a mutant who had control over insects. Sounded like the kind of light fun I was looking for.
"Why am I so bad at picking books?!"
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April 3, 2014
Thursday started in a way that promised to become routine. Mom came in for a brief visit around 6:30 and checked out my newest book choice. I woke myself up soon afterwards and enjoyed a pair of showers before all the hot water was used up. We had breakfast together and then I spent a leisurely half hour before Dad finally summoned us onto the Learning Shuttle.
We were a bit late today; the bus was right behind us when we pulled into the stop.
"Hey, Max!" Sami greeted me with a friendly hug. "How'd you like Star Wars! Or - should I say how did May? uh..." she lapsed into confusion.
"Uh... I'd go with 'you', on account of she's still me, but uh...." Which way would be less confusing? Maybe we just needed to invent new pronouns. Because that would definitely help....
"Max? Star Wars?" Sami asked, pulling me back into the moment.
"Right, yeah. It was awesome. We should totally do that again sometime. And by "that" I mean letting me watch classic movies spoiler-free. ...I think she might have enjoyed it more than I did the first time...."
"I'll let you know if I come up with any ideas," she smiled.
"Um... no," I said, scowling, "you should... I guess write it down or something, but don't just tell me."
"Oh, right!" There was a pause, and then her fingers started wiggling like a madman's. "Paper please!"
"No, you can't immigrate to Karstovskistan," I joked as I slung my backpack to my front. "...What, okay, I probably got the name horribly wrong, but, you don't know that one?"
"Um, no," Sami said with more than a touch of confusion. "What are you on about now?"
"It's called Papers, Please. You play as an MCO agent preventing the 'evil mutants' from crossing the border. Haven't played it myself but I hear it's good."
"Another of your indie games, Max?" Hannah leapt into the conversation.
"They're not my indie games. They're famous, it won the IGF and everything!" I protested.
"Well, you're the only one I know who plays them, so they're your indie games to me," Hannah replied. "So hey, May should totally watch Citizen Kane next."
"You're not supposed to tell me, dammit!" I snapped.
"Woah, easy there, cowboy," Hannah said as Sami handed her the paper. "I mean, worst that happens, she gets a few spoilers, right?"
"Avoiding spoilers was kind of the whole point?!"
"Geez, Max, calm down!" Sami butted in. "It's like you're on PMS or something!"
I froze. Could it be...? "...No, that's stupid, I'm not even connected to May."
"She's only been around three days," Hannah pointed out. "How can you be sure she can't affect you like that?"
"Because she can't."
"You should at least-"
"NOPE. Nope nope nope. New subject."
Sami rolled her eyes. "Okay then, tell us: when do we get to take May on a shopping spree?"
I slowly turned to look at her. "And what makes you think she'd be interested?" I asked, just barely making it a question.
"Because she's a teenage girl?" Sami 'answered'. "Besides, I bet you haven't got her enough clothes yet-"
"He can't have, or he'd be complaining about being dragged everywhere shopping," Hannah interjected.
"Right, so if you've gotta go anyway, why not with friends?" Sami finished.
As much as I wanted to deny it, I had to admit they had a point. "Fine... We can go sometime this weekend, I guess."
"It'll be fun, I promise!" Sami assured me. "I'm thinking Oakridge Mall, we can hit Cutegirl.com and G By Guess, and Hot Topic I suppose, oh and Victoria's Secret of course!"
"And Perfumania, and Hollywood Eyebrow, and the Fantasy Nail Spa..." Hannah said, getting into it.
"Don't push your luck," I said, strangled.
"You couldn't tell I was joking?" she returned. "I don't go to those places. I've never even heard of anyone going to the 'nail spa'."
"My dad goes there sometimes," Sami offered.
"Um... right then. Don't worry, I won't let Sami push anything too girly on you."
"Okay, okay," I said. "It'll happen. But I'm not coming."
"What?" Sami burst out. "But the whole point-"
"May is going without me," I continued.
"Oh. Okay." She glared at me. "You do realize you just told me to refer to her as you, right?"
I blinked. "Did I do that?"
"You totally did."
"Huh." I guess I was going to have to work on my consistency....
"Trouble focusing again, Max?" Mr. King asked as I stared blankly at the whiteboard.
"Huh? Oh... yeah, I guess," I replied.
"Are you feeling okay? Do you want to go to the nurse's office?"
"No, I'm... I'm fine," I said, not sure if I entirely believed it.
"Well, I know spring break starts tomorrow, but you're still accountable for your homework. I suggest you get as much as you can done now."
"Uh... yeah," I said, and tried to focus on the math problems.
Chris's first note in Cryptography seemed like an easy cipher, but it took me just about the whole period anyway, because I kept drifting off. Of course, my reaction to the content may have added some time as well.
"This has gone on long enough," it said. "Meet me in the locker room at the start of lunch, alone."
I had to try hard not to let Mr. Harris notice as I freaked out.
I have no idea what happened during third and fourth period. My mind just kept repeating he knows and it's over.
I don't know why I decided to actually go. Some naive little voice in my head saying, maybe you're wrong about him I guess. I did at least think about it enough to realize that I could teleport away if things got bad, which helped me feel slightly less scared out of my wits.
Still, it wasn't exactly with a level voice that I said, "Hey, Chris."
"You're here," he said without turning to face me, his voice wavering almost as much as mine. "Good. I wasn't sure you'd come."
"Yeah... I wasn't either," I responded. "What's this about?" as if I don't already know.
He laughed - not a good sort of laugh, a small, nervous type. "I think you know. Did you really think I wouldn't find out, when it was my dad that processed your MID?"
When I said nothing, he turned around - oh my god he's got a baseball bat - two baseball bats - and said quietly, "I guess I was wrong about you. Now it's time to show you what I can do. En garde," he almost chuckled, throwing a bat to me-
And I was gone, back to the safety of my own house and my own room and May.
For what must have been a half hour I just sat there, holding myself and trying (and failing) not to cry.
Eventually, though, I worked up enough resolve to do one more thing.
Nobody tried to make me go back to school that day, although Dad came home almost as soon as I finished talking to Mom.
If anything else happened that day, I couldn't tell you. Hell, I probably could've been stabbed and I wouldn't have noticed. All I know is that I spent basically all day on my bed, crying and hugging myself, until I finally fell asleep that way.
"You fool!" cried Dumbledore the White. "I told you you must never use the Ring of Teleportation! Now the Enemy knows exactly where we are! Cast it off, and flee!"
I ran, May at my side, as blazing rocks streamed from the sky. A giant baseball bat swung down, sweeping away Sami, Hannah, and Thomas.
A great boulder landed on May, pinning her down, and I stumbled from the pain in her legs. "Go on without me, save yourself!" she cried, and I did so without hesitation.
I saw the exit to the cave, shining with the sunlight. But as I got closer, a shadow in the center resolved itself into Chris's face.
"Now you will suffer as all mutants should," he said as he grabbed me with his giant disembodied hands, and I screamed as he chewed me with his giant teeth.
Mom was of course in the room before I finished screaming.
I didn't bother saying anything; I just let myself be comforted by the three pairs of arms around me.
Wait... three? Mom, myself/May, and... "Mel? When did...?”
She giggled softly. "You kept whimpering every time I tried to leave, so I just had to sleep up here."
"Oh." Well, embarrassing as that was, I couldn't complain about her presence. "Okay."
After a bit, I shooed Mom away and cuddled up with Mel to go back to sleep. I didn't even bother opening my eyes when I heard a camera shutter a minute later.
April 4, 2014
"Oh, there you are," Mom said as she entered the office. "More nightmares?"
"I don't actually remember any," I responded blearily, setting Monstrous Regiment aside, "but I'm pretty sure yes."
"Want to talk about it?"
“No," I scowled.
She frowned, but went on, "Well, after yesterday, I think I should make you a good breakfast. Any requests?"
"Cinnamon rolls?" I asked hopefully. "I'll help."
For a second I thought she was going to protest, but she eventually responded, "Alright, honey."
Despite how much effort making cinnamon rolls took, it wasn't very good at distracting me from... Chris; I found myself going over what I could have done to make him not reject me. The fact I wasn't thinking of anything just made me angrier.
When I switched from stirring the sticky stuff to stabbing it, Mom decided to intervene. "Why don't you go back to reading, honey. I can handle the rest." I nodded and left before I could really mess anything up, leaving the bowl spinning.
In my current state of mind, though, thinking of reading just made me recall my Kindle, which Chris had probably destroyed by now; so I booted up Smash Bros instead. Imagining that Chris was like Master Hand, forced into things he didn't want by his dad, helped some; but not much, since I knew it wasn't true. Still, beating up Mr. Simmons (as represented by Tabuu) was a bit cathartic.
Breakfast also improved my mood; it's hard to stay depressed when eating delicious pastry. By the end of it, I almost felt like a human being again.
“Hey, Max,” Dad said after breakfast, “you feeling up to going to school today?”
I wanted to say yes, but then I thought of Chris, and what he would do to me, and I just teared up. Reluctantly, I shook my head. I couldn’t face that today.
“Okay, kid, take care of yourself. I’ll be back soon.”
“Taking care of myself” took the form of cathartically murdering Templars as a Native American. And then chopping apart Moblins, which gave way to blasting apart rebels. By the time Dad got back, catharsis was forgotten along with the whole situation at school (excepting a few tough moments).
I checked who was Skyping me; it was Hannah and Sami, so I figured I should answer it.
"Hey guys," I opened. "What's up?"
"We have a shopping trip to plan," Sami answered. "And you haven't been answering your phone, or your emails."
"Oh, yeah, I’ve been kinda distracted today," I admitted. "Um, so, Oakridge Mall right? Say, about three o' clock?"
"That's way too late, we have to be home by six!" she protested.
"And three hours isn't long enough to go shopping?" I asked incredulously.
"Not long enough to find you a whole wardrobe and have some time to enjoy ourselves," Hannah observed. "I know you hate mornings, but can we at least get there by one?"
"Well, if I'm going to be there all day anyway... May's been sleeping all day today so I can do an early time, so, ten or eleven?"
"That's not that early," chuckled Hannah, "but it works. Sami's dad is driving so we don't need to worry about that."
"Alright, I'll need to check with Mom and Dad but I think we're set then."
“Well? Is it ready yet?”
“These things take time, Mr. Johnson. I can see the effect you described, but the regeneration is stronger. Injecting you now would only give you cancer.”
“Do you need more samples?”
“More would always help, of course. Have patience, Mr. Johnson. You will have your serum, and I my thesis.”
"Hey, Max, we missed our normal Minecraft time," Joe pointed out when I came down for an afternoon snack. "You still up for it?"
“Uh, yeah," I responded, a little surprised that he was. "Of course." Not like I had any other plans for today; all I'd been doing was playing various other video games, even leaving May on the couch in the office, which I might have felt guilty about if anyone but us kids were here. "I'll let you know when I’m done eating."
"Sure," he replied. "Uh... knock first," to which I blushed but nodded.
It was pretty obvious Joe's enjoyment of the game hadn't improved - though falling into lava trying to collect it probably didn't help any - which I suppose made it sort of touching that he'd offered.
Still, he had to take several rage breaks (well, he said he was going to the bathroom, but it was a pretty dead giveaway that the toilet didn't flush), one of which he forgot to log out for and ended up getting swarmed by zombies, thus causing more rage. I didn't object when he quit early, though I was a bit disappointed we didn't finish the undersea passage. Ah well, next week.
I woke May after her lazy day to find she was even hungrier, and her elbow feeling worse, than the previous times. I even saw a small bruise on the inside of the elbow. That’s… weird.
Whatever, time for food. I had the last bowl’s worth of miscellaneous takeout, and bolstered it with toast, peas, and a banana. Not the world's best combination perhaps, but it was easy.
It was only 9:30 when I headed back upstairs, so I figured this was a good time to "learn" how to use a computer in this body. I connected and - wait, how does May not know how to use a computer? Seriously? How hard is that? Still, it seemed she didn't, so (with some grumbling) I went through turning it on, googling, and starting a Steam game in both bodies before going back to bed and disconnecting.
Trying out random Steam games was a pretty major improvement over random books, although there were still a couple duds. Like DotA 2, where I got stomped flat and yelled at by my teammates. At least in FTL: Faster Than Light I wasn't disappointing anyone but myself. And I actually was pretty good at Team Fortress 2.
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April 5, 2014
I eventually realized that trying to stay up for twenty hours was probably a bad idea, so I was myself when Sami called.
Luckily May didn't need much preparation before I went. Before she went? Whatever. Anyway I just pulled on my clothes and was good; I'd already showered before she went to sleep. Since I had some time left before Sami got here I left her sleeping on the couch while I finished my grand prix.
I was just watching the awards ceremony(third again) when she arrived. "Hey, Max," she said, slinging me my backpack (how on earth did she get that?); "You ready?"
"Just about," I responded. "Just let me drop myself off upstairs and we can go." I was about to ask her about my backpack when she suddenly yelled, "Oh jeez, she'd better not go like that!"
"What? Why not?" I called from halfway up the stairs. "I didn't forget the bra...?" That would be a disaster.
"No, it's her hair!"
I quickly switched bodies. "What about it?" I asked as I walked to the bathroom. "Looks fine...."
"From the front, sure, but you've got some nasty tangles in the back. Did you brush it? ...Have you brushed it ever?"
"Um... No... I don't have a brush," I replied awkwardly.
"Well, good thing I brought mine. Here. That's another thing for you to buy today then. Speaking of, you have money for this trip, right? -No, not from the top, you'll just make it worse! Start from the bottom and work your way up."
"Well you still brush downward, dummy! Like this." She demonstrated on her own hair. "So? Money?"
"Yeah, Mom gave me $300... which is a bit excessive, but..."
Sami nodded, pondered for a second, then said, "That's barely enough."
"What?" That can't be right. I only needed about a week's worth of outfits, with what I already had (assuming we're preparing for a theoretical future where May actually leaves the house); assuming I could get each piece for about $20, which seemed like about what I'd seen, at least for shirts, that was... $280 dollars. Without counting underwear or accessories. "Hmm. You're right."
"How about I go ask her for more while you keep working on that hair!"
"...Sure. She's upstairs, probably."
By the time we decided we’d bought enough clothes, I only had $50 left of the $400 Mom had given me. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed myself most of the time; turns out clothes shopping is a lot more interesting when there are choices beyond "Jeans or khakis?" and "Which geeky T-shirt do I like best?" Which isn't to say I didn't get geeky T-shirts (even if I had to trust Sami and Hannah on which ones I would understand), it's just I wasn't limited to them. Maybe I should start wearing more interesting shirts as a guy, too.
When I expressed this possibility to the girls over lunch though, they just laughed.
“Good luck with that,” Hannah warned.
“We couldn’t even get him to try on a plaid shirt without him complaining about ‘fashion’,” Sami continued, then got a pensive look. “I guess you really are a different person, huh?”
I just shrugged. I don’t feel like someone else, even if I sometimes regret choices I’ve made as May when I connect back. Besides, those choices were mostly made out of ignorance; I’m certainly not going to read any more Twilight.
“Yeah, we’ve been spending all day with you, but we don’t really know much about you,” Hannah noted. “Like, what are your hopes? Dreams? Worries? Fears?”
“I haven’t really thought about any of that.” I shrugged. “I mean, I’ve only been around for five days, so.. Although for worries, I guess there is the elbow thing.” I frowned.
“Yyyyyyeaaaah, uh, I keep waking up to a sore elbow. Kinda weird- it was bruised last time, huh?” I continued more to myself than to them.
“Are you maybe sleeping on it funny?” Sami asked.
“No, I thought of that, but it’s the one that was on top. -I haven’t even been sleeping on the same side…”
“This is sounding weird… Have you talked to your mom about it? Also, is it every time you sleep, or what?” Hannah asked.
“No, and… no, it’s only in the evenings.” Well, one time it was 1 AM, but that counted, right? “I guess-”
“You need to talk to her. This sounds serious,” Hannah said insistently.
“Yeah, that’s what I was about to say,” I responded, shaken. I’d been alive less than a week and I already had something wrong with me.
“…Right, not Max. I forget sometimes,” she replied with a weak smile.
“So! Who’s up for The Muppets: Most Wanted?” Sami asked.
“…What’s a Muppet?”
When I got back home I was surprised to find my backpack upstairs. How had I gotten that back...?
After a minute of staring blankly I realized that probably I would... me would... Max would... no, that makes it sound like I'm not Max... whatever. I connected to myself and sure enough, I remembered that Sami had brought it. How she got it was still a mystery but I didn't find myself caring.
I didn't feel like assessing the damage done to my backpack, either. Instead I headed downstairs to play some Halo.
I ended up doing really bad, though, missing easy shots and not reacting quick enough to... well, anything. After a bit I logged out and looked for something else to do.
Nothing really came to mind, but my phone reminded me that I had a few voice messages. Ugh, fine.
Most of them were just Sami and Hannah trying to reach me for the shopping trip, but there was one from Chris.
“Shit, man. I wasn't expecting you to disappear on me like that. You didn't even see them, did you?” Them? So he had got a whole group to ambush me.
“At least I guess this confirms I was reading you wrong before? Man, if I'd known you were a mutant, I would've done this, like, months ago.” This was not making me feel better.
“Okay, look. Max. It's not-”
I couldn’t stand to listen to any more; I deleted the message. And then I went on another crying jag.
I didn’t want this. I never asked for this. I’d rather keep my friends and stay in normal school than be a mutant any day. I didn’t want to think about this.
Maybe if I switched to May really fast, I wouldn’t have to.
It sort of worked, but not for the reason I thought.
“Joe? What are you doing?”
“I- nothin’!” He jerked his hand away from my arm. “I just, uh…”
Then I noticed something. “Wait, you too?”
“Your elbow! You’ve been getting those too?”
“Uh, yeah! For a while now, actually.” He looked back at the bruise on his arm. “I just.. Didn’t want to tell anyone…”
“Why not? What are they?”
“Well they… uh… for me they’re… caused by masturbating…” he confessed.
“Oh.” My face, I’m sure, lit up like a stoplight. “..Wait, but I haven’t ever…”
“..Ever?!” There it went again. “Well, uh, the doc said it can be caused different ways. Like, by different stresses and shit. Maybe it’s cause you’re lying too still, or somethin’.”
“I did think of that as a possibility,” I hedged. “But wait, why am I only getting them in May’s body, then?”
“Ah, well, there’s a genetic part to it too. Maybe that gene just missed you.”
I nodded; it made sense. “Okay, sure. But what were you doing to it?”
“Oh, uh, doc gave me these pads.” He showed me the one in his hand. “They got some gunk on ‘em that makes it not as bad. I been checkin’ on May and using ‘em whenever I see she’s got one.”
“Oh.” I was blown away; I honestly didn’t think Joe cared that much. “Thank you.”
“Yeah,” he awkwardly replied.
“…So uh, can I have a few of those pads?”
“Oh, yeah, of course. Here this one too-” he handed me the one he’d been using “-it’s supposed to be held on at least ten minutes, an’ I only got halfway through.”
“So uh,” he opened when he returned with a small stack of pads, “you’re not gonna tell Mom, right?”
“Why n- oh! Right. No, your secret’s safe with me.”
“Good,” he replied, “good. Oh, and uh, I can talk to the doc and see if I can get you an appointment, if you want.”
“That… seems like a good idea, yes.”
“Mr. Johnson. What, may I ask, is the purpose of this call?”
“Would it be helpful if I could bring you the subject herself?”
“..Yes, Mr. Johnson, I believe it would. You can arrange this?”
“Yeah, I think so. We’ll have to keep her sedated, of course.”
“…Very well, Mr. Johnson, and may our consciences forgive us in time.”
The rest of the day was spent more or less normally, even if I was drifting off more than usual. Joe got back to me before long with an appointment scheduled Monday afternoon.
Sunday was equally unremarkable, and I barely noticed when Monday rolled along.
We treated it like a spy mission, even leaving ten minutes apart so no one knew we were together. Sure, maybe that was a bit excessive for what we were doing, but it was fun. Ian was waiting with his truck around the corner.
“I’m May,” I responded blearily.
“May, whatever. We’re here, come on.”
‘Here’ was a building that looked more like a warehouse than a doctor’s office. I staggered my way in, ignoring the pink elephants walking by.
“Uh… You all right?” Joe asked.
My eyes, one at a time, drifted over to him. “Dunno.”
“Uhh…” He looked very confused, but then, who wouldn’t with a mouse tap dancing on their head? “Come on, let’s get you inside before you collapse.”
The room he lead me to didn’t look like a doctor’s office, either. There was the fancy chair and some science stuff, but it looked more like a lab than an exam room. And there was no waiting room, either. I guess Joe arranged an appointment off the books. He was pretty hardcore about keeping this secret, I guess.
The doctor – pretty young one, he looked younger than Joe, actually, but I guess that was due to how he wore his facial hair – took one look at me and turned to Joe. “Is she okay? What’d you do to her?”
“Not a damn thing. Just put her under, doc. We’ll worry about her later.”
“If you insist.” He drew out a syringe of something. “Alright, I’m just going to give you a shot, here.”
I nodded assent, and soon after the shot I was drifting off to sleep.
Shapes and colors, floating through a void.
What is this?
What is “what is”?
A passage, full of nothing.
Eternity; an instant.
A hole, ever so small.
Through it –
I woke up, gasping. What the hell was that?
…Why did I think that? What was what?
…Why was I getting pain and fuzz?
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I shut off my connection to May (or lack thereof) and sat up in shock. What happened to her?
Dad stirred from his sleeping on the chair in front of my bed. Oh no. What time was it? Hell, what day was it?
But more importantly, what the fuck happened??
All I could remember about the last few days was a vague blur of video games. When I thought about May, I got the vague sense that she was planning to go somewhere? Maybe? But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where.
“Oh! You’re awake,” Dad said, hugging me and then announcing to the rest of the house, “HE’S UP!”
I cringed and wanted to say he shouldn’t have woken anyone, but it was obvious by how fast Mom and Mel got there they hadn’t been sleeping anyway.
“Oh! We were so worried for you, young man!” Mom said as she crushed me, with a little help from Mel. “Now, where have you been, and more importantly Where Is May?”
I shrank and said the words I least wanted to: “I have absolutely no idea.”
Even though it was 3 AM, the cops were called out. Apparently they’d already been in contact, but now we had proof (if they’d accept my powers as evidence, anyway) of foul play.
Everyone, including me, protested that they had no idea where she was or what had happened to her. But although I didn’t say anything, I was pretty sure I knew who was responsible…
The house was pretty much empty by ten o’ clock. Mom still had work, and Joe had some plans with his friends, neither of which was worth canceling to uselessly sit around the house. Dad was off work for the week, but he went out to help the police in some way. And while Mel was still around, she was pretty much shut up in her room.
Which made it really easy for me to quickly sneak out.
The bike ride into town, on the other hand, was neither easy nor quick. It took nearly an hour, and although it had been mostly downhill, I was definitely glad to sit down and eat at a familiar Main Street restaurant.
From there it was a half hour bus trip, and then another ten minute ride, but finally I was standing outside Chris’s door.
It occurred to me just after I rang the doorbell that this was a really bad idea. What was I going to do, just demand he give me my sister back? Why would he listen to me?
But he was at the door, so that was what I did. At which point he punched me in the face.
“You do not get to show up at my house and make wild accusations!” he bellowed.
“You won’t trick me, I know you have May!”
“Who the fuck is May?!”
That shook me, but only for a second. “Look, you’re not gonna stop me! One way-”
“No, you listen to me, Max,” he interrupted. “I gave you every chance, every hint, because I thought I must be wrong! Hell, I stayed friends with you for years, I was so convinced! But I guess you’re just too scared to see reason, even when you become what you fear! So if you’re so afraid of mutants” wait WHAT “I’ll give you something to be afraid of!” And a giant ball of somethings appeared in front of his splayed hands.
For a moment, everything was still.
“Shit,” he said, and the ball erupted into chaos.
For a few seconds, both of us were too busy fending off whatevers to even breathe, but as soon as I got the chance, I yelled, “You’re a mutant?!?”
“What!?” he returned.
“YOU’RE A MUTANT??!!!?!?”
“YOU DIDN’T FUCKING KNOW??????”
I punched away a thing that had pounced on him while he was standing flabbergasted. “I thought you HATED mutants!”
“Why the fuck would you think that?!”
“Your dad’s in the MCO!!”
“AND A MUTANT!!”
“WELL HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT??”
“YOU FUCKING SAID YOU DID!?”
“HANNAH SAID SHE TOLD YOU AND YOU SAID YOU KNEW!!”
I stood dumbstruck for a second, during which Chris had to cover me. “That definitely never happened!”
“IT WAS THIS FUCKING WEEK!!”
A possibility came to my mind. “In SPANISH?! I couldn’t understand her!”
“THEN WHY’D YOU FUCKING SAY YOU KNEW???!”
I couldn’t come up with a reasonable response, so there were a couple seconds of silence. Or at least no talking.
“Why’d you think I hated mutants?” I finally asked.
“You’re fucking kidding, right??”
“When I first fucking told you about my dad being MCO, you were like ‘Oh, good, I’m so glad someone is keeping those dangerous mutants under control!’”
“I WAS PROJECTING!!”
“Well I fucking know that now!”
The next few seconds were almost actually silent, as most of the tiny monsters had either run off or vanished under the force of our punches.
“Shit, man,” I finally told him, “I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me for being a stubborn idiot?”
To my surprise, he just laughed. And laughed. And laughed. It was starting to get creepy by the time he stopped.
“Max, if I couldn’t forgive you for being a stubborn idiot, we would never be friends in the first place.”
“So what were those things, anyway?” I asked after we cleaned up the stragglers and went inside to cool off.
“Oh, you’re a Wizard?” He raised his eyebrows.
“Actually, I’m apparently a magic energizer.”
“... How is that different?”
“Fuck if I know.”
“Wait, weren’t you saying something about Mel being in trouble?”
“Yeah, when you first saw me, you were all ‘give me my sister back!’”
“I repeat: who the fuck is May.”
“Uhhhh, short version when I manifested she appeared. Your dad didn’t tell you?”
“He’s a huge stickler for confidentiality, even though it’s not one of the MCO’s rules. Only reason I know you were there at all is he was trying to figure out why he knew the name.”
“Huh, okay. Anyway, she’s basically my sister, except we share a consciousness. But right now she’s knocked out so I can’t do shit.”
“… Well. That sounds bad.”
“So what all can you do, anyway?”
“Not a damn thing, without May. Like I said we share consciousness, so when I’m both of us I’m smarter and more emotionally stable, but I have to stumble like a zombie to move on my own. Oh, and I can teleport to her.”
“…You can teleport to her.”
“You can. Teleport. To her.”
“Uhh..” I didn’t understand why he was having so much trouble with this. “… wait…”
“Nowbefore you go rushing off,” he said quickly, “are you prepared for if it turns out she was kidnapped by a supervillain, or even, like, a maniac with a crowbar.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.
“Go to the police. Get their help. Save your sister.”
Even though May was still missing, I felt like everything was all right now.
Dad drove over from the police station to pick me up, but his lecture – both about being reckless, and being prejudiced – couldn’t get me down. Chris was back. We were friends again.
“So… you can teleport to her,” said the officer assigned to us.
“And… you didn’t think to mention this?” she probed.
I shrugged. “I didn’t think it would work. I mean, I still don’t know.”
She sighed. “Well, normally there’s no way I’d let a minor anywhere near an unknown situation like this, but it may be the only way we be to find her before it may be too late. But we are going to take every precaution. And you have to promise to avoid conflict if at all possible.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m not going to fight anyone for her.”
By the time they decided I was prepared, I was kitted out like a hero. There was a tracker in my pocket, and I’d also swallowed one. I had a belt with a taser and a stun rod, even though we weren’t really sure it’d come with me. And my phone was in my other pocket, palmed and with the officer’s direct number already entered. In short, I was ready for anything –
– except, that is, a grad student in a lab coat shoving Joe into a chemical shower.
“Who..? Oh, never mind, he’s burning out, call 911!”
To be continued in "A Cup of Joe" .
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