A Whateley Academy Adventure
Jade 1 – Coming Out
By Babs Yerunkle
1: Pop goes the weasel
Topeka, Kansas May 18, Thursday
“I’ve had it with you!”
The shove practically threw Jared across the room, slamming him against the wall. Snapshots and cheap posters rained down. Jared looked for somewhere to run, but he was already backed into the far corner of his room.
He was used to running from his father. “Trouble prevention,” as he preferred to think of it; giving father time to cool off. He was often the target of his father’s anger, but this time was worse than any he could remember. Well, worse than anything since the crash that had killed his mother, three years ago. That had resulted in a DUI conviction for his father, and a beating for him sufficient to keep him out of school for a week.
And if Jared couldn’t think of some way to escape, there’d be another fatality tonight.
“You got any idea how much it’s gonna cost me to get the grill and radiator fixed?”
With a quick backhand the man slapped him into the wall. It wasn’t a hard hit – a few more cracks, some of the yellowing paint chipped off to expose the bare drywall underneath, Jared’s bookcase fell over. Not that his father cared about books. Jared himself rolled from the blow, softening the impact. After bouncing off the wall, he tried to scramble away, out of the man’s way. His fingers clutched at the debris of books and magazines, as if they might provide some sort of shield.
“I wasn’t even there! I didn’t do anything!” His protests sounded feeble even to his own ears.
“Gawd, you probably don’t even understand why I got to get out of this place! Surrounded all day long by my stupid pussy of a son. At least Mike’s has some real men! When are you gonna grow into something a man can be proud of? Not some runty little weakling!”
Jared had years of aikido training. All the same, he knew he’d never have the confidence to strike back at his father. He could train all he wanted, but when he faced his father, body and mind both seemed to freeze. Even if, somehow, he had miraculously managed to defend himself, he father would only beat him worse for “cheating” and using “pajama-fighting tricks.”
His hands scrabbled in the debris, searching for something, anything. He felt the boxing gloves his father had given him four years ago, for his tenth birthday (“So you can learn to fight like a real man”). He knew they still fit. That seemed to be the only thing the old man respected. The stupidest form of fighting on the planet. Oddly enough, that’s what he really wanted to do sometimes – to punch his father’s smelly face in!
“You make me sick,” the man said, unleashing a swift kick to his gut. “How dare you hold those gloves? Look at you! Stupid little runt, with your skinny girl arms! You never even tried that weight set, did you?”
He used it, at least once a day. Sometimes twice. But he never seemed to add any bulk.
“Look at you! You’re no son of mine!” His father reached down to grab the padded training headgear and threw it into his face, hard enough to bruise. Then the old man straightened, as if in sudden realization. “That’s it. That’s the only answer. She musta cheated on me. You aren’t half Irish. You’re a full-nip bastard! You never even WERE my son!”
And he suddenly knew for a fact that his father was going to kill him. Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.
He shook his head, disoriented. He felt different. Fundamentally different, but there was no chance to think about it.
What had he been thinking? Lying there, curled in on himself, waiting for his father to beat him to death? After all that practice in the dojo, why did he always freeze when confronted by him father? This time, he resolved, he would finally face this conflict. He would master the fear that had dominated him.
Despite the clear need, he hadn’t been taking Aikido to defend himself. He’d started if for the grace, for the harmony. A school of fighting that believed in non-violence first and foremost, with movement that sometimes seemed more like a graceful dance. Sometimes, when he was practicing, that’s what it felt like – like he was dancing. It was the complete opposite of the boxing gloves that he’d been laced into. How had he gotten here? Had he taken a blow to the head already? Is that why he was so confused?
He must have taken a hit. His vision was swimming. He wasn’t even seeing in color. Everything was gray, but he could see edges, transitions, surfaces. There were no shadows anywhere, and he couldn’t even see the patch of sunlight that had been coming through the window a moment ago. He’d been hoping to blind his father for a moment, so he could make a run for it. And now his eyes weren’t even working right. He didn’t remember being hit, but there was no time for distraction, not in the middle of a fight. He reached for his ki and sought his center.
The discovery was devastating.
He didn’t have any ki! He didn’t even have any breath! In fact, he had no sense of his body or energy in any way. It was like there was nothing but the gloves in front of him.
Even more impossibly, he had no center, no hara! No matter how he moved his feet, his footing was sound and solid. No matter how he leaned over, he was still in balance. Except that there was no balance! It was almost as if gravity and inertia had vanished. The only components to his balance were, again, the gloves in front of him. Oh yes, and the headgear he wore for protection.
The discovery of perpetually good footing and perfect balance might have seemed a gift to others, but not to him. Him training was devoted to issues of balance and movement. It was devoted to proper breathing and awareness of him body. How could he use that awareness when he had no breathing, and so far as he could tell, had no body?
Utterly confused, he glanced down for a second. His body was there, but it was a mist of silvery sparkles. And he could see right through himself.
And then he understood. His father had finally hit him too hard, and he’d died. He was his own ghost, somehow haunting these idiotic boxing gloves – the last thing he’d held in life.
Him father seemed to come to a decision. He threw a punch at Jared’s chest. Reacting instantly, Jared moved to perform a simple oji waza – even with the gloves on, he should be able to block the blow, and then lock his father’s arms.
Of course, his father’s arms went though his without slowing. Fortunately, the punch also passed harmlessly through him. It was hard to forget his old reflexes, but it seemed it was impossible to hurt a ghost by punching it.
Jared chanced another quick look. Now that he thought of it, he didn’t have to turn his head to look – he seemed to be able to see in every direction. But his thinking was still trying to catch up. He might be able to see in every direction, but so far, he was only noticing in the direction he concentrated on. He quickly glanced down at his body. It was still a mist, but his skin seemed to be firming up and forming a surface, rather than the wispy cloud of a moment ago. More important was the fact that Jared was standing in the middle of his bed. That is, his legs passed through the bed to reach the floor.
He saw his first flash of color then, in his father’s face. For a moment, as Jared watched, his father’s face had glowed with an amber color. Not golden, more of a banana tint. Now his anger was rising again, turning his eyes crimson and filling his mouth with the glow of a blast furnace. Jared could see it filling his father’s head and chest, and to a lesser extent lighting the rest of his body.
Jared wondered again. Were ghosts made up of ki? But, whatever he was, it didn’t feel like ki. Just twice in class, he’d felt some glimmering of something. His ki had been a feeling that united the swirling air in his lungs and the heat that filled his muscles. Now, he had neither air nor muscles, and absolutely none of that ki feeling.
“You’re doing this, aren’t you?” his father bellowed. “This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it? It’s not going to save you, bastard!” With that, the man struck for Jared’s face. He shifted him head and moved to enter inside his father’s arms followed by a quick hip throw. Again, his lack of a body thwarted him. And without the block his arm would have provided, his father managed to hit him square in the nose.
Except that the fist went through his nose without pain or resistance. When it struck the back of his headpiece, though, it pulled uncomfortably. The man grabbed onto the headgear, trying to rip it from Jared’s ghostly head. Jared screamed in pain before somehow, instinctually, “releasing” the headgear. It slipped away, removing the pain and leaving his head feeling lighter.
What kind of move could he use when all he had were boxing gloves? He hated atemi – the striking blows. He’d always avoided those except for the minimum needed for competency in the art. It was part of the reason he fit so well with Aikido.
He stepped back to consider, only belatedly realizing that he’d stepped back into the wall. His face and hands were still in the room, but his body was in the wall.
His father turned from him and looked down at the object at him feet. Jared glanced down and saw a boy’s body, curled around its belly. He was only slightly disconcerted to recognize his own body. Then he saw the small boy move, and he was astonished. That was him! That was his body! It was not only alive, it was glowing in a mixture of colors – the banana yellow he’d seen in his father, a sparkling blue in the eyes and the top of his head, and an almost ultra-violet from deep within the skull.
But if he was a ghost – if he was here – how was his body moving?
Further speculation was halted by the need to take action. His father lashed out with a kick at the cringing boy. Jared instinctively stepped forward to block, sweeping his leg aside and around, but his legs were so much vapor. Instead, his father’s steel-toed boot connected with the boy’s stomach in a sickening thud, and Jared watched as his body was slammed up against the wall and slumped down unconscious. As his father prepared to unleash more kicks, Jared found his dislike of atemi suddenly vanishing. He erupted in a fury.
A chudan-zuki connected in his father’s stomach, surprising the man but doing relatively little damage. But the wild return strike did absolutely nothing to Jared. Another strike, an oi-zuki hit, but without a physical body he was unable to add any momentum.
His father, unable to land a blow, seized his left glove and twisted. To Jared’s surprise, it was as if he weighed nothing. He spun upside down. Even here, he still had perfect footing and no trouble with his balance. It was disturbing. It seemed less like he had flipped, and more like the entire world had flipped over while he remained still. And with his father upside-down with legs spread wide for balance, Jared had a perfect target.
Normally a low blow like this would have been even more distasteful than a strike for the express purposes of harming someone. But he’d seen those steel-toed boots at work. He’d seen his father kick his body. Another kick and there might be two ghosts in the room (although Jared couldn’t understand who was in his body). So he struck. A perfect gedan-zuki, right to his most vital spot. With a moist cry, him father folded forward, slumping against the shelves that held Jared’s free weights.
Jared watched, not quite understanding, still trying to spin himself right side up, as one of the weights rolled off the shelf and then toppled (upward, from him perspective) to strike his father on the back of his head.
It only took a thought and he revolved in place, spinning about his center like a pinwheel. Except that he had no hara.
His father and … his own body… both had muted grayish colors compared to a moment ago. The red glow had vanished from his father. Instead, there was a blackish tinge radiating out from the back of his head, where the weight had struck.
He was definitely unconscious. Maybe worse.
He turned to his own body next. That was also a grayish glow, with a blackish-purple blossoming from the stomach. The bright colors in the face and head were gone. He debated about trying to move his body, but decided against it.
It made a little more sense for his spirit – his soul? – to be here if his body was unconscious, but for a while they’d both been awake. He was sure of that. And when the body finally woke up again, would he go back? He wasn’t sure he wanted to. In his spirit form like this, he felt better than he ever had in the flesh. His body had never “fit” quite right. He wasn’t sure how to describe it. But now, in this spirit form, he felt the difference. For the first time ever, he felt right. He had no ki, no breath, no center, no body. And despite that, everything was correct in a way that had never been true before. Perhaps he’d achieved a state of grace, being one step closer to the afterlife.
But there was no time for philosophizing. He needed to call an ambulance, and fast! He tried to strip off his right glove, but couldn’t figure out how. His teeth didn’t seem to affect the laces. Now that he looked, the gloves weren’t actually tied. Somehow, the act of wanting it allowed him to slip out of the right glove and drop it on the floor. He reached for himself – his body – trying to feel a pulse or anything. He could feel plenty. He could feel the fading panic in his body, the life-filled flutter of its weak and irregular pulse, but he couldn’t seem to move anything.
Panicking now, he raced into the kitchen. He reached for the phone, but no matter how he tried to grab it, or kick it, or move it, he couldn’t. Him body had as much effect on the physical world as so much fog. The only thing that moved real objects was the stupid boxing glove, still on him left hand. Desperately, he raced back to him room and tried to re-don the right glove, but for some reason, that failed too.
He knew he was running out of time. He moved back to the kitchen and searched quickly for a tool – and spotted the butter knife. Carefully using the clumsy glove, he scooted it partway over the edge of the counter. Finally, he could grab it, clutching it with him “thumb.” Using that, he flipped the phone receiver off the hook and used the knife to punch 9-1-1.
“Hello? This is Jared Reilley!” At least, he’d intended to say that. No sound came out.
The operator spoke on the other end, demanding an answer. Finally they threatened to send a patrol car if no one answered.
Jared’s last action was to use the butter knife to unlatch the chain on the door. He placed the knife back on the edge of the counter, then used the glove to carefully twist the knob of the front door, pulling it open. That would be a sure invitation to the police to come in. Then he “let go” of the glove. He might not be able to touch anything for a while, but at least he’d be able to silently watch. But as he released it, consciousness abruptly winked out.
He knew his father was going to kill him. Clutching the gloves and boxing headgear, if felt like his head exploded – before the first punch was even thrown.
A moment later, the boxing equipment was pulled out of his hands. But then, no punches landed. He looked up, expecting to see his father ready to unleash kicks or punches. Instead, his father was facing... the boxing gloves and headgear, which floated mysteriously in the air. It was almost like the gloves and headgear were being worn by an invisible boxer.
As he watched, his father made a jab for the boxer’s chest. That did nothing. It would have hit a real person, but it struck only air. At the same time, the gloves spun through circular arcs. It almost looked like some type of oji waza move. If so, the gloves may have had physical substance, but the invisible boxer didn’t.
He felt a stab of terror as his father snapped a quick glance at him. “You’re doing this, aren’t you? This is one of them achy-dough tricks, isn’t it? It’s not going to save you, bastard!” With that, his father snapped a quick jab straight into the face of the invisible boxer. It passed through the non-existent head, but got caught in the back of the head guard. The padded headpiece seemed to resist, slowly stretching away. Jared could almost imagine sparks or something going off, as the headpiece was suddenly ripped free.
That must have disturbed the boxer, because it backed right up to the wall, so that the gloves almost seemed to have been glued onto the wall like an ornament. The wall over his head!
His father shifted his targeting gaze from the mysterious gloves down to the lump on the floor. The big man gave a nasty grin.
Jared felt a moment of sheer terror as the foot flashed forward, then he felt it rip through his gut and slam him against the wall. Then it went black.
When he woke, he was in a recovery ward in the hospital. The bed was an old enamel-coated metal frame, and the room looked like it had once been white, before the paint had yellowed. Perhaps it had been yellow, and faded over time. The room held nine other beds, but only his was occupied.
As he came awake, he remembered both. He had been lying on the floor as his father kicked him. But he’d also been an invisible boxer. The same scene, the same moments, but he remembered them from two very different perspectives.
He didn’t doubt it. He didn’t think it was a dream or hallucination. It was some sort of miracle, and it had saved his life, he was sure of that. But it had really only postponed the inevitable. Hospital bills on top of everything else would make his father more furious than ever. When Jared finally went home, he knew what would happen. Broken bones, hits that didn’t break the skin but left him bleeding on the inside, and then he’d die.
He knew it, as surely as he knew anything. When he went home, he would die.
The thought terrified him more and more, as he lay in the bed clutching the sheet.
And then the miracle happened again. Something flashed in his head, and suddenly, the sheet was moving as if it was alive. It suddenly slipped free of the bed, bumping the blanket off and then sliding off like some sort of magic carpet.
“Are you me in there?” he asked in wonder.
The blanket paused, then turned and seemed to nod to him. It flew up and wrapped a corner of itself around his hand.
Jared smiled. Despite the massive danger that awaited, he couldn’t help marveling at the antics of this strange, animated piece of fabric.
Eventually, the sheet came back and settled on top of him. There was a sort-of a “pop” feeling, and he suddenly had two sets of memories in his head. There was him-in-bed, which he had definitely been a moment ago, and there was him-in-sheet, which was just as real, and just as immediate. Somehow, for a time, there had been two of him – both as real, as honestly him as the other. Well, that wasn’t quite true. The him-in-sheet had somehow felt more true, more correct, and more real that the version of him left behind in the body. It wasn’t like his soul had been removed – it felt more real than he felt now. It was like the spirit-form, or whatever he should call it, was higher, or better, or improved in some way.
Another thing was becoming clear. Somehow, the spirit-form was connected to material objects – the boxing glove, the sheet. When it “dropped” the last object, it vanished like a popping soap bubble. And that’s when the memories re-appeared in his head.
Could he do it again?
He clutched the sheet and tried to duplicate the feeling he’d had. It wasn’t exactly a push, but it was hard to do –
And he was free again. There was a difference. He wasn’t sure whether it was just as he’d been pushed out, or whether it was him doing it, as he flowed into a form. It was hard to tell, since the intention and direction had been his, and just at the beginning it was hard to tell the difference between the thoughts of him-in-body and him-in-spirit.
Last time, he had flowed into the sheet. He had taken its form and shape, although he provided the life and movement. This time, he’d had more of a sense of himself, and he’d formed a body and pulled the sheet to him. This was the way it had been that first time, with the boxing gloves.
Jared watched as the sheet swirled up. It seemed to be forming a wrap. A toga? No, more of a skin-tight wrap, winding around the body of the invisible spirit-self. He could see the outlines of the body. A corner of the sheet slid up the back of the neck and sat almost like hair on the top of the head.
He suddenly realized something. “Wait a minute – you can’t be me. You’re too tall!”
This had been a sore point for years. He’d always been one of the shorter kids in class, but the last couple of years it seemed like he hadn’t grown at all. Meanwhile, all his classmates were suddenly hitting growth spurts. One of the girls had started the year at his height and was now the third-tallest kid in class.
But not Jared. He didn’t seem to grow a bit. He’d been four-foot-nine for years it seemed.
Yes, the ghost was definitely taller than him. The spirit, or whatever it was, was as tall as most of his classmates. About middling height, he thought. The height I would have been, if I’d kept growing.
The thought took him by surprise. “Hey, come back! I just thought of something.”
Obligingly, the sheet unwrapped. It was like invisible hands were holding one edge. The invisible hands could be almost be seen by the effect they left, as they moved on the far side of the sheet. Wrapping the sheet around his hands, the invisible spirit used the sheet like gloves, grabbing the blanket and pulling it off. Next, it flipped the sheet out neatly, covering him.
“Yeah? So how are you going to get the blanket back up here, smart guy?”
The fingers trailed along one edge of the sheet, then down to a lower corner. This served as a glove again, grabbing the blanket and flipping it up and over. It took a couple more straightening efforts, but soon the bed was back to normal. Then, there was a rush like wind, and the memories of his other self were back with him.
No, not his other self. His inner self. That was what he’d realized that he had to share. It was the height difference. The spirit was him as he was supposed to be. The height he’d be now, if he’d kept growing. That’s why it felt so right when he was pure spirit. The spirit was him as he was meant to be, not him as he was, in his stunted body. Everyone kept thinking he was eleven or twelve, but he’d just turned fourteen.
Now he had to know for real. How tall was he? Or actually, how tall was he supposed to be?
The first step to finding out was to get a tape measure. He looked at the box of disposable rubber gloves left on the tray beside him. He had a plan for that…
In spirit form, he flowed through the space in the ceiling. Beyond the hanging tiles, there was a fascinating world of pipes and wires. There wasn’t enough space for a person to fit in here, despite what he read in Spiderman comics. But there was plenty of space for a pair of latex gloves and an intangible spirit.
He discovered that he couldn’t poke his ghost-head down through a tile and see into that room. A little of the material that was him had to go into the room before his perception followed. Either that, or a tile had to be moved out of the way so he could see into the room.
He carefully lifted another tile and spotted it: he’d finally found the supply room. And sure enough, here’s where he found several measuring tapes. It was a moment’s work for the gloves to float down and grab the tape. They were as dexterous as human hands, and more sensitive than hands wearing the gloves. It seemed that his sense of touch was on the outer surface of whatever material he inhabited. Not on the inside, as with a normal person just wearing the gloves.
After that, it was a quick trip back above the ceiling tiles.
The next step was getting dressed better. As gloves, he floated over to where they’d laid out his clothes for him. A long-sleeve T-shirt, briefs, socks. He could keep the gloves for hands. What about his head? He finally settled for a small towel. He could cover his head and let the rest drape down the back. And with a pencil, he could make a subtle mark against the wall and measure himself. He carried the pile back to the bed, so that he could return, then get re-cast back into the full set of clothes.
It was odd that he couldn’t pick up an object and “add” it to the collection he was inhabiting, but it was one of the strange limitations of his form.
It was also interesting that, in his physical body, it took effort to pull out his “inner self” – it was like something was suddenly missing. But as soon as spirit-form rejoined physical-form, everything was fine again. He could be cast back out again immediately.
So he dropped the clothes on his body’s chest, then dropped the gloves on top and vanished.
Jared watched as the clothes seemed to inflate. It was definitely like watching an Invisible Man movie – one with great special effects. The towel on the head gave a good indication of height, and his inner self was definitely taller than he was. He was a bit surprised to see that, despite the height growth, his arms hadn’t really gotten much larger. And then he noticed.
At first, it was such an impossibility that he couldn’t believe it. He stared at the invisible figure in underwear and T-shirt, watching the way it walked, bent over, used the pencil.
Now that he could see it, he couldn’t understand how he missed it before. Everything about the figure made it obvious.
The figure picked up the tape measure and used it against the wall, and held one spot to demonstrate the answer: five-foot-three, a good six inches taller than him.
“Uh huh,” he answered, from his daze. “But I can’t believe you missed the most important part: You’re a girl.”
He’d returned and then been re-cast, over and over. It was coming up on fifteen times now. Every result had been the same. He could be the object, or he could be a girl. Not a boy, not a man, always a girl. He hadn’t believed it. But looking down (or turning his attention downward), the slight mounds of his breasts could be seen. They were small, barely swelling in the front of his T-shirt, but they were undeniable. His gigantic nipples were the most obvious part. Well, maybe not gigantic, but compared to his boy-body…
This time, he was wearing briefs, T-shirt, and gloves only, so he could crawl into bed for a closer check. Jared-physical wanted to examine the outside, and he was extremely curious about what that would feel like on the inside.
So while Jared-physical held the sheets up, he climbed into bed. The sheets came down, covering them both.
He was almost trembling with a mix of anticipation and fear. After all – the other person was just him. He was touching himself, really. There was certainly nothing wrong with that. But still… somehow the idea of a boy touching him there, anyone touching him there…
Jared-physical’s hands slid over his shirt, feeling his narrower waist, wider hips. He could tell, from the inside. The way his hips flared out a bit. Was his butt larger than it was as a boy? It seemed like it. Then the hands moved up to his chest. The fingers traced over him. He could definitely feel the difference. Above and below, there was little skin covering his ribs. It was odd to feel that, since he was an empty shirt. But he could feel the structure of his invisible body, and he knew that to his physical counterpart it felt exactly as if there were a girl in bed, wearing nothing more than a thin T-shirt and boy’s briefs.
The fingers traced again, confirming the presence of his ribs, then moving up to those twin swells of padding, confirming their softness and shape, hands gently cupping his young mounds. He felt his large nipples pressing into the palms. Compared to the boy-body, his girl-nipples consistently stunned him. They were so large!
And oddly, throughout it all, he felt no thrill. No special tingles. Neither pleasure nor pain, as the physical hands grew more bold, poking, tweaking, pinching. He’d been planning to use the gloves to restrain his other self whenever it went too far. But there was nothing. He felt pressure, definitely. He felt his physical body, as it was squeezed and massaged. At least, it seemed like he was feeling a physical body. And he felt texture. Good lord, did he feel texture! It was like his nerve endings were wired straight to the surface of the T-shirt. When boy-Jared rubbed fingers over his nipples, he practically shot out of the bed. It still wasn’t pleasure or pain or interest or irritation. But he could feel so much texture, it was amazing.
He was starting to figure out that he seemed to have more nerve endings in some parts of his “body” than others. For example, the skin of his legs had enough nerves to detect touch, but didn’t seem to have much detailed feeling. On the other hand, the skin of his fingertips was so sensitive that he could gauge fine textures and identify objects by touch. The skin of his nipples seemed to have almost as many nerves as his fingertips, which was a total surprise. His boy-body didn’t have so many nerves there.
Another thing that took him by surprise was how good this made him feel. It wasn’t a stimulation from the touching, it was a psychological thing. With every stroke or squeeze, it was confirmed anew that he had breasts. Every time one of boy-Jared’s hands passed up his waist or over his rear, it was clear that he was a girl. And that made him extremely happy. It was a sort of shy pride. It made him want to quietly nuzzle his partner. Which was impossible at the moment, since he had no face.
Why should he feel such happiness and satisfaction in being female? It didn’t make any sense. He was a boy, wasn’t he? But right now, he wasn’t physical-Jared at all, he was his inner self – the way he was meant to be. And that seemed to be a girl. There were implications there, but he wasn’t ready to look too closely at them just yet.
In fact, he wasn’t able to think about much of anything. Boy-Jared was finally moving the target of his explorations. The hands were straying down to his belly, noting the subtle differences from his boy-stomach. Now the hands were touching his briefs.
He knew that he’s scream (or want to, at least) if there was any hint of the ugly boy parts down there. But he wasn’t really sure of what girls were like. What did a girl have?
The fingers teased through the thick cotton, stroking, patting, feeling. No boy parts, thank goodness. Instead, he seemed to have an elegant smooth contour, that just wrapped smoothly under and came up on his butt. The hand stroked between his legs, feeling, passing from the flat front, smoothly under, and coming out with five fingers spread wide over his butt cheeks.
But… there was a little more detail he could see. As his hand passed down the smooth front, he could feel a bony ridge inside. Then the fingers turned, and passed under him. The hands made another pass. There was a flattish hump on his front side, a small raised area. Just enough to provide a sort of squishy mound. It felt like fat, or extra flesh. And just where the fingers went under, there was more structure there, too. There was a slit that he could feel. He pulled his legs open wider, to give boy-Jared more room to explore.
He knew that girls had some sort of slit there. Everyone knew that! But he hadn’t quite understood the details. Now it seemed like just above his thighs, there were two ridges of flesh. Except that “ridges” made them sound hard. These were soft. Soft, cushiony, fleshy lips that nestled together under his hips, between his legs. When his legs were closed, the lips closed, and all he could feel was a slit running between the closed lips. Like closing your mouth and feeling where the mouth would open. Again, the cushiony sponginess was surprising. Girls had padding in the oddest places. And when he pulled his knees apart, the lips opened, exposing all of him that was hidden inside that innocuous slit.
He couldn’t tell what all of it was. Not with the cotton underpants. But there was a line of flesh down his very middle, and that seemed to split open, too. And there were all sorts of complicated bits down there. The nerve endings were just as dense as on his fingertips or his nipples. He was fascinated by it, and he loved the exploration. Once again, all he could feel was pressure and texture, but he could feel his body. His illusionary, invisible body, but it felt real to him.
And he realized something that he’d been avoiding for a long time. He was a girl. This latest test proved it. He shouldn’t be thinking of himself as a boy in a girl’s body. He was a girl, in a girl’s body.
And he liked it. He – she – he wasn’t sure how to think of himself. He wanted to snuggle in with his partner and keep touching and stroking forever. And another thing – he didn’t want to go back! Boy-Jared was trapped in that stupid boy body. He’d always felt a bit uncomfortable there, a bit off. He’d never known why until now. The answer was here. He felt completely right as a girl. Happy, joyful, quietly proud of herself, delighting in what she was and the shape she wore. He felt good as a girl. Why should he go back to being a boy?
After a half-hour, Jared was startled when the clothes suddenly collapsed. The memories were back. And while he’d been fascinated with the chance to explore a girl’s body, that was nothing compared to the feelings, memories, and emotions that she had felt. It was impossible to think of her in any other way. His inner self – the version of him that was everything he was supposed to be – was a girl. And for no reason he could understand, she’d suddenly evaporated.
Terrified, he tried casting her back into the clothes. He breathed a sigh of relief when the clothes inflated, but he also felt a tinge of jealousy now, too. She got to be the girl, while he was stuck in this dumb boy-body. He hadn’t thought of it like that before, but now the idea wouldn’t leave his mind.
He pretended to be sleeping whenever they looked in on him. He was definitely in no hurry to be released. The last thing he wanted was to go home with his father. So he “slept” and experimented.
He discovered that he couldn’t cast her without “charging up” a physical object. He couldn’t understand why. Perhaps the physical object anchored her spirit form. And she was connected to the anchors – she could move them around. But as soon as she dropped the last anchor, she snapped back into his head. The “charge” lasted about a half-hour, although he could touch her and re-charge, to give more time. Using that trick she stayed out for four hours once, without coming back into his head.
He was also figuring out about his nerves. They got pulled through the entire structure of an “anchor”. When Jared first “charged up”, he could push his self into the anchor (or anchors). If Jared charged himself into a pen, then picked up the pen, his girl-self felt the touch against the barrel of the pen as if someone was stroking her skin and squeezing her, as they wrote with her ball-point. But it wasn’t like his hand nerves were spread over one part of the pen, while his intimate bits were in another part. Instead, he was the pen. It was hard to describe, but a part of him was the outside barrel, a part was the spring. Several parts of him were the clicker. He could feel all his parts, and feel how they all fit together. He could hold the ball still, so it didn’t roll and no ink came out. Or he could squeeze the ink, so that it out shot out in a blot. He could use himself to write, although his handwriting wasn’t as good as when he was in girl-form. As a pen he could fly around the room as a missile, or unscrew and take himself apart.
As a piece of tubing, he could coil and twist like a snake. As a sheet, he could flap around as a living sheet, unconstrained by human shape and limitations. He could turn into a flying carpet, becoming solid enough for his physical body to sit on, while he flew around the room. He discovered that as a spirit, he was a little stronger than he was in his physical body. And as a spirit, he never got tired.
If he didn’t actively push himself into the object, he tended to form in girl-shape. In that case, he had a body of silvery sparkles (or so it looked to his spirit-vision), all his nerves were in the normal location, and the anchor objects were pulled to his body and wrapped around him like clothes. His nerves seemed to get pulled through the object, so that it felt like the surface of his skin was along the surface of the object. His dexterity was very good in this form – he could thread a needle, write legibly, and do anything that he could as a normal person. And from the outside, it felt like there were a real girl inside the clothes. She was invisible, but you could feel the structure of her body – bony elbows, soft breasts, muscular belly – everything felt normal.
No matter what he did, he couldn’t pick up, or transfer to, or slip into a new anchor-object. It had to be there when was being “charged up.” He could “drop” anything, at any time, but dropping the last anchor always sent him back to his body. He could use gloves to handle normal objects, but he was merely holding them. He had no special connection to them.
He broadened his experiments. If he charged into a pillow, he could be the pillow. If there was a hole in the pillow, he could control every feather (although it became progressively more difficult to keep track of them all).
But he had limitations, too.
First was the fact that the different “parts” of him all had to be within about six feet of each other. His spirit-body wasn’t able to stretch farther than that. And if some piece was pulled out of the six-foot zone, it hurt worse and worse until it broke free from him, or he dropped it. This was the only way he’d found of causing pain for his spirit-form.
Second was his half-hour time limit. It didn’t matter if his physical body fell asleep in the meantime, and he didn’t seem to have a distance limitation (he’d animated a dead fly, and by hopping from doctor to visitor to car to train, he’d managed to get over twenty miles away before the half-hour had passed).
One thing Jared never did, though, was to allow anyone else to know about his “inner self.” Soon enough, he’d have to leave the hospital. When that happened, he intended to use his miraculous secret to help him escape. He was going to run away from home, and never come back. His father wouldn’t be able to find him, and he’d finally be safe.
Topeka, Kansas May 22, Monday
“…so everything looks good,” the doctor reassured him. “We’re always concerned when there’s internal hemorrhaging, and you were bleeding inside, in your tummy.” For some reason, adults always spoke to him as if he was some sort of half-witted child. “But that seems to be healing on its own. Fortunately there’s no sign of infection or secondary effects. We’d like to keep you overnight tonight for observation, but tomorrow you’ll finally be able to get out of here.”
He nodded quietly, not showing any emotion. Inside, he was already planning to eat the biggest meal he could. He’d sneak out around midnight, right after the nurse checked up on him.
“How’s my father?”
“Well, Miss Baker is here to talk to you about that. She’s a social worker with CPS. Have you heard of that?”
Jared bit his lip. This would complicate things. “Uh, you’re the government group that … takes,” his father had said steals, “children from their families.”
The woman smiled. “Not exactly.” She was a cheerfully plump brunette, not much taller than his girl-form. “CPS is the Child Protective Service, and you and I both know how you got hurt, don’t we?”
Jared didn’t say a word, he just stared at her, waiting for her to continue.
“We step in when parents are hurting their children. We’re here to protect children. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?”
Again, he was non-committal.
“If you’re in a place where you’re being hurt, we move you for a while to a new house, where people can watch over you and protect you, and where you won’t be hurt any more. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing?” No reaction. “It would help a lot if you could talk to us. Especially if you talked to a judge.”
He knew exactly how well that would go over. His father had beaten him several times about what would happen to him if he ever talked. On the other hand, he was already planning to run away. And since his father seemed to have decided that Jared wasn’t his biological son, any restraint he had once had would be gone. Going home was a death sentence whether he talked or not.
“I think you’d like it.”
“Look,” he finally said. “I’m fourteen, not ten or eleven, or whatever you’re thinking. And I’ll agree to talk to the judge, but only if you can guarantee that I never, and I mean NEVER, go back to live with that man. I don’t even want to see him again.”
She seemed taken aback by that. “I’ll have to talk to the judge, first.”
He reached out, offering to shake her hand. “Let me know.”
As she shook his hand, he make contact with the sleeve of her silk blouse. Should he…? He did.
She came alive. Jared was only touching the cuff of the blouse, but somehow she flowed into all the clothes connecting to that. It seemed to be most of the non-living material touching Miss Baker. Not the hair or surface skin cells, but she flowed smoothly through the garments and purse – blouse, bra, skirt, panties, pantyhose, and onward.
She reeled back, metaphorically. This was way more than she’d wanted! As quickly as she could, she dropped everything, skipping back down until all she still clung to was a single broach on Miss Baker’s chest.
That, she could handle. She smiled grimly to herself. Talk about ‘too much information’!
Miss Baker was just speaking to the doctor.
“How serious was it really?”
“Not too bad. We were lucky. There was no intestinal rupture, the organs appear to be fine. Blows like that are tricky. A weightlifter or boxer has the musculature to take something like that without even blinking. A child is a very different thing. And from the way he was talking, not only is this not the first time, but I think he’s terrified of what might happen next time.”
The woman spoke in a quiet fury. “I just can’t understand the kind of monster that would do that to a – a child!” Finally, she asked, “How’s the father?”
“Still unconscious. We’ve stabilized his head, but there was internal bleeding. It’s too early to tell whether there will be noticeable brain damage. I wouldn’t expect him to wake for another day or two. Even when he does, it may be weeks before he remembers the day of the accident, and he’ll probably never get back the incident itself. Head wounds are like that. You can expect to permanently lose anything from minutes to hours immediately preceding the wound.”
“That will give us time to arrange foster care then.”
“I should think so.”
“Can you keep him here for an extra night, if we need to?”
“One night. As you saw, that ward was empty. I’ll have problems with more than that, though.”
Jared had heard what she needed. No escape tonight. And if things worked out, she might not have to run at all.
3: Facing fears
Topeka, Kansas June 28, Wednesday
Upon hearing the alarm, he moved through the usual motions. Still half asleep, he slapped the alarm off, then slapped the gloves, “charging” Jinn, as they now called the process. It was hard to compare to a physical exhaustion, since it wasn’t exactly, but it felt about as tiring as running up and down the stairs a couple of times. Not bad, but more than a few times in quick succession would wear him out for a bit.
That done, he swung his feet to the ground and rubbed his eyes.
Jinn flexed her fingers in the gloves, ensuring a good fit, then rose up toward the closet. They had quickly realized that gravity had no meaning to her. She didn’t have a body, really, only silvery mist. She could stand upside-down on the ceiling, stand sideways on the wall, stand through the bed and his body, or stand happily in mid-air. She was only constrained by her own imagination. And now that her mind was opening to the possibilities, she was learning to fly. Well, to glide.
It was a heady experience. Admittedly, it didn’t feel any different. There was no wind (not at the modest gliding speed she’d been able to attain). But to be able to glide up high in the sky and look down on the world, to hover at cloud height, or see a bird’s nest from just above, these experiences were fascinating.
Right now she was after a more material form of treasure. Pulling open the closet, she rose up to the ceiling, at the front left corner. A piece of plaster lifted away, revealing a nine-inch hole. The material of her gloves slipped through into the attic proper. No one had been up here since the house had been built. It was here that she kept the small footlocker, filled with her girl clothes, her body stocking, wigs, and all the other vital items she’d been able to collect. This time she’d be bringing down extra clothes.
Jared watched, half eager, half afraid, as she came back down with today’s supplies. One brown plastic grocery bag filled with items from the footlocker. The gloves dumped the collection on the bed and the invisible girl began sorting through it. He hesitated, shivering as the floating gloves picked a set of panties with triple frills on the front, handing it to him.
It was the logical extension of what had been happening.
His inner self – they’d named her “Jinn” – was definitely a girl. She was glad to be a girl; it made her feel whole and complete and right in a way that Jared had never felt. She hated going back to his “boy body.” One of the things she liked was dressing up. Skirts, blouses, bras, panties, anything feminine at all seemed to make her happy.
And she’d finally gotten the idea that if she was a girl, and if she was Jared’s inner self and perfect form, then he must also be a girl. Inside. It’s just that his body had gotten things wrong, somehow. And although the ideas made plenty of sense when he was Jinn, once he was back in his body again, he kept hearing objections. Well, mostly he heard the imaginary voice of his father, and the kids in his class mocking him. His father would be so humiliated that he would take the belt and –
But the truth was, he wanted to try on the panties. They were very pretty. He could wear them, and imagine that he was a girl for real. It was getting harder and harder to cope, each time he came back to his physical body. He could wear the panties and they’d never know at the club. If he was honest, he’d admit that he wanted to wear a bra, too, but they’d spot that at the club.
Carefully, he slipped on the panties. They were snug, and fit just right. He had to tuck his boy parts back between his legs. He’d be just as happy if those parts just withered up and fell off.
He’d been letting his hair grow. It wasn’t much yet, but there were other Japanese girls around. Most of them had pretty short hair. Unable to hold back, he grabbed Jinn’s bra and put it on. It was too big for him, of course, since it was an A-cup. But he tried to comb his hair forward a little, hiding some of the more boyish features in his face. He looked at himself in the mirror and tried to imagine he was a girl.
There was a knock on the door that nearly caused him to drop dead from heart failure.
“Jared? Are you about ready? You don’t have much time for breakfast, if you still plan to leave early.” It was Mrs. Lasater.
He dove toward the bed, grabbing the gloves and charging them. As Jinn was flying to hold the door closed, he yelled, “I’m getting dressed! I’ll be right there.”
“Alright. Your breakfast is already on the table.”
Pulling off the bra, he practically jumped into his ugly boy clothes. Checkered polyester pants – no combination could possibly be more hideous. Loafers. A tan polo shirt. Ugg. It wasn’t just that they were such boy clothes. He suspected that even if he liked boy clothes, he would have been made ill by this selection.
With his adrenaline still granting extra speed, he was dressed in a few moments. The gloves floated back, moving around him and synchronized with him, pulling up his socks, zipping his pants, and running a quick comb through his hair. He and she weren’t perfectly coordinated, but they were working on it.
Abruptly, his mind filled with Jinn’s memories as she fell back into him. From the corner of his eye he saw the gloves drop to the bed.
He stepped back to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again. Before she formed up, he tossed the package out his window, to the ground of the first floor below. Then he walked downstairs to eat with his ‘parents.’
He still wore the panties, and he was very aware of them.
The Lasaters weren’t bad. Certainly better than his own father. But they kept the relationship cool and professional. There was no chance of a real bond forming; they made very sure that he knew they were only foster parents, paid to do a job, and purely temporary.
“Afraid you’ll miss the bus?” Jerry asked, sipping his coffee. “It’s a bit early.”
“Um, I’m going to meet Jinn at the bus stop.” It was true enough. “Don’t want to be late.”
“Are you ever going to introduce us to this girlfriend of yours?” Anna asked. “You’ve been seeing her, what, almost since you moved in with us.”
“Just about,” Jerry agreed. “Over a month now.”
“Uh… it’s kind of up to her. She’s kind of weird.” Like, for example, she had no body, and spent half her time living in his head.
“We’d still like to meet her,” Anna insisted.
“I’ll try to convince her,” Jared promised, stuffing the last of his toast into his mouth.
“You’re probably catching lunch at the club. Back for dinner, as usual?”
“Uh huh. Maybe a little late. I’m going to hit the mall.”
“How late?” He’d heard this tone from Jerry before. Despite the sound of it, it wasn’t so much that Jerry was concerned for him, as that Jerry wanted to scrupulously obey the proper behavior of a foster parent. He did an excellent job. Jared sometimes wished the man had a little more warmth, but he was usually distracted by his own problems.
“Uh, nine thirty. That’s the last bus. That okay?”
“No later than that.”
“Okay.” And he hurried out the door.
He stepped to the bed, gathered the clothes and items in his hands, then charged her again. There was a moment of disorientation, then he realized he was standing through the bed, connected to all the items in the bag.
As always, when he came alive as Jinn there was the thrill of realizing the he was a she – that he wasn’t Jared (for the moment), she was Jinn. She might not have a physical body, but she was definitely a girl in this form. Somehow, there was never any doubt of that.
She held her pieces together, but remained passive as she fell to the ground. Once there, she lifted the bag en mass, and quickly glided into the ring of trees at the back of the public playground across the street. Slightly screened, she allowed herself to flow fully into the black, full-body leotard. It immediately inflated, filling out with her form. She ran a quick hand check over the manikin head, blonde wig, oversized straw hat, gloves, socks, shoes. She “released” her grip on the turtleneck sweater and skirt, letting them settle and drape over her leotard-clad form. It looked more natural that way. She cleared her throat (that’s the way she thought of it) to make sure the speaker was in place below her neck. There was a five-inch speaker today – although with the practice she’d devoted, she could sound almost as good using far cheaper materials. Then she took her seat on the swing and slowly swung back and forth, while she waited for Jared to come out.
She’d managed to scavenge a good collection from the trash bins in the mall. The expired clothes were slated for destruction. The mall rent-a-cops kept people away from the trash rooms, but they never seemed to notice a pair of gloves floating through, sorting, collecting. Slipping through the spaces in the ceiling worked as well as it had back in the hospital. She liked to think she’d remained on the proper side of the moral line, even if she wasn’t strictly inside the law. Everything she’d taken was intended for either the dump or the incinerator. The chipped manikin head, the three wigs, the skirts, sweaters, and blouses. Even the underwear that Jared was wearing.
She swung again, admiring the swish of her skirt as she thought about her problems.
Everything had seemed so wonderful until that first leotard. Jared’s exploration of her body in the leotard had been pleasant for her, and bittersweet for him. More and more, he was thinking of how he didn’t want to touch her, he wanted to be her. And from her perspective, she was beginning to wonder how all of this would feel to a real flesh-and-blood girl. Which left them with the same problem and the same solution. Somehow, Jared had to become a girl for real.
It was so obvious when she was in spirit form. As Jared, she kept remembering words like “impossible.” That was one of the reasons it had taken this long to get him out in public with a simple pair of panties on. But she and Jared were the same person. And they were coming to realize that they liked being a girl, and they didn’t much like being a guy. The feeling was only growing stronger over time. In fact, she sometimes worried that the pressure was getting too strong. She had an outlet, but Jared didn’t. She thought that dressing might help relieve that psychological pressure.
And maybe if she could do more as a real girl – but she wasn’t ready for public scrutiny yet. Her voice was pretty normal sounding now. But once people got closer than about ten feet, they noticed the manikin head and kind of freaked out. She could see it in the precise moment when their auras suddenly flashed into banana yellow or pea green. The large hat wasn’t exactly proper fashion, but it kept her face in the shade. That helped a little, getting her as close as ten feet to normal people. She’d tried both a veil and a surgical mask. The mask might have worked in Japan, but not here in America. The best she could manage was dark sunglasses, Audrey Hepburn style, combined with a black veil and the hat over her head. That worked up to about four feet, unless she really had to interact with someone. Then they always freaked. And she’d have to duck around a corner, drop everything but her gloves, and stuff her ‘body’ away in her purse to hide the evidence before someone could catch her in the act.
Well, if today worked out, she’d solve that problem, too.
She spotted Jared hurrying out with a tinge of orange for his embarrassment at wearing his caddy clothes in public. There weren’t many jobs available for a fourteen-year-old (who looked twelve) and was living in foster care. Being a caddy paid best of all the choices she’d seen.
He immediately saw Jinn swinging on the swings while she waited, like usual. He passed an admiring eye over her. Why couldn’t he look like that? Okay, the veil was weird, but the black bodysuit under her clothes maybe implied some sort of Goth thing. Most people seemed to accept it. He noticed that she still couldn’t swing and make it look natural. The chain hung loosely, as if the swing was holding a weight of only a few pounds – such as some clothes and a pair of shoes. She was going to have to figure out how to be “heavy” when she needed to be.
He ran up to her, and gave her a new “charge” as they touched. Immediately, they both adjusted the bezel on their diver’s watches. Constant practice had increased Jinn’s time to 43 minutes on a single charge. But he’d been keeping her going almost constantly, ever since discovering the power. It had become an obsession with him. She was his innermost self, his better half. So long as she was active, he was walking the world as a real girl somewhere. Perhaps a disembodied ghost-girl, but he needed to get in as much girl time as he could. That was one reason they rode the bus together despite the added expense. The empty bus was a chance for her to “get out in the real world” and feel like she was actually taking part in it. Those experiences were still rare enough to be treasured, and were well worth the cost of bus fare.
Reaching out, he took her hand and rudely yanked her out of the swing.
“Hey! What was that for?”
Despite her tone, he knew she had a tough time staying angry at himself. All he had to do was wait for the end of the bus ride, when they’d merge again.
“Heavy, remember? Real girls don’t float to the ground when they’re yanked out of their seat.”
“Yeah, yeah. You sure I can’t just fly, instead?” She drifted up horizontal, as if lying on an invisible bed.
“NO! Normal weight. Remember that.”
The caddy room was empty, so he ushered her in. She’d gotten the change ‘n’ stash routine down to ten seconds. It was actually kind of disturbing to watch, since the gloves were the last thing to go. She pulled off her shoes (and feet, it looked like), socks, hat, hair, head. As she went, the pile of neatly folded clothes quickly grew, but it looked as if she were dismembering herself. Finally, her bodysuit deflated and the gloves folded the leotard, then dropped to the top of the stack and he felt her memories falling into him again.
He quickly hurried outside to set up Mr. Cavendale. Once he knew which ball the man was using, he charged Jinn into it.
Being a golf ball was good training. She’d tried it a couple of different ways. Being in her ghost body, while she ‘held’ the ball in her hand. She’d decided that she preferred just being bonded to the golf ball, so that it became her body. Even without her ethereal body, she was still completely female.
She still wasn’t sure how a ghostly spirit could have a gender, but she definitely had one. Whether in her ethereal spirit-form, or just bound entirely into an object – she still felt distinctly female. She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she did.
And that was exactly what Jared was beginning to fear. When they were in his physical body, he had learned enough to sense that same feminine spirit – only encased in male flesh.
If she’d only ever been Jared, it might have taken her much longer to figure it out. Instead, she had felt her spirit in dozens, hundred of different situations. On the inside, she now recognized that she was the same everywhere. The same girl. But the outside…
She gave herself different names, for convenience. ‘Jared’ for when she was stuck in her physical body, and ‘Jinn’ for when she was out, when she could be a complete girl.
Jared was scared of the idea. He knew that doctors could do something, but that was a pretty big thing to be facing. So as Jared he did his best to deny it, and as Jinn she fumed at her own indecisiveness.
But for now, she stopped her perennial grumbling and concentrated on her training. In this case it required her to be perfectly passive. The first time she’d tried this had been Miss Baker’s clothes. But she’d made some goofs with the golf balls. People tended to stare if your golf ball was whacked into the sky, only to suddenly pause and hang there, before belatedly dropping straight to the ground.
Now she had so much experience with being passive that she could do it in her sleep (if she could sleep in this state, which didn’t seem to be possible). The her-plus-golf-ball always went exactly where it was whacked, and nowhere else. Okay, maybe she’d nudged an occasional putt or pushed a ball to the edge of the rough, but that didn’t really count.
And despite the startling surprise of being suddenly whacked from the tee (it didn’t really hurt), the view as she sailed over the golf course was just killer!
“You ready?” he asked, as he changed out of the atrocious golf pants into cutoffs and a t-shirt.
“Believe it,” squeaked the stuffed kitten that clung to his hair. People looked strangely at a boy with such a toy on his shoulder, but he didn’t care.
“Absolutely the best, most lifelike Madonna mask you can buy.” The man laid it on the counter with care. “If you really want to use it, you’re going to need the spirit gum to apply it. And it should be properly applied, too, blending in the lips and eyelids. I don’t guarantee quality, if a buncha you school kids want to use it for some prank.”
“I’ll take it just like this, thanks.” He carefully counted out the precious cash from his tips.
The mask was magnificent. It looked just like real skin. It moved and shifted, but was nice and thick. It seemed sturdy.
He wasn’t really worried about the eyelids. So what if she was slightly wide-eyed and never blinked? The lips were more of a problem, but the mask had enough to cover the outside of the mouth. For the inside, he had a fake tongue from a gag shop, and dentures liberated from a dentist’s trash bin.
Reverently, he took his new possession with him, going only as far as the nearest handicap restroom. He locked the door to the private room. Whereupon the stuffed animal leapt off his shoulder and glided into his backpack. A flash of memories later, and he took the bag holding Jinn’s clothes, added the mask on top, then charged her into it.
There was the swirl of activity that he’d grown used to, as all the pieces floated up and into place. Teeth, speaker behind the mouth, fake tongue, face in place, black hood outlining the rest of the head, the long blonde wig above that. The masterpiece was the pair of novelty plastic eyeballs. They were oversized, with huge irises that gave her a touch of animé character appearance. It didn’t hurt that the irises were more-than-mutant exotic in color, alternating purple and gold streaks.
She gave the appropriate tugs, as her sweater and skirt dropped into place, falling from her ‘grasp’ as she released her TK hold on them.
Jared stared at her. She was wide-eyed perfection. Not a hint of his own Asiatic eye shape. Impossibly long blonde hair, perfectly managed but loose and wind-blown. Those impossible eyes. She was missing eyelashes on top, but he didn’t care. She opened her mouth to speak. He could see her teeth, her tongue moving in her mouth. It all looked normal and correct.
“You’re beautiful!” he said, in a voice barely above a whisper. She was a fourteen-year-old bombshell. Wide-eyed innocence with her first curves just beginning to show. She was much taller than him – 5’ 3”, and unlike him, she sure didn’t look twelve. She looked fifteen. That was due to the face, which looked so much older than the rest of the body.
“Beautiful?” Her voice was half joyful, and half disbelieving. “Really? Ready for the street?” She bent over to retrieve her hat.
“You won’t even need the hat. But I think you will want the sunglasses. Unless you want everyone to stare at you.”
She smiled at him, and her lips actually moved. They stretched – naturally – into the proper shape. The rest of her face responded correctly, looking perfectly natural. This is much better than the manikin head, he thought.
“Yeah,” he repeated. “You’re ready.”
They walked the mall together. She was a real girl, an attractive blonde (that thought still blew her mind). With her was a twelve-year-old boy in cutoffs and a Pokémon T-shirt. They didn’t look quite like boyfriend and girlfriend. At fifteen and twelve, it didn’t quite work. It would have been sister and brother, but her blonde self had no resemblance to Jared.
Still, they managed.
Guys kept coming up to her, saying she looked familiar and asking what her name was. She kept telling them she was new in town, and didn’t know them.
They stopped for a snack in the food court. Jinn didn’t need anything, of course, but Jared had a hot dog.
He looked at her with a wistful look of longing on his face. Under that, she could see the shiny green of envy. She knew that everyone who saw them probably thought he was in love with her, but his want and envy had a very different source.
They looked at a few more shops, then she spotted something odd. There was a man following them. He was a fair distance back, and she wouldn’t have seen him if she hadn’t been able to see out of the back of her head. This all-around vision took some getting used to, but with the month of practice she’d had, she was now regularly watching in every direction. This fellow has the rosy tint of interest to his aura, but he also had a disturbing silvery sheen to the aura. He had a baseball cap that he kept pulled down, so she hadn’t been able to spot his face.
She leaned over and told Jared what she’d seen.
“Should we look for a security guard?”
“What would we tell him?”
So they decided to get a little more clever. The first trick was to get Jinn packed away back in the backpack. With someone suspicious following, that left out any plans where Jared doubled-back to pick things up. He might run straight into his follower. His next thought was to use the bathrooms, but he might get cornered there. Finally the spotted a garden store. It seemed likely to be less concerned with shoplifters and less suspicious of teenagers. It also had a number of tall displays that Jinn could hide behind.
They walked in together. Jared casually dropped his backpack on the floor behind a tall rack of fertilizer products. He’d already unzipped it. Jinn stayed with the pack while Jared continued at his same pace.
Jinn didn’t bother folding herself, she virtually stuffed herself into the backpack, keeping the gloves until the last second, when Jared walked back around. A bodiless glove picked up the pack and handed it to him, so that he didn’t even pause in his walk. Then the gloves tucked themselves into his pocket, and she vanished.
Now that Jinn was back, he had a lot more options. It was sometimes handy to have two people, but Jinn’s powers helped her, not him. Now that she was back and he could cast her when he needed her, he had a lot more flexibility.
First he wanted to get a good look at his follower. Was it someone he recognized? Were there more of them, maybe a team? Was the follower being followed? He picked a penny out of his pocket and charged it, then tucked it into the waistband of his pants. The penny slid down his leg inconspicuously, out of sight of the crowd. It lay on the floor, ignored by everyone that passed.
Jared continued on straight, allowing his pursuer to follow in his footsteps.
Jinn returned barely a minute later, quicker than he’d expected. The news was bad: It was his father!
That told him everything he needed to know. He father would either be dragging him home (by force) or just looking to unload some frustration. Probably the first so that he could do the second in private. Either way, it was bad news.
He could probably get help if he went to a mall guard – but all sorts of details might come out. Like his current address. If that happened, he knew his old man would find out somehow and tracking him down. It was better just to avoid any problem in the first place.
He could run for it. That would be his last-ditch plan, because even if he stayed ahead of his father, it wouldn’t do much good to beat the man to the bus stop by 50 feet. But he might get away clean if he used Jinn. He thought as he walked. Jinn could slow his father down somehow – tangle him up or trip him or cause some kind of trouble. Maybe push a heavy box on his head – he certainly deserved it!
Or… Jinn could help him fly! He could cast her into his clothes and shoes, and she could lift him right off the ground. He could jump up someplace impossibly high, or jump down – maybe from the second level to the first level, bypassing the stairs and elevators.
He formed a quick plan. First, he walked halfway down the mall, looking for likely hiding spots. The exit nearest the bus stop had a joke and novelty store. He’d purchased eyeballs, a rubber tongue, and other useful items here. This time, he bought three dozen realistic plastic flies. They were bigger than he really wanted, but it was the best he could do. He put the bag in his backpack, but took a handful for his pocket. Then he headed back in the opposite direction, directly away from the bus-stop exit.
A quick check in the reflective glass of a store front showed the follower still behind him, five stores back. He could have used Jinn to check, but the whole charge-look-pop-back thing was a little inconvenient. In fact, his plan relied on Jinn keeping tabs on his father. The biggest problem was that if he and Jinn were separated, she wouldn’t know when she needed to come back to him. What if he needed her, but she was off in a different part of the mall?
He thought through his plan again, trying to figure the timing and coordination. Finally, he thought he had it.
The store ahead of him sold fine furniture. Expensive sofas and chairs, dining room tables, beds, and bookcases. It also had the advantage of being a “pass through” store – it was in the middle section of the mall, and its near and far walls opened onto different hallways.
For once, Jared blessed his small stature. He walked up to a table, set with decorative candleholders in the middle. He touched one and charged – putting Jinn into the candleholder, his clothes, shoes, and backpack. She could straddle it all, provided that he stayed close to the candlestick holder.
The salesman looked into the hallway, and Jared ducked under the table. Instantly, Jinn lifted him up. His feet turned out to the sides, to remain flatter. One hand tucked into his backpack. Belatedly, he stuck the other into his pocket. Now Jinn held up everything but his head. He turned that to the side, pressing his ear to the flat underside of the table. His head was flatter that way.
It was up to Jinn, now. That’s why he’d touched the candlestick holder. With part of her “self” up above the table, she’d be able to keep watch.
Quicker than he expected, he spotted the shoes and pants of his pursuer. They walked forward briskly, then paused by his table! Jared tried to breath as shallowly as he could.
“Looking for anything in particular?” It was the salesman. He touched something on the table, and Jared could hear him readjusting the candlestick holder. If the man pulled it more than a few feet away, it would break free of Jinn and she’d have no way to watch, above. Worse, her concentration might falter for a second, dropping him.
He pressed tighter, trying to hide behind the wood framing that edged the underside of the table. It provided a four-inch lip that further sheltered him.
Both sets of feet moved on. A moment later, Jared floated to the ground. He quickly scrambled to his feet. Doubling back, he headed out the original door. At the same time, he withdrew a black plastic fly, charged it, and flicked it toward the far exit – the exit his father had taken. He set the bezel on his watch – to count seconds, this time. Jinn was to follow for 30 seconds. If she couldn’t find him, she’d pop back.
“You! Kid! Where’d you come from?”
Jared gave a start. He hadn’t expected the salesman to care about a young kid. “What are you talking about? I’ve just been looking.”
He made his way out of the store and past the salesman. He was careful to walk in the wrong direction initially. After a moment, the salesman shrugged and went back to work.
Jinn reported back a minute later. She’d been a “fly on the wall,” sticking close to the ceiling while she followed her father. He was headed in the wrong direction, moving slowly as he tried to inconspicuously looked into near-by stores.
Jared charged another fly, and sent it after the first. This time, she had three minutes to find her father. If she couldn’t, she’d come back. He figured he could do without her powers for that long – they were still in public.
For his part, he made his way along he pre-planned route, moving as quickly as he could without attracting notice. Two minutes later, he was outside and heading for the bus stop. Ten minutes later, Jinn still hadn’t returned, which was good news. After thirty minutes, he was on the bus and headed home. That’s when he felt the flush, as Jinn’s memories washed into him. It was hard not to smile.
She’d found her father fairly quickly. He’d still been moving from store to store. She’d flown down, doing her best to emulate the unpredictable flight path of a fly, and lighted atop of her father’s baseball cap. From this vantage, she’d ridden along, perfectly tracking her quarry as he moved from store to store, slowly increasing in frustration. After ten minutes, he’d gone back to prowling the main walkways, hoping to get lucky again. He’d never even thought to look outside.
It was good news that they’d been able to get away so easily. The bad news was that next time his father found him, he probably wouldn’t wait. Given this failure of the subtle approach, if his father spotted him again he’d probably move in immediately to grab his “property.”
But that was a problem for another day.
4: Dressing up
Topeka, Kansas July 25, Tuesday
It had taken nearly than a month. A month of urging Jared to try the bra, see how this blouse felt, try the skirt, let’s do your hair. A month of her being a girl, him wanting it desperately, and going into denial. A month of pointing out how useful the disguise would be, for avoiding his father. And despite their very different opinions on the matter, they were the same person.
The entire difference seemed to be that there were major biological components to emotion and thought. A perfect example was facing up to their father. Jared froze, she didn’t. But they were the same person. Nearly any emotion was richer for him than it was for her.
When it came down to it, he was scared and she wasn’t.
They both knew how much he wanted to do this. She’d had the clothes ready for weeks. But when push came to shove, he chickened out. Well, not today. After waking, the plan had come to her. She’d packed the extra clothes. Of course, he knew that as soon as they merged, but he hadn’t unpacked them.
So she worked on him.
“Look, ever since the bit with your father, we’ve hit random malls, right? And this one is, what, twenty-three miles? There’s no way anyone we know will be there. It’s Tuesday, so the crowd’s light. I’m a brunette now, so your father shouldn’t recognize me. If you’re a girl, he won’t be able to recognize you, either.
He’d finally uttered the fateful words. “I’ll try.”
Jinn studied the new girl with a critical eye. Girl-Jared was wearing her favorite panties with the triple frill. Despite her fears, you could see how happy “she’d” been to slide on the half-slip, to fasten on the small training bra. Each and every step moved her a little closer to being the girl she needed to be. Now Jinn stepped back to examine the entire effect.
The girl wore a light green sleeveless blouse that didn’t quite reach her waist. A glimpse of belly button showed through. Her tube skirt came to mid thigh, and she wore open-toed sandals. There was no way she’d ever pass as a more grown-up girl, not at 4’ 9”, but she looked fine as a precocious pre-adolescent girl – perhaps eleven or twelve. A twelve that looked definitely eager for sixteen. But it was nice to know that the hair worked. They’d been letting Jared’s hair grow out for a couple of months now. It was just long enough for the boy to keep it in a pony tail, low on his neck. The girl wore it loose, brushed out, reaching to almost her shoulders. It hung almost straight, except that it tended to curl in slightly at the bottom. Overall, it tended to emphasize the oval shape of ‘her’ face. It also seemed to hide her, slightly. When ‘he’ had it pulled back, his face was completely exposed. But ‘she’ was almost surrounded by her hair. When she tipped her head forward or looked at her feet, the oval of hair fell in around her face, hiding her.
Like much of his looks, Jared had inherited the hair from his now-departed mother. A complexion that looked slightly tan, a modest Asian cast to the eyes, and that beautiful straight, sable-black hair. Jinn cocked her head, studying the new girl. To be honest, the slightly flatter face made it look like she still had a bit of baby fat (even more emphasized by the shape of her face). The small nose looked good, especially on a young girl.
“You pass,” Jinn decided. “How do you feel?”
They’d carefully picked a name for the new girl. She was “Jade.” It had implications of China more than Japan, but they both like it a lot. “Jade” came out of the stall and looked in the mirror. Suddenly her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “It feels really good,” she said quietly.
“Ready to admit it? That this is what you want for real and forever?”
“Ji-inn! I haven’t even been out in public yet.”
The taller, older-seeming brunette took the hand of the shorter, Asian girl. “Then come on, girlfriend. We’re finally going to get those ears pierced.”
He walked through the mall as if he were walking the streets of heaven itself. He kept thinking to himself, I am JADE. A girl. I’m not a boy any more. And it worked! People looked, but they gave him normal looks.
His feelings were hardly a surprise, more confirmation. Was this was who he wanted to be? Could he become “Jade” for real? Could he leave “Jared” behind forever?
But it all came down to small steps. Dressing, walking in public like this was something he’d worked up to for weeks. Getting ‘her’ ears pierced made for a pretty big second step.
When the jewelry counter had an unexpected line, ‘Jade’ took a seat and picked up a copy of Seventeen to read. Someday... she thought to herself, daring to dream about being a real girl, and growing up female.
“Shall I hang with you?” Jinn asked her.
Jade shook her head, more than content to be out in public, dressed as she was. “I’d like you back here to hold my hand… when it happens. But my appointment doesn’t come up for thirty minutes. You want to wander, don’t you?”
“Okay, let me -” but Jinn was already extending a hand for a quick charge. Both girls twisted the dials on their watches to mark off 50 minutes from now.
She prowled. She walked the mall, like any normal person. People still gave her occasional odd looks. Many of them would recognize something familiar in her Madonna-mask face. It was a lot easier now that she’d abandoned the blonde wig. So the people would shrug and move on. They usually attributed it to her eclectic clothing selection. Who could follow teen fashions these days? And there was no shortage of oddly-dressed fifteen-year-old girls in the mall. So she had a thing for electric blue, or Hello Kitty, or leggings and sandals. Partly it was a mix she was experimenting with, partly it was because she was colorblind, and partly because she was limited in what she could acquire from the incinerator bins.
She came to the makeup counter, but quickly moved on. It was interesting, but she couldn’t let them examine her face too closely. What would they do if they realized it wasn’t skin? So she moved on, perpetually trying to copy the walk and mannerisms of the other girls her age.
The next shop was a bank outlet, where there appeared to be a robbery in progress. After that was the figurines and collectables store.
She stopped and looked back into the bank. Yep. Every single person with a glassy-eyed stare, except for the man in the tailored pinstripe suite, who seemed to be directing them.
Unsure quite what to do, she stepped in. There was an alarm panic button on the far wall. She began to stride forward.
“Oh Miss!” It was Mr. Pinstripe, calling out to her. His voice was silky and rich. “Miss, don’t you care at all what I say? I’d really like just a moment of your time. I’m sure we’d both be happier if you helped me out here.”
“Yeah, right,” she muttered, heading faster for the switch.
“Stop her!” Pinstripe shouted, and immediately a wall of men and women stepped forward. Before she knew what to do, they had grabbed her by the upper arms and spun her around to face Mr. Pinstripe.
She struggled for a moment. She figured she now had her father beat for strength – but four adults holding her was too much. She still might have gotten clear if she’d dropped everything but her gloves, but there was no way she was going to abandon her face mask.
“Odd. Perhaps it’s the glasses.” He reached forward to remove her glasses, then stopped when he got a look at her over-sized eyes, with the impossibly colorful irises.
She was forced to stare back into his eyes. To her unusual vision his irises glowed ultra-violet. But his pupils – those were harsh, bright points of ultra-violet flame.
“Wow, nice eyes, mister.”
“I should say the same for you, young lady. Well, I suppose that explains it. What kind of mutant are you?”
“Why? You planning to shoot me now? What did you do, hypnotize them all?”
He waved a hand negligently. “They apparently found themselves entranced by the sound of my voice. I admit, it’s a gift I have. As for shooting people – please! I may be a bit lax about ideas of property and ownership, but I like to think I have some style.” He looked at the wooden populace in the bank office and then shrugged sheepishly. “Well, I was running short, you know. Needed a little withdrawal.” Then he looked back at her. “So young. You aren’t even sixteen, are you?”
That stopped her. “Uh… beg pardon?”
But he was already lost in reminiscence. “Ah, high school. You wouldn’t believe some of the stunts we pulled back then. They wanted me to go pro, of course. Too much trouble, really. I’m happy enough with a nice standard of living. But kids these days? They’ve got no style, no understanding. They get a couple of new powers and they think they can suddenly smash everything in their way.”
He wasn’t making a bit of sense. “Uh, right. Gosh, it’s been really great catching up, but I have to be going…”
He turned back to stare into her face. “Nothing at all. You have a nice resistance, if nothing else. Could you at least blink?”
She shrugged. “Sorry, I can’t. It’s sort of… part of my condition.”
He stared at her again, blinking his own eyes several times. “How very disconcerting.” Then, collecting himself, “well, I must say, you’ve been quite polite – for one of the younger generation, that is.” He leaned close to peer at her again. “Say, you aren’t getting some sort of mentoring, are you? No, ah, older mutants near-by, showing you the ropes?”
“…older mutants?” The thought collided with his earlier comment about her being a mutant. She’d passed it off before, thinking that her fake eyes had fooled him. But it gradually dawned on her that she was a mutant. That is, in her Jared body. “There are other mutants out there, aren’t there?”
The man in pinstripe was scribbling on the back of a card. “Indeed there are, although it’s nice to know that Topeka remains delightfully free of the scourge. Ourselves excepted, of course.” He quietly added, “And this might get rid of you, too.” Then, reaching over, he pressed the card into her hand. “You might give these people a call. It’s worth checking into, at least. Eyes like that.”
Then, collecting a set of money sacks from a pair of helpful tellers and an eager-to-please branch manager, the man in pinstripes sauntered away.
“Ta ta! Let me know how it works out. Leave a note for me at the alumni association!”
Jared – rather, ‘Jade’ – was still waiting when a breathless Jinn returned.
She doesn’t even breathe. How can she be breathless? he wondered. He didn’t say anything, just raised one eyebrow. They knew each other’s body language.
She sat next to him and leaned close to whisper.
“Mutant! Robbed the bank! I tried to stop him. Somehow, people heard his voice and just did whatever he said. Didn’t work on me, though.”
“Did he hurt you?” Could she even be hurt? He reached over and gave her a quick charge-up, then re-adjusted his watch.
“No. He had them hold me. Said we were the only two mutants in Topeka.” It dawned on Jared that he was a mutant. It was the only explanation for his strange ability to summon Jinn. And he knew there were plenty of other mutants out there -
“That’s not all,” Jinn whispered. “He gave me this!”
She held up the card so Jared could see it:
Dunwich, New Hampshire
On the back was scrawled, “Melodious Silvertongue, class of ‘87.”
They looked at it in puzzlement.
“Jade? You’re next, honey.”
Jinn held her hand as she walked gleefully forward. This was now her second step on the road toward becoming a woman.
“Whateley Academy. How may I help you?” The woman on the other end sounded like a typical bored clerk.
“I – I’m not sure. I met this man in a mall, and he said something about mentoring and other people” his voice dropped “like me.”
The voice on the other end almost drawled her boredom. “Ah, let me guess. A teenager new to her powers, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He was calling with the Lasaters’ phone. He’d asked permission a week ago, then waited until they were both out of the house for the evening. He was just sure he was going to have to mention words like “powers” and “mutant”, and he didn’t want them to overhear.
“Well, honey, we get applicants from all over. I can send you the forms, no charge. You’re advised to be discreet with the material. If that checks out, and I’m not saying it will ‘cause we get lots more asking than actually get in, you hear what I’m saying? But if it does check out they’ll want to give you testing in person for both your academics and so-called powers. And if they find out you’re cheating on any of that, well, more than a few people have been plenty sorry.
“So, you still interested?”
“Uh, yes. Please.”
“Alright. Give me your name and address. The packet should arrive in two to three business days.”
It actually took a full week before it arrived. When the thick package did finally show up, he was so excited that he wanted to read everything at once.
“Here you go, Jared.” Jerry was polite to him, as always. Distant, but polite. “It looks like it’s from that private school you were talking about.”
“Thanks!” He grabbed it out of the older man’s hands and tore up the stairs.
“I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but you do realize that you’re currently a ward of the state, don’t you? You’d need your case worker’s approval. And the state isn’t going to be providing tuition for any expensive private schools, much less out-of-state -”
The door slamming cut off the annoying voice. Jared instantly slapped the gloves-and-speaker, charging Jinn into them. That way, he could look through things twice as fast. He ripped open the package while the gloves floated anxiously beside him.
“I’m taking the brochure,” he told her. “You couldn’t see the pictures in color anyway. Why don’t you look over the admission form?”
At first, he was scared. The brochure looked completely ordinary. The front was dominated by a picture of ivy-covered brick buildings, set against a backdrop of stately oak and maple with the riotous reds and yellows of a New England fall. In the foreground a collection of well-to-do students were walking, and seemed to be discussing some academic subject. Three students wore what appeared to be a school uniform, while a fourth wore casual prep-style clothing. One of the students was female, one black. It looked as ‘ivy league’ as you could imagine. He opened the brochure, expecting a discourse on how attendance would improve his chances of entering Harvard.
The interior immediately dispelled his doubts. On the left, a caped figure floated in mid-air, holding a helpless young woman and using his own body to shield her from the incoming rain of gunfire. On the opposite page, a man in a tailored suit held a crown and scepter, while draped negligently over a royal throne. At his feet, supplicants kneeled in homage, amidst a wealth of loosely scattered coins.
Jared’s eyes bugged out and he began to read.
“Okay, listen to this,” Jinn said. “ ‘I can regularly and reliably use the following powers.’ It’s got a check off list. And listen to some of these: ‘Disintegration, Domination, Elemental affinity, Flight, Invisibility, Resurrection (with entries for self or other), Superhuman strength, Time control, Transmutation…’ “
“Anything that applies to us?”
“Hmmm, maybe. Telekinesis?”
“Well, yeah, sort of.”
“Okay. How about astral projection?”
He scrunched his face up. “I don’t think so. Not really. Can’t people like that fly to the other side of the world, just by thinking of it? And they pass through walls and stuff.”
“Okay, no check. How about clairvoyance?”
“Yeah, I guess. That’s probably as close as anything.”
“Here’s something,” he said.
“Who’s the guy in the picture?” she asked, floating in over his shoulder. “I can’t quite make it out.”
The picture was of a gigantic man – probably seven feet tall – hovering angrily above an enraged mob.
“The Übermensch of Berlin?”
“Yeah. The caption says the shot is from 1943, when Germany’s ‘Theme Operatives’ reached their peak.”
“It fits. Listen: ‘The Academy exists to prepare new mutants and other students of power to exist successfully in a world of normal men. A world that outnumbers us a million to one. A world that we may choose to protect or exploit depending on our own calling, but a world that we must always respect. For history teaches that when the powerful war against the normal, both sides are devastated.’ “
“We’re going,” she said abruptly. “I don’t care how. We’re going.”
“What? Why?” He tried to look at the admission form she was working on, but it seemed to be about a hundred pages thick.
“Okay, I was filling this out. Listen to this. ‘Sex: Male Female Complicated’ “
“Complicated? What the hell does that mean?”
He got the sense she was staring at him, as in perfect synchronization they said, “Think alike.”
“Okay,” she continued. “So the ‘complicated’ entry cross-references sexual preference on page fourteen, but that sent me on to fill out the following on page sixty-two. ‘Please fill in as closely as possible:’
‘My powers or incidents associated with them, are/have transformed me:
‘to have no gender’
‘to become more masculine’
‘to become more feminine’
‘to exhibit characteristics of multiple genders’ “
They both focused on the second to the last line. It took a moment for Jared to realize what this meant. It was so common that they had a check box on the entry form!
“You’re right,” he agreed. “We’re going.”
Once the reply had come through, it had taken him a week and a half to earn round-trip bus fare to Kansas City. Now he was sitting in a Kansas City police station in a sealed, soundproof interrogation room across from “Sergeant Everest.” This was his “powers” interview. The sergeant was seven feet tall, four feet wide, and looked tough enough to enjoy a diet of nails and bricks. It didn’t help that the interrogation room had a low-level stench of fear, from the thousands of interrogations performed here.
“Okay, this is first of all to make sure you really got the juice,” the sergeant rumbled in a nearly subsonic bass, “and to give a first stab at classifying you. I’m no expert on that, but I can give a starting point. Also, something to keep in mind is that a lot of the stuff on the entry packet is deliberately made up. It weeds out the loonies, and helps in case that info is released to the public. I mean, like anyone’s going to be talking to me, after they’re practiced ‘creating anti-matter.’ Yeah, right. So, don’t rely on any of that junk, but use your own words to tell me what you do.”
Jared had been too scared to dress as a girl for this, and now he was almost regretting it. Dressing as a girl always made him a little more comfortable and confident. Of course, being Jinn made him downright cocky. Still, he gathered his courage. He wanted to be completely honest, since this was so important.
“Well, I can sort of ‘charge’ things up. Like gloves. Or a whole outfit even. Or just objects like a paint brush and paint can. And while things are ‘charged’ it’s like I’m two people. The charge lasts for almost 55 minutes these days. Anyway, when I’m her – I call myself ‘Jinn’ when I’m charged into something, it’s like I’m a regular person, but the only way I can touch the real world is through the things I was charged into – if that makes sense. So, if I like charged a pair of gloves, then it’s like my hands are in the gloves. But no matter how I try, I can’t shift the charge into some other object. But I can pick things up with my gloves. Do you understand?”
The sergeant made some rapid notes on his pad. He picked up a thick leather reference book, but Jared couldn’t spot the title. After quickly flipping to an appropriate section, the sergeant asked several more questions.
“Okay, how far away can you be while this is going on?”
Jared shrugged. “Which me? In the physical body you mean? I haven’t really found a limit yet. We got up to twenty miles once, before the time limit ran out.”
“Oh, so you’re awake while all this is happening? Eh, strange. Okay, what happens when the TK construct fades?”
Jared shrugged and smiled. “Then I suddenly remember both of my experiences. Physical and non-physical.” He’d almost said, ‘in this flesh and as her.’
“Okay. Well, let’s get a strength test.” The sergeant gestured at a rack of weights. “Do your thing and let’s see how much you can lift.”
Jared pulled out the pair of gloves that he always carried with him. He decided to add the speaker as well. He charged them, and watched the speaker float into position about where Jinn’s mouth should be.
“Okay,” she said. “I’m ready.”
The huge policeman motioned to the rack of free weights. “Start at the bottom and work your way up. Let me know when you reach your limit.”
Jared already knew reasonably well, but he was pleased that Jinn followed the instructions. He wondered if she was bending down or just sinking into the floor to get the lower weights. Finally, she began to collect combinations.
“It’s getting kind of awkward to hold in one hand,” she admitted. “But it looks like about 180 pounds.”
“Hmm,” the sergeant made a note. “And if you use both hands?”
“You know, it’s odd. I’ve noticed that too, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference whether I use one hand or both hands.”
“Right. How about reps? Can you lift and lower them several times?”
The gloves holding the weights began to bob up and down. “All day long. Or at least, until I run out of charge. I don’t get tired. Of course, ‘exercise’ doesn’t seem to make me any stronger, either.”
“Right. Now a couple of fine tests.” He handed the gloves a pen and piece of paper. “Write ‘Peter Piper.’ You know, the whole thing.”
Jared watched as Jinn put the page on the desk and neatly wrote out the requested sentence. He’d always been proud of his handwriting.
“Okay, same pen, do this maze.” She did. “Good. Now, look through this microscope. You’ll see some tiny beads on that slide. Sort the red ones to the left and the yellow ones to the right.”
The gloves spread in apology. “Do you have a needle or something I can use? And the microscope is just in the way. I don’t see with light.”
“Here.” The sergeant handed her a toothpick.
Jinn fumbled with it for a minute, but was no better than Jared would have been in her place. In other words, not too successful. It wasn’t until much later that he realized that he could have charged up the slide and beads.
The sergeant flipped back and forth in the book, before finally copying some results over to a complex form. “Right. I’ve got your telekinesis down. You’re classed as a TK-2d. Good dexterity, approximately human strength. Let’s look at the esper side, now.” He peered at Jared. “You can be in the other room, right?”
“Yeah. I mean, she can do whatever she wants, even if I go into the other room.”
“Okay. Step outside. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
Jared nodded and stepped outside. It wasn’t very comfortable sitting on a bench, watching sleazy suspects come and go as they were herded around for interrogation. At least they were all escorted. After about five minutes, the door opened and Sergeant Everest called him back in.
“Okay,” the big man rumbled, “what did you see?”
“Uh, sir, I can’t tell you that until Jinn over there lets go and comes back to me.”
And he remembered. “Oh, yeah. Well, you had us read from that book – Power Classification, Testing, and Limitations. Is Whateley Press connected with the Academy?”
“Uh huh. Keep going.”
“You had me look at the nine of clubs inside that dark box, proving I could see in the dark. I described your aura colors as you tried to make yourself happy and sad. You suddenly lashed out and hit me,” Jared rubbed his left hand, “not that it hurt or anything, and you had me look at some super-tiny etching, but I couldn’t see it.”
“Right. I make that,” again he consulted the book, “An Esper-3 (clairvoyant/aura reader) unlimited range. And for the weird part,” he scribbled on the complex form again, “I’m tentatively putting you down as a manifestor, with a second astral body.” He flipped through the book once more. “Or should that be as a wizard with one spell, or an avatar: disconnected? Damn this new system!”
While the sergeant wrote, Jared collected the gloves and speaker from where they’d fallen.
He finally finished writing. “Well, that’s that. I’ve already seen your academics. Above average, but nothing to write home about. Still, they’ll probably offer you a hardship scholarship.”
Jared couldn’t believe his ears. “What, you mean I’m in? I was able to lift enough?”
“Naw. Your TK’s no great shakes, but who knows, you might develop. The esper-3 is a bit more unusual, particularly with your mobility. Man, we could use you in the department starting today. The perfect spy, undetectable except to specific types of other mutants. It’s the reliability that’s always the hard part, and you’ve got that cold.”
The sergeant slid a sealed packet across the desk to him. “Here’s the final entry forms. I’ll be sending off my evaluation separately. You’ll want to get those in the mail pretty quickly. The new year starts in just over four weeks. If you want to arrange for a scholarship and forms, that’s cutting it pretty close – especially since I see you’re a ward of the state. That means an extra round of paperwork.”
The huge man nodded to himself, then added more quietly, “They told me you were a Category Three. I don’t care about why, although I’m guessing it has something to do with the ward of the state business. You’ll have to give the admissions office your real and assumed names, but for all public activity, you’ll use the new name. Details are inside. Don’t feel bad about it, lots of folks use it. Protecting their families, some types of body change.” He gestured at himself. “It means that you can make up your own handle and identity when you finish the application. Don’t worry. You can choose an official tag later, in your senior year. But this lets you pick one for use with the other students.”
And so it was that Jared found himself on a train speeding toward New Hampshire. He’d gotten a lot more experience dressing. He’d been a girl for almost a day at the time as he wandered malls and meandered though the city with his “big sister.”
It was excruciating and delightful, all at the same time. Delightful as he let himself believe that this was real, that he really was a girl, that he would be this way forevermore. Delightful in being able to act and behave in ways that were finally allowing the real person inside to emerge. He wasn’t sure exactly who she was yet, but he desperately wanted to find out.
He’d read the information through, fifteen different times. The rules seemed to allow it, his unique circumstances qualified him. He was allowed entry under the name, race, culture, gender, and species of his choice, with the rights and responsibilities to dress, act, and in all ways behave appropriate to his assumed identity.
He shrank at the danger and the audacity, but Jinn’s confidence pushed him forward. His entry into Whateley would be his only big opportunity for years to come. Could he pull of the disguise, the lie, in a full-time boarding school? And what if he finally entered puberty? He had a wild idea that the reason he still looked twelve was that his body simply refused to go through puberty as a boy. And while he didn’t want to be twelve forever, that was a ton better than turning into a boy. But… living as a girl, full time? That meant rooming with other girls, sleepovers, maybe they could teach her fashion and makeup. It meant sharing secrets, trying new clothes, learning how to be pretty. His mind was filled with the wonder that seemed almost within reach. But it also probably meant eternal hatred and being completely ostracized from his school, his friends, and everyone that he’d grown close to if his lie was discovered. It might well mean that he’d be beaten to a pulp or killed, as anger turned to rage. He knew things like that happened.
Oddly enough, the danger didn’t seem to matter as much as betraying the friends. That would be the hardest part.
But the opportunity!
So, with Jinn pushing on one side, and his experience and happiness with dressing pushing on the other side, he ignored his fears. He listed his circumstances (as best he could in the spaces they had on their forms). In his registration, he deliberately gave a new name and gender. “She” was now registered as “Jade Sinclair.” There was a delicious shiver as Jared contemplated that “she” would have to think of herself as a girl, full-time now. She would never more be “Jared.”
Which brought her back to the train she was now on. She had a small suitcase filled with feminine clothing – there wasn’t a stitch of ugly boys clothes. This would be all or nothing. Her pierced ears proudly displayed a pair of small Jade balls, to match her new name.
She was about to enter high school, not as the abused son of a drunken widower father, but as the orphaned daughter with a hidden and mysterious past, who had gained an inexplicable ability.
Beside her on the seat, a toy stuffed lion danced and cavorted, as if it were feeling as gleeful as she was. She glanced around, ensuring that it was out of sight of the other passengers, then smiled indulgently.
She couldn’t wait to begin her freshman year!