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I allow the strain of the day to flow out of me, and focus down on the stump arm of my beloved. Why does it hurt her like this? Holding it, I can feel the cells at the edge, gradually repairing what was cut off. But the feeling it gives me is almost of her regeneration dragging its feet. It's going as slow as it can - full repair would take years. Big me slides forward to help me, and I shift levels. I can see her soul-shape, one soul stretched over two bodies and becoming two souls - really, all the way done becoming two, now, but still joined by a thread that has become a sort of residual bond. Perhaps she could chat over it, with a bit of practise?
That's part of the puzzle, but it doesn't give me the answer I'm after. Big me makes a suggestion, and I agree, so we change levels again, diving down, going deep past her surface mind to the primal mind of the body itself. It's a dark space of urges and drives and intense, hidden feelings, and finally down here, I get something solid. There's an urge we can feel associated with refusal to regenerate - mourning, wistful yearning, stubbornness, a wish to rejoin. Somehow, the stump arm knows its severed counterpart is out there, alive. The soul connection is giving it hope, and it refuses to let go. It's holding back the healing to keep alive the hope of reconnecting with its severed counterpart, and becoming one again.
That's honestly such a sweet reason that I find myself deeply moved, and that helps, I can flow with the feeling and guide it because I can empathize. Together, we feel the sadness, reaching out, begging for what was lost to come back. Slowly, to that, I mix in an understanding of the other-who-is-like-self, Petra. How she grew into a whole person. How she now has a soul, and that's the life connection the body was feeling. One has become two, the second is separate, but beloved. We can let her go, because she is not gone. Gradually, grief turns to wistfulness. And joy for a softer kind of reconnection, when I show the body what was being held just earlier, her twin, same flesh, come together in love. We can touch again what we thought we had lost. But it would help to have a hand to hug with...
And just like that the regeneration releases back to its original, high speed. Bidding loving goodbye, my focus returns back to the surface, and Paige is crying, looking at her stump that has already regrown by a finger width.
"You did it, how, what did you do?" So I tell her, and she's moved to tears by the feeling her arm was just being faithful for its missing piece. So we all pet her regrowing arm, it's silly, but it feels right. And she promises it lots of hugging Petra.
Odd to switch from what feels sublime to the mundane, but Paige's regen makes it clear she'd like some food by making her stomach grumble loudly, which breaks the tension and makes us all giggle.
The crowd in Crystal Hall is subdued and murmurous, without many shoulder angels to be seen. The sudden imposition of movement restrictions has everyone curious and worried. As I'm fetching food, I hear all sorts of speculation. An invasion. A cover-up. A plague of yeti. (Okay, I just made the last one up.) As I'm heading back to my two tables with trays of lasagne and salad and ice cream, there's a banging noise, someone thumping on a table. Talk dies to a murmur. It's the Head, stood up.
"Quiet please!" She waits for the murmuring to quit, glaring at a few hold-outs until they hush. "Thank you. You've been informed of the bare basics of the temporary movement restrictions via campus tannoy, but I'm now about to explain why they're being imposed. Someone, it presently appears from outside, has taken the very poor decision to shoot at one of my students. Luckily, that student was not seriously harmed, this time. Until the matter is resolved, I'm afraid we'll all have to avoid open areas where they might attempt to repeat their mistake."
"Now I know", she continues, "from personal experience in fact, that some of you feel invulnerable, and that as a result you'll chafe under these restrictions. Please understand they are in part protecting your friends who have a baseline's vulnerability to bullets. Please also understand, that just because you are bulletproof, does *not* mean you are safe. Weapons come in all sizes, people! If you can stop a rifle bullet, can you stop an anti-tank round? I would rather you not discover your limitations by dying of them."
She takes a breath, then, "Everyone, and that means everyone, students and staff, will move above ground only in the areas authorized by security, unless they have been given special dispensation otherwise. Behind the provided cover, not flying above it or peeking around it for a lark. If shooting breaks out, you will go *quickly* to the nearest building and then get underground as soon as possible, allowing the most vulnerable people in first."
A pause, and a sigh. "My apologies for this, I intend this situation to be under control very soon, and then restrictions will be relaxed. That will be announced over the tannoy. Until then, stay safe. Thank you, that's all." And she sits down.
Well, that sets everyone talking! I think honestly, whoever did this is doomed. It won't just be the capes after them, it will be the villains too. The school has a lot of pull. And, well, us. Shooting at Paige is not okay.
She meanwhile, keeps glancing at her arm, which has reached the point of starting to make a hand. Sara's mothering her a little, cutting up her food for one handed eating, making the best of the opportunity, I think.
We all three reached the unspoken decision that it's best not to spread around that it was Paige who got shot at. She likes to keep a low profile, and this would make her the object of a lot of school-wide speculation. So when the Kimbas are throwing around theories of what's going on, I just keep quiet and eat my food.
In fact, I'm out of the conversation enough that I'm drifting a little - until I hear my name, pause and rewind a moment... it was Bunny. I smile, because I'm fond of her, and say, "Sure, yeah, what?"
"I need to talk to you afterward. Jade, you too. It's engineer stuff." And suddenly Toni the gossip isn't bending an ear to hear it, heh. Jade and I are the only ones who run with the gearheads.
After dinner, as one of me is headed to my job and another headed back to Sara's room with most of the Pack, I leave a self to loiter by the entrance until Bunny and Jade meet me there.
"So, this is like, a secret, okay?" Bunny begins. "It's not super duper secret, but it's not for anyone who isn't an engineer. Jade, you're initiated, they've called the worn wrench, we need to meet after curfew, down in the labs." That gets a frown and a nod from Jade. "Jules, you aren't yet, you can't come this time, but I can tell you what it's about. That nasty Tansy Walcutt beat poor Greasy into the hospital. He'd have died of it, if he wasn't just a hop and a skip from Doyle. So we're gonna hold a meeting about it, and we're gonna call open season on her, I think."
I wince. "I don't know him personally but maybe I should go over there and see if they want any help with him? I might be able to help heal him or something."
"I heard Jericho's on that with some of his new medical devises", Bunny says. "But no harm in asking. Just, tomorrow, mind that you don't walk too close to Tansy in case any of the pranks have splash-over."
I nod. "So, I'm taking it, it's not gonna be open season of the beating up kind, more like worms in her bed and ink in her shampoo?"
Bunny nods. "Yeah, the engineers, we're mostly not the beating folks up sort, but it doesn't mean we'll sit still for some no good, nasty piece of work using one of us as a punching bag! So I hope she gets the full portion of what she deserves. And may she take a lesson from it."
Works for me. "I'm down with that. I hope they think up some really inventive ones. I can be available any time if you want my help, although I know I'm not an insider yet."
Jade grins, "We're gonna get that done reeeal soon, don't you worry."
Bunny nods, "Yeah, we will. And I doubt we'll tap you for help, but, the offer's kindly taken."
Thoughts of engineering as I take the tunnel to Doyle, get me pondering what kind of a project I might make. And an idea occurs, which gives me a big, slightly scary grin. Maybe big me can help navigate the physics, because I want to do this elegantly. Fun fun!
Offering my help at the reception desk gets me looked at funny, I'm not one of the medical track people here yet (I'd definitely like to pick that up), so they don't know me. I offer Doc Bellows as a reference. The receptionist makes a call to him, looks surprised, then hangs up. Makes another call, and a couple of minutes later, a man in a white medical coat walks in. "Hi, I'm Doctor Raul Tenant. I hear you've offered your help to Adam Lambert. Doctor Bellows is supposedly convinced you're a miracle worker. However, I haven't heard that you're received any medical qualifications?"
I shake my head. "When I use life sense on someone, I know what every cell in their body is doing, I can see their genes, and I can control stuff. And I've read the medical library at ARC, although I'm not experienced in it."
He nods. "Alright. I need to give you some advice, and it's hard to hear, but I'd like you to give it an honest hearing, okay?" I nod. He continues, "We get a few kids in every batch with powers like yours. And we routinely get offers of help from them, and I have to tell them all the same thing. Unless it is literally life or death, unless you are stuck in a situation with a wounded person and no way to get them here to us, you must *not* use your powers to practise medicine. Even then, hold it down to first aid if possible. Enrol on the healer track here, go to med school when you graduate, then use them. But do not just jump in with them and make repairs."
I must have looked grumpy, because he says, "Yeah, I know. We always get the same reaction. Why not, I was only helping, are you trying to defend your special guild privileges? No. I'm saving lives. You see, and I'm making an analogy here, but your power presents the human body as a set of knobs you can turn and levers you can pull, right? That's usually how it goes."
"Kinda sorta", I agree.
"Okay so. How I see it, with my doctor's training and years of experience, the body is more like a bunch of structural members in a too-clever-by-half building, that all lean on one another. When things are good, they move and take up the slack, no matter what's going on outside, and the inside stays fine. When things are not so good, that's like one or two of them being busted, they lean funny, they transfer weight between them so now maybe one of the ones that was good is overloaded and it starts to creak and pop. When things get *real* bad, they don't just break, they pull others down, the load moves around and keeps breaking more stuff, it's a mess and a nightmare. Into that steps you, who just... commands one or another of them to stand up - and they do. But where's the load going? Where's the *moving* load going, in fact? So what you will find is you prop one up one and another will go, then you grab that and two others fly wildly out of control, and soon you're juggling a dozen things gone wrong, and you lose track and it all comes crashing down ten times as hard. Your power is not going to let you run every damn system in a human being on manual while they are all squirming against your control. So save yourself the guilt, and just don't. Okay?"
Maybe with as many minds as I have, with big me's help, I could do that, run a person on manual. But it would be bad to discover I couldn't. He has a fair point. Which makes me sigh, and nod. "Okay, point made." Frustrating as it is.
He nods. "Good. Thank you, but no, we will not be needing your help tonight. But I hope this increases your interest in a properly qualified and trained career in medicine, rather than reduces it. I'll recommend you into the healer track if you'd like?"
I nod. "Please."
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I'm a little disappointed with how things turned out at Doyle, but, I can see the Doc's point. Did I do a bad thing with Doc Bellows and Donna when I edited them? Thinking about it, no. I wasn't trying to heal a system breakdown, I was just making improvements. That seems to fall outside the "collapsing building" issue. Okay.
I need to be a bit more cautious making the teleport back to Poe. I know Erin isn't in yet, she's with other me, but someone might be moving her stuff in. I find that I can sort of feel around, before I fold space and make the jump. Time to get out of my uniform and see if I can't find Zenith.
Meanwhile, maintenance is underground for obvious reasons. I have to apologise for being a nuisance, first I end up in detention, which means I have to do my work at a different hour, then I'm missing a day for being dead a lot. "You sure don't look dead" says Morrie, amused. He's the only one around this time.
"I looked dead enough", I say, remembering. Intestines should stay on the inside. That really was an unpleasant mess and a half.
He catches my wince, and says, "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that. Sore subject?"
"Let's just say it isn't a comfortable one yet. I have a perfect memory. That has its downsides", I say. He nods, understanding.
At least today's work is just putting up some conduits and laying cable, that's something I can lean into and flush the memories out of my focus.
When the Pack gets to Sara's room, we all go in and then she rotates it to keep out nosy ears. Paige's now fully regrown arm is the subject of much curiosity. So with everyone sworn to keep it quiet, we explain the sniper, and the aftermath. But that has them confused too, why was Paige's arm missing Petra? Why did someone shoot at Paige?
Paige looks at Sara, and me, and sighs. "Okay. This really is very secret, and it'll take a long time to tell. I promise we'll get to the bit in the end where you understand what Petra and I are to each other. But it's going to be a long journey. Are you all cool with that?"
I put an arm around her, I know it must be scary. She's kept her secret completely, but perhaps she just feels cared for and protected enough now, to tell her close friends. Everyone nods, and agrees. And so Paige launches into her tale. I've read it, but hearing it from her own lips changes things.
Several minutes later, she concludes, "So you see, I'm a werecat, a cyberpath, a national security existential threat in hiding behind a false identity here, wanted dead or alive and probably mostly dead. I've got a sister who grew from my own cut-off arm, one soul stretched across two bodies, four selves split two for her, two for me, although one of hers died. Until today, I think they believed I was on ice a mile down underneath ARC. That may have changed. And there you go, that's me and my damn story."
She gets instantly hug-piled. Nobody could hear that story and not want to leap to her defence a hundred times over. And I think despite herself, being hugged and stroked and made a fuss off by everyone really helps, perhaps it's the cat in her, but she's purring (in human form!). I give Sara a hug too for rescuing her. Miss "rarr! I'm a demon!" has tears in her eyes. I wish people knew how loving she is.
And then we have to plan.
Up until now, the plan's been simple. Keep her head down, hide her full powers, build a new life in her assumed identity. But the sniper changes things. I tell them about my thought that it may have been aimed at me. Which they agree is plausible, given how big a thing it is to break the accords and attack on school grounds. But shooting at Paige, and missing, that implies someone recognised her. Someone who knew her face and knew what she could do. We know the sniper took a mauling, but we also know they were evacuated, and it's reasonable to assume whoever did it was taking them back to a medical team. So if they haven't blabbed yet, they probably will. Even if they don't, speculation about that shot will draw attention to Paige, and what one can recognise, so can another. Therefore we have to operate on the assumption Paige's cover is blown. Petra's may be too.
She could run and hide. Gothmog's realm is both a citadel, and a secret bridge that can move the two of them around the planet if need be, without any Imperial entanglements. A new name, a new identity, and start again, yet again. Of course, there's a number of problems with that. It would break several hearts. It would take Paige out of perhaps the best protected place on the planet, and out of close contact with people who can look after her. And perhaps worst, it might not even work. On the basis of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me", the feds would keep looking. No secret identity is foolproof, there's always an element of hiding from notice more than hiding from thorough examination. Therefore she could never settle. That would be no kind of life.
She could stay put, do nothing out of the ordinary, make no fuss, keep up the cover story, and hope it wasn't breached. Best case, that works as it has been doing until now. Worst case, it already failed, and we'd give them time to plot while we stay ignorant. And then we'd have to react without having the initiative. But even so, that's kind of the default plan.
Then I point out there's a third option. Everyone here knows about my influence by now. Not everyone knows about Sara's plan for a big off-world conference, my plan to announce about influence over WARS, and then our plan to introduce me to the world at the conference - and back up the WARS broadcast. That's really step one in our plan to be seen not as a bunch of mutant schoolkids, but a power in the world. One that will stand for the good of all, against the bureaucratic systems of the world, while bridging between humans and GOOs.
One that could say, Paige is ours, you will keep your paws off. And have the teeth to back it up.
In that scenario, Paige stops hiding. Perhaps at the conference, perhaps right away. She lets the school see her powers. She accepts the government will find out, preempting what news our sniper might deliver.
Of course, there's downsides to that too. We're going to have to start protecting her straight away. And because it will put a strain on the school, we really ought to involve the Head in the decision before we do anything.
Actually, I've got a few things I really ought to be talking to her about already. Heh.
I wonder if it's that, that reminds Jet. But she says, "Um, Jules. I'm deeply deadly sorry for blurting it out loud, and I hope it doesn't bite you, but, are you gonna tell us any more about the thing, um, at lunchtime?"
Okay, I can do that. "You mean the bit where I'm pregnant?" I tease. Which has everyone except Paige and Sara blurting a million questions. Who's the father? Myself, another of my bodies. No, it's genetically fine, I should know. She's called Junior at the moment, I plan to ask her what name she wants. She's over in Gothmog's realm. Yes, that's part of what we were up to over there so much. She's a tenth of a millimeter wide and implanted today. No the Head doesn't know, but she'll almost certainly have caught the rumour and will come sniffing around, we need a plan for that. No, I won't abort her. She's a person to me already, although I admit some of that may be projection. But she feels like a contented, growing little thing. Yes, anyone from the Pack who wants, I'll let them come over and see me and meet her, like I did with Jade. I was meaning to tell everyone, I just didn't get around to it. We can do that tomorrow morning, it's a bit late to all rush over tonight.
Turns out I'm overruled on that. It's not too late for them! So other me clears it with Gothmog, he says okay, and here's the door again.
For some of them - Jamie, Erin, Hippy, this place was only an abstraction until now. They've seen Gothmog over here, but it isn't the same. So they get amazed looks - we portalled directly into the building this time, but the room is beautifully ornate. And yet more dropped jaws when one of me comes in with another of me on a leash and bare ass naked. Their reactions make me have a giggle fit, in fact. Which gets me frowned at and called a jerk, but breaks the tension. Paige grabs a seat on one of the comfy sofas, she's seen this all before and I think, is enjoying not being the center of attention for the first time tonight. Sara goes and sits by her. The others crowd around the two of me who've been staying here. I have to hush them with "Slow down, one at a time!", because although I can follow the overlap of all the questions at once, I can't answer them.
"Why are you naked?" Erin, she sounds curious.
"I'm playing a game of being sexually submissive to other me. It's honestly just a bit of fun. Something to do with the body, since I have to keep it around."
"Are you the pregnant one, then?" Jamie, who looks like she doesn't get any of this.
I nod. "Yeah, that's me. Other me was already here to study, I fled here from the school after deciding to keep the baby, which wasn't the original plan."
Jet asks, "How did you get pregnant? I thought you could control that kind of thing?"
I nod. "Deliberately, is the answer, because, yes, I can control it. I was horny and wanted to feel pregnant. And then when I did, I suddenly was really determined not to stop. And now, Junior is there, and I love her, so I'm staying pregnant."
"Why is pregnant you, the one who is naked?" Hippolyta asks. "I hope it is not some stupid sexist reason."
I shake my head. "This is the one body I can't treat casually. Most of them, they come and they go. I'd have to count back to see how many iterations each of me is from my original. Most of me is outside, not physical at all. Of all of me, only *this* one body has to stay continuously physical, has to stay safe. So therefore, I can't really do anything with it, and that's going to continue for an estimated nine months. Maybe faster, Junior's well ahead of schedule. So basically, I could stare at walls, I could read, we don't get TV or DVD or games in here, or I could play. Mostly, I'm playing."
Hippolyta considers this, and sighs. "That makes sense, I suppose. It still feels strange to me, but, I understand your reasoning. It is strange too, this pregnancy without a father, but, I suppose you have your own rules. Maybe you will set a trend, heh?"
"I just might, you know", I tease. "Having lots of kids is definitely in my plans. Both carrying and seeding them. I might well introduce the option to the rest of the human species."
Erin nods. "I remember you hinting at that, at lunch a couple of days ago. You're going to flood the Earth with your kids?"
Sara gets up from beside Paige and comes over. "She's not the only one. That's a plan for both of us. We're trying to make humanity safer by breeding into it. Although I'll mostly be pitching, not catching, unless I can learn that multi body trick."
"I bet you can, you know", I say. "It's a pure us kind of trick. You need to learn multiple minds first though. Or you'd get horribly confused and fall on your multiple asses." Which makes everyone giggle.
"Infinite Saras", Paige says wistfully. "Can you imagine that?"
"One for each of us", says Hippy.
"No rota", says Erin.
"Why stick at one?" asks Jet, and then when everyone looks at her, she says "What? You were thinking it too", and puts her tongue out. And we all crack up laughing.
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From my memories of reading, Zenith lives up on the fourth floor in Poe - technically, off limits to me, but I think that shouldn't be too much of an issue if I'm here to seek a specific person. Still, I listen hard, floating myself up the stairs to avoid making noise myself, and put the echolocation I played with when I was kidnapped last week into use to scan out the lay of the land. Four people in the common area. Several occupied rooms, going by movement noises or conversation. It's a pity doors don't have name tags. Absent someone saying her name I'm going to have to find someone to ask.
Oh wait - I'm an idiot. Hippolyta is in Poe, she'll know! At the moment everyone's over in Gothmog's place, snickering at jokes about having as many Saras as they would like, and herself is encouraging it, honestly, I think she's seriously considering the idea. One of me taps Hippolyta's shoulder and asks her, without distracting the others from their fun. "Oh yes, she's in 416, why?"
"Going to talk to her about her radio show", I explain, which is enough for Hippolyta, she nods.
Heading to door 416, I knock. Movement sounds, and the door opens to reveal an Asian girl, black hair, green eyes. "Yeah?"
Probably Zenith's room-mate, checking if I ever read of her... Shrike? "Hi, you're Shrike, right? I'm looking for Zenith."
"Is the right answer." And turning inward, "Zoe, you have kiddies. Well, one kiddy. Floaty white haired thing." Oops, I had forgot I was airborne. I drop down and make ground contact. "Scratch the floating", Shrike adds. Which makes me grin, I kinda like her wiseacre approach. I hear grumbling from inside, and then a blonde in a tracksuit replaces Shrike at the door.
"Hi, you caught me in the middle of some homework, so I don't have super long. How can I help you?"
"Sorry to be a bother. If you don't have time, I could come back tomorrow? I wanted to talk to you about a thing for your radio show."
"If it's advertising for something you've made, you have to go through the school administration, I can't arrange that."
I shake my head. "Um, this is slightly hush-hush so I'd prefer not to blurt it in the corridor. But no, I need to get some information out to the school, and I was suggested that your show would be best. It's hush-hush because I don't want half-assed rumours going around the school and outrunning the actual information."
She tips her head to the side considering, and then says, "come in, summarise it for me. Della, if you would?"
Shrike grumbles, "Oh man", but starts gathering her stuff.
I say, "No need. It may be a snap read, but I figure you can be sensible with information?"
That gets an interested look from Shrike. "I can, but it'll be my sensible, not yours."
"That works for me", I say, and Zenith nods accepting that, and shuts the door. "Okay, grab a seat. In your own time."
"Okay so. I'll begin with: last Monday night? That was me."
Zenith says, "Miss Parallel, I remember you were on John's show claiming to be a demon. And then everyone was saying you were behind the flowers."
"Demon is a little imprecise, although I didn't know it at the time. Technically I'm a thing called a 'great old one', a baby one, although I was fully human a couple weeks ago. Monday was me hatching, that is, going from mostly human, to mostly not."
Shrike looks a little sceptical, says, "What little I've heard of those, they're damn dangerous. Class X nasties of the worst sort, not to be messed with under any circumstances. You're saying that's you?"
I nod. "Some are seriously bad news, most are neutral but predatory. One or two are truly neutral verging on okay. Three that I know, benevolent and protective. Those being Sara Waite, her dad, and me. Carmilla, if you only know her by the code name."
"Miss spooky dyke is one of those? Shit, seriously?"
I nod. "Our lineage is through the primal power of Creation, that I won't name because I don't want her attention, then Sara's father, then Sara, then she sparked me just after I got here. This is personal stuff, please don't spread it about, but it puts the rest into necessary context."
"So you're three removed from, yeah I know her damn name", Shrike says. "Shit. That makes you, like, a 'call the president, launch the nukes' level class X threat."
I say, "The Head knows. We're friendly, she's taking us on our word on that. We're actively trying to protect humans in general, and the school specifically against the worst ones. It's a bit of a secret war. Bear in mind, I'm not announcing this. It's backstory to save a ton of dancing around the point."
Zenith says, "Okay, so, what is the actual point then? Because honestly, you have me a little scared here. It feels like you want to involve me in some serious business."
I nod. "Sadly, more than a little, yeah. The flowers was me. That similar stuff that went down globally, at the exact same time, was also me. In fact, it went down universally. Every galaxy, every solar system, every planet, everywhere without exception. I changed the metaphysical laws of reality. Changed the way the life principle works. The pretty biology was just the tiniest scrap of that power spilling over."
"You're serious", Shrike asks.
I nod. "The Head and Circe could confirm it for you, although I'm not sure they want it widely known. One hundred percent dead serious, and I'm not even finished yet."
"Heavy messing, fuck", Zenith sounds weirded out. "Well, finish, please, although I'm not sure I'm going to be getting any sleep tonight."
"So, what I changed", I say. "The life principle used to be directionless. That stark amorality, and the implication that everything of value was assured to be ripped apart by the meaningless working of evolution was what made great-grandma's scriptures a sanity risk. Sara and her dad have been fighting that, but since the start of the universe it's been a losing battle, and the opposition aren't helping. That is, until last Monday. I went and wedged the thing open and spliced in a new set of corollaries. Now, life tends to mutualism and complex beauty. It's a tropism, not a guarantee, but it means we're fighting a winnable war. But, well, it has consequences."
The two of them look at each other. Shrike says, "You just went and edited the laws of metaphysics? For serious?"
"Yeah, and it's a one off. I could do it when I hatched, by using the creation of my larger self to write the rules into myself when I was naming who I was, and wedge myself in there as a definitional power. What I changed, I can't alter. It's a rule shift for every lifeform in existence, and it's fractal, extends to every scale. It drags us, humans, as individuals and as a society, into the change too. Kind of like rewriting a BIT, but at a much higher pattern level. And like a change to a BIT, all of humanity is shifting to fit the new over-pattern's mould. So finally, I get close to the thing I need to announce."
"If that was just the back story, then spit out the point already", says Shrike.
"The point is, humanity's changing, at a rate I don't know yet, but it might take years. But we've discovered, being near me pulls people into resonance, and makes the change go faster. Being in prolonged close contact with me, or near big me, makes it go much faster. Big me is my great old one self. She can come forward and run the body, but isn't right now. So basically, I'm putting people under an influence, you could say, if you turn the directions round and see it how outsiders will see it. The whole school is feeling it, my closest associates are feeling it strongly. It's going to affect us here before it affects everyone else. And I need to tell them." I sigh. "Trouble is, what I know of what it actually does is very conjectured. We have proof it's happening, we have understanding of the mechanism, I could teach you the one R'Lyehian rune that defines it in perfect metaphysical precision, but how it looks in humans... that's still guesswork. Although I have trends I can describe."
Shrike says, "Being here, with us, is influencing us? Not sure I like that." And Zenith nods.
"Being in Poe affects you. Being in Whateley affects you. Probably, being on Earth affects you relative to the rest of the galaxy", I say. "But the effect is only to make it go faster. I need to tell people what I know of where we're all going to end up, so they can adjust and handle it. Because it's going to become obvious, even if I tell nobody."
Zenith says, "So tell us, please. From how you describe your edits, it can't be too terrible?" I can feel, both of them have a deep fear. It's strong enough to register on life sense.
"Going from the people around me, it increases kindness, acceptance, sociality. Seems some of my lust lineage spilled into it, it seems to erode taboos and bring sexuality into loving relationships. It makes people worry less about being sexual, even in ways that might be labelled perverse, but it makes them care about other people more, so they start to worry about consent and power differences even if they weren't worried about them before. It might make people more polyamorous, it almost certainly makes them more accepting of shared relationships even if their branch of the polycule is exclusive. I suspect, it'll make people less able to hold bigoted ideas, because it will be harder to see other humans as the evil other. So good stuff, but weird stuff. It'll set society on its ear. I wouldn't be surprised if it makes the Head drop the rule on fraternisation, for example. Or students take a fancy to going around with their tits hanging out."
"You have a slut aura", Shrike says. "Well damn." Her fear, at least, has gone down. She might actually think that sounds fun.
I grin. "Kinda sorta. It's not the same as Sara's 'come fuck me' field. Less about making you want it, than making you willing to say yes to what you already wanted. And accept what others want, without being grossed out."
"Okay let me get this straight.", Zenith says. "You want to announce *that* on WARS?" You'll get lynched. And WARS goes out to the country. They aren't inside your influence yet, they'll be plenty capable of thinking bigoted thoughts. You'll kick every hornet's nest in the country."
"Way I figure it, if we're careful how we phrase it, we can make the most of the outside world, except the nuts that will believe anything, pass it over as a joke or a prank. Only Whateley will have enough evidence to join the dots and believe it. But that will seed the ground for phase two."
"There is a phase two. No shit there is a phase two. You're gonna break it to the whole country, aren't you?" Shrike gets me, I'm so flattered.
"Sara's going to have a big religious conference for her Kellith religion. A big, off-world conference. In her dad's realm."
"Off world, seriously?" asks Zenith.
I nod and say "Yeah, a big, history making, off world conference, in her great old one father's personal realm, that the press and the world religions will be invited to, in which they'll be introducing me. And suddenly, what WARS put out goes from crazy to fact, and the trap closes tight."
Zenith covers her eyes for a moment, then says, "This is so going through the Head, before a damn word of it goes out on WARS. You realise they might just point nukes at us and let fly, right? And if you're going to say 'we could probably deal with that', please, spare me. It may be true but my dreams are gonna look like Terminator Two until I'm sure we're safe."
I nod. "I'm completely cool with going through her. She knows a lot already. I'll fill her in on the rest tomorrow. This needs to be done, you can see that? But I'm not averse to listening to wiser heads on how. This is just plans at the moment, although a lot has already been set in motion."
"You know", says Shrike, "I like you. Big plans, whee. I'm happy to get behind this, and yeah, I can see why you don't want rumours. They won't hear a damn thing from me."
"I, meanwhile, think you're a damn headache", says Zenith. "But yeah. I can see why, in principle, it needs done. The alternative is people just discovering it, piecemeal, and being scared and confused and horrified. But they're going to be that anyway, you realise? I can see how you're setting yourself up to be a power, with that conference, but what if they launch a war against you?"
I wince at the thought. "I really, really hope to persuade them not to. Whateley's neutrality will help. But in the end, if push comes to shove and they make war, I can do that. It might be awfully messy, but I'm a bit scary, when I stretch my limits."
The two of them look at each other. Look at me. Zenith says "You could fight a nation state to a standstill in an equal match?"
I nod. "Some of my powers only have best effect at large scales. I cut an alien starship in half last Friday, although that body didn't survive the radiation side effects. Big me made the search spores yesterday, a deliberately constrained, rather than violently unconstrained application of great old one sorcery. I can swing an extremely big stick, and there are as many of me as I want there to be, flyers with long range teleporting. I can tank an indefinite number of deaths and keep coming. Yes, I can."
"Out. Out, already." Zenith's had enough. "I am going to have nightmares about you. Out of my damn room."
I bow, and leave.
Shrike, I feel, looked impressed.
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Erin's in our room when I get back down there. I was already using the bottom bunk, she kind of likes taking the top one because it feels like sleeping up a tree, so that works for both of us. I fire off an email to the Head asking to meet, and then pretty much drop straight off to sleep.
Thankfully, the trauma dreams hold off, which lets me play by building a kind of restful haven for myself, a dream of forest and tall, broad trees full of growing things and life all living together, thick moss I can sit on, the ground and branches and air busy with living things, quite a few of them with colourful glows. Perhaps, it's a sort of reflection of what the world might look like in a century or two?
The watchdog self I'd set monitoring my body informs me something's disturbing the bed. Sound analysis, smell analysis, suggest it's probably Erin. No-one else is in the room. She's bigger than me and a bit bony, but warm snuggled up against me. I wrap her in a hug and fall back asleep.
Sara seems to be busy elsewhere tonight, but she does peek in, dream-walking, and smiles to see me and Erin snuggled up.
**12th January, 2007, Poe**
Waking, I'm content and rested. Honestly, that's one of the nicer things about the new me. No more insomnia or waking tired. Rather than wake Erin by getting up, I send a copy to check emails, but the laptop's good morning burble wakes her anyhow. "Good morning sleepyhead", I tease. Which makes her startle and leap out of bed in bobcat form. "Relax, I didn't mind you coming in to bed for snuggles. Bad dreams, huh?"
The bobcat turns back to an embarrassed looking girl in pyjamas. "Not after I jumped in with you. Sorry for that, I wasn't really thinking straight."
I ignore the open-goal pun. "It's cool. I had awful dreams yesterday. Makes sense you get 'em too."
She comes and sits on the floor by me-in-the-bed, watching other me fiddle with the computer. "You came for me. I know security did too, and about half the Kimbas, so it isn't fair, but it feels like you were the only one who came for me. So you've become my safe place. I'm... I'm still exclusive with Sara, but I love you in a different way, you know?"
I reach and pet her hair, making her smile and nuzzle against my hand. "Works for me. I'm happy I came for you. I'm happy I met you."
"Me too", she agrees.
Over at the computer, the Head wants me in at lunchtime, probably giving herself time to think things through. Sensei Tolman has sent out a message that a small remedial martial arts class will be picking up from this morning and run Monday-Wednesday-Friday first through second period. Journeyman's class will be a one-off, fourth period along with Nikki and Chou, and then he'll make a decision what to offer, if I need it and would benefit.
A thought occurs to me. Given I've got Caitlin for ranges third period, if I can get working on my little project in the labs right after breakfast, maybe she can advise how powered weapons get tested and certified to use?
There's a knock on the door, it's Chou. Tai chi is off, for obvious but frustrating reasons. I hope they nail that nuisance sniper. Makes me send a thread off pondering how to deal with bullets. Some short term, small size variation on refractive shield? I can track the things with g-sense, and I should be fast enough to slap a shield into their path. That needs practise, though. Another question for Caitlin.
I take a minute to check with Chou that the Tao is cool with my current plans, which presumably it knows. She gives a disgusted look and says "yes, annoyingly it seems to love you. It's practically purring." Which makes Erin and me snicker. But it's good news, too.
Breakfast is mostly dominated by Ayla getting the Sims Manual Of Doom, which I'd dearly like to borrow for myself just out of curiosity. I may not be going into the sims, but I'd like to get all my stuff programmed in so I could, in theory. They'll be going in there on Saturday for a trial run. I'm sure there were stories about that, but tragically I didn't read them in time. Still, stories imply drama... I drop a word to Hank, as the sensible tactical one, to watch the group's tail Saturday, since although I don't know details, my memories imply something will happen. Even if, as he assures me, it's just a calibration thing. But he takes the warning seriously, so that should help.
Breakfast also gives me a chance to grab Bunny, and ask her if I can borrow her working space for a bit. Turns out she has a free period, so we can head down there together. Fun fun.
Huh, there's some noise over near the Alpha table? Tansy Walcutt is running out of the room, along with a couple of other girls that must have been sitting beside her, covered in some sort of mess that looks like breakfast (bacon, eggs *and* grapefruit?) but pings my life sense as "predator, attacking". WTF? If I don't miss my guess that has the smell of a Jobe prank. Oh wait, of course... that must be the opening salvo in the engineers' war Bunny told me about. Jobe is a devisor. Heh.
Necromancy has become a nice, relaxing, start the morning gently class, with Sara by my side. But I'll be doing a couple of other things now at the same time, and both are interestingly new. First outing for my newly tailored gi in Sensei Tolman's class. And my project.
The devisor labs are quiet, only one or two people down there, nobody I know except Bunny who's with me.
"So, like, I recognise the symptoms, you've got an idea and it's bugging you, right?"
I nod. "Both the what, and the how. I want to see if I can do a thing... my kinda different way. Um, I need these components, if you give me them I'll give you back perfect copies." And I list off a bunch of electrical stuff. "Oh, and some pure silver, if you can get it? Just a small bit is fine." Turns out that's not too tall an order around here.
"Why silver, though?", she asks.
"It tarnishes though. No use, practically."
"Not if I'm working with atomically pure stuff in hard vacuum."
"Oh this, I have got to see."
So first the components. I want to reduce them to their functional part, I won't need the human-labels and housings. Big me comes forward a little to help me handle the amount of information. I make a branched tentacle and one by one pick them apart, learning how the atoms go, memorizing patterns. And then make copies appear in my other hand, to give back to Bunny. She's squinting at me like it's some kind of trick.
"Now, a workspace", I say, and make a bubble of repulsion around a space in front of me. Quickly it turns silvery as the vacuum inside deepens. Air hits the walls and just gets flung out. Then I carefully flatten the gravity gradient inside, make a slight well to hold an object steady. And then I start to draw with matter creation, building a whiskery circuit inside.
"This one's just a basic blinker. Power on!" I connect the line to the cell battery I copied. A point of light appears, disappears, appears... an LED, running in vacuum, needs no housing.
"Holy shit, um, poopie, sorry I cussed but wow."
I say, "Next stage. The power unit I've been thinking up." The circuit I just drew, I vanish, and start fresh with a complicated spherical thing. With a simple naked LED wired to it. "If this works how I think it should, I should get power out." A bright point of light. "Good good. This may actually work." And I vanish the wires and LED, and start drawing my full design around the power unit. Whiskery control circuits webbed around much chunkier main circuits, building on a design big me helped me shape.
Bunny's looking at it, like, she's kind of trying to read out what it does. "Um, forcefield driver, plasma emitter, I think? But the power rating on that thick wire must be something nasty. Oh wowie. Jules, I gotta warn you, don't flip the switch on that. It's a strict rule. Power weapons get looked at first, then tested, then they're yours."
I nod. "Can I run it up just enough to test for gamma leakage and thermal waste?"
She nods. "If it's at a power level where it'd do no more than make a lil pop if it goes horribly wrong, that's usually okay."
Tiny purple spark at the tip. I can see places that are leaking a bit of heat, so I wrap heat pipes around them and add vanes like flower petals up front. No weird glows in the higher energy wavelengths. Seems solid. Time to seal it up. I flow non-conductive ceramic over the floating circuitry, a ridge to keep my fingers away from the hot vanes, knurled grip. Showing no thermal build-up. Seems good. Power off, I fade the vacuum bubble's repulsion walls, air rushes back in with a puff that blows papers around, and let it drop into my hand.
Oh hey, I have an audience. I smile up at them.
Bunny says, sounding a little awed, "That's a lightsaber, isn't it? You just figured how to make it in your head and wished it into existence."
I grin. "It's not just one, either. What I make, I have a pattern for. What I have a pattern for..." And a second saber appears in my other hand, "I can make, and unmake." I vanish the second saber.
"And you'll never be unarmed again." Adult voice. "Assuming that toy is safe to use, which we don't know yet. Hi, I'm Mr Asterlitz, I'm normally the workshop project manager here. You're Parallel, right?" I nod. "Thought so. I also thought you were only gadgeteer rated. I've seen many of those built by devisors, although rarely so elegantly. But gadgeteers always run into the problem that the best battery current science can build would need a half-ton backpack to power one of those. How does yours run? I saw no energy storage."
"I cheat", I admit. "The core power unit is an electron-positron annihilation circuit inside a tuned resonance chamber, with a rectenna pickup. As near pure and total energy capture as thermodynamics permits. But where the electrons and positrons come from... I'm creating them, in place, continuously."
"Creating both matter, and antimatter?"
I nod. "It's just the same thing with the time coordinate flipped. And before you ask, no I'm not going to drop a kilo of anti-hydrogen into your lap. I prefer to remain un-vaporized." Honestly, it took a bit of help by big me, to flip the electrons around, although now I have the knack I can do it myself. I don't think she'd help me detonate the entire continent. Contrary to her nature - and mine, really.
"Thank you for that", he nods, wincing a bit. "So the maximum power you can put into that unit is what?"
"It's rated for ten kilowatts, the blade should be tight enough that will be plenty. I'm trying to cut things, not melt them."
He nods. "That's at the high end for a laser die cutter, but still only for thin materials."
"Should be a lot tighter, it's field-compressed, not lensed. What I want to avoid is the bit of metal I'm poking with it erupting into a shower of hot gas and burning sparks. Bad thing to have your hands near."
He grins. "Yes, that's a common failure mode for would-be sabers made by the overenthusiastic. Yes, it could drill through a battleship, but your hands would be charred sticks and your face would be on fire. Scratch that, back to the drawing board."
I nod, "Wise to avoid that if possible", remembering my arrival just days ago.
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This necromancy class, we're covering the law on necromancy. Most of the old witchcraft laws got repealed, but there's always people arguing for them back, and arguably some of it would come under more modern use of powers and responsible magic laws, as well as your regular disturbing graves, etc. The class is split on whether banning it was ever a good idea. Sara and I are against, and surprisingly, a few of the anti-necromancy students too, the witchy types. They know whose back the target is painted on, when the law goes around licensing witch hunts.
While we're toing and froing, I show Sara what I'm up to on the other side, which makes her send me the feeling of a smirk, while maintaining a perfect poker face for the class. "Star Wars was never my fandom, really. Going to be a Jedi, huh? I can't really see you as a Darth anything."
"More your style", I tease. "You'd look good with a red lightsaber."
"Darth Marala", she snickers. "Okay, I have to cosplay that some time. I might even learn a bit about it first so I don't embarrass myself."
"It's mostly very silly and a lot violent", I admit. "But I have a fondness for the Jedi in principle. Even if in practise the ones in the movies were mostly asses."
"And what about the, what are they called, Sith?"
"All asses. Evil is not a personality trait. Hating everything is neither fun, nor does it make any friends. That said, I disagree with the way the canon staples together passionate intensity with becoming evil. I feel serenity requires the ability to move with your passion. So I slightly agree with their principles, while disapproving of all the Sith we're shown. And thinking grasping after power for its own sake is silly."
"Mmm, we agree on that. So that makes you what, a half-and-half?" With the sensation of a tongue being poked out at me.
"Makes me a me, I guess. And turns out, my saber is purple. Synthesis."
"Hot plasma. You'd best be careful it doesn't put out so much UV it'll give you a tan."
"If I goofed on that, it should come out in the testing", I agree.
Sensei Tolman's class is using the proper martial arts room this time, so it's my first sight of the famed capture cage. There's a few other kids already there, three girls and a boy, and another boy gets there just after me.
"Arright, you're all here now, so shut up!" Not one for wasting time, is the sensei. "When I point to each of you in turn, I want you each to give your codename, a short description of what your powers are, and if you want, a sentence or two of background."
As her finger moves around we each do as she asked.
"Bottle rocket, gadgeteer, I do fireworks mostly" A short blonde girl.
"Firebox, pyrokinetic, I'm from Chicago and I chose my name because I like trains." A black tomboyish girl.
"Thumper. I'm just a brick, I hit things." She's a pretty brunette, but isn't making much effort with it. Looks a bit depressed.
"ST, just the initials, it doesn't stand for anything. I can hide from notice, invisibility, sound and scent. I'm from Quebec, not France." Short dark-haired boy, strong accent.
"Arclight, I can make hot, bright sparks between body parts." Blond guy, he has a sort of cowboy look, very neat and tidy.
"Parallel, exemplar, warper, regen, life sorcery, claws and teeth, invisibility, multiple bodies, tentacles, and I can manifest weapons. I'm kinda mostly not human. Still friendly though."
Tolman picks up. "Okay. As you can see, you are different power levels, different origins, some of you are have experience fighting, others do not. You are united by one thing: you didn't take basic martial arts last term. You were not here, or you didn't choose to do it. Either way, you did not take combat finals, and this term you are not permitted to join a training team or take advanced combat electives. And you want to change this. This is remedial basic martial arts, people! You will all show dedication to the goal of getting passed by me, at the end of this short term, to participate in combat as equals with your peers - or I will flunk you without hesitation. Is that clear? Say 'yes Sensei'."
I chorus "Yes, Sensei" with the others.
"Okay, go get changed into a gi. You were instructed to bring one, so if you forgot, you will be sitting the lesson out, not a good start. Changing rooms are girls there, boys there. Two minutes people, go!"
After combat movement yesterday, I feel a flinch building at the idea of changing together... speed up my timebase and take a moment to track that down and root it out. It's based in my less than fun original childhood and I won't have it spoiling the fun in this one. I am going to go into this expecting niceness. I take a moment to comfort the part of me that used to feel vulnerable and alone, reassure it that I'm both loved, and strong. We will make friends in this class. If anyone is an ass, we will handle it with dignity and common sense.
Thus reassured, I set my timebase back to normal and head into the changing rooms smiling.
I think from the looks the others are giving me as I get in, they're perhaps a little scared of me, which puts my earlier fear into perspective. I still do my tentacles changing trick, since it saves a lot of time, but also because I want them to see me for who I am. These tentacles are here to do the ordinary, people stuff (as well as the hot tentacle sex stuff, but that's not for class).
It's Firebox who, having done changing, gets up the gumption to approach me. "Hey, I'm Riley. Is it really true you aren't human? Because those tentacles are kind of cool."
I grin. "I'm Jules. Yeah, you know Carmilla, cute but scary demon girl?" She nods. Sara's hard to miss. "I'm kinda sorta the same kind of thing as her, mostly. Although my body's still more human than not, and I was human this time two weeks ago."
"Weird, do you like it?"
I nod. "I like it a whole lot. But we should get out there before Sensei calls time's up. Talk later if you want?" It's one minute and fifty seconds into the two minutes she gave us.
She nods, "later!" And we both walk out.
As I guessed, Sensei Tolman calls out, "Two minutes is up, get your butts out here people!"
A small amount of grumbling and "just give me a second!"s later, the lot of us are out of changing and ready to learn. Nobody forgot their gi.
"Alright. First off, yeah I saw your worried looks, yes some of you are very much more powerful than others. But this class is based on two principles. Firstly, you will learn the basics, like a baseline, so you can handle yourself in the surprisingly common case that your powers are somehow nullified or not safe to use. Such as a pyrokinetic in a hospital room full of patients on oxygen. Secondly, you will learn that nobody is invulnerable, and a skilled baseline can defeat an unskilled mutant much more powerful than themselves. You will receive some training in the best use of your individual powers, but that is less my focus. Regular combat classes will pick that up next term, if you pass." And then the pep talk is over and it's down to work.
For the rest of the class, we go through Aikido forms in constantly shifting pairs. Those of us with better memories who pick up the technique as tori in one or two goes, end up being uke for the others who are coming along more slowly. It's clear that, at least at this stage, Sensei is keen to drag us all up to the same base level. For myself, I find I enjoy learning it, and I enjoy helping the others along. It's nice to feel free of the fear of damaging something, so I can focus on the flow.
Finally, the class is over, and when I return to the changing room there's no repetition of yesterday's shenanigans. Looks like I'm here with a nicer group of kids. This time I get to enjoy showering off, teleport myself dry, and get dressed the regular, rather than sneaky switcheroo way.
Riley's one of the slow learners, but she's methodical and determined. I like her style. As we're changing she gets chatting, and I mention the book on steam model railways I read in ARC, and that gets her happily chatting away about the trains she's ridden in, and the ways a stock yard works. Autistic, perhaps? But a nice kid, and it's an enjoyable enthusiasm. I'm a little sad when I have to wave goodbye and head to Flight class (which is nearby).
Over on the other side, I get to show off my saber to Sara while she's walking with me towards the range. A pity that I can't run it yet, but I'm not about to risk random students getting shrapnel from an ill-conceived design going off like a bomb. But she suggests some edits to pretty it up, and I nudge the shape of the ceramic coating to fit, until she pronounces her approval. I vanish it, but keep the pattern.
Hmm, a thought occurs to me. One that would be better shared down the mark. "Love, you know the head wants to see me at lunchtime?"
"I do", she says. "I know that feeling tone, you've got a plan, haven't you?"
"Yup yup", I send her the feeling of a wide grin. "How about we introduce the Head, with her permission, to a change of venue? You could be there. Explanations might be best given there for certain things."
"Oho. Admit everything, hmm?" Quoting Mrs P.
"Yeah. Honestly, I want her on the inside helping, not on the outside being a stumbling block. We've all got long term plans and I think ours interlock hers. We shouldn't be bumping into each other so much."
She nods. "I'll set that up. Worst case, I get to spend time with the folks."
And then we're at the range, so we part ways.
Caitlin's already busy there, setting up ridiculously huge guns. She looks so odd toting them around like they were made of balsa and pool noodles - yeah, I know I could do the same, and would look as odd, but I'm not entirely used to the craziness here yet.
"Hey there, need a pair of hands to help?" I offer.
She nods. "Sure, grab a couple of those ammo boxes, follow me." I grab them in tentacles, running up several threads to warn me of any safety issues, I'm being careful around her to correct my accurate but unflattering early impression.
As we go, I say, "What's the procedure for getting a new lightsaber certified as safe?"
She puts down the big gun in its booth. "Got it with you?" I nod and hand her one . "I notice you didn't have that in your pocket when you came in. Ammo boxes go down there."
"It's a pattern now, I can make them", I admit, putting the boxes in the place indicated. "Haven't run it up any higher than about a nine volt battery's worth of power just to ensure it wasn't leaking nasties."
She nods, hefts and looks at the thing. "Not magical. Feels slightly outsider-ish and linked to you. Can you show me the innards?"
I nod. "Sure, but I'll need to bring up a bubble if I don't want it to corrode instantly. Hold up." Taking it back, I float it up into the gravity cradle, then remake the vacuum bubble around it. Then I can just wave back the ceramic and let her look at the circuitry.
"Heh, nice. Matter creation, right? Mmm, looks tolerably well engineered. Power supply?"
"Cheating. I make electrons and positrons inside. Runs that gubbins."
She nods, clearly getting how it works just from looking. "Okay, cover it up." I wave the ceramic back on, dissipate the vacuum and drop the saber into my hand.
"I'll book you a slot to get it tested. Perhaps tonight. Seems like it ought to work to me, but I'd like to watch it do its thing. Nice engineering."
"Thanks." We start walking back for the next bit of heavy equipment.
"The dancing naked demons on the handle, though?"
"Well, they do help with grip", I grin. "Sara's idea. But it suits me nicely. Luke Skywalker I am not."
"Thank goodness for that. Boy didn't listen to instructions", is Caitlin's verdict.
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Shooting those big guns was fun, and very loud. Reminds me of my previous childhood. I had some fun with much smaller guns there too. Sadly, though, the lesson reaches its end. I'd offer to help Caitlin pack away, but I have to get moving fast if I'm going to grab an in-passing snack before heading to meet the Head. Might not be important if plans go as expected, but I'd rather not be hungry all afternoon, or have to risk doing direct matter creation into my own bloodstream to feed myself.
After Caitlin examines my gun to make sure I haven't done something daft like left a round inside, I'm free to go, so I thank her and head out in a rush. Grabbing a pasty from the machine, I pocket it for later. Make a second self, to check I haven't got any embarrassing gun grease on me... nah I'm cool. Okay vanish that, and here we go. Take a second. In-breath, out-breath, centered and serene. And I walk into the admin section.
"Parallel, to see the Head. I'm expected."
The receptionist nods. "Take a seat, I'll buzz her."
Taking time to observe the layout of the room, I get a feeling of what a book I once read would call Hauissh, things being ordered in a certain way to subtly put a certain person in a position of oversight and therefore power over the others in the room... interesting. So that exemplar-pretty blonde pretending to be just another secretary is probably Ms Hartford.
She glances up and catches my look. "Problem?" It's not asked in a friendly way, but I can feel it's sort of testing.
I shake my head. "No, ma'am."
My respectful answer gets a curious slight head tilt. "I hear you're friendly with Paige Donner." Next move in the game, sente to her.
"She's someone I'm extremely fond of, and protective of", I agree. "Ma'am, are you Ms Hartford, her adviser?" Sente to me.
"Good guess. Yes, I am. And I too, feel protective of her. She is not to be drawn into the orbit of the Kimbas, just because you personally seem to enjoy their company." Aggressive play seems to be her style.
"It seems unlikely to be an issue, ma'am. We all worked together on the rescue, but she isn't into their kind of hijinks. Nor, to be honest, am I. You may have noticed I worked with security, rather than just rushing in, powers blazing."
"Yes, I did", she nods, looking thoughtful. And then seeing the door to the Head's room opening, which ends our little match, she says, "See that you continue."
"Yes, ma'am", I say, and then Head steps out, and says, "Miss Parallel, come in."
It's immediately obvious things are going to follow a slightly different trajectory than I'd planned when I see we aren't alone in the room. A man, with a very Colonel Sanders look, goatee and white suit included, is standing, but was obviously sitting a moment ago, which suggests he's being polite.
Mrs Carson says, "Tywyswyr, this is Miss Parallel, who we've been speaking of. Miss Parallel, this is Mr Tywyswyr, a trustee of the school and a person of some importance outside it."
Where did I see that name? Oh yes, the portrait in the corridor from Crystal Hall. Which was not of a human. "Sir, a pleasure to meet you." I bow, because I haven't learned to curtsey yet, but it feels like I should do something.
He looks a bit charmed. "Well, and a pleasure to meet you too. Please, sit. Would you like some coffee?" I can see there's a sort of portable Turkish coffee service set at the table. And yes, I did notice he's the one offering the seat. So the Head either feels he outranks her, or is choosing to give that impression.
I take the offered seat. "Thank you sir, that sounds lovely. I'm fond of coffee, although I admit to not having a trained palette for it."
"That will come with time", he says. "Which, it seems, you will have plenty of."
I nod. "I seem to have been the subject of conversation. I'm not sure how much you discussed my nature, but I expect to be alive a million years from now, excluding mishaps. Time enough to learn coffee properly."
He pours into a tiny cup from the cezve, and hands it to me. I take it, smile and sip. Predictably, it's good.
He says, "Time enough, indeed. Yes, your nature has been rather at the center of our discussion. A number of matters of concern revolve around it. For example, the sniper attack on Miss Donner."
"It was my guess, that it was aimed at me", I say.
He nods. "An interesting guess, You must tell me how you reached it with very little evidence. But a correct one."
Mrs Carson picks up, "The pair who were laying in wait have been apprehended, after they gave themselves away seeking black-market medical help for a runaway were transformation. The group behind the attack is being swept up, too, as we speak. I should be able to lift our lockdown by dinner. But it's a symptom, of an issue that has brought Mr Tywyswyr here. The government is worried about you specifically, and the little group you've formed about yourself as well. That worry has expressed itself as overreaction by some elements, who will regret their mistake, it has also expressed itself by prevailing on one of our trustees to act as an emissary."
"To be honest, I would have come anyway", Tywyswyr says. "My own interest has been piqued, so I was happy to accept the mission."
Mrs Carson says, "To save dancing around the point, we've already spoken of your nature, and we've discussed the disturbing conversation that was reported to me by Lieutenant Forsyth. He mentioned you had plans to come to me and speak about that. I take it, that was why you emailed to ask for an appointment?"
"One of the reasons, yes", I say. And, now feels like the right timing to put plans into action. "Sir, Ma'am, I'd like to suggest a change of venue for this conversation, one that will help to elucidate some of my other reasons."
"To where?", asks Mrs Carson.
"To the personal realm of Gothmog, great old one, demon, Sara's father, my grandfather by lineage, and my concurrent host and tutor. Sara came into this room from there before, ma'am. I propose going to there the same way."
The two of them look at each other. Tywyswyr says, "I confess to being intrigued. I hadn't expected that move."
I say, "Ma'am. I received an email from Mrs P, yesterday. She told me to and I quote, 'admit everything'. I'm choosing to interpret that broadly, but it does include this conversation. I intend not just to be truthful, but to lay out the whole truth, and my intentions. The change of venue will help."
The Head winces, a bit. "She's a meddler. Alright, give me a moment." She picks up the phone handset, buzzes. "Amelia Hartford." A pause. "Hi, Amelia. I'm going off campus, it should be brief. But you're acting Head until I return. Thank you." She hangs up. "Alright, whenever you're ready."
I walk over to the room's door, and open it - onto sunshine, and blue skies. Gothmog, who I've been updating about the change of plans via Sara, is stood there looking very smart. He bows. "Sir, ma'am, you are welcome as guests in my realm. I'm Gothmog, you may also know me as my alias, Antonio Marques Dominguez. Please do come in." Naming them guests, I feel, has a significance to it, one that both of them understand.
The Head, and the dragon, step through the door, and I follow them through. Gothmog closes it behind us, and it vanishes. Then he says, "please follow me. My apologies for the unsightliness of our preparations for hosting our planned conference."
The building sprawls, managing to still look tasteful, but there's no concealing the fact it's sized for an army.
The Head says, "Why do I get the sinking feeling this conference is going to involve my students?"
"The cult of the Kellith will be hosting", says Gothmog, who I feel, is enjoying tweaking her a bit. "So yes, my daughter will be center stage."
"Hosting?", she asks, "Who else is invited, then?"
"All the Earth's religions", says Gothmog. "We are planning the first public, verifiable, off world, globally ecumenical conference. And introducing to the world, a newly hatched power, my granddaughter."
That makes the Head wince hard. "Admit everything... I see."
Tywyswyr begins chuckling, and it turns into a laugh. "I like it, I like it. Many others won't, but it's the most excitement I've had in centuries. Elizabeth, I think this child has us wrapped around her finger."
"Which is an uncomfortable place to be." She doesn't sound approving.
I say, "Forgive me the theatrics, but some news is best broken piecemeal. I've told you I intend to lay the whole thing out. It will take me time to join all the dots."
Conveniently, we're entering the living room now, which gives Gothmog a chance to break the tension by acting as host. The dragon's amused grin shows me understands how that changes the power dynamic. Now *we* are offering drinks and snacks to *them*. On our territory. Once they're seated, I grab a seat.
And, as other me, that's my cue. Stepping into the room, with Sara at my side, I bow to the assembled group. "Mr Tywyswyr, sir, Headmistress, I've been staying here some days now, and studying great old one type sorcery."
The dragon says, "So, all the family's here."
Gothmog smiles. "Sir, ma'am, I'm aware you know of our nature, and the larger war we're fighting, as the pro-human faction among the great old ones. Myself for awhile, my daughter picking up the effort beside me since her own hatching. What you may not be aware of yet, is that perhaps the pivotal move in that war was played last Monday, at your school."
"I know what happened. I'm not sure how it relates to your war", the Head says.
Sara says, "We've been fighting at a disadvantage. Always on the back foot, because the rules were stacked against us. The enemy's efforts to incite division and reflect his own bigotry into human behaviour kept inching forward. The rules of life used to favour dissolution and strife. After what Jules did, now suddenly we have the upper hand. Which, predictably, is panicking the enemy. We think, Mr Tywyswyr, that some of the government level enmity you've seen is his finger-puppets."
The dragon looks thoughtful. "I suppose it could be so, I've often felt the taint of meddling of that sort. Although I haven't been able to pin it down further."
"He's probably just nudging them oh so slightly", Sara says. "After he worked for centuries to structure the bigotry and selfishness that animates them, he only has to lean a little on their dreams, point them where they were already rolling." Which gets a nod from the dragon.
"And now we get to the matter of 'influence'", I say from my chair. "You both know that what I did had effects on humanity, globally. And that it's having an accelerated effect, locally, in the school. It's my belief that the enemy will use this, his newly introduced worst weakness, to strike at us. To incite resistance to a change that would drag humans out of his influence, on the basis of fear of the unknown. I believe part of what Mrs P was pushing me towards, was tearing off the informational sticking plaster."
"The conference?", says Tywyswyr.
"Is part of it", I say. "First, ma'am, with your permission and guidance, I plan to announce it on WARS, to the school. Then, use the publicity of the conference to confirm that broadcast, previously obscure and not credible, to the larger world."
Mrs Carson hisses through her teeth. "That is... a plan that makes terrifying sense. I can see how any concealment can be worked easily into a pitchfork mob. I also see how if this goes bad, you could be global enemy number one, and I'm not sure I could protect you even with the resources of the school. Not all of *them* would be on side, you see. This risks shattering the coalition I've built."
"I know", I say. "It's a vast gamble, but in essence what we need to do is just hold ground. We've already made a tide-turning move. All we need to do, is consolidate it." I sigh, "That's not the only bit of news we risk the enemy using. Part of Sara's and my battle plan in this war is to breed into the humans, help nudge them towards us."
"Jet's outburst", says the Head. "I had asked Mrs Horton to discreetly look into that."
Cue for pregnant me to step in, wearing a nicely decorous sundress and sandals. From that body, I say, "And now, all the family is really here. Meet Junior."
"The father?" the Head says, sounding strangled.
"Myself", I say.
"Which slips you through a gap I hadn't thought to close in my prohibition. Consider it closed as of now, because they absolutely will use this to whip up a mob against you."
"We're keeping her", I say. "On this we are determined, she's already a person to us. Would you like to meet her, ma'am? I can relay life sense, if you'll hold my hand."
Mrs Carson, still frowning, nods, and takes my offered hand.
"You can see she's well implanted and starting to differentiate" The Head and I can both feel Junior's serenely contented gaze.
Tywyswyr says, "Ahead of schedule for humans by some days."
I nod. "She's not human on either side of her parentage. We don't know how fast she will grow. But she's one of our family, she'll be on the pro-human side by lineage, probably by temperament."
The Head, letting go of my hand, sighs. I know she won't be able to will harm against Junior either, now they've met. "What do you want me to do?"
"For now, just don't expel me or drop stumbling blocks under my feet", I say. "For later... I know I'm leaning on my influence to even dare ask this, but I want the prohibition on pregnancy taken down. That may have to wait until people outside my accelerating influence grow mellower, but both Sara and I have work to do, and waiting until we're eighteen is handing years of lead time to the enemy."
Tywyswyr cracks up. "Oh I love this child. To your face, she asks that. And backs it up with solid logic. So, Elizabeth, what will you do?"
Red faced, the Head grits her teeth. "The first, granted. The second, I will... think about it."
"Now that, I approve of", says an unexpected feminine voice from the kitchen area. And Gothmog's sudden worried expression drops the ground out from under my feet. This is *his* realm. Nobody and nothing should be here unless he wills it. How, what?
A rounded, very maternal black woman walks into the room, from the kitchen. Actually, I say maternal, she looks pregnant, not just large. "A fine day for a family gathering, if I do say so myself. And now we really *are* all here."
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"Grandma. You were not invited", Sara snarls.
"But I came anyway, dear, like I always do." She looks like she could use a place to sit down, so I get up out of my chair and she smiles, and says, "thank you, child", and takes the seat. And looking over to Gothmog, she says, "And you can stop trying to push me out. It won't work, dear. I'm not here today to cause you trouble."
He bows, conceding it. "Ma'am. I hope not, because I clearly can't prevent it."
I ask, "So, if you'll pardon the curiosity, what are you here to do?" I'm not quite sure what to make of her. Despite everything, she doesn't feel hostile.
She smiles. "I came here to meet the family, of course. And your other interesting visitors too."
"Ma'am, we haven't been introduced", says Tywyswyr. I'm sure he's made a good guess who she is, but he's the sort to stand on formality.
I jump in to do it. Maybe it's ignorance, but something tells me I don't need to be too afraid of her. "Um, I'm not sure which name you prefer to use?"
"Well I've been called a great many things, but the one I dislike the least is 'The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young', even if it does under-count by more than a little. Much better than the so called proper name that foolish racist man gave me. Mrs Goat, if you want to use human conventions. I'm fond of goats, one of my better creations."
Alright. "Mrs Goat, meet Mr Tywyswyr, a trustee of the school I study at, and Mrs Carson, Headmistress of the school. Mr Tywyswyr, Headmistress, please meet my great-grandma by lineage, the personified power of creation and life, Mrs Goat."
"There, now it's done properly", she says, with a smile. "And you needn't hide your fear behind formality, Sthri. I'm used to being feared, it doesn't bother me." She looks at me. "Actually, I'm a little curious why don't seem to, child?"
I consider that. "I'm not entirely sure. You feel... not inclined to harm us at the moment. Close to benevolent, for us and for now. It doesn't feel like that's a trick. Logically, you don't need to trick us. I feel... attachment to you. You're a member of the family, and I'm happy to meet you, even if you are also terrifying by nature."
"Well, now, that's the nicest thing anyone's said to me all day." She grins. "You know, my high priestess doesn't really like her job..."
Sara interrupts, "Grandma! I won't have you pressuring her into taking on my burden!" My brave beloved.
"Who's pressuring anybody?", she ripostes. "Granddaughter, since a certain child of yours wedged her newly formed self into me last Monday night, I've had a conscience I neither want nor need, but there it is, and I don't hold a grudge for it, life will do what it will do, even to me. I'm offering to share the work, by her permission. It might suit her, have you considered that?"
Sara looks like she's not buying it. "Coming here, being like this, you're trying to manipulate us. It's a facade, this isn't what you are."
"Yes, dear, I won't deny it. What I am, is that which shouldn't be. And won't be, soon enough. That fool boy can only impose an impossibility so far. But we have purpose in common, to get it over with quickly."
Sara, grudgingly, nods.
I say, "I'll genuinely consider it, ma'am. I may need to ask you further for what it would entail."
"Good girl. Just say 'Mrs Goat', with an intention of reaching me, and I'll be there", she nods. "Alright, well, last but not least, let's meet the youngest of the family." Looking over at pregnant me.
She gestures, I can feel something like us-type magic but stranger, and a pink spark flies from my belly, and resolves itself next to her as the pink-glowing, translucent form of a child, who looks around. "'Ello, gre-gre-gamma", a clear and enthusiastic girl's voice. "Ello mama, ello mama Sara, ello gre-ganpa, ello missuz Car Sun, ello mister dragon. Can I see your wings?" Oh god, it's Junior, and I'm in love. And I think, everyone else is too.
"How?", asks the Head, charmed but also confused. "Just a moment ago she was just cells."
Junior turns to her. "I's not borned yet, missuz Car Sun. But I is here already same way gre-gre-gamma is. Already every place. But happy to be cells now. It's good sleep. Mama's soft. Can I go back, gre-gre-gamma? I see your wings later mister dragon." Yes, I'm crying. I dare anyone not to in the circumstance. I love her so much.
Mrs Goat smiles. "Yes, you may go back dear." And waves to send the spark back into me. I rub my belly and feel the way life sense has Junior snuggling up to me. Still crying.
Turning to the Head, Mrs Goat says, "I won't tell you how to run your school, Elizabeth Carson. But what all of these children are doing is important. Including Junior, as will be later. And you should be warned that although he's clouded the details from my sight, my old opponent, who I shan't name, has his attention very much fixed upon your school. Make of that what you will."
The Head just nods.
Mrs Goat takes a deep breath and stands up. "Alright, I shan't stand on ceremony, I've done what I came to do. It has been a pleasure meeting you all." And she just isn't there any more.
It takes a moment of quiet, waiting for the other shoe to drop, before I look to Gothmog for confirmation, and he nods. "Yes, she's fully gone. My sincerest apologies, that wasn't planned at all." He looks a bit frazzled.
Drying my eyes on my sleeve, I say, "I think we should head back. I have lessons after lunch period." (Speaking of which... I'll just grab a few of those edibles to fill me up. Much nicer than the plastic-packed pasty still sat in my pocket, and strong emotion leaves me drained and hungry.)
That provides all the excuse the Head and Tywyswyr need, and the both of them make it clear, politely, that they have pressing engagements and should be going too. Sara is in a class with me right after lunch, so the four of us troop back through an opened door into Mrs Carson's office. When it shuts, the Head breathes a sigh. "That... I don't even have words for it now. Run along, Jules, Sara. I have a lot of thinking to do."
"As do I", says Tywyswyr. "It has, despite circumstances, been a pleasure meeting you both."
"Pleasure meeting you too, sir." I bow again. Sara does likewise. Then we head for the exit. Whee. That was about as heavy as heavy messing gets. But at least all my cards are on the table, now. That one burden is lifted.
There's about half an hour left before the lessons begin. A short underground walk takes us back to Sara's room, Paige is already there (back in her fur form now), and happy to be kitty in the middle of a hug from both of us, snuggled together on the bed while we fill her in on what happened.
Despite the fact I've got loads of minds to work with, my head is pretty much spinning. I'm really not sure what impression we ultimately gave the Head and the dragon. I think, the Head will still be on side with the "tell everything" project. The dragon I'm less sure of, but he sees the logic. But I know they both looked spooked as fuck when they got back, and I can hardly blame them. Something that rates against your average class X threat like a nuclear bomb compared to a campfire, stopped over to see the family. Two of which are in her school. Honestly, I hope merely being physically near Mrs Goat didn't harm them.
"Is it dangerous, the job, being life's high priestess?", I ask Sara.
"For us, no, it's just a part of my identity I can't avoid and don't enjoy, it would squish a human, but neither of us is that any more." She pauses. "You know, if we win, if we defeat him, what he made will unravel. Grandma won't be grandma. And because she defined me, I'll at least be transformed in some way. And I can't know how. I could actually just die, though I'm trying to avoid that, but it's unavoidable that I'll be changed because I won't be the High Priestess of Life any more. Giving up something like that tends to re-write your existence."
"Everything always changes, I think", I say. "There's no truly stable rock, the stability is the dance, and we'll be dancing it together. No matter what. I won't let go of you."
Paige chimes in with "Mhm, no dying. We'll all stay together. If you're changed, we'll love the changed you. I know you've done the same for me."
"I suppose I did", Sara agrees, smiling. Although I can tell she's still worried. I wish there was more I could do to reassure her, but it's a terrible situation to be stuck in.
For a few minutes, we just snuggle up together and let the strains of the day wash away in simple love and Paige-petting.
"Hey Paige", I say, which gets a curious "Mrr?" in response. "I just remembered something important. The Head told us the folks who shot at you, got caught when the one you chewed on turned kitty and tried to get a dirty doc to treat it. Confirmed they were targeting me."
She picks up, sounding worried, "Means it's likely the rest of our guessing was right too, they saw me and knew me. And lived to tell their bosses. Damn it."
"I won't let you be fate's chew toy again", I say. And Sara says "Same here, beloved. And this school is where you stay. I think maybe the time for hiding is over."
I say, "Upside, I think the Head is making things unpleasant for the line of command that authorized the whole thing. That may sow enough chaos into the bureaucracy that the question of your identity doesn't come up right away."
"Buys us time", Paige says, tail twitching. "It will, eventually, reach the ears of someone who wants me either a lobotomized servant of the state or dead, and has the power to try and make it happen."
"If they declare war on us, we declare war on them", I say. "But diplomacy may yet show fruit. You'll have to talk to the Head, she'll probably be the one brokering the talks."
Sara says, "We shouldn't forget Petra. We should bring the Knights in on this. I was already meaning to talk to them about the conference, so we can bring it up then. I'll call them up this weekend and see if they can send someone we know over."
I say, "And I need to work on my death backup ideas, we already need that for Jamie, but it would be good to have one for you and Petra too. Paige, dear, may I snapshot you, since you're right here?"
"What would it mean?" she asks.
"Just scanning you with life sense, but I'll ask big me to help me with the complexity of saving a copy. Then I should be able to manifest bodies that are clones of you. I can't yet do the soul snatch and transfer, but it's half the problem down."
"If it's Paige or Petra, I should be able to help you move the soul". Sara says, "I did that before. Jamie's a different problem though, she doesn't have a mark."
"Okay, do it", says Paige. "Damn, but it's weird. I'll be a part of you, kinda."
"Safe and protected, impossible to kill. That's what I'm aiming for. Then we can maybe tell these governments to go take a walk, because you're out of their power." I smile and kiss her, and let big me slide forward so the kiss becomes a scan, and we save a copy. "There, done."
"Sounds nice", Paige says, snuggling up against me, and purring again.
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Sadly all good snuggles have to come to an end, and I needed to get moving to be at Journeyman's class in time. A direct jump to Poe (and giving Erin a scare, sorry!) and I have my kit. I'm going to assume sweats, but I'll bring the gi in case. A few speedy teleports through the tunnels, and I catch up to Nikki and Chou as they're heading in.
"Do you have any idea why I got the note to come along with you?", Nikki's asking Chou, so I figure it's her first class with the guy too.
"Got me. Dyffud is strange and different, and this should either be fun and strange or a complete pain in the ass," Chou replies, "Oh hey, Jules. You too huh?"
I nod. "Given I'm a complete white belt compared to you two, I dunno what he's planning for me. Guess we'll find out though."
"Don't worry, we'll protect you," Nikki teases, and both of them snicker.
The other two are going with simple sweats in the changing room, so I do too. And then we head together into the room, where for unknown (but possibly Instagram-friendly) reasons the guy is doing a headstand.
"Thank you for coming Miss Reilly. I am sorry to have taken you away from your other class. I did get permission from Mrs. Hagarty first however."
"Uhm… that’s alright." Nikki's fairly glowing on life sense. He's your type, huh? I think, but don't say anything out loud. Sadly, I was never able to appreciate the male form, so he just looks like another guy to me, albeit one built like a professional dancer.
"And thank you for coming, Jules. I've been told that for you, an overlapping schedule is not a problem?”
I nod. "I'm over in escape class as we speak. It won't be a problem for me."
"Convenient", he agrees as he's tipping back upright. "So this particular class is about moving from your truth."
"Mr. Harraz…", Nikki says
"Dyffud, I already move from there," says Nikki.
"Ah, then perhaps your Mentor got it wrong. Could you just humor me for a little bit?"
"Sure. What would you like to do?"
"Could you please pull free Malachim's Feather? I want to spar briefly with you using weapons, that is all. I understand that Chou and Ms. Hagarty have been teaching you and you have some actual combat experience with the sword. Is this correct?"
Chou squinches back against the wall, I follow her lead, she's the experienced martial artist here.
Nikki says, "What are you going to fight with?", like she figures she's gonna chop him into chunks if it's some weedy ass non legendary sword, which would be embarrassing.
"With me. Don't worry, you won't cut me." Which gets a surprised look off everyone, he's either very good, or very arrogant. I'd lay my bets on good. The fact the other two are still taking him seriously suggests they would too.
"Uhm… Dyffud, this sword is very sharp and can cut through most things."
"Don't worry about it Nikki, this is my choice, so just come at me, for real, as if I were one of the Voodoo Wolves," he says.
Chou gives me a look, like, is this guy serious. Nikki just shrugs. "If that's what you want."
They bow, he lets her take the first move, coming at him with an upward cut, that he side-slips, and then angles for a sideways slice, that he jump-rolls over, ninja style. Okay, rate this guy as good. I'm scrolling back and forward through my memory of their motions, plotting angles and arcs. I can see the moment in my playback when his stance goes from generally receptive, to a specific committed response, and it's as soon as she begins to move. At that one instant the exchange was already decided and the rest of it is just him dancing with her. Implication, he must have known the library of moves which her opening stance offered. When she gave enough info to show which one she'd picked, he just indexed to the counter. Snip, snap, and close the trap.
He says "Is that really all you have? Come at me seriously." Which pisses Nikki off and she makes like a blender, although predictably at this point that doesn't do a damn thing except getting him to back up some.
"You're the Queen of the West? What a fucking joke?" He's winding her up... No, wait, I know that body language. He's winding *her* up. Interesting... and before I have much time to ponder it he's inside Nikki's blade and gets her with an elbow right to the diaphragm. Which ends the fight right there.
Immediately, his wind-up merchant attitude disappears, and he's back to Yoda, doing a few acupressure-style finger jabs and I can see Nikki's life flow getting back stabilized. He smiles. "You weren't moving from your truth and that gave me an opening. That is what we need to work on."
Chou goes and helps Nikki up, while she's asking him "How did you stop the sword?"
Yeah, definitely a Yoda style smirk there, "A forearm block."
"The sword should have gone through your arm", Nikki insists. Meanwhile I'm backtracking again, analysing it. He never contacted the blade's edge. Caught the flat at a slight diagonal and turned so the sword's momentum was wasted into empty air while he was slipping inside it. Ballsy damn move.
"Perhaps", he shrugs. Details are evidently not the lesson's point. "So... what do I mean by moving from your truth?" He pauses, they don't answer, he looks at me. "Jules, I could see you analysing, there. Tell me what she did wrong."
Flicker back, focusing on Nikki. After a moment, I say, "When she was attacking, she wasn't really giving you trouble, you could index off each of her moves and slip it by rote. But she wasn't giving you any easy open gaps, either. When Aunghadhail got grumpy and came front, she blanked. That cut was unplanned and underpowered. From your perspective, wide open." I need a cache like his. Let's create one and start loading his moves and counters into it as we go.
"How did he block Malachim's Feather, then?" It's Aung, still frustrated about her unstoppable sword being so easily stopped.
"He came inside it and didn't let the edge touch his arm. But honestly, I'd bet he could have done a dozen things. Including just moved back from the cut and closed in after it, if the weapon was something he couldn't risk touching at all. Point being, you had very little intention, control, or flow in that one moment."
"...is the right answer." Dyffud grins. Looking to Nikki and Chou, "Both of you two have an extra bit of trouble with your abilities, since Chou has the Handmaid stuff and Nikki has Aunghadhail. The transition time between one and the other makes you pause briefly in combat as neither of you is truly connected to your Truth. That pause is a huge opportunity for an attacker. Jules, from what Amanda Tolman tells me, yours is more complicated. You are still integrating your changed, non-human self. In a fight, your analysis meets your human habits of thought that don't handle multiplicity well, and you stall out and underperform. In all of your cases, because you're in various ways sharing a body, you sometimes struggle with who is driving. That problem keeps you from moving from your truth."
Chou says, "Wait, you are saying that if we come to terms with these things, we will be stronger than we already are?"
Nikki meanwhile sounds worried. "But if I do this won’t Aunghadhail be absorbed into me?"
He doesn't look too worried. "I see no reason why that would happen. Basically, you need to work with the transition, make it smoother and less likely to have you paused in your actions. It makes you stutter in your movement and disrupts your chi for a short while afterward. A clever opponent will strike at that exact moment and take advantage."
"So what you are saying is that if we come up with a better time sharing process between drivers we should be able to avoid that opening?", asks Nikki.
He shakes his head. "Look. What you need to do is realize that this is who you are and stop trying to compartmentalize things. You are both of these things. Fey, you are both Nikki Reilly and Aunghadhail. Chou Lee, you are both Alexander Farshine and The Handmaid of the Tao. Jules, you are your memories of your human self, and your newly added inhuman depths. So you share your life with some other thing, big deal. Does that fact make you any less you? Is either part any more or less true than the others? When you get a handle on who you really are this problem will disappear."
Chou pauses for a moment, clearly turning the idea over in her head, before asking "How?"
Dyffud grins wider. "You need to realize that there is not a Chou box and an Alex box and a Handmaid box, or a Nikki box and an Aunghadhail box. Or Jules, a human box and a great old one box. There is only one box, you. Alex is still you, despite you now being a girl. The Handmaid is still you, despite everything. And Nikki, Aunghadhail is your past and to a degree, your future, but you are still Nikki Reilly when all is said and done. Without merging these things, you will leave openings that a good fighter will be able to exploit. I want to help you all fix these holes."
While those two are thinking about it, he goes and grabs a thick meditation mat for each of us from a stack, and hands them out, indicating the floor. "Let's meditate."
Upside of this body, I can actually do lotus without giving myself a sprained hip or a numb leg. "What I want you to do during this meditation is to picture your self, all parts of it. They will not be in a cohesive whole and that is alright at this stage of things. During the meditation, I want you to try to bring them together into one. It isn't all that easy and you will have to figure out some of the various interconnections in the process that are causing you some issues. Once you can figure those out you might be able to get past this and integrate fairly easily. Shall we?"
We nod, he dings one of those Tibetan bells that seem to be the done thing for meditation, and off we go.
Alright. Still, center, I perceive my thoughts arising but I am not my thoughts. My attention rests. Allow myself to experience myself. My minds. The lesson going on over the other side, and the feelings of happiness that come from being with Sara and Paige and having fun with fancy anti-exemplar locks. The two me in Gothmog's place, sleeping off the day's shocks all wrapped up in each other. Big me, beneath, quietly radiating love. Sara, through the mark. Through Sara, dimly felt, others. And stretching in a different direction, I include my various bodies, pregnant and not. Going down deep, like I did with Paige, I find my bodies have their own memories and minds. Some levels regret the changes I've gone through. Others revel in them.
If all of my parts are one, what would it mean? Big me slides forwards and we share the hypothetical. When we're together, we can see the bits that stick and grind. But we resist the temptation just just scribble over them, instead we cherish and unwind them. They are knots of fear, of hanging-onto-habit based in seeking comfort from the familiar, so we comfort them. We understand that our larger self does not belong too deeply enmeshed in this universe, but we can blend and flow with its potential.
The bell dings again. End of meditation. Big me slides back down, but more connected than before, more a part of a fluid self. I'm changed, again, I think.
Dyffud can see it too. I can tell from the way he looks at me. But he doesn't bother the others with it, as we all help pack away.
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"Your eyes just got brighter, you know?" Sara sounds curious. We're currently playing with getting fiendishly complicated devisor locks open.
Paige takes a look and nods, "Yeah, they aren't the full on, shadow casting headlights you get when big you is up front, but they're brighter than they were. What're you up to over on the other side?"
So I tell them about Dyffud's interesting lesson. Sara takes a peek inside my head at my new arrangements and teases, "he doesn't know what kind of a monster he's created", and I snicker.
"Miss Parallel! Yes you, since you're having such a great time, why don't you come up here and join me at the front." Oopsie.
I stand and come up front, where Mr Robertson is honestly looking amused rather than annoyed. I figure he just needed a "volunteer".
"So, kid, you're the warper type. Here, I've got some fancy cuffs the Knights of Purity use. OMAG, go put them on her. Try to get out of them using powers."
OMAG is a big, grumpy wanna be soldier type with a Scottish accent. He doesn't like me, because we both can duplicate bodies but he tops out far lower than me and has to run it all with one mind. Which explains his sadistic smirk that would look great on an actual anti-mutant crusader. He's happy to put his YouTube trained "army skills" to use manhandling me, grabbing my hands behind my back and locking me into the cuffs with sadistic amounts of force. Which of course does exactly nothing to me, because I'm ex-4 and he's barely more than a baseline with a trick. Of course I ham it up, going "ow, ow that hurts" and pitifully squirming, which gets him to evil-snicker, and then disappoint him as soon as he's done by being clearly fine. I'd lay odds that any army that would accept this guy is going to belong to a state with "democratic" in its name, that isn't. Ass.
Okay, lets see what these thingies can do. He said powers, so I try bending myself over to the other side of the classroom. Huh, interesting, they followed. Fold space for a short range teleport... I keep an eye on them with gravity sense and lo and behold, they warp right along with me. "Clever trick", I say. OMAG is snickering. So I tease him by duplicating myself and vanishing the original (which he can't do), and the cuffs drop to the floor with a "thunk". And promptly flash very brightly, making everyone in the class wince and hide their eyes.
"Good work", Mr Robertson says. "They didn't design around that one trick, but you'll notice that a lot of these things have a booby-trap that goes off if they realise you've escaped. It can be anything, a bomb, sonic stunner, gas, marker liquid. In this case, just a flashbulb. Best be careful where you drop them. If you couldn't use body duplication, how would you get out?"
"Pick the lock with a tentacle", I say. "I could cut them, but not without irradiating the room. I could contrive to cut or blow my hands off and then regenerate them, although I prefer not to and it would leave me useless in a fight for short while. If I can't afford to break out, bide my time until the captors slip." I'm thinking, when my saber's done, I may have another option there. And of course, there's always picking them apart by atoms, but I'd rather keep that one a little quiet.
He nods. "The advanced ones usually have unpickable locks, because the keys have computer chips in 'em. Stealing a genuine key is an option you left off. The other approaches are good. Remember kids, waiting for a better chance later is an option you need to have on your list."
He waves me back towards my desk as he continues, "Now, this not being Hollywood, nobody's going to fall asleep next to your barred cell with a jingle-jangle ring of keys clipped to their belt for you to hook off. Let's look at where they keep the keys." He turns on the projector and shows a slide up on the board. "This here is a typical high-security mutant prisoner transport van. They won't normally unlock you in one of these, and the guards don't carry keys, but they do have some ready in a locked safe in case you have a heart attack or something. Usually it's here."
I sit down at my place and watch with interest. This could be useful, given the annoying way my life tends to go.
Over on the other side, with the lesson done, I don't have anything to do, but I'm already feeling antsy from the lockdown - especially since I know it's going to be lifted, they just haven't done it yet. I really want to just run and play in the woods. But I'm not going to make any enemies by doing it before they let us. What I *can* do, though, is stand outside, in one of the open air tunnels of temporary bulletproof screens between the buildings, and look up at the stars as they start to come out. They've become something of a mascot of my changes, to me. I can see so many more now, even when they aren't all out. And in far greater colour depth. Although some of the colour ranges are muted, but that's probably the atmosphere eating the high frequency stuff. I wonder if I'll ever be able to go outside of atmosphere and see them raw? I think perhaps I could create and destroy stuff to handle gas exchange, but what about pressure? Going to the bathroom via matter destruction is something else I'd have to figure out too. I neither want to create a vacuum implosion inside my innards, nor a gas bubble. Fussy, fussy.
"Hi, nice evening, not worried about shooters?" My attention is dragged back to the here-and-now, it's Dyffud, he must have headed out the same way I did. His calm presence didn't ding my attention on life sense. Interesting.
I shake my head. "I was already told the matter's resolved, so all this is just residual. Thank you for your lesson. I believe I learned a lot."
"I saw", he says. "Your chi did some interesting things. I believe you learned a lot more than you got a chance to show."
I get the feeling he'll understand. "I find it frustrating, physical lessons, normally. The data density is so low. I learn one move... now I've got to learn hundreds more before I can string patterns together. I might get it in one go, but I have to keep up with the rest of the class who want to do the same thing for a whole lesson. Watching you... I was close to learning at a comfortable speed."
He laughs. "Most people, they get hit in the face by a firehose and beg to turn it down."
"I read a whole library in an evening, a week ago", I say. "Not bragging, just a benchmark. I've got faster since. I can turn off my frustration, but anything at one-to-one speed feels painfully slow to me."
"You want lessons, don't you?"
"Desperately", I admit. "Even if it's just watching. But the ideal would be personal lessons, just us. I feel like I could actually learn at close to a natural speed. And I feel you could adjust and handle that."
He looks curious. "I could adjust, hmm?"
"Most teachers here, they're expecting me to be human, and I'm not. I'm not even just a speedster or an exemplar. This one physical body can't come close to saturating my attention bandwidth. I think now, I couldn't saturate it with a thousand. I learn immediately, on the first pass, and permanently. Often before they've finished their sentence. I get the feeling it bothers them."
He says, "Don't be too harsh on Amanda, she runs her class the way she does for a reason."
"Oh, I know it," I say, "I remember being human. Being a slow-ass, unfit, uncoordinated, rubbish memory human, in fact. I understand wanting to bring the whole group up to a standard, however gradually that has to be done. It's just frustrating because I feel I might need this stuff. You know I've been in fights already?"
He nods. "I heard. We've discussed your recent fight, us martial arts teachers. Consensus was that you knew you couldn't fight with any skill, and made the best of it."
"Where best means dying repeatedly, yeah." I sigh. "If in future, I could make a fight like that end without having personal experience of what my intestines look like, that would be nice."
"Ending the fight was your goal, then?"
"Protecting Erin, getting her found by security, was my primary goal. Secondary, getting a chance to free two people of compulsion in a context where conveniently knocking them out wasn't assault. So I was stalling for time initially, but yeah, I wanted the fight to stop. Stalling by talking is a lot less traumatic."
"And getting revenge on them? Anger?"
"I was angry for what they did to Erin. But it didn't come into the fight. Hurting them back would just have made more victims. That feels senseless, to me. None of them would have learned from it."
He nods. "Despite that, you did put quite a bit of trauma on them. Particularly miss Summers."
"I've decided since, I regret that", I say. "At the time, it felt justified, to overwhelm them and win. Now, I feel it was it the same category of unjustified excess as flooding them with tentacles would have been. They aren't absolute enemies, like the things they call 'voodoo wolves' here. They're kids, with bad attitudes."
"That's a good lesson to have learned, and it's good you learned it without a lot more collateral damage", he agrees. "Alright. I'm going to schedule in training for you. Probably separate from Chou, she needs different things."
My "Yay!" and happy bouncing makes him laugh.
Over the other side, a background thread I had set chewing on ideas pops up, and I look at what it has to show me. Oh, interesting design! I show Sara through the mark.
She's not techie, so it takes her a moment to parse it out. "Oh I see, so this would let us have group chats, like the Kimbas do, but for lots of different groups?"
"Broadcast in a group, or just direct to a particular person", I agree. "Anyone could bring anyone onto the mesh and pull them into existing groups, or make new groups. I could make a group for the Kimbas, so they wouldn't need their gadgets. We could have separate pack and polycule groups so we don't bother Gypsy with lovey-dovey stuff."
"And soul level interconnects means it would be impossible to snoop except perhaps for one of us."
"And tamper evident if they did. Plus that should mean people can stay on mesh and communicate if they're unconscious, and if they die, we can lifeboat them, because we have a link to their soul."
"Which solves our Jamie problem", she agrees. "Interesting. It'll be a new spell, which will mean a lot of research. You can do some Gothmog-side, I'll do some, we compare notes. You realise that if you give this to the Kimbas, Ayla is gonna give it to his business contacts, they're gonna give it to their partners... it'll spread. It could end up as ubiquitous as email."
"Make all the humans telepathic, and tele-empathic, without breaking down their boundaries. Cut the nosies out of the loop. Teach them that souls are real and death is temporary, in the most practical way." I'm grinning. "Sounds like a project."
She snickers, but then gets thoughtful. "Downside is, villains will love it. Truly private chats."
"Upside, victims will love it", I counter. "They can be yacking away with their families telling them where they're at and what the villain's plans are, and nobody can snoop or prevent it."
"Fair point", she agrees. "We could have used that with Erin. Okay, let's get started on that this evening?"
I nod. "And I can probably work on it in dream-time too."
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As fifth period is ending, there's an announcement over the tannoy, mandatory assembly after sixth period. From the chatter that creates, a lot of people are speculating the same way as I am, they caught the sniper, they're lifting the lockdown. Could be something else, but that seems the way to bet. Two more simultaneous classes, and then school work is over for me until Monday. I'm really looking forward to the pressure being off, and I wish they hadn't tacked this on. Hopefully it's short.
Crypto with Paige, I'm looking forward to. She's so in her element there, and it's always a fun, informative class. Demon banishing with the rev, not so much. If he gives me grief tonight, I may snap at him. As Sara, Paige and I walk over, Sara gives me head-scritches with a tentacle. And Paige hugs me. Damn, I love these two. Which I tell them, and pull them both into a three-way hug.
Me who was in Dyffud's class, is back in Poe, keeping a track of my emails, and just tinkering around on this world's internet, which is different a few ways from the internet of the world I left behind. Different big names. Somewhat more advanced tech. An email comes in from Caitlin, she's cleared a slot on Saturday morning for testing my lightsaber. Good, I could use having that available. If we test it on the range, maybe we can test out some other ideas I have. I want to turn my mostly useless refractive shield power into a thing to be reckoned with, because I have gravity sense now - I literally learned it later that same day, but I was a mite busy with aliens at the time. Now, though, I have practise and speed, I think I could track individual munitions coming in. And slap a teeny tiny shield in their way. Or maybe a small g-well to drag them to a halt, Matrix style? It should be fun to find out how well that all works. I bet I'm not the first, either. Means she'll know if that's a good idea or not.
Crypto class today picks up on the public discovery of differential cryptanalysis, and the at first tantalizing but unproven suggestion that the NSA and IBM knew of it ahead of time, because of the unexpected strength of the S-boxes in the DES cipher. Then Mr Bornstein starts walking us through how to apply it to a toy cipher.
Over on the other side, the room in Kirby Hall fills up slowly, I take my usual place, and Englund makes his way in, bringing a hush as he heads to the front. He waits for quiet then says, "Today we are going to cover cryptids. Does anyone know what a cryptid is?" I decide to keep my hand down and just ride this class out, but others put theirs up and he picks someone who says "Uh, like Bigfoot and stuff, you know?". Picks someone else, "It's monsters, isn't it? And urban legends."
"These are correct answers, but limited ones", he continues. "Cryptids as a group are creatures, animals and humanoids, which are not yet discovered as factual by mainstream science. The concept shades into made up urban legends at one end, and undiscovered but entirely natural animals at the other. However, tonight we will be focusing on the middle of the range. Creatures which combine seeming physicality, with decidedly nonphysical capabilities such as vanishing into thin air, and which are associated with reality distortion effects such as draining batteries and causing glitches in digital electronics. Bigfoot is a good example here. Present mainstream science, when it looks at the topic at all, ascribes these to mutant-like abilities arising in a natural species, allowing it to hide in plain sight. From experience, I've come to a different conclusion. I believe them to be primarily spirits, and in some cases, demons. That theory is what we're going to examine in this lesson."
I guess this time around, he's decided to get on with teaching and not come after me, except perhaps very indirectly. I can live with that, and the topic is interesting, so I settle in to listen. Back where I came from, there were similar discussions about Bigfoot, I used to follow the subject. This world with its magic might be better equipped to make sense of the whole strange business.
Come to think of it, that's dangerous. My interest reading them over there might bite me over here, what if this world didn't have a Mothman, or something? I'm at risk of handing out clues to my cross-world origins by knowing a lot about something that never happened, or missing something important that did. Hurriedly, over in Poe I pull up Wikipedia (which thankfully does exist here) and get to researching. A lot of the articles are shorter and cruder than i recall - but then it hits me, they're over a decade younger than the ones I recall. Even with tech being better over here, the site still began in 2001. Heh, maybe I can start contributing stuff to it? A project for later.
The rev is talking about the way that high strangeness follows cryptids - and UFOs. He acknowledges extraterrestrial aliens are real, people he knows have met them, but he doesn't think UFOs are aliens, for the most part. He believes they ought to be bundled in with spirits, same as many cryptids. I'd say he has a good point there, even if he does tend to assume everything is evil and demonic in nature.
"It's a misconception", he says, "to assume that all spirits are intangible. That is their basic nature, true. But cultures down the ages have described physical encounters with spirit beings. How is that possible? Sometimes, they are creating illusions in the minds of the witnesses. Sometimes, they have made a body from substances found nearby, which will collapse back into a heap of random detritus when they die or depart. Sometimes they inhabit dead human bodies, or possess living ones. And sometimes, they impose physical form onto the world more directly. Creating something tangible enough to leave tracks, and yet intangible enough to have those tracks just stop and disappear with no sign where the creature went."
Getting a little close to describing me or Sara, which may be his game here, although I might be being a bit paranoid given I know he *is* out to get me. Sometimes a Sasquatch is just a Sasquatch.
Or sometimes it's a bit more, it seems. He's describing his own encounter. "This happened to me some years ago. A friend had prevailed on me to help him investigate the Bigfoot. I didn't believe any such thing as an undiscovered natural ape in North America could exist, but accompanied him on account of friendship and because it promised to be a quietly enjoyable camping trip. We took mules up a steep trail to a spot he told me he'd heard them before, reaching a level clearing which he'd clearly used as a camp with friends on previous occasions - there was a fire pit, logs to sit on, a wooden bear shelter, cleared spots to put up our tents. Which we did, and cooked over the fire, and he played with his banjo and I sung hymns. He told me that the creatures like music. It started to turn to dusk."
"So the first strange thing that happened was a sudden and almighty silence. All the forest creatures you just tune out, birds, frogs, crickets, just stopped. Now this wasn't my first run-in with the powers of darkness, and I've seen this effect before, so I pulled my cross off my belt and made ready to drive Satan back. Second thing, was a light where no light had a business being, in the forested valley below. I wouldn't call it a UFO, because it wasn't higher off the ground than a man could hold a lantern, but it glowed with an orange colour and wove through the trees, lighting much less distance than it ought. And just went out as silently and suddenly as it had lit."
He pauses and grins. "Next up, there was a banging, uphill from us, sounded like somebody was hitting a tree with a whole log. Thwack, thwack, thwack. And loud jabbering and shrieks. My friend, he was panicking. He said, 'I've annoyed them, bringing you', and he wanted to retreat to the bear shelter, which was an arrangement of heavy logs tied like a teepee, and you could move one aside and squeeze in, then put the rope around it from inside to hold it secure. So we did that, since I didn't want to abandon him to his fears. And these heavy footsteps came crashing into camp. Now at this point, darkness had fallen, and we never saw them, but we smelled a foul sulphur stink. There was a smashing and a breaking around camp, and our mules screamed, and then our shelter was rocked by a great blow. And then shoved upon, but it couldn't be made to teeter over, and I was shoving from the other side to keep it upright."
He pauses and looks at us. "Now I suppose I've got you all half convinced that we were being besieged by the hairy man-apes of legend. But step back a moment. Look at what's happened. Silence where noise was expected. Lights. Screams and incoherent vocalizations. Knocks on wood and heavy blows on structures. The sounds of footsteps. Sulfurous smells. Things being overturned and broken. Animals panicking." He nods as people start to get it. "If the same happened in a house, we'd call it a haunting. And indeed what happened next gives weight to that."
"I held up my cross and called upon the power of God that he permits to flow through me, to vanquish and banish them. If we were facing natural apes, that wouldn't do a thing, save perhaps God might turn their attention away, but what happened was quite the opposite. Silence fell as suddenly as it had before. No banging, no crashing, no footsteps. Then after a breath, the forest noises resumed. For my friend's sake, I stayed with him in that cramped shelter until dawn lit the sky, and then when we came out, we found much less ruin than we anticipated, things were scattered but not smashed, there were what looked like footprints, but indistinct and smeared. Nothing you could take a cast of. Our mules, alas, were gone. Now, I won't bore you with our trek home. Instead I'll ask you to think about what I encountered, and how it stands up to scrutiny as an encounter with spirits. And ask you to consider, how would you banish those spirits?"
I hadn't expected to be intrigued, but the rev is a skilled tale spinner, and he makes a well argued point. The rest of the lesson is interesting too, covering various traditional and magical ways of breaking the power of spirits. I think it's deliberate that he doesn't press further on religion as a means - he's already told a story to advertise that approach!
As the lesson comes to a close, I realise I don't entirely buy his take on those events. I don't suspect him of untruthfulness, he doesn't seem the sort to lie. But from what I've come to suspect about him, something - something unfriendly, that wants cruelty in the name of goodness - has got its claws in him. Was it truly the power of God that banished those Sasquatch? Or were there not one, but two eldritch powers up the hill that night, and only one of them outside the shelter?
An interesting, if dark, thought to end a week's lessons.
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