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**10th January, 2007, Crystal Hall, breakfast**
As breakfast is ending, I have a chat with Sara about how she arranges exeats to ARC. Seems the simplest way is for them to make the request. That avoids all questions of "is this student bunking off". I don't have a phone yet, Sara does, but she can save on using that and just mark-chat Donna and ask her to set it up. Works for me. First period classes are math, necromancy with Sara, and Sensei Tolman's combat assessment. Second, I switch from math to Italian history. Third, ranges and flight. And bringing Paige over to Gothmog's place. Fun fun.
Sara and I bounce over to necromancy - and notice we aren't the only ones bouncing, at least one devisor already has their own version of the tentacle ball working. That definitely makes me giggle harder, this is the silliest way to travel and more people doing it just makes the world more fun. It's also pretty fast, which means we have time before class to catch up on the lesson I missed. The first class had divided people into the condemners, the "but it's useful" lot, and a small spirits' rights faction led by Sara and me. Those lines pretty much stayed drawn with me absent. The class was about the taint necromantic magic leaves on people and places. Some of them thought that implied it was irretrievable evil, others felt that the mess could be cleaned up. As a user of taint-causing sorcery myself, I'm definitely for the clean it up approach. I know *my* magic isn't evil, it's just messy. Of course that doesn't bear on the ethical question of whether one should summon ghosts at all. I wonder if I should introduce the class to big me? That might be an interesting outside perspective on the whole thing. Provided I can avoid accidentally sending half of them mad.
Yesterday I bought a gi, and a gym bag to put it in. Today I get to use it. The walk from Poe over to Laird is, for once, uneventful, except for a few curious looks. I wonder what people are thinking of me. I wonder what they would think, if they knew what I was up to, over on the other side? Heh. It might take me a while to change the culture enough that nobody would find it strange that, right now, one of my selves has the other bent naked over the back of a lovely overstuffed sofa in Gothmog's place, and is doing her up the ass. Petra is pretending indifference, but I can see her eyes aren't on the book. My feet crunch in snow as I walk, and at the same time, my cock is sliding up inside myself, and I've got tentacles out, pinning me down and holding my legs apart. I'm starting to get used to using my cock without feeling like I'm betraying my girlhood. And of course, getting used to taking it, too. My ass is so crammed full and I'm naked and being used and making little noises and Petra is looking at me with lust in her eyes, oh god it's embarrassing and lovely. I bet Gothmog is picking up power off how perverted I'm being. Seems like a nice way to repay a host.
Deep inside me, I can feel my baby, still just a clump of dividing cells, she hasn't implanted yet. She's getting gently bumped by the sex, not that she can feel it yet. Mama loves you, junior. Rock-a-bye baby.
Laird hall is kind of annoyingly brutalist. I don't know why someone would come to a nice place like this and then build stuff out of concrete. Inside though, it's the usual institutional cream paint. Students bustle around as I search for and find the room I'm supposed to be in, a smallish hall with a mat-padded floor. Sensei Tolman is already in there, reading some papers - my eyes are sharp enough to catch the reflection in her cornea, and I can unbend and flip it - she's reading my powers test report.
"Arright, kid, good morning, get yourself changed, sorry no changing room today, but it's just us." Fair enough. A teleport gets me out of my uniform, dropping it in a heap, and it's quick to step into sports underwear and gi with the help of a few dozen temporary tentacles to hold it and slip it on and tie the belt. Heh, I don't think she expected me to be so casual about nudity, although she hides the surprise well. Instead she says, "I'm thinking about setting up a remedial class, seeing what other students need to pick up the combat they missed, getting you all together. But if you plan to keep *that* a secret, it'll complicate things." Meaning how obvious it is I'm intersex.
I shake my head. "Not a secret. It's just how my body is, they can cope and deal. I don't mind the whole school knowing, and I don't plan to make any concessions to bigots."
She nods. "I can respect that. Okay, so last time we met, we talked about what you knew. So this time, I want to see it. We'll spar, light contact. I'll know if it would have been a good hit. You can use your senses, your mind, your physical abilities. No warping, no teleports, no flight, no magic. For this time, no tentacles, although we'll look at those in a bit."
"They're magic anyway", I agree. "If I was spell-blocked somehow, they probably wouldn't come out."
"Right. Rules of sparring. Everything happens on the mat. We go on, bow, keep eye contact while bowing. I say "hajime" to begin. "Yame" means stop, immediately, don't finish what you've started because it might be dangerous. Tap the mat if you need to surrender. We don't have a capture cage here, so you lose if you go off the mat, under your own power or not, or if you're unconscious, or pinned and unable to break free. If you're injured, carry on until I call yame. That's not going to happen today, but I have plans. Might be some time I don't call yame, because I want you to fight on through it."
"Plans huh?" I say, amused at the idea of planning injuries.
She nods. "Going to see if there's a few others like you, and get together a remedial class. Alright, come forward onto the mat. Bow. Good. Hajime!"
I deploy the claws and teeth. If she's startled, she's got too good a combat poker face to show it. I'm going to keep my camouflage a secret until I can pick up a gi that works with it. Which should be soon, other me just picked up a go-ahead email from administration on my exeat, I can go this afternoon. "Beware the well tailored ones" should be a truism.
Okay, she wants to see what I can do. So, lets try it my way. Assume I'm in a real fight, except for the light contact. Rank targets by speed of ending a fight and availability given position and momentum, continuously re-rank. Strike with most-available contact surface. Like in Tai Chi, use intention led movement expanding and contracting from the center. Lightly predict her movement, but mostly react to it, I don't have much in the way of a library of probable moves to predict off, so I'll have to take it as it comes. I don't know how fragile she is, assume baseline. Initial prediction, straight closed fist strike to sternum stops the heart. Go!
She makes a small torso rotation that's going to waste off the momentum of my strike, so I recalculate, sideways shoulder barge will take her balance, then I'll go for an elbow to the clavicle. Except oops, she's got my arm, no useful solutions, I'm flipping, pull inward and use rotation to control my orientation into a landing on all fours, gravity sense sees her leg coming for a sweep and I bounce myself up to let it pass under. The saphenous nerve is close but I can't strike at it, I'm weighted on all my limbs, I need to remember to avoid that. I have 1.7m clearance to mat edge, roll forward to gain space, handspring kip-up to vertical and turn into a backhand aimed at the carotid - I know precisely where she is, even if my eyes are pointing the other way. Unfortunately she also knows where I am and catches the strike and pulls me into a throw but this time doesn't let me freefall, she drives me downwards to the mat with my arm twisted. Not something I can get out of without injury. I tap the mat.
"Yame", she says, and steps back from me, letting me get up. "That was interesting. Felt like I was fighting an untrained, but fast and smart robot. When I got you in a lock, you could have broken that arm, blocked the pain and kept fighting while it healed. Why didn't you?"
That doesn't sound like a criticism, more like curiosity. So I give it the honest answer, "I'm trying to avoid becoming callous with my bodies. So I'd have let the break hurt. I didn't want to be in agony, even if it would heal quickly. The fight wasn't important enough, surrendering was an option and I took it. If it was life or death, I'd probably have stopped the pain and taken the break. Although that may not have been strategically wise, you were beating me, I could hardly afford to spot you an arm even if it came back together thirty seconds later. I don't doubt you'd have used the opening."
"I would have", she agrees. "Sometimes I get students who can ignore pain. I have to show them that they can't ignore being broken down until nothing works any more. Pain tells you you've fucked up. You're supposed to learn not to fuck up, rather than push through it and lose harder."
"No black knights", I say, "Got it."
"Yeah because notice, the black knight already lost when the fight was equal, and fighting on after that just meant getting chopped down into smaller pieces. Surrendering was the right move, in this dojo. Outside it, not picking fights might be better yet. At your present skill level, you'd be rapidly lethal to an untrained baseline. A trained one, of which there are several in this school, would hand you your ass. A trained super would tear you in bitty pieces."
"Outside it, I'd probably vanish the body", I say.
She nods. "Not being there is a good way to end a fight. Not pissing people off, if you can manage it, is even better."
"I'll see what I can do. Sometimes, people just take it into their heads to get offended", I say. "As we talked about earlier, I'm not planning on making concessions to that."
"Then you had best learn quickly", she says.
Over on the other side, me and other me are done showering clean. I think I'm getting the body separation thing down because unless she has an epic poker face, sensei Tolman didn't react to any of our play. I was careful never to let the flow of intention cross over.
Time to dress me up for Paige's arrival. I won't go with naked, she doesn't have quite that level of casualness yet. She's seen it, but she needs seducing. So, hmm. Let's go with a cotton sundress, plain white, over naked. And for me, fitted black leather jeans, dark garnet red tank top. Good thing the wardrobe in our room takes requests. This is going to be so fun.
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**10th January, 2007, Whateley, beginning of third period**
Sara and I are headed back to her room, walking through the tunnels this time, because we want to draw a little less attention. Other of my bodies are headed to flight class and the ranges, but it would be fair to say most of my attention is here, for now.
Our conversation over our telepathic connection is silent, because I don't particularly want to be overheard, but it's making Sara giggle out loud.
"You seriously did that right in front of Petra?"
I nod. "You know in the cheesy cartoons, she'd be reading her book upside down? Her eyes were entirely on the two of me. I didn't have to be you to feel her lusting after me."
"Daddy must be having the best time. And counting down the years until you're eighteen, officially."
"He's welcome to the sexual energy I'm giving off, anyhow. Although honestly, I think he's getting as much joy out of seeing Petra getting better. Big me's fixes seem to be taking. She's less drifty. Gets a boner watching me play."
Sara smirks. "Oho. Well, we have time to savour today, so don't feel slighted if I snatch her away and see what's back in working order."
"Don't feel you have to snatch her away", I point out. "Certainly not on my behalf."
"We'll see how she feels", Sara nods agreement. And there's her door, with the plaque saying "private party, invitation only", which makes me smile and pet the door a bit in appreciation as I go in. Such a cutie, that room.
Curious Paige couldn't be kept away by wild horses, I suspect, and she's already there, leaping into Sara's arms for snuggles and pets.
Meanwhile, silently, a door appears.
"So, Paige", I say, getting a curious look from her, "If you wanna find out the big secret Sara and I were whispering about, you're gonna have to step through that door."
"Mya?" Yeah, she actually does say that, it's so cute I could explode. "You first."
Which makes me giggle. "I'm already there. So this body's gonna stay behind over here."
She thinks a moment, then gets a grin and bounds over. "It's Petra, isn't it?" I nod. And she opens the door, and there we all are waiting for her in one of Gothmog's fancy lounges. And she leaps into her sister's arms, thankfully the exoskeleton catches the weight. "Petra!"
Sara steps through behind her, I blow a kiss from this side, and she closes the door.
**10th January, 2007, morning, Gothmog's realm**
The portal opens, and a delighted Paige dashes in and leaps on Petra. With Sara following her in, and pulling both twins into a hug, the gang's all here.
Paige is chattering nineteen to the dozen and Petra's just letting her. "Oh my god have they been feeding you, you look so thin. And that exoskeleton is neat, where did you get it? You have to tell me all the things."
"We have been feeding her, but it's only recently she's started wanting to really eat", Gothmog appears, with a table-full of party nibbles following him, trotting along on its wooden legs like a strangely-shaped dog. "Thanks to miss Parallel here, and her larger self's intervention."
Which gets Paige extricating herself from the hug and doing a bow to me. "We owe you a big one."
I say, "Anything for beloved friends. Also I'm not entirely done, I have ideas about that osteoporosis."
Paige smirks. "When you get ideas, the world tips on its ass. I look forward to it." She plomps down in an armchair. Pregnant me goes and brings her a tray of party snacks, offering it from a kneel. "Meanwhile. Lovely as meeting my sister is, she's no secret." She picks a nibble and munches, licking furry fingertips. "I can see you've got a kinky thing going on with yourself here, but honestly, I've seen you be kinkier in front of the whole damn pack. So what's the huge secret?"
I stand up from the kneel, put the tray back on the table and come back to stand beside Paige. Put her hand on my belly. "Meet junior."
It takes her a confused moment. Then shock, incredulity, and a growing grin. "You didn't."
"I did." I grin.
"So who's the daddy?" She looks at Gothmog, who shakes his head. Looks over at Petra, who giggles and shakes her head too. Looks at other me, in her leather jeans that I just want to pet and nuzzle against so much. Other me nods. "No seriously? With yourself?"
"With myself", other me says. "With two other me's, in fact. I deliberately got myself pregnant."
I pick up, "And when I realised I desperately wanted to keep the baby, I fled here. That's the big secret. Other me is still doing study and stuff, I'm just being pampered and used like sex toy and growing a kid inside me. She's called junior for now. She's a few cells big and hasn't implanted yet."
Petra cuts in with "When she says, used like a sex toy, she isn't kidding. She's hardly worn a stitch since coming here. That dress is just to avoid startling you. They were fucking like bunnies over that sofa just earlier this morning."
"Don't bother on my account then", says Paige, smirking, as I had hoped she would. And off comes the sundress, immediately. Other me takes it out of my hands. No clothes for me.
"As mistress prefers", I say, with a happy exhibitionist grin, showing off my assets with a little light show of sparkling pink bioluminescence that caresses around contours. "When we were playing and got me pregnant, this me was subbing, entirely being done to, rather than doing. And I've stayed in role, because it's fun and fits. As far as I'm concerned any of you can do anything to this me, so long as you're careful of junior, I know and trust you all. Whatever you'd like. No pressure, though, if you prefer I can just bring you snacks."
Petra says with an exaggerated sigh, "I can just feel this is going to turn into an orgy."
Everyone at once? Yes very please. I can feel the idea getting me wet. I bet Paige, at least, can smell that with her kitty nose. I head over to Petra on all fours and drop to a kneel in front of her. "I saw you watching, this morning. It's okay to want. And I'm giving you permission to go beyond just wanting and take. If you choose to. Slow or fast. Public or in private, as you prefer."
"If I do what I want to you, I'll just injure myself again", there's both lust and terrible frustration in Petra's voice.
Other me says, "So, that idea I mentioned. This seems like the right time." Everyone turns to look at her. "Your problem is that you burned through all your bioavailable calcium, right? And a few other assorted things, but mostly calcium, and the only way to replenish it is eating, but that's glacially slow because your blood can only carry traces, or you'd get sick. Growth at biological speed, not regen speed. So far so obvious. But get this: I can create calcium. I can create it in bulk to make bone daggers and I can create it in my bloodstream in bioavailable form. If you let me get in biological sync with you, I can rig a link between my bloodstream and yours, block you from getting sick, and pour the stuff into you. Plus whatever else I sense you're short of. Zero to full regeneration in a few minutes. I could even throw in a general check and tune-up."
Petra's struck dumb for seconds. "How long. How long have you been able to do this?"
"Technical ability since I came out of the coma with expanded senses", other me says. "I didn't dare risk sorcery inside your body with your soul out of shape from class-X damage. And after big me did the repairs, I wanted to see them actually show. So now, really, is the first opportunity."
She takes a deep breath, blows it out, grimaces. "Will this hurt?"
"It won't", I pick up the reply. "With your permission, I'll have absolute control over all your cells. That includes nerves, so if I say, no pain, then there won't be pain. But it'll be scary. I'll be inside you and changing things, and I am what I am. With our bloodstreams linked, it won't be safe to snatch yourself away suddenly if you panic."
Petra looks at Sara. "Will this work?"
Sara nods. "It will, sweetie. If you want, I can monitor? But then there'll be two of us inside you."
"I refuse to ever be scared of you", Petra says, and I remember there's history there. "If you say it's good, if you monitor, then yes. Let's do this thing. If I panic, just hold me safe."
Sara nods, and plops herself down on the sofa beside Petra. "Come sit in my lap. I'll wrap you up in a hug. Where do you want to link up, Jules?"
As Petra shifts over to her lap, I look up from the floor and smile. "Femoral artery seems nicely placed."
Which gets an amused smile from Petra. "Only you could make this into foreplay."
"Oh, I'm sure I can too", says Sara, with a grin.
I move closer, gently push Petra's legs apart and place my lips against the warm skin of her thigh. Skin meeting skin, and I can feel her whole body, with her consent making it easy. Tongue touching her and melding to her, a thread of me slipping inside, finding the artery, touch against it, form a link to the blood vessels of my tongue. And now I'm diverting a significant part of her blood flow so it joins mine, and creating the nutrients she needs, letting them flow into her. Her regeneration knows what it wants to do, I help. I can feel Sara inside her too, tentacle threads slipping between the cells, and somehow I can feel her love for both of us in them. Together, we spot places where regeneration made sloppy, battle-patch fixes, things that are kind of like scars, poor Petra really has been through the grinder. Together, we gently put them back to rights. All the aches, all the stiffness and joints that pop, cleared up. Her bones are growing denser at an accelerated rate that's mostly her work, not mine, so I can keep the sorcery to a very light touch. Continuously creating new nutrients in my blood is an interesting new feeling. I wonder what I could do with that, myself. Bone armour? Hehe. I can feel the regeneration slowing as it reaches a point it considers finished. I nudge it a little, pointing out that she'll need more muscle, being stuck in that exoskeleton means it has atrophied. Her body doesn't feel a need for unused muscle, but grudgingly accepts the nudge, and I'm flowing the constituents of muscle into her, keeping track of what the regeneration is using, so it doesn't run low. Let's make her a little bit more built than she would be at baseline, she probably needs it, running around the world fixing problems like Jane Bond. Okay. All done. I gently recall all the bits of me that have been doing work, Close, seal, and withdraw the bloodstream link. I can feel Sara pulling tendrils out too. Skin contact breaks, I move back from the kiss, and look up at Petra.
With my attention back in the macro-scale world, I can see she's crying. "You okay?" I ask.
She nods. "Just... just emotional. I thought I'd never get it back. And just like that!" And turns to bury her face against Sara and cry some more.
Paige, who has been watching from the other side of the room, pads over and joins the hug. "Welcome back to health, sis." And then drops down to a crouch beside me and lifts me up to standing with a fingertip so she can kiss and hug me too. "Thank you, a million times. We both owe you a big one for this."
I shake my head. "No debts between us. I love you, I love Petra. Through Sara, we're all married into the same wonderful family. What's mine is yours."
"And what's mine is yours", she replies. Turning to look at her sister. "Now, enough of this weepiness, about that orgy. Petra, you're wearing too much, like a whole exoskeleton you won't need any more. Sara, get her!" and with a grin, she pounces her sister, and clothes go flying around the room.
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Poor Petra doesn't stand a chance. I beefed up her muscles to the point that she looks like a gym bunny, but they're baseline muscle, and she's the only baseline in the room. Sara and Paige teasingly strip her, and finally they get down to the exoskeleton, which goes under everything but the underwear. It's a confection of flesh-toned machinery and clear straps. From what I remember reading, an improvement over the original - which is not surprising, as that was a rush job. But improvement or not, it's no longer needed, and Petra, grinning, helps release the clips, and the thing slithers off. Quickly followed by her underwear, as Sara and Paige finish the stripping job.
"Guys, let me up, I have to try this", Petra squirms out of the grip of the two, and stands uncertainly, bare ass naked and beautifully intersex. "Whoa, it's weird, it's like gravity changed, I'm all uncoordinated."
Leather jeans me says, "You've got the strength all back, but you're used to coordinating with that gadget, and now it's all on you. No need for physio to build muscle" (Which gets a "thank fuck for that" from Petra.) "...but you do need to get used to moving again. And perhaps in new ways. You've got more than you had, even before." A grin. "I prescribe lots of playful scrambling around and getting used to using your muscles from the safety of ground level. You can't get an already-pregnant person pregnant, did you know that?" Giving me a pointed look. I put my hands behind my back to perk my boobs more. (Should I enhance them? Interesting thought. I almost giggle out loud at the idea of myself with massive hentai-grade melons, even if my exemplar strength would make toting them around a breeze. Poor Junior would think she was milking the side of a barn.)
Paige gets up from the sofa, and she's taking her own clothes off, so she's slightly muffled when she says, "I think we should thank our benefactor sis. Dibs on back door. Why don't you give Junior in there some lil' swimmy companions?"
"At the same time?" Petra asks, sounding intrigued.
"If Jules can fuck her own self pregnant, I think a little sharing between sisters isn't going to upset the moral order of things", Paige says. "Besides, aren't you curious? We've had time enough to become our own people now. It won't be like playing solo. I think these two are rubbing off on me, but, here I am looking at you, sis, and I see a very pretty girl. Don't hate me?"
Petra laughs. "I could never hate you, sis, and now I stop and look, you're smoking hot yourself, in a fluffy kinda way, and I don't hate the thought of that fluff." She pauses, and really looks. Naked Paige is beautiful, kitty ears, softly furred skin in tones of black and electric blue, with lovely blue glows coming from inside her mouth, and the glans and labia of her sex. Petra's similar, but with human skin and ears.
I tease, "If you lick her a lot, you get hairballs, but it's worth the hairballs." Which makes both of them crack up and Paige pounce me to tickle me.
"You take that back. You've never got a hairball in your life."
I get out "bet you have!" between helpless giggles and squirming.
And Paige makes an ackptht face, "Don't remind me." Which sets Petra giggling uncontrollably too.
Watching myself squirm on the floor being tickled and teased by the twins, and responding by trying to distract them with kisses, I move up behind Sara and wrap her in a hug. We two are the last ones dressed - Gothmog quietly stepped out when things got hot and steamy. Sara's still in her school uniform, which of course she fills out like a supermodel. But it would look better on the floor, I think, as I reach around to unbutton her blouse. "You know, beloved, there's a way we haven't played yet?"
"Oh, what's that?" Sara says, leaning back into me, she knows of course, but she wants me to say it.
"Me inside you. Want some lil' swimmies of your own? Purely for reference purposes, this time around." Pulling the blouse down her arms and while they're caught there, popping open the back catch on her bra. Off comes blouse, and off comes bra a moment later. Black lace, of course.
"I find myself wishing I could stash a body here like you" she says, a wistful tone in her voice.
"Maybe you'll learn. It's not as if that body's exactly physical", I say. "Raise it with big you? Meanwhile at least you can keep the DNA to play with." Hands cupping and caressing her naked breasts, I want her to feel so good, I want my love to flow through every caress. She's got her own tentacles out, and lifting up my tank top, which leaves me naked up top as it slips over my head, my nipples rubbing against her back. I add, "Leave the pants, You'll enjoy how they feel. They've got a zipper that runs right from the front", I start unzipping so she hears, then reach behind myself to catch it and continue to pull, "All the way to the belt at the back. And you can guess what I'm wearing under them."
"I can smell what you're not wearing under them, smells of warm leather and naked sex", Sara says. "My favourite perfume."
Meanwhile I've slipped fingers under her skirt, and I'm sliding her knickers down. *Silk* says my fingertip life sense. Down to her knees they go, and I stop there. "Your skirt stays on, and these stay on. When I've given you a cream filling, I'll pull them back up snug, and you can go to classes hoping it doesn't trickle down your leg too badly."
"You, beloved, are perverted", Sara says. "And I like that idea very much."
"You can like it bent over that chair" I say, putting her where I want her and pushing her over, lifting her skirt up onto her back. It gives her a great view as other me gasps and clutches at the intensity of being filled both ways, Petra kissing her from the front, Paige biting at her neck from behind, and the two timing their hips to push in at the same time.
Mmm, Sara's ass, all mine. I crouch and give her a teeth-out bite on her perfect bubble butt, making her hiss a breath in through her teeth. "I could eat you up." She tastes salty and kinda like squid ink, not at all like human blood. "You're delicious, you know that?" And her labia are soot black, like her lips. A stroke of my tongue between them takes in a different kind of flavour, but it has a reminiscence of the other. "Tasty tasty Sara, I could eat you all up, but I promised to stuff you first."
I stand up - another part of me is already standing up, and I aim, and press forward into the warmth of my beloved - life sense sparking with the details of her lovely inside as I slide in, right up to my clit.
**10th January, 2007, Whateley, gun range, third period**
I'm having trouble concentrating. Eyes on the target, finger pointing forward away from the trigger, pay attention to the range instructor. It's not like I don't have my own independent stream of attention, but what's happening over the way is so lovely and I'm just so tempted to point my attention that way and watch. And I'm fairly sure miss Bardue would catch me woolgathering instantly. I'd end up cleaning all the guns with a toothbrush, or something equally irritating. Patience, focus, I can review the memories later at my leisure.
My peripheral vision catches something unexpected, and I look over. Two security types, talking to miss Bardue. She nods to them, then in her loudhailer voice, "Cease firing! Unload cylinders, open actions with slides back, remove magazines, guns on the table!"
Okay, I can do all that. Why stop us in the middle, though? I make my gun safe, check down the barrel by peeking from the rear with the slide open, even though I can already feel with gravity sense it's empty. One follows the procedure, here. I put it down in the proper way.
"Miss Parallel, to me please!" I double check everything's ship-shape, and then trot over. Her voice drops from a range bellow, down to regular speaking. "These gentlemen would like you to go with them."
I decide against offering to duplicate myself, she might see it as cheeky. I can pick up what I missed next lesson. "Will do. What's the problem, guys?"
"Let's take you over to security, and then we'll talk about that." Which is cop speak for, we aren't going to clue you in, perpetrator. Huh. Curious. Well, I'm already safely elsewhere (and having a lot of fun, heh), so, I see no loss in going with them.
"Fair enough, lead on", I say. Which they do. Security is in Kane Hall, we go right on in. The room they take me to is kinda like a regular classroom, except empty, other than one desk and two ordinary school chairs, one on either side. Isn't there supposed to be a bare bulb and a small hard chair? or perhaps a large metal one with straps? I decide against complaining the accommodations are too cushy. Instead I pick the near-side chair, but flip it around to face the door. Focusing on my breath drops me into meditative waiting. Time passes.
Three minutes and twenty-five seconds later, a man steps in. He walks around the desk, places a recorder on it and pressed the record button. "Senior lieutenant Colin Forsyth, interviewing miss Parallel, on the tenth of January, two thousand seven, eleven forty AM."
I stand, flip the chair to face him, sit. I have no idea what's up, yet, so I resist any temptation to run on at the mouth.
He begins. "Miss Parallel, can you confirm your identity. We'll be using codenames, as this is being recorded."
"Sure, that's me."
"When did you last see Feral?"
Oh dear. I replay my memory. "Last I saw her in person, was when we ate dinner at the same table yesterday evening. Last I heard of her movements from someone with first hand knowledge, later the same night, in a dream conversation with Carmilla, I was told she went out to hunt."
"A dream, hmm?"
I nod. "Carmilla can dream walk." That's a known quantity and not letting any cats out of bags. I can too, now, it seems, but a little not-technically-lying covers that.
"Leaving that aside for the moment. Did you do anything to her, that evening?"
Uh-oh. Should I talk? I care a lot about Erin and I don't want to impede any investigation by doing the I want a lawyer thing. Even if it would be advisable.
Unfortunately, over on the other side the party has to stop, as I link Sara into the conversation through the mark.
"I'm choosing not to stay silent. Yes, I did something to her, or rather, what you might call the larger demon aspect of me did something to her. This was during Circe's detention, and Circe brought that aspect of me forward. Larger me discovered she was spiritually bound to a certain student in this school, for reasons buried in deep history. She had to obey that student's direct orders, although she chose to avoid him most of the time, it was a liability she couldn't repair by herself. She didn't want to be in that situation. That aspect of myself severed and healed the control connection. So now she's autonomous. The student she used to be connected to wasn't happy with me. That was made evident by conversations after the event, at dinner."
Lieutenant Forsyth nods. "We received an allegation, and probably from that same student, that you assaulted her violently, and cut her off from a necessary flow of spiritual essence. She hasn't been seen since yesterday evening. The student alleges you caused her an injury that might have caused her to evaporate away."
"He wishes", I say. "No, what was done, was done with explicit consent. And was done expertly. No harm would result. I am certain of that. If you want to look for a source of harm, look to the student who is reacting like an abuser cut off from a victim."
"Alright. We'll look into that hypothesis too. Do you know where Carmilla is?"
"On her way here", I say.
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With Sara headed back in a rush, and Paige choosing to come with her to do some cyber-sleuthing from over in the physical world, that leaves the two of me and Petra suddenly at a loose end. To break the sudden post-orgy tension, I suggest we all decamp to the big onsen style bath. Paige agrees, and we all head there. Showered-off and soaking, and all of us naked, the hot water slowly eases the ache of my worry. Erin's not someone I know very closely, she's private and not very poly. But what big me did to her makes her sort of "mine" in a way, I feel like she's my responsibility.
"You know I'm gonna have to go away and leave you two here?" Petra says. "You fixed me, and all the thanks you get is that I need to report back in to the Knights."
i say, "I figure you can keep coming back here. Any place it's safe for Gothmog to open a portal, it's accessible. But I also figure, you might want a holiday from your holiday, for a bit."
Petra laughs. "Yeah, I know that feeling well. Italy went from tourist trap to on the job, real quick."
"Wizard's holiday", I say. "That's a term from the fiction of another world. Travel to exotic places expecting a bit of rest, get roped into fixing their shit."
"I was expecting school, really", Petra says. "They've got a knight school, and now I wonder if the library's half as big as here. I haven't really taken proper advantage."
"You were soul-sick and regen-fucked at the time", I point out.
"True true. It feels weird, because it had got to be my normal, you know? Just drifting along. And now, whoosh, unfamiliar thoughts, unfamiliar muscles." She kicks her legs in the water. "You saved me an absolute heap of physio to rebuild these beyond stick thin and staggering. For that, as much as anything else, I owe you. And yet here I am planning to leave you. Because I still need to do the school thing."
"I won't say I won't miss you something fierce", I say. "Write, call, summon a portal and come over for tea, any time you can. Come and borrow books. But I won't be lonely, I'm in other places too. And my guess is, with this place de-tasked from being a convalescent resort, Gothmog will start bringing more people in, hooking up to exotic places, you know? Could be interesting."
Petra nods. "Don't think I don't plan to continue this morning's unfinished business, either. I'm going to find it troublesome at school, I think. Catholic sexual guilt, celibacy, ha."
I giggle. "Well, if you don't have to pack and run immediately, there's two of me here to one of you, and how do you feel about being the meat in the sandwich this time?" (Pregnant me is doing the puppy-dog eyes thing and making whiny "please" noises. I've watched Jade and taken notes. Fear me.)
"Deal", she says, "Mmm, I just got clean and now you two want to dirty me up."
"Such is the sad predicament of the always horny", I tease, and move in for a kiss, as other me finds one of her nipples to suck.
**10th January, 2007, Whateley, Kane hall**
Lieutenant Forsyth seems to be a nice guy, for a security man. We went over events that evening in detail, and he asked me questions, some I could answer, some it would take big me because the complexity doesn't fit in my head. He brought me coffee, too. I'm keeping big me posted with what's going on, although I'm not sure she fully comprehends what "disappearing" means. I think we might have to bring her forward again so she can explain her edits to Circe or someone who would understand the detail. But she's certain nothing she did would cause Erin, or her passenger, any harm.
I'm racking my head for ways to help find her. I could blanket the place in bodies ferreting around in everyone's stuff, but at the cost of annoying basically everyone, and no great likelihood of success. Life sense might pick her up as a signal, but not easily distinguish her from any other kid in the school. Paige has the cyber angle covered. Security is obviously on the job, and from my reading they're pretty competent. I don't like feeling like a fifth wheel. Phenomenal cosmic powers ought to be more useful.
Left on my own after the lieutenant left the room, I'm nursing my coffee and staring at the wall. Highlight of the view: a line of ants going from A to B in a neat (if wiggly) road, marked by some invisible scent trail. Stigmergy. Partially outsourcing the mind to markers in the environment. I remember thinking, an ant is less like an individual, more like a single thread in a gigantic parallel search algorithm.
I'm not Skitter, I can't just grab a bunch of bugs and make them do a search for me. But maybe, if I used sorcery, I could custom-build some? Kind of give them enough information to identify Erin and then lay a trail to her I could follow.
Over on the other side, I make a duplicate to go ask Gothmog for his thoughts. (No need to stop the fun this time, heh. Mmm, Petra from both sides.) Oh, and here's Sara, peeking in, looking harried and a little dressed-in-a-rush. I hop up and go wrap her in a hug, and give her a kiss, and fix her buttons before too many people notice.
"You doing okay, sweetie?", she asks.
"I'm good, I'm sure they'll figure the charges are bogus. I'm just worried about Erin."
"Me too, love", she sighs. "I've told them what I know, that we talked, played around a bit, and then she got antsy and wanted to go out and run wild. I honestly wasn't expecting her back until breakfast. I can't help thinking I should have noticed it right away then."
"Nah, being off doing her thing is her style. Maybe she'd already had a deer for breakfast? We don't even know if she was missing at that point."
She concedes that with a nod. "I don't have any bright ideas what to do. She wouldn't take my mark, so I can't do what I did with you. Other than the obvious. Involve the Kimbas, they have a lot of raw power and connections."
"I'm already talking to Billie over in flight class", I say. "We'll bring the others into the loop at lunch. Meanwhile, I had a thought..." It doesn't take long to outline the ants idea to Sara.
She nods and looks thoughtful. "Ants may be too large. It takes weeks, egg to adult, to create a fresh one, your ramp up would be slow. And there's a lot going on in their little heads, they'd be hard to reprogram. How about slime mould? Some of that is very good at seeking out resources. Just give it the idea that it really wants to find Erin, and it will set spores and go marching around until it finds her. Then draw a line to her we can follow. Plus creating the spores would probably be easy."
"I'd still want big me to do it. I don't feel competent to hand-hack lifeforms. I think they want Circe to talk to her anyway, so that would be our chance."
"I'll see if I can't bring Kellith forward in the same way, and monitor. Are you going to tell security about this?"
I nod. "For all they're my friends, I'm not a Kimba, I'll operate on the basis the adults here are competent, and involving them would be an upside. At least unless they demonstrate otherwise."
"Which is nice to know", says Lieutenant Forsyth, who has returned. "I hope we won't disappoint you. So, what are you cooking up?"
He listens to my explanation. Looks thoughtful. "Personally, I don't hate that idea. But the school generally frowns on releasing freshly invented lifeforms. I think you'd need the head's permission, minimum. But I will go bring the idea to her right away, along with my recommendation to say yes. Meanwhile, the two of you go back to classes. Or lunch, now, I think? Leave at least one body on campus, please, miss Parallel, we might want to call you back in a hurry."
I nod and thank him.
Heading for the exit with Sara, we're suddenly stopped when a couple of men in black suits bar my way. "Stop right there."
I look over to Lieutenant Forsyth, he spares me a look that expresses the same confusion I feel. "Gentlemen", he says, "What would seem to be the problem?"
"MCO Special agent Haustin, and this is special agent Bukowski. We're here to discuss a matter of national security, relating to this student. And now we overhear she's been murdering people? Why are you letting her walk out of the building?"
Forsyth looks annoyed. "As an MCO agent, you should know this area is not in your jurisdiction and is under treaties of neutrality. You can't waltz in here and arrest students. There are proper channels."
"Which is why we aren't making any arrests. We're here to have a discussion. But we are questioning your actions."
"Why don't you come into my office and explain what the issue is. Carmilla, you're free to go, but Parallel, if you could please wait a little longer while we resolve this?"
I can see that Sara's going to insist on staying, so I shake my head to her. "Go to lunch", I tell her, and psychically over the mark, add "I'm already there. We need you in the brainstorming."
She gives me a tight hug (ow, she hugs very tight indeed when worried), and then heads off.
"A touching scene between monsters", agent Bukowski says under his voice, before he heads off to the office. Ooh fun, a bigot in uniform. It's my lucky day. I go back into the room o' boredom, settle myself into a waiting meditation, and let time pass.
Meanwhile, over in Crystal hall, Billie and I have been filling the Kimbas in on what has happened. Billie was really down and dragging at the start of flight class, but I feel like having something external to worry about has actually pepped her up.
Ayla, who has been listening closely, says, "so if I can summarize it, you've got four problems. One, Feral is missing. Two, you've been accused of causing her harm. Three, it's highly likely this is a ploy by Imperious and friends which means not only that she may be in difficulty or danger, but that it's also likely she's bait in a trap. And then added to that, four, this MCO business that may or may not be coincidental."
I nod, and as Sara comes in, wave her over to join us. She touches in on the anti-snoop magic thingy, and grabs a seat. I say, "Yeah, that's right. Number two doesn't worry me that much. I think big me can convince Circe that the edits she made were safe. And also we blow the whole thing out of the water if we find her intact. She can tell them it was done with informed consent."
"Yeah, the worst they could accuse you of then, is reckless medical experimentation on another student", Ayla agrees. "Which around here, barely rises to the level of detention." That gets a few snickers around the table, and everyone thinking of Jobe.
Nikki says, "I could try a finding spell for her. The trouble is, I'm pretty sure security will have already done that. And they have all the resources of the mystic arts program at their beck and call. It's worth the attempt, just in case my magic can slip around whatever is blocking theirs, but I'd call it a long shot."
"I like the slime mould plan", Jade says. "It lets you search a very wide area. And if we go through channels this time around, we have security for backup, which messes with the whole trap thing. If they spring a trap on security, their ass is toast."
Sara says, "And that means we had better hurry, because I figure their next move is a ransom demand, come alone, if you tell security then we kill her, that kind of thing. With a hostage, they could pin you in place and make you take a beating."
I nod. "I just hope the head gives the go-ahead soon."
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**10th January, 2007, Whateley, Kane hall, lunchtime**
Alone in a room with nothing to do, my attention rests on my breath. Time passes, my mind is still. I realise the random bellowing sound I'm overhearing as background noise is raised angry voices. Rewind, apply distortion compensation...
"She's not human, Forsyth. She's not a child, she's a monster. They both are. And that one in particular is a danger to national security." That's Haustin's snarl.
"She's a student here and has rights."
Bukowski jumps in, fuming, "She has no rights! She isn't an American citizen. She isn't a citizen of anywhere! We couldn't trace her to any missing person recorded anywhere on the planet. That's because she's not *from* this planet. She's a dangerous alien monster invading this world and she belongs in a lab." Looks like they're trying to batter the lieutenant down with the bad cop, worse cop routine.
"She is a student here, and that's sufficient", lieutenant Forsyth is not inclined to be battered. "I don't care what damn world she's from or species she is, while she stays here she is under treaty protection, under the school's protection and under my protection. If she has committed a crime it will be dealt with by due process of law, not by revoking her rights and throwing her down some windowless MCO hole. Now, gentlemen, I believe the both of you have worn out your welcome, coming here and shouting in my face. Kindly escort yourselves off school grounds before I have to order you thrown off."
"You haven't heard the last of this!"
Do they make these guys in cartoon villain land? Don't answer that.
Forsyth does answer that, with a murmured "No, I suppose I haven't, more's the pity." I can hear the murmur because he's outside the door. And he comes in.
"Heard some of that", I say.
"I think they heard it over in Schuster, my ears are still ringing", he says. "Sorry about that. Normally our local MCO branch is pretty friendly. But they have a few bad eggs, and I suspect Bukowski is from out of town and higher up, given the way Haustin was taking his lead. Unfortunately, kid, I think it means you've come to the attention of powerful people."
"Interesting times", I agree. Then, "Some of what they were saying is true", deciding on a snap judgement to take him into my confidence. "I'm from off-world. A parallel Earth. Came here by uncontrolled accident. Here, he's right, I'm a citizen of nowhere. And although I was born human, I'm more monster than not, now. And definitely capable of being a person of mass destruction if I was so inclined. But I'm a friendly monster, and my inclination is to help."
He chuckles and ruffles my hair, which is kind of sweet of him. "Nah see, I already knew that. Your precise nature is very sparingly shared within the more trustworthy higher ranks in security. I know about the 'great old one' thing." He makes the finger quotes. "I know about Carmilla, too. So far, I've seen no sign you've been anything worse than amusingly mischievous. And as for your citizenship, there's a standard process to register amnesiacs as citizens and dependants, and the school did that for you automatically. Although the MCO may try to break that in court, I don't know with what evidence."
"There's too much 'don't know' to this business. Feels like we're seeing the fin but not the shark", I say. "Ah well, eventually when he wants to take a bite, he'll have to show his teeth. And then I have my own." And I do the teeth longer thing, which does make the the lieutenant go a couple of shades whiter.
"Mind those, kid, you're liable to make a person jump", he says. I retract them. Even fully pulled back, they don't go right down to flat, now, there's always a hint of sharp point. Still he smiles and says "better. Alright, now run off. I hear you have an exeat this afternoon. You might want to reconsider that. You'll be leaving our jurisdiction."
I shake my head. "What can they do? Drop a bag over my head and bundle me into a car? There's a dozen ways I could break out of that. Or I ride along out of curiosity, scope out their lair, then flood it with clones. While meanwhile being just fine outside it. I'm hard to kidnap."
He takes a moment to look at me thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose that is true. I won't rescind it if you want to keep it. Just, please don't fall into the trap of assuming that bad means dumb. If it's on your written security record, you should assume it's been read by every three-letter agency you care to name, and some you've never heard of. And a number of less-legal operations too. There's only a few things that are kept off the record. Your duplication power is not one of them. What they know of, they can plan for. And they have more experience planning than you." Which reminds me of sensei Tolman's lesson earlier. Experience and training beats seat of the pants calculation, even for a lightning calculator.
I nod. "Understood."
He smiles. "Okay, scram, I've got work to do, like finding your friend. Don't forget, one body on campus, minimum."
I scram. This time, without incident.
As I make my way over towards lunch (food, annoyingly, being a thing that doesn't auto-sync between bodies), I mark-chat Sara. "Should we..."
She answers immediately, "Already did. She thinks it might be Englund's long awaited next attempt." Conversations with geniuses, gotta love them. I was going to suggest updating Donna - Sara of course, being way ahead of me.
"Him again huh?"
"We figure he gave up on grabbing your guardianship after Monday night's business made it clear the egg wasn't going back in the shell. Her guess was that he's switched to shit stirring with powers outside the school. Like the higher ups in the MCO. They, inexplicably, have him pegged as one of the good guys."
"He does a good cosplay. She's not calling it off?"
"She thinks cooperation with ARC will be a brownie point on your record, and you could use one. But she's going to come in disguise."
I giggle at a thought. "If she doesn't mind me starkers, I have a cunning plan."
"I think she will love you starkers", Sara replies, amusement clear in the thought. "And be secretly disappointed not to be able to see you. I've widened her horizons a little."
That dredges up something which has been low-key bothering me. "Speaking of", I say. "Petra."
Sara's return message carries the feeling of thoughtfulness. "You think you changed her, don't you? She used to be, if not asexual, something close to it."
"I think big me stamped some of my nature onto her with the repairs", I agree.
"Don't beat yourself up about it. It's not a harmful change. But it's interesting to see you have a sexual side to your larger nature. Not quite a lust field, I'd sense that. Maybe a disinhibition one?"
"Maybe", I agree. "I wouldn't complain if you're right. This stuffy culture could use it. I wonder if I'll have a large scale cultural effect, over time?"
A giggle. "I do sincerely hope so. That sounds delightful."
I pass other me and Sara and Paige on their way out of Crystal Hall, give all three a heartfelt smooch (gets me funny looks, I can hardly hold in the giggle at scandalising everyone) and head in for munchies. I'm glad Crystal Hall isn't begrudging me the extra food. And thank goodness, I'm starting to look less rake thin. Volitionally controlled metabolism is a wonderful thing.
Classes this afternoon are same as Monday, languages in all three, theory of the escape with Sara and Paige in the first two, crypto with Paige and religion with Englund in the third. I'm going to ask to test out of the languages, I think I'm fluent now. As for religion, I wonder how Englund will spin things today? I think the preceding class punctured his direct routes to calling me an abomination, but the man is ever-resourceful.
Meanwhile, this me will be going out to the gates to meet Donna. I'm filled with quiet amusement at the plan, as I munch on tolerable cafeteria food. The head won't let me scandalise the school too much (oh how I long to gradually nudge the needle on what passes muster there) but it doesn't count as having my bits hanging out for public view if anybody looking that way will just see a projected image of the background scenery.
Finished, I head into the loos to change - by just vanishing every stitch of clothing. It was sweaty anyway, no great loss. If this trip works, I will be able to do this dressed, but for now, I need to be bare ass naked for my active thermoptic camouflage to cover me all over. Ramp heat generation up hard, it's going to be cold out. Close my eyes, because my sclera lacks camo. And walk out of the cubicle into the strange grey-with-colour world of mingled life and gravity sense. People are both solid masses and flares of colourful life that I dodge carefully around. Bugs scramble in the walls, in simpler focused colours. And as I approach outside, the ground is a riot of glows penetrating deep underground and filling the air, even as my naked feet crunch into snow. It's not spring yet, but it's getting ready to be. And of course my snow-flowers, dotting the ground, glow in comforting pink. Everything is a riot of smells. I think, with my focus on my senses now and not just rushing from A to B, that my ability to smell feels sharper. I can definitely smell myself being aroused by this invisible exhibitionism.
Alright, enough dallying and flaunting. Trying to step in existing footprints, and then car ruts when the prints run out, I make my way towards the gate. With heat generation up this high, the slushy ice feels comfortably cool underfoot. But I'm burning through calories. Actually... I try something, and amusingly it works: creating simple blood glucose, the way I was creating calcium for Petra. This definitely suggests possibilities. Can I do oxygen too? Vanish CO2? Later, patience. What this means for now is that I could sleep in a snowdrift and feel no energy drain from running up my thermostat. Interesting indeed. And convenient.
Warping through the closed gate with a murmur of "I have an exeat" for the stone guardians (who may or may not care), I head for the cute touristy Volkswagen Bug where someone who looks African-American but smells like Donna is reading a map, leaning against the front of the car. I murmur "getting in the car now" as I pass her, and scooch over to grab shotgun. She folds the map carefully, as if to show a route, and climbs back in. "Hey sweetie", she ventriloquises. "Don't belt in, I'll drive carefully." And off we go. Just one more tourist finding her way, solo, through the wilds of New Hampshire.
"It's weird to be able to half-feel you there, and I think smell you a bit, but the seat's just empty" she murmurs, as familiar woods flow past.
Probably doesn't help that I'm a quiet passenger in cars. "I'm here", I say. "And you're probable smelling the fact I'm enjoying being naked like this."
Which makes her stifle a giggle. "Hush you. Don't make me laugh, that's hard to hide. We might be under observation."
"Don't mind me", I tease. "I'll just sit here naked, imagining you and Sara and a DVD of tentacle porn."
"Gah, you!" she's having to fight to avoid the giggles.
"Did Sara mention to you that I learned how to make tentacles too?"
A blush of lust like that is impossible to hide from my life sense, even if I bet nothing shows on her face. "She did. Said you were very proud of them." She looks down a little.
"Mhm. I look forward to giving you a demonstration."
"You, miss, are a tease", she says. "God help me."
"Oh I'm sure she will", I say. "She's fun that way."
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I'm the kind of person that's happy to fall silent on a long car journey. Sometimes, it's because I'm watching out of the window, scenery is something I love. Sometimes, like now, it's because I'm thinking. We're outside tribal jurisdiction now, which means that if those MCO yahoos wanted to waylay us, they probably could. But we seem to have successfully given them the slip. So my attention is on the business with Erin.
My guess is the head will ask Circe to call big me forward again during today's detention so she can handle creating the search spores. Which means that will happen while I'm at ARC. That seems like a positive opportunity to let them meet big me. Meanwhile, I wonder if I can manoeuvre another body into the presence of Knick-knack and Judicator while it's going on? I want to help cut them loose as well, per their request, and it really needs big me to do it. And ideally before anyone gets around to forbidding it. Probably the best chance for that will be if I get a ransom demand.
And that makes me wonder what's the angle for Imperious and his more willing allies here? They aren't realistically going to be able to hold her indefinitely, or get away with murder. And I read them as half-smart, but at least bright enough to realize that being chucked out of Whateley is a career limiting move, even if they don't end up in federal jail or whatever. Which means everyone needs to come out of this seemingly okay. But Erin would be not okay, and would raise a complaint. Unless...
Unless the trick he's going for is re-connection. He wants to force me to hook her back up to the leash - then he can order her to convince Whateley it was voluntary. And presumably, that I'm the villain.
Which means he's going to need me, and her, together. And me, alive. Albeit very likely beaten up a bit. He'll probably threaten to kill us both, but won't mean it, although I doubt he'd scruple a bit of torture. I could make use of that, although I might have to be a bit callous about the body. I suppose, it's war, of a small sort, and these things happen.
How do I block Counterpoint? He's the one I worry about. The fact he can copy and match my warping puts me at a troublesome disadvantage. And I know he's damn skilled even without that. I probably can't just swarm him under like Naruto, although that might be good for a brief distraction.
Sorcery is really the power nobody has seen me use at its full stretch, and for good reason. But it's one he can't answer directly. And although I don't doubt he's stolen wizardly powers in the past, I'd lay odds he hasn't the patience to learn to use them. So that may be my ace in the hole.
As we're drawing into Dunwich I update Donna on what I've been pondering. She thinks it makes sense, but cautions me that it's just a guess. It's a rookie mistake, to get too involved in a model of the bad guys, you have to keep an eye on what they actually do, and be prepared to instantly toss a model that doesn't fit. I agree.
And then we pull up in front of Rogers' Fabric Boutique. She's expecting us, but amused to once again be hosting my naked form, albeit invisibly. With a flick of a switch something happens to the windows, they seem to get more dense, I wonder what that means in the world of sight. "Okay, you can de-cloak now", she says. So I release the copying mode on my photophores and fade into view. And open my eyes. She looks at me, curiously, with what I guess is a professional tailor's eye. "You've changed since I last saw you. You're thinner, your bone structure's a bit different around the jaw. You've got a nice haircut. There's something else, but I can't put a finger on it. Has it really only been four days?"
"Eventful ones", I admit. "I kind of slightly changed species. And my body's changed a bit. The thinness should wear off soon, at least. But I need new gear to go with my camouflage, or I'll have to strip off to do it. Which while fun, has downsides."
"I'll see what I can do", she says. "It's surface camouflage, then, not true invisibility?"
"Yeah, like the movie Ghost in the Shell", I say. "Light absorption, light emission, Infrared to Ultraviolet spectrum. Volitionally controlled or camouflage on autopilot." And I show her a little of what I can do, tracing colours in fern-patterns of light across my skin. "Ideally, I'd like to be able to combine invisibility with volitional light." And I vanish again, but leave the patterns seemingly floating in mid air.
"That's quite an effect", she nods. "Will it be good enough if the clothes just go invisible when they detect light from underneath? And I could make the effect localized if the light is only a small area, so you can make sparks and glows while visible, and they will show through."
I reappear and grin. "Seems like it'll work. Do you need to scan me again?"
She nods. "If you please. And after you, Donna too, please."
"Wait, why me?" Donna's surprised. Then recovers. "Oh, my cover for coming in here. But you don't have to... no, forget I said that. Professional pride, right?"
Miss Rogers nods. "Quite so. I'll be billing ARC, but don't worry, not too terribly much just for a sizing and one outfit. And it might come in handy having your sizes on file."
Donna sighs and nods. "I can just see that coming out of my vacation fund. Okay let's get this out of the way."
I get to show the machine my naked self again, and the neat things I can do with a jaw that now opens wide enough it's pretty much down onto my neck, and a smile that pulls wide up into my cheeks, and teeth both long and short. I show the finger claws, and toe claws (not much use, those, as I go around in shoes mostly, but you never know). I do the camouflage thing for the scanner, and make pretty lights and darks. I also bring out my tentacles, and explain how they can go through cloth. Fun fun. No clothes to put back on at the end of it, so I pad back out and let Donna have a go, while I get Miss Rogers - who asks me to call her Cecilia, now, as we know each other - to discuss super-suits. I don't know much about what I'd like except I'd like to go for a bit of a spooky, undersea feel. Perhaps mother-of-pearl look? Scaly? She considers and then suggests close fitted pearlescent fish-skin white with small scales that are optical tricks rather than actual scales. And a domino mask of the same stuff. ("It would be a shame to hide your hair, even if it rather gives the game away, and we need to leave your jaw clear to open.") And of course, with the invisibility gimmick in all of it. I can wear it under a uniform, and vanish the uniform and slap on the mask, and shazam! She does admit, it feels a bit odd to her to have her work so casually copied and destroyed. But I'm not sharing it around, so she doesn't mind it. Except that she thinks if I want to keep permanent duplicates, I ought to pay a royalty per instance. Of course I agree to that, although it doesn't apply yet, who knows for later?
Donna's still being scanned, but Cecilia has a suit for me already weaving itself on the mannikin. It's interesting how the cloth has a little life energy in it as it moves, she's literally animating it, at least to a limited extent. I tell her, and she nods. "It feels alive to me, it has personality, it... doesn't exactly have feelings, but it has pride in a job well done?" She chuckles. "I haven't had anyone believe me about that before. They politely pretend not to think I'm anthropomorphizing."
The suit on the mannikin is fitted glove-like around fingers and toes, there's a ripple in the fabric so it looks like it's separate gloves and boots, but it's actually all one thing. She gestures, and simulated claws pop out - through the fabric of the tips. "It's watertight when they're withdrawn, and it seals around them when they're out", she says. "I've designed this suit for land or water. It's moderately bulletproof, although don't try and take anything armour-piercing. It will spread blunt impacts and stop slashes. The hands and feet have grip to them, even though they look the same as the rest. It won't pick up dirt or mud. It's rain-proof from the outside, and will act like a dry-suit if you swim in it. It blocks or fogs most kinds of scanners, and it works with your invisibility." The fabric comes off the mannikin and drops into my hands. Eagerly I pull it on. Oddly, it's a little large, which makes getting in easy, but it doesn't feel fitted.
Cecilia explains, "Activate it with a spot of glow, here, she taps a place on my spine where the slit down the back ends. I make a glow, and the suit shloops tight around me, including amusingly, around my boobs. Not quite the paint-on effect, but definitely on the erotically form-fitting side. Smart lady knows what I like. "Okay", she continues, "Move the glow up towards your neck". I do that, and I feel something like a zipper effect closing it up. When I'm done, I'm covered literally neck to toe. I wiggle said toes, and pop out their claws, and pop them back in. Putting the domino mask, which doesn't have a strap, against my face, it sticks tightly to my skin. In the mirror, the white of the suit matches my hair, and the mask makes the pink glow of my eyes really pop. Mask and suit blend into my skin at the edges, as if they were grown, not worn. I look like something dangerous that lives five miles down in the ocean.
"I absolutely love it. And I'm gonna wear it all day", I say.
"I'll send you back with a uniform and a gi too, but thank you", she grins. "If you want to make edits, if your shape changes any further, bring it in, and I'll do that."
I nod, "I'm sure I'll be back anyhow, I need to get you to make me some out on the town gear, amongst others. This place is too fun." Which makes her giggle.
And here's Donna, still not looking like herself, but lovely none the less. "Oh wow!" she says with a grin. "Nice look. Get you arrested a number of places for indecent exposure, but nice." I blow a raspberry at her, as the mannikin reshapes to copy her measurements and clothes begin forming for her. It's not truly that indecent - it cups, rather than fitting tight around my crotch, and it blocks my nipples. But ya, definitely on the exhibitionist side of low-drag-factor. Which makes me very happy.
Cecilia pencils something on a bit of paper, folds to hide what she wrote, and hands it to me. "Open that later. For your eyes only." I grin. Oho, even more fun. I stuff the flat-folded paper down the front of the suit, over my boob. I look forward to that.
Meanwhile, Donna gets something that will be a sharp look with her current painted-on disguise, but should work nicely with her natural colouring - a close tailored business suit, but in all white. "You can wear it out, and wrap your current outfit around her new uniform and gi in a bag. That should hide all from hypothetical snoops, although none of my shop's sensors currently register any."
Donna gets changed, and looks wonderful. We both give Cecilia hugs and effusive thanks. And then I camo up, suit and all, and it's on the way again for us.
As we drive off towards ARC, Donna says, looking straight ahead, "I saw that bit of paper, and I'm not gonna be nosy, but if you wanna share?"
"When I read it, I bet I will", I say. "I'm sure it's going to be fun."
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As we drive nearer to ARC, I can see Donna is trying not to squirm in her seat. "What's biting you?" I ask.
"That Cecilia! She gimmicked the suit. I should have known something was up when she let me go without the usual 'pay attention, double oh seven' spiel. The damn thing's silky on the inside and it's amplifying every movement into a caress. Serve me right for using her talents as a mere cover story."
I snicker and it turns into a giggle I can't stop. Which gets me grumpy glares from the side of Donna's still-in-character face. "You don't have to be so amused", she complains.
"It's a cute dirty trick", I manage to get out when I can get the giggle fit under control. "But I'm mostly laughing at how thoroughly she has both our numbers, from barely a glance. That woman!"
"You think I want to wear this?"
"I think she knew I'd do this: you should keep it on. No getting changed into sweats as soon as we reach base. It's a beautiful suit that really looks good on you and the gimmick only improves it."
There's a quiet pause. Then she says, uncertainly, "What makes you think I'll take orders from you like that?"
"Because you want to. She's got your number there. Me and Sara, we're naturally dominant to you, and that fits you like a glove. With us two, your heart automatically lays itself at our feet, and you'd do anything we ordered almost without considering it. You're only giving it hard thought now because I trapped you into looking right at it. If I'd phrased it like a suggestion, you'd be justifying to yourself how it isn't so bad."
A longer pause.
"If that's true", she says quietly, "what does it say about me? Am I wrong? Broken? Why does it feel right and terrify me at the same time?"
I lean across from the shotgun seat and put my head in her lap. "Silly Donna, it means you're a natural sub. You aren't broken. You're beloved, and you know it, and you trust us. It's scary because giving up power is scary. And because society doesn't understand. But we understand, Sara and I."
"She didn't say", poor Donna sounds so subdued.
"She didn't have to. You two naturally fall into role whenever you're around each other. She leads, you take her lead, like dancing."
She pokes me in the invisible head with a fingertip. "So what makes *you* so dominant over me, hmm, missy?" She's sounding amused, this is looking up.
"Sara's a huge natural dom. I'm pretty big that way too. I sub to Sara, and well, sometimes I play games subbing to other people too. But I'm dominant over most people. And you're a natural sub, so that really brings it out in me. The urge to tease, and control, and hold, and protect. It makes you as endearing as a puppy times a million. And you respond as strongly to me, you automatically want to be useful and follow and be told. Which I love. So we just click together that way." I snuggle against her lap, which makes her squirm, as the suit amplifies it up. "And I want you to wear that suit because it's caressing you as much as I want to. And because making you embarrassed and thinking about yourself sexually all day long under the eyes of others is a wonderful game of tease. And yes, I know that Doc Otto's gonna see right through it. Not like he hasn't seen through all the rest too. I guess, if you're psychic, you get used humans being kinky." A lovely blush of lust goes through her, oh I could look at that all day. "Mhm, I saw you react to that. Good girl." Boom, another one. Hehehe.
She makes an "aargh" sort of strangled noise, and I bet you she's blushing beet red under the makeup. "Stop it, idiot, you'll make me blow my cover. We're almost there. Hold your teasing just a bit longer."
"Yes ma'am", I say from in her lap. Which makes her giggle.
We slow to a stop under a wide bridge on a quiet road. "Quick, out, follow me", Donna says, grabbing the bag of clothes, and she high fives another woman who looks a lot like her disguise - but I sense, isn't disguised, she actually looks that way. The other woman gets in the car after I've announced I'm out, and drives straight out from under the bridge. Meanwhile a van comes in, stops, the back opens, we jump in, and off that drives too. "There we go, now Betty will drive around a bit, and we can go straight into ARC without drawing any notice. It should be okay now to decloak." Donna's removing her wig and dabbing at face paint with a solvent-smelling wipe.
"Here, let me" I say, feeling playful. I put out a tentacle, and fork the end recursively. (It takes a lot of selves to keep attention on every tip!) Then I brush it over her face and neck picking off dye molecules. Rather than the smear-and-soak of the wipe, I can grab every single individual one, and give her a nice little spa clean-and-exfoliation into the bargain. Collect all the gunk into a little dark droplet and deposit it on the wipe. "There you go."
She blinks. "Okay, wow. You said you can do tentacles... wow. It's so pretty misty blue, but I couldn't even see the smallest tips. And it just felt like a breath of wind."
I grin. And meanwhile the van is driving down a ramp inside a building, and a rolling garage door closes behind it. "Alright, end of the line, ARC New Hampshire, invisible monsters, cute operatives, and other wonders of science", that's the driver from in front, over an intercom. Smartass. I laugh happily, and jump out when the doors open.
**10th January, 2007, Whateley, fifth period**
Over in school, I've been paying close attention in escape class. Feels like it might have immediate relevance, heh. He's been doing the kinds of escapes anybody can manage, so we learned how to get out of zip ties by jamming something under the ratchet and by busting them off, and some lock picking. The locks we're using are made of transparent plastic, but even so it helps having my gravity sense giving me an overview of the small inside parts. Doing it the human way, I can open one in about twenty seconds of careful, small movements. Being lazy and shaping a tentacle, I can just pop it open as quick as having a key. Fun fun. Sara's almost as fast, because she has to grope out the inside with tentacles first. Paige is surprisingly good at it for someone with no special abilities. When I ask, she explains it was another thing they drummed into her her in her fucked up childhood. Small yay for evil jerks who turned out to be useful? She chuckles and agrees with that characterization.
We get to try a variety of kinds of locks, including a few devisor mechanisms. Now that I've got the hang of it, I can open them all, although I needed to think in more than four dimensions for a few of the hard ones. That gets me a "good work, kid" from Mr Robertson, and grumpy looks from a few of the others.
As the lesson draws to a close, Aquerna comes over to speak to me. "Hi, I just wanted to pass along, I told Caitlin today that you were interested, and she says that she'll meet you after classes outside Crystal Hall. If that's okay?"
I smile and nod. "Yeah thanks, it's really appreciated. It will be fun to just have an uncomplicated run, work out some stress." I don't mention I'm likely to be doing a half dozen other complicated things at the same time. She smiles, clearly the happy to be helpful sort.
And then, as I'm making my way toward religion class, an unsurprising surprise - a brass owl (somebody is having fun with the classical movie references). It flaps down, drops a rolled piece of paper in my hand, hoots and flies off.
Sara, who's walking with me, says "may I?" and I hand it to her, and she scans it with tentacle tips. "Written by Judicator, touched by knick-knack. Their DNA and prints only, beside yours and mine. No magical or chemical booby traps." Hands it back.
I unroll it so we can both see. The message is deliberately vague. "After lessons. Behind Dunn Hall. Under the rose." In other words, about as far from the busy heart of campus as it's possible to get without wandering into the woods. And I'm reading that last phrase as meaning, secrecy is required, don't tell security. Well, I guess we have our ransom note now. All nicely deniable, and if anything, fingering two of the people I'm trying to rescue. I'm going to assume they're being sneaky and will use Counterpoint to monitor my teleports and ensure I don't blab. But what they don't know is I have a copy already in ARC who can just ask to dial up Forsyth directly. I'm going to keep him in the loop on my plan to spring the trap, while at the same time putting up search-spores. And I think I can throw myself a copy of the new uniform from ARC, which means I'll be going in with all my abilities usable. Sara can follow the search spores once they're up, and she can monitor and advise over the mark. She can liaise with the Kimbas, without being seen talking to security. Almost a plan, really. We should be able to hit them in force.
**10th January, 2007, ARC, before sixth period**
"Alright, thank you for passing it along", Forsyth says over the secured line. "I really appreciate that you're working with me here. I'm loath to use you to spring the trap like you're planning, but you're right, they won't lead us to anyone if we just arrest them. You're sure you don't want us to give you a tracker or a wire?"
"Could you guarantee a good devisor couldn't find it? I can relay from here. I know it won't be admissible evidence, but we should be able to bust in on them red handed."
He sighs. "Fair point. Okay. This is all dependent on the Head giving the okay for the search, but I'm on side with it as a provisional plan. Stay in touch if anything changes."
Donna gives me a hug from behind as I hang up. She's still wearing the suit. Good Donna. I snuggle back against her. It feels nice to know I'm loved, even if I am gambling to walk into the tiger's mouth and steal his teeth.
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**10th January, 2007, Whateley, sixth period**
Sixth period sees me split between codes with Paige, and religion with Englund. Oddly enough, even being in religion class under the nose of the enemy feels like the calm before the storm, today. Perhaps because I made such an impression last time, and that left me in rather a good strategic position. I gather from overhearing the pre-class muttering that opinion's divided on whether the sword means my oath had to be true, or that I merely thought it was true, or that it was just a pointy hunk of metal and an unverified assertion. Still, the way all options lean to the positive means Englund will have a hard time pinning horns on me today.
And he's smart enough not to try. He doesn't even begin by giving me a death glare. Instead he hushes the class and dives right in on a subject that actually has me curious to learn.
"Today, we'll be talking about corruption. No, not the kind fuelled by money in unmarked envelopes or dirty political dealing. The kind caused by supernatural entities. You will learn what it is, some examples of entities that can cause it, how to identify it in yourself and others, and how to fight back."
He takes a breath, continues. "Corruption is in its essence a form of mind control, but it's much subtler than mere puppeteering or post-hypnotic suggestion. A corrupted mind has its moral basis twisted, very likely without ever realising it. The individual goes on making decisions that feel right at the time, but which their past self would see as increasingly depraved. Sometimes, they may experience an ethical double-vision, where they see how their perspective has changed, but can't will themselves to undo it. Sometimes, the change is insidious enough they merely feel slight confusion at the actions of their previous, undistorted self. 'Of course we've always cooked and eaten children here, I don't know why my previous self didn't partake.' Now, who can offer me examples of entities and creatures that can cause corruption?"
Of course hands go up and we get the usual suspects. Demons, ghosts, vampires, evil spirits, cursed objects. He nods to each. Someone says "class X entities", and that gets a nod too, although a few confused looks from the class. I put my hand up and when he calls me, I say "humans, if they have the power and inclination", and that gets me a nod and "Yes, correct, I've run into a few, in fact. Some deliberately and some not. Humans with mental powers, and sometimes just humans with great personal charisma. Alright, any more?"
I raise a hand again. As there's nobody else, I get picked a second time. "Um, what if they're corrupting people towards good? Like, what if their ethics are being shifted to a more positive form, like something corrupting racists with fellow-feeling? That isn't meant as a diversion from your question, we've been making suggestions on the basis the corruption was towards evil. But what if, say, angels, make the people around them nicer?"
"We'd normally call that benevolent contagion rather than corruption. But you're right, it is a similar thing." It seems he's determined to give my class contributions a fair shake, although I don't really trust it. He continues, "The difficulty is, benevolence can be a complicated thing to judge, it's more than just good intentions. Suppose you have a cursed rock that influences people around it to be more forgiving. Initially, it causes a reduction in strife wherever it goes. But after a while under its influence, people are shrugging off murder."
"Or the other way around, someone with a balanced sense of right and wrong could have it overly sharpened and become a merciless crusader", I suggest.
Brief blank pause, then he nods. "At any rate, there are definitely entities that have effects *they* think are benevolent and we would judge them otherwise. And so moving on, how do you identify corruption? In other people, you'd think it would be obvious. The trouble is, uninfluenced humans often talk themselves into evil. So what distinguishes corruption?"
Okay, so, was that just me, or was that a swerving change of topic? When I scroll back my eidetic memory, he did look really blank for just an instant after my riposte. Anyhow, later. We discuss the symptoms of corruption, and how they differ from normal ethical drift. Normally when humans change their ethics over time, they recognise it. Like, oh I used to be a Catholic but now I'm a Buddhist, kind of thing. Small changes pass beneath the radar but large ones can't be ignored. People who've been influenced often think nothing has changed. When they're confronted with how radically their earlier actions don't match their present ethic, they're confused, or blank out and then just act as if they hadn't been confronted. Or sometimes, they acknowledge the change in a double-vision way, but regard it as outside their control, inevitable, compelling, and probably good anyway. Their corrupted beliefs pick right back up driving their actions, once the pressure to confront them is off.
Also normally, when people change their mind, they have reasons. People who've been influenced lack reasons, or seem to be making them up on the fly as excuses. The made up reasons can be really weak, but their weakness isn't persuasive. Being impossible to persuade, is another symptom.
Trouble is, of course, normal humans can get themselves into a confirmation bias spiral, sometimes. So it's always a judgment call, although you can improve your accuracy by looking at other evidence, like, is there a beneficiary? Is it of a type of entity that is known to exert influence? Does the influence all point toward this entity's goals?
And then finally, we move on to how to identify corruption in yourself. Englund's belief is that the answer is to have a really well defined ethical framework, and cross check yourself against it constantly. In the same way someone learning to lucid dream practises constantly checking, am I awake? Then have buddies who can pull you out with a pre-authorized psychic intervention.
The glaring gap in that approach is that it has no remedy against the exact situation I mentioned earlier. All the checks would pass. He's plenty smart enough to spot that, and he doesn't. I'm unsure what conclusion to draw from that yet.
As we draw towards the end of the lesson, I can see the strategy behind choosing this topic. He doesn't even have to accuse me of corrupting people, he's got the whole class checking themselves and wondering if I'm putting the whammy on them. It should nicely defuse some of my popularity.
Nor can I really claim innocence. I'm fairly sure I am exerting some influence, at least on the people very close to me, like Paige and Donna. Goodness knows how far the boundary extends. If I'm lucky, ha, I bound it into the fundaments of physical law last Monday evening. And if that's true, there's not a star system anywhere in the uncountable galaxies that won't be feeling it, sooner or later. Now that's somewhere between appalling and nifty. Because of course, I think my influence is *good*. Other people's opinions may differ.
At least, they may differ *now*.
Crypto class was quiet. We covered the abstract theory of modern symmetric and asymmetric ciphers, and how the design of cryptographic systems can be related to mathematical problems whose hardness is either known, or very plausibly estimated. We dug into the internals of a simple stream cipher, and then talked about block cyphers and their modes that let them cover more than one block, starting with the simplest, ECB, meaning one block at a time, then showing its flaws, and digging into more complicated ones involving feedback and counters. Then to finish up, we dug into the internals of a modern block cipher. There's a lot of complex churn in these things. I could do the math in my heads, but it would be a big pipeline.
I think Paige knew most of it already. Although going into the details had her intrigued. I bet she was optimizing code in her head.
And now the classes are over. Cry "Havoc!", and let slip the dogs of war.
Before I split, I take a loo break, that actually consists of receiving a long distance teleport of the new school uniform. Vanish the old, on with the new, I test by cloaking and looking at myself in the mirror. Two very unsettling floating eyes and a Cheshire cat grin. Good good. Back to visibility.
One to go to Circe. I'll fork again when I'm there and search out the portal to downstairs. I don't feel inclined to get knocked out any more than I have to, today.
One to head to Crystal Hall where I can meet Caitlin. That's an important relationship I want to cultivate, I think. And it will be nice to have something simple I can sink my claws into.
One to walk into the trap. Slowly, because I'd like to give the rest of me a head start.
And of course one of me back in ARC, still wearing the nice new super suit, as comms and coordinator. And demonstration of big me, too, if I can fit that in. And Donna-snuggler. That bit is important.
The two of me in Gothmog's place are staying out of it all, but we've been researching slime moulds so we know one when we see it, and know how to pick it apart and put it back together.
Paige is going to be riding cyber cover. All very Shadowrun. Sara's headed to the Kimbas, to fill them in and saddle up the posse, ready to roll out.
Big me feels eager.
Pause, indrawn breath.
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It's dark out as my feet crunch through snow on the path, but Crystal Hall's windows light up the snow - and the figure outside, which my gravity sense immediately picks out as more like a statue than a human. Caitlin Bardue. We already slightly know each other as she does the intro to the ranges class that I got yanked out of earlier. But this is my first time meeting her as just herself.
"Going to run in that uniform?" Not one for hi and hello is Caitlin.
"It'll do", I say. "It's a little more gimmicked than it looks. Mostly useful so I can pop out my toe claws", which I do, they look incongruous sticking out of pseudo-regulation school shoes, "And because I'm lazy and don't wanna change." Pop them back in. "Nice to meet you."
She chuckles. "Nice to meet ya too. Lazy, I can understand and sympathise with. So. Rules of running. You move physically, no powers. Try to keep up. Don't die. I heard you used tentacles to climb this building yesterday?"
I nod. Pop one out to show her. "I'm not sure if they count as powers."
She looks closely. "Solidified sorcery, but moves like it's part of you. I'd say, try to do it with hands. Those probably make it no challenge. And some day you may need the skill. Use 'em to catch yourself if you lose confidence, but keep em in if you can. You got claws on your fingers too?" I show them. "Interesting. Biological, but like a construct. Lot of small fine work in those. Try not to scratch up the buildings. It'll be your ass out here with a trowel and plaster if you do, but they'll yell at me for encouraging it, and I don't like that."
"Bet there's a story in that", I say.
"More than one. Let's see if you can get back up without the tentacles?" And she's off, heading up the shining wall like a spider, using the support struts. I follow.
Meanwhile, the one of me heading to the rendezvous at Dunn is going over the surface, the one headed to Circe is going through the tunnels. My hope is, all eyes will be on the one visible in the open.
That hope is dashed as my way through the tunnel is blocked by two boys. One older and blond, one looking about my age and red haired and glaring daggers at me.
The older one says, "Look, you have no idea how little I wanted to be mixed up in this mess, but he did *insist* that you not be allowed to run to the staff for..."
Like I'm going to let him finish monologuing. A flicker of warp carries me into touch range and a finger tip touch on each shows me nobody's bothered fitting them with protective wards, and that's game over for the both of them as I lock their every muscle below the neck into tetanus.
"...ow. Help", he finishes, as I catch and steady the two of them with tentacles.
"This is me being nice", I say. "Like, I didn't stop your heart, or turn your immune system loose against every cell in your body, or lyse your red blood cells and watch you gasp yourself unconscious. I'm guessing that 'he' is Imperious, right?"
"I, uh, can't say. Like literally, I can't say", the blonde one replies. Obviously he's been given orders. Fair enough.
The redhead snarls, "So what you gonna do, break us like you broke my sister?"
"Your sister?" A moment of confusion and it clicks. "Apollo, huh? I didn't break her. Last I saw, she was grateful, in fact. I think you've been lied to."
"Like I'll believe some damn monster."
"Would you believe Circe? Because that's who I'm headed to see. I believe I'll take the two of you along."
As I pick them up and tote them in tentacles like two not very heavy pieces of luggage, the blond says after a thoughtful but strained pause, "I think I would believe Circe."
It turns out that it's not just Circe waiting for me in the entrance of Kirby, it's also Mrs Carson. Circe, of course, is unflappable despite my strange cargo. The headmistress, on the other hand, does the Spock eyebrow and says, "I'm sure you have some explanation?"
"They were sent to block me from reaching here. Under compulsion, I believe. And more compulsion not to name the guilty party. I want them to witness what we're doing."
Mrs Carson turns to Circe. "Would it be safe?"
"Not if it was the same as last time", Circe says. "Even through all my wards, I had a thumping headache."
I say, before the Head can forbid it, "She plans to tone herself down a lot. No change of form. Human speech. I give you my word, it will be safe."
Circe considers, and then nods.
Mrs Carson looks torn. "Please, explain why you want to involve them. I'm sure you have a reason beyond showing off."
So I have to explain what happened last night with Erin. Circe winces a bit, as she realises that what she did came through on all copies of me. And the Head winces, as I describe how big me did the soul-level surgery that cut Erin free of her attachment. I have to reassure her that Erin was fine, and grateful. I describe how I think this has resulted in Imperious setting up this half-smart kidnap and ransom to try and leash her again. The head looks at my now-propped-upright captives. "Tracer. Is this true?"
"I can't say, ma'am" - so the blond is Tracer. "But what I can say, is that she used to have to take his direct orders when he bothered giving them to her face. But I saw her defy them, today."
That gets "What! Shit! You let me believe..." from the redhead.
"I only just found that loophole." Tracer interrupts, sounding frustrated at how tightly he's bound up with limitations.
I say, "So now, if I let the two of you loose, you'll not attack or run?" I get two nods. Unsurprising given we're with two of the scariest people on the staff. A finger-touch repairs the small nerve damage that was flooding their motor nerves, and they slump, with tentacle assistance, to the floor, panting like they've run a race.
Then to the Head, "So the reason I want them along is twofold. To show I'm serious about helping Erin, not harming her. And to offer these two an option of being disconnected too, in circumstances where I can block any compulsion."
"Oh we definitely don't consent to be disconnected", says the blond. "We love dancing on a leash. I can definitely assert how much I love kissing ass. Please, spare me from this horrible liberty."
Which gets a sympathetic look from the Head. "Alright. Shall we?"
Circe looks at me, a pause, then frowns. "You have wards up against the knock-out spell?" Not like she couldn't batter through my amateurish efforts, but still.
"Don't need it", I say, as another me peeps around the corridor and waves, before disappearing. "I already found the door. I was searching while we spoke."
The Head and Circe share a glance, then "Lead on. And carry those two, please." They're snoring, it's cute.
The grass behind Dunn Hall is all but clear of prints, and my feet make inch-deep indentations in virgin snow. As expected, they sent Judicator and Knick-knack, the designated fall guys if security were to sweep down and arrest everyone. I walk over to meet them.
"You were stupid to come", Judicator says. "We can't help you. We aren't your friends here."
"I know", I say. "You don't need to be. Lead on."
I think maybe I see a spark of hope in Judicator's eyes. But it's momentary. "Wear this blindfold, please."
As soon as I put it on, my gravity sense vanishes. A spell? No, because my sorcery doesn't pick it up. I think it's being imposed from outside. Probably Counterpoint, watching from cover somewhere, using a copy of my warping to mess with the spatial curvature and make it impossible to read. It's one of my powers he can counterfeit. But they want me to think it's a spell, perhaps, as a bit of misdirection. At any rate, I can't exactly track where we're going any more. I can use life sense to get a sort of bug-and-plant wireframe of the space around me, but it doesn't have the same range. Doesn't matter, anyhow. The search spores will do their job.
Down in Circe's lab, she has modified her spell, after I asked her to help big me learn to do this on her own. It's supposedly more of a guiding light than a summoning, now. The Head has refused to give permission until she can speak to big me in person, so we need to get a move along. Our two witnesses sit, hushed and looking a little scared, off to the side.
I *think* I can keep this from spilling over onto my other bodies. But I do pause and warn Caitlin, "If I get really weird, I may have to pause. Stuff going on in my other bodies. It's a busy night."
"Sounds like there's a story in that", she says.
"Pretty epic one, but it's still being written. Tell you when it's finished."
She grins. "I'll hold you to that."
Over in ARC, I'm sitting on a comfy couch, snuggled up to Donna. I've been giving a running commentary, with Forsyth on speaker-phone. They want me safely off my feet in case big me makes me stumble. There's a million instruments and cameras pointed at me, and quite a few personnel, mages, telepaths and the like.
Behind Dunn, Judicator leads me to step up onto a sort of floaty thing, then the two join me and it starts moving, slowly enough there's no sensation. I'd be confused if I couldn't feel the plants flowing by beneath. We pass through some sort of portal - a change to interior bugs and wall moulds, and I feel it close and cut off the sense of grass behind me.
"Well damn, if it isn't the impertinent little mortal herself. You actually took the bait." A voice I know, Imperious.
Under Kirby, Circe starts her chant, and the circle lights up with magic. And big me responds. The feeling of being inverted, me rising through me, is familiar. But she's using a smaller pseudopod - less a whole mountain this time, more like an enormous spear of stone. And recruiting some of my parallels into its structure as go-betweens. We're afraid, but exhilarated.
She surfaces. The only indicator is the shadows thrown up by my much brighter eyes.
"I am here. I understand the plan. I greet you, mother of the school. I greet you again, long human mage."
Over in ARC, she says "Mother by choice and greatly beloved, I greet you. Curious humans, I greet you. Distant protector, I greet you."
in Kirby, Carson says, "Good evening. So, apologies for my abruptness but we're in a hurry. I need you to convince me that it's safe to let you introduce this 'search spore' into the campus. I have students who have breathing difficulties and allergies. And I have a responsibility to protect the school, and the world, from the introduction of an invasive life form."
Big me says, "Not natural life. Constructed. Designed. Exists to search, indicate, then stop. No allergens. Will dissolve to sugars and fats in contact with mucous membranes. Not capable of respiration. Preloaded with compressed adenosinetriphosphate. Scramblers."
"Scramblers?" the Head is confused.
"Unreal life form in human recorded thought image. Author, Peter Watts. Fast but preloaded with energy. No respiration. Same technique."
Surprisingly a comment from the side bench, from Apollo's avatar, the redhead. "It would work. I've read that book. She means that the stuff she wants to make would come with all the energy they'll ever have in their lives, preloaded inside the cells. That means a lot of normal life processes can be stripped away, leaving bare essentials. Something like that could move like greased lightning while it had energy, no rate limits, only a budget limit. With the budget gone, it just dies. Impossible for it to become invasive."
"Accurate summary", big me says. "Consent yesno?"
"Do it", says the Head.
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Big me is being careful not to give the game away this time, so nothing shows she's here, but I can feel her presence as a reassurance. Judicator lifts my blindfold off - as expected, gravity sense is still being jammed - and the hover-platform settles to the floor in what looks like a classroom.
I say looks like, but I think they haven't counted on my life sense, which is telling me there's a void past the "classroom" wall, and the critters there are very different. If I had to guess, I'd say underground life. No plants. Moulds, crickets, spiders. But the inside of the room is a pretty flawless trick. Institutional strip lights and cream painted walls. Desks. Posters. A whiteboard. Graffiti. The only slight off note is the complete absence of anything that might identify it as more than "a room, somewhere". And of course, almost the full complement of the New Olympians are here. Judicator and Knick-knack beside me. Imperious and Majestic, sitting on desks in their uniforms, looking like well dressed delinquents. Counterpoint, playing with a big nasty knife. Erin, nailed to a wall. She's not bleeding, so she's probably regenerated around the wounds. Not nice.
"Now would be a good time for you kidnapping idiots to hand yourselves in to security and pray they only give you detention until you graduate", I say. Of course they won't do that, but I need to play for time.
"Why don't you walk out the door and call them yourself?" Counterpoint. "I bet you that I could fucking nail you with this knife before you make it out."
"Not taking your sucker bet. Let Erin down!" Odds on, the door doesn't even open. If it did, it wouldn't be into a nice civilized school hallway.
Imperious says, "You're throwing around a lot of orders for someone who is not in any position to make demands. I on the other hand, am in a position to. So here's the rules. One, I know you can just up and disappear. If you do so, Counterpoint there carves a bit off your friend. Then we invite you back again. Don't worry, she'll regrow it. But you'll know you left her here, screaming. Two, you sass me or Majestic, there will be consequences. Your situation will get worse. Probably a bad idea to sass Counterpoint either, but I'll leave that up to him." Said psycho gives a nasty grin. "Three, you don't speak unless you're asked a question. You shut the fuck up and listen. Have I made myself clear?"
"Crystal", I say. If he wants to monologue, I want him to monologue.
Outside, Caitlin pulls to a sudden stop, and holds up a hand. "Hold up. Something big going on. Damn, that feels like the wolves, their kind of magic, we need to get inside quickly, this could get bad."
"It's me, I'm doing it", I say. "So it's not an invasion or an attack. Should be a little bit spectacular though."
"You? How?" Her worry turns to confusion.
"Another body. A larger part of my self." I can hear big me's layered, fluid song silently ringing in my ears, she's singing and dancing the spell, layering words of sorcery into a fractal of melody that won't harm the listening humans as it controls an uncountable myriad of smaller, much more detailed spells that are forming. "Look up", I say. Carbon dioxide, water, nitrogen, drawn together high above. DNA, weaving itself. Proteins, shaping and folding. Cell membranes, organelles, enclosing. Billions of identical cells, falling. The light from the campus street lights goes pink, it's like a fog. There's a smell, but I couldn't describe it beyond smoky.
Caitlin's gaping. "Holy mother of god how big is that? That had to be miles wide. And what the god-damn hell are you doing? I half followed that magic, you're artificing.. life? In absolutely fucking vast quantities. That was the most enormous spell I have ever seen." She looks down at her arm, where pink traceries are forming like fine lace. "What is it doing?"
Oops. "Uh sorry. I forgot some students have inorganic skin. It's searching you. Looking for my missing friend. Don't worry, it should run off once it decides you haven't got her in your pockets."
"Well, damn. You should have told me you were busy."
"I'm not", I point out. "Other me's are busy. This me is here. Shall we run? It might be a bit more slippery, though."
"No, I think we've run enough for tonight", she says, looking at her arm where the lacework of pink has started to drip off. Oh dear. I hope I've not annoyed her. She catches that look and says, "Yes, I'm annoyed. You should've let me know. Please tell me you have permission for this?"
"From the Head, directly", I say. "Circe is monitoring. This is just a way to resolve a nasty little kidnapping situation before anyone gets hurt."
She sighs. "Alright. But the run is still over, because I don't know how this stuff behaves, and I'm not stupid enough to risk my neck in untried conditions. As for you, you're good, but I'm worried you aren't safety minded. Let's just say, you aren't in yet. I'll decide later if you get another try."
I nod. It's fair, I didn't warn her.
In the fake classroom, Imperious is getting to the end of his rant. "You will return what belongs to ME! The only way she leaves this room alive is back in my control. And then you will take your punishment, which will be epic enough they will be reading about it in classics classes, badly translated, three thousand years from now!"
I pretend to be afraid. "I need to bring big me forward to do the reconnection."
"Do what you must", he says, disgusted.
I make my way over to Erin, who says weakly, "Don't... do it. Won't let you live. Know too much."
Counterpoint comes over with his big knife and says, "Nobody fucking asked your opinion, traitor. Maybe I'll cut your tongue out?"
Big me fills my eyes, and the glow brightens, casting shadows. Erin says, "Please, don't." I think Counterpoint thinks she's speaking to him, but she isn't, she's speaking to me. Big me pushes thoughts directly into her head. "Trust me. Safe. I will protect." The relief on her face confuses Counterpoint for an instant.
And then there's one of me standing by each of them, and I touch them. Rats, there's wards on the big three. I get Judicator and Knick-knack though, and they drop unconscious where they were standing. Evidently traitors don't merit protection, a miscalculation on their part because they're already two down.
I fill the room with copies of me. We all extend our teeth and claws, and the fight begins in earnest. Both Majestic and Imperious are strong. Not quite as strong as me, and there's lots of me, but they've got other powers. Majestic is slinging spells, although big me finds swatting them aside pretty easy. Imperious is throwing lightning. Turns out I can tank it, but it still knocks me on my ass and hurts, a lot. Yeah okay, enough being a martyr, pain switch set to off.
Counterpoint is doing murder. I'm losing bodies fast, although I can keep making more. Gut stabbed, spine severed, throat cut, he's like a blender in human form. It's not pleasant, even now I do have my pain turned off. There's no point waiting on regeneration, I just let the killed bodies vanish.
A stray bolt hits the lights and fuses them, and the room goes black, then a dim emergency light clicks on. Perfect timing. All of me vanish, except we're not hiding our shining eyes and long sharp teeth. Except when we are. One invisible for every three visible.
It helps. Majestic is just cowering. Imperious is sparking and punching, sparking and punching, but he looks tired and afraid and badly scratched up by sharp claws.
"You think I can't fight what I can't see?" Counterpoint on the other hand, is having a ball. I feel something shift, and gravity sense comes back on line. Ha, switched powers, did you?
A smoky smell makes me smile. Suddenly, fine wispy threads of bioluminescent glow radiate out from Erin, and start pulsing, widening rapidly into gleaming lines of light. Pulse, pulse, pulse. She's here. Found her.
"What the fuck is that", asks Imperious.
"That is a shitstorm about to drop on your head. Now would be a good time to surrender", I say.
"Not if I fucking kill her", Counterpoint is beating his way over towards Erin, throwing murdered bodies left and right. Oh well, no more miss nice Parallel. Sorcery level all the way up to "sorry, Nikki." Big me rips crudely right through Majestic's wards, making her scream and drop unconscious. And we throw a command into Counterpoint's body to fire every nerve in his body at max. Boom, he drops like he's having a stroke, which he basically is, kicking and thrashing on the floor like a poisoned spider.
"Surrender or die" I say to Imperious. I'm lying, I'd only hurt him a lot.
He doesn't know that. What he does know is that I dropped his tame psychopath like a rag doll, and he's the last man standing. "I surrender. I give you my word."
And done. A me next to Counterpoint touches him and resets the command to just unconsciousness. All the more injured bodies of mine vanish. And with one of them I pad over to Judicator and Knick-knack. Now to take the tiger's teeth.
As big me is cutting them free of their leashes - and the two in Circe's lab - another me comes to comfort Erin. "Won't be long now. We'll get you down, but they have to see what was done." She nods.
A few minutes pass. Noise outside. A hole is smashed in the wall, and Hank flies in. He's followed by Forsyth and a bunch of security guys with flashlights, that reveal the room again. It's an absolute mess. Blood literally dripping off the roof and on every surface. Nearly all of it mine.
I wake Judicator and Knick-knack, now free agents, and everyone's led, or carried out, while docs deal with Erin. The other Kimbas and Sara are there, and I have to promise a big favour to Nikki, for her to go clean up the nasty distortion in the room, as well as the residue in Counterpoint and in Majestic.
It turns out we were under the school, in natural caves connected to a really deep part of the tunnels. This was probably their sneaky long term project, a lair they used to frighten people, or just hang out and plot world domination. Most anyone brought down there by portal would have no clue it wasn't a classroom, but their reports to security would leave people scratching heads and doubting their story. And of course, no matter where they looked, up above, they wouldn't find that one classroom.
After they're cuffed, I take the unconsciousness off Majestic and Counterpoint too. It's a long, weary climb back up to the surface level, and I'm not inclined to burden some security guy with dragging their sorry asses. Erin is carried up gently, wrists still pinned to two broken off pieces of wall. They want to do x-rays for safety's sake before they take the nails out. And then I get to sit in security, with a much deserved cup of hot coffee, and tell Forsyth the story.
Over in ARC, there's much celebration. Big me stays out, for a bit, to answer questions and get probed by scientists. Also, to properly give some attention to Donna. They let us have a room alone. Big me gives her the same never-die-of-age mods we gave the doc, as well as sharpening up her beauty and giving her regeneration as good as mine. And then we do a sort of mind meld, and big me just pours love into her in an impossible torrent until she almost passes out from it, then we bask in her love back.
The search spores stay active until morning, bright pulses of light now marking Doyle as Erin's location. When the sun comes up, they stop, and begin to dissolve back to the elements that temporarily made them.
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