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**Saturday 6th January, 2007, Whateley**
The body I have in Schuster Hall shakes hands with my newly assigned academic advisor, Miss Terri Larson. The school laptop she gave me is under my arm. "Thank you again. I know I'm probably a bit of a handful to work with."
"I'm sure we shall get along wonderfully", she says in reply, and parting. "I'll see you next week."
I head out towards the quad. This is going to be a busy but good term. I've picked up a class load that no single human could handle. But then, I'm not really either of those.
At the same time, in Sara's room over on the other side of the campus, the me that's over there, and about two thirds naked, luxuriates in the afterglow of a really nice orgasm. Jet's hand is still down my half-off skirt, and full of my parts, which I really need to stop being so squeamish about. That is my *cock*, that is my *clit*. Yes, I have both. Yes, it is very nice, thank you very much. Over on the bed, catgirl Paige is curled, panting and purring and ear-twitching in Sara's lap, herself also very much in the afterglow - literally, she's still lit up electric blue from the inside, it's really quite lovely. "Thank you, Jet, it was wonderful" I say. She just kisses me for a reply.
I walk across the quad, looking around, the school is starting to look busier than I've ever seen it, although with parents and families around it's a red flag day, so everyone is pretending to be normal. Still cold, but the sun is out, a nice day. Snow lying around in piles reflects the blue sky, and I wince at a sudden flashback to the events of yesterday. Okay, so maybe I *do* need to see the shrink. Which means I need to head over to the Doyle Medical building, the first place on Whateley I ever saw - although I presume, not the same part of it.
In fact, it turns out it's a different area of the building entirely, one that makes a lot more effort to emphasize the calming over the clinical. There are houseplants and decorative rocks. Even the waiting area seats are plush. However, I don't end up using them, as I'm shown straight through to the doctor's room.
"Welcome, come in, I'm Doctor Alfred Bellows." He's an older man with greying brown hair. We shake hands, "Please, take a seat. Would you like anything, coffee, tea?"
The sofa is slightly cliche but very comfortable. "Coffee, please. Milk, no sugar." Vices from another, older life. It's a very nice office. Cosy, looks lived in without being cluttered. I put the laptop on the floor beside me, carefully.
He makes up coffee with a plug in kettle and a drip filter, and hands me a mug. "Alright", I ask, "Shall we get started? I take it patient confidentiality begins immediately?" I'm not normally this abrupt, but I'm feeling jumpy.
On the other side of campus, I'm getting re-dressed in a hurry, as Sara has let us know that folks from her pack are on their way, ones who I hadn't met yet. While I probably am going to end up naked around them, it might not be the best first impression. Jet, who doesn't have any clothes to tidy, is helping grab clothes for me. "I'll return the favour later", I promise. She grins and hugs me. "I'll look forward to it."
"Yes it does", says Dr Bellows, taking a seat opposite me, "And yes, let's begin. Why don't you tell me something about yourself. And how you're feeling." So, time for the big spiel, I guess.
"I'm a time and world traveller", I say. "I arrived here four days ago, Tuesday oh dark hundred AM, literally on fire with mutant burnout after manifesting in another world and teleporting out of control across universes. I landed in a snowdrift, died, and regenerated my full body to match a new, female template. My original powers are very high regeneration, high warping, and mid-low exemplar. I've had some help to expand my warper power, and stretched into and through it. A certain someone has, with my full consent, sparked certain changes in me. As of now, then, what I am is a pre-larval great old one in potential, with thousands of simultaneous minds, as many simultaneous bodies as I please, I read whole libraries in a morning, I have gravity sensing and gravity manipulation power, and I can use that to cast impenetrable shields and to fly, badly. And some other things we might talk about later. Oh, and I used to be trans. Now I'm cis, but conspicuously intersex when naked."
"Well", he says, and has to pause a moment to absorb all that. "I did read your latest updated report, but it seems they don't even know the half of it. That's quite a mouthful. And all of this since Tuesday?"
"Yeah", I admit. "If I couldn't lucid dream in a dozen concurrent parallels, I'd be having debilitating nightmares about it. And a few other things that happened, like when I got kidnapped on Thursday and threatened with being gutted, because somebody wanted to forcibly divide me from my best friend. Or when I got my brain stolen off inside an alien spaceship yesterday and had to delete my original body."
I may be breaking his brain a little. "My empathy tells me you're speaking the absolute truth, and if anything holding back on my behalf. But... wow." He stops to sip his tea. Presumably making some time to process.
"Yeah, wow", I agree. "it has been an eventful few days."
Sara's room still smells of sex, but I expect the folks coming in and giving her and the others hugs are used to that. I'm introduced to Hippolyta (gigantic, nearly bumps her head on the high ceiling, short golden curly hair, a bit abrupt), Feral (lean, sharp, stop-flicker animal-like movement, messy hair, doesn't talk much), Gypsy (dresses the part, dark longer hair, Rider-Waite tarot in a hip holster), and Heyoka (uncategorisably androgynous and cute). I get to do an abridged version of the spiel for them too. I did read a little about them, but I don't have any of their secrets. I'll leave explaining that for later. Instead, we start to swap stories about how we met Sara, and our adventures.
Over in the doc's sofa, I explain to him that my latest adventure has left me with a flinch at the colour blue. He wants to know why. I weigh Sara's earlier advice to clam up, which is good for faculty in general, but, maybe there's a time and a place. "Okay, doc, here's the thing. I don't want this getting out of the room. Not in conversation, not in notes. It could endanger my life and would certainly complicate it, and it wouldn't genuinely help the school to know it, because I have absolutely no intention of being a danger to anybody. I need a promise, or it will just have to be the unspecified thing."
He sighs, frowns, steeples his fingers. "That's asking a lot, you know? It's asking me to put a lot of people's lives at risk on your bare word." He looks at me, sharply. I nod, showing I understand. "But I can feel you're sincere, and you really do need to talk about it. Very well. Please don't make me regret this. You have my promise."
I nod. "Alright. Shielding isn't the only gravity power I synthesized. There is another. Discontinuity knife." And I explain how I can cut things by using my warper power to create a thin line of separation in the fabric of space itself. "The trouble is, it doesn't just cut matter. It cuts atoms, it cuts molecules. And whatever is left dangling thrashes around, kicking out high energy particles. And a pretty sky blue light from Cherenkov radiation."
He winces. "I don't know much physics, but that's what makes a reactor glow, right? That's far more radiation than it's safe to be around."
"Would have killed me yesterday morning when I discovered it, if I wasn't a regen six", I agree. "Did kill me, yesterday evening, when I cut an alien starship in half with it. The radiation was bad enough it was making sparkles directly in my visual cortex. You can see why I don't plan to pull that out and wave it around on campus."
He nods, looking a bit ill. "Eventful", he repeats. "Yes, please do not pull that out anywhere in, around or near the school. Or human habitation. Or yourself."
I nod. "In that one case, it was needs must, and I could dismiss the irradiated body anyway, although it was my original, it was already beyond repair. That, losing my original, bothers me too."
He makes some notes, and sighs. "I can see how it would. That was the one with the kidnapped brain, right?" I nod. "Devisor medicine can reinsert brains, but it's experimental and can fail."
"That one was halfway across the solar system and in enemy hands", I add. "Not really a repairable circumstance. Thankfully, and this may be down to my luck power, I had a backup body left behind on Earth that they missed, probably because it was injured and unconscious."
"Or else you would have had to dismiss your last one", Dr smart cookie says.
I nod. "And getting back from that would be hard. I wouldn't be dead exactly, my non-physical extension remains conscious when my body is KO'd. But I'd not have any material body to copy to recreate myself."
He rubs his forehead. "I can see this is going to be interesting. But, in the end it comes down to very human fears. Pain. Death. Being lost. Being separated from loved ones and beloved places. I can lead you through those."
I nod. "Add in becoming inhuman, which I've chosen, but I'm also having to gradually deal with."
"A common fear among mutants. We normally explain that a mutation, even a major change of form, doesn't end your humanity. But you're implying you've begun a process that is different from regular mutation?"
"A change of form of soul. Where what you'd normally be pointing out to anyone else sat here, is that a mutant's soul is still human, mine is gradually becoming *not*. I expect that my form of mind will change too. Continuing the change that has already begun."
"Why don't you run those changes by me in a bit more detail?"
The group over in Sara's room has reduced back down to me, Jet, Paige and Sara, the ones without other places to be. I relate my decision, to tell the doc, and she agrees, "Doc Bellows is trustworthy. Good call. He'll help you deal with it."
My turn to snuggle with Sara on the bed. Jet is floating and "guarding". Paige gets to be petted kitty beside us. I ask, "Are you holding a lot of charge right now, Paige?", because I'm a bit jealous only Sara, who can shrug off electrical shocks, gets to pet her.
"Dun think so", she says in a lazy satisfied voice. "'I'm really really relaxed right now."
I carefully try petting her with the back of my hand - snap! ow, involuntary jerk back. "Body, learn to handle this!" I say out loud. Snap! ow again. Snap! I think that was less ow.
Sara giggles. "I like how you think." Watches me make another attempt, and another.
It's fairly definitely less ow, now. "Sara, can you scan me and see if my body is really learning, or I'm just numbing myself with abuse?"
She nods. "Okay, but this is gonna look gross." A wiggling fur of teeny tiny tentacles appear on the palm and fingers of her hand, and she reaches to grasp my arm.
"You forget I think your tentacles are cute", I tease, as a weird chilly sensation goes up my arm. I watch with curiosity, sure I can see wiggling under the skin. Then it withdraws and she lets go.
"Flatterer. And yes, your nerves are learning to grow insulated sheaths, and your skin is learning to be conductive over the surface. I'm a little impressed."
I reach out carefully with the front of my hand, and try petting Paige, ignoring the stinging and cramp until it slowly loosens, then I find I can run fingers through her fur, with a slight smell of ozone. And she purrs. Oh my goodness that is a heavenly noise. "Yay! Paige petting, achieved." Which makes everyone giggle.
"Now to train your tongue", Sara teases me. "I saw how you were looking at her earlier. She has such a pretty blue glow."
"I very want", I admit. And pretty Paige has a boner again.
In the doc's office, I explain. "I found I could contact what I call parallels, possible selves, through the "sideways" alterations my benefactor made to my warping. They aren't sapient people, only potentials that I can make real. From my perspective, they're minds that connect to mine at so fundamental a level I can treat them like threads, or parallel processes. We can work on things in gangs, to increase our mental capacity, or separately, set things to run in the background, break a task into a pipeline and stream information through it, or use one group to dive into another's workings. I set to work on my own mental processes, and now I'm lucid and in control at nearly all levels of my mind, including subconscious, dreams, even the nonphysical extensions into soul, to a limited extent. More of me is outside my brain, than in, now. I can stay conscious through physical unconsciousness. I can sleep and be awake at the same time. And, through some work at a soul level, I've worked out how to introduce new copy bodies into physical reality, or withdraw them. Each body is completely me, run by as many parallels as I need."
"I'm a little surprised, given the level of control you describe, that you need my help at all."
"I have all the tools", I say. "Doesn't mean I know how to use them. It would be bad to just shut down symptoms until something more fundamental breaks, or monkey around and lose something important."
"Ah, understood." He looks thoughtful.
Paige is lazily holding up a finger. I wait for my tongue to stop its disturbed twitching, and push myself to reach out and lick again, concentrating on encouraging thoughts. I can do this. I can adapt myself to this. Good body, you can learn.
Snap! Ow, cramping tongue, involuntary blinking. But less, I think. It *is* working, gradually.
"Getting back to fundamentals", says the doc, "what you lived through a few times in the last four days, and it sounds like particularly badly yesterday, is what we in the business call traumatic stress. Which is a different beastie than your regular, bad day at school, forgot your homework kind of stress. It affects the mind differently. It gets stuck down at a more fundamental, animal level. Often, it's not visible, until it pops up and surprises you with its intensity. The memory can even be missing, because it's been written down at a level where the conscious mind doesn't reach. Perhaps that doesn't apply to you, but it will still be where you aren't expecting to look for it."
Now that I know what to search for, it doesn't take long to find. An inner, intensely self protective part of me is clinging onto burned-in memories of fear and helplessness.
"Found it. Not that I have the first clue what to do with it. But it's just like you said."
In the other room, my tongue touches the fingertip, nothing except a slight tingle. Gingerly, I close my lips around it, but there's no sting. I kiss and stroke with a tongue tip. Then let loose and say, "turn up the voltage would you? Just a little at a time, slowly." And close my lips over the fingertip again.
The doc is caught a little on the back foot, but he rallies. "You have direct contact with the part of you that's holding traumatic memories? Alright. So, why don't we start by becoming allies of that part of your mind. Which we do by seeing things from its perspective. As we go along, we'll be adjusting the beliefs it holds to more positive, helpful forms, without contradicting what it feels. So, let's begin. Tell me what happened that night, and let that part of you say how it feels about it."
"Enough, you two! Paige, stop it." Sara's swatting at a smoulder mark in the silk sheet. Which I did not feel. "Very well done but enough for now, until you can find some place to ground out properly."
I wince, "Sorry, Sara. Your beautiful bed."
"Don't worry too much, dear, the room will reweave it. But let's not give it needless work." She grins. "You really did it. I am impressed. And turned on. Such dedication."
As I explain to the doc how afraid I was, all alone in enemy hands, stuck having to choose something that felt almost like suicide, I snuggle against Sara in the other room. "I can feel your emotions across bodies, you know", she says. "I can hear you talking to doc Bellows. But you survived it. Don't forget that. And no matter what happens I've got you, forever."
There's nothing I can say to that, except "I love you, so much there aren't words for it."
"Y'wanna tell me what happened?" Paige asks. "Cause I was out of the loop." So Sara and I tag-team for a bit, telling her the story of how I nearly lost my last copy and got stuck in dreams until I could learn to make a new physical body from scratch.
"You know what's fucked up?" I say. "I can't tell the doc this, but the reason he was after me wasn't even the secrets in my head, although I bet he'd think so. It was some shitty Macbeth style precog prophecy. I'm dangerous to his plans, huh? Could it be because he gave me no choice and I had to blow his guts across the room and then irradiate him and leave him to swim home in vacuum?"
Paige giggles. "Serves the old bastard right, but, I've got enough tactical sense to spot what you're carefully not saying. No choice, my furry foot. You didn't have to do a damn thing. Could have just vanished on him. Or blew his head off. You wanted him to watch himself die."
Oof, got me. "Heh. Yeah. That is the thing that's biting me in the conscience but I am gonna tell the doc? Am I heck. I'd end up in ARC black. I did need to give him a tactical slap on the wrist to make sure he didn't just turn right around and come fetch me again, but you're right, pop goes the head and the problem would have been over. I was *angry*."
"This is a feeling we are familiar with" Paige says. Or rather, I think, Mai the Palm AI she shares a brain with says. "You were under stress, and inexperienced, anger is to be expected."
"Anger that makes me torture someone, while having the abilities to do it, will scare the norms. It scares me."
Mai says, "Your decision not to explain this to Doctor Bellows is sound. Your decision to share it with us is also sound, as we are well placed to understand it. Control is something you learn."
Sara strokes my hair, gently. It feels really good, fingers on scalp. "I watched you try out those two powers for the first time, just a few hours earlier. I was the first one who saw you arrive, before you even knew you had powers, less than a week ago. You aren't used to having big teeth, or controlling your anger in the heat of battle. You've gone and stung your own conscience, on a man who honestly deserves everything you did and worse, and you'll be careful next time. Trust yourself a little better, beloved. You're learning."
I sigh and lean back against her, feeling comforted. "Okay, I'll try. I wonder if he got back. Assholes like that don't die just from being killed."
"Probably", Sara admits. "He's not short of ways to run away. I'd go for the head shot next time, except he'll probably have defenses."
"Bah, blew my chance."
Mai says, "Chances are something you make."
Over in the doc's office, we've been talking through better ways to think about the situation. I should go learn meditation - even if I already have most of the technical abilities it'd take a monk a couple decades of self discipline to learn, I have to actually use them to get the Zen. And I need to pick up and examine thoughts around the whole business. Like, "I am a monster for making that old guy scream". Is it accurate? Is it helpful? Nope to either. Just questioning myself that way will stop stuff like that becoming assumptions that taint my relationship with myself and everyone else. It does help. He's going to assign me someone to teach meditation. I suspect, because he's no fool, the doc is going to draw some inferences once he's no longer feeling like he stuck his finger in a plug socket. Hopefully, he decides I'm not a danger. We shake hands, he gives me his card, to call in emergencies. Next session is next week. If the current shitstorm holds up, I'm sure I'll have fresh traumas. And then I'm headed back toward Poe, because the Kimbas will be here.
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**6th January, 2007, Whateley, morning**
I snuggle back against Sara. Talking through all that stuff helped, but now my head's just empty. Irony, yo. "Hey Sara", I ask, "Do you reckon I'll ever learn how to grow tentacles?" Idle thoughts.
"Ever? Yeah", she says. "Not soon though, that kind of mythos stuff is the advanced class. Too dangerous for you yet." But she consoles me by making tentacles for me to nuzzle against and kiss.
"Ah well", I say. "They're just sweet is all."
"Thank you", she says.
I catch one of her tentacles and suck on it, and put the tip under my tongue.
She mms, "Why'd you put it there?"
"Thought you might like it", I say a bit slowly, pronouncing around tentacle. "Where the veins are. Next to my bloodstream."
"You, miss Jules, are a tease. You are making me hungry and if you are not careful I shall bite you."
"So bite", I say teasing.
She pulls the tentacle out of my mouth, even though I make complaining noises. "Silly. You need to be careful what you offer me."
"Okay", I say. "You can't eat me, I might get pulled in as a soul and that would be messy to undo. No permanent damage or serious pain, even if I can dismiss the body, I don't want to accidentally teach myself to be callous. But with those limits I don't have any skin boundary from you. I trust you."
"No skin boundary, hmm hmm?" Herself is amused. "So if I wanted to play tic tac toe on your liver?"
"It's right there, don't let me stop ya."
"Gah, tempter", she laughs. "Later. We need to get ready for lunch. Are you gonna be coming to lunch from Poe or here?"
"Both", I say. "Might as well start as I mean to go on."
In Poe, I'm sat in Fey's room, which seems to be the default council of war kinda place. Billie had broken a bit of the big news before I got back from getting my head shrunk. Fey put up an anti-snoop field. Then I had to apologise to everyone for learning their secrets, which was embarrassing. I think Ayla doesn't trust me. Chou is sort of quietly judging. Fey thinks I'm weird, but okay. Jade approves of me being there for Billie, but got grumpy at how much I learned. I think she'll forgive me. Toni thinks I'm weird, but is happy to have another girl who just outright likes being a girl, "even if you do have extra bits".
"So let me get this straight", Ayla asks. "You just up and jumped into Sara's lap, and said 'make me as spooky as you'? And you did this knowing, accurately and in detail, what she is, because you read it over in another universe?"
"Bing, a million bucks for team Ayla, that is the right answer!" Which cracks up Toni and Jade. "Yeah. I jumped at the chance."
Fey says, "I can already sense it, you know? Your soul is starting to change, and you feel a little other than human, in the way she does. Anyone magically sensitive is going to notice it soon."
"Wasn't planning to hide it", I say. "Wasn't planning to flaunt it either, but if they ask, I'll just say yes, that's what I am now. I'm more than a little proud of my choice."
"But you will be flaunting your multiple bodies", says Toni.
"Can't hardly avoid it, if I want to take half a dozen concurrent classes, they'll see me walking past myself on campus."
"Tell me you at least are going to hide having the extra parts?" Ayla asks. "Because Poe will keep your secret there, but if it gets out, well, I have personal experience with that. There's a lot of assholes."
"Haven't decided", I admit. "I'm really tempted to be open about it. Bullies, I am not particularly concerned about. I should be able to evade them without violence. Risking Poe's secret is the main thing in the don't pile, but it's a huge one. Besides, even if I was open, I'm not exactly gonna climb on a table in Crystal Hall, put on my best Shakespeare voice, and yell out 'I have a dick' to the whole school."
Which makes everyone snicker. "No, I wouldn't recommend that", says Ayla.
I smile. "Anyhow. I'm hoping soon enough, everyone just files me under 'a normal day in weirdness central AKA Whateley'."
"Our whole team is pretty strange", Billie agrees. "If they can get used to me and Nikki and Jinn playing as Shroud, they can get used to you."
"We need to head over to lunch", Chou says, finally joining in the conversation. "The Tao sees you as a positive in the balance. Which I am a little surprised by but will accept."
I bow to her, since it seems appropriate. Which makes her, finally, smile a little.
I sit down at the Kimba table, after Billie shows me how to touch in to the conversation, with half my portion on my tray, and I walk in with Sara, Paige and Jet, go get the other half of my portion, touch in and sit down opposite. And both of me break out giggling at everyone's responses. "What, you've not seen a girl with two independent bodies before?", I say in perfect sync.
"Flaunt it, she said", Toni says. "Well, mission achieved I guess."
Soon enough I'm not the topic of conversation. Bugs has suits to show. Jade has a nifty idea to flip for ultra-violence or pacifism each morning, which makes Ayla turn interesting shades of purple and spit her drink. I let it wash over me. I'm not part of Kimba yet, I may never be, they're already a team and well above my level in physical combat. But I'm inside their circle of friends, and it feels good. And I'm also sitting with Sara's pack, and inside their circle of friends. It's pretty wonderful, and I can just bask.
After the meal, Poe-me heads over towards the library. Sara-me follows the pack back down underground. I play by trying to float along, I wouldn't call it flying, which I can get away with since there's no red flag day in the tunnels. My efforts get me giggled at. I ham it up, swimming in mid air, tumbling like I'm out of control, pretending to spacewalk. Everyone's laughing when we get to Sara's room and collapse on beanbags - I lower myself just above one and then ploomp down on it. Everyone applauds, which makes me break down laughing. "So fun."
The me in the library is having a more quiet kind of fun. Looking around a bit, I eventually track down Miss Henderson. With a bit of persuasive effort and demonstration, I manage to convince her that multi-body reading isn't disruptive in the way my earlier warper trick is. She gives me permission to multi-read, but not the whole library at once. "Stick to one section at a time, and defer to other students. Even if you only need the book for a few seconds, the bustle might be intimidating to them. I don't want to receive any complaints." I assure her there won't be. And apologize again for the mess on Thursday. "I owe you one, if you need an additional free worker for anything, mail me." She nods. And adds "we have improved our security camera coverage and monitoring since Thursday. Such an assault won't be permitted to happen again." I thank her.
And then it's on to picking up Physics where I left off, although I quickly find that ARC covered a lot of that, and there's only a few books that have new stuff. I'll just work along the shelf then. Chemistry is next!
It turns out that Sara's pack plays board games. Who knew? It's not really my thing, so I get to sit with a book, taking my time because it's the spooky one and it makes quite a bit more sense now I know mid-university level physics and a bit of organic chemistry. Sara has half an eye for me, checking I'm not turning into something too oogy too fast, and the rest of her attention on the Catan game, having entirely too much fun saying "I have wood for sheep" with a bit of lust aura push and making everyone crack up and pelt her with cushions.
I'm particularly interested to read about Sara's father, Gothmog, because I haven't met him yet and really would like to. There's a summoning ritual, which is pretty simple, just a drawing, a chant and some ingredients, but I'm curious about how it works and try to pick apart the pieces mentally, carefully. Everything you do with this kind of material has to be kid gloves, because it can easily fire off just from being thought about in the wrong way. But on the other hand, the hyperspatial geometry of it does make a lot of sense to me. I wonder if I could improve it?
In the library, I skip over most of the sports section for now, as I'm not really interested in the intricacies of baseball or soccer, but the martial arts section gets my full attention. I may not be able to learn from books, exactly, but maybe I can get a few better ideas to hang experience on? There is, unsurprisingly, quite a lot, and covering a variety of arts.
Hippolyta wins Catan, and gets a hug and a long slow kiss for her reward, which makes her blush practically incandescent and everyone else applaud. Sara catches my eye and comes over to shoulder peek. "Hmm, looking at Daddy's ritual?" And I explain how I might be able to improve it. She nods, "Okay, let's give it a try, it feels like a good time for it." Then to the room, "okay, people, we're gonna call daddy, so, it's up to you if you want to stick around and meet him." Hippolyta and Gypsy make their excuses, but the rest decide to stay.
Alright. Sara offers a box of chalk, I take a stick, and copy myself a half dozen more times - yay, I copied the chalk too! Success number one. Okay. The seven of me each take an area of the summoning circle and each of us crouches and draws. With a bit of space bending, we can get the angles and layers right. The whole, nine-foot thing is done in seconds. Success number two.
"That makes my eyes water", Jamie complains, looking away. "How can you draw in more than one level of depth like that on a flat surface?"
Sara is grinning proudly. Hands the nearest one of me the pieces I need, a condom in its packet, a dried rose with the thorns on, a small tightly curled snip of dark hair. I pass them to other me's and we put them in their proper pads in the diagram. "Okay, anyone not wanting to hear spooky stuff please plug your ears", I say, in unison. Which is, to be honest, a bit deliberately spooky already, but it wakes them up. Jamie and Paige plug up. Erin and Jet risk it.
In the library, I pause. Going to deliberately avoid cross streams of concentration for this one.
I start to speak the chant, but carefully cross phased over the seven of me, and some of me are speaking at slightly different space bends than others, or very slightly out of sync. I'm sure there's a musical term for this but I haven't hit music in my reading yet. The effect is something like an echo and something like a chord of harmonised sound.
And without fanfare, there's suddenly a man inside the circle. Very tall, has to be seven feet. Beautifully androgynous, he could be a supermodel except for the flat chest. Tailored black silk suit that catches the room's lighting nicely. Black, straight hair done up in a simple tight ponytail, long enough to touch the stone floor. He looks, perhaps, a bit Hispanic.
Sara smiles happily. "Hi Daddy, meet my friends." I dismiss the six extra me, and give him a bow.
"Well, daughter, this is interesting indeed." He looks down. "Your improvements? Hmm, no." Looks at the remaining one of me. "Ah. Well met indeed. My greetings to you, friend of Sara, and I sense, granddaughter?"
"Greetings to you, grandfather", I say. "I've been looking forward to meeting you. My name's Jules, code name Parallel."
"When I look like this I usually go by Antonio Marques Dominguez", he says. "Also Gothmog. Bold of you to give me your real name, but, I sense, not the whole original?"
"As much of it as I've kept, in this world", I admit. "Whatever name Sara speaks counts as the real one to me." Which gets an understanding smile.
Sara goes around introducing the others, by codename. Feral, Cyberkitty, Heyoka, and Jet, who seems to only have one name. Everyone does a bow, or a curtsey in Paige's case, show-off.
I go fetch a beanbag. "Want one?" I offer. He smiles and nods, so I pass it into the circle. We all grab bags to sit in around the circle, and him inside it.
"Well, this is nice", he says. "I should warn you all that I'm under summoning rules, so I am not allowed to reveal secrets or grant boons without charging for them."
"Just tell us, daddy, and we'll negotiate the price", Sara says. "It shouldn't get in the way much if we're just chatting."
He nods in agreement. "Of course. So how's my daughter been?"
"Fell in love again, adopted a daughter, got chased by aliens, the usual", Sara smirks.
"A busy few days", Gothmog agrees. "The mi-go were most put out over their ship being so nicely bisected."
"Trouble?" Sara asks.
"No, no, not for you." He turns facing me, "Or you. They don't blame the nettle when it stings. But they blame the idiot who sent them out without gloves to pick it. Your Uncle Charles is not in their good books."
"He's not in mine either, daddy. I think we should do something about him."
"Hmm. and what do you think, miss Parallel?"
Having his attention like that is pretty nipple-crinkling intense. And I normally have exactly zero interest in guys. I say, "I think he's the kind of two-bit nuisance who holds a grudge. If he made it safely home, he'll be coming back. Good tactics say we deal with him first, at a time of our choosing not his, and in a manner that prevents further problems. For whichever values of 'we'. I can swing a big stick but not without some nasty collateral damage. And he's seen it, he may have defenses."
Gothmog nods. "Good analysis. I concur. However, I'm constrained from just jumping in on this one, too much risk to the balance. I can probably make a deal, though, without tipping anything. For a price."
I consider that. "What I need is training. Particularly, magic, but your - what will be our - kind of stuff, more than the human stuff. At a speed that is tolerably safe for me, but as quickly as possible within that constraint. What would the price be?"
He rubs his chin and thinks. "Alright. Two things. The first is alliance. You'll take my side and my daughter's against any enemies of ours. You'll be counted among the number of those I can call upon, when I have need. Even if it were to be inconvenient, at the time."
"Your enemies are my enemies", I say. "Your friends are my friends. My strength and my skill will always be in alliance with you and yours. As it already is for Sara."
He nods. "Good." And Sara says "witnessed". Then he continues, "The second is", and he grins mischievously, "You'll come and visit your old grandpa and come learn from me in my own realm."
And I grin, and say, "Done and I'd love to."
"Then done", he says. "You've got yourself a tutor."
Me in the library resumes reading the martial arts section, but with a happy smile.
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**6th January, 2007, Whateley, afternoon**
I slide the last book in the martial arts section back onto the shelf. That was an interesting set of books to read, and honestly, I'm fairly sure I don't understand a tenth of it yet, but I've got it on file, grainy black and white photos and all. I wonder if I can treat the body mechanics mathematically? But I'd need to know how my own body's capable of moving, and I don't, not really. I mean, I read all the anatomy stuff, I could draw the inside of my shoulder joint, but can I move it all the possible ways? Grumble, grumble. I need tentacles so I can poke inside stuff and watch it move. In the meantime, I should schedule some time to just move and find out the ranges of motion and where the muscles are strong. Maybe I can get in on morning Tai Chi? I'll have to ask Nikki and Chou. Morning feels a long time away.
I'm realizing that time feels strange to me now. I can do some things so incredibly fast that waiting for mere days practically has me pacing the floor. Which means I need some sort of hobby to occupy my attention. I'll see what occurs to mind.
Looking over at the fiction section, I realise I've made a problem from my old world that much worse. A fast reader catches up to her favourite authors. One who can finish a book in five seconds flat, will run out of new series to read as soon as the inter-library loan system comes up dry. Fate is cruel. The thought makes me giggle as I start the authors at "A", and bring up another half dozen of me to begin reading. Despite impatience, I have all the time in the world. New authors will be born.
Okay, the impatience thing is going to bug me.
In Sara's room, the pack is chatting with Gothmog. It's clear he knows Paige. The others, I don't think he's had a chance to meet yet. They're a little hesitant, but he's a charming guy. Never slips past light flirting to creepy, and soon everyone's old friends. Me, I snuggle up with my head in Sara's lap and let the conversation wash over me a bit. I did my first spell just earlier. I think I understood it a little, too. That's slightly overawing. I am really looking forward to learning more, though. Lying here, I feel infinitely content. Tentacle hair pets don't hurt either. Mm, so nice.
Paige joins in petting me which makes me spontaneously giggle. How the tables are turned! "Can't purr yet", I say. "Might learn." And I play making a prrprr sound. Which makes everyone laugh. Since I got woken up a little, I might as well ask the thing that's on my other mind. "So, Sara, Grandpa, how do you two cope with time? Like, things take so long to happen, when part of you is fast."
They both look thoughtful. Sara says, "I generally find I have lots of things to do, so if I can't do one, I can do another. But I have things I can fall back to when that's impossible. Studying. Playing with my beloveds. Playing GEO. If I get antsy, I can go out for a walk. The stars are always beautiful, and the many busy living things in the woods are fascinating, or enticing to chase. Especially now I have Fey's connection to it all."
Gothmog nods. "The universe is immense, and you won't run out of things to learn. But also, I find it helps to accept the moments, rather than push them away. If you're looking towards what will happen, it can feel like nothing is happening now. But that's not true at all. In every moment, so many things are happening. If you allow yourself to experience and care about them, then time is never empty. The thing you are waiting for will come around in its proper time, and then your attention can turn towards it. But right now, my daughter has tentacles stroking your scalp. Right now, miss Cyberkitty has lovely blue eyes and a gentle look in them. See the moment, and it's full."
I smile. "That makes so much sense. I'll try doing that. And also collecting a lot of things to do."
"You'll find that comes on its own, along with responsibilities and commitments", he says amused. "Alright, speaking of commitments, apologies but I think I must be getting along. Thank you all for your most enjoyable company, and you are all welcome to look me up. Thank you for the summoning, granddaughter, and I liked your edits." He stands, brushes his suit out, bows. "Good afternoon, daughter, granddaughter, and friends." And the circle is empty.
After that, the gathering just drifts apart. I clean up the circle with a dry cloth, and the room makes the chalk dust vanish. I think, everyone has a lot to think about, after meeting Sara's father. Those who are into boys, perhaps they need to go have some time with themselves and a bottle of lube. I think he won't mind. Myself I'm so very not, but he's on my exceptions list, which presently consists only of him. If he asks when I visit, I won't say no.
I've been hogging Sara's time for a bit, so I decide to go for a wander, myself. I know Whateley's tunnel system is absolutely immense. Any ordinary person might wander for days, lost deep underground. However, I'm not that ordinary any more. I'll memorise the whole thing as I see it, and I can make a new me to explore every turn-off I come to, then dismiss them at dead ends or loop-backs. Gravity sensing should give me relative position and a directional baseline. I explain my plan to Sara (because seriously, what kind of idiot would go do that without someone back at base knowing where they were?) and she gives me the nod. "For you, it should be safe. If you get in any danger, just vanish the body." I agree to that, and set off.
One of me quickly reaches Poe. That one I keep around, and head up to the second floor where the rooms are. Billie's around, and she looks a lot perkier now everyone else is back. "Hey there, Jules! Finished the library already?"
I shake my head with a grin. "Still there, reading. Also several of me are exploring the tunnels. What's up over here?"
She laughs. "You're hard to get used to. Not a whole lot, me and Jade were just talking. Want to join us?" I nod, "I'd love to."
The room feels a lot more lived in, all of a sudden. Jade's stuff has a strong cutesy slant, which I don't hate at all. "Hey there", I say. "Is it okay if I come in?" Billie said yes, but it's best to get Jade's okay too, since she might still be grumpy with me. Meanwhile, my mental map of the tunnels continues to grow. Twisty, twisty, fun and twisty. It's easy to be a bit bold when I can probably avoid anything worse than a jump scare, even if I do meet a grue. Although I'm careful not to actually be reckless. And remembering something I read in the previous life, I check the ceilings too.
Jade nods. "Sure, come on in. Sorry I was rude earlier."
"Already forgiven", I say, "You had a nasty shock. One I truly, deeply understand. Let's say I owe you one."
"Ooh, you'll regret that", says a certain much loved looking cabbit toy. "Dangerous to owe favours to us. I might make you do something nasty."
"You shut it", says Jade, blushing and laughing.
"Bah, mistreatment, I demand plush rights! I'm a heroine too." Which gets her picked up and hugged by Billie.
"See, she appreciates me!" We all laugh.
"Hey Jade", I say when the giggles calm down, "I was wondering, would you be able to get me an in with the gadgeteer crowd?"
Billie asks, "Why'd you need it? I didn't think that was one of your powers."
"Wasn't yesterday", I smirk.
"The library, huh?" She's no dunce. "Nice."
"I can definitely get you an in, and I can introduce you to Bugs, too", Jade says.
I smile. "Thanks. I'm probably going to need her or someone friendly to help guide my hand a bit in the beginning. I may know about op-amps but I've never tried to solder one down."
She nods. "You should be able to test in as a gadgeteer, even if it's not a mutation, they aren't too picky about where the skill came from. They've handled people who knew the theory, but not the practise before, I'm sure of it. You'll be fine."
"Good good", I say, feeling antsy. "Now I just need to chase down Chaka and get her to show me movement. And Chou, to get in on morning Tai Chi."
Jade looks at me with an unreadable emotion. Sympathy? "You're trying to rush everything in one bite, aren't you?"
"A bit", I admit. "The waiting bothers me. I know there will be lessons from Monday, but..."
"It doesn't feel entirely real, like it might be snatched away?"
I wince. She got me. "It feels like that every separate measurable instant. And I can measure small instants. Like, I'm currently mapping the tunnels as we speak, because it feels like I'm getting something *done*. Because I can't let a moment pass."
Jade comes over and hugs me. "Please be careful in the tunnels, there really are monsters in the dark, stay in the areas marked for walking and obey danger signs. But I completely understand. Believe me. It is real. It will last. You are really here. The shock will wear off, and you will still be here."
I hug her back. "Thank you." Yes, I'm crying, and I'm okay with that. And I think I've mapped enough tunnels for now. I'll know where to come back to, if I want to pick that up, but I don't feel the need to rush it so much any more. I already did find where I was held hostage. One of the devisor labs. Let's hope that stays a useless factoid. All 83 current bodies inside the tunnel system's winding extents silently vanish. "Alright, I'm done mapping for today. I did cover a lot of ground though."
"Maybe you can become my kouhai in the maintenance crew", Jade suggests. "That knowledge could come in handy."
"I'll ask and see if they'll have me, prospective senpai" Which makes both of them grin.
Jade puts her hand on her chin thoughtfully, then looks at me suspiciously for a moment. "What do you think of Hello Kitty?"
"Fun and cute", I say. "Although Paige is cuter." Oho, is she poking me for Wondercute?
"The colour pink, or other pastels?"
"Nice to look at. I have some shirts in those colours."
"I was never able to get into it much, but as far as mahou shoujo goes, I loved Nanoha. Um, Madoka was too dark for me, but I think that hasn't happened yet in this timeline."
She looks thoughtful.
I ask, "Do I pass?"
She grins. "Well, not an instant pass, but we shall see. You are clearly not an enemy of cute, at least." Which I acknowledge, playfully, with a bow.
I say see ya, and head out. What should I do with myself? I go and lie down on my Poe bunk-bed a bit and think. Me in the library is done for now, I covered all the literary fiction section. A bit dull really, but boredom is an emotion that can be switched off if it gets underfoot. They might be set texts. Still, I'll save the fun bits for later, I've still got an SF-fantasy section left, and a few of the non-fiction areas that weren't high priority. I do find the absence of Lovecraft's work ironic. They probably have it under lock and key. That me vanishes.
For a short while, then, it's just the one body. Which almost feels quaint. "I'm really here", I repeat to myself.
Is that even true any more? What is the meaning of I, for me?
We decide that our shared "I" is the identity we all feel is our "I", that is shared across all of me, physical and non. Our attempts to poke down into the soul level seem to suggest we join up there, like many stems from one big, alien root.
How do I cope with the fear this all isn't real?
Talk to the shrink, talk to Sara, those both seem like good starts. Stop chasing my damn tail, I'll wear a hole in the rug. Don't stop learning, but make time to smell the roses. Gothmog's advice earlier comes back to me. Grasp the value in the small moments.
And to an extent I can rely on proof through capability. One mind cannot simulate a hundred, or a thousand. I see our selves, therefore we are. This is not something the old world me could do, although she wished for it.
Alright! Enough moping. I roll out of bed. I need to go give Sara a hug. I want to go give her more than that. Hmm, and we should have a talk about contraception, too, because I really don't know how that interacts with multiple bodies. And while I am actually seriously looking forward to Sara-babies, some things ought to wait for graduation.
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**6th January, 2007, Whateley, evening**
I make a second body before I leave my room in Poe. I'll just park one here. I'll see if I can't get the other me a permanent place over in Sara's room. Having only one body is nostalgic, but it's dangerous for me. And besides, I have plans for what to do when I get to Sara's place. Fun, fun.
The tunnel from Poe to Hawthorne is quiet ahead of supper time. Every turn-off is familiar to me now. Up I go, and in, Sara's room rather unusually says "knock first", so I knock and wait.
The door swings open. Sara's sitting on her bed, looking devastated. Eep, change of plans. I go in, shut the door, and sit down beside her, and give her a hug. "What is it? If you want to share. Can I help?"
"I have to share, it concerns you", she says, leaning into the hug a little. "While you were out, daddy came and lectured me a bit. He pointed out something I should have seen right from the beginning. I've been horribly selfish. What I did to you out of love, has dragged you right into the middle of a war. A big, old, war, with very dangerous enemies. The idea that a human could become one of them would drive the other side to absolute killing fury. I really don't think I have any choice but to..."
I don't let her finish, "If you think you can take away what you gave, I'll slap you so hard." My heart is suddenly pounding, I'm scared and furious. "I will *not* stop being your child. I will not bend the knee to some bigoted asshat who dislikes what I am. I'm proud of what I am. I am a human who said, make me like you. I embrace both my natures, human and great old one. The enemy can bite my spooky ass!"
"The enemy *will* bite your spooky ass, you lovable idiot." She gives me a sad smile, I've charmed her. "What you are right now is defenseless."
"So help me get sharp enough teeth he'll think twice."
She clearly considers it.
I add, "I'd rather die shouting defiance against this whoever, than give my new nature up. Or you! I love you, silly Sara, mother, beloved, best friend. What would exist of me if you cut me off? Teach me to have teeth and I'll be the one biting ass."
She sends a tentacle to nip me on my own ass, for overusing the metaphor, which makes me yelp, but also I deliberately choose to not pull away, despite the pain and a warm trickle down my leg that has to be blood. "No skin boundary from you. Teeth included. But I assert my boundaries against him. Help me fight."
"Alright, alright, gah", she says, "I'll not take your changes back, and I'll help you, and daddy will. We'll pour ourselves into you, and pray. I think you're being an idiot but I can't argue with you. But", and her voice gets determined, "I am going to ride you like Gunny Bardue rides the grunts. You think you've seen steep learning curve, welcome to boot camp, sunshine."
I laugh. "Sir! Yes sir!" I shout it out like in the movies. "Ride me good and hard sir!" And we both crack up completely and collapse in a heap of giggles, herself crying with the released emotions, me being big spoon for a change.
Over in Poe, the body's just lying on the bed, parked. But my door gets a knock, so I move some of my attention back there. "Sure, come in?"
It's Chou, looking relaxed in a kinda sleeveless Chinese style top and yoga pants. If she has her sword, it's hiding. I think part of me recognises her as a big danger, but, I'm overriding that bit. I feel she's trustworthy.
I say, "Grab a seat on the bed if you want, or on the desk chair, what can I do for you?"
She picks a spot beside me on the bed. "I wanted to talk to you about the stuff we spoke about earlier, but, on our own. I feel what you're doing, how you're changing is important for the balance somehow, but I don't really understand it."
"I can't say I understand the details of how it works myself, you'd have to go to Sara or Gothmog or someone for that. But I can tell you my intentions, if that helps?"
"Yeah, it does."
"Okay so, it started as just a wish, and a nudge from Sara based on that wish. And the wish itself was more a feeling, than anything easy to spell out, but it goes something like this: I want to be like her, I want to be with her but as an equal, I want to be a kind of bridge, like she already is, from the human to their side. But while she's kind of reaching over from them to us, I am reaching from us to them. That was what she saw, along with the fact I already loved her, and started her spark. And then I leaned into it, so it went from potential to begun."
Chou considers. "You see yourself as a kind of ambassador?"
"I want to become the best of both sides. And help the sides see each other. So, yeah."
"I don't think they'll all be down with your idea", Chou says. "The Handmaidens have a long history of breaking up plots by these things to outright destroy humanity."
"Nor does Sara", I agree. "She's worried about some big old enemy feeling really put out by it, in fact. So I may have to change a little uncomfortably fast. The way I read it, there's factions. Although I don't know in detail what they are, it's clear one of them doesn't like us, and I'd kind of be a big deal."
"There's a possibility you'll draw danger on us."
"None that didn't already want the entire planet dead, but yes, my change might focus their attention on here in particular."
She considers. "You've come to the one place where that focused attention might meet serious resistance."
"Not by chance", I agree.
"None of this by chance", she says.
I nod. "The whole thing has a 'happened by itself' feeling to it. Very wu wei. I probably pronounced that horribly, I've only read it."
She chuckles. "Close enough that I understood it. Yes, very, I agree. Alright, I think I understand better."
"I'm glad", I say. "While you're here, can I get in on morning Tai Chi?"
"Sure", she agrees. "We start early. Want me to come wake you?"
She smiles. "Okay, see ya around." She pauses, a thought occurring. "By the way, what were you up to, before I came in? I couldn't feel much ki until I knocked. I almost decided not to, but the light was on."
"Parking the body. Most of my attention was elsewhere, but I wanted this here, strategically and so nobody wondered why I was out."
"Parking..." She chuckles. "I'm going to have to get used to you doing slightly inhuman things, aren't I?"
"We both are", I agree.
Over in Sara's room, she's helping me work through the other half of the book she loaned me. Grandma's half, as she calls it. She's close mind-linked with me, and we're going through it slowly, as she explains concepts without need for human words. Although at a level, we're chattering, too, in the silent room.
"You weren't wrong, calling this sharp edged", I teasingly complain. "The impersonality of it all is pretty hard to take. Just life for life's sake. Live, kill, fuck, birth, die, repeat."
"She's like that. You read how I didn't want to be her high priest. I don't want those energies stampeding through me. That side of me is already a bit painfully unkind, as Jet knows well." Jet is off getting herself recharged.
"Perhaps we can work out ways to gentle it, together", I say. "I know Jet-inside is already working on it, with Gary."
"Perhaps", she says a bit sulkily. I can feel she's not truly reconciled to that part of her nature yet. But I send her a wave of love for all of her.
She basks in the love a bit, then focuses back on the text. "This one is the parameter for increase, as in increase by reproduction or growth, at the cell level it's both the same, now hold this shape in your mind, see how it relates to the rune? And the rune in its position in the spell will draw increase force into particular elements according to its correspondence."
"A lot of this feels kinda like astrology", I say.
"I think we taught humans astrology. It's a rather us kind of way of thinking. Very circular, relational, everything happens simultaneously and constantly moves. So yeah, that's not accidental. When you're making a spell, it definitely helps it work better when you can bind the stars into it too."
I nod. "I've got the human charts memorized, I'll see if I can go see some, next time it's clear out. Start building a relationship."
"I'll come out with you. We'll see if we can't get your eyes tuned up to a proper standard, human ones can't see much." I smile at the thought. She continues, "Okay, now see if you can relate that rune to the action of increase in your own body. You're a life form, and all her powers have reflections inside you."
I say, "Haven't done any reproduction yet. Might like to, when it won't get you into trouble. Say four years from now."
"Teaser", she says. "You know I have to fight my urges."
"Gonna tease that urge a whole lot. Make it so when it's time, tick tick boom, and you up and jump me." Accompanied by a mental image of her in an absolute frenzy.
She tentacle-noogies me, and I giggle, physically. But she's linked deep enough she catches the caveat. "You're not on the pill, are you?"
"What does a pill do, when I vanish the body that took it?", I say. "If I copy a body with contraception, does that new body have it? And will my spooky nature, or my regeneration, work around any pill? I'm pretty sure I'd reject an IUD as easily as a bullet."
She sighs. "All good points. Which I suspect, means that your best chance of avoiding a baby, other than never having fun without a barrier, is sorcery. I mean, I can go up inside and nip it out, if it's just implanted, but I'd have to catch it early. I don't plan to chow down on any formed fetus. But with sorcery you can just make it fizzle."
I send agreement.
"Okay, back to the cells. Internal focus, here, like this." Even for me, my body is intensely huge, complex beyond measure, a universe of growing and destroying, birth and killing. This is the hurdle I need to cross, though, to get to the point where vanishing my last body won't strand me. Okay, focus on the increase, like the rune. And I can see it throughout me.
She continues, "Once you've understood this book, you'll be able to see how your whole body is a sort of gigantic spell-diagram in itself. And how whatever you create to work on it, will have to harmonise. For broad brush work, with the melody. For details, with the individual notes."
"Very. Alteration usually works at a higher, pattern level. But you sometimes need to tinker with the small stuff, when it matters. Particularly medicine. But also, you'll be doing body improvements, and at this level."
"Yay, I get to learn tentacles!"
"Yes, you do, but right now, let's focus in on your bone marrow..."
The lesson continues. And while also concentrating really hard, I bask in the intimacy of being just mind-to-mind with no distance, not even words separating us. I love her so much. Even if she is presently lecturing me about the formation of blood and its relation to life sorcery. Which, I admit, is fascinating, if a strain to bend my minds around.
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**7th January, 2007, Whateley, Poe, morning**
I've been dreaming in cells, many many strands of attention caught up in wonder at the complexity of my currently two physical selves. I wake in Poe and it takes me a little while to realise that this trillion-cell city-like behemoth is a body, a normal sized one, and I should be thinking in distances like "feet" and not "microns". Okay, definitely time for a shower to snap me back to normal reality.
Except, oops. My arms are covered with black tattoo-like swirls and leaves and vines, when I look closer it's under my skin rather than inked on. Switching to body attention... it's melanocytes, I've been moving them around. Uh-oh. I thought that was just a dream-game. And it's not just my arms. When I turn them over, look at my legs, and then make a second body to look myself over top to toe, it's, well, all of me. Even the sclera in my eyes. Ha, oops, indeed. Well, I can set it to clearing itself up, but it won't be immediate. I'll have to tough out the stares meanwhile. I put the extra body away, grab a towel and head to the shower room.
"Whoa, stop the presses, nice *ink*", Chaka is appreciative as soon as I peek in. "But how on earth... that is some weird ki, it's not ink is it? It feels alive. Show me show me, ain't no need to keep your jammies on in here."
With a little embarrassment, I strip off so she can see. "I kinda dreamed it."
"You kinda dreamed it. Oho, it's melanin, not ink, makes sense, you're a regenerator, right? You'd spit ink right back out. But how on earth?"
Fey, meanwhile has come in and is staring at me fascinated. "That's beautiful, Jules, although the teachers are going to throw a fit." Her Aunghadhail voice says, "I've seen this before, in one who was studying body-forming."
I nod. "Me and Sara were busy with life sorcery last night."
And then Fey looks amused, very amused, giggles, and laughs out loud. Walks around me and is laughing so hard she has to sit down on the tile floor.
"What?" I ask, because I kind of have a suspicion and please let that be just a dream.
"You, um, wrote things", she manages to gasp out. "Um, it's not in a human language."
"R'Lyehian", I say, grumbling. Oops again.
"Seriously, what, what does it say?" Chaka isn't going to let this one drop. She's got that manic grin.
So with much snickering, Fey points at my boobs, "these say, chew toy", at my stomach, "this says I love Sara forever", and behind me, "this says, bite my um, inhuman, um paranormal ass, close enough, it doesn't quite go into English".
"Spooky", I translate. "I think I wrote "kiss here" on a few of my internal organs too", I admit glumly, as the two of them are laughing. "Dream me is silly." Am I going to tell them where I wrote "tentacles go here?" I am not.
"Don't worry, it's not anywhere that will show if your clothes are on. And it's just pretty swirls to most humans", Fey reassures me. "Just, if you have to change around any advanced magic students, don't be surprised if they crack up."
"Should be gone by lunchtime", I say.
"Just own it, meantime", says Chaka. "Hell, this place could do with a bit more melanin."
**7th January, 2007, Whateley, the Lovecraft room, morning**
Over at Sara's place, I bet she got to watch all the the markings forming, because I was sleeping naked. When I open my eyes there, she's grinning, and she runs a finger over my stomach where the runes spell her name. "Hey there sleepyhead. That's very sweet of you."
I giggle. "You had to see Fey's face. Oh my goodness."
"Did you show her all of them?" She knows the answer.
"No, this one's just for you", I move my legs apart so she can see. And well, so I can show off too. Yes, look at me. See where you marked me.
"Mhm, tentacles go there, do they?"
"Well then, we had better make that happen."
Over in Poe, there's a knock on my door, and Chou comes in. "We're about to do Tai Chi, if you want to?"
I nod, "sure, gimme a mo", and grab some casual stuff, jeans and a tee shirt to do it in. Oh, better duplicate myself and send a copy to the other room, I'll need fresh clothing over there. Chou blinks. Oh, yeah, she hadn't seen that before. "Don't mind me, clothing delivery", one me says slipping out as the other says "shall we?"
"Is it just me, or are you getting weirder faster?" Chou asks as we head towards the lawn.
"It's not just you", I say with a smirk. "Okay, I'm a beginner, but a fast learner, do I just copy?"
She nods. "Copy along. I'll have half an eye on you, and I might come and correct your form."
The other me smiles as I walk along the tunnel to Hawthorne, wearing the clothes I'm delivering, and enjoying vicariously both the crisp morning air and being stuffed to bursting full of Sara. I giggle at the door saying "free show". It knows I'm me, of course, it's teasing. In I go, and join Paige, Erin and Jet, who are a bit rapt watching Sara absolutely rail another me. I'm lifted up a couple feet off the bedclothes, naked, swirl-marked, and wound about with lovely strong black tentacles that really go rather nicely with the swirls. Sara has me stuffed full both ends, every hole I can see, and I swear from the way my stomach's big, she's gone way up inside and is playing stretch my womb. It's beyond absolutely intense and it's a strange thing to be able to watch myself being completely blown away - and know the whole thing is going into eternal memory, this feeling will always be there to be touched.
The others startle a bit, seeing me. "Clothing delivery. It's wonderful, isn't it?" I can't help but watch myself, and this body is getting horny from the sight.
"Wow", Paige says. "You can talk, while..."
"I'm also up outside Poe, learning Tai Chi." I say, teasing. Paige has a lovely boner and I might take advantage if she doesn't object. "But all of me is enjoying this, even if we aren't all having a pretty much continuous mind-blowing orgasm, we feel the other self doing it."
Paige catches me looking at her tented skirt, and blushes pretty blue. I say, "If you want?" She hesitates, then nods, so I kneel down and gently lift her skirt out of the way. I can see Jet hugging Erin as my lips find and taste salt and firm warmth (and a little electrical tingle that just makes it nicer). Mm, I've wanted to play with pretty Paige for days and now she's all mine to kiss and caress.
Me outside Poe is following the form, and avoiding giggling at my other antics. I think with a lot of concentration I can see how it's working, but the fine muscles are hard to extrapolate through the skin. Well, she'll say if I'm doing it right. I can see how it correlates to the books I've read, although the form we're doing has subtle differences. Squeeze and expand, stretch out and shift the weight, swoop and rise. It's beautiful already, although I'm sure I'm doing it all wrong, as a beginner. I find that despite what my other bodies are doing, it's easy to concentrate, and enjoy the cold and fresh air as I move.
Chou comes over. "Good basic grasp of the form. But next time, would it be possible to avoid distractions? Your ki was all over the place. Ki flows with intention, and a lot of your intention was elsewhere, I think." She looks at me closely. "Still is."
I blush. "Guilty. But I'll clear a space tomorrow."
She nods. "There's no harm in memorizing the physical form first. But Tai Chi is internal, you need to be able to focus wholeheartedly."
Enough said, evidently. I consider myself told off. As I walk back in to get warm, I ponder. Maybe I can learn to avoid cross-talk in my ki? But I can't do that until I can sense the stuff. Which means Tai Chi practise has to count as a high priority. I decide to call this a useful lesson and not let it mar the loveliness of the morning over at Sara's.
Over there, Sara has lowered me back onto the bed, and my clothing delivery self comes over and offers me a kiss and mouthful of something tasty and salty, then pop, disappears, leaving a pile of ready to wear clothes. If I was able to wear anything, or in fact move any muscle. Mm, afterglow. And Paige-taste. Pretty Paige looks like she got the cream, even though she gave it. Hmm hmm, I should probably have a bath before I put anything on, but someone is going to have to hold me up or I'll drown. Or melt. Nah, if I could have melted, I'd have done it when literally every nerve in my body was singing "I love Sara" loud enough to light a second sun.
I reach to rub my stomach, where the tattoo-marks are starting to visibly fade. It feels too small, now Sara's not up in there. "Always welcome inside", I say with a raspy voice that's still regenerating. Sara comes and sits down beside me. "Thank you love."
Paige and Jet and Erin give us a bit of applause, which makes me giggle. "Can't bow, but thanks for being an audience." I try to sit up, it doesn't work. "Little help?"
Sara chivalrously picks me up, "Time to get you cleaned up. Breakfast's soon." I wave to the audience as we head into the en-suite.
Yes, tentacle baths are nice.
The Pack and the Kimbas meet again at our table, and one of me is with each group. If the one with the Pack is leaning on Erin to stay upright, that's not what everyone notices. My markings aren't ink-black like the morning, but they're still mahogany-brown. I get a raised eyebrow from Ayla, who seems to dig the aesthetic. Billie's curious, "what did you do to yourself", and finds "dreamed it" entirely an inadequate answer. But then before I get a chance to elaborate, Jade gets here and I'm background, as she gushes about her babysitting job. Yeah, I remember reading this one, but it's a good harmless adventure, so the two of them can enjoy it without my interference. And then everyone's looking up in wonder, through the glass. Oh wow. I mean I've watched SpaceX on YouTube in my old world, but this is a suborbital drop-ship coming right in practically into our laps. Niiiice. I watch it until the rocket glare goes out, it's landed nearby on campus. And then I wish the both of them awesome adventuring.
We all troop out and watch Jade and Billie head over to the devisor-looking space vehicle. Billie gets loomed at by the head, probably the usual please do not irradiate and or destroy spiel. She looks quite chastened. Then they all get in, the ship blurs, half-disappears like something out of Ghost in the Shell, shifts shape, and takes off with a roar, and without, surprisingly, toasting about half the school in the rocket backwash. Fancy-pants technology. We watch it to a dot, and then head back in to our half finished breakfasts.
Everyone else wants to talk about classes. Me, I know already what I'm taking, everything that will have me, all at once. So I have a heavily overlapped schedule, but that shouldn't be any problem. Hmm, well, I just recalled, some of these might be with that nice Reverend Englund bloke who tried to kidnap me. Ha. Well, I'll either ace those to spite him, or drop them if they look like a losing proposition, I'm sure they'll let me. I'm probably making several administrators very twitchy, overlapping like this.
Which leaves a day, pretty much free of anything planned. I suppose I should savour my free time, but I need something to fill it with. To smell a rose, first gotta find a rose. Hmm, so what do I have on my to do list? The library, but that can wait. Spooky stuff, I'll let Sara set the pace for that. I should meet Bugs, although Jade isn't around to give me an introduction. I wouldn't mind trying out my big coat and going for a walk in the woods, although I don't really have stompy boots. I guess I can't exactly get frostbite, but I do wonder if anywhere on campus sells proper boots? Doc Otto said he'd send me a credit card, has it arrived?
While one of me heads to Poe to sort that out, the other has her half made plans cut short as she's approached by a short, slightly out of shape kid in shades - pretty normal, anywhere else, but here, he sticks out. The unfriendly looks he's getting from the Pack suggest he's not exactly liked here. Let me guess, Peeper? Yeah seems like it, as he's talking into a microphone he's wearing. Greasy isn't with him, perhaps not back yet.
"And now for the highlight of today's program, the newcomer in Poe who has set tongues a wagging and possibly doing other things too, Miss Parallel, hello, you're on WARS, Whateley Academy Radio Station. I'm the host, Peeper. So, rumour has it you've been bouncing the bed with our favourite demon princess, care to comment?"
I laugh because it's just silly really. Let's play along, I feel I have a use for this. "I can't confirm or deny anything that might get someone in trouble, but let's just say I'm feeling really, really relaxed right now."
He didn't expect that. "Um, and is it true you used your multi body power to make out with yourself?"
I nod. "Yup. It was nice."
He's a little taken aback at me not fighting the accusations. Presumably he had a heap of peeping-Tom evidence to drag out if I denied it, and "ruin my reputation". I wonder if he'll realise that I want a different kind of reputation.
He rallies. "And what are these markings that suddenly appeared on your body today? Are they part of some kind of dark ritual? Rumour has it that our demon princess has been corrupting you."
Nuh uh, not tolerating that one. "I dreamed them onto myself, after studying life sorcery yesterday evening. Dream me is a bit silly, and was being playful. Would you like me to give you some? They might look cute."
He shakes his head, hurriedly, "uh, no thank you".
Heh. "Pity. Well, anyhow, you're right in a way. If someone from the Mystic Arts program were to look at me, they'd probably see I was getting a bit spooky already, so, there's no point hiding it. Sara is helping me achieve something I wanted for myself, to change and become a bit more like her. Reaching out towards their side from our side, so to speak. However I can't allow you to say that it was something she did, as if it was forced upon me. This was and is absolutely voluntary."
"Uh wow. So, you're becoming a demon?"
"There's a more precise term for it, but pretty much."
"Will you eat souls like her?"
"We're a diverse lot, at the moment I eat regular food." I gesture to my empty breakfast tray.
"At the moment?"
"I'm the first one to reach out to them like this. So my future will be full of enjoyable surprises."
Poor confused Peeper. He just stalls for a moment. Then back to the old favourites. "And is it true that you're basically shameless?"
"About sex? Well, I don't want to get in trouble, or embarrass other people, or upset them, or drag them into something they didn't consent to. But on my own behalf, pretty much absolutely, yes."
"So would you be willing to do a nude photo shoot?"
"If it's artistic. That's legal thin ice, you know?"
He knows. And is probably skating damn close with those posters of Fey.
"So what would I have to do to get a date with you?"
Ha, as if. "You'd have to be a girl, which I think you're not? And you'd have to be someone I was already friends with and loved. Which would mean you'd have to greatly improve your character first."
I think he's had enough. "And that's miss Parallel folks, simultaneously in with the Negligee Nightingales and Sara's harem, and who knows where else too."
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**7th January, 2007, Whateley, the Lovecraft room, morning**
The pack has been gathered in Sara's room for an informal council of war. I sit on the bed, feeling defensive and a little bit like I'm on trial. She paces to and fro, not speaking yet.
"Alright", she says, eventually. "I understand you, and I understand why you did that. I can't fault you. You're determined to be known and seen as who you are. I also understand you're perfectly aware you kicked damn near every hornets' nest in the school. The ones who hate sluts. The ones who hate lesbians. The pitchforks and torches mob, who didn't exactly like me even before this all blew up. I'm pretty sure you're aware they all have pull with the administration, so there will definitely be an official response. They are going to see child endangerment, and class X exposure. Englund, in particular, is going to be running around saying he told them so. They are going to be looking at you with fear in their eyes."
I say, "If Englund didn't have it all figured out when I went on the radio, he'd have figured it by the end of the week. Enough people would see me. Rumours would spread. He'd lay another trap."
"A lot of people are not going to hear what you said, even though you spelled it out clearly. They're going to see a psychically coerced innocent child, being turned into a monster by another monster. They're going to see their own precious diddums and darling turned into a monster too, and the whole school as a nest of monsters." She stops pacing, and drops down onto an unoccupied beanbag. "You're right, he'd have seen it, and tried to use it against us. This does leave us equal at the starting line. But we need to bang our heads together and plan."
"Englund's probably gonna try and break Donna's guardianship", I say. "It was a smart plan when he hatched it and I doubt he'll let it go, now he's got leverage. So we need to brief her. As much detail as possible. Otto, too. They'll probably need to warm up their lawyers."
Sara nods. "Okay. Things we need to prove. That you weren't coerced. That's hard, given a regular psychic wouldn't survive trying to deep scan you. Maybe Louis? We'll have to see if he can read you."
"That I took no harm", I pick up the listing. "They'll try and read my changes as harm, though."
"That might turn and bite them", Sara says. "It's the same argument used against mutants. Even the nice changes are inhuman. Won't wash with Carson."
"That my shamelessness wasn't caused by you. That's hard, I don't have a history pre-dating you, in this world, to point to."
"We turn that around and say that I have plenty of other lovers who don't care to hang it all out in front of the school." This gets a nod from Hippolyta. "The notion I'm influencing people with my lust aura is something I've faced since I got here, but they can't point to anything to show it. So I accuse them of recycling old arguments in new clothes."
"And I say I'm shameless because that's my ethic. I'm fed up of hiding who I am."
She nods. "Okay. Next, class X exposure. I'm being careful, I know what I'm doing and I have your safety as my first consideration, but even what you've read already would have been damaging for someone who didn't have the right shape of mind to hold it."
"Well I *do* have the right shape of mind", I say. "Students have different needs and limits. And you're uniquely placed to control my exposure while knowing what I can handle. Humans wouldn't know. Others of your kind would know, but not care. Except grandpa, and he's already in on helping me."
"That might help", Sara says. "They can summon him, and rely upon the summoning to compel truth."
"And he's an expert witness", I agree. "Englund would pitch a fit at consorting with demons, but that wouldn't help his case."
Sara nods. "Okay, open to the floor. Any thoughts?"
"The homophobia isn't going to help", says Paige. "They may not be able to cite it, but that doesn't mean it won't turn their votes."
I say, "If we're presuming some kind of tribunal, making them spit their homophobia out could turn to our advantage. The head isn't going to have much truck with it."
Paige nods at that.
Jet waves a hand to get attention, then says, "We need to get a copy of you safely off school grounds, and not at ARC either. They can't box you in, if you can afford to delete all the copies they can reach."
"Good plan", says Sara. "Paige, you could introduce her to your folks?"
I say, "I was headed out for a walk anyway, so perhaps I can walk to the woods as I planned, then we meet far enough in we won't be on anyone's scanners, I duplicate, and a copy goes off with Paige while the other sticks to my flight plan and comes back?"
Paige nods, "Yeah, I can do that."
Erin adds, "I'll come along. I could do with a run."
The me that is heading towards Poe has reached most of the way there when Peeper starts interviewing me. Fey has just told me there's a store where I can get boots, so that should solve my cold feet problem. I wince. "Crap, we'd better hurry."
"What's up?" she asks.
"Other me is giving a radio interview. Peeper, he just happened along. We're going to tell the school what I am."
"I'm done hiding", I say. "But I'd like to get into Poe before we get jumped by curious crowds."
"What are you gonna tell him?"
"Well, I've already told him I was having fun with Sara, and I confirmed I made out with myself. And now I'm telling him that I'm turning into a great old one, although without the term, I doubt he knows it."
"Shit, seriously?" Fey is a bit taken aback. "That gets broadcast around the whole damn school."
"Done hiding. And I told him I'm a lesbian too."
"I think we need to get the Kimbas together."
We're walking into Poe now, and I'm already getting curious looks from folks I was scenery to yesterday. I check my paper mails on the way in, yay, I think this one is the credit card. "Ayla's going to be mad at me, isn't he?"
"I think we're all going to call you an idiot", Fey says. "Although what's done is done."
By the time everyone's gathered who's over here, which is Fey, Chaka, Ayla and Chou, as well as Bugs, we've already talked plans over in Sara's room. We're in Ayla's room, best coffee machine.
Ayla plays back the online recording of today's WARS Peeper show from his laptop, then hits stop. "Well. You didn't say, I have a dick, so that's something."
"Didn't come up", I say. "We've talked strategy over at Sara's already. I think we can answer any specific accusations if we get dragged in front of the head. Just depends if the people handing down the verdict are willing to listen."
He nods. "Well, for better or worse, your colours are pretty much nailed to the mast now."
"Are you, like, really turning into a demon?", asks Bugs.
"I'm turning into something that's specifically called a great old one, the same kind of thing as Sara", I say. "Most people call that a demon. I probably won't end up looking like her, but my mind's already a bit different from human."
"You're gonna stay looking human on the outside?" Bugs is curious. Feels to me like she might be the open minded sort.
"Dunno", I admit. "I can already do small tricks", I indicate the now cafe-au-lait markings on my skin, "I dreamed these last night. I'm definitely planning to learn tentacles, they're too fun. But it might mostly not show when I'm just walking around. Nobody's done this before."
"Tentacles are fun?" Bugs is unconvinced.
"Have you seen Sara?" I feel that's pretty much QED.
Everyone looks dubious. Okay, maybe I'm the spooky one. Nah, I'm right, they're sillies.
"We're used to her, but it's still weird", admits Chaka.
"Meh, I'm biased by being ridiculously in love with her, but I think they're the cutest thing ever", I stick up for my perspective.
There's a pause.
"Okay, I'll admit, they can be really fun", Fey, unexpectedly, sticks up for me, and blushes. Everyone looks at her.
"Moving on", Ayla says.
I explain the plan for a walk in the woods to them. They think it's a good one. We decide Fey and Chou will come with me to bodyguard. They're good to come with me into the woods, too. While Bugs is here, I take advantage of the opportunity to ask her if she can show me around the labs. She could, but wasn't I just planning to go for a walk? I duplicate myself. This is apparently "so kewl". Yes, I'll let her put me in a spectrometer.
I accompany Bugs towards the devisor labs, as I also put on what winter gear I have, sign and pocket the new card, to go to the shop. I head down to the Poe lobby, to wait for the others to get their stuff on too.
In Hawthorne, Sara and I have gone to meet Fubar, up close and personal. On the way there, we're joined by a boy heading the same way. Very normal looking. Heh, no I'm not an idiot. "Hi Foob", I say.
"Hi to you, traveller from another world who knows my name", Fubar is amused. "Yes, I can scan you, and yes, I'll keep your secrets. Very interesting mind!"
"Why thank you", I say, and bow, and grin amused. "It was ordinary a week ago."
"Pleasantly gentle and considerate even then", he says. "But your time here has been good to you."
"That's the current question, isn't it? I bet you're picking up how people have reacted to that radio show. Pitchforks?"
We reach a basement room. Sara opens the door, and it swings with a slight suction and a whoosh that suggests it's designed to seal airtight. Fubar answers, "you're one of 'the pretties' to people over here, so you start from a negative score. Making yourself monstrous, ironically, helps that. Most of them now rate you as 'one of Sara's chicks' and are slightly positive. Sara, of course, being quite monstrous enough for them."
Out of the water depths in the tank, a shape approaches. He's cute and squid-like, with a sort of shell, and arthropod-like legs. I personally think it's a fine shape to be. "Hi Foob's body!"
Which makes him laugh. "Used to seeing body and mind separately now, hmm?"
I nod agreement. "And outside Hawthorne? I know this whole campus is in your range."
"A mixed bag", he says. "A lot of horny young men who choose not to hear the bit about girls and being friends first. Some intrigued lesbians. Quite a few disgusted homophobes or prudes, and your connection to Sara just amplifies that. The God squad, predictably, thinks she's dragging you down to hell."
"Perhaps tomorrow, I gotta visit grandpa", I quip.
"Ha, yes, they would be unsurprised. The machinations you predicted are indeed in play, I'm no precog, and can't tell you their outcome. But your brainstorming has covered the arguments they're planning to raise. And of course, any number of bullies now think you're fair game. On the upside, many others think you're brave, or interesting, or are intrigued by the change you're going through."
There isn't really any furniture here, so we just park ourselves in the middle of the room. Sara says, "Will you back us, if there's an inquiry?"
Fubar says, "I will tell them honestly what I see. You acted in love, and with consent. You've been paying close attention to her development. You feel that you're able to handle this, and so far you've been correct. You don't know the long term outcome, but expect you will be able to steer it towards good results. When you understood that she had been put at risk of enemy attack by the changes, you were immediately minded to undo them, but accepted her refusal out of love and an understanding that she was earnestly determined. You are very sincerely in love for her and would never knowingly do her harm. And you're full of interesting plans for where to lead her next, that I shan't spoil."
I hug Sara for that, and she squeezes me back.
"As for you", Foob says, "You saw an opportunity and leaped at it, it was mostly unconscious at the time, but your whole self immediately united behind it. You are earnestly in love with Sara, and are enjoying spreading the wings of your new abilities. You feel occasional twinges at the loss of some of your humanity, particularly your original body which was something of a keepsake from your earlier life. Despite this you are absolutely enthusiastic to continue. I do not see any present harm, despite exposure to high level class X information. It isn't suitable to humans, but your mind is the correct shape for it. Given trends, I assume that will only become more so." He chuckles. "And you really rather do want the ability to make tentacles, which I find sweet" I grin at his ones, which he waves for me. "You've got a very adaptable personality and your inclination is to rush towards the other and learn by being changed. I would be willing to tell an inquiry that I find this unusual, but not pathological."
I nod, yeah, he's got me down. "That may be enough to save us, if they aren't determined to ignore it", I say.
Sara nods her agreement. "Englund's the overt opposition here, but I think Lodgeman's the one to watch. He doesn't really trust me. He could come down either way on this. But he'll listen to you."
Fubar nods. "That seems in character."
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**7th January, 2007, Whateley, morning**
My sneakers crunch in the snow. They're the only impractical part of my outfit, the long winter coat makes the weather almost warm, despite the overcast. The famed campus store, which I've never yet seen, is an annex to Schuster Hall. Getting there, unfortunately, requires walking overground. With Chou and Fey acting as bodyguards, I'm not actually being jumped, but we get a lot of stink-eye.
Foob's conversation plays out in the background. Unless he's low-balling the number opposed, and that doesn't really seem his way, a lot of these are undecided, or secretly on side, but they feel they have to act the bigot to get along, socially. That makes me sad, and I kinda want to protect these poor kids, some of whom must be feeling like they're punching themselves in the face. So I just kind of walk, chilled out, through it all. I'm not gonna hurt them worse by snarling back. Somebody throws a snowball. I spot the approaching shadow, put a small bend in its way, and it misses. They aren't attacking seriously, walking with the scariest mage and sword-wielder on campus will do that. Of course I don't plan to make a habit of being guarded, but I'll fade from the headlines after everyone's had a chance to gawp, I think.
Oh hey, I know that girl. The blonde who approached me in the library (and if I'm not misreading my memory of her voice, the one who snaffled me, too). From my past life's reading, miss Nightbane, Sarah Gardner. Repeated Sara-stabber, Buffy wannabe, God squad. Seems like she wants to talk to us? Let's put her on the back foot. "Hi, Red."
I've confused my bodyguards, but not her. "Uh, yeah, hi." Weak start, nicely discombobulated.
I ask, "How can I help the Goobers today?" Yes, miss threaten to gut me, I know your secrets.
She does eventually rally. "I heard the radio. It seems you've picked a side."
"I've picked bridging our side and theirs." Chou's looking embarrassed. I think I might be playing merry hob with her cunning plan to get an in with the Goobers.
"So you do think of humans as 'us' still?" She changes from hostile to pitying. "We could find a way to undo this, together. The reverend would surely know someone who could help. Please, you don't have to give yourself over to corruption."
I shake my head. "It isn't corruption. It's just difference. Some of their kind are corrupting, some are gentle and benevolent, if a bit alien. It's those who I'm bridging towards. Thank you, but this isn't something I need saving from."
"Well, my side is humanity. I think their gentle face is just a trap and a mask to deceive us, so I'm sorry but we're likely to be opposed from now on. And, Chou, you need to think about who your friends are."
Chou says, "The balance moves as it moves." Mystic for mind your own beeswax.
And I ask, "Have you wondered what evidence would change your mind?"
She just snorts and leaves. But I think that will haunt her.
"Well, that could have gone better", Fey laments.
Under the ground, Bugs leads the way as we head towards the devisor lab zone. "When you come down here the first few times, get one of us to guide you", she warns. "It's a warren, and some of the ways end in dangerous places. You really, really don't want to barge in on Jobe, for example. You'd be lucky if you only got the polka-dot flu."
"I've already mapped most of it", I say, as another me listens to Foob's verdict. "I stayed out of locked rooms and any place that looked private, or too risky."
She's taken aback. "Mapped?"
"Walked it out, making a new body at each junction. I've covered far further than this."
"Well gosh darn", she grins, understanding how that would work. "You must know near as much as Security does."
"I've considered poking them for a job. But I know they don't like to deputize freshmen."
"It'll stand you in good stead for next year, at least. Ah, we're here. This is where I work." She gestures around, clearly proud of the space. There's a visible egg theme, I'd marked this place as likely when I came through here before, but it's good to have confirmation. I make another four bodies, so I can peek around in detail and have a good look at everything.
"I really have to study how you do that", Bugs says to the nearest me. "Can you imagine an egg that could copy itself?"
I can imagine it, it seems like a very bad idea. "Uh, yeah."
Thankfully, the store is open already, and ducking inside gets us out of the worst of the stares. Whee, this is big. I resist the temptation to walk all the aisles at once and gawp at all the things it sells, I might startle the staff. Instead the three of us head towards the clothing section, which does appear to have sensible outdoor boots, suitable for New Hampshire winters. I browse the options, as my guards take a chance for a breather, sitting on the try-it-on bench nearby.
Fey says, "So what was that conversation? I felt like I only followed half of it. Why'd you call her Red?"
These English lake district style walking boots are nice, definite possibility. "You weren't there when they kidnapped me, but I think Billie told you?" She nods. I continue, "She was one of them. They used the codenames Red and Blue, but her voice is distinctive, and if I was only nearly sure before, her reaction today confirmed it."
"So when you mentioned the Goobers?" Ooh, fleece lined.
"I was letting her know that I had the whole conspiracy unravelled. And that I'd chosen not to drop them in the soup. After Halloween, I imagine Englund's leash is short, he probably wouldn't survive another scandal. Has to leave her wondering why, but the real reason is that I just don't care to. I'd prefer a chance at redeeming them, to the temporary revenge of swatting them for something I could trivially escape today, at least partly because they forced the pace of my change. They're trying to be good, that's leverage." I'm finding my life sorcery attunement is making the preserved cells of the leather and sheepskin resonate, and I almost feel I could... nope, hands off, no necromancy with boots you haven't even bought yet.
"To be honest, I'm looking forward to swatting them", Fey says. "They're buzzing gadflies and their idea of good has a lot in common with Humanity First."
"The head believes they're needed", I say. "She's not stupid, she gave that man more rope for a reason."
"And you'll blindly trust her?"
"I'll defend myself and my friends, but beyond that, yeah."
We're back with Jet. Sara's been calling Doc Otto, as I watch the other me trying to persuade Bugs that an exponential plague of self replicating eggs would be a bad thing. Yes, even if they had good stuff inside like vaccines. It's still no fun to have your continent buried a mile deep. Eventually I manage to get her thinking about telomeres as a way to limit the growth, thank goodness. Sara hangs up. "Alright, he's going to send a warper, he agrees there's security concerns, and speed is of the essence."
A small part of me relaxes fretting. "Uh, good, because I really wasn't looking forward to being back in that car. Nice and comfy as it is."
Jet nods. "Yeah, bad memories."
Sara gives us both a hug. "Me three. I'm going to see if Donna can get herself a different brand, and not in black." We snuggle up against her and I think Jet feels like I do, Sara is home, Sara is safety.
And suddenly, a nondescript man in a Star Trek Next Generation era red-shirt uniform appears in front of us. "Three to beam up?" he asks. Whee, a theme warper.
Sara nods, leads our group hug up close enough he can reach and touch her. "Engage."
I've picked the fleece lined boots. They're probably not quite as sturdy as the others, but the warmth is a comfort. We troop over to the checkout, where, guess what, the checkout clerk is... Peeper. Well then. Oh hey, I didn't think human skin did that colour of grey. He smiles, about the fakest customer service smile I've ever seen. "Uh, hi, miss Parallel." I hand him the boots to bleep with the wand. He hands them back.
"Hi Peeper", I say. "Don't worry yourself. The stuff you spread around, I wanted spread." I kick off the slushy sneakers and lace on the boots. "Can you get these sent back to Poe for me?"
I notice he's looking at me over his glasses. "I can uh, get them cleaned too?" He's trying not to gawp in amazement. Look if you wanna, but you'll get a surprise.
"Yeah do that, thanks", I say, and swipe my card and sign the thing. Contactless can't come fast enough, this is tedious. He checks the signature. Done. Finally, we can head for the woods and away from this fuss. And now these boots are officially mine, I'm gonna make a few slight adjustments.
Down in Bugs's lab, she's showing me how to layout a blank circuit board with a resist marker, develop it under a black-light and then etch the rest of the copper off. Then we're going to solder up a simple circuit. Just a pretty LED blinker, but it's good to show me how to do stuff. Still, it's not very demanding, and I have an idea I wanted to try, so I start singling out facial muscles and learning to twitch them individually, and identify the feel of them moving. There's quite a lot of them, but learning each one doesn't take that long.
As Sara gives the command to engage, I pull my mind's time-base up to the highest speed I can manage. Everything slows to a crawl, but it gives me a chance to experience what a really long range warp feels like. Space bends, here overlaps there, I can see the geometry of it. And we arrive, I put my time-base back to normal. Ack, hungry, even though I just had breakfast like an hour ago. That took it out of me. But I think I can copy that. Oh hey, Donna's here! Both Sara and I rush over and hug her.
Boots on my feet, I can feel a slight sense of the cow's life in the leather, and the sheep that donated the lining. I can feel residual energy, that feels like a memory of pain and death, but somehow I'm sure I could eat it if I wanted to. I deliberately decide not to. Instead thinking silently, and not in English, "I honour your sacrifice, cow and sheep. But if you could slightly change for me in *this* particular way..."
Fey looks at me like I grew a second head. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Upgrades", I say, looking at the boots whose outside is now a rather fetching black with coppery green glints, rather than its previous tan. Somehow, I feel like this is a species I've encountered before, or my kind has. It's significantly tougher than cowhide.
"Upgrades, she says! I didn't feel you pull a scrap of essence. You just... bent things. And now they're slightly off skew. And what on earth are they made of?"
"Dragon hide, I think."
Bugs has a concerned look. "Are you okay? Only you've got a bad twitch. I'd hate it if you got sick or something." I've moved on to the muscles of the neck and upper back.
"It's okay", I reassure her with a smile whose muscles I can individually feel now. "I'm just teaching myself more deliberate control over my movements."
I show her the PCB, and she takes a look. "Well, if ya say so. Yeah, this looks done right, so go plug in the soldering iron and lets start putting them in."
Donna hugs the both of us back with a happy grin. Aww, she's so sweet. An "ahem" from behind us, and oh yeah, Doc Otto is there too. The warper has already moved on, and I have a kind of vector on where he went, although no idea where it leads. "Hi Doc! Thanks for the quick journey." Thanks may not be enough, I have a feeling I'm running up quite a tab.
"Good morning, miss Parallel, Sara, Jet. Not a problem. It's clear your situation just got complicated. I have someone here I'd like you to meet. Jane Harper, one of our on-staff mutant rights lawyers. And since I know of your abilities, I've asked her to bring a computerised summary of the relevant law for you to read first."
In Bugs's lab, one of me is holding the PCB at a convenient angle, while another holds the resistor and solder in place, and a third dabs at it with a hot soldering iron, while practise twitching the unused arm. I'm finding my precision of movement is going up as I start to be able to identify individual muscles pulling to direct and stabilise the arm. The next component goes in faster, and with near a machine precise dab-dab to melt the solder down. I make another me to conveyor-belt and prepare the components. In, dab-dab. In, dab-dab-dab.
Fey looks at the boots. "Dragon hide. And yeti fur lining. And you just did it, like that."
I shrug. "I was dreaming in life runes all night. I felt I could do it, and I did it."
"Don't do anything big with this", Fey says. "Those boots just feel a little uncanny, but if you did a big spell, I think that would be in voodoo wolf territory. You'd taint the whole area. I'd have to come clean it up, and it would be me that paid the essence."
I nod. "Only for emergencies. And I'll ask you first, if I can." That satisfies her.
Chou nods agreement. "Magic like that could distort the balance. It ignores natural exchanges. Consider it a debt against cleaning it up after. Possibly a very big debt."
I nod, somewhat chastened. We're heading into the woods now, and the upgraded boots are completely shrugging off the snow and the brambles, I might as well be walking on warm sand.
As we get deeper in, other me switches on the circuit she's already finished. It's a colourful egg shape, in deference to the teacher, and it sparkles prettily.
Bugs is looking a bit shocky. "Uh, back then you really weren't moving like a human at all. Kinda like an assembly line, of robots. Several different robots."
I realise I've weirded her out a bit, perhaps a lot. "Uh, sorry. Was that annoying?"
"Um, no, I just... wasn't used to it", she says. "You weren't kidding when you said you were changing."
And as other me waves hi to Paige and Erin in the wood, I nod my agreement. "I've barely started."
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**7th January, 2007, Medawihla reservation, morning**
"I wanna run", I say to Paige and Erin, as we pick our way through the tangle of unmanaged forest. "I wanna try out this body for real. I've been stuck inside and I just wanna go fast, you know?" I figure those two will understand the urge. I think too, if I'm moving like that, I'll have enough motion data from the muscles to not need to use twitching to track them, and I've got my whole torso and legs to tune up still.
"If we run, you'll be left behind", says Paige. "Exemplar speed is in straight lines."
Erin nods her agreement. "Want to watch our tails vanish over the horizon, hmm?"
"Try me", I say, grinning. "I think I can keep up."
Erin's shift to a lynx form is smooth and silent, she just plops down onto all fours and is furry. No worries about losing clothing, clearly. And those two just set off. I think they were feeling the four walls close in, too.
Off I go! I'm leaping over logs and bounding off rocks, trying to put parkour moves I've only ever watched online into use, as several of me track and check off muscles, and I'm getting more precise quickly. I slide down a muddy, icy gulley. Those two teases are still ahead of me, but in sight, and I watch their motion for tips. Paige is out front, she knows the way. Erin's taking a lead from her. Her quadruped form has more trouble with drifts of snow, but moves more easily along and off the fallen trees and exposed roots. And I can keep up! It's a wonderful, free feeling, like flying through the trees at ground level. Seeing the path ahead, like a golden road, like there's only one possible place I can be and I'm on rails, even as they unfurl smoothly ahead. Off this tree, kick off the stump, forward roll over the rock, slide and grab the branch to swing over the iced-over stream.
There's motion beside us. More heard than seen, but we have company. Keeping pace easily, which I guess means weres? Paige pulls up to a stop in an open clearing, and the two of us pile in beside her shortly after, as deceptively human forms appear from the trees around us. Erin stays in her lynx form, and rubs against Paige's leg. I guess fur keeps electricity out.
"Mornin', cub, fine day for a run in the woods." I'd lay good odds that's Ben. Leader of the group, big but not overtly threatening.
Paige says, "Ben, meet Erin, who goes by Feral", who pops up into human form, clothes included, and grins a sharp smile, "And Jules, who goes by Parallel. This is Ben, second in command around here, and my adoptive father." Yup, guessed right.
I bow. "Pleased to meet you."
Ben says, "Erin, I've seen around before, although it's a pleasure to meet you face to face, young lady. Jules, though, I haven't seen at all. I figure, you're new?"
"I got here last Tuesday", I say.
"The teleport? Some of our folks heard it, that was one messy, loud damn jump."
That was a long leap to a conclusion, he's smart. I'm going to have to be a bit careful how much I say, but I do trust these folks in general. "I manifested. Not in this universe. If I had to guess, the loud came from punching right across worlds like that. That and the fact I did it without meaning to, while burning up with fever. And I died shortly after."
He nods. "Happens. You got better, hmm? And if I don't miss the scents, fell in with the Kimbas, and Sara's family, pretty damn quick."
"Right from the get go, she was the one who found me in the snow. Instant click, once I came out of the coma."
He nods. "So one thing I wanna ask you about, before I invite you over to come tell your story properly, is why I get a feeling off you that I shouldn't be getting from a regular human. Also if I don't miss my guess, that pattern of boots is sold at the school, but the materials, not so much. An' they have a bit of that feeling too."
Paige jumps in, I think worried that my own words might be seen as less than trustworthy. "Sara's changing her. She's been picking up powers damn near a dozen a day. If she's a bit spooky, that's why."
"Ya should be able to sense it, cub. And ya should have called ahead rather than bring her in here towards places where there's folks as could be hurt, at a dead run and with no warning. Some folks with itchier trigger fingers, might have figured she's chasing you, not playing, and might have started something it would be hard to undo. Miss Jules, I presume, the change is voluntary?"
"Very much so", I say. "I love Sara, and I asked her to make me more like her. Sorry, I should have thought about running like that, it was just wanting to go, push myself, you know? I've been stuck inside. But it was rude. My apologies. And as for calling ahead, we had reason. Although it's a little complicated to explain."
"What's hard?", says Erin. "She has more than one body, she wants to stash one here, so they can't corner her."
Okay, raised eyebrows all around. "Um", I say, "Nobody startle. This is me using one of my powers. Here we go." And I copy myself. "We're both me", other me says.
"Well, ain't that a thing." Ben looks surprised. "How many bodies do you have?"
"Right now, two here, one decoy walking with Fey and Chou, one in ARC with Sara, one with Bugs in her lab. Although that might go up and down by a dozen if I need spare hands for this or that."
Second me disappears, leaving stranded footprints in the snow. "I can vanish them as easily. But I'd rather not vanish the last one."
He nods thoughtfully. "If you've got one outside of any hole they might hope to trap you in, then you're not trapped."
"Hit the nail on the head", I agree.
"Well, come on in and meet the folks, then. Because if I don't miss the smell of you, you're family." Oops.
In ARC, we've finished going over our legal strategy. Jane Harper is willing to come on a call-out to represent us, if Englund tries to make things official. But for now, we don't have anything to do but wait. The alarm hasn't been sounded yet.
So now we have to get back to Whateley. Or rather, they do, I could just vanish this body. They're talking about driving back over, but I think none of us wants to do it.
"I have a better idea, perhaps. But I need to run it by you, Jet, in particular."
Jet looks curious. "Really, me, why?"
"You saw the contract I made, yesterday."
She considers a moment. "Oh!" and then in a worried voice, "Yeah. I'm not sure."
Donna says, "Care to explain?"
Jet nods, "So she has a contract with Gothmog, Sara's dad. Training, in exchange for alliance, and one more thing - she should come to his realm to learn. Jump in here, jump out there, it's like a Wonkavator. But it means going back into somebody's personal realm, and I was in Sara's, and I got hurt a lot."
Sara puts her arm around Jet comfortingly. "Daddy's in full control of his, and he would never hurt a guest."
"Yeah, so I tell myself", says Jet. "But it's like petting a dog after a dog bit you. This one's cute and fluffy and fits in your lap, but your hand hesitates."
I nod. "How about we call him, and ask if he has any ideas to help you feel safer?"
Jet nods. "Can't hurt. Worst case, I can just say no."
I look at Doc Otto. "Is it cool to call him over here?"
He nods. "Go ahead. I'd like to see this."
Okay, hmm. I could redo the ritual, but that doesn't seem necessary, when I can feel the contract stretched between us like a string. So I just say, "Grandpa, could we have a word?"
I'm a little surprised, when nothing immediately seems to happen. Oh wait, there is something - a small and very fluffy black dog which wasn't there before. Pomeranian, or something? Except those normally come in tan. It click-click walks across the floor to Jet, and looks at her cutely tail wagging and tongue panting, and lifts one paw.
Everyone laughs, but Jet also picks it up and hugs it close. "If this is you, Gothmog, you're the cutest thing ever."
It snuggles in her arms and looks up at her. "Well thank you, I do try." That familiar voice is startlingly incongruous coming from a dog small enough to stand on your two palms.
Jet sighs. "Okay, anything that can be this cute, can't be awful. I accept. But Sara, please hold my hand? I'm gonna be jumpy."
Personally I think the logic's a bit off there, but I also trust Gothmog. He jumps down out of Jet's arms and walks towards the regular door. Which swings open ahead of him, revealing a view that definitely isn't anywhere in ARC. Sunshine, warm floral and plant scents blow in, there's a brick path lined with tropical flowers, plants, and palm trees. As he steps through, he resumes his usual, human shape. "Enter freely, and of your own will", he says, which gets him frowned at by Sara. "Daddy! Behave."
We give Donna hugs, then step in, Jet holding Sara's hand. Donna waves bye. The last thing we hear before the door closes and disappears is Doc Otto saying "Well that was the strangest summoning I ever did see."
If I didn't know where I was, I'd say we were some place in South America. The path winds through tropical plants buzzing with insects - or are those insects? Small colourful fast winged things, at least. Birds whoop and yawp from the palm trees, and a building is revealed through them, as we approach. Some sort of hacienda. It's fairly low lying, two stories in parts and one in others, but sprawling, with terracotta tiled roofs. There are colonnaded covered walkways. The walls are painted a gentle pink that works really well under the tropical brightness. The building wraps around a central court with a fountain, and steps rise up to what has to be the main door. Someone's coming down them, in a slightly awkward, machine-like gait. A girl, in a simple yellow summer dress with a wide straw hat. She's looking around, sees us, and suddenly she's running, I can hear the servo whine of some sort of robot exoskeleton, although it's well hidden under her clothes.
"Sara! You're here!" She throws herself at Sara, who hugs her close.
"Petra! Well if this isn't the loveliest surprise."
Seen up close, Petra's a near-clone of her sister, minus the fur, cute kitty ears, and emotive tail. It's weird to meet someone I know and don't-know like this, doubly so because of course I read her adventures. She's clearly wearing her light exoskeleton to get around. If I don't miss my guess, this place has been themed on her behalf.
"So Petra", says Sara, "Meet Jet, who I've told you about, and Jules, who's new."
Petra gives us both a bow. "Sorry, I don't shake hands, I give people shocks."
Jet and I both look at each other and grin. I say "We know, we've met Paige, and we're immune. Jet doesn't have nerves, I insulated mine."
A brief pause. "Okay, I can see there's a story behind this." She looks to Gothmog. "Shall we all go inside?"
He nods. "I have some iced mint tea, if you ladies would like some?" Everyone except Jet agrees they would.
Inside, it's grand, even if the decor does have a hint of very upscale bordello. Lots of skin on show in the schmancy art. Tasteful naked statues. Gothmog leads the group of us into a smaller room with embroidered sofas and a really thick carpet. The drinks and a jug of refills, conveniently, appear on a silver tray in his hand, without needing to be made. We each take one, he puts the tray on a side table. I let Sara give the spiel on my behalf this time, as I sip some very delicious tea, and ponder.
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**7th January, 2007, inside Gothmog's realm**
Petra grins. "So you actually took the mark? Damn, girl, welcome to the family. I guess that makes us sister-wives?"
"Yeah, I'm junior wife, I think", I say. "Which is fine by me, I don't have any particular desire to be, thump chest, me Jules, me ruler of jungle. Besides, that's Sara." Which makes everyone giggle.
"Where's your mark?", asks Petra.
It's a pity I went for jeans this morning. Feels a long time ago. "Um, I could show you but I'd have to drop my pants. Which might be impolite."
Petra does a slightly evil grin. "Oh don't mind me."
I look around at the others. I guess, Gothmog's not going to mind. Jet has seen everything, so has Sara. Fair enough then. I unbuckle my jeans and slide them down, kick them off. I did wear underwear. Not that I mind a lot, but I wouldn't want to spoil Gothmog's sofa. "Right there. It's a pity I can't show it off more, we had to hide it at the time."
I don't think Petra actually expected that. She boggles slightly, then chuckles. "Shouldn't surprise me, if you hang out with these two. Ooh, nice. But yeah, you'd need the skirt to be practically a belt if you wanted to flaunt that."
"I could move it, you know", says Sara. "Or you could learn to. Rules say it has to show, somewhere, but the where of it is kinda optional."
Gothmog says, "I suggest, if your plan is to stay here and study, then that might be a good project for you to work on."
I nod my agreement, pulling the jeans back on. "Yeah, I was planning to stay over. I think I would put it here", I tap over my heart, where it would show like a pendant with even a conservative neckline. "I'm kinda fed up of false faces, I want to show the world I love Sara." That gets me smiles from everyone.
**7th January, 2007, grounds outside Poe, noon**
Nikki, decoy me, and Chou have completed our loop through the woods. It was nice, if a bit less of a manic dash than other me's trip. There's lots of wildlife in a winter forest, if you stop and look. But it looks like the hammer's about to drop - as we approach Poe Mrs Horton is waiting for us outside. "Miss Parallel, with me please. Security is here to take you to the head, but this isn't an official investigation yet and you shouldn't need a lawyer. Still, you might consider being careful what you say, hmm?" I nod. "You other girls, run along please." I smile, showing I'm okay with this. Fey looks at Chou, and they head into Poe looking determined.
The two security drones take me along the tunnels towards Schuster Hall, perhaps to avoid the cabbage-and-egg throwing crowds (ahem, I am being overdramatic). And we wind our way through to the reception area of the head's room. As we approach, I can hear shouting. Englund's dulcet tones. "I will not have you covering this up, Elizabeth, I demand to be included." Her response is too quiet to hear. But his is not. "Very well. But you haven't heard the last of this!" and he bangs out through the door and gives me a stink eye. "Where is she? The demon?"
"Nowhere that's your business", I'm not inclined to make nice with him any more.
Headmistress Carson comes out of her door and says, "Darren, that's enough. Leave my office now or I'll have you escorted off the grounds of my school. Last warning." He looks about to say something, decides better, and leaves in a huff. "Alright, child, come in. My apologies for the drama. That's enough, gentlemen." My escort lets me go inside alone.
Mrs Carson shuts the door. "Alright, I need to tell you that you are not officially under investigation yet and neither is Sara Waite. That said, I know she has left the grounds, do you know her whereabouts?"
"She was in ARC", I say. "On her way back now by unconventional means, can we use your door as a portal?"
She raises an eyebrow. "Very well."
The closed door swings open again, but onto a vista of blue skies, sun, and a path through tropical gardens. Jet and Sara step through, Gothmog, who is holding it open, bows to Mrs Carson, "ma'am", and shuts the door behind them.
She isn't exactly stunned, but she takes a moment to collect herself. "Well, I suppose that does save time. Jet, if you could please wait outside? I know you don't like to be separated, but Sara will not be needing bodyguarding in this room." Jet nods, and leaves by the now entirely normal door.
"Please, take a seat", Mrs Carson motions to a couple of chairs, which don't look too terribly uncomfortable. She takes her own seat behind the desk. We sit. She continues "So, you, miss Waite, have been in ARC, presumably to arrange legal representation?" Sara nods. Mrs Carson turns to me, "And you, miss Parallel, I am told security has you on sensors in the devisor area where you're building electronics, and that you also went for a walk outside sensor range in the woods, one went out, one came back, but I'm going to presume you spun off a copy we couldn't follow? And I'm also going to assume that you went with Sara too, were in wherever just linked to my room, and have remained there?" Clearly, she's not stupid.
"I would rather not say", I answer. "Except to note that I was trapped before, just last Friday, and I didn't like it."
She nods. "Fair enough. I have no intention of trapping you, but I'm not the only player in this. That radio interview this morning was incautious, young lady. Yes, the staff and some of the students might have guessed what you confirmed out loud, but it would have been containable. This, now, has reached the whole school. Which means, at minimum, that you are going to have to live with it."
"That was what I chose", I agree. "You know about my previous life. That was a very play-it-safe life, and I feel like I've been reborn, and I owe this new life to not hide myself any more. And I feel, this place needs someone to stand up and be counted as several things that I am, from Sara's lover, to intersex, to not entirely human any more."
She nods. "Idealistic, and I understand it. But given what you've read, you know that I am not in a position to throw the bullies out en masse. So even if nothing else comes of this, it will be upon your shoulders to survive them. Further, you'll be somewhat of an ambassador for your kind, as I perceive that your intent?" I nod. "Which means you will need to be diplomatic. Please avoid picking up the Team Kimba attitude of pile on and punch it." Another nod from me.
"Alright", the head continues. "You both did perhaps the most sensible thing you could, after having a moment's sober thought. You went straight to Mr Geintz to ask him to act as a witness. He then brought the matter straight to me, which has saved you a lot of convoluted explanation. Beyond the mere facts, his word on your character and motivations holds a lot of weight with me. If the matter were only in my hands, I would consider it closed."
I sigh, in relief.
"Unfortunately, it isn't, not entirely. Darren Englund has threatened to get the board involved. I will raise my voice against any further investigation, but I'm not the only vote there. Some may be swayed. You shouldn't stand down your legal counsel yet."
She continues, "Beyond the legal matters, Sara, Louis told me you didn't know, and still don't know, how what you started will play out metaphysically. That is far too experimental to be acceptable. I am not going to ask you to undo it, Louis was clear that would precipitate an escape attempt at minimum, and knowing your precautions, the escape would probably work, to nobody's benefit. But I am going to be very clear that you are not to do it again, to any student in my school, even if they are consenting, even if they go down on a knee and beg. They can wait until graduation. Am I clear?"
Sara says, "yes, ma'am."
Turning to me, "And you, well, you've had an eventful arrival here, and I'm sorry to drop a burden like this on you less than a week after you even entered this universe, but you are necessarily on thin ice here. Humanity, to the extent it knows of your kind, is afraid of them. Largely that fear is well founded. You, and Sara, and her father, are the extent of the humanity-friendly ones we know. A lot of people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not a handful, like Reverend Englund, think it already has, and we are missing it because she has a pretty face and a smile. What this means for you, is that what would get another child a detention, might get you expelled. You are to be on your best behaviour. You are absolutely not to harm any student here metaphysically. You are absolutely not to use class X exposure as a weapon, even against the vilest bully. Not for any justification short of saving your own life or that of others, and expect that to result in an inquiry if so. It could go beyond the school and be a federal offence. Sara is under similar strictures, she will fill you in on what is and is not acceptable."
I nod. "I rather expected it, ma'am. This is part of what I feel being an ambassador means. I need to work within the fear and lessen it by example."
"I'll see to it that you get extra sessions with Doctor Bellows", she says. "You've chosen a hard road, and you're going to need support, but I can say that on my behalf at least, I feel you are doing a good thing. I put my trust in you both." Sara pulls me into a hug from the chair beside me.
"And one more thing", the headmistress adds. "You know I'm deliberately lax on relationships between students, and what they lead to. Keeping a lid on teenagers has never worked. But I'm going to insist on two things. First, you're not to flaunt yourself sexually in public beyond plausible deniability. Keep it to kissing and light affectionate touch at most. Keep the rest behind closed doors and within your circle of close friends. I do not care if you feel this would be hiding yourself unacceptably, I need to keep an appearance of decorum here. And the same goes when you are off campus, if you can be identified as a member of the school. Dunwich, ARC, and so forth. Anywhere you're in uniform. Am I clear?"
I nod, "Crystal, ma'am."
"Then secondly, neither you nor Sara is to get anyone pregnant while you are students here. Including each other. That would constitute undeniable proof of rule-breaking, and in both your cases, would set off a panic. I expect you to take the necessary precautions, which I'm aware, miss Parallel, that your powers complicate."
"I believe I can do that now", I say. "If I choose it, I'll be firing blanks. And I will choose it."
She nods. "Very good. Alright. I personally consider this matter closed, but you will be informed if Darren manages to stir up any more formal enquiry. Thank you, you may both go." Then as we turn to leave, a Columbo-like "oh, and one last thing?"
"Yes, ma'am?", I say.
"Get your powers re-tested. I'll have an appointment made. You seem to grow new ones every day, and I need to be kept updated."
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**7th January, 2007, Medawihla village, noon**
"Well, it looks like there's no immediate panic, although I suspect we haven't heard the last of Reverend Englund", I say. Me and Paige and Eloise and Ben Donner are sat at the kitchen table, I've been relaying what the head said. It seems everyone's cool with me and Paige being co-wives and playmates, as long as Sara's cool with it. She's our alpha, as they see it, so the decision is hers. Which works for me.
"Do you still want to stay over with us?" Eloise Donner asks. "We don't have room for idle hands, so we'd expect you to help around the house. And we're a robust lot. You might find yourself forced to physically defend yourself."
It's a difficult choice. "I don't enjoy pain, Mrs Donner. I'm trying to avoid learning a callous attitude to my bodies just because I can regenerate. I don't enjoy fighting, or hurting people. I did hurt someone just last Friday, and that's still a nasty itch in my mind. The kind of enjoyment I got from it, I could do with never feeling that again in my life. But I'm robust, I learn fast, I'm a low-mid exemplar. If I stay, can I be taught to fight? Not the fancy way, your way. I think I might need it, and I can't get in any of the classes over in Whateley until the spring. And then if someone has a challenge, I'll answer it."
"Call me Eloise, dear, you're family. What will you do if you get scratched up bad and catch the were virus? Mutation doesn't stop it, although regeneration might slow or stop a small dose, a big one will get through."
I glance at Paige's arm, where it's fine in her kitty form. I've never seen her all-human form where she needs the prosthetic. "Um, Eloise, I think I can kill that off. Life sorcery. It doesn't seem to cause a taint when I'm using it on myself." The markings I put on my body overnight have gone completely, now. "At least, not if I do it at a reasonable speed. I'm just nudging things along, not wrenching them magically into a new form. Stopping the reproduction of a virus should be fairly easy. But honestly, being furry would not be the worst fate in the world either." Again a glance at Paige, this time with a fond smile.
She nods. "Alright, I'm not against it. We can give you a trial run of a few days over. Ben can show you some moves. It should become obvious enough whether it's working."
I nod. "Thank you. Change of topic, there was something I wanted to suggest. First off, Petra says hi." I grin, that gets several raised eyebrows. "One of me is presently with her, inside Gothmog's personal realm. She can go to and fro to there from her Brazilian convalescent home. I was thinking, her family could come meet her inside there. That kind of bypasses the question of legality, if you're both travelling to the same off-Earth place, you aren't crossing any borders. You could meet her, Paige. Jo could. Sara already met her today, but had to hurry back out. And of course, Eloise and Ben, you could."
Paige slaps her head. "I am a hundred types of idiot for not already thinking of that. Jo came through there, but I never thought about meeting inside."
"Petra says, I know", I relay with a smirk.
Eloise grins. "That does sound like a good possibility. Although I think we might have to be a little underhanded about it, because if the MCO gets wind, they are going to pitch a purple fit. They'll see the loophole as clear as you can, and they'll see there's nothing stopping Petra stepping out this end except her choice to be on good behaviour. I think even your little stunt in the head's office will cause a bit of quiet panic inside Whateley. They'll be rethinking a few of their wards."
I nod. "Petra says she'll be looking forward to it. I think the idea has made her day."
**7th January, 2007, Whateley, noon**
We've reached a good pause point, in the devisor labs. I've learned a lot, certainly enough to get me started in class. And Bugs is hungry. I am too, but my other body is hungrier. So I'll vanish this one. I thank her for the help, and pop, that me is gone.
The me with Sara is explaining my idea to her. She nods, after our day's adventure it's pretty obvious. And the bypass on the annoying travel laws is certainly convenient. Thankfully it's a short walk to the Crystal Hall, I'm feeling a bit tired out. Other me in Gothmog's fun hacienda is siesta-ing, which I thoroughly approve of as a tradition, after a delicious light lunch of I-think-it-was-seafood. And me over with the weres is helping make bacon sandwiches. (I have been assigned bacon-frying, I think it's a test.)
Sara and Jet sort of spread out to the side of me, as we approach the crowds. Guarding. The stop-a-tank coat helps me feel better, too, as do my stompy boots of eldritch weirdness. Although the coat is gonna be too hot to keep on inside. Today feels like I rode a whirlwind, and it isn't even over. Busyness and noise inside, everyone's back, it's bedlam compared to the sparse calm of the first time I was here. For once, there's only one of me here, and I load up on food. With my guards, I only get a few sharp looks and snide comments. Jade and Billie are still off fighting spider-rats, they'll be fine. Paige is on lettuce and tomato chopping duty, over with other me. But the rest of us are here. I pick a seat right next to Sara.
It doesn't take me that long to fill them in on what the headmistress said. Ayla's main advice is to hold my nerve and not get so crazy at the waiting I kick the hornet's nest again just to make something happen. I could see how that would be tempting. But we've got all our pieces arranged, and it's their move now.
Soon enough the conversation drifts onward to Jade and her amazing babysitting adventure. Is she going to be jetting in and out on rockets every day? Probably not but it's amusing to speculate, and having major superheroes on her CV certainly won't hurt. As for me I just snuggle up against Sara, and get petted, which makes me happy.
Before I came here, I had autism. Not a lot of it, but enough to bother me. I've been wondering whether I still had it. Some of it has clearly been superseded by the changes; I've got more bandwidth than you can shake a stick at, which means no worries about being overwhelmed by stimuli, any more. But I think today answers that question, because I'm feeling more than a bit socially drained. Peeking at what's going on, it's like, I keep alerting for small things. Is this important, is that? Is it dangerous? Being around strangers, in particular, makes me second guess everything. They haven't been comfortably analysed into patterns I can predict. That, at least, is something I can deal with. I task off threads to see what I can build up as characterizations of everyone I see. I'm constantly getting input about them, direct and indirect, sound and sight, I can thread together what I hear about them too, and later I'll put names to faces. Plus there's the stuff I read. Nowadays it's all there for me, clear as text, rather than the spotty digest memory I had when I first came here. It turns out all memory is eidetic in nature, it's just normally kinda buried. But mine has been un-burying itself. I can remember all of my previous life, although it's a bit separated off. Not quite "that happened to somebody else" but certainly "that happened to a different me, in a different world".
Oops, I was wool-gathering. Sara tap-taps me for attention. People are done eating, they're standing up. Have I done eating? Looking down, yeah, I ate everything. The memory of doing so is stored away, but I wasn't really paying it attention. Definitely time for some rest and relaxation, I think. I stand up, wave bye for now to the Poe folks and walk back with Sara.
Over with the weres, Erin's already headed off, not being the stick-around type, Paige is saying her goodbyes to the Donners. No point saying bye to me, I'm both at the origin and the destination of her trip back to Whateley. Ben and Eloise are cool for me to have a nap, here, so I look for a comfortable spot and curl up. Were houses are designed for people who like to do that, and it suits me nicely.
In Gothmog's realm, I'm wandering the pretty gardens (a lot of which, on close examination, are very not-Earth flora and fauna). As I do it, I'm trying to feel out how it all works. I haven't begun to scratch the surface, it's like this unbelievably complex spell-weave. But then, it's not that dissimilar to my own body that way. That too, has started to feel like a spell, or a song, as much as thing.
Snuggling on Sara's bed, I ask her, "Do you still sing? Because I read all about the nightmare at Halloween. It just felt wrong, that you were interrupted like that."
She smiles. "I sing. Mostly solo though, or in class, I haven't performed since then. I'm not jumpy about it, just haven't had the time." A pause, then, "Okay, maybe a bit jumpy. Did you want me to sing?"
I grin. "I'd kind of love to hear it. I mean, you sang a lullaby for me once, but I rudely fell asleep". Which makes her giggle. I add, "I've kind of read a heap of music theory, now, but I'm itching to actually have something to hang it on. Could you teach me how to do it? And I went and raided every sea shanty in the Whateley library, so we could have a bit of a pirate duet."
That makes her outright laugh, and grin happily. "Excellent plan. Okay, so Middle C", and she sings a note. I try and copy, she adjusts how I'm breathing and moving my mouth with mental nudges that are clearer than any verbalized instruction. "C major scale", and she sings the notes, adjusting my pitch by tiny increments. "Now sing along", and she launches into "what shall we do with the drunken sailor", I try to avoid giggling at the implausible dire fates enumerated, as I match her.
While we're having fun, I feel the need for some instrumental accompaniment. I haven't got one, though. But a thought occurs. I should be able to copy a penny whistle from my previous life's memory. If I had a material to work in, but I kind of do - me. I can make myself appear, could I make something like my body processes could, mentally, and make it appear? Shape and detail coming together... and another me appears, with a whistle in hand - one of fresh, white-shining bone. Inactive bone, no vascularisation or blasts or clasts, just hydroxyapatite and collagen. But shaped to cellular precision. And that me jumps in with the counter-melody. Okay, that got an eyebrow raise.
We get to the end of the song, and Sara says, "okay, give, I want to see that". I hand it over with a smirk, because I know she can feel it, it's me. As much part of me as any of my other parts, just separate.
She grins, using teeny tiny tentacles to appreciate the detail. "Nice work. I wouldn't lend it out though. What can you make?"
Jet comes over for a look, Sara passes it to her.
I say, "I'm pretty sure I could do solid things, if I can imagine them. I wouldn't feel up to mechanisms, not yet, that's a lot of fiddly pieces. But if you wanted a cup, or a knife and fork..."
Jet says, "Or a sword?" She's turning the small flute over in her hands.
I consider that. "Well, it wouldn't be very sturdy or sharp. I'll need to learn tougher tissues than bone for that. But I could make daggers, I think."
Jet hands it back to me. "Daggers could be useful. That thing's pretty freaky though. It has an aura. Only living things have auras, normally. There's, like, a connection to you. Sara's right, you give that to a mage, it would be worse than them having your fingernails."
"Freaky suits me", I grin. "Making bone implements - and making them vanish again", as I vanish the flute, "that could be a fun signature move. And it's less necessarily lethal than those gravitic tricks."
And then I make the whistle appear again in the hands of other me, and it's time for some more yo ho ho.
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