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Ayla and the Late Trevor James Goodkind - a Whateley Universe Tale

by Diane Castle

Chapter 1 - Genesis

Friday, July 21, 2006, dinner time
Westchester, New York

Mutterwald, the family estates of the Goodkinds

“Trevor James Goodkind!  You are late!”

That was Mother.  She wasn’t pleased.  Dinner was at eight, regardless.  It didn’t matter whether we were running late, or someone got hungry early, or the estate was under attack from a ravening horde of mutants.  (To be fair, the third thing has never happened, although the estate has a security force in case of problems like that.) 

No matter how busy projects were at the labs, Mother always made sure that she was home in time for a proper dinner; and she expected all of us to do likewise.  Even Father.  And since Father was Bruce Gregory Goodkind, CEO of Goodkind International, I found it interesting that he chose to adhere to Mother’s rule, even when he had important negotiations going on at headquarters.

I quietly sat down at the dinner table and picked up my napkin.  Everyone else was well into the salad course.  I ignored my brother David’s barely-suppressed look of amusement and politely explained, “I’m sorry, but I did ask David to tell you that I was feeling a bit under the weather, and that you should start without me.”  I had been feeling a tad light-headed, on and off since the afternoon before.  But a Goodkind doesn’t complain.  And it hadn’t been that serious.

I was just hoping I wasn’t coming down with something that would make my travel plans problematic.  On Sunday morning, as soon as the early church service was completed, Mother and I would be flying down to Virginia with the family’s second butler Andrews.  I was starting French Camp on Monday, and Mother would be flying down with me to make sure I was all settled in.  She couldn’t stay too long though, since she was needed at the labs early Monday morning.

My sister Connie wasn’t paying any attention to one of her younger brothers.  She was busy regaling Mother with a detailed discussion of where she was going to go shopping the next day with her friends Covina Walcutt-Scott and Terraline Barre-Church.

Father put down his fork and checked, “Are you sure, Trev?  Arkwright called me this afternoon around two, and told me that you looked somewhat faint.  Did you go to the company clinic?”

I let Tabitha put my salad plate in front of me, and then I spoke.  “No sir,” I admitted.  “I really didn’t feel that I had the time.  Mister Arkwright has been waiting for the summary reports, so I needed to get them compiled before I left for the day.  After all, I won’t be back for over a month.”

I wasn’t sure if Father would want me to put myself ahead of the projects for the division in which I was interning.  I looked around the table quickly, and it was clear from the faces that everyone else was silently voting 3-1 for ‘self’.  My older sister Connie clearly felt that way, as did my younger brother David.  Mother obviously wanted me to take care of myself, since I was her child.  My older brother Paul looked like he was pleased with my decision.  That meant a lot to me.  As a child, I had always looked up to Paul and tried to be the sibling with whom he wanted to do things.

Also, I knew that some day, Paul would be running Goodkind International, and I would be second-in-command.  Once Father retired to Chairman of the Board and named Paul as CEO, I might be the CFO or CIO for the entire company.  Someday I would probably by the CEO of Goodkind International, to Paul’s Chairman of the Board.  All that might mean more if you realize that the Goodkind family as a whole (including all businesses, real estate, and privately held stock) is worth about 750 billion dollars at Forbes Magazine’s last count.

I took a bite of the salad.  Hermione, our sous-chef, usually made the salads and desserts.  This one was a masterpiece.  The light touch of real Gorgonzola in the homemade vinaigrette perfectly set off the bite of the radicchio and the zest of the baby mustard greens.  I didn’t feel a need to undercut Paul and take over the family business, but I had decided that I was going to find a way to steal Hermione when I moved out and had my own home.  Our chef Raoul was quite good with main courses and soups, but Hermione was a genius in the making.  A true artiste.

When I had been little - well, smaller than I am now, and much younger - there would be eight of us around the family table on most nights.  But Greg and Heather were no longer living on the estate.  Greg was the oldest child at twenty-four, followed by Paul at twenty, Heather at eighteen, Connie at sixteen, myself at fourteen, and David, who was twelve but about to have his thirteenth birthday.  Father was fifty-seven, while Mother was fifty-one.

Once upon a time, my oldest brother Greg was being groomed to take over from Father.  But about six years ago, Greg had decided that he didn’t like his life, and he had walked out on us.  I didn’t know what he did, or where he went, because Father had decreed that Greg was not to be mentioned in the house again.  I really wanted to know, since Greg had been my idol when I was little.  However, a Goodkind is respectful of family.  So I reined in my curiosity and did as I was supposed to do.

But Greg’s disappearance had left a power vacuum behind.  Father, as CEO of Goodkind International, was responsible for the fortunes of all the Goodkind companies, as well as the Goodkind Research Laboratories and the rather diverse family projects.  His brother Herbert - my uncle Herb - was devoting his efforts toward good works, such as his creation of the ‘Knights of Purity’ and his funding and guidance for Humanity First! Projects.  His other brother Theodore - my uncle Theo - had chosen to focus on several private companies and projects that he could direct, rather than being under Father’s thumb as a part of Goodkind International.   So Father had immediately begun grooming my second-oldest brother Paul and the next two children in the family, Heather and Connie, to take the helm of the conglomerate.

Paul had stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and was now spending every summer working in the head offices.  That was a lot of effort for him, because he was at Yale and majoring in business.  The work meant that he couldn’t take the summer courses he wanted to take, and it meant that he couldn’t go visit his girlfriend during the summer.  He had been dating the older daughter of the Greek ambassador for almost a year, and she was back in Athens for the summer while he was stuck here in Westchester.  The only times I got to be around Paul these day were transit time and dinner time.  ‘Transit time’ was when we were both going to and from headquarters in the limo with Father, and then we were primarily discussing business.

Heather, on the other hand, had quickly decided that she wanted to be a famous model instead.  Heather never had good grades in her schools, but she wasn’t a complete idiot, like Mother’s niece Paris Hilton.  (Yes, that Paris Hilton, who spends her time doing those humiliatingly bourgeois reality shows where she demonstrates that she and her BFFs are even more clueless than they look.  You have no idea what it’s like having to sit next to her at a family dinner and then put up with her babbling for an entire meal.  At least her younger sister isn’t such an embarrassment to the entire Hilton clan.)  Still, Heather has always been the best-looking girl around, with definite supermodel looks.  She got her face from Mother, and her height from Father.  Lucky her.  At 5’10” she’s tall enough to do modeling, but not so tall that she can’t get work in Hollywood as an actress.

I had given Heather some advice on breaking into the movie business, but of course she wasn’t going to listen to one of her snotty baby brothers.  Even if I was right, as usual.  I had carefully explained that she didn’t need to wait until she reached twenty-one to get her 6.5 billion dollar inheritance; she had been impatiently waiting for that moment, so that she could buy a motion picture studio and get the roles she wanted.  But she hadn’t wanted to take my suggestion: use her available funds from her stock portfolio to buy film rights on any books she liked, so that she could produce the movie herself and play whichever role she wanted.  Being a producer was too much work for her.  I mean, she would have gotten nearly twice as much money for her inheritance if she had simply agreed to work in the family business.

Connie had demonstrated, over the course of two summers, that she simply did not have a head for business.  Math and science were real weak points for her in school, and that showed.  She was a disappointment in several departments.  The only department where she worked out was Human Resources, and she didn’t like working there.  I didn’t understand what her problem was.  It wasn’t as if she were going to be allowed to start off as a member of the board of directors.

At that point, Father had tried inserting David and me into the corporate structure, even though we were much too young to be regular interns.  David was growing up into an outgoing, virile guy like Father, and he did quite well in the Sales and Marketing department at the main offices. 

I had always been smaller, and more introverted, and smarter.  Two summers ago, I had interned in the legal department.  That had been a truly exciting summer for the division.  That was the summer of the Emil Hammond trial.  I’m sure you remember that in excruciating detail, but it was amazingly exciting seeing it from the viewpoint of the Goodkind legal department, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I belabor the point.

I missed some of the proceedings and legal machinations that summer, because I spent most of the first half of that summer at German Camp, and most of the second half of the summer at History Camp.  But it was a great summer nonetheless.

Dr. Hammond had been captured in the early spring by the Empire City Guard, who had gotten some sort of tip about Hammond’s location.  He allegedly had five mutants guarding him.  The battle between those five mutants and the Empire City Guard leveled nearly twenty blocks in Queens, and the fire department had needed three days before they were sure that all the fires were out.  Emil Hammond was wanted in the United States and four other countries on charges including kidnapping, murder, violation of civil rights, and illegal testing of pharmaceuticals.

The Goodkinds immediately put together a ‘dream team’ of attorneys to defend Hamond.  The team was led by F. Yew Baddeley, but the lead defense counsel was Johnny Dickran, while the attorney charged with rebutting prosecution evidence was the world-famous defender Alan Sugarbitz.  Based on what I saw while working in the department, the lawyers we hired ended up costing around four million dollars, while the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Goodkind legal division for the case ran about twice that.

Alan Sugarbitz brought in expert witnesses who debunked all the prosecution evidence and humiliated the public prosecutors.  The so-called evidence included fingerprints (which didn’t match those of Dr. Hammond) and DNA (which our experts said showed obvious signs of tampering).  Dickran made the eye witnesses look like a bunch of fools, particularly some of those freaky mutants who were brought in to testify.  None of the ‘eye witnesses’ of the past excesses of ‘Doctor Emil Hammond’ from years ago could identify our Dr. Hammond as the person who had operated on them or tested drugs on them.  Not only couldn’t they identify him from a photo, none of them could pick him out of a lineup of five men.  Dickran became famous for his statement to the jury: “If he can’t be picked, you can’t convict!”  Then defense lawyer Roberto Cardashio showed that the five mutant ‘bodyguards’ were in fact a hit team trying to kill Dr. Hammond, and not bodyguards at all.  The two of those five who had survived the fight with the Empire City guard even admitted it in interviews from their confinement cells.  (They were too dangerous to bring into the courtroom, of course.)

Finally, F. Yew Baddeley made a summation that was quoted by every Humanity First! Leader around the world.  I had it printed up poster size and framed on my wall in my office area.  Once Baddeley was done, everyone in the jury agreed that the problem was a bunch of mutants who cared more about themselves than about protecting the people of Queens.  Sure, there probably was some villain out there capturing mutants, but it was probably some vile mutant supervillain who was using the name ‘Emil Hammond’ to discredit a brilliant baseline researcher who was still trying his best to save humanity even though he was now in his seventies.  The Empire City Guard was lucky they didn’t get lynched after that summation.

Dr. Emil Hammond was quickly acquitted by the jury, and instantly went to work for my uncle Theo at a Goodkind research lab that was secret enough to protect Dr. Hammond from mutants who might be trying to track him down and kill him.  Months after the trial was over, I did find out from Mother that Dr. Hammond had used the services of some mutant codenamed Mask to change his appearance and fingerprints several years before he was captured.  That didn’t bother me in the least.  After all, we all knew that mutants were genetic freaks who were serious threats to America, and they had to be stopped, one way or the other.

That had been the best summer, and I didn’t expect that level of excitement to repeat.  One summer ago, I had worked in the accounting department, and had done very well, even with breaks for French Camp and Computing Camp.  It hadn’t been anywhere near as exciting as my summer in the legal department, but that wasn’t the fault of the accountants in the department.  This summer, I had been working in the IT (Information Technology) department.  That had been fairly interesting, as we had several projects going that were aimed at protecting our files and our hardware from mutant attacks.  I had been collating reports from twelve separate projects for Mister Moishe Arkwright, the deputy head of the IT department, just that afternoon.

I finished my salad as Tabitha brought out the main course.  The fresh fish in Béarnaise sauce went perfectly with the haricots verts and potatoes au gratin.  It was excellent, but I made sure I had plenty of room for Hermione’s dessert.  I listened attentively as Father discussed with Paul the progress of some negotiations with several sheiks in Saudi Arabia.  Then Mother started talking with David about the plans for his thirteenth birthday party, which was only a couple weeks away.  David couldn’t resist throwing a few nasty smirks my way.

As the baby of the family, David was always a pain in my.. ahem.. side about things like birthdays and sports and physical size.  He was eighteen months younger than I was, but he had been bigger than me for probably five years.  Now he was much bigger.  Or rather, I was much smaller.

I was fourteen and six months.  I tended to stress the extra months, since I was painfully small for my age.  At my age, being 4’9” and a mere 80 pounds was just too small.  That put me down around the lowest percentiles for both male height and weight.  Father and mother had even brought in doctors several times to see if I had a medical problem, or if I need to go on a regimen of HGH to make me grow.  I was pretty sick of doctors in general after all that, so I hadn’t complained to Mother or Father that I had felt a little light-headed several times in the previous few days.

I couldn’t help being small, but my younger brother David really liked to rub it in.  He was only a year and a half younger than I was, and he was already as tall as Mother.  Like my other brothers, he was well on his way to being a strapping youth who would grow into a macho man like Father.  Father was about 6’2”, and still in very good shape for a man in his fifties.  I, on the other hand, was well on my way toward being the guy that yells out, “The plane boss, the plane!” 

David liked to call me “Mini-Me” and “Munchkin” and “Shrimpy”, and a host of other uncomplimentary names.  Of course, he was usually careful to do it when our parents were out of range. Well, I was definitely the midget of the family.  Mother was around 5’6”, and both my sisters were even taller.  Connie was only a fraction of an inch taller than Mother, but Heather was already up in supermodel territory.  Paul was about six feet, and was just about the same height as Uncle Theo and Uncle Herb.

David was really excited about his birthday party, and about moving up so he was ‘only one year younger than Shrimpy’.

“David!”  Mother didn’t allow that sort of language in public, much less at the dinner table.  “Apologize to your brother at once!”

“Mother, it’s all right.  I am a shrimp,” I calmly admitted.  It wasn’t that I was trying to protect David.  No, I was going to be quite happy to see him get in trouble in a few seconds.  For several weeks, I had been trying a new strategy: if none of his insults appeared to bother me, he might eventually give up.

Mother glared at David and snapped, “If I hear you making fun of your brother one more time, you may find yourself missing your own birthday party.  Instead, you could spend the day perhaps.. cleaning up after Emil at the labs.”

David looked like she had just punched him in the stomach.  “I’ll behave, Mother,” he said in what was almost a whimper.  It would have been utterly humiliating for all his friends to find out that he had managed to get himself grounded from his own party.  But we had visited Mother at her labs before, and we knew exactly what she was threatening.

Dr. Hammond (only Mother and Father and my uncles were allowed to call him Emil) was working on a project trying to track down a possible mutant infectious agent that might be some sort of virus or retro-virus that was affecting the human genome and interacting with what Mother called ‘the meta-gene complex’, which I knew came from some highly classified MCO research documents.  He was working with a lab full of primates, and the clean-up for two hundred primates would be horrific.  Particularly for David, who had needed to be hosed off in one of the emergency showers during our visit: he had taunted two caged chimpanzees until they had suddenly retaliated.  They flung poo all over him.  You have no idea how hard it was not to laugh out loud at that.

Mother had the kind of pull that could let us into a secure Goodkind research lab.  She was the head of research at Goodkind Laboratories, Inc.  Of course, that means that she couldn’t waste her time being a stay-at-home mom when she had crucial work to do.  Mother was overseeing several major research projects, including a project that might even find a cure for mutants.  I knew a lot about her work, since I had spent the previous spring break working at her offices, overseeing the process of reorganizing the lab files.  Mother wasn’t just a lab director.  She was also an heiress in her own right.  She was Helen Cassandra Hilton-Goodkind, M.D., Ph.D., one of the Hilton heiresses.  She and Father hadn’t started dating until she completed her Ph.D. and started work at our labs as a meta-biologist under one of the larger Ezra Tyrell Goodkind research grants.

Actually, I knew more about Mother than that.  I had always looked up to her as my personal model of overcoming adversity and pain through learning and determination.  Mother had a clinical case of mutophobia, caused by a horrible trauma from her childhood.  When she was 6, she and her older sister Elizabeth had been kidnapped by two mutant political terrorists, Maelstrom and Tearaway.  Maelstrom, among other powers, had a fear aura and manifested monsters.  Tearaway ate strips of human flesh, among other hideous traits.  The police forensic reports suggest that Tearaway ate Elizabeth alive, in front of Mother.  Mother was institutionalized for three years after she was rescued.  But she overcame all that, and became one of the biggest names in the world in mutant biology research.

So it was a foregone conclusion that she would go to work at Goodkind Research, and would catch the eye of the Goodkinds.  Father saw a kindred spirit in Mother.  After all, she was virtually the personification of the Goodkind family motto: Fortitudino per scientiam.  Strength, through study.

The Goodkind family can trace its American roots back to Colonial times, and that motto has been a part of the family since Ezra Tyrell Goodkind of Yonkers, New York was one of the most important silversmiths in Revolutionary America.  During the late 1700’s there were many American silversmiths, but the ones with the most important and long-lasting contributions were the Goodkinds, the Thurbers, and the Reveres.  Then, in the early 1800’s, Colonel Edgar Gabriel Goodkind turned one of the many upper-class American families into the wealthiest, most powerful family in America.  We’ve retained that position ever since.  Oh sure, the Walcutts have made similar claims, but in my opinion they’re a bunch of poseurs.  “We’re descended from one of the signers of the Constitution!”  Oh, big deal, I mean, who isn’t?

David forced himself to apologize to me, but he still had to leave the table before dessert.  Which was his loss, since Hermione had prepared a fruit trifle that was to die for.

After dinner, I talked with Father and Paul in the study.  They both wanted to hear about the IT projects and get a summary of departmental progress, and they knew that I would be leaving for French Camp in little more than a day and a half.

Father was concerned about the stability, because just a week ago, he’d had to get Human Resources to fire one of our Senior Programmers.  Goodkind Security had been doing a standard security check on him, and had found out that the guy was some kind of cross-dressing pervert.  For several years now, Father had been really concerned about homosexuality and woman-dressing and all that sick stuff.  I didn’t know exactly why, but I didn’t need to know.  As Father and Mother and Reverend Moss all stressed, that stuff was gross.  And people like that were not good employees, because they had a secret that could be used for extortion.

Mother dropped in to give me a quick hug and make sure that I was going to get enough rest.  She was looking forward to flying me down to French Camp after Sunday church and getting me all settled in.  She reassured me that Andrews would have everything I needed, including new sheets for the dormitory bed and some decent bathroom clogs.

By the time Father and Paul and I finished, I was feeling somewhat under the weather.  I knew I hadn’t over-eaten that night, but my stomach felt like it was filled with lead.  I practically had to drag myself to my bathroom.  It was almost as if I didn’t have the strength to hold up my own body.  I knelt in front of the toilet for several long, miserable minutes before the feeling passed.  It’s funny, but when you’re bent over a toilet, wishing that the awful feeling in your gut would go away, time slows to a crawl.  I wonder if Einstein thought of the Theory of Special Relativity while kneeling over a toilet, wondering why time had nearly come to a standstill.  I felt rotten enough that I almost rang for one of the servants.

After what felt like several hours, but was really only about ten minutes, the feeling passed.  My guts stopped feeling so heavy, and the weakness that had gripped me just vanished.  I stood up, and I felt fine.  That was odd.  I showered, keeping the sprayheads on my face and head, with the water a hair cooler than my usual preference.  I toweled off and slipped into my silk pajamas.

Since I was feeling much better, I went ahead with all my usual nightly rituals.  I used some anti-acne cream, and I used the electric toothbrush before setting it back in its recharger cradle.  I went to my dresser and changed my photo file.

The photo file was a company invention.  It was a 5”x7” brushed aluminum frame that held  a megapixel display with up to 500 photos stored in ROM, so you could choose any picture you wanted to display.  I set it to a picture of me as a six-year-old, playing outside with my idol Greg.  By the time I climbed into bed, I felt pretty much the same as always.

I didn’t realize that after this day, nothing would ever be the same.

Saturday, July 22, breakfast time

The knock on my bedroom door woke me up.  “Master Trevor, your mother would like you in the breakfast room in ten minutes.”

“Thank you, Molly,” I answered politely, even if I didn’t feel polite.  Molly was just doing her job as one of the upstairs maids, and you simply do not mistreat servants.  I wasn’t ready to get up, but I didn’t get a lot of family time during the summer.  Or during the school year, for that matter.  This was the last day I would be at home for over a month, and then I would only have a short break before I returned to Chilton.  Once I was at Chilton, I would have a long weekend home for Thanksgiving, three weeks for Winter Holidays, and two weeks for Spring Break.  That would be only five and a half weeks at the family estates until next summer.

I stretched slowly and forced myself out of bed.  I felt much better than I had last night.  But I was still tired.  I padded across the bedroom and tugged my Pierre Cardin silk pajamas down so I could go to the toilet in my private bathroom.

It was the smallest bathroom on the third floor, barely twenty feet by thirty feet, but I wasn’t going to complain.  Goodkinds don’t complain and whine, they fix things.  I was planning on moving into my older brother Greg’s bedroom, even though Mother had been rather odd when I suggested it.  Greg had been my big idol when I was little, and even though he had been gone for six years, no one would tell me why he had left the family and never returned.  I wasn’t even allowed to ask about Greg.  It was as if we were in Regency England and he had been committed to Bedlam.  Still, Goodkinds are respectful of family, so I did as Father requested.

Still, I couldn’t even begin my planned move to the other end of the third floor until after French Camp.  This would be my third summer there, and I was already fluent in French.  As a fourteen-year-old with fluency, I was going to be one of the advanced students with ‘counselor’ privileges and much better accommodations.  I could hardly wait.  For the first half of the summer, I had been at European History Camp in Bern, Switzerland.  That had been sweet.  My fluency in both French and German had been particularly helpful.  Several French girls had been falling over each other to make nice with the Goodkind who could speak French.

But my move to Greg’s old room would have to be swift.  After French Camp and only a week back home, I would be off to Chilton Preparatory Academy for fall term.  I had been picked on rather a lot as one of the smallest junior high boys, but this year I was going to be in the high school.  I was hoping things would be better, or at least that my academic achievements would be regarded more highly.  As one of the valedictorians of my junior high class, I was hoping for admittance into one of the academic secret societies, like the Cranium and Ulnae Society.  That would give me more protection from the school bullies too.

A large part of the problem was my name.  No, not ‘Trevor’.  My last name.  The name Goodkind has meant wealth and power for over a century.  We’re one of the richest families in the world, right up there with the Walcutts and the Gates and the British Royals.  But ‘Goodkind’ has meant something else to many people.  For far too many people, it meant ‘mutant hater’, which wasn’t really rational.  Goodkinds don’t hate mutants, but we do understand that they’re a deadly threat to The American Way, and life as we know it.  So the Goodkind name meant ‘Humanity First!’ and my Uncle Herb’s ‘Knights of Purity’ and the Mutant Commission Office.  It meant mutant research, such as my mother and her underlings do.  But that meant that some dirtbag with some disgusting mutant relative might take the Goodkind name personally, and want to take that personal anger out on someone like me.  Not to name names, but <cough> Vaden Carruthers fit that bill.

Then the Goodkind name also meant other Goodkind children.  As I have found out to my misfortune, my older sisters Connie and Heather were the royalty of their grades in Chilton and their other schools.  Connie and Heather were both beautiful, rich, powerful.. and bitchy.  I’ve found a lot of people who hated me just because of how they were treated by Connie or Heather, or both.

That sow Tansy Walcutt, in particular, has been out to get me since about second grade.  Her parents were an important part of the Walcutt empire, so she has always had all the money she could ask for.  Unfortunately for her, money does not buy good looks or a good personality.  She’s an ugly, vicious, zit-faced, buck-toothed, hateful tub of lard.  At least she was the last time I saw her.  Apparently, not only was she as homely as a mud fence, but she had the bad taste to become a mutant a couple years ago, and her parents had to hide her away somewhere.  All I can say is ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’.  If anyone deserved to get turned into some kind of hideous mutant freak, it was that bitch.

Vaden Carruthers and his brother Phillip have been almost as bad, even if they didn’t start on me until I started at Chilton in seventh grade.  The Carruthers were old Boston money, but had the deeply disturbed attitude that the one or two mutants in their family were not a problem, but some sort of bonus.  How’s that for frightening?  Maybe they’ve been brainwashed by some esper in their family.  Maybe they’re just idiots.

Okay, okay, so my sisters probably started the whole thing with Tansy, and maybe with Vaden too.  I heard them, more than once, getting on Tansy’s case.  We used to see the Walcutts at social events, although my parents won’t even attend a gala if Darryl and Marissa Walcutt are going to be there.  Imagine the nerve of them, showing up and acting like their daughter wasn’t some sort of dangerous weirdo.  But I could guess what Connie and Heather were doing to Tubby Tansy at school, since I heard them lambasting Tansy plenty of times at parties.  It would be “Oh, hello, Tubby.. I mean Tansy.”  Then the other would tag-team, “Is there a difference?  Tubby, Tansy…  Tansy, Tubby…”  It was hard not to laugh, even if Father didn’t like that sort of behavior in public.

So the fat, ugly warthog took it out on me and David.  David rapidly grew into a big, athletic kid who could kick Tansy’s buck teeth right up her lard-laden ass if she hassled him.  So she eventually limited her torments to me, and a few other kids younger than she was.  You know, picking on those who couldn’t defend themselves against a girl two or three years older than they were.  When I was eight and she was ten, it was a nightmare.  As I learned how to use the power of the Goodkind name, it gradually dimmed to a major headache.  Man, was I glad when she went mutie and had to leave school!  I hope she’s locked away in the deepest cells in ARC or something.

While I was thinking about all that - French Camp and Chilton and bullies - I thoroughly brushed my teeth and then flossed.  I knew I had a dental checkup coming as soon as I got back from French Camp.  Then I slipped on my morning robe over the pajamas, and prepared to spend some time with Mother.  Plus, Hermione had told me she was making eggs Benedict for me this morning.  You would have had to give me the plague to keep me away from Hermione’s eggs Benedict.

I strolled down the hall toward the stairs, and I started feeling better.  I was feeling really light on my feet.  I reached the top of the stairs, and I moved to one side as Teresa came walking up the other side of the stairs carrying some flowers, which were probably going to go in the vases in Mother’s sitting room.

That’s when it happened.

I suddenly felt cold, and like I wasn’t wearing my pajamas.

Teresa dropped her flowers and let out a scream of raw terror.  She lurched away from me as she began screaming in Spanish so idiomatic that I couldn’t begin to follow it.  The words I did catch included ‘diablo’.  She stepped back away from me without thinking, but she was on the stairs, so she started to fall backward down most of a flight of stairs.

I tried to save her.  I lunged for her.  That just scared her more.  But as I caught up with her and grabbed her wrist, my hand went through her arm!  That scared the crap out of both of us.  I fell into her, but I didn’t hit her.  Instead, the impossible happened.  I fell right through her!  For a split second I couldn’t see, as my head passed right through her chest.  My head came out her back, as she screamed like I had just ripped out her ribcage.  Then I was falling down the stairs, with her falling right behind me.

It looks so easy in movies.  But falling down a flight of stairs, even carpeted stairs, hurts.  Especially if you have nothing on to protect you.  I went splat at the foot of the stairs, and a moment later, Teresa landed hard, right on top of me, smashing my face into the carpeted landing.  Teresa scrambled to her feet and ran screaming down the second floor hallway.

“Ouch.”  That wasn’t the most brilliant riposte I’ve ever said, but it was all I had at the moment.  What the hell had just happened?  Where were my clothes?  Had I really gone right through Teresa like a ghost or something?  Had I died during the night and now I was a specter?  If so, I was the most solid ghost I had ever heard imagined.  And I hurt all over, which didn’t seem very ghost-like.

“Oh my God!”  That was definitely David.  I looked up the stairs, and he was standing there holding my pajamas in his hands and looking at me with a look of raw terror on his face.  David was a pretty brave guy.  He liked playing football, and he would stand up to anybody at school.  But he was so pale he looked like he was about to faint.

I could see the expression on his face change as he figured it out.  His face went dark with fury, and he screamed at me.  “Freak!”  He bolted down the stairs and jumped past me as if I were a nest of cobras.  He sprinted down the next flight of stairs, taking them two at a time, only now he was screaming for help.  “MOTHER!  FATHER!  PAUL!  SOMEBODY!”

I couldn’t figure out what had happened.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see why.  I couldn’t let myself figure it out.  The answer was just too hideous.

I hurt all over, but I couldn’t just lay there naked.  I scrambled to get back up the stairs.  I rushed into my room, slammed the door, and ran to my dresser to pull on something.  Anything.  I yanked on some briefs and a polo shirt and a pair of summer-weight shorts, only moments before I heard the rushing in the hall outside my door.

David ran in, with Mother in tow.  He babbled out a disjointed rant about me suddenly glowing blue, and then passing right through my clothes, and then attacking the maid, and going through her like a ghost, and knocking her down the stairs.

I tried to explain, but Mother was obviously believing David, and not me.  She was getting paler by the second, and she was staring at me as if I were a werewolf or something.

I tried my best, “Mother, please, it’s not like that, something happened, I don’t know what, but I’d never attack one of the servants, and…”  As I talked, I put my arms out, begging her to understand.  Begging her to hug me and tell me it would be all right.  I took a step forward…

“NO!”  She screeched at me and backed up until she ran into the wall.  The raw fear on her face was horrifying.  She was trembling as she shrieked, “Stay away from me, you.. you.. gene scum!  Don’t touch me!”

I froze.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  “M-mother?  Please, help me.  Please!”

She choked out, “J-just stay here.  In your room.  Don’t go anywhere.  Don’t attack anyone.  I’ll have help here as soon as I can.  Don’t hurt anyone else.  Don’t destroy anything.  Don’t…  Just don’t…”  She practically ran from the room, with David right on her heels.

Gene scum.  Freak.  Good God, they thought I was some sort of mutant!  What was wrong with them?  I turned back to the dresser, and I saw myself in the dresser mirror.

Oh.  My.  God.

I was blue.  I had this faint blue tinge all around my body, as if I were glowing with a blue light.  I put my hand down on the dresser to steady myself, and my hand passed right through my photo file and through the wood.  I hastily yanked my hand back, but I was unharmed.  The dresser was unharmed.  There wasn’t any hole in the dresser, and I knew I hadn’t been hurt.  I had passed my arm through the dresser the same way that I had passed through my pajamas and I had passed through Teresa.  But whatever I had done to the photo file was making the thing re-scan for new pictures, as if I had messed up the electronics.

I was a mutant.

I was one of those hideous, dangerous, malevolent, genetic deviants that Goodkind International and all of the Goodkind family were trying to stop.  I was a freak, just as David had said.  I had spent my whole life preparing to follow the Goodkind traditions.  Now I had met the enemy, and it was me.

My first impulse was to scream like a maniac.  My second impulse was to vomit in horror.  My third impulse was to sit on my bed and cry.  My fourth impulse was to scream some more.  I didn’t do any of those.

I stood there, watching my blue tint in the dresser mirror.  I realized that if I could pass through dressers and clothes and people, I was at risk of falling right through the floor if I wasn’t careful.  What would happen if I fell from this floor, all the way down through the basements into the earth?  Would I die down there, unable to breathe or see or escape?  And would everyone else be ecstatic to be rid of me?

The blue tint faded away.  Still scared silly, I touched the top of the dresser again, and was rewarded with a thump as my hand slapped the inlaid wood and went no further.  I was safe.  For now.  Until I manifested my bizarre mutant ability again.  Or I showed another mutant ability.  What if…

I could hardly swallow as I thought about some of the mutant abilities I had read about.  What if force beams began erupting from my eyes, or everything around me caught on fire, or I exploded in a ball of radiation?  I could kill everyone in the mansion.  I could kill everyone on the entire estate!  Oh Lord, please don’t let me hurt anyone!

I sat on the bed and prayed.  I prayed for control.  I prayed to keep everyone safe.  I prayed that I would wake up and find out this was all a horrible nightmare.

As I prayed, I felt that heaviness in my guts once again.  Was this more mutant weirdness?  Did I even want to find out?  I knew the answer to that one.  No, I definitely did not.

But the heavy feeling was spreading through my whole body.  What was happening to me?  I didn’t know, but the bed started groaning.  I started sinking.  No, I wasn’t sinking through the bed, my weight was pushing down on the mattress more and more.  Afraid that I was going to break the bed, I stood up.  The floor started groaning under my weight.  Oh God, I was getting heavier!  Was this going to stop? 

I laid down flat on the floor, trying to spread my weight out so I wouldn’t crash right through the floor into the rooms below me.  The entire floor started to creak and groan.  By then I was sobbing as I prayed for help.  Was I just going to keep getting heavier and heavier until I crashed through the floors and killed myself?  Or could it be worse than that?  What if I couldn’t stop getting heavier, even after I crashed through the floors?  What if I got so heavy that even the bedrock couldn’t stop me from sinking down toward the earth’s core?  What if I got so heavy that I became like a neutron star or a black hole?  Would I destroy the planet?  Oh please God, don’t let that happen!

I have no idea how long I laid there hoping for the heaviness to fade.  A minute?  Ten minutes?  It seemed like a lifetime.  But finally the heaviness seemed to lift, and the floor stopped groaning under me.  I stood up and looked down.  It was hard not to wince when I could see my feet had left indentations in the hardwood flooring before I had lain down.

Feeling the need to wipe the panicky sweat off my face, I walked carefully over to the bathroom.  I soaked a washcloth in cold water and wiped my face.  It didn’t make me feel better.  The terror and revulsion was still knotting up inside me like an angry python.  I was a mutant.  I was a threat.  I was a danger to my whole family.  I needed help!

The faint blue tint started up again on my skin.  I could see it in the mirror.  I looked down at my hands, and I could see the blue color appearing.  I put my hand down on the marble countertop, and my hand passed right through the marble.  I yanked it back.  What if I stuck a part of my body through something solid, and my passing-through-stuff phase ended?  Would I lose that part of my body?  Would I end up horribly trapped, half inside some solid object?  I didn’t want to find out.  I didn’t want to have to find out.

So I just stood there, trying not to move, trying not to pass through any solid objects, trying not to cry, and praying desperately for that blue tint to go away.

After I don’t know how many minutes, I could see in the bathroom mirror that the blue tint was fading away.  I breathed a sigh of relief, but I knew that the relief was bound to be temporary.  There was no way of telling how long it would be before I became ‘heavy’ again, or I became, well, I suppose ‘immaterial’ was the right word.  But it felt wrong.  It seemed like there ought to be some sort of logical connection between these two modes into which I kept sliding.

Were mutant powers logical?  A lot of the classified papers from the MCO that Mother had shown me over the past three years suggested that they were.  Some of the papers suggested that these freaks were accessing energy sources that we simply didn’t understand.  Some of the more recent metaphysics papers had been referencing some papers on something called ‘pattern theory’, but I didn’t have the math or physics background to follow them.  Frankly, Mother didn’t either.  Her degrees were in medicine and biochemistry.  But that was why she hired top-notch researchers in other fields.  Non-mutant, of course.  People like Emil Hammond, or physicist Robert Westerley, who was working at one of our labs in the western U.S.  According to Father, she had been trying to hire some of the big names at DARPA, but some guy named Wiley or Reilly kept blocking her.

Then I felt that heaviness starting again.  Oh God.  I lay down on the tile and spread my body out so I wouldn’t break anything.  This time, I could feel it.  I could feel that I was growing heavier and heavier.  I lifted one arm and waved it around.  I still had as much control over my body as I had when I was normal, but I just felt a lot heavier.  Without thinking, I dropped my arm back down to the tile.

The tile shattered under my arm, as if I had hit it with twenty sledgehammers.

Oh my God!  Oh my God oh my God oh my God!  I tried to freeze.  I carefully turned my head, and my arm was undamaged, but the tile under it was smashed as if Champion had smacked it.  I lifted my arm up, and I could see the indentation I had left.  It looked like a solid titanium arm had been smashed into the tile.  At perhaps a hundred miles an hour.  Florentine tile, in my favorite colors, and it was ruined.

But my arm was undamaged.  I didn’t have a cut or a scrape or a bruise.  I didn’t even have a sore spot.  What was happening to me?!  I stared at my arm in horror and wondered if there was any way to keep from turning into.. well.. whatever I had become.  Or was I still in the middle of changing?  Would I keep changing and mutating and devolving until I was some thing that no longer bore any resemblance to Trevor Goodkind?  Until I was something that no longer bore any resemblance to humans?  It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

I tried to get to my feet without destroying everything around me.  I grabbed the edge of the tub and stood up.  The tile groaned underneath me and cracked.  Oh no.  And then I saw that I had accidentally squeezed the side of the tub too hard.  My hand had crushed the porcelain-finished steel as if it were nothing but styrofoam.  I wanted to lash out and take out some of my terror on something, but I was a lot more scared of wrecking the room if I wasn’t significantly more careful.

So I stepped into the tub and lay down there.  The tub was solid steel, and designed to hold a huge weight of water when completely full.  Maybe it could hold me.

I lay there, trying not to do anything else, while I waited for the heavy feeling to fade away.  While I waited for the inevitable.  I could see what was bound to happen, and just thinking about it made me hurt.

There was no way to fix me.  I was a mutant.  And Goodkinds did not tolerate mutants.  Mutants were terrifying and dangerous and threatening.  There was no way I would be allowed to remain anywhere around the family estates.  There was no way I would be allowed to remain a part of the family.  But I had nowhere else to go.

I was doomed.

Chapter 2 - Exodus

Saturday, July 22, 1:33 pm
Westchester, New York
Mutterwald, the Goodkind family estates

I heard noises in the hall, and I was feeling ‘normal’ again, so I slowly climbed out of the tub and stepped toward the bedroom.  I didn’t realize that I was soon going to be whisked away from everything I thought of as my normal life.

I could see by the clock on the mantle that I had missed lunch.  That didn’t bother me.  Eating was the last thing I felt like doing.  I was wincing at just the thought of what I might accidentally do to the silverware, or the Jacobean dining room furniture.  Or the doors, or the stairs, or just about anything in the house.

I stepped carefully into my bedroom, trying to figure out if I was really at a ‘normal’ level of whatever I was.  I didn’t feel too heavy.  I didn’t feel too light.  My steps sounded like they had a normal weight behind them.  My chest did feel itchy and kind of prickly, and my hips felt sort of sore.  I was really hoping that didn’t mean my increased weight was going to break my bones.. from the inside.  That would be supremely nasty.

The door swung open, and my Father walked in.

I pleaded, “Father!  Please, you have to help me.  You have to get me out of here, away from everybody!”

But Father hadn’t come home alone.  He was followed into my room by two armed guards in body armor and Dr. Hammond in a white lab coat.  The guards pointed their weapons at me, while the doctor edged away from me off to my right.  I was really scared by then.  One weapon was some sort of massive machine gun with a bore that looked like it would fire bullets bigger than Father’s thumb.  The other weapon was some sort of energy weapon that could probably fry me and most of the room.

Father stepped to my left and insisted, “Trevor.  Pay attention to me.”

I looked at him and started to ask what he had planned.  But his plan became fairly obvious.

“Ow!” I squealed, as something jabbed me hard in my butt.  I looked down and saw that there was a tranquilizer dart sticking out of my posterior.  “Jesus!”  I made myself pull that thing out of my rear, even as I looked around.

Dr. Hammond was holding the dart gun that had obviously launched that dart.  The guards had raised their weapons and were pointing them at me in case I did something mutant-ish.  Father was staring at me like I was something horrible and dangerous.  Something totally unrelated to him.

I sank to my knees.  “Please, you don’t have to do this, I would have done whatever you asked, I…  I need help!”

One of the guards snapped, “Just stay put.  Don’t move.  Drop the dart, and just stay there.”

I took several deep breaths, and tried not to move.  I tried not to believe what was happening.  What were they going to do to me?

I closed my eyes, and…

Saturday, July 22 (probably)
somewhere not at the estate

I was waking up.  At least, it felt like I was waking up.  I opened my eyes, praying that it had all been some horrid nightmare…

I was strapped down on a metal lab table under harsh fluorescent lights.  I was in a laboratory.  I was in one of the Goodkind Research facilities.

I tried to sit up, and I received a horrible shock in my neck.  It nearly knocked me out again.  God, that really hurt!  My whole body convulsed, and I think I just about swallowed my tongue.

As I gathered my senses afterward, I slowly realized that a massive collar was surrounding my neck and holding me against the table underneath me.  Security devices were wrapped around my wrists and biceps, pinning my arms down.  Heavy metal straps ran across my chest and waist, securing my body to the table.  More security devices at my knees and ankles held my legs in place.  Something that felt like a helmet was on the top of my head, and I could feel dozens of hard points pressing against my scalp.

“Hello?  Help?  Somebody?”  I tried again, “Anybody?”

Dr. Hammond suddenly loomed over me.  He checked his watch and said, “Ahh, interesting.  You’re not immune to chemicals, but you weren’t unconscious as long as a baseline human of your weight would be.”

“Please Dr. Hammond, you have to help me!  Don’t let me be a mutant!  I know you’ve been working on drugs to slow mutations.  Can you give me something and make me be normal again?”  He just ignored me.  “Please?”

He just looked over at someone I couldn’t see and said, “Note the time of recovery please, Royce.  Do we have enough samples yet?”

The person I couldn’t see, who I was guessing was named Royce, said, “We have the blood samples and the skin scrapings, but not the.. let’s see…  We still need samples of urine, semen, and bone marrow.”

Hammond nodded, “Excellent.  That will also give us a measure of regeneration rate.”

I choked, “W-wait a minute, bone marrow?  Won’t that hurt?”

He smiled evilly, “Why yes, I expect that it would, if you were a baseline…”

Then the unseen voice came over.  It was a nerdy guy in a labcoat, maybe in his mid-thirties.  He had a needle that had to be ten inches long.  I thought I’d faint.

Hammond said, “Let’s try the thigh bone, fairly high up.  That should be extremely painful for a baseline.”

“Oh no!  Oh please, for God’s sake, please d..AAAAAAAAGGGHHHHH!!”

You hear that the human body will quit on you when you’re in too much pain, and you’ll just faint.  I’ve got bad news for you.  That’s a big fat lie.

I think I screamed until I writhed so much that the shock collar went off.  I think that finally knocked me out.

I came to again.  My leg really hurt.  Hammond and his lab assistant were standing there with watches.

The assistant said, “I do believe you were correct, sir.  The bleeding’s already stopped.”

Hammond said, “We’ll keep track of the healing rate.  So far, it doesn’t seem particularly impressive.”

“Yes sir.  Are you ready for the other samples?”

Hammond nodded, and pulled on a pair of heavy rubber gloves.

Oh no, the other samples!  That was a urine sample and a sperm sample, and that meant that he’d have to…

“OOOWWWWW!!”  I screeched in terrified pain as he grabbed my penis and rammed some kind of catheter down it!  “For God’s sake stop!  Oh please st.. OOWWWW!  AAAGGHH!”

It felt like he was ripping the inside of my penis apart.  He didn’t stop shoving that tube into me until there was a small burst of urine into the tube.  He handed the sample off and moved onto the next step.  He picked up a metal pole that was about an inch thick and a foot long, with a big rubber handle at one end.

He casually explained, “This technique was actually developed for getting sperm samples from dangerous mammals.  Elephants, lions, hippos…  It works quite well on gene scum like yourself.”

“Wh-what do you..  AAAGGHH!”

I screamed at the pain.  He just rammed that metal rod right up my ass!  And as I sobbed at the searing pain, he shifted his grip to the rubber handle and…

“AAAAAAAGGHHH!!!”  The electrical shock was so brutal that I just convulsed helplessly.  The pain was overwhelming.  As I writhed, the neck collar shocked me some more.  And some more.  Finally, my body had all the current it could take, and my brain went offline…

I came to once again…

“Fascinating.  Simply fascinating.”  Hammond’s voice made me cringe in fear.

“Do you think this explains the reported effects?”

“Some of them.  I believe it’s obvious what the mutant is doing, but the possible range of effects is simply not clear.  We’ll want test box 4, I believe.  The deviant can change its density enough to pass through solids, but I suspect that it won’t be able to pass through a level six force field.”

I pleaded, “Please stop.  Please, I’ll do whatever you want.  Just stop hurting me!”

Hammond coldly replied, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll do whatever I want.  In time.”

What the hell did that mean?  Was he going to keep torturing me until I cracked, like in spy movies?  Or did he have something even worse in mind for me?

Hammond and his assistant were both standing much farther back this time.  And I realized that I had passed through something solid while I was being shocked, or while I was unconscious.  The catheter was still in me.  Some sort of tube was painfully rammed into my rectum as well.  But my right arm was free.  I had passed through both cuffs.  And my right ankle was free.  I could feel it.  Every time I moved my right leg the hole they had punched in my thigh ached horribly, but I could feel that my ankle was loose.

Which meant that I could escape, if I could make my powers kick in deliberately.

I started concentrating as hard as I could, trying to remember every thought, every emotion, every stimulus that might be connected with my turning immaterial.  I tried so hard that I broke out in a sweat, but I couldn’t make myself get to that ‘feeling light’ stage.

While I was trying to make myself get immaterial, I was scrabbling with my free hand at each of the devices holding me down.  But they were all massive clamps with locking systems too complex for me to get open without a key, at minimum.  Some of them I couldn’t even figure out where the keyhole was, or how they clamped shut.

I tried more concentration.  I knew I didn’t have much time.  I was sure that if I took too long, Doctor Psycho over there and his sidekick Igor would slap me into a prison that I couldn’t pass through.  I had heard them planning on it.

I gritted my teeth until my jaws ached.  I couldn’t get that feeling.  I couldn’t stop the frightened tears streaming down my cheeks.

I tried going the other way.  If I couldn’t get immaterial, maybe I could get heavier.  Maybe I could do something with that.  Maybe if I was heavy enough, the shock collar wouldn’t hurt me so much.  I focused on that icky feeling when my stomach seemed to be turning to lead.  I concentrated until I thought my head would explode.

And I felt it.  My stomach and guts got heavier.  My body felt different.  I kept concentrating, until my guts felt like lead.

I gave it my best try.  I grabbed one of the straps across my torso and pulled as hard as I could.  It broke off from the lock with a loud snap.  I felt a sharp pain across both my pectorals, but I kept going.

But the snap was heard.  Hammond said, “Are you getting readings on this?”

The other guy, Royce, replied, “Definitely.  Its weight rose from approximately ninety pounds and leveled out at roughly 850 pounds.  It demonstrated strength at a definite Level 2.”

“Try the shock collar.”

“Yes sir.”

I screeched, “No!”  I grabbed that collar and did my best to rip it off.  But I couldn’t budge it.  The shock hit me like a whack on the funny bone with a hammer.  “OOWW!  Damnit, that hurt!”

I realized that my new, heavier state…  850 pounds?  Jesus!  My new state had just given me enough protection from that shock collar.  Before, the thing had knocked me silly.  Now it just hurt.

I ripped the metal strap off my waist, and started struggling with the clamp around my left wrist.  I had a feeling that it was going to take me both hands, at the very least, to rip this shock collar off the table and get free.

Unless I could intimidate my captors.  Which was certainly worth a try.  I growled,  “Holy electrocution, Batman!  I think you’d better find a new toy, Hammond.  Or else LET ME OUT OF HERE!  I’m not kidding around.  I’m going to pull these Tinkertoys off, and then you’d better be out of my sight.  Got it?”

Hammond sounded completely unimpressed.  Well, he sounded a little different.  As if he were behind some sort of sound-dampening barrier.  “I understand completely, mutant.  And I already have a new toy.”

I struggled with the wrist restraint until it began to tear free.  But I was feeling weird.  Heavy, but light-headed.  I knew I had to get my wrist free, but I was having trouble remembering what I had learned about the table restraints.  I couldn’t seem to come up with another plan, either.  The room began spinning, and I couldn’t figure out if it was some weird gadget that Hammond was using on me, or if my powers were doing something else freaky.

I got the wrist restraint loose, but everything went black before I could pull off the arm restraint…

I was waking up.  At least, it felt like I was waking up.  But my head hurt, and I had a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, and there was a yucky organic-chemical taste in my mouth.  I opened my eyes, praying that it had all been some horrid nightmare.

I was hanging upright, suspended by things clamped about my hands and feet.  It took me a few minutes to realize that I had been sedated somehow.  Perhaps some sort of anesthetic gas.  I couldn’t move my hands or feet.  I looked up, and saw that my arms were spread so my hands were about two feet apart.  My hands were inside two gray spheres that were floating in mid-air as they dangled on the ends of what looked like heavy electrical cables.  I looked down and saw that my legs were also spread, and my feet were also in similar big gray spheres.

What, was Hammond a big fan of “The Incredibles”?

Maybe he was.  I had been dressed in a tight gray spandex bodysuit that covered me completely, except for my face and perhaps the parts of me inside those confinement spheres.  Hundreds of thin wires ran from the bodysuit in all directions.  I could see that several dozen of them led to a set of medical monitors on a metal cart in front of me.  A few hundred led to a set of monitors behind me.  I couldn’t twist my neck enough to see what was going on back there.  About fifty wires led from my scalp to a set of monitors off to my right.  Arrays of wires were centered over each of my pectorals, with so much monitoring gear in there that my chest seemed to bulge out slightly on both sides.  Heart and lung monitors?  There had to be more to the connections than that.  I could see that my privates were dangling out, covered in their own spandex material, with that catheter still in me, and several dozen more wires running from my privates to more monitors.  What, did Hammond have some kind of weird thing for male parts?

Dr. Hammond walked in front of me and smiled.  It was the kind of smile you see on Tom’s face when he has Jerry helplessly trapped in a corner.  He said, “You’re showing some interesting abilities.  But I think you can improve with time.  I believe that I can help with that.”

A shudder ran through me.  Oh God, he couldn’t mean what I thought he meant!

He nodded to his assistant, and the guy bent over a control panel.  Suddenly the confinement spheres began to hum.  They began to vibrate.  And then they began to move away from each other.

I screamed in agony as the spheres began pulling me apart.  I tried as hard as I could to go heavy, and in a matter of seconds I could feel the change inside me.

I began to sink lower.  I began to feel like I was strong enough to resist the pull of these freaky gadgets.  I pulled as hard as I could, and managed to bend my arms enough to pull the spheres several inches toward my head.

The assistant said, “You were right, sir.  Its weight has jumped to 1130 pounds, and its strength has just moved up to Level Three.”

“Good.  Increase the strain.”

Oh crap!  He wouldn’t!

Oh, who was I kidding?  This was Emil Hammond.  Of course he would.

The strain on my arms and legs increased, until it was pulling me apart again.  I concentrated as hard as I could, but the pull was slowly overcoming my best efforts.

“Weight up to 1260.  Strength nearly at Level Four.”

I focused as hard as I could, but the pain in my limbs was agonizing.  I was really afraid they were going to let me be ripped to pieces.

I was talking to myself by then.  “Come on, Trev!  Concentrate!  Try harder!  Don’t let this bastard win!”

“Weight at 1340 pounds.  Strength solidly at Level Four.”

And then the pull of the spheres overwhelmed me, and I screamed at the searing pain.

I was waking up.  Again.  I opened my eyes.  I no longer had any doubt that I was in a horrific nightmare.  It just wasn’t the kind of nightmare from which you can wake up.  It was the kind of real-life nightmare during which you die horribly.

I was sitting on a clear plastic floor, wedged into a clear plastic box about the size of a phone booth.  I was in a different spandex bodysuit.  This one was silver, with metallic disks all over it.  It covered me completely, except for my face.  Even my hands and feet and scalp were covered.  It was like being stuck in a drysuit, except this seemed about half an inch thick all over.  I touched one of the metal disks on the outside of the suit, and I felt a similar metal disk pressing against my skin on the inside of the suit.  So this was probably a high-tech version of the wired suit I was in before.

This suit had some extra unwanted features, including a catheter up my penis and some sort of excretion tube rammed up my butt.  Both connected to opaque tubes that ran through holes in the clear floor, and down past a huge array of what looked like magnetic coils.

I checked the back of the suit and found what appeared to be a zipper that had been sealed shut.  I looked around and saw dangling from the ceiling a tube that had a clamp closure like the mouthpiece of a scuba tank.  The tube was clear, and I could see it was filled with a thick, opaque, chocolate-brown liquid.

I did a mental check of my body.  The spot on my right thigh still hurt, but not as much as I was expecting.  I mean, they had shoved a giant needle right into my bone just a few hours ago.  I should have still been in real agony.  But I felt like I might even be able to stand and walk around on that leg.  Well, except for the fact that I was trapped in a cell about the size of a phone booth.

My joints still hurt from whatever those confinement spheres had done to me while they were trying to pull me apart.  My arm and legs and hips ached, like the bones had been whacked with hammers.  I hurt where those catheters had been rammed into me.  And my chest hurt too.  Was that where I had nailed myself when I was tearing that metal strap loose?

I struggled to my feet and saw that the clear sides of the box were surrounded by more of those heavy mag coils.

Dr. Hammond’s voice came through a speaker in the ceiling of the box.  “The tube above you has a nutritive liquid that you will take for meals.  Your excreta have already been addressed.  You will comply with additional testing.”

It dawned on me that I was sealed in this suit, and I was sealed inside the box.  He might leave me in this thing until I died.

Or until I escaped.

Right about the time I figured that out, the ceiling began to descend.  There was a mild hum from above the clear plastic square over my head.  I could see a massive cylinder that could be a hydraulic ram for all I knew.  I put my hands up and pressed upward against the ceiling.

For all the good it did, I might as well have been pushing against Mount Everest.  The ceiling kept descending.  I concentrated as hard as I could, until I went heavy once more.  And I pushed back.

At first I thought I was getting somewhere.  The ceiling stopped, and even started moving upward.  Then it stopped.  I pushed as hard as I could, but I couldn’t budge it anymore.  And it began descending again.

It was moving much, much slower.  I was having to press against it with everything I could muster.  But it was slowly moving downward.  I strained for all I was worth.  It wasn’t enough.  The ceiling kept getting lower and lower.  In a matter of minutes, I was on my knees, pressing desperately to keep the ceiling off my face.  I just couldn’t stop it!

I shifted the weight onto my right shoulder, and I punched the ceiling with my left hand, as hard as I could.  It should have broken my hand, but it didn’t.  Instead, the ceiling deformed for a moment before returning to its normal appearance.  So I hit it again.  And again.  I pounded at the corners where it touched the walls.  I punched at the center, directly under the hydraulics.

The ceiling sank lower, until I was nearly on my butt and the ceiling was pressing against my face.  I was sobbing with the effort I was making, but nothing was good enough.  Was that old nutball just going to squash me like a tomato in a juicer?

Just when I was afraid the thing was going to break my neck, it stopped.  It whirred and retracted to its normal position.  The feeding tube dropped down, and Hammond’s voice ordered me to eat.

I put the tube in my mouth and drank.  It tasted somewhat like a chocolate shake.  Not very high-tech, if it was just a diet supplement shake like what they advertised in newspapers.  I drank as much as I could, until my stomach felt full.

Hammond’s voice announced, “We will resume in the morning.”

The magnetic coils around the box began to sizzle with energy, and a massive force field sprang up all around the box.  Other than the noise of the force field, the room became as silent as the grave.

I waited.  I counted seconds in my head, just as we used to do when we played hide-and-go-seek as kids.  “One Mississippi.  Two Mississippi…”  I counted to 3600.  After about an hour, I was fairly sure I was alone.  I doubted that I was unsupervised, though.  There were probably hidden cameras monitoring my every move.  And the suit probably had a thousand monitors built into it.

So I decided to try going toward a different goal.  Going ‘hard’ seemed inappropriate, since the opposite of ‘hard’ is usually ‘soft’.  ‘Heavy’ and ‘light’ seemed to describe my abilities better.  ‘Dense’ seemed technically correct, but the best antonym I could find was ‘penetrable’, and that was awkward at best.  That just led me back to ‘light’.  So I would go with ‘heavy’ and ‘light’.  For some reason, that decision seemed really important to me.

I tried to go light.  I focused on that feeling of light-headedness, and the sickly feeling in my stomach.  That didn’t seem to do it for me.  I stood there and tried everything I could think of.

I have no idea how long I worked at it, before I got to that feeling of being light on my feet.  I focused on that.  I concentrated so hard that my head began to hurt.  So I gave up.

And I dropped half a foot to the bottom of the box.

Holy crow!  I had done it!  I had managed to get so light that I was floating in the air!  Maybe it was that force field around me that helped me get airborne, but I had done it!

I went back to work, and I managed to find that place where I felt light on my feet.  I practiced again and again.  I was getting that blue tinge on the exterior of the bodysuit, so I was pretty sure it was getting as immaterial as I was.  I practiced until I could ‘go light’ just by thinking about it.

Then I worked on going light and floating.  I didn’t know if it was the field generators around me that were letting me float, or if this was something I could do without them, but I could do it if I concentrated hard enough.  Once I went light, I had to focus on staying immaterial and also moving upward.

It seemed like it took hours of practice before I could float upward at will.  But once I had that down, I started working on direction.  Up.  Down.  Sideways.  After a while, I was floating in a circle: up, sideways, down, sideways, up, sideways...

And I had a headache like you wouldn’t believe.  It was a throbbing pain between my eyes and moving back across my crown, nearly to the back of my skull.  But it didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as most of the things I had lived through since I woke up in the lab.

I stopped and checked out the food tube.  I couldn’t believe that I was already hungry again, but maybe I was burning off a lot of calories doing this heavy-and-light thing.  It had more chocolate shake in it, and I drank until my stomach was full again.

I thought I was ready for the next step.  I went light, and I tried to walk through the clear plastic box.

As soon as I got my palm partway through the wall of the box, I was hit with an electric shock through my catheters that had me screaming helplessly, until everything went black.

Sunday, July 23, probably morning
Dr. Hammond’s laboratory

I hurt all over.  Especially my penis and my butthole, which hurt like I had been burned from the inside out.  My arms and legs and hips really hurt, but in a different way.  They ached like someone had pulled my limbs apart and reassembled them with a power drill.  I hurt way too much to be asleep.

I was slumped in the bottom of the box, wedged uncomfortably at the base because of the way I had collapsed the night before.  Was that the night before?  Was this the next morning?

Dr. Hammond’s voice was echoing over and over in my little prison, “Get up.  Get up.  Get up NOW!  Get up.”

Hammond was back, so maybe it was the next morning.  I had no way of telling.  I struggled to my feet.  I was ordered to take some more food, so I did.  I couldn’t believe how hungry I felt.  I just drank out of that mouthpiece until it felt like my stomach was almost full enough to burst.

But I wasn’t paying enough attention while I was eating.  A sharp stab in my butt told me that.  I whirled around in time to see the business end of a hypodermic needle on the end of a mechanical waldo, as it vanished through one of the holes in the floor.

“You bastard!” I yelled.

Hammond’s voice came back, sounding sarcastic and entertained.  “But you asked me to give you something to make your mutation stop, didn’t you?”

“Can you do that?” I asked.  I couldn’t keep the desperation out of my voice.  I’m sure I sounded utterly pathetic.

“Probably not,” he replied.  “But we’ll try this.  It’s the newest version of my MCE Suppressant.  Version MCES-45.  It’s in alpha-test mode, but I think it’s worth trying.”

Alpha-test?  That bastard.  Of course he thought it was worth trying out on me.  It wasn’t his body that would pay the price. 

I stood there, waiting helplessly to see if the drug would help me.  I was afraid that it wouldn’t help, but would kill me instead.  I couldn’t judge time except by counting ‘one Mississippi two Mississippi’ in my head, but I think it was about an hour before I noticed the first effects of the drug.

I started feeling hot all over.  Feverish.  After a while, I began shivering as it suddenly felt like the room had dropped to about freezing.  But I was in a thick drysuit.  Which meant that I was running a hell of a fever.  Not that Hammond would care, unless I died before his experiments got completed.

I sank to my knees, curled up in a ball, and tried not to freeze to death.  Even though I was pretty sure I was just overheated, it still felt like I was freezing.

After a while, the freezing sensations left, and I felt way too hot again.  But I couldn’t get the thick bodysuit off.  All I could do was kneel there and sweat like a pig.

Before too much longer, my joints began aching a lot more.  I was just aching all over, like I had the worst case of flu ever.  Things got blurry, and I had trouble focusing my eyes.

After some unknown amount of time, Hammond started yelling at me again.  I could hear just fine, but I was feeling so rotten that I was having trouble concentrating on what he was saying.  I eventually figured it out.  He wanted me to drink some more dinner.  The mouthpiece sank down and smacked me in the face.  I drank and drank and drank, until the mouthpiece was pulled away.

I could hear Hammond talking with Royce.  I guess they hadn’t bothered to turn off the microphone, since I was busy being a useless lump of shivering misery.  Or someone had just forgotten to turn it off.

“This is really interesting, sir.  Look at the readings from the spectrometer.”

“Hmm.  Perhaps this will give us some new insight into the process.”

“How long do you think the MCES-45 will affect it?”

“We can only make some rough approximations.  It is still mutating, and the MCES-45 is experimental.  But I expect it will be incapacitated for another three hours, minimum.”

I just lay there and prayed I wouldn’t have to go through three more hours of this stuff…

Some time later - I really have no idea how long it was - I heard Hammond talk some more.  “Royce, I believe that is our esteemed visitors.  Please usher them in promptly, and be as courteous as possible.”

Royce asked, “Is that who I think it is?”

“Yes indeed.  It is our benefactors, coming to check on our little bit of gene filth.”

I waited helplessly for a while, until I heard more voices.

“Mister and Mrs. Goodkind!  What an unexpected pleasure!  And Mister Goodkind.”

“Just Paul please, Emil.  Mister Goodkind is still my father.”  It was Paul!  Paul was here!  He’d get me out of this hellhole!

Father boomed, “That’s my boy.  Modest to the end…  So, Emil…”

Mother sounded terrified as she interrupted, “I-is that thing in there really Trevor?”

Hammond calmly said, “Definitely.  We have the DNA scans you had performed when Trevor was in utero, and matching DNA scans from the internists who looked at Trevor’s growth deficiency.  I’ve examined the DNA scans from all of those.  That gave me his DNA at ages six, nine, and twelve also.  As recently as age twelve, only two years ago, his DNA was normal.  Baseline.  No portion of the meta-gene complexes we have isolated from mutants.”

Father pushed, “So how could that.. that monster be Trevor?”

“Just look at these PCR outputs from our mutant in there.  See these massive strings of matches?  This is definitely Trevor’s DNA, but with a meta-gene complex spliced in, after the fact.  Somehow, at some point in the last two years, he was infected with something, perhaps a retrovirus, and that unknown something has altered all of his DNA.  This may be the very evidence of the ‘ribonucleic heterotrophy infectious agent’ that I have been searching for.”

Paul wondered, “Infectious agent?”

Hammond answered, “Perhaps ‘infectious agent’ is the wrong term.  Still it serves as a convenient catch phrase for expressing that something transmissible may be altering baseline DNA to introduce these Meta-gene Complexes, or else these MC’s are being caused by something else and some sort of transmissible agent is activating them.”

Father sounded utterly terrified as he asked, “Could the rest of us catch this from.. from that thing in there?”

Hammond sounded puzzled as he said, “Apparently not.  We’ve been taking samples and studying them.  There are no abnormal bacteria, viruses, retroviruses, cells, chemicals, proteins, or even identifiable prions that I can find.  I don’t know how the boy was contaminated in the first place.”

Mother insisted in a panicked tone, “Still, we’ll have the entire estate checked out completely.  We can’t stay there until we know it’s safe!”

Paul said, “You’ve been sending him to boarding schools and summer camps for as long as I can remember.  He could have been exposed to anything at any one of those places.”

Mother suddenly gasped in terror, “Connie!”

Father choked, “And David…  Not to mention Heather.”

Hammond said, “I believe that only David is at risk.  The rest of the family is most likely too old for mutant manifestation.  People older than Trevor who have the meta-gene complexes have ridiculously low probabilities of manifesting.  There are only a couple documented cases in all of history, and all of them have dramatic, near-fatal trigger events.”

Royce added, “Although, there are occasional hysterical accounts of middle-aged baselines suddenly manifesting mutant traits and regressing to teenagers of the opposite gender.”

Hammond scoffed, “Nonsense.  Those are nothing but fillers for the National Enquirer, and cheesy internet fiction, and the like.”

Father insisted, “Still, everyone on the estates, and everyone in the companies, will need to get a DNA scan done again.”

Paul added, “Maybe that’ll show us how Trev got infected.”

Father said, “Or how Trevor’s infection has been spread in the company.”

Hammond replied, “It may not be possible to determine transmission vectors.  We may never know who gave it to who.”

As I lay there shivering and aching, it dawned on me that I needed to do something.  I whimpered, “Momma?  I feel bad.  I need help.  Please momma?”

Mother gasped, “Oh my God, it’s conscious!  Is it dangerous to us?”

“Momma, please, they keep hurting me, and I just wanna be me again, why can’t I be normal again?  Please momma, please?”

Hammond calmed her down, “There’s nothing to worry about, Helen.  It’s not contagious, and it can’t get out.  And it’s functionally incapacitated right now anyway.  The MCES-45 doesn’t seem to be having any effect on the mutation, other than making the mutant feel quite sick.”

Father asked, “Then could this be used as an anti-mutant control chemical?”

Hammond replied, “I am afraid not.  It has to be injected.  It will affect baselines much worse than it affects mutants.  It is unlikely to affect all types of mutants.  And our monitoring results suggest that once the mutation has run its course, the MCES-45 will have little if any effect.”

Father thought out loud, “So it might be useful as a control system for new mutant children who are manifesting in dangerous ways around normals.  Perhaps using a syringe dart in an air-powered rifle as a delivery system.”

Hammond sounded impressed.  “I hadn’t thought of that.  We’ll contact the MCO and see if they’re interested in purchasing MCES-45 for some field trials.  They do have to deal with this kind of problem on a regular basis.”

“Paul!  Father!  Mother!  Please, somebody help me!  Please!”

Mother whimpered, “Emil, would you turn off that speaker?  I can’t bear hearing that thing a second longer!”

“Mother?  Father?  Paul?  Somebody?  DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!!!”

I screamed for help until my throat was raw.  No one came.  No one answered.  Because no one cared.  My own family despised me.  I knelt there, shivering and aching, and I wept for a long, long time.

The effects of the MCES-45 lasted for hours longer.  Hammond made me drink a meal maybe three more times before I finally began feeling better.  My best guess was that I had to endure that stuff for about another six hours.

I knew I was feeling better when I realized that I could concentrate again.  Had the conversation between Hammond and my family even been real?  I was terrified that it was.  It seemed too focused and too precise to be delirium.  And I remembered it too well.  I wished I could forget the raw terror in my mother’s voice.  God!  That just made me feel like I wanted to die!

The aches didn’t fully fade.  My arms and legs and hips were still achy.  And the spandex suit felt like it had shrunk.  Did I have toxic sweat now too?  Great.  What a swell superpower.  My sweat could ruin synthetics.  Or was this part of the experiments?  Maybe the suit just shrank until the victim inside either ripped it open or it crushed the icky little mutant into raspberry jam.

The achy feeling was still there, but the fever and chills were gone.  The overall misery was gone.  I bumped my chest as I stood up, and I found out that my pecs were still really tender.  Damn, that hurt!  Had I ripped my chest open when I ripped that metal band off my torso?  Wait, that was just yesterday, wasn’t it?  I wasn’t really sure, but I thought it was.

Which meant this was Sunday.  Mother and Father and Paul had come to the labs on a Sunday to see what Hammond had found out about me.  About the thing that had once been a family member.  That had to mean something.  I just wished I knew whether it meant something good or something bad.  I was afraid that it meant something really, really bad.

Some time around early evening, after Hammond made me drink another meal, he and Royce told me that they were going to close up for the night.  I figured it had to be some kind of trap.  But I didn’t see that I had a lot of options.  I decided I would try going heavy this time.  Going light had left me open for a hideous electrical shock right up the old gazoo.  Only a creepy old weirdo like Hammond would think of such a perverted thing in the first place.  But it had hurt!

So this time, I would try going heavy and see if I could hammer my way out.  Maybe I could go heavy enough that the electrical shocks wouldn’t stop me.  I told myself that I could take it.  I told myself that I had handled the shock collar when I had gone heavy the day before, and that I had gotten tougher since then. 

Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out, and it would probably hurt.  A lot.

I stood still in my prison and counted, like the night before.  This time, I counted up to ‘3600 Mississippi’ twice.  That ought to be about two hours.  I didn’t think waiting the extra hour would help, but it couldn’t hurt.  And I wouldn’t know until I got out of the cell whether the extra time was worth anything.  Maybe some watcher would give up and go home.  Who knew?

I took a deep breath and concentrated.  I went heavy.  As heavy as I could manage.  Then I punched the plastic wall in front of me as hard as I could.

It didn’t hurt my hand, but it didn’t shatter the plastic either.  I hit that damn wall again and again, as hard as I could, and the most I was able to do was to make the thing deform for a few seconds.

Okay, there was more than one way to skin a.. a…  Well, the thing I wanted to skin right about then was a creepy old scientist.  Although the idea of actually flaying the skin off of someone made me feel nauseous. 

I needed to go light to bust out of this cage.  But I needed to avoid those hideous electrical shocks.  Which I couldn’t do if I went light.

I thought it over for a long time before I figured it out.  In retrospect, it was obvious; but hindsight is always 20-20.

I went heavy first.  I reached down and grabbed the catheter with both hands, squeezed hard, and pulled.  It ripped with a sparking sizzle that made me jump.

Holy crow, inside the catheter were three wires and some kind of thin cable.  What the heck had that old pervert put up inside me?

I didn’t have time to sit and figure it out.  I needed to move onto step two before Hammond’s monitor systems figured out something to do to me.

I grabbed the excretion tube that was stuck up my ass.  Okay, same as before.  Stay heavy.  Two hand grip, squeeze hard, yank it apart.

It separated as easily as if I was pulling on a piece of candy.  Inside the tube were a tiny tube, a wire, a thin cable, and some really stinky brown stuff I didn’t want to handle.  I dropped the remains of that tube through the hole in the floor.

Okay, I was still stuck with two gross tubes stuck up inside me.  I was going to have to live with stuff dripping out of me until I could remedy that problem, but in the meantime I didn’t have to worry about hideous shocks getting sent up my wang.  I hoped.

I started with what had worked last night.  I went light.  I concentrated, and I passed right through the plastic wall of my cell.

I managed to move about an inch through the wall, when I hit the force field.  It felt like I had just walked into an electric fence.  An electric fence designed to stop elephants.

There was a sizzling explosion of energy, and I tried to scream at the pain that burst across my entire front, from my face down to my feet.  I don’t know if I actually managed to scream or not, as that’s the last thing I remembered.

Monday, July 24, (most likely) morning
Dr. Hammond’s laboratory

I slowly came to.  Oh man, did I hurt!  I felt like someone had beaten my front half with a burning two-by-four.  My face hurt, and my chest, and my stomach, and my privates, and my knees…  Everywhere that had come in contact with that damn force field.  Especially my privates and my face.  And my pecs hurt a lot too.  I wondered if I had a serious chest injury bandaged up, underneath the padded bodysuit that was still covering me from head to toe.

I opened my eyes, and I saw that the clear plastic wall was right in front of my face, only inches away.  What?

I was lying on my back.  I was pretty sure of that.  I started to lift my arm up, and it whacked against the side of the cell.  And against the wall in front of me.

I wiggled my toes, and I could tap against the bottom side.  Okay, I was lying on my back.  And then it hit me.

Oh God!  I was in a coffin! 

I was lying in a tiny clear-plastic box that was no bigger than a child’s coffin.  The wall in front of me was the upper side, and it was only an inch or two above my nose.  The sides were touching my arms.  The bottom was an inch or two below my feet.  If I stretched my neck upward, I could feel my hair brushing against the top side.

I’m not particularly claustrophobic, but this was way too much.  I went heavy and did my best to push the top wall off me.  No matter how hard I pressed, the most I could do was to make the plastic deform a bit.  When I stopped applying my maximum force, the plastic would just stop being bent out of shape, and would return to its normal flatness.

This plastic prison had black reinforcing material around the small holes in the plastic, and in strips all over the walls.  I tried attacking the strips too, but they didn’t seem to be weak points.  So I tried attacking everything that wasn’t near a strip.  I didn’t have any luck there, either.

Even if I could get rid of the plastic coffin, I was still hemmed in on all sides by those force field generators.  They were so close to me that I could constantly hear the hum from the things.  There was a high-pitched component to the hum that was like fingernails screeching down a blackboard.  But I couldn’t get away from those force fields, and I couldn’t make the sound stop.  I couldn’t even get my arms up to stick my fingers in my ears.

All I could do was keep trying to go heavy enough to bust out of the damn box.  No matter how hard I concentrated, or how much I tried to get heavier, I just could not break out!  I couldn’t break the plastic.  I couldn’t press hard enough to push the thing apart.  I even tried pushing at the corners, trying to see if I could make the box distort and maybe fail along some edge.  Nothing worked.  And even if I broke the box, I couldn’t get through those force fields.

After a while, the sounds came back on.  I could hear Hammond talking to what sounded like an entire lab full of chatty researchers.  Oh wait, this was Monday, right?  He had probably been on a skeleton staff over the weekend, and now he had the entire lab full of researchers eager to experiment on freakish mutants.  Great.

The food mouthpiece was slowly lowered through what looked like a weird opening in the force field, and then through a small opening in the box.  It stopped when it was about an inch above my mouth.  At that point, Hammond ordered me to eat.  By then I was starving, so I cooperated.  It was the usual thick chocolate shake stuff.  It wasn’t haute cuisine, but at least he wasn’t torturing my tastebuds too.  I drank shake stuff until I was full.

As soon as the mouthpiece started to retract, I went back to my efforts.  I went heavy and tried to break open the plastic at several of the reinforced holes in the box.  I kept trying until I was exhausted.  I didn’t know what else to do, so I just lay still and tried to ignore the evil scratchiness in the hum of the field generators.  Maybe I just needed to get my strength back, and then I could attack the plastic walls of my cell once more.  So I lay there for a while until I felt less exhausted.

Once again, Hammond ordered me around.  “You have shown that you can change your density until you are immaterial.  Do so.  Or you will not be fed again until you do.”

Oh yeah, he had threatened me with forcing me to do whatever he wanted.  Maybe this was where he started showing me who was boss around here.

I tried to figure out where he was going to go with this bit.  I could hardly move, and I certainly wasn’t going to pass through the plastic walls again.  Not with that force field cranked up to ‘extra-screechy’ and pressing against the walls of my little tomb.  I had been knocked unconscious by his force fields enough times already.

I was ready for some more food, so I figured I would cooperate.  This time.  Maybe, if Hammond thought I was easily manipulated by the promise of food, he would make a mistake.

So I went light.  Which proved to be a major mistake on my part.

Suddenly, the box popped open in a square over my chest, and I felt something similar happen behind me.  So that’s what those black ‘reinforcing strips’ were for.

Before I could even think about moving, a huge I-beam dropped straight down, past the field generators, through the opening, through me, and out the back side of the box!

I mean, this was a real I-beam.  Tons of solid construction steel.  As wide as my whole chest.  A massive steel framework from my armpits to below my diaphragm.

I heard a loud clunk above me, and then one below me.

Hammond’s voice came back.  “We have locked this beam in place both above and below you.  It will remain in place regardless of your behavior.  I recommend that you do not return to your normal density.”

“Wait!  You can’t leave this in me!” I yelped.

“Oh, but we can.  I wish to see how long you can maintain this state, and what the interactions are when you and a solid object have to occupy the same physical space.”

And it dawned on me.  This was going to kill me.  Hammond was done with his testing, and he was going to perform this last test until I died horribly.  Probably on DVD, so he could sell it to his creepy mutant-hating friends.

“No!  No, please!  For God’s sake!”  I begged.  I wept.  I did everything I could think of, but no one was going to help me.

I struggled, but I couldn’t get out of the small box without hitting those force fields.  I couldn’t pass through the force fields that pressed tightly against the box.  If I hit those force fields, they might knock me unconscious again, and then I’d go back to normal density, and the I-beam would kill me.  I couldn’t move to the side, or up, or down.  I was stuck there with that mammoth steel I-beam rammed right through my torso.

As long as I was completely immaterial, I was safe.  But I couldn’t stay that way forever!  I knew that I had to maintain my concentration, but how long could I do that?  An hour?  Two hours?  How could anyone maintain this level of concentration for more than several hours?

I knew that as soon as the blue tint faded and I became solid again, the beam though my chest would kill me.  I couldn’t understand how I could keep breathing when there was a huge metal beam through my chest!  But I was breathing, and my blood seemed to be circulating.  I could feel my heart pounding frantically with fear.  Even though there was a steel beam right through where my heart had to be.

Hammond and his crazy helpers obviously didn’t care if it killed me.. or did something even worse.  It was like being trapped in the movie “Saw” and knowing that just dying would be the easiest thing that could happen to me.

All I could do was lie there, and concentrate, and try not to burst into tears.  After maybe two and a half hours of raw terror, my blue tint began to fade.  I focused as hard as I could.  I managed to slow the fading.  But I couldn’t keep the tint from continuing to fade.  I yelled for help.

And…  I felt it.  There was a tingle everywhere the steel beam cut through me.  I began sobbing for help.

The tingle slowly grew stronger, until it became an itch.  An itch that ran all the way through my body.  By then I was screaming for help.

The itch grew worse and worse, until it became a stinging feeling everywhere the beam passed through me.  At first, it was like a bite from an ant, and then it grew to a bee sting.  It kept getting worse and worse.  Soon, it felt like I had been stung by a thousand hornets.  The agonizing stinging sensations just got worse, and the stinging pain was all through my torso, everywhere the beam was.  I knew I was going to die.  I was about to be murdered by a man with whom I had once shaken hands.  I was about to be killed by a man working at the direction of my own family.

I finally had to face the horrible facts.  I finally had to admit to myself that mutants were not the only menace out there.  That what made you a menace was not being a mutant, but choosing to do evil to others.  I was going to die, finally knowing the truth.  Not that it was going to do me a heck of a lot of good when I went to Hell for the things I had helped Goodkind International do.

My body slowly got heavier and more solid, and I waited to die.  To die horribly, with a steel beam lanced through my chest.  I took a deep breath as the stinging sensation grew to a burning agony everywhere the beam was rammed through me.  And then…

It stopped.  The blue tint was gone.  The pain was gone.  I felt solid again.  And I could feel the steel beam pressing against my front and back every time I inhaled.  I looked down, and I could see where the beam was sheared off.  The edges of the beam had a mirror-like smoothness, and the edges had a contour that matched the skintight bodysuit.

I was okay.  I was okay!  Astonishingly, the part of the beam that had been inside me was.. gone.  It was just gone.  I had disintegrated it, or shoved it into another dimension, or something.  I was pretty sure I hadn’t eaten it, but other than that, I didn’t have any idea of what I had just done.

But now I knew something more.  If I went light and went through something and changed my density back to normal, I wouldn’t die.  It might hurt me a lot, but it wouldn’t kill me.  And it would destroy whatever I was passing through.

The only problem was that I couldn’t go light and pass through one of these heavy-duty force fields.  I couldn’t even try, unless I wanted to experience some major pain and then get knocked unconscious.  Or worse.

I just felt exhausted.  Sleepy and dazed and in dire need of a nap.  And…

Damn that Hammond!  Right about the time I figured out that I had been gassed again, I passed out.

Oh man.  I was waking up again, and I felt like shit.  Oh man, I was really getting to hate being gassed.  I had a headache, and my stomach was roiling.

On the other hand, I was out of that evil little coffin, and back in my plastic phone booth, even if I was still surrounded by force fields.  I was in a new bodysuit which was slightly more padded all over, but without those catheters.  I figured that Hammond knew he could no longer keep me wired up through the catheters unless I was willing to leave them in place.  Which wasn’t going to happen again in his lifetime.  Still, I had to wonder if the padding was designed to conceal something important, like enough air-lithium batteries to knock me unconscious the next time I tried anything.

I ate a full meal of more chocolate supplement, and I planned.  I stalled until it was time to eat again, and I wolfed down another liquid meal.  Man, was I hungry!  Was I just burning off calories, or was something else going on?

Okay, I’m suspicious.  So sue me.  You would be too, if you were trapped in a high-tech torture chamber while Doctor Nutbar and his staff experimented on you.

Once I was ready, I moved quickly.  I put my back against the back side of my prison, and I went light again.  I pushed my back just through the back wall, and I went solid as quickly as I could.  Damn!  That really hurt!  But it hurt a lot less when I was getting denser quickly instead of really slowly.

I turned around and looked at the damage.  There was a hole in the plastic that I could climb through.  It was as wide as my body in the bodysuit, and it stretched from my neck down to the bottom of my butt.

Now, all I had to do was get through that force field.  Which was probably going to be harder.

I went as heavy as I could.  Then I put my palms through the gaping hole and pushed against the force field.  At first, it was like pushing against a giant wall of jello.  But it quickly stopped yielding when I was about three inches in. 

I put my feet against the opposite wall of my prison, and I pushed with all my might against the field.  It gave a little more.  Maybe half an inch.  Not enough.  I pushed with everything I had, and I couldn’t budge it.  I couldn’t push any farther into the field.  Damn that Hammond!

I pulled back from the force field, took a deep breath, and punched the field as hard as I could.  It was like punching an elephant.  There was some give, then an abrupt stop, and then it hit back with a blinding flash.

I blinked.  I was crumpled on the floor of my prison, holding my aching hand.  My hand felt like I had run over it with a truck.  Damn, that hurt!

And I felt weird.  I felt like I had been stunned so hard that I was dizzy.  I had a really hard time getting back to my feet, and then I felt like I would keel over at any second.  I felt dazed and confused.

I felt like I had.. the last time I had been gassed.

No!  I struggled to push against the force field.  I tried to hit it really hard, but I wobbled and fell to my knees.  I watched helplessly as the tiny cell spun, and went dark…

Tuesday, July 25, (probably) morning
Dr. Hammond’s laboratory

I woke up.  I wasn’t in the box anymore.  Or the coffin.  I wasn’t in any kind of plastic box.

I was lying on a heavy foam pad in a regular-sized room.  The room had concrete slab walls, no windows, and a metal door with a thick metal frame.  There were cameras mounted in two of the corners just short of the ceiling.  Was this a security cell or something?

I slowly sat up, feeling the wretched effects of being gassed once again.  My head and stomach felt rotten.  My arms and legs and hips still felt like I had been pulled apart a couple days ago.

On the upside, my right thigh no longer felt like someone had recently punched a huge hole right into my thighbone.  And I wasn’t trapped in a plastic coffin inside a hellish force field.

I was in a new bodysuit.  This one was a two-tone gray, with a darker gray in a diamond shape over my chest, and another dark-gray diamond over my abdomen.  This one looked like it was a wetsuit, except that it felt like it was maybe an inch thick all over.  The bodysuit came up to my neck, and didn’t cover my hands or feet.  Instead, wetsuit slippers were on my feet.  They had zippers on the insides and they came up just past my ankles.

My hair felt like it had been smashed flat across my scalp and covered in oil.  That can happen when you’re sweating like crazy while trapped in a dry suit and being tortured for a few days.

This time, the bodysuit wasn’t the problem.  Instead, there was a massive metal collar about my neck.  It felt like about fifteen pounds of steel, and was probably filled with anti-mutant gizmos.

I put my hands on it, and a voice instantly boomed into the room.  “Unh-uh!  Don’t touch!  That’s there in case you try anything funny.  So just cooperate, and we don’t have to kill you.  Okay?”

I looked up at one of the wall cameras and said, “That sounds fair.  Not getting killed is fairly high up on my priority list.”

“Real funny, gene filth.  Back up against the wall and put your hands on top of your head.  Then wait ‘til the door opens, and do what you’re told.”

I obeyed.  I didn’t know what was going on, but as long as they weren’t torturing me anymore, I was going to be a good little boy.  Of course, as soon as they got careless, I was going to take advantage of the opportunity.  I still wasn’t sure where I could go or what I could do, but not being locked up and tortured was also fairly high on my priority list.

The problem was that I really didn’t have a place to go once I walked through a few walls and escaped.  My real friends had all been chosen because they were like me.  Intelligent, wealthy kids who also recognized that mutants were a menace.  Which meant that I couldn’t go to my friends for help.  They wouldn’t be my friends anymore.  And I couldn’t think of any of my relatives who wouldn’t turn me right back over to my parents.. and Dr. Hammond.  Heather was extremely anti-mutant now that she had lost out on several modeling jobs to ultra-pretty muties.  And she hadn’t been nice to me before I manifested. 

That left Greg.  My big brother and idol Greg.  If only I could find him.  I hadn’t been able to trace him before, when I had time to do internet searches for Gregory Goodkind.  He had vanished off the face of the earth.  If he was alive, I had no idea how to locate him.

Until I figured out a place I could escape to, there was little point in escaping.  So, as long as I wasn’t mistreated anymore, I was going to be a well-behaved little jailbird.

Four Goodkind security men, two of them in heavy power armor, took me out of the cell.  I was led down several halls to an enclosed garage area.  Then the two power suits climbed into the back of a heavy transport van and waited for me to join them.

The back area had two metal benches running down the sides of the van.  They sat me in the middle of one bench, while they took up position.  One sat opposite me with some sort of energy cannon trained on me.  The other sat on my bench, at the far end, pointing some sort of chaingun at me.

I sat there and just kept quiet.  Where were they taking me?  As long as it was away from Hammond, it couldn’t be too bad.  The power armor was Goodkind International standard anti-mutant defensive gear.  Not the powder blue of the MCO.  So what was going on?

I was really surprised when, about half an hour later, the van stopped and let me out at Mutterwald.  I was back at our estates!  I was led into our atrium by the two power suits and a Goodkind guard who had been in the front of the van.  The power suits took up positions to guard me, while the guard stood back and held a remote control.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the remote control was for my security collar.

And that was how I spent my last visit to my home.  Heavily guarded, while a couple maids who were now terrified of me packed an old duffel bag with some of my clothes.

Tabitha nervously walked down the stairs and gingerly carried the duffel bag to me, as if I might sprout fangs and attack her.  I would never have hurt Tabitha, who had been one of my favorite servants when I was little.  I would never have hurt any of the servants!  It just hurt to see the fear and revulsion on their faces.

I suddenly realized that Tabitha was now almost as short as I was.

She stared at me and said, “You grew!”

Someone brought out a tape measure and a bathroom scale.  Tabitha hastily measured me while I stepped on the scale.  I had grown three inches and put on about 12 pounds.  Over the weekend in the lab.  Somehow.  I couldn’t figure out how that could have happened, but weirder things have occurred when mutants manifested their powers.

But my changed size meant that the tailored clothes in the duffel bag wouldn’t fit me.  I quietly begged Tabitha to go get me something else, and she actually did it.

She came back in only a few minutes, and told me, “I grabbed half a dozen pair of your boxers, they might fit.  And some t-shirts and polo shirts, they might be a little tight.  And some of your sweat shirts and sweat pants.  And three pairs of your sandals.”

I was going to need those sandals, if my old shoes would no longer fit.  At least the sandals had an adjustable strap at the heel.

I moved to pick up the duffel bag, and I finally saw myself in the mirror.

“Oh. My. Gawd.”

I had changed.  I had grown.  My face had changed.  My hair had been a dirty blond color, as it slowly changed from the towhead I had been as a baby, to the dark brown of Paul and Father.  But now my hair was jet black.  And it had grown perhaps five inches since I had last looked at it.  Which was impossible.

Before, I had worn a short stylish haircut with a business-like look to it so that I would fit in better at the office, and so that I would have an easier time of maintaining it at my summer camps.  It had been between an inch and two inches long, depending where you looked.  Now it had to be half a foot long, and plastered down from sweating like a horse under that miserable spandex drysuit thing.

My eyes, which had been a soft brown before, were now a deep green.  My chin had shrunk and changed shape, making my mouth look different.  My face was more of a heart-shape than the squarish shape it had been.  I hardly looked like me anymore.  What the hell was happening to me?

Along with the duffel bag of clothes, someone had grabbed my leather toiletry kit, which I had already packed.  For the summer camp I was never going to go to.  I peeked inside the kit and saw all my usual gear: shampoo and conditioner and hair gel; hair brush and comb; my spare electric toothbrush and toothpaste and floss and toothbrush recharger; my facial scrub and scrubbing pad and anti-acne skin cream; my soap and body wash; my fingernail scissors and clippers and diamond file; my underarm deodorant and cologne; all the usual.

But someone had dropped in a ziplock baggie with some extra stuff.  My Rolex Prism that Grandfather Goodkind had given me for my birthday just before he passed away.  My photo file off my dresser.  My MP4 player, with the earbuds.  My folding e-book reader.

I looked up at Tabitha and whispered, “Thanks.”  She gave me a nervous little smile.  I realized that she was probably the only person on the entire estate who would care enough to do that little bit for me.  Suddenly I had to grit my teeth to keep from crying.

Andrews, one of our butlers, wheeled out a computer with a large wireless system hung off it.  I could see that it was set up so that some teleconferencing software was running.

I waited a couple seconds, and I had a picture.  It was Paul, somewhere that looked like one of our offices.  I wondered if the entire family had been vacated from the estates until everything had been thoroughly decontaminated, or whatever would be done to remove my taint.

Paul looked at me through the conferencing system and said, “Sorry about all this, Trev.  But you can’t stay here.  I called Greg, and you’re going to stay with him.  Please don’t come back, and don’t contact any of us.  That will just make things harder than they already are.”

I clenched my jaws so I wouldn’t cry, and gave him a terse nod.  Like any of this was hard on him.  I was the one getting the royal flush.  Just because something had re-written my DNA and done this to me.  At least I would get to live with Greg.  That had to be a good thing, wherever he was.

Once I had my bag and toiletry kit, I was marched back to the transport van.  By the time we reached one of the family airfields, it was getting dark.  There was one of the special Goodkind International private jets waiting for us.

They marched me onto the jet, and I saw that it was outfitted for prisoners, like something out of “Con Air”.  I didn’t even know Goodkind International owned jets like this.  They led me to a heavy metal chair with metal cuffs for my arms and legs.  The chair was inside a metal cage.

I said, “Isn’t this a bit much?  I already have the collar around my neck.  And I don’t want to escape!  I’m going to my brother’s house!”

“Shuddup and do what yer told, mutie.”

Great.  So much for appealing to reason.  I sat in the metal chair, and two guards covered me with high-powered weapons while two others locked me in.  They clamped the heavy metal brackets over my forearms and over my shins, locking me into the chair.

Then they backed out and locked the metal cage shut.  After that, they did several checks on the cage before someone threw a switch and electrified the cage.  I hoped the jet didn’t hit any clear air turbulence and toss my metal chair into the electric cage.  That would be just my luck.

Half a dozen security guards took up position around me, holding their machine guns and laser guns on me, just in case I morphed into the Incredible Hulk or something when they weren’t paying attention.

I would have sat back and gotten comfortable for the trip, but I couldn’t sit back, and I wasn’t going to be able to get comfortable.  Not when the heavy metal chair had no padding.  If I hadn’t been in a heavily-padded bodysuit, I would have been looking at hours of bruising travel in an unyielding chair.  As it was, between the padded bodysuit and my going heavy a little to cushion things, it wasn’t the most uncomfortable thing I had ever sat on.

But that wasn’t important.  What mattered was that I was out of Hammond’s little shop of horrors, and flying to stay with Greg.  My hero Greg.  He had been my idol when I was little, and I just knew he would make everything be okay.  Somehow.  Because, without Greg, I was going to be a homeless kid trying to make a living in the mean streets of some uncaring city.

Of course, I didn’t know then that Greg was long gone.

Chapter 3 - Leviticus

Wednesday, July 26, morning
Los Angeles, CA

I was desperately looking forward to being with Greg again.  I didn’t realize that he was going to have to lay down the law.  I didn’t realize that my problems were only beginning.

The jet finally landed.  I couldn’t see out a window to tell where we were.  I was just hoping that I hadn’t been scammed into a one-way flight to some isolated island where Hammond’s people could do whatever the hell they wanted to me, for as long as they wanted, until they had squeezed every useful molecule out of my body and they killed me.

The jet taxied across a large tarmac.  Wherever we were, it was a large airport.  The jet stopped, waited a while with the engines running, and then finally moved again.  We taxied along for another several minutes.  Then we slowed, and finally came to a halt.  Wherever we were had to be a huge airport.  And a busy one.  I had heard several jet airplanes taking off, just in the time since we landed.

Two guards put their weapons down and advanced on the cage, while the other guards took up positions so that they had a clear shot at me if I pulled anything.  Jesus, what did they think I was going to do?  Go nuclear on them?

They turned off the electricity to the cage, tested it, unlocked the cage, and cautiously moved around me.  One of them flipped several latches at the back of my metal chair.  Then the other one grabbed the front of the chair and yanked.

The chair rolled out of the cage, with me still locked in it.  The guards took up station around me.  Two walked backward, with weapons pointed at me.  Two pushed the chair.  Two walked behind me, probably prepared to shoot if any of the other guards shouted a warning.  They rolled me down the plane and out the hatch.

I found myself in a private jetway that slanted steeply downward.  The walls of the jetway looked like they were armored.  The guards maintained the same discipline, as the two middle guards carefully rolled me down the slope.  They rolled me into a secure holding area, and shoved my security chair in what looked like a prison cell for mutants.  The rectangular metal door looked like it belonged on a bank vault, and the wall looked about a foot thick.

One of them lobbed what looked like a box lunch onto the floor.  Then they walked out, slamming the huge metal door behind them.

“Hey, aren’t you going to unlock me or anything?”  I called out, but they ignored me.

“Jerks,” I muttered under my breath.

I thought about it and decided to go ahead and get that food on the floor.  I hadn’t had anything to eat since the day before, and I was starving.  Apparently, I really was ‘just a growing boy’, if I had grown three inches in not much more than a weekend.  No wonder I had been so hungry the last few days.

I didn’t know how long I would have to wait before Greg rescued me, so I dealt with it.  Goodkinds don’t complain, we fix problems.

So I went light.  I focused carefully, and lifted my arms and legs up through the security clamps.  Then I went back to normal, and I stood up.  The collar was pretty annoying after being locked in it for a whole night, so I went light again.  I tried to control my power enough to not phase through my jumpsuit.  I reached up and slid the metal collar right through my neck.  That was a weird feeling.

I went back to normal, and I looked inside that collar.  Holy crow!  There were several things that looked like they were spring-loaded and ready to blast into my neck at a signal from my guards.  There were two razor-sharp blades, three needles attached to little ampoules of liquid, and a lump of a clay-like substance hooked up to a battery and what was probably a detonator.  Christ!

Okay, that collar ought to take care of most mutants.  If you couldn’t slice their neck open or inject three different kinds of sedatives and poisons into them, the explosive ought to blow their head completely off their body.  I felt sick just thinking about wearing that damn collar.

Okay, I wasn’t that sick about it.  I still sat down on the floor and ate everything in the box lunch.  I supposed this was the box breakfast, actually.  Three things that looked like English muffins filled with poorly-prepared egg and off-brand sliced sausage cooked in a nasty grease, with a slice of heavily-dyed processed plastic that was supposed to represent cheese.  A plastic bottle of something that was supposed to be orange juice but hadn’t been reconstituted very well.  Badly-done hash browns, formed into flat ovals for some indescribable reason.  I guess that’s what prison food is in this country.  At least the small waxed-cardboard carton of milk was adequate, if not properly chilled.

There wasn’t any place to lie down, and I didn’t have any desire to sit in that security chair again.  So I just stretched out as best I could on the concrete floor.  The bodysuit was heavily padded all over, so it made lying on the floor almost bearable.  I just tucked one padded forearm under my head and used it as a pillow.

I must have been really tired, because I think I even fell asleep.

I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up, I was hungry again.  I was somewhat stiff from sleeping on a concrete floor, even if I was in a padded bodysuit.

“Geddup!  Yer ride’s here!”

I sat up and stretched a bit.  My shoulders were sort of stiff, and my neck muscles were tense.  Actually, all of me was tense, but I was trying hard not to show it.

“Get back to the back wall!  An’ no funny business!”

I tried to be my most annoyingly upper-class self.  I knew it really aggravated a number of people at Chilton, and these jerks needed all the aggravation they could get.  “My good man, why on earth would I participate in any ‘funny business’?  I am going home, you know.  It’s not as if I were being moved to a federal prison.”

It sounded like he was growling in frustration as he snapped, “Just shut the fuck up!  And back up, or I’ll put a couple holes in ya!”

I actually felt like smiling for the first time in days.  I was pissing off this clown and his patrol.  Greg was going to rescue me.  Greg would fix things.  Greg had always been good at deciding what needed to be done, and then finding ways to do it.  Greg would find a way for me to be as normal as possible, and then I could resume some kind of normal life again.

The vault door slowly swung open, and the MCO wannabes swung in with weapons ready for threats.  Were these guys just stupid?  Or were real mutants just crazy enough to attack armed guards when they were about to be released as long as they didn’t go postal on their guards?

Oh wait, I was a real mutant, despite my best intentions.  I had to stop thinking like one of Uncle Herb’s Knights of Purity or something.

I was actually feeling pretty aggravated at these guys, but I did my best to look unconcerned.  A Goodkind does not show inappropriate emotions.  I strolled out of the cell and asked, “Does the flight come with a lunch menu as well?”

“Shuddup, freako!!”  That was an angry guy with a large-bore machine gun.

I turned my head and gave him a bland stare.  “You are the worst stewardess I have ever had to endure.”

Then I turned my back on him and asked the head honcho, “Which way out of this little slice of heaven?”  Actually, there was only one way out other than the jetway gate, but I didn’t feel like being cooperative with these pinheads.

He just held his massive energy weapon on me with his right arm and pointed with his left down the hall away from the jetway.  I gave him a nod and walked away, toward where my luggage had been dumped against the wall.

I didn’t say anything to him, but I was impressed.  He had held that huge weapon steady with one hand.  I couldn’t have lifted the darn thing with my whole body, unless I went heavy first.

I picked up my duffel bag and toiletry bag.  Then I walked down the windowless corridor and through several security gates, all of which were currently open.  The hall looked like it was designed for an instant lockdown in case of trouble with a powered transportee.  Maybe, now that I was on the other side of the fence, I had better think about this kind of structure from a different perspective.

Still, I ought to be able to walk right through the walls, unless they had force fields backing them up.  I didn’t think it would be a good idea to check.  For several reasons.

I walked past four Los Angeles SWAT cops in full battle gear, and out the main door.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought that I was on the back side of Los Angeles International Airport, in the areas for the cargo deliveries.  Cargo deliveries.  That certainly made me feel special.

I looked around.  I was looking for a limo with Greg stepping out of the back.  Or perhaps a Bentley with Greg at the wheel. 

Or even a Hummer, even though Greg had never seemed like the Hummer type.  Greg had never been the big linebacker with overly-macho tendencies.  He was the thin, intelligent teenager who always had time for his little brother.

God, I couldn’t wait to see Greg again!  I just knew it would be like it used to be when I was six.  I knew that Greg would be there for me, and he would take care of me, and he would find a way to make everything okay again.

I looked some more.  There was a FedEx truck, two delivery vans, and a beat-up old Toyota.  The Toyota had two women in the front seat.  A big blonde and a very petite brunette.  Both were reasonably cute, if way too old for me.  The blonde was made up like a hottie, and was waving a pair of cheap sunglasses about.

I was utterly unprepared when the blonde leaned out her window and yelled, “Trev!  Over here!”

What?  Was Greg sending bimbos in cheap beaters out on his errands these days?

I carried my gear over and said, “Are you looking for me?”

She smiled, “As long as you’re still my annoying little brother, I am.”

I think I nearly had a coronary on the spot.  “No!  You can’t be Greg!”

She stared at me with a glare I recognized.  What we younger Goodkind kids used to refer to as Greg’s “death squint”.

Oh my God, it was Greg.

“Greg!  Why the hell are you dressed like a girl?  Are you undercover?  Are you under surveillance?”  I looked in the window and saw something that made my mind seize up.  “GREG!  YOU HAVE TITS!!”

It was impossible.  That couldn’t be Greg.  Not with those at-least-D-cup boobs jutting out from that low-cut tank top!  But it was Greg’s face under all that makeup.  His face, but with fuller lips and less chin than I remembered.

“Get in the car, Trevor.  And shut up for a minute.”  That was the brunette.

I slung my bags into the trunk and clambered into the back seat.  I still wasn’t sure I ought to get in.  But I didn’t have anywhere else to go.  I didn’t know what else to do.

“Greg, what the fuck did you do to yourself?  Please tell me you didn’t do this just to go incognito to pick me up at the airport!”

The brunette turned her head to look at me in my bodysuit and said, “Considering what you’re wearing, you’ve got a lot of nerve complaining about anyone else’s appearance.”

I stared at her and blandly asked, “Oh, isn’t this the week for the annual Incredibles Fan Club meeting?”

Greg stepped on the gas, and we moved forward to merge into airport traffic.  ‘He’ said, “Trev, why are you being like this?  I mean, this is me.  This is how I choose to be.”

I think that all my breeding fell out onto the highway right about then.  I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept.  “You can’t be serious.  You want to be a girl?”

Greg couldn’t be a girl!  After everything Father had ever said about homosexuals and woman-dressers, Greg couldn’t be like that!  I needed him to be my big brother who could always make things okay!  Why was this happening?

Greg answered me, “I always have.  Even when I was little.  I just knew I couldn’t be a Goodkind and also be transgendered…”

This couldn’t be Greg!  Without thinking, I gasped, “Transgendered?  You mean you’re one of those fruits who wanna get their dicks cut off and date guys?”

The brunette turned to Greg and said, “Is he always this big a fucking dickhead?”

Greg said to her, “I hope not.  But now you know what it was like for me back home.”

He looked at me in the rearview mirror and sighed, “No, I don’t want to get my dick cut off, and I don’t want to date guys.  I just want to be me.  And this is me.  I’m what is called a she-male.”

“Greg, you’re sick.  You need help!”

“Trev, I don’t need help.  I’ve had enough psychiatric support to know that this is right for me.  And I’m not Greg anymore.  My name is Gracie now.”

What the hell had I gotten myself into?  Greg had gone nuts and had turned into a female impersonator or something.  I may have said that aloud, since the brunette gave me a nasty glare.

“Trev, this is my wife Janet.”

I stared at the brunette, “And are you a guy with a dick too?”

She glared back.  “You are such a prejudiced little fuck!  No, I’m a woman.  I’m what we call a ‘GG’.  That means genetically female.  I just happen to love your sister Gracie.  We’ll see whether I love her enough to put up with a piece of shit like you!”

I tried again.  “Greg…”

“Grace!” they both snapped at me.

“Umm, okay, I don’t understand.  You were my big brother.  You drove a really nice Bentley.  You played basketball for Chilton.”  I took a breath and asked, “What the hell happened to you?”

They looked at each other and did that ‘silent signals’ stuff that Mother and Father sometimes did in front of us kids.  Janet finally said, “Maybe you’d better explain, Gracie.”

Greg - I mean, Gracie - sighed, “Did you ever wonder if I was just a little different from the other guys?”

I admitted, “Well, no.  I just always thought you were great.  As a big brother.  I mean, you were nicer to your little siblings than most of the older brothers I knew…”  I thought for a minute and realized, “Hey!  You never dated anyone!  I mean, Paul went through the girls at Chilton like a buzzsaw, and David’s dating Melinda Hughes-Carling, and I took Ravenna Sainte James to the junior high prom, but you hardly ever dated anyone!”

“Right,” Gracie said.  “I was having a hard time dealing with my own sexuality.  I realized around about kindergarten or first grade that I was in the wrong body.  I really wanted to be one of the kids who got to wear the pretty party dresses and style their hair with their mommies.  Instead, I had to be Greg.  I had to be someone I wasn’t, in a body that felt all wrong.  And it just got worse as I got older.  Proms and weddings were the worst.  I had to wear a stupid tux and a choking necktie.  The girls got to wear the most gorgeous dresses…  It was torture.  It was like working in a bakery and having my mouth sewn shut so I could never taste all the delicacies that were laid out in front of me.”

I didn’t know what to say.  “You could’ve gotten help.”

“I did.  Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix things.  Right?  That’s what Father always says.  So I figured out how to fix things.  I got a shrink.  I complained to Mother about having weird nightmares until she took me to see Doctor Elaine Allison.  Then, once I was sure she wouldn’t tell Mother or Father, I spilled the beans.  She knew right away what I was talking about.  So I got psychiatric therapy for almost six years.  When I was thirteen, I started taking medications to keep me from growing into the shape that Father and Paul have.  I just got them illegally and didn’t tell anyone.

“By the time I was eighteen and I graduated, I knew what I was, and I was ready to deal with the consequences of my actions.  I left home and told Father why.  He, of course, went utterly insane over it.  He cut me off from my inheritance, and stripped my bank accounts, and canceled my credit cards, and tried to have my Bentley repossessed, and everything else he could think of to hurt me.”

I cut in, “Good God, what were you thinking?  Why didn’t you wait until you were twenty-one, and just get your full inheritance first?”

Gracie sighed, “I wish it was that easy.  But the inheritance is revocable.  Believe me, I checked first.  Father and the rest of the family would’ve yanked it out from under me anyway, as soon as I came out of the closet.  And I couldn’t wait any longer, anyway.  For two reasons.  First, it was absolutely hell pretending to be Greg when I was really Gracie inside.  I could hardly wait another hour, much less three frigging years.  Three years which wouldn’t make any difference in terms of my finances.  And second, I was nearly past the window for taking the drug I wanted.

“There’s this black-market deviser drug called Anlage.  It only alters the secondary sexual characteristics.  Body hair, facial hair, breast growth.  It doesn’t change you into a woman.  But that was exactly what I wanted.  You have to take these precursor drugs for years, and then, as your body chemistry changes, you have to take the Anlage at exactly the right time, or else.”

Okay, I bit.  “Or else what?”

She sighed harshly, “Or else you die.  Or worse.  Even under optimum conditions, if you take the stuff in the right time window, which is typically only around a five month span, you still have a forty percent chance of kidney failure, thyroid gland failure, or heart failure.”

“Christ!  And you took this stuff?  Were you insane?”

She shrugged as she changed lanes.  “Maybe.  I was so desperate that you could never understand.  And I had nearly missed the optimum window when I turned eighteen.  I had less than three weeks left.  So I went for it.  I checked into a clinic in Canada, and had the drug treatment for two solid weeks.  I also had some plastic surgery done, too.  My lips, my nose, my chin, my throat, and some breast enhancement.  They all turned out really well.  And at the end of two months, I was completely Gracie.  A tall, good-looking, bleached blonde with big tatas, and Greg’s penis under my skirts.”

I couldn’t help cringing.  Why on earth would anyone want that?  I mean, I could barely deal with the idea that someone might feel like they were a girl in a boy’s body or something.  But wanting to become a total freak?  I didn’t get that.

Gracie went on, “Unfortunately, Father’s accountants were better than I thought.  In addition to the money I paid the clinic, I had over a million squirreled away in a Swiss bank account.  Father managed to find that and yank it away too, and I left the clinic to find that I was a hot blond she-male with no money at all.”

Janet added, “I met Gracie when she moved to The Square.  That’s where we live.  You know what The Square is, right?”

I nodded.  Who didn’t?  It was the kind of place that made for news exposés that pulled in major ratings.  It was a roughly square area of Los Angeles that was within ten blocks of the oceanfront houses.  I was pretty sure it sat between Santa Monica and Inglewood, because I had read some article in Forbes about some transgendered millionaires who, back in the early 1970’s, had donated some of the properties that became the basis of The Square.  It had become a home for a ton of transgendered guys, and the people that wanted to be with them.  The news exposés made it sound like the best party zone for she-males in the whole country.

Gracie got choked up and she said, “It was because I came to The Square and found Janet that I was able to rebuild my life after what the family did to me.  I sold my Bentley to make a massive down payment on a decent house in The Square, only a few blocks from the ocean.  And I went back to what I really wanted to do with my life, playing jazz guitar.”

That was when it dawned on me.  They lived in The Square.  I was going to have to live in The Square!  I was going to have to live for years, surrounded by a bunch of guys in dresses, and girls who used to be guys, and she-males like Gracie, and God only knew what else!  How the hell was I supposed to cope with that?

“Oh no.  Oh no!  You can’t make me live there!  That’s…  That’s…”

Janet insisted, “That’s where we live.  So that’s where you’re going to live, unless you have a better idea, and enough money to make it work!”

And I didn’t.  I didn’t know where else I could go, and I didn’t have any money, and even if I had any money, I was so far underage that no one in their right mind would think about letting me buy real estate or trade on the stock market.  I was screwed.

Or rather, I was afraid of being screwed!  I gasped, “But what about…  I mean, what will they do to me?”

Gracie snorted in anger.  Janet growled, “What do you mean?  Do you think we’re all a bunch of perverts with no self-control?  Afraid you’re so fucking cute that no one’s going to be able to keep from giving it to you?  For fuck’s sake, Trevor!  No one’s like that here!  And no one’s going to want to touch anyone who’s so obviously underage.  The Santa Monica cops would love nothing more than a chance to bust heads in The Square.  Again.”

“They do it every chance they get, as it is,” complained Gracie.

I winced, “I don’t know what I mean.  It’s just, well…”

Gracie guessed, “You’ve never heard anything about The Square except television reports that are trying to make us sound like dangerous perverts who ought to be investigated because no one’s children would be safe around them.”

“Umm, pretty much,” I admitted.

“Well, grow up!  That’s not the way it is!  We’re just people who want to live our own lives, on our own terms!”

Well, the rest of the ride was just about as friendly.  I was still in shock and doing a lousy job of controlling my mouth.  Gracie and Janet were not exactly helping me to overcome my worries.  So I was getting more upset, and they were getting more aggravated.

Finally, I burst out, “So why did you agree to take me?”

Gracie slowly said, “Paul called, out of the blue.  I didn’t even know he had my number anymore.  We haven’t talked for about two or three years, and his last call didn’t go too well.”  She sighed miserably at the memory.

“So anyway, Paul dropped the bombshell.  You had turned into a mutant.  Which was impossible, given.. well you may not know about the DNA screening the family does.  Paul needed some place to dump you, since you couldn’t stay at the family estates anymore.  He asked if I would take you.  Frankly, I wanted to.  Then, anyway.  You were a great kid, and you always wanted to do stuff with big brother Greg.  I’ve been missing having a family.  So I said ‘sure’.  I probably should have checked about your mutation.  I mean, what if every time you farted, you exploded in a nuclear fireball?”

I looked at Gracie, and for maybe the first time I really saw Greg.  I saw someone who was really looking forward to have a family again, and instead had just gotten “Problem Child 3”.  He really should have been more concerned with my mutant powers, especially after all the stuff that had been drilled into all of our heads about the dangers of mutants.

Then we reached The Square.  It didn’t actually look any different from the area around it.  The people looked mostly the same.  There seemed to be more hot babes with too much makeup and really sexy outfits.  There were also people who were dressed the same way, but were definitely not hot babes.  Those were guys in dresses!  Which probably meant that a lot of those ‘hot babes’ were she-males or transsexuals too.

Okay, I admit it.  That really freaked me out.  I was not ready to find out that some of the people who were turning me on were, in fact, guys.  And I didn’t handle that as gracefully as I should have.

We drove off the main streets, into a downscale neighborhood.  Gracie turned onto a service alley, and pulled into a driveway that already had two cars taking up the carport.  Actually, calling those beaters ‘cars’ was a slap in the face to Henry Ford.  They were two ancient wrecks that looked like they might still be drivable.. if you were feeling lucky.

The carport was at the far right side of a tiny, one-story house.  That left room for a postage stamp of a concrete patio.  On the patio were four plastic lounge chairs around a glass-topped table, and an old gas grill.

They led me from the carport into the house.  We walked into a small rec room that had a washer and dryer against the far wall, and a small table for four set in the middle of the room.  On my left was the kitchen, with an open counter that could be a breakfast table from this side.  Just past the kitchen was a hall that led to a living room and dining room that weren’t large by any standards.  The front door was over by the living room area.  Past that was a short hallway.  I could see four doors down it.

Janet pointed out, “The door at the end of the hall is our bedroom.  It has a private bathroom.  The doors on the right are two smaller bedrooms for our renters, Tiffany and Amy.  The door on the left is their bathroom.”

“So where am I going to sleep?  The couch?”

They showed me the two doors across the hall from the kitchen.  One door opened into a narrow pantry.  The other door led to a stairway down to a basement.  They took me downstairs and showed me ‘my room’.

“You have got to be kidding!” I groaned.

Janet snapped, “Stop being such a little snot!  This is all we have.  We didn’t plan on getting a nasty, hateful little brother dropped on us with no warning.”  They both marched up the stairs, leaving me to my ‘bedroom’.

I looked around the basement.  There were about six small slit windows around the room, all of them set just below the joists that marked my ‘ceiling’.  One side of the basement had obviously been cleared, with the junk from that side hastily shoved to the other side of the room.  There was an old bed that looked a lot smaller than my king-sized bed at home.  A worn wooden nightstand sat beside it, and on the other side of the nightstand was a beat-up chest of drawers.  On the far wall was a badly-repainted desk, and a couple old bookcases that were sagging under the weight of someone’s used books.

On this side of the room was a bath area that had clearly been done by an amateur.  There was a toilet and a sink and a shower - if you count a sprayhead with plastic curtains pulled in a rectangle around it as a shower - and a medicine cabinet.  Nothing matched, so it looked like the previous owner had just grabbed bathroom equipment at a flea market and slapped it into place.  Even the bathrooms at History camp looked terrific compared to this, and those bathrooms had been in a men’s dorm at a low-end college.

I looked at those beat-up old bookcases, and I remembered all my books.  All my books I would never have again.  Everything I had loved reading, from my childhood stories and my novels and all my school texts I had wanted to keep, up to the first editions of Winston Churchill my uncle Herb had bought me for my twelfth birthday.  I was destitute, and all my cherished books were gone forever.

I sat on the bed and tried not to give up.  “I will not cry.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.”  Goodkinds don’t cry.  Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix problems.  That was what I needed to do.

What I needed to do first was to take a shower.  It had been days since my last shower, and I had certainly sweated since then.  I had sweated up a storm while I was being tortured and experimented on and generally treated like a Jew in a Nazi concentration camp.  At least I had some clothes into which I could change.

I reached behind me and struggled with the stupid zipper on the thick spandex thing I was wearing.  It unzipped from the tight collar all the way down to my butt.  I pulled it down off my chest and tugged my arms out…

And I screamed.

I couldn’t help it.  I was staring down at my chest, and I had tits!  I had real boobs sticking out, and they had real female nipples on them!  And that was absolutely impossible!

“Oh my God, oh my god, oh my God!  This can’t be happening!”  It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

Gracie came running down the stairs.  “What the hell is it now?  A mouse?  A…  Holy fuck!  You have breasts!”  She turned her head and hollered up the steps, “Janet!  Get down here!”

She stared at me, “How long have you had breasts?”

I whimpered, “A-about ten seconds.”  Janet came clattering down the steps, and froze when she saw what we were looking at.  I sobbed, “I was fine when they took me!  What did they do to me?”

“Took you?” Janet asked.  “What do you mean ‘took you’?”

I looked at Gracie and said, “Didn’t you tell her?”

Gracie shrugged, “I told her what I knew.  Paul called and said you had turned into a mutant and you couldn’t stay at the estates any longer.  So I agreed to take you.  I didn’t realize you were going to be such an asshole about my transgenderism.”

I put my head in my hands and tried not to cry.  “I didn’t know you were like this!  Nobody ever told me!  Father won’t even let people say your name in the house!  And all we talk about at home is how people like woman-dressers are almost as bad as mutants!  It was just such a big shock.  I had my hopes up so high, and I told myself you’d be my big brother Greg, you’d be normal, and everything would be like it used to be before you left, and you’d be a big success, and everything would be okay, you’d be your old self, and you’d find a way to make everything be okay again.  And everything’s a disaster!  I need to be my old self again!”

That was when I realized that I had been depending on Greg to be his old self, because somehow I was counting on Greg to fix me back to my old self.  Somehow, it was as if I had been stuck at six or seven years old, believing that Big Brother Greg was invincible, and could fix anything.  I had needed my brother Greg, and I had found a big-boobed blonde with a dick, and I had totally lost it.  I was such a moron.  Greg couldn’t make me stop being a mutant, any more than Gracie could.

And I realized why Father had been so angry about woman-dressing weirdos, and why he’d been on this for several years.  He had been obsessing about Greg the whole time.  Why hadn’t anybody told me about Greg?  Why hadn’t anybody warned me what I would be facing when I came out here?

Janet insisted, “What did you mean when you said they ‘took you’?”

I admitted, “Father brought Dr. Hammond home, and he shot me with a dart gun, and they put me in one of the research labs, and they experimented on me for about three straight days, and they hurt me, and.. and…  Oh God, he gave me an injection of a test version of one of the mutation suppressants.  Do you think that did this?”

Janet just stared in horror.

Gracie scratched her head.  “A mutation suppressant?  I don’t see how it could.  Let me see that bodysuit.”

I nervously peeled it off.  Frankly, I was terrified that I was going to find that Mister Happy had packed up and moved.  But there were my privates, dangling there and looking a lot bigger than I expected.

But the rest of me had changed too.  Along with the boobs jutting out of my chest, which thank God weren’t anywhere near the size of Gracie’s breasts, my ribcage seemed more tapered than it had been.  My waist looked smaller.  My hips were definitely wider.  My butt had swollen.  It looked like my whole body had decided to switch from boy to girl!

I poked my new boobs, and found that they were surprisingly sensitive.  I poked my right breast just a bit harder, and managed to nail myself in the nipple with one of my fingernails.

“Ow!”  I felt a sharp, stinging pain pierce through me from my nipple inward.

And I realized what it was.  It was the pain I had been feeling in my ‘pecs’ for days.  I had been growing breasts since before I was captured by Dr. Hammond.  I had endured itchy feelings there just last week.  I had felt unexpected sharp pains there too.  The pains that I had attributed to getting damaged by the metal strap as I lay on Hammond’s little Table Of Fun?  No, that wasn’t from a cut by a metal strap.  I had been growing hooters for several days.

Then I remembered that first bodysuit with all the wires sticking out of it.  There were so many wires over my pectorals that I had been suspicious.  And I had thought the wires were heavy enough to pull the suit forward there.  No, I had already been growing these boobs, and Hammond had noticed.  He had probably been using my breast growth as some sort of freaky metric of the progress of my mutant manifestation.  And he hadn’t said a word of it to me, the bastard.

“Oh God no!”

Gracie jumped, “What is it?”

I whimpered, “It’s not the shot.  It.. it’s me.  I…  I was having itching and stinging here,” I pointed at my breasts, “for a day or two before I really manifested, and got kidnapped by Doctor Evil.  I’ve been growing these things for almost a week!”

Gracie stared at my chest.  “Almost a week?  If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve been growing them for about two years.  You’re already past the pointy-cone nipples phase and into the mature-nipples and breast growth phase.”

“Holy crow!” I gasped.  “Are you sure?”  What I really meant was ‘please tell me you are completely wrong about this’.

She just stared at me.  Oh.  Right.  She knew, because she had grown her own when she was a teenager.

I said, “Let me take a shower and get dressed, okay?  I haven’t been allowed to shower or anything since.. Jeez, Friday night.”

Gracie said, “You go ahead.  I want to look at that bodysuit.”

Janet said, “You don’t need me around.  Let me go upstairs and give you some privacy.”

Taking a shower in my new body was a trip.  A trip in a compact sedan with no air conditioning, through Selma Alabama in the summer, crammed in with five fat people who have bad body odor.  It was not nice.

First of all, I had to use what passed for a shower in Gracie’s basement.  It was a cheap sprayhead with poorly-installed water valves that made it next to impossible to get a decent temperature or spray intensity, much less both at the same time.  There was no tub, just a drain in the concrete floor.  There were mildewed plastic shower curtains hanging on all four sides of the sprayhead, giving me about as much privacy as Janet Leigh got at the Bates Motel.

Then there was my body.  It wasn’t my body anymore.  It felt like a girl should have had it.  It would have been pretty sexy to be feeling up a sexy girl in the shower, but it wasn’t a girl.  It was me.

My skin felt too soft, and it felt more, well, padded than it should have.  It went in and out in places that my body wasn’t supposed to be going.  My shoulders seemed too narrow, and my ribcage seemed too tapered, and my waist seemed too small.  My hips were too wide, and I had a rounded butt behind me, where I should have had a guy’s can.  My legs looked sleeker, somehow. 

The body hair I had slowly been growing was completely gone, except for some hair down around my groin.  I had a smattering of hair on my arms and legs, but it was so thin that it might as well have been absent.

My hair on my head was longer, but I already knew that.  It just felt different.  It felt thicker than it should have, and I just knew that something else was just not right about it.

My face felt different.  I had seen it in a mirror, but touching it was somehow worse.  My face had been sort of square before, like Father’s.  Now it was smaller on the bottom half.  My nose seemed smaller, and my lips felt bigger.  My jaw was definitely smaller, which didn’t make any sense, because that should have been giving me about thirty-two toothaches.  But I hadn’t even noticed that my jaw was shrinking over the last few days.  And my adam’s apple was completely gone.

And then there were the boobs.  There was no getting around it.  I had breasts.  They weren’t the big hooters that Gracie was flaunting, thank God, but they were boobs.  I had rounded mounds that were sticking out of my chest where there should have been pectorals and male nipples and hair.  It was awful.

Washing my body just seemed wrong.  I didn’t want to have a girl’s body.  But I did.  And I didn’t know how long I was going to be stuck with it.  Or if it would get even worse.  At the thought of ending up trapped with Gracie’s womanly body, I just couldn’t take it.  I wept silently, hiding my tears under a spray of suddenly-too-cold water.

Maybe I wasn’t all that silent.  Gracie cautiously asked, “Trev?  Are you all right in there?”

“Y-yeah.  I’m fine,” I lied.

Gracie gently said, “Look Trev, you’ve had a bad day, and a really bad week.  It’s going to take time to get over what’s happened to you.  That’s okay.  It’s taken me most of my life to adapt to what was wrong with me, and I had lots of psychiatric help.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with what’s happened in your life.  But you don’t have to cope with everything all at once.  Give it some time, okay?”

“Okay.”  I knew she wanted me to say the word, so I said it.

But nothing was okay.  Nothing was going to be okay.  I was poor.  I was going to be living in the basement of a little dump that even a week ago I wouldn’t have stored my four-wheelers in.  I had almost nothing from home.  I had lost my family, and my home, and my gender, and even my status as a norm.  I had no friends anymore, and my only relative who would even speak to me was a she-male who was still pissed off at me.

I didn’t even have an identity anymore.  I had been Trevor James Goodkind, but now I wasn’t a Goodkind anymore.  I wasn’t a wealthy scion who was waiting to step into an important role in the family conglomerate.  I wasn’t even a boy anymore.  I was some sort of multi-sexed mutant freak whose own parents would rather use him like a lab rat than admit he was their son.  Every time I thought about Mother’s reactions, I just felt like someone was stabbing a sword right through my chest.

I turned off the water and dried off.  That was a shock too.  The towel was a cheap, thin bathmat of a towel.  It felt a lot rougher than my towels back home, and it was about as absorbent as a piece of cardboard.  And it was probably the best towel I was going to get for the next ten years.

I was beginning to realize that I was going to have a hell of a time adjusting to living like a normal, everyday, middle-class person.  How was I going to get by with all the things I would have to re-learn, when I was having trouble just taking a shower?

I just barely managed not to cry again as I hung up the towel on the cheap aluminum towelbar.  I combed my hair into the best semblance of a boy’s hair that I could manage, with a straight part on the left side and everything else combed back to look boyish.  Then I went to get dressed.

I pulled out all the clothes from the duffel bag and arranged them on the bed.  I dressed myself before putting the rest away in the small chest of drawers between the bed and the bookcases.

I put on one of the pairs of boxers.  It was a bit tight around my butt, and much too loose around my waist.  But it was what I had.  There were five t-shirts and three polo shirts.  I pulled on the light blue polo shirt.  Unfortunately, my boobs stuck out in the front of the shirt.  And my nipples were blatantly obvious.  And I knew that this would be worse if I wore one of those t-shirts.  What was I supposed to do about my.. umm.. breasts?

I would have pulled on a sweatshirt over the polo shirt, but this was Los Angeles in July, not Westchester in October.  I pulled on the sweatpants.  The elastic was loose about my waist, and the pants were tight around my hips and butt.  But this was the best I had.  I stepped into a pair of sandals, and found that my feet hadn’t gotten bigger with the rest of me.  If anything, they had gotten smaller.  I tightened the buckle at my heel and made do.

After that, all that was left in the bag was one pair of silk pajamas.  Just holding them made me think of home and made me wish I could be back there, normal, with all this havoc completely forgotten.

Then I put my clothes away.  Which took maybe ten seconds.  How pathetic.  Was I going to have to go shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army from now on?  And what could I find that would fit my body, which was no longer male?  I was really afraid that boys’ underwear and pants weren’t going to fit me anymore.  Boys’ shirts were going to be indecent unless I found something to wear that would cover up my boobs.  Which would be what?  Shoulderpads from a football player?

Gracie came back downstairs, with my bodysuit over one arm.  “Trev, Janet and I were looking at this thing in better light, and we spotted something.  It’s not evenly padded.”


She asked, “Well, didn’t you notice that you still looked fairly boyish in the thing?  And you don’t really look boyish?”

“Well, yeah, now that you mention it,” I admitted.

“Take a look at this,” she urged.

She showed me what she had found.  The bodysuit was molded on the inside.  There were indentations for my breasts to fit into so my boobs wouldn’t bulge out through the front.  The waist was more thickly padded than elsewhere, and the hips were more thinly padded.  The only reason to do that would be to hide from everybody that I had a girl’s shape.

“Hammond did it on purpose, that old bastard!” I swore.

“But why?  What’s the point of hiding your shape, if it’s only for a few hours until you got out here and took off the bodysuit?”

I looked at her and said, “You know, I really hate it when people ask the reasonable question.  Particularly when I don’t have a reasonable answer…  Maybe he just wanted it to be a huge shock for me.”

She frowned, “I’m pretty sure he knew it would be a huge shock for you whenever you found out.  But maybe he was trying to keep other people from realizing what was going on.”

“Like Paul?  Or Mother and Father?”

She shrugged, “Maybe.  Or maybe Father wanted him to hide it from the other researchers and the security guards.  Or maybe he was hiding your shape from everyone because he was fudging his data.  Maybe he didn’t want to admit that you were getting a female shape because his theory predicted differently.”

I grimaced, “Well, we’re never going to know, because we’re never going to get near that maniac ever again.”

But I knew one thing.  That bodysuit might look weird, but it was the only thing I had that would make me look like I had anything like a boy’s build.  I took it from Gracie and hung it up in the ‘bathroom’.  I figured I would turn it inside out and wash it when I showered the next day.  I figured that I was going to want that suit on a regular basis so I could keep being Trevor.

Gracie added another thing.  “Trev, you need a bra or something.”

I stared at her in horror.  “No!  No way am I wearing a bra!”

She just pointed at my chest, “Well, the girls are kind of pointy there…”

‘The girls’?  What the hell was she talking about?  Oh.  Oh God.

“…and unless you want to attract a lot of male admirers, you need to do something about it.”

“Aack!”  I squawked at the mere idea of ‘male admirers’ admiring me.  Ick!

Gracie just shook her head in resignation.  Then she called Janet down and said to her, “Honey, I wanted you to see this too.”  She turned to me and said, “Trev, would you please show us what you can do?  What your powers are?”

After my time in Doctor Evil’s torture chamber, I was getting pretty good with my power.  At least, when I was concentrating.  Sometimes when I wasn’t concentrating, I still lost control.  Plus, it was nice to have someone want to see me do stuff, instead of running screaming from the room at the thought of being near a mutant.  Even if it seemed deeply weird to me that someone would want to see mutant powers in action.

So I showed off a bit.  Can you blame me?  I went heavy and lifted the desk with one hand.  That was a bit harder than you’d think, because it wasn’t balanced very well.  Then I went light and walked right through the bed.  After that, I floated up and drifted back over the bed toward them.  I went heavy and lifted the entire bookcase.  I had to use two hands so it wouldn’t tip over and dump two hundred pounds of books onto the floor.  But, when I was heavy, the bookcase was easy to lift.  Just awkward.

About the fifth time I went light, when I was going to drift up through the ceiling and then back down, I heard Janet distinctly say, “Uh-oh.”

I dropped down to the floor and went normal.  I asked her, “Uh-oh?  Did you just say uh-oh?”

Right about then was when I felt the breeze on my butt.  I looked down, and I saw that I had phased through part of my sweatpants.  Not all of the sweatpants, just part of them.  So, instead of leaving them behind, I had managed to slice off a big section where they hung loosely below my butt.  And the loose part of my boxers back there was down on the floor with the sliced-off part of the sweatpants, so my butt was just hanging out for everyone to see.

I had just ruined one of my few pair of sweatpants, and one of the half a dozen pair of boxers I had left.  “Damnit!”

Janet cautiously said, “I think you’re going to have to be much more careful when you’re doing this stuff.  Or you’re going to end up with no clothes left.”

I groaned, “Oh God!  I’m trying.  Really, I am.  But it’s harder than it looks.”

Janet smiled gently, “Well, it looks pretty fucking hard to me.”

Gracie stared at the remains of my sweatpants and said, “I think that - maybe - using your power is what’s changing your body.  I need to get you to a doctor to see about this.”

That sounded like the best idea Gracie had had in days.  I let her make a couple phone calls, while I changed into a pair of sweatpants that was still intact.  She was able to get me in to see her friend Candace.  There was an opening for eleven the next morning.

I was good with that.  After all, Gracie’s doctor friend Candace wasn’t going to be like Mother’s ‘doctor’ friend Emil.  Right?  There wasn’t anything to worry about, was there?  Not a thing.

I just kept telling myself that, hoping the knotting tension in my stomach would go away.

Janet pointed out one more thing, “Trevor?  I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but you need a bra.”

“Not you too!”

She just shrugged, in that parental ‘you will learn one of these days’ way that always really bugged me when Connie and Heather did it to me.  She said, “Well, come on upstairs.  You can help make lunch.”

Help make lunch?  Were they nuts?  What was I, a peon?  I opened my mouth to say something, and it suddenly hit me.

I was a peon.  I was going to have to learn to do gross things like make lunch and clean up afterward.  I was going to have to find out all the things the servants did for me, and then I was going to have to learn how to do that stuff.  Regular people didn’t have servants, did they?

The weight of everything just seemed to press down on my chest, until I just wished I could go light and phase through everything and never deal with anything or anyone ever again.  I gritted my teeth until I was sure I wasn’t going to start weeping again.

I sighed, “Okay.  You’ll have to show me what I need to do.”

Gracie and Janet gave each other a look.  Then Gracie admitted, “I figured you’d have a screaming fit about making the lunches.”

I confessed, “I thought about it.  But Goodkinds don’t complain.  They fix things.  So I guess I’m going to be fixing lunch.”

Gracie smiled, “Atta girl!”

At the same time, Janet grinned, “Atta boy!”

They stopped and looked at each other before both of them said, “Oops.”

Oh great.  Now I had two guardians who were conspiring against me.  Well, they were at least conspiring.  Probably they were planning how to get me to go along with all the things I was going to have to start doing for myself and the rest of the house.  I would have felt better about that if I at least thought that the conspirators were competent at conspiracy.

I sighed, “Yes, I will help with lunch.  And I’ll help with other stuff.  But you’d better realize that I’m not going to know how to do a lot of the stuff you want me to do.”

Janet laughed, “Oh, don’t worry!  You should’ve seen Ms. Grace ‘how do you work a washing machine’ Goodkind when I met her!”

Gracie actually turned so red that I could see it when we were still in the basement.  “Okay, so how was I supposed to know the difference between dishwashing detergent and laundry detergent?”

Janet grinned, “There was this.. wall of soap bubbles all around the washing machine!  It looked like something out of a bad sitcom!”

Gracie groaned, “It was something out of a bad sitcom.  I didn’t know how to cook, and I didn’t know how to clean, and I didn’t know how to do laundry, and I couldn’t even figure out the how-to book I had bought.”

I couldn’t resist.  “What did you buy?  Doing Housework For Dummies?”

She pointed her finger at me and said, “You are going to pay for that crack!  No food for you until I’ve made you work your fingers to the bone!”

She couldn’t keep the grin off her face, though.  So I grinned back.

We walked up to the kitchen, and I did what Janet asked.  Which wasn’t too awful, considering all she did was show me where things were stored in the cabinets and the refrigerator.

I had to get her to show me how to open a can with their can opener, and she just looked at me like I was a moron.  How was I supposed to know that?  All right, once she showed me how to get started, it was simple.  But the lid came off with a jagged edge that looked like something ninjas would throw at you.  Was that normal?

Then Janet whipped up a bowl of tuna salad, and we had tuna salad sandwiches.  On white bread.  With fake ‘baby carrots’ out of a plastic bag.  Oh my God, I was living with June and Ward Cleaver!  And the sandwiches weren’t very good.  The bread was just blah and spongy and tasteless.  The tuna salad was bad.  Too much mayo, too much pickle relish, and not enough work at bringing out the richness of the tuna.  Assuming there was any richness in canned tuna, other than a mother lode’s worth of mercury.

Still, I shouldn’t have said anything about the food.  Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix things.

Janet snapped, “Look, if you don’t like it, then perhaps you should do the cooking around here, so you don’t have to endure what I fix!”

Gracie admitted, “Look, Janet’s not a very good cook, and she’s kind of touchy about it.  Tiffany’s not bad, and Amy is okay.  I’m somewhere remedial and Typhoid Mary.”

I had to laugh at that.  However, Typhoid Mary was supposed to have been quite a good cook, even if she was too psychotic to face the fact that she was a threat to the health of everyone around her.

Before I had to eat another bite, Tiffany and Amy came in.  Given that they both had serious SoCal-girl tans, and they were in bikinis while toting somewhat-sandy beach towels, it probably wasn’t too insane a guess that they had gone down to the beach to sun themselves.  And that they did it on a regular basis.

Amy was in her mid-twenties, and gorgeous.  She had long chestnut hair that was streaked by years in the sun.  She had a willowy shape with small breasts.  She was wearing a blue bikini with a tiny triangle top to show off what she had.  Oh, and she had something extra that was tucked back between her legs and well-hidden.  If I hadn’t known about The Square, I would never have spotted it.

Tiffany was closer to thirty, and not as good-looking as Amy.  Or Gracie.  She was a little too big, and a little too blocky, and her face was a little too square, with a little too much nose and jaw.  But she was doing what she could with her figure.  For her, that apparently meant a boob job with breasts large enough to look good-sized for her body.  In other words, she had a rack.  She was wearing a one-piece with some kind of diagonal shirring going across her middle to squeeze her waist in.  And she had a matching wrap-skirt around her hips.  So what she had between her legs was effectively hidden.  Not that I was all that interested in knowing.  It was her business.  On the other hand, if she’d been sixteen and stunning, I would have been really interested in knowing.

They both threw on robes and came to join us at the table. 

Amy smiled at me as they sat, “Hi honey, I’m Amy.”  She looked over at Gracie and said, “So this is your little sister?”

Tiffany sat and put out her hand, “Hi there.  I’m Tiffany.  Ooh, and you need a bra, honey.  You’re way too pointy”

Amy looked, and quickly added, “Oh yeah, you’re not going to want to go around outside like that, even if this is The Square.  Boys are gonna get the wrong idea about girls who flaunt it like that.”

I snapped, “I’m not a girl!”

Gracie managed, “Umm, this is my little brother Trevor.”

Amy got a look of horror on her face.  “Brother?”

Tiffany looked scared.  “Trevor?”

I didn’t get why they were getting all bent out of shape.  I mean, it wasn’t as if they were virginal little Genetic Girls who had never been outside of Wholesomeville, Kansas before.

Tiffany gasped, “Gracie, you can’t have a transitioning boy here.”

I insisted, “Hey, I’m not transitioning!”

Amy said, “Three words: Jenny Lynn Kowalski.”

I asked, “What?”  But it was obvious to me that everyone else at the table knew what she meant, and they were all scared about it.

Tiffany patiently explained to me, “Jenny Kowalski was a fifteen-year-old living with a couple TGs here in The Square, while she transitioned to a girl.  But she was underage, and not legally transitioning, and there may have been some hanky-panky going on in the house too.  Nobody really knows for sure.  But it nearly turned The Square into a battlefield.  Cops raided the house and took Jenny into custody and arrested her ‘guardians’.

“Then, on what they claimed were ‘sealed warrants’, they raided about fifty other houses and a couple entire apartment buildings, rousting everyone they could.  So a bunch of people in The Square set up barricades and got into a stand-off with the cops who were rousting everyone.  So the cops called out SWAT teams.  So then the El Monte Knight, this asshole WASP anti-gay super-vigilante, showed up and started to rip up the barricades and anyone who didn’t get away from them.  So the West Coast League, you know, the super-group out of Sacramento, showed up, and they started fighting him.  If they hadn’t taken the fight out over the ocean, there probably wouldn’t be much of The Square left after that.

“So, as if that weren’t enough, it turned into about three years of court battles and lawsuits and counter-suits and everything you can imagine.  One of Jenny’s guardians killed herself in prison.. or so they say.  Jenny vanished.  No one knows what happened to her.  The ‘sealed warrants’ didn’t stand up in court, of course, but obviously they’re ready to try that bit again if they get the chance.”

Amy stared at me and said, “And Trevor?  You’re that chance.”  I could see the fear in her face, and it made my stomach hurt.

Gracie tried, “It’s not like that.  Trevor doesn’t want to transition.  He’s just stuck like this, because of what his mutation is doing to his body.”

Amy gasped, “Oh my God, you have a boy who’s most of the way to being a girl, and he doesn’t want to be a girl?  Are you crazy?  Do you know what reporters would do with a story like that?  They’d make it sound like you’re doing it to him!”

Tiffany groaned, “And she’s a mutant?  Great!  That means we get the MCO and the Knights of Purity and a million Humanity First! assholes tearing The Square to shreds too!  And if you think having Jenny Kowalski vanish was bad, just wait ‘til those MCO dicks grab Trevor.  He’ll disappear like that Isobel Anaelez kid in Chile or Peru or wherever, and never be seen again. “

I just shuddered in fear at the thought.  I didn’t want to believe the Isobel Anaelez story.  I didn’t want to believe that the MCO was anything but a responsible, ethical, necessary organization.  But now, even if there wasn’t one single unethical person anywhere in the MCO, there were still a lot of MCO people with close connections to Emil Hammond and Goodkind Research.  If the MCO took me, I could easily end up back in a testing box in Hammond’s labs.  And I was pretty sure the only way I would ever get back out of Hammond’s labs again would be in a box.  A pine one.

Janet just said, “But Trev doesn’t have anywhere else to go.  It’s us, or a foster home.”

I groaned sarcastically, “And a foster home would be so much better.  What foster parents are gonna cope with a freak half-boy half-girl weirdo who’s a mutant on top of that?”

Amy just said, “You’d better figure out how you’re gonna handle this, because it’s got the potential to make the Jenny Lynn Kowalski case look like a tea party.”

Tiffany added to me, “And even if you are a mutant, you still need a bra.”

Well, that discussion rather put a damper on the rest of lunch.  I forced myself to eat something, even though my stomach was trying to stir up a democratic revolution against the idea.  But I had to wonder.  Was I a threat to Gracie and Janet, just by being what I was?  Was I a threat to everyone in the house?  To everyone in the neighborhood?  To everyone in The Square?  God, it was no wonder everyone hated mutants.

After what had passed for lunch, Janet announced, “I have to get back to work.  I took the morning off for ‘personal leave’, but Doctor Jennings is just a fucking shit about leave time, so I’ve got to get back.  Gracie?  Get into my bottom drawer and find one of my old sports bras.  That ought to fit Trev and take care of the ‘pointyness’ problem.  And show Trev how to clean up the kitchen, would you?”

Gracie said, “I’ll look.  But Trev is a bit thinner than you.  Even if you are still petite.”

Amy looked at me and said, “Thinner?  Honey, you look like the poster child for anorexia treatments.  You’re too thin.”

Tiffany just looked at me and muttered, “God, I’d kill to have your figure.”

I didn’t say anything, but she was welcome to it.  She could have my shape, and my weird mutant powers, and everything else that was turning my life into a cesspool.

Amy looked at the wallclock and said, “Well, it’s my turn to clean up.  Come on, Trevor.  I’ll show you how.”

I felt like I was being taught how to be a maid, but I didn’t say anything.  She showed me how to put the plates and glasses and flatware in the dishwasher, how to run some hot soapy water to clean the stuff that didn’t go in the dishwasher, and how to use the soapy water so I could clean off the table and the kitchen counters.  Then she showed me how to find a plastic storage container so I could put the leftover tuna salad in the fridge.  I wondered if that meant I was going to have to eat that stuff until it was used up.

Amy gave me a naughty smirk and said a bit louder, “And let me give you a heads-up.  Never listen to Gracie about whether food’s safe to eat.  I swear, she’d serve you year-old chicken if it was still in a tupperware, and she’d think the green all over it was a sauce.”

“Hey!  I heard that!” Gracie hollered from the other room.

Amy couldn’t keep the grin off her face.

Gracie stuck her head in and said, “I’m not that bad!”

Tiffany called from the living room, “Oh yeah?  Remember the sour cream?”

Gracie defended herself, “That was an accident!  I thought it was a new container!”

“What about your turkey stroganoff?”  Amy was really smirking over that one.

Gracie insisted, “Hey!  Anybody could’ve mistaken sweetened condensed milk for evaporated milk.”

Oh my God.  My tastebuds were cringing just thinking about how that would have come out.

“And your ‘Little Friskies’ casserole?”  That was Tiffany in the other room.

Gracie winced.  “Tiff!  It wasn’t my fault someone had stuck tuna cat food in with the tuna cans in the supermarket!”

Oh God.  That made me cringe, and I didn’t have to know what it tasted like.  Or smelled like.

Amy chipped in, “And what about the time you…”

Gracie yelped, “Okay, okay!  We get the picture!  Gracie can’t cook worth beans!  Give me a break!”

Tiffany laughed all the way to her room.

Amy looked sideways at me and said, “I kind of figured you’d be a lot snottier about doing clean-up.”

I sighed, “Well, I really don’t want to do it.  But I don’t have a choice anymore, do I?”  She shook her head no.  “So I have to.  And if I get a summer job next year, it’s not going to be ‘corporate raider’.  It’s going to be one of those tv-show teenager jobs that look about as much fun as sinus infections.  Like fry cook, or sales clerk.”

Amy nodded, “Or waitress.  At least you get tips.  Some of the kids I know who did fry cook jobs got some real bad burns from it.”

Ugh.  I didn’t want to think about having to work while pretending to be a cute girl in a bimbo waitress uniform.  I just told myself that I was going to get myself back to Trevor before next summer.  At least, if I got a job as a fry cook, I could go heavy and not get really burned.  I hoped.

Gracie added, “There are a ton of service jobs here during the tourist season.  The amusement parks, the resorts, you name it.”

But I was still looking at having to work as wait-staff or an entry-level clerical job for now.  No more upper management for Trevor.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  Just thinking about cooking and cleaning around this place was depressing the hell out of me.  Thinking about having to be a cook or a cleaner for a living, at least until I could get hired for a real job, was unbearable.

Tiffany came out wearing some old clothes, and she did her weekly vacuuming and dusting before she showered, put on a tacky waitress uniform, and headed off to her job.

After she left, Amy told me, “Tiff works some of the lunch shifts and some of the dinner shifts there, but she always works just under forty hours a week for that jerk.  He won’t let any of his staff do full forty-hour weeks, and definitely no overtime.  Well, no paid overtime.  I think he’s doing something funny with the books.”

I thought for a second and guessed, “Probably something illegal with payroll taxes or something like that.”

Gracie chimed in, “That was what I thought.”

Amy smiled, “I got a much better job.  I wait tables at The Cherry Bomb, this strip club in The Square.  All the waitresses and strippers are she-males or pre-op transsexuals.  You have to have a dick to get a job there.  The outfit is pretty sleazy.  But the tips are great!  I’m saving up for a new car - well, a new used car - and then I’m going to start saving up for breast implants.  Dino, he’s the manager there, said if I got a set of D’s or bigger, I could start working as one of the strippers and make some real money.”

“That’s nice,” I managed.  Of course, that was a huge lie.  What Amy was talking about was not nice.  It was absolutely nauseating and disgusting and creepy.  And the thought that I might have to take a job like that to have any money at all until I had worked my way through an MBA degree made me want to vomit up every meal I had eaten in the last month.

So I pretended to be interested in Gracie’s search through Janet’s old stuff.  Janet was only a couple inches taller than I was now, and was still pretty thin.  So maybe there might be something in there - something that wouldn’t be too awful - that would fit me.  I was just praying it wouldn’t be some Victoria’s Secret push-up bra in pink satin, or something even worse.

“Aha!” Gracie grinned in triumph, and pulled out…  A taupe tank top for a kid?  What the heck was that?

She turned to me and said, “Try this.”

I took it, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to ‘try’ anything.  “What is it?”

“It’s a sports bra.  Janet’s an A+ cup, so this ought to fit you too.”

Just to add to my humiliation, Gracie had to show me how to put it on and adjust ‘the girls’ in the soft cups of the thing.

It was weird.  It was almost like a tight t-shirt, but it didn’t come down as far as a shirt ought to.  And it did cover up my.. well, they were my breasts.  I just didn’t like saying it.  I was going to have to get over that.  Actually, that sports bra did a pretty good job of smashing them down without being actively uncomfortable.  So I was willing to put up with a sports bra.  But not a real bra!

I put my shirt back on and tucked it into the sweatpants.  Gracie looked me over and pronounced me ‘passing’.  Great.  She meant I was passing as a girl.

I growled, “What, I can’t pass as a guy?”

She sighed slowly.  “I don’t think so.  Your face looks too much like a girl’s.  Even with your hair combed in that ‘Tobey Maguire in Spiderman’ look, it looks…”


“It looks cute.  You look like a cute girl who’s deliberately avoiding being girlie.”

I snapped, “Fine.  I’ll go get the bodysuit out.”

She pursed her lips.  So I glared at her until she finally said what she was thinking.  “You won’t look like a boy in that suit.  You’ll just look less girlish.  More androgynous.”

I snapped, “Well, that’s good enough for me!  I don’t want to look like a girl!”

She sighed again, “I th…”

“Would you stop those big , dramatic sighs?  This isn’t Masterpiece Theatre, you know!”

She frowned, “Sorry.  But I think you need to face the ugly facts.  You do look like a girl, and you look a lot more girlish than you did a week ago, and you may look a lot more girlish in another week!

I almost said something angry as a reply.  But the reason I was getting angry was that she was right.  A week earlier, I had been a boy.  A real, live boy.  But now I wasn’t.  It was sort of a reverse-Pinocchio process.  Now I looked less like a boy and more like a girl with a penis.  And I was frankly terrified that in another week, I might look so much more feminine that I just would want to go light and dive through the floor and never come up again.

Gracie could see I was really depressed by what she had said, so she put her arm around me and said, “C’mon, kiddo.  I’ve got to go down to the TZI studios and talk with a couple people.  Wanna come along?  We haven’t done anything fun together for, what?  Six or seven years?”

I shrugged and said, “Sure.”  What else could I do?  Sit in the basement and sulk?  Sure, things looked crappy, but riding around L.A. with Gracie had to be better than that.  And maybe something would cheer me up.

I didn’t really get cheered up, but I did learn some things.  Gracie was mainly a studio musician, playing acoustic guitar and bass guitar for jazz musicians, and the occasional commercial or movie.  She talked with three different jazz musicians, two of whom I had actually heard of before, and got a couple ‘maybe’ answers, plus an offer to sit in the next week with some guys at one of the jazz clubs downtown.

Gracie also told me about everyone else.  Janet was a dental hygienist for a dentistry practice only a couple miles away.  She didn’t like the dentists who owned the practice, but the job paid okay, and it provided a good healthcare plan that Gracie could ride on.  So Janet stuck with it.

Tiffany and Amy paid rent and helped with cooking and cleaning, so they had a nice place to live in The Square, unlike a lot of utter dumps that still cost an arm and a leg because they were in congested Los Angeles.  Their monthly rent meant that Gracie and Janet could afford what was a pretty decent house compared to a lot of places in the area.

Tiffany and Amy both had waitress jobs at places which were close enough to The Square that they didn’t have to worry about their boygirl status.  I already had heard that Amy was saving up for a better car, and then breast implants so she could move from waitress up to stripper.  Yuck.  Amy mostly worked 7 pm - 2 am, so she tended to sleep in every morning.  But the 7 pm start time meant that Amy was only at the house for dinner about half the time.

Tiff, on the other hand, was trying to save up the money for The Operation.  The more Gracie told me about what was involved in sexual reassignment surgery, the more I had to wonder just how desperate Tiffany was to be a girl.

And the more I thought about it, the more I had to wonder if I would be willing to go through that kind of pain and suffering if I needed a small armada of surgeries to get restored to a boy.  So far, the answer was a rather surprising ‘yes’.

Gracie chatted away with me as we drove around Los Angeles and met with jazz musicians and music producers.  I actually forgot to be upset.  It slowly turned into what I had prayed for: a fun time hanging out with my big sibling Greg, just talking away and doing fun stuff.  For a while, I even forgot that I was no longer really Trevor, and she was no longer Greg.

Dinner that night was only Gracie and Janet and me.  And leftovers from the previous night, which had been some sort of stir-fry prepared by Amy before she went off to work.  Even with something called ‘instant’ white rice instead of the right kind of rice to go with a pseudo-Chinese stir-fry, it was okay.  Not good, but better than Janet’s cooking.  I hated the thought that the rest of my life was going to be striving to get from ‘lousy’ all the way up to ‘okay’.

Gracie wanted to tell Janet about her job possibilities, and Janet had a funny story about a pushy patient and a spit sink.  I just let things flow past me, as I tried not to think about living like this every day for years and years.

Janet looked me over and said, “You look nice in my exercise bra.”

I just said a polite ‘thank you’ and didn’t complain.  Not about my body, or my changes, or the clothes I had to wear.  Okay, so I was wearing an exercise bra to hide what Gracie called ‘the girls”.  But that was because I had to.  I was not going to wear any more girl stuff, and I was not going to wear any really girlie clothes.

And I was not going to turn into a girl!  I was going to find some way to get back to Trevor, if it killed me!

That night, I slept in my silk pajamas.  The bottom was tight around my butt, but the top was okay.  Since they were the only pair of pajamas I had, I intended to wear them every night until they turned into rags.  I had no idea what I would do after that.

Thursday, July 27, 7:00 am
Los Angeles, CA

I woke up when the clatter of shoes overhead told me that someone was rushing through breakfast.  Since it was ten o’clock back home, I couldn’t get back to sleep either.

Well, if Janet was going to wake me up every morning at seven, it was probably just as well.

I showered and made sure that I washed out the bodysuit thoroughly.  Then I did my usual morning rituals: hair, face, teeth, and underarm deodorant.  I really needed to get my hair cut.  I was so used to a short, professional hairstyle that this hair hanging down my neck and into my face was really annoying.

As I scrubbed my face, I noticed that my usual minor blots and dots were completely gone, leaving me with a perfectly clear complexion that could have been used in a Clearasil commercial.  But my face should have been a disaster area, after being trapped in Doctor Tongue’s 3-D House Of Meat for three hideous days and not even being allowed to use a sink, much less clean up.  Great.  I have to turn into a mutant freak to get my skin completely cleared up.

Since I had noticed the change in my facial skin, I was looking for more changes.  And I finally noticed while I was brushing my teeth.  My teeth had changed too.  I didn’t understand how that was even possible, but they had.  My teeth were whiter, and maybe even a bit straighter.  My lower teeth might even have been a bit smaller, since my lower jaw was definitely smaller, and I hadn’t experienced any tooth pain.  On the other hand, my teeth could have really hurt at some point when I just hurt too much to notice them during one of the more painful tests in Evil Emil’s House Of Fun.

More importantly, my complexion and my teeth just weren’t all that important when I had much more drastic things to worry about, like breasts and hips and buns and facial structure.

Then I got dressed.  I didn’t have a huge selection, so it was the same sports bra, a t-shirt, a clean pair of boxers, sweatpants, and sandals.  I refused to think about the fact that the t-shirt was tight over my breasts and the boxers didn’t fit right either.  Then I made a mental note to wash out that sports bra every couple days, and hang it up to dry at night so I would have it the next day.

I stalled long enough that Janet was gone before I got upstairs.  So I didn’t have to get a lesson on fixing breakfasts and cleaning up afterward.  On the other hand, that meant that I had to figure out how to fix breakfast by myself.

I ended up choosing something that was simple, rather than something appetizing.  I had a bowl of Special K, with the skim milk from the fridge.  And it was simple.  But the prison breakfast of the day before had been better than this.  The Special K was remarkably bland, and it got soggy in the milk in no time.  I wondered meanly if the ‘K’ in Special K was supposed to stand for ‘Kleenex’.

After I put my bowl and spoon in the dishwasher, I went downstairs and read from my e-book.  Most people didn’t like William Faulkner, but I was reading Knight’s Gambit, a book of short stories he had written that were really good.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big book, and I read quickly.  In fact, I seemed to be reading more quickly than usual, and I seemed to be retaining even more than I did before I mutie’d out.  I ended up finishing the entire book before Tiffany was up.

I told myself that I was going to have to ration what few books I had.  I needed to find the closest libraries and borrow some books soon.  Which was another bizarre concept for me to face.  I had never before just gone to a public library and borrowed books.

Sometimes I wondered if there was anything that would stay the same in my life.  Was I going to have to re-learn everything I had ever known?

I looked through the cookbooks that morning while I tried not to think about the doctor’s appointment that was lying in wait for me.  Reading the cookbooks reminded me of learning Latin after all the French I had taken.  There was a lot that looked familiar, but there were tons of vocabulary words to learn.  Just thinking about never again enjoying Hermione’s cooking was making me feel miserable.  There was no way I could ever cook like that.  But maybe, just maybe, I could learn fairly quickly to cook better than Janet.

What a pathetic goal in life.  I hated that I had been reduced to things like this.  But I was going to survive, no matter what it took.  The first thing I was going to do was learn to make a tuna fish salad that was actually edible.

Gracie scooted me out the door around ten.  I asked, “But I thought you said the appointment was for eleven?”

She nodded, “Yeah.  But it’s a thirty minute drive.  Unless something goes wrong on the highways.  And then it’s an hour drive.  And if something goes really wrong, it could take even longer than that.”

“Great.”  I had heard stories about driving in Los Angeles, and it had a reputation as one of the three worst traffic-jam cities in the country.  I wasn’t looking forward to learning to drive a car like this, in a place like L.A.  But I was only half a year away from being eligible for a learner’s permit, if the driving laws were like those in Westchester.  And I wasn’t going to be sitting in the back of a limo anymore.  That was such a huge change, and it was the kind of thing that I had taken completely for granted.

Gracie parked at a small office building within several blocks of a large hospital.  The building was obviously chock full of doctors.  I could tell just by looking at the sign out front.  I didn’t have time to stop and look at the listing of everyone in the building, but a quick glance told me that there were twenty-seven doctors in the building, and a big pharmacy/café on the ground floor.

Wait a minute, had I picked all that up just by skimming over that listing?  My reading speed really had picked up.

We took the elevator up to the second floor, and sat in a waiting room for about forty minutes.  Was this normal?  I had never had to wait for a doctor before.  I had never had to go to a doctor’s office instead of having the doctors come to see me.  How were people supposed to get their jobs done and stuff if they had to sit around wasting their lives like this?

I supposed that Gracie had seen the shock in my face, because she leaned over and whispered, “No, this is the way it is.  You just have to get used to it.  And you’ll have to learn how to deal with HMO’s too.”

Oh.  My.  God.  We didn’t even make the servants deal with HMO’s.

Gracie accompanied me when a nurse in a white uniform called out, “Grace Goodkind?”

She whispered, “You don’t look like a ‘Trevor’ anymore, you know.  I figured it would be easier all the way around to leave things under my name for now.”

I shrugged.  It could have been worse.  Actually, almost anything else would have been worse.  If the nurse had called out ‘Trevor Goodkind’ and I came forward, would gay-bashers have come out of the woodwork?  If the nurse had called out some super-girlie name, I would probably have refused to stand up.

The nurse led us to a small examination room that seemed barely large enough for the exam table.  Fake leather, covered with a wide strip of barber paper on a roll.  Ugh.  At least it would be sanitary.  I hoped.

I had to undress and put on a white thing that looked like a nightie designed by aliens who didn’t really know how humans moved.  It had these non-functional ties in the back, where you couldn’t reach them to tie them.  And it was ridiculously short.  It didn’t fit, either.

I looked frantically at Gracie, and she nodded.  “Yes, you have to put it on.  It’s a hospital gown.  Welcome to the real world of modern medicine.”

I did it, but I was still waiting for Ashton Kutcher to walk in and tell me I had just been punked, and it was all a big practical joke.

The ‘gown’ wasn’t comfortable, and it wasn’t warm enough, and it was just plain embarrassing.  And I had to wait in the stupid thing for a ridiculous amount of time.  Did people really put up with this kind of treatment?

Finally, a middle-aged woman in a white labcoat walked in.  I couldn’t help wincing at the labcoat.  It just reminded me way too much of Emil Hammond and his staff.

The woman was obviously wearing some sort of suit underneath, and she was smiling.  She gave Gracie a hug and shook my hand.  “I’m Candace Parsons.  I take it you’re Trevor?”

I said, “I used to be, at any rate.  As you can see, I’ve changed.”

Gracie showed Candace my photo file.  “This is what Trevor looked like, only a week or so ago.”

“Oh my!”  She was obviously shocked.  Apparently, I had changed even more than I thought.

Candace gave me a full examination, right down to some stuff that I would rather have not had done, like a rectal exam and an inspection of my genitals.  At least it wasn’t anything like what Dr. Hammond had done to me.  She did all the usual stuff, including taking blood and saliva samples, and getting me to pee into a cup.

Then she let me get dressed, and we talked some more.  She described my condition as ‘intersexed’, but not ‘hermaphroditic’.  Hermaphroditic?  Oh my God, I might keep changing until I had a penis AND a vagina?  Or worse?

Candace said, “I have no way to tell right now, but based on how your privates are behaving while the rest of your body seems to be feminizing, you may stay a she-male, like Gracie.  Maybe we’ll know more after we get the test results back.”

She asked me if I knew any more about my condition, or my mutation, or what my body was doing.  So I told her about my little stay in Hammond’s charming little Lab O’ Fun, including what I had heard him say about my regenerative abilities.  Gracie looked ill as she listened.

Candace cautiously asked me, “Do you have any proof of.. the things they did to you?”

I had already thought about that.  A lot.  So I admitted, “No.  I don’t have a thing that would stand up to any sort of scrutiny.  All my injuries have healed.  I don’t have a cut or a stab or a scar anywhere.  I don’t even know where I was held.  I can’t identify anyone except Hammond and Royce, and that’s no help.  Everyone knows I already knew Hammond was working in a Goodkind Research lab, and I’ve even been to his main lab and met him.  And I can tell you that I wasn’t in the main research labs.  I would have recognized the place.  On top of all that, not a lot of judges would take the word of some creepy little mutant over an upstanding research scientist who has already been targeted by mutants.”

Candace just said, “That doesn’t seem fair, does it?”

“No.  It isn’t fair.  But life isn’t fair.”

She thought for a moment and said, “I’m not an expert on this type of problem, but it appears from what you’ve told me that your power may be what is changing you into this more-female condition.”

Even though Gracie and I had already wondered about that, hearing it from a real doctor really frightened me.  “But I don’t want to be a girl!”

Gracie put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes.  She said, “Let me tell you something, Trev.  You are a girl, everywhere except between your legs.  And inside your head.  It doesn’t matter how much you hate it, you have to live with it, for now.  And I do know how you feel.”

“What do y…  Oh.”  Right.  It dawned on me that Gracie knew more about this than anyone else I could talk to.

I looked at Candace, and I decided.  Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix things.  I said, “I don’t want to look like this.  Can I take male hormones to fix my body?  Or get these breasts surgically removed?”

She said, “That’s a rather mature way of thinking, for a fourteen-year-old.  But I think you need to hold off on that for a bit.  I need to get the tests back and look over your blood chemistry, at a minimum.  And I want to talk to an internist I know who knows a lot more than I do about mutant physiology.”

I insisted, “But I can’t stand having these things, and looking like this!  There has to be something you can do for me!”

Candace carefully pointed out, “I just don’t know.  The problem is that you’re a mutant.  That means that any drug treatments or surgeries might be useless.  In fact, they might be worse than useless if they lead to your body moving toward its final form even faster as it ‘heals’ itself from whatever a doctor did to it.”

I sat back in horror as the meaning of her words sank in.  “Oh my God!  You mean getting a double mastectomy might make them grow back BIGGER?”

She shook her head slightly, “I don’t know.  Maybe.  And it would hurt horribly, even if you do have some regeneration abilities, and then you would be even worse off.”

I left Candace’s office in sort of a daze, after that bombshell.  I really don’t remember the drive home, or what we had for lunch, or much of anything.

That afternoon, I took a short nap.  I took off the sweatpants, wiggled out of the sports bra, and just took a nap in my t-shirt and boxers.  Unfortunately, when I got up from my nap, I tripped over the concrete lip of the bathroom area.  I stubbed my toe, and I accidentally went heavy.  I ripped my clothes apart where my body pressed outward and stressed the clothing.  My breasts punched through the t-shirt, and my hips and butt tore through my boxers, and my shoulders tore out the seams of the shirt.

I just stared in horror at the wreckage of my clothes.  Oh God, I was losing my clothes by the hour!  On top of the news from Candace, it just seemed like everything was conspiring against me.  I sat on my bed and put my face in my hands and wept.  Like a girl.

That night, over dinner, we talked about my attending high school.  Don’t ask about dinner.  Not unless you want to hear about badly over-cooked green beans.  Or cheap iceberg lettuce and overly salty salad dressing, instead of a real salad.  Or something called Hamburger Helper, which definitely didn’t help anything.  I was thinking that ‘Hamburger Helper’ actually counted as an oxymoron.  Janet could tell I wasn’t happy about dinner, but I didn’t actually say anything about it out loud.

I had really been looking forward to high school classes at Chilton.  But I wasn’t going to be attending Chilton ever again.  I was going to have to go to a public school.  And all I knew about public schools were tv shows I had seen that made schools look like one of two things: wild places full of wacky antics and crazy teachers; or frightening places full of gang-bangers and criminals.  I was really praying that the second was just as unrealistic as the first.

But Janet had more bad news for me.  Since The Square was not a normal residential area, it didn’t have its own schools.  I would have to go to high school in Santa Monica.  I would have to be bused to Santa Monica High School, which was almost due north of us.  It was just south of the terminus of I-10, and was definitely not the nicest high school in Los Angeles. 

And I had everything that it took to be the most bullied, most picked-on kid in the entire school.  I was a former rich kid who was now dead broke.  I was a freaky mutant.  I was a weirdo girly-boy with both tits and a dick.  Man, and I thought I had it bad in junior high, being picked on for being a nerd.

But Gracie and Janet thought I could just go to school without problems by pretending to be a girl.

Yeah, that sounded like a plan to me.  Not!

Okay, so I couldn’t really pass as a boy anymore.  I was likely to get more and more female.  And I was still at risk of walking right out of a chunk of my clothing.  But I didn’t think some crazy sitcom storyline out of “That’s So Raven” was going to pan out.  “Oh no, I have a disability so I can’t take Phys. Ed. with the other girls.”  And what teacher in his right mind would let a mutant take classes with his baseline kids and not warn them all of the danger in their classroom?

I suggested home schooling, but they didn’t have the time to school me.  So I tried to talk them into letting me do independent study for home schooling.  But they didn’t think I was mature enough to do that and not just goof off all the time.

I insisted, “Are you kidding?  I’ll do twice as much work as I’m supposed to, if I just don’t have to go to a regular high school looking like.. THIS!”

But I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I couldn’t convince either of them, and Gracie seemed to be ready to do whatever Janet wanted.  Which was likely to be a disaster for me, as soon as I had my first day of school.. and I accidentally went light and fell through my schooldesk.  And then everyone in the room pulled out their cellphones and dialed the local Humanity First! chapter.  And then the lynch mob, and…

Friday, July 28, 7 am
Los Angeles, CA

Janet had to work, as usual.  And she woke me up as she moved about in the kitchen, as I was beginning to expect would be a daily occurrence.

Gracie had to go meet with some people and try to find work.  She sprinkled some brown sugar and some sliced strawberries over my Special K, and it wasn’t too bad.  Not ‘special’, but not too bad.  On the other hand, no one would buy the stuff if it were called ‘Mediocre K’.

I stayed at home and read the cookbooks, while I tried to figure out how to make tuna fish salad on my own.

It would have been really good.  Except that I didn’t know the difference between a clove of garlic and a head of garlic.  So who knew that the big bulb isn’t one clove?  I had to throw it out.  Amy and Tiffany both charitably called it ‘a good first try’.  But they didn’t eat it either.

Gracie called me around two in the afternoon to tell me that Candace wanted to talk to us.  At her office.  After five.  That didn’t sound too auspicious.  I checked my clothing.  My tan polo shirt, Janet’s sports bra, boxers, and a pair of gray sweatpants.  Well, that was about the best I could do.

Gracie picked me up, and then we swung by to get Janet at her office.  Janet was wearing her ‘dental hygienist’ uniform, but she insisted on going with us instead of going home to change clothes.  That made me feel a lot better, even if that wasn’t going to change anything Candace had to tell us.

We arrived at the office building, and the parking lot was nearly empty.  Candace met us at the front door and let us into her office.  I noticed that everyone else had gone home, and she was all alone with us.  That made me suspect she didn’t want anyone to hear what she had to say to us.  Which didn’t make me feel any better.

She led us back to her private office, which was big enough for her desk and an armchair behind it, plus three smaller chairs in front of the desk.  Two walls were bookshelves filled with textbooks and medical journals, while a third wall had several plaques and sheepskins, along with pictures of what were probably graduating classes from her med school and such.

She had us sit down, and she got into her armchair.  Then she opened a folder and looked over the papers inside.  “I have the bloodwork and the urinalysis and the other results back.  I managed to get them moved to the head of the queue when I told my lab guys that you were a mutant and there might be some really interesting things in there if they were sharp enough to find them.”  She gave me a weak smile at that.

She took a deep breath and said, “Your blood chemistry is.. unusual.”

Well duh!  I’m a freaking mutant!  I didn’t say that out loud, but I certainly gave her a look that meant the same thing.

She went on, “I don’t know how to address this.  You have levels of estrogens and other female hormones that are on the high side - high but still within normal range - for a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl.  You also have male hormones that are about right for any two fourteen-year-old boys.  So I don’t know how to treat your condition.  And there’s no simple way to get your body moving back to what you would prefer.  Given your current hormone levels, I assume that there’s no dose of testosterone that would have any effect on your female parts.”

I gulped.  I so didn’t want to hear that.

She continued, as if I hadn’t gotten the point.  “So taking additional male hormones won’t help you at all.  And your body may continue to change.  You have a very odd mix of male XY chromosomes and female XX chromosomes, and some XXY and XYY chromosomes too.  There’s no way to tell what that means.  Yet.”

I pushed, “And surgeries?”  I probably pointed at my boobs too, even if I wasn’t planning to.

She shook her head no.  “I called an internist I trust and asked him about mutants with regenerative abilities.  He speculated, from what you told me about healing from that bone marrow sample, that you’d probably fall in the area that gets labeled ‘Regen 1’ or ‘Regen 2’.  Do you know what that means?”

“Yes,” I said.  I probably knew that part better than she did.

She sighed, “He said that Regen 1 or 2 would give you the worst of both worlds.  Surgeries wouldn’t stick.  You’d grow back.  Your breasts, or your fatty deposits, or your butt, or whatever you had someone operate on.  But the regeneration would be slow, so it would hurt.  A lot.  For a long time.  And then you’d be back where you started.  You could get the breasts removed, and endure the pain as they healed and re-grew, and then have to re-do the process maybe every two months.  Forever.”

I had a sudden urge to vomit.  I just gritted my teeth and tried to control myself.  “So what can I do?”

She pursed her lips and looked over my tests results as if they were going to suddenly spell out a big answer.  She said, “Frankly, I don’t know.  I can tell you that in your shoes, I would seek out, not family practice physicians or internists like myself, but real experts in mutant physiology.  Maybe even mutants who are devisers, you know what that is?”  I gave her a quick nod.  “Devisers who might be able to find a way to undo what’s been done.”

I looked at Gracie and said, “But we can’t afford that, can we?”

Gracie shook her head sadly.

Candace said, “It’s a moot point right now.  You’re too young for most of these types of therapies.  You’ll probably have to wait until you’re eighteen.  By then, money might not be a problem.”

Yeah.  Right.  Maybe Heather would have a change of heart and decide that she just loved having a new little sister who just happened to be a freaky mutant, and she wanted to buy me anything I asked for.  That was going to happen right after Devilmaster started sending people cute little puppies instead of horrific monsters from hell.  No, wait.  Scratch that last ref.  Don’t give that psycho any ideas about weird things to do to puppies.

She added, “And you ought to think about a new name.  You don’t look like a Trevor anymore.”

“No!”  I was not going to do that.  There was no way!

She tried again, “How about something harmless, like maybe T.J.?  I mean, your face has changed enough that you look like a quite cute girl.  I don’t think you can pass as a boy anymore.”

Oh God, I did not want to hear that!  I stared at my feet and said, “I’ll think about it.”  Which really meant ‘I am going to pretend to listen to you until you leave me alone’.  But that way I didn’t have to be deliberately rude to her, and she was happy with the outcome.  Basically, I was using on her what Father called ‘Politics 101’ when we talked at the dinner table.  It worked, just as I knew it would.

I was fairly depressed when we left Candace’s office.  I could tell that the conspirators were up to something by the way they were giving each other looks.  Finally, Gracie said, “How about we go out and get a little dinner, and cheer you up?”

I said, “Sure.  That would be nice.”  Which was a lie.  But at least it was a polite lie.  I didn’t want to eat Janet’s cooking again, even if my cooking was obviously somewhere between ‘inedible’ and ‘actively harmful to warm-blooded lifeforms’.  But I didn’t want to be out in public, and I didn’t want people to look at me, and I didn’t see that that was going to change anytime soon.  Plus, I knew that we would not be going to a five-star restaurant.

They took me to a place called “Applebee’s”.  I had never been in one before, but it had the look of a restaurant that was only a step or two above a MacDonald’s.

Before we went in, Gracie said, “Now I know you don’t want a girlie name, or even going by T.J.  But we’re going to call you…”

Janet suggested, “Tre.”

“Yeah.  ‘Tre’.  That’s what we’ll call you tonight.  It’s short for Trevor, okay?  But it’s not obvious that it’s short for Trevor, so it’s not going to cause any problems.  Okay?”

I shrugged hopelessly.  “Okay.”  I mean, what could I say?  ‘Tre’ was about as androgynous as ‘T.J.’, and I was just about out of hope that I could go by ‘Trevor’ anymore.  I mean, what else could go wrong?

As it turned out, just about everything.

First, we walked in and the ‘host’ standing there holding menus gave us a big smile, “And what would you three lovely ladies like this evening?”

Oh God.  Well, this guy obviously thought I was a girl.  I told myself that he was just one dimwitted guy.

But the waitress thought I was a girl too.  “Honey?  What would you like?”

I politely asked, “Could I get an iced tea?”

And so she had to ask the ‘girl’ question.  “Do you want artificial sweetener with that?”

“No thank you, just a couple wedges of lemon.”

She smiled, “A skinny little thing like yourself doesn’t need artificial sweeteners anyway.”

I just smiled as I tried not to jump up and bite her head off.

Then the older couple leaving the table next to us had to say hello.  The old woman looked at me and said to Gracie, “Isn’t she just the cutest little thing?”

Gracie just smiled at her and said, “Yep, that’s my little sister.”

The old man tipped his hat to us and said to Gracie, “You take good care of that li’l cutie.”

Okay.  I got the hint.  Everyone on the planet thought I was a girl, and a really cute girl at that.  At least Gracie and Janet weren’t laughing their asses off at my discomfort.

I ordered the least disgusting thing I could find on the menu, a Caesar salad that looked fairly edible in the picture.  It wasn’t bad, even if the salad dressing was a pathetic excuse for real Caesar dressing.

But my embarrassment didn’t end there.  A middle-aged couple in decent wardrobe sat down opposite us.  The woman was one of those women who are fighting furiously to pass themselves off as ten or twenty years younger than they really are.

So then the waitress tried to get us to try one of their desserts, all of which would certainly have made our sous-chef Hermione retch.

The woman came over while the waitress was ‘giving us a minute to think it over’.  “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt you in the middle of dinner, but I just wanted to know.  Does your daughter have professional representation?”

Gracie looked at her, “What?”

The woman pushed, “I’m Greta Harville, of Harville and Greer Associates.  Here’s my card.”  She pushed an embossed business card into Gracie’s hand.

Greta turned to me and gave me a big Hollywood smile.  “Look honey, I can tell you that with a proper makeup job and the right hairstyle, you could be the next big thing in the ‘teen markets’.  You’ve got that whole Miley Cyrus thing going on.  Except for that hair.  But we can fix that.  Disney’s having a big casting call in three weeks, and I could get you into that.  Have you ever considered being a big starlet in movies or television?”

Gracie and Janet finally got rid of Mrs. Pushy by telling her they would ‘consider her offer’.  They couldn’t exactly tell her the truth in a public place, when there might be a few homophobic rednecks at the next table, or some mutant-haters with handguns.  But by the time we left, I think my blush had expanded from my face, down past my neck, all the way down to somewhere near my duodenum.

And then I had a couple high school punks give me wolf-whistles in the parking lot.  Argh!  Was everyone out to get me tonight?  Or was my karma due for a tune-up in the shop?

Apparently, it was the latter.  As we walked across the parking lot, an impatient asshole in a Camaro couldn’t wait ten seconds for us to walk past, and he leaned on his horn.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  As it was, I jumped out of half of my polo shirt and half of my sweatpants.  I had to hurry the rest of the way to the car in half a shirt and half a pair of sweatpants, with my breasts trying to fall out the huge hole underneath them, and the bottom half of my butt hanging out of the huge gap in my pants.

It took everything that I had not to cry all the way home.

Saturday July 29, 6 am
Los Angeles, CA

I woke up.

I was up.  In more than one sense of the word.  I had gone light at some point in my sleep.  It took me a moment to realize that my head and one shoulder and part of my chest were all sticking up through the kitchen floor.

“Oh my God!”  The sudden tingling in my chest made me really afraid that I was about to materialize quite painfully, and destroy a massive chunk of the flooring in the process.

I hastily floated downward toward the bed.  That was when I saw the remains of the sheets and about half of my pajamas below me.  Not only had I destroyed the sheets for my bed, but I no longer had my silk pajamas.  It was all I could do not to cry as I hugged the remnants of my Pierre Cardin pajamas and faced the awful fact that I had no decent clothes left.

After everyone else got up, we had breakfast.  Something that purported to be ‘instant oatmeal’.  Don’t ask.  But I think the main ingredient was wallpaper paste.  I decided the Special K was several steps up from this gruel.  No wonder Oliver Twist was the only one who walked forward and said, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

Then I finally had to admit to Janet that there was now a Trevor-sized hole in the top sheet.  And that my pajamas were destroyed.  Janet made things worse by offering me a sleepshirt.  Sleepshirts are not shirts.  They’re nighties cut like a shirt.

I threw away the rags that had once been my pajamas.  I made my bed again.  I tried really hard not to cry.  And I realized that it had been a week.

Exactly seven days ago, I had been outed as a dangerous gene-deviant and hauled off to a torture chamber.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  It was terrifying to think that if I had changed this much in one week, there was no telling where I would be in a week, or a month, or a year.  With everything that had happened just the day before, not to mention the week before, going by T.J. seemed like a minor step.

But that was as far as I was going to go.  Answering to T.J. and wearing a sports bra to hide my boobs.  And not a step further, no matter what happened!  I mean it!

But I was still phasing, and I was losing chunks of clothing when I did.  Either I got heavy and maybe ripped some of the clothing that didn’t get heavy with me, or I got light and phased out of some pieces of the clothing that hadn’t gotten immaterial with me.

Okay, I had gotten noticeably better about it just since Wednesday morning.  I had only lost my pajamas all day, and that had happened while I was asleep.  I had only had one accident the day before, and that was when I had been startled.  But I had nearly nothing left, so soon I was going to have *no* intact clothing left.

Sunday, July 30, 6 pm
Los Angeles, CA

I was officially screwed over.

I accidentally destroyed my last pair of underwear and my last shirt.  And Janet’s sports bra that she had loaned me.  I had already wrecked everything else.  I had no clothes left.  And everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before I destroyed the beach robe which I had borrowed from Amy.

Fortunately, I still had that bodysuit from Dr. Evil Hammond.  And I had even washed it and hung it to dry, so I could wear it.  I took it off its wire hanger and sat on the bed.  I slipped my legs into it and pulled it up my body.

Or rather, I tried to pull it up my body.  It had been pretty tight when I had worn it to fly ‘Con Air’ out to Gracie, but it seemed a lot tighter now.  My legs went into the suit legs without too much difficulty, but the suit didn’t want to go over my hips.  What was wrong?  Or, as Janet would have said, what the fuck was wrong?

I stood up and pulled harder.  I just couldn’t get the stupid thing to slide up my body!  So I decided to cheat.  I went a little heavy, and I tugged harder.  That wasn’t the best decision I ever made.

The suit ripped.  It ripped up the sides where my hips stuck out, and it ripped in the back between my buttcheeks.  And, just to make things as awful as possible, the suit ripped apart where I had a grip, so I accidentally tore two huge handfuls of padded suit right out of the chest and shoulders of the damn thing.

I was officially screwed over.

My hips and butt must have gotten even bigger since I wore the suit.  My body was still changing.  It was still turning into a girl’s body.  And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it.

I just climbed under the sheets and tried not to go light or go heavy.  Right then, I didn’t even want to exist.

Monday, July 31
Los Angeles, CA

I had no clothes.  No life.  No family.  No friends.  No money.  No identity.  No hope.  My life was a stinking pile of rat vomit.  No, that was unfair to all rats everywhere.

I hid downstairs, rather than come up and eat breakfast.  I hadn’t decided what I would do when I got so hungry I couldn’t stand it any longer.  Eat the mildew off the shower curtains?  Find out if shampoo and conditioner were edible?  See if I could chew up wooden furniture when I went heavy?  But I was never going upstairs again.

I heard people talking upstairs.  I ignored the noise.  I heard clomping on the floor.  I ignored that too.  I heard the phone ring.  I ignored that, as well.  Maybe I could ignore everything for the next several years.

Finally, Gracie came downstairs.  “T.J.?  Kid, I know you’re upset, but pull yourself together!  Goodkinds don’t complain, they fix things!”

From under the pillow, I whined, “I’m not even a Goodkind anymore.”

“Well, that was the most pathetic thing I’ve heard since Miss South Carolina in the Junior Miss pageant.”

Thanks for the sympathy.  You can leave now.  I feel so much better.

But Gracie was just getting started.  “You think things are bad now?  Well, they’re about to get a hell of a lot WORSE!  That phone call?  It was Los Angeles County Children’s Services, and they’re expecting us to be there.  Tomorrow.  Ten Ay Em.  To meet with Mrs. Westmore, whoever the hell she is.

“And guess what the really, really good part is?  If we don’t show up - both of us - and they’re not happy with my ‘custodial care’ of you, and you don’t look ‘properly cared for’, you’re gone.  They’ll take you away from me faster than you can spit…”

“AAAAUUUGGHHHH!!!”  I couldn’t survive that!

Gracie went on, “…and they’ll probably put both me and Janet in jail for child abuse!”

“No!  They can’t do that!”

Now that I was sitting up in bed, utterly terrified, Gracie really laid into me.  “You can’t hide in the basement anymore and suck your thumb and hope everything will just go away, because things are about to get a billion times worse if you don’t do something!”

She gave me a piece of her mind for the next few decades.  Actually, it was probably around an hour or so, but it seemed like decades.

The bottom lines were simple.  I had no boy clothes left.  I couldn’t pass as a boy anymore.  I was likely to become even more physically female.  I might become more female everywhere except my groin and my brain.  There was no guarantee that my groin wouldn’t become more female over time.  And I had no control over whether my brain might decide to go girl too, given what my hormones and my chromosomes were doing.  And we had to get through the meeting with Children’s Services, along with any follow-up meetings.

Janet came home at lunchtime to check on me, and answered the phone, only to get the exciting Chapter Two of the bitchfest from Children’s Services.

She came downstairs to catch the tail end of Gracie’s rants.  Janet said, “Why don’t they have all the information on T.J.?  The woman on the phone was having a fucking fit about getting only half of the necessary forms sent to her by the state of New York.”

Gracie and I just looked at each other.  Goodkind pull had done that.  We knew that without even checking.  Someone, Paul or Mother or Father, had made sure that there wasn’t a direct connection from Trevor James Goodkind to some freaky half-girl mutant.

Gracie insisted, “Look at it logically, T.J.  You have four options.  You can show up at Children’s Services looking like a boy, or a girl, or some of both, or so androgynous that it’s not clear what sex you are.  What will happen in any of those cases?  Think about it.

“If you show up looking intersexed or androgynous, you’ll be yanked out of our custody so fast it’ll make your head spin, and we’ll get arrested for child abuse on the assumption that we did this to you.  It won’t matter what you say.  If you show up looking like a very feminine boy who is obviously trying to hide a set of breasts?  Ditto.  If you manage to pass as a boy well enough to fool Children’s Services this time, then as soon as you get more physically female, they’ll assume we did this to you in the interim, and they’ll arrest all of us immediately.  Assuming they would even let us keep a ‘pretty’ fourteen-year-old boy as our ward when we live in The Square.  Which I really doubt.

“But if you show up looking like a cute girl, everything works out.  When you get more female, that looks normal to them.  They don’t worry about the psychotic things that prejudiced assholes like them actually think we do in The Square.  You know, that we’re spiking your food with estrogens, or that we’re sick pervs who are letting our sick perv she-male friends molest a teenaged boy, or something even weirder.  So the way I see it, you have one viable option, and three really disastrous options.  You choose.”

You know, I really hated it when Gracie was fair and logical.  The thought of ending up in a dress and lingerie just made me want to barf.  The thought of getting yanked out of Gracie’s care and thrown to the wolves?  That made me want to shoot myself.  The thought of Gracie and Janet getting thrown into prison for something that was utterly not their fault?  That made me feel worse than if I had shot myself.

I thought it over for a couple hours.  Things could be a lot worse than living with Gracie and Janet, even if I had to wear a dress once in a while.  A whole lot worse.  Starting with being in an orphanage at the mercy of bigger boys who would like nothing better than a boy who had a pretty face and boobs and a female butt.  That sounded about as bad it could possibly be.  Or maybe being put in a foster home run by some Humanity First! people who would take me out in the back yard and play ‘burn the witch’.

At least if we could find a way to keep me here, I had a chance.  And I had a shot at learning to cook well enough that I could stand to eat meals again.

I walked upstairs, in Amy’s beach robe, which was all I had to wear anyway.  I gritted my teeth and said, “Okay.  I’ll do it.  I’ll hate every second of it, but I’ll do it.”

Gracie said, “Okay.  Just let me say one thing.  I know what you’re going through.  I spent years wearing things that I hated, and posing as something I hated being.  Making you do this makes me feel like the biggest creep on the planet.  It makes me feel like.. like…”  She couldn’t say it.

I filled in the blanks, “Like someone was stripping you of everything you fought so hard to get, and forcing you to dress as a boy again and forcing you to pretend to be a boy.”

“Y-yeah.”  That was all Gracie could get out before she burst into tears.  Janet and I held her while she cried.

But somehow, knowing how painful this was for Gracie made it easier for me.  It made me feel like Gracie and Janet were supporting me, and trying their damnedest to save me.

Janet measured me and then went shopping, while I sat with Gracie and held her hand.  I knew what Janet was going to buy, but it was still a shock when she came back from Goodwill with a shopping bag.

Janet sat down by us and said, “Okay.  T.J., I know you’re not going to be happy with this, but there is no such thing as boy’s underwear that fits the measurements you now have.  And we all know boy’s underwear won’t handle the problem you have up top.  So I got one pack of panties in your size.  One set of three inexpensive front-hook bras as close to your size as I could get without a fitting.  One set of three pairs of pantyhose.  Seamless toes, what we call a ‘sandal toe’, so you can wear your regular sandals with them.  Two lightweight dresses and a package of three tank tops in assorted colors.  One pair of medium heels that ought to fit you that were really cheap.  They didn’t have any decent jeans in.  And now the hard part...”

Yeah, I already knew what the hard part was.  It was putting on the stinking clothes.  Fortunately, Gracie was there to help.  She took me down to my room and showed me what I needed to know.  How to put on a front-hook bra and a pair of pantyhose.  How to walk in those stupid heels that Janet had found for me.  How to wear a dress and not move in it like a boy.

Okay, I still sucked at that last one.

My hips had gotten wider than they were supposed to be, and that actually helped.  It made my walk come out right without me having to think about it.  It made it easy for me to cross my legs and not hurt myself.  But I was having a lot of trouble remembering the things that girls never had trouble with, like not sitting down with my knees two feet apart.  And I was forgetting to hold the skirt of the dress when I sat down.

Gracie managed a little smile, “Just be glad you don’t have a floor-length dress with these stairs to manage.”

I had a mental image of me walking up those stairs in a full-length dress and stepping on the hem, to rip the whole front of the dress off.  It would have been funny under other conditions.

I even sat in the master bathroom to let Janet cut and style my hair.  When she was done, it was easy to manage, because it was straight all over.  But it was a pixie cut.  And I hated it, because even in short hair I looked like a painfully cute girl.

At dinner, while Gracie and Tiff and Amy drilled me on sitting right and moving right, we were discussing how we were going to approach our meeting with the bureaucratic Victorians at Children’s Services.  Janet pointed out that we needed a name besides ‘Trevor’ to use if I was going to try to pass myself off as a girl.

I complained, “Somehow, I doubt that ‘Trevorette’ is going to work for us.”

Gracie suggested, “Maybe something that has the initials T.J.  Trisha Jane?”

Right then, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  I wasn’t going to be allowed to be a ‘Trevor’ anymore.  I wasn’t going to be allowed to remain part of the official Goodkind family, from which the names ‘Trevor’ and ‘James’ had come originally.  So I wasn’t sure I even wanted those initials associated with me anymore.  Perhaps it was petty of me, or perhaps it was my making an effort to move forward, but I didn’t want to keep those Goodkind initials.

Tiffany perked up, “How about ‘Antoinette Marie’?  My second choice after ‘Tiffany’ was ‘Antoinette’.”

Antoinette Marie?  Why not just wheel out the guillotine while we’re at it?

Amy said, “I like ‘Mirielle’.  How about that?”

Ugh.  That sounded like one of Tinkerbelle’s sisters.

“Marisol Anne Goodkind.”

Marisol?  Was that an anti-fungus foot powder?

“Ginevra Marissa Goodkind.”

Double ugh.  I so wanted to be named after one of the Weasley family.  And Marissa?  Perfect.  If I was a porn star.

The names that Tiff and Amy thought were ‘cute’ seemed absolutely hideous to me.  By then, I was in Gracie’s bedroom, using Google to search for female baby names.

Janet called to me, “How about ‘Ayla’?  Ayla Jane Goodkind.”

Well, that was light-years better than ‘Mirielle’ and ‘Marisol’.  I searched for the name…  My God, their internet connection was so pathetically slow…  And I found it.  It had either Hebrew or Turkish roots, depending on the culture.  And in Hebrew, it meant ‘oak tree’ or ‘terebinth tree’.  A biblical reference, and ‘oak tree’.  All right, I could live with that.

I stepped out to the dining room and announced, “Okay, Ayla it is.”

Janet got up and gave me a huge hug.  Then everyone did.

After dinner, Janet drove out to the nearest Wal-Mart and bought me two pair of cheap stretch jeans for girls.  They fit, even if Mister Happy was bulging out in front.  But I would have t-shirt-like tops and some jeans to wear.  Even if I couldn’t wear those jeans in public until we found a way to get my privates out of sight.

Gracie was sure she could take care of that.  I just hoped it wasn’t even worse than what I was already doing.

Tuesday,  August 1
Los Angeles, CA

Gracie wanted to style my hair after I washed it.  Of course, I had been up for hours by then, since Janet had awoken me at the usual hour.  I ended up letting her re-wet my hair so she could dry it again.  Which was just as stupid as it sounds.

While she dried my hair with a baffle-tipped hair dryer and some styling mousse, she talked over the noise.

“Good news!  The ‘missing’ forms for you showed up in my email.  Courtesy of Paul’s executive assistant.  They even have the ‘official’ stamps in red color on them.  I filled them in and printed them off last night.  They look great.”

When she was finished, we were ready to go.  I hated how nice a pixie cut it was, since with my jet black hair and deep green eyes, I just looked.. well.. like a real girl.  Like a really cute girl.  Seeing myself looking like that just made me deeply afraid that it might be impossible to look like a boy again anytime soon.

The trip to see Mrs. Westmore at the Santa Monica office of Children’s Services turned out to be anticlimactic.  Okay, it was terrifying for me, since I was wearing a dress and walking around with a girl’s hairdo.  But no one thought I was a boy.  Which was also terrifying.  And really annoying.

Gracie knew how nervous I was, so she tried to entertain me.  “Remember what Uncle Theo used to say about bureaucrats?  ‘Bureaucracy has brought new meaning to the lives of millions of bureaucrats.’  And what was his definition?”

I supplied it, even though I was sure she hadn’t forgotten.  “Bureaucratic.  Noun.  From the words ‘bureau’, meaning ‘file cabinet’, ‘crat’, meaning ‘partisan of someone else’s form of government’, and ‘tic’, meaning ‘blood-sucking parasite’.  You know, he just stole that from the old line about politics.”

“Oh, stop being such a downer.”

And then, during the meeting, I had to smile the whole time, as if I were a nice, normal, happy girl.  That got easier as the meeting went on and I was beginning to enjoy how we were running circles around my ‘counselor’.

My counselor Mrs. Westmore was a fifty-ish battleaxe who looked like she could have given some of Grandmother Belle’s society matron friends a run for their money as ‘most likely to steamroller an opponent into paste’.  She obviously thought of herself as a steamroller.  Fortunately, she didn’t know who she was up against.  She didn’t know that she was facing two people who had been trained for years to be juggernauts.

She lost.  Bad.  And she didn’t even know it, so her loss was record-breaking in its intensity.  Not that either Gracie or I showed it on our faces.  Until we were outside and enjoying our triumph.

She had to accept our records as Gracie presented them.  Gracie regally insisted, “We couldn’t possibly have these transmitted via ordinary channels.  The family had these hand-delivered to me via special courier.”  I actually had to clench my jaws to keep from laughing at Mrs. Westmore’s expression.

So we walked out of Children’s Services victorious.  I was officially Ayla Jane Goodkind, ward of Grace Marilyn Goodkind and Janet Strom-Goodkind.  I was officially female.

Oh God.  I was now officially female. 

This just sucked so much that I couldn’t even express it. 

Meanwhile, Gracie was high as a kite.  I hadn’t understood just how much it meant to her to have family in her life again.  To have me in her life.  I wasn’t used to this kind of exuberant, explosive, effusive love.  I just felt like I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal.  We went out for ice cream, and Gracie just bubbled over for hours.  I put my biggest smile on my face and told her how great it was for me too.

That evening, Tiff was at her waitress job, Amy was getting ready to go to her job (which I tried not to think about), and Gracie and Janet were reading.  I was looking for something to read.  I did have two unread classics left on my e-book, but I was trying to save them and make them last.  The bookcases down in my basement room were mostly occupied with Harlequin romances and other stuff I wouldn’t read if you threatened me with Dr. Hammond.

Gracie was reading a Regency romance.  Ugh.  I mean, why didn’t they just call them ‘fake glamour in unrealistic history’ romances?  I’m so sure that those authors spent years researching England’s Regency period to come up with historical romances.

Janet was reading Jean Auel’s “The Clan of the Cave Bear”, which was even less realistic than what Gracie was r...

Wait a minute.  Something stopped me, for some reason I couldn’t pin down.  What was it about that book?  I went into their bedroom and Googled it, even though their internet access was so slow I could have hiked to a library instead.

Then I saw it.  I saw where Janet had gotten the name ‘Ayla’.

I stormed back into the living room and I screamed, “YOU NAMED ME FOR A FUCKING DARRYL HANNAH CHARACTER?!?!  HOW COULD YOU?”

Janet blanched, “I thought you liked the name.”

I started to really yell at her, when I heard the floor groan under me.

I looked down in horror at my feet.  Oh God, I was about to tear the house apart!  I deliberately went light and dove through the floor into the basement.  I floated down to the floor.  Then I lay down on the concrete of the basement bathroom area until I could get myself under control again.

In a few seconds, Janet was clattering down the stairs.  She sat on the cold concrete beside me and began to cry.  Even though I wasn’t much of a boy anymore, seeing a woman cry still affected me the way I had learned as a Goodkind male.  She sobbed, “I.. I was just trying to help.  I thought you liked the name!

I hugged her and said, “Well, it’s better than ‘Antoinette Marisol’.”

She laughed through her tears.

Wednesday, August 2
Los Angeles, CA

I woke up when Janet walked through the kitchen trying to grab a hasty breakfast.  I looked over at my photo file.  It was set on a picture of two people who no longer existed.  It was a picture of two boys playing in a large open yard.  Greg was pretending to tackle Trevor, who was frantically running with a little football.  I must have been about six or seven at the time.  And Greg was so good with me and David and our friends.  How could I have not seen that he was different from Father and Paul and the other males his age?

It was my one week anniversary.  I had been with Gracie for a week.  It seemed like a lifetime.

We had another appointment with Dr. Parsons, or Candace as she kept insisting.  I knew I was in La-la-land, but it just seemed weird to be calling my doctor by her first name.  Or perhaps it was that I had far-too-recent experiences with another doctor, whom I wanted to call a very large variety of names, none of which should be said in mixed company.

Candace examined me and measured me.  I wasn’t growing vertically anymore.  At least, I wasn’t growing at the three-inches-in-a-weekend rate that was measurable with the crude tools Candace had in her office.  My weight seemed stable, although Candace thought I was too thin.  She thought my body would naturally correct for that now that I had grown those three inches.

She guessed, based on the medical charts someone had sent from Westchester, that my male parts were larger than they had been before.  She thought that meant that I might stay as a part-boy part-girl she-male like Gracie.  She admitted, “Frankly, I have no idea.  You really need expert medical opinions, and I don’t know where to get those.  It’s not like the West Coast League runs a medical clinic up in Sacramento for neighborhood mutants.”

As Gracie drove me home, I had to face the unpleasant fact that I was turning into a girl, or perhaps into a she-male.

At least physically.

At least until I could get enough money to pay a doctor to figure out how to fix me back.

And it might be decades before I had that kind of money.

But there was no way I could do what other kids my age could do.  I couldn’t buy or borrow or steal male hormones, and then take them to make my body go more male.

Wearing baggy male clothes - or baggy androgynous clothes or baggy anything clothes - wasn’t a viable option until I could keep from walking out of anything that wasn’t fairly tight.

I was doing much better over the last couple days, but I still wasn’t perfect.  So far, in the previous two days, the only thing I had ruined was a bath towel.  I had just wrapped it around me after a shower, when I slipped and - perhaps instinctively - went light as I fell.  Most of the towel went with me.

The problem with tight clothes was that my breasts were unavoidably obvious.  As was my penis.  So I looked like a freak if I wore clothes that were tight enough that I was fairly sure I wouldn’t walk out of them.

Gracie and Janet helped me try a couple options, but all of them had serious potential flaws.

We tried wrapping my breasts with elastic bandages.  But some of the time when I went heavy, I didn’t ‘capture’ the elastic bandages, so my much stronger breasts would push out noticeably.  At a minimum.  We also found that the elastic bandages tended to get trashed if I went light and walked out of half of them.  They were pretty uncomfortable most of the time too.  My ‘new’ breasts were sensitive enough that being mashed down just hurt.

Gracie thought that my trouble with the bandages was psychological.  She said, “Look, you’re getting really good at not ruining all your clothes.  But you’ve ruined two of these big elastic bandages in three hours.  I know they’re really not comfortable.  I think you’re subconsciously pushing them away, and that’s why you’re not capturing them when you go light or you go heavy.”

I hated that she had such a logical concept.  Particularly when it meant the problem was that I was fucking myself over at every turn.

Gracie came home from a meeting with a small shopping bag.  It held a package of three things that she called gaffs, which were designed to hide Mister Happy and His Luggage.  I didn’t want to wear them, but on the other hand I didn’t want to have people seeing a girl with a dick sticking out, and then attacking me on the street. 

The gaffs weren’t comfortable.  And I really didn’t like that they did the job.  I hated that wearing one made me look so female, even though that was the whole point.  Man, was I screwed up.

The gaff wasn’t all that wonderful in other ways.  As soon as I got a hard-on, it really hurt.  And we got a marvelous demonstration of the problems I had with clothes, just that afternoon.

Amy came over with Edie, one of her friends from the club.  They decided to lie out and sun themselves on our patio.  Edie was obviously one of the strippers, because she was not only gorgeous, but she had a rack that just wouldn’t quit.

I was trying out one of the gaffs under a pair of the stretch jeans, to see how things looked.  I had to come up and walk around so Janet and Gracie could look too.  It was like having two moms who both wanted to take you shopping and check your sizes.

I was standing there, getting fairly frustrated while they looked me over and had me try going light, and then going heavy, to see how things looked.  I turned around just as Edie and Amy walked out of Amy’s room in nothing but bikini bottoms to go sun themselves in back.

I took one look at Edie’s hooters, and I got an instant erection.

Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t gotten a good ‘grip’ on my clothes, and I had just gone really heavy.  My boner ripped right through the gaff, through the front of my jeans, and came to full attention right in front of the whole room.

Edie burst into laughter, and then everyone else cracked up.

I fled back to my room and hid there for a couple hours, until after Amy had taken Edie off to work.  Could things be any more humiliating?  What, did I have a sign on my back that said ‘Could you please make my life suck more?’

Thursday, August 3
Los Angeles, CA

After Janet got home from work, she took me shopping.  At Goodwill.  Which was more depressing than I can convey.

I was buying girls’ panties and bras.  I was buying girls’ clothes.  Girls’ clothes that middle-class people had worn until they were sick of them and gave them away.  I was officially destitute.  It was all I could do not to cry like a baby while I tried on cheap used dresses in the unsanitary little changing room.  Cheap dresses that some girl had worn and had thrown out.  We spent $97.47, which I knew Janet and Gracie couldn’t afford. 

And I was still worried about phasing right out of my new clothes, or waking up in the morning halfway through a support beam, or something.

I didn’t know that I had something big that I should have been worrying about.  In fact, three ‘somethings’, all of them big, none of which I had realized could be a problem.

And all of them would be

waiting for me the very next day.


Chapter 4 - Numbers

Friday, August 4, 8:30 am

I didn’t realize that Gracie was doing a number on me until it was too late to do anything about it.

First, I was ordered to go sunbathe with Tiff and Amy, on the pretense that I was way too pale.  Okay, I was getting paler.  And I did live in Southern California.  But I didn’t really want to walk around in a bikini in front of the whole world.

I had to put on a fricking bikini, and Amy had a see-through cover-up for me.  What’s the point of a cover-up if it’s see-through?  (Okay, there are a lot of aspects of dressing as a girl that I am never going to understand.  And I’m happy that way.)

But I did it.  What choice did I have?  I could have made a huge fuss about it, but I couldn’t see any advantage to that.  I figured that Gracie was up to something, but I knew I wasn’t going to find out what until I played along.

I knew it wouldn’t be new girl clothes after our little trip to Badwill Industries last night.  But if she decorated my room with girlie stuff, I was going to rip something apart.

The trip down to the beach wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Part of that was having two other girls with me as camouflage.  I was just a ‘little sister’ figure in between a hot chick and a babe with a big rack, as far as the dorky guys around us were concerned.  I just kept my towel casually draped over me like a toga, and I hung onto the beach bag in case I needed to clout someone.

We were whistled at, and stared at, and all the usual stuff.  But as soon as we were within two blocks of the beach, we became just three more chicks at the beach.  And some of the ‘chicks at the beach’ were hot.  Way hotter than us, so that took a lot of attention off of us.  We could spread out our towels and catch some rays while Tiff and Amy chatted about work.

We weren’t there for more than an hour before Gracie came down and found us.  She insisted, “Come on, we have to go.  Now.  It’s Children’s Services again.  Mrs. Westmore wants us to meet with some people.  And we need to get going now.  We need you to look totally female, and totally comfortable with it, and totally well-behaved, or you might just get yanked out of my hands and end up in foster care.  And then how would you explain how you look, and what you can do?”

I nearly panicked.  I admit it.  I was scared.  Oh God, I couldn’t imagine how awful foster care could be.  What if I ended up with Humanity First! foster parents?  What if I had to pretend to be a girl 24x7, and go to school like a girl in a normal high school?  Oh no!

At the time, I had no idea that Gracie was lying her ass off.  Sharp as a tack, wasn’t I?

Gracie had a solution.  She explained it as we hiked back to the house.  “You go with the usual.  Gaff, bra, pantyhose.  Those two-inch heels Janet bought.  I’m going to take you to a salon for a makeover…”

“You must be kidding!” I yelped.

“No, I’m not kidding.  A salon for a makeover.  Your nicest dress.  And a wig.”

“A wig?” I complained.

She insisted, “Yeah.  A wig.  The salon will have one for you.  I already talked to them about it.”

“Gracie, you’re nuts, you know that?”

She sighed, “Look, just play along.  We just have to get through this meeting.  I want you to look like you’re going to look in a few months, or whenever, so they’re prepared for any changes.”  It turned out she was telling the literal truth about that, even if I didn’t want to hear it.

So we rushed back to the house, and I showered off.  I put on a gaff and panties and a bra, while Gracie gathered up the nicest dress and the heels and a couple pair of pantyhose.  Then I slipped on a top and my sole remaining pair of stretch jeans, and we zoomed off to a TG-friendly beauty salon at the edge of The Square.  The place was called “Shear Madness”.  I wasn’t particularly amused by the name.

I had to sit there for what seemed like hours, while the women there did my fingernails and toenails and my face.  I put my foot down when they wanted to give me really thin eyebrows, but they still plucked out about fifty hairs on each side.  Damn, that hurt.

I had to sit there in that chair while the ‘beauty specialist’ put all kinds of crap on my face.  Foundation, contouring colors, blusher, and all kinds of eye-crud.  I mean, real women didn’t put all this stuff on their faces every day, did they?

And then came the wig.  Jeez!  It was a long, lustrous, black wig with soft curls that slid over my shoulders.  It looked like Catherine Zeta-Jones ought to be storming in at any second, demanding to know who shaved her head and stole all her hair.

With the dress and the two-inch heels, I was done.  Gracie said I looked ‘very nice’.  The woman at the salon said I looked ‘absolutely darling’.  I knew I looked like a hot teenaged girl.  Which just made me want to barf.  The hideous fact was that I looked way too much like my sister Heather in a black wig.  Except I was a lot shorter.

Then Gracie drove me and Janet to the meeting, in another drab office complex.  I was pretty nervous about facing Children’s Services looking like I did.  I had no idea that facing Children’s Services would have been about a hundred thousand times better than what I actually was going to face.

I minced into the room behind Gracie and Janet, to find out that I wasn’t going to meet a couple Children’s Services people.  It was my family.  Everyone.  Mother and Father.  Connie and David and Paul.  Uncle Theo.  Andrews and another butler.  Half a dozen Goodkind security men.  Everyone was seeing me looking like Miss Teen USA, like I WANTED to look like this.

OH GOD!!!  I felt so ashamed I just wanted to die.  I was so humiliated that it didn’t even occur to me just to dive through the floor and take my chances on what was in the room below us.  Like a roaring furnace, which would have been better than this.

Of course, everyone saw me and went ballistic.

Gracie was screaming that they needed to understand what was happening to me, and get used to it.  Father was yelling at Gracie about turning me into more of a freak than I already was.  Uncle Theo was waving his arms, trying to calm everyone down.  David and Paul just stared at me in utter disgust.  Gracie grabbed me and told me to watch out for Theo, but I couldn’t figure out why he was such a problem, when everyone else was going nuts.

I just wanted to get the hell out of there, but Gracie and Janet were trying to keep me penned in.  I should have gone light and run through them, but I was too upset to think about that.

Mother shrieked in terror.  Then she burst into tears and cried so hard I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  I was pretty sure I caught “My baby!” and “…dead!” and “..gone!”  But she was so upset that it was impossible to understand what she was saying.

Or maybe it was a deliberate distraction, so I would turn and look at her.  I’ll never know.  What I do know is that Dr. Hammond stepped out from behind a partition and drugged me again.  This time I got a needle in the neck, and I was wobbly in a matter of seconds.  Hammond and Uncle Theo and Andrews picked me up, while I just got more and more dazed.  They whisked me out of the room while Dad’s bodyguards restrained Gracie and Janet.  Of course, Gracie and Janet were totally outnumbered, and didn’t have a chance.  The only one who had a chance was me, and I passed out before I was in the back of that black van they were moving me into…

I woke up feeling groggy and knowing I was in real trouble.  I was so scared I could hardly think.

I was naked, on a lab table, with an IV drip going into one forearm.  I knew Hammond had me again, and that I was going to die.

But the face that loomed over me wasn’t Emil Hammond.  It was Robert Westerley, the head physicist at Goodkind Research Labs in Oak Park.  That didn’t make any sense.  Was I hallucinating?

Westerley said to someone else, “Is she all right?”

Emil Hammond’s voice answered, sending terrified chills down my spine.  “Oh, it will be just fine.  I’m giving it a dose of a curare derivative and a sedative in the IV, so it will be able to change densities, just not move any muscles or think clearly.”

Westerley frowned, “Well, I want to see the density changes.  I don’t understand why you need the muscle paralytic or the sedative.”

Hammond answered, “Unfortunately, it will try to kill me as soon as it realizes I’m here.  So this is necessary for the safety of all the baselines in the building.”

Westerley said, “Emil, I think you’re over-reacting.  As usual.  She’s just a kid.  I want to see the warping effects.”

This time, I was just kept lightly drugged on an exam table.  I wasn’t strapped down.  I wasn’t tortured until I was just hoping I would die soon.

Westerley had a battery of tests he wanted to run that mostly involved exposing me to different parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum and monitoring how much of the energy passed through me or reflected off me.  He may have explained a lot more detail than that, but that was about all I could get while I was getting all that sedative through that IV.  But apparently, I was subsuming more of some parts of the E-M bands than my albedo would explain.  Whatever that meant.

Then, after what seemed like a couple hours, Westerley and Hammond had a little conclave.  They agreed that they were done with the tests they wanted to perform on me.  Were they going to kill me now?  I was utterly panicked, even with the drugs in my system.

No, they weren’t going to kill me after all.  Hammond disconnected the IV and gave me an injection that he told Westerley would counteract the curare derivative and the sedative.

I didn’t get it.  Were they just going to let me get up and be loose?  What about agonizing testing with bone marrow samples and I-beams and descending ceilings?  What about my being a mutant?

They weren’t going to kill me.  In fact, as I lay there recovering, they brought in visitors!  Westerley came in again with Father and Uncle Theo, and Hammond began giving them a lecture on what they had concluded.

Hammond pointed at my groin and said, “Just as my tests suggested, it is becoming intersexed.  We don’t know why.  It’s not typical of any mutant growth pattern.”

Uncle Theo just gave me a strange look.  I’m guessing now, but it seemed like my Uncle Theo had talked Father into seeing that my being a mutant wasn’t the end of the universe as we know it.  Father seemed scared to be within a few feet of me.  Uncle Theo didn’t seem to have that dislike or fear or whatever it was.  Still, I had to remember that Gracie didn’t trust him.

Uncle Theo leaned over and said, “You’ll be able to sit up soon, and you should be able to walk out of here in another few minutes.  We have your clothes, so you can get dressed when you feel up to it.”

I had a little trouble getting my throat to work, but I managed to clack out something that was supposed to be, “Thank you.”  But I didn’t understand.  What was going on?

Before I could figure anything out, Gracie came storming in through the door with Janet and a couple officious-looking female lawyers.  I recognized the lawyers from The Square, so I knew that at least one of them was one of Gracie’s she-male friends.

Gracie and Father started screaming at each other, once again.  Meanwhile, Janet gave me my clothes back.  My clothes?  The girls’ clothes I didn’t want to wear.  I still had to put on the gaff and the panties and the bra and the dress and the heels, and I had to do it right there in front of everyone.  I threw the pantyhose and that damn wig into the trashcan.

Janet thought she needed to fluff out my hair, which wasn’t something I wanted her help with.  Uncle Theo and Janet were the only ones who would stay in the room and help.

Janet leaned forward and whispered, “Gracie said to watch out for Theo.”

But Uncle Theo didn’t do anything creepy.  He did give me some weird looks while I got dressed, but I would have been giving him some seriously weird looks if he had been the one getting dressed in lingerie and a dress in front of me.

Still I was going to have to get Gracie to tell me what the deal with Uncle Theo was.  Had he done something perverted to her when she was a kid?  Goodkinds didn’t do stuff like that!

Janet and Uncle Theo helped me wobble out of the lab and into a large conference room, where Father and Gracie were arguing for real.

He was frantically telling her that I was a humiliation and a disgrace to the family, and no cross-dressing faggot mutant was going to be a Goodkind no matter what.  Boy, you could feel the love from across the room.

She was telling him that was fine, but he had better settle enough money on me to keep me out of trouble, or he was going to have to live with REAL humiliation when I started robbing banks and stuff using my freaky mutant powers, and everyone found out about the Goodkinds and their mutant boygirl supervillain kid!

Subtle, Gracie, really subtle.  Aggressive negotiation ploys like that were known in some circles as ‘extortion’.

They argued like that for maybe another ten minutes, while I sat and regained my equilibrium.  Father finally gave in and gave Gracie custody of me.  Gracie had learned her lesson after what Dad did to her, so instead of my 12.5 billion that I was to get at the age of 21, she got me a 300 million dollar inheritance.  150 million from Mother’s side, which I hadn’t even realized would be coming my way at age 21, since it was such a pittance, plus a matching amount from the Goodkind side.  That went with the understanding that I wouldn’t show up at Mutterwald, and I wouldn’t embarrass the family, and I would keep Gracie out of their hair too.

So I wouldn’t want for much as long as I watched how I spent the cash.  I would have to blow 5 mil a year for 60 consecutive years to run through it all.  And that was if I didn’t invest any of it and I kept it all in a zero-interest account somewhere, which would just be stupid.  If I used 200 million for investments and growth opportunities, and I put 100 million into some sort of fund which paid, say, a pathetic 6% a year, I would have 6 million a year for the rest of my life, with a substantial amount left for serious financial work, and a huge endowment for, well.. somebody.  The Gates Foundation or UNICEF or something equally useful.

Still, it was really painful seeing what my Father thought of me now.  As if I really could become some sort of crazed supervillain.  Even if I was a mutant.

Once the ‘negotiations’ were complete and Father had a handshake deal with Gracie, we got the heck out of there.  Father was a man of his word, so I had no doubt he would live up to his end of the deal, even if I was a mutant.

By then, I felt fine.  I was even stable in those high heels.  So that counter-agent had really done its job.  Janet and Gracie and the lawyers accompanied me out of the laboratory building and out to the parking lot.  No one seemed interested in stopping us, which seemed odd when I compared it to what had happened in Hammond’s lab back in New York.  What had changed in only a few days?  I knew it had to be something important, even if they weren’t ever going to tell me.

I waited impatiently until Janet and Gracie and I were all in the Toyota.  I tried to look calm as I slipped into the back seat and put on my seatbelt.  I tried to be patient as the lawyer types got into their cars and drove off.  I waited until Janet drove off, right behind the lawyers.

Then I exploded.  “Why the HELL didn’t you tell me the truth?  Do you know how I felt, standing there in front of everybody looking like this?  Why do you have to be such a fucking bitch about my changes?”

Gracie turned in her seat and yelled back.  “Stop being such a baby!  I’m trying to help!  You’re turning into a girl!  Hiding under your widdle baby blankie isn’t gonna make that go away!”

“I’m not going to turn into a girl, damnit!  I’m going to find a way to get changed back to a guy, if it kills me!”

She snapped, “It may just kill you, you know.”

“Well, that would be FINE!  Because right now, I wouldn’t fucking CARE!  Why can’t you understand?  When I saw how they were looking at me, I just wished I was dead!”

She insisted, “Stop overreacting, Ayla.  You’re turning into a girl, at least partly, and you’re going to grow like that.  What do you think you’ll look like by the time you’re eighteen?  You’re going to look like Heather, but with a dick!”

“No!  No fucking way!  There is no way in hell I’m going to end up looking like a fucking supermodel except for my crotch!  That’s a nightmare!”

She hissed, “And what are you going to do about it?  Remember what the doctor said.  You’re a mutant!  Ordinary treatments won’t work!  Surgery may not work either!  You may not have any choice about this!”

“There has to be a way.  If ordinary stuff won’t work on me, I’ll find something else.  A mutant way.  SOMETHING!”

She said, “You’re just fooling yourself.  You are what you are.  You can’t change that.”

I yelled, “Oh?  Like, say.. YOU couldn’t change what YOU were?”

At that point, it sort of turned into a contest to see who could scream louder at the other.  I’m not really proud of that, either.  Goodkinds show their breeding through their behavior.  But I didn’t.  I was too humiliated, and too angry, and too frustrated.

Perhaps what happened next wouldn’t have happened at all if Gracie and I hadn’t been yelling so furiously at each other.  Janet was too distracted to notice whether anything odd was going on as she pulled into the parking lot and went into the bank.  And we were too busy being pissed off at each other to pay much attention to what was going on outside the car.

But only seconds after Janet had walked into the bank, there was a sparkling, flashing fireball the size of an elephant that erupted straight out through the front doors of the bank, taking the bank doors with it, and trashing three cars parked in front of the bank.

“JANET!!”  Gracie panicked and ran for the bank.

I ran after her.  I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t want Gracie to get killed in a fire, no matter how mad I was at her.

We ran up to the front doors, and came face to face with a supervillain.

There was this stunning redhead who was built like a Playboy Playmate, and seemed intent on demonstrating it.  She had a Lindsay Lohan kind of face, except that her irises were a weird spray of red and blue, like a firework or something.  And she looked like she was really having a great time, which was just plain frightening.

She was maybe 5’10”, maybe eighteen years old, and she was built.  Really built.  She was wearing this outfit that was little more than a neon-red bikini with accessories, so a huge amount of her cleavage was bulging out of the top half.  The bra-top and briefs-style bottom were decorated with tiny gold stars all along the hemmed edges.

She also had knee-high gold PVC boots with maybe three-inch heels, and gold metallic gauntlet gloves.  The gloves were what really caught my attention, because there was still fire hovering around her right hand, all over the glove.  In her left hand was a large duffel bag that looked like it was full of cash.  She didn’t seem bothered by the weight, either.

I could barely see inside the bank, but I could see fires, and I could hear people screaming.  Was Janet okay?

And who was this American Gladiators reject standing in front of us?

I mean, really.  Who has her hair done and gets a professional makeup job to go rob a bank?  Was I facing the evil version of Pamela Anderson?  And was this the tackiest supervillainess costume since Cruella’s famous ‘dominatrix who accidentally spilled out of her bustier while battling Ms. Might on national television’ outfit?

Gracie, of course, wasn’t looking at The Playboy Bunny From Hell.  She was about to run past Big Red to see if Janet was okay. 

The redhead didn’t see it that way.  She just saw Gracie moving in her direction.  She made a fist with the still-flaming gauntlet and pointed it right at Gracie.

“NO!” I screamed.  I could see this one coming down Park Avenue.  I went heavy as quickly as I could, and I dove in front of Gracie.  I gave her a heave with one hand, and tossed her into the back of a nearby pickup truck.

I still don’t think I was being brave.  I was just reacting.  But if I hadn’t heaved Gracie out of the way, she would have died.  If I hadn’t been a mutant, I would have died.

That redheaded bitch blasted off a sparkling fireball the size of a refrigerator.  It hit me dead on.  I held my breath and just prayed I was heavy enough to survive this.  But it felt really hot.  Painfully hot.  All over my skin.

When the fireball flamed out, I found I was standing there in nothing but my bra and gaff and panties.  The dress had literally been incinerated, and my high heels were a smoking mess.  Frankly, I wasn’t sorry to see the dress go.  At the time, I didn’t even think about the fact that my lingerie was as unscathed as I was.  I was just glad I wasn’t stark naked.  Or stark naked and dead.

Between my weight and the fireball, my pumps gave up the ghost and collapsed, making me stagger a bit as my bare feet came out of the remains of the shoes.  But I had the time, because Reddy Kill-a-lot was totally stunned.  Obviously, she had expected that I would be a crispy critter after that blast.

I was already really pissed off, even before I had jumped out of the car and then been parboiled.  Just thinking about what could have happened to Gracie - and might have already happened to Janet - made me mad enough to do something stupid.

So I hit the ditz.  I was still heavy, and I hit her right in the stomach, as hard as I could.  Which was just idiotic.  I could have killed her.  If she had been a baseline, or a mutant who didn’t have super-strength, I could have punched a hole right through her torso.

She went “Ooof!” and staggered back a step.  Grand total effect?  I made her drop the duffel bag.  Oh, and I made her mad at me.  Which probably wasn’t going to be a good thing.

She glared at me and hit me with another sparkly fireball.  This time, I knew I wasn’t going to get flambéed, so I just held my breath and strode forward through the flame.  I came out the other side of the fireball, trying to give her a stare like the T-1000, even if the T-1000 probably never looked like a five-foot-tall girl in nothing but her undies.

Unfortunately, Firebitch had a few other things up her gauntlet gloves.  She had backed up a few yards to give herself some working room.  She pointed both hands at the Pontiac I was walking past, and let the car have both barrels.

The gas tank exploded like a bomb, and I was right beside it when it went.

I mean, I have read that it’s nearly impossible to get a real gas tank to explode the way they always do in movies.  Gas vapors are supposedly only flammable when they’re mixed just right with air, in a fairly narrow band of fuel-air ratios.  But all that research didn’t take into account what would happen when the back half of the car was disintegrated in a flaming, scintillating ball of fiery mutant whatever-it-was.

It felt like I had just gotten whacked by one of Dr. Hammond’s force fields again.  I found myself flying across the street, to land right on top of a car’s roof.  Let me tell you, they just don’t make car roofs like they used to.  You throw a 1500-pound mutant on them, and they just crumple like aluminum foil.

Damn, that hurt!  And there was plenty of flaming debris raining down all over the place, including on top of me.  It turned out that the entire car blew up, which set off the car parked next to it.  I was nearly hit by a flying front axle, complete with still-burning tires.

I peeled myself out of the wreckage and saw that Little Miss Firecracker was going after the police car that had just driven into the street with sirens blaring.  She had just given the front half of the cop car another fireball, and the car was backing up as fast as it could, with its hood ablaze and its windshield half melted.  She looked like she was about to polish off the cop car, too.

And Gracie was still lying in that pickup truck.  If I didn’t stop Firebitch soon, the whole street was going to be in flames, and Gracie would end up like that Pontiac.

I picked up the axle with the burning tires, and twirled it like a baton (and nearly dropped it, which is what I get for showing off).  I needed to distract her from the cop car first.  I yelled.  “Hey Red!  Catch!”  Then I hurled the axle at her as hard as I could.

It turns out that since I’ve become a mutant, my aim is a lot better than it used to be.  Even with something as hard to aim as the axle of a car.  I caught her right in the labonza.

Okay, I was figuring that getting hit with an entire car axle right in the boobs would slow her down.  But she just staggered back a bit, and shook it off.  Damn.

So I tried something else.  I picked up the still-smoking remains of a transmission and threw it at her.  She took it right in the stomach.  She staggered backward, looking like that one might have hurt some.

After that, I picked up the remains of the Pontiac’s V-8 engine and heaved that one at her.  She saw it coming, and slagged it with a couple fireballs before it clocked her on her pointy little head.  Not that getting hit in the head with an engine block was likely to lower her IQ.

Some time after I watched her slag that engine, it dawned on me that I should have thrown in a snappy “Wow, you could have had a V-8!” kind of line.  Peter Parker wouldn’t have missed such an obvious one-liner.  I guess I’m not cut out for the superhero biz.

Okay, if you don’t succeed at first, then try, try again.  Or her case, “fry, fry again”.  I ran over to the remains of a not-completely-destroyed car that was still burning.  I was heavy enough that the fire didn’t bother me.  I ripped off the side of the car and gave it the old hammer-toss technique.  I spun around twice and flung it as hard as I could at Flamefinger.  I missed, but I still made her duck.  I tried that with the other side of the car, and she had to slag that with fireballs to keep from getting clobbered.

So we spent the next minute playing keep-away.  I was hurling the biggest car parts I could find at her, and she was trying to flame-broil me into a Whopper Junior.  Mostly, she just set fire to cars and trashed the asphalt around me.  I mostly just made her duck out of the way, or spend a lot of effort melting incoming missiles.  When I did connect, she usually shrugged it off like I had hit her with a spitwad.  Which was partly frustrating, and partly frightening.

I was slowly closing in, and I finally got so close that I couldn’t duck out of the way of the next couple fireballs.  I held my breath and charged through the things, only to find that my bra had finally quit on me.  Most of it was burned off by that last blast, so my boobs were bouncing around for the entire street to gape at.

That made me mad enough to try getting up close and personal with her.  But fighting has never been my style.  And, no matter how hard I hit her, she was just as tough as I was.

And, unfortunately, she did know how to fight.  When I tried to punch her, she kept going into a karate stance with her hands up.  She blocked most of my punches.  Most of the time that she blocked my attack, she hit me back or kicked me, which I was not enjoying.  Fortunately, she wasn’t as strong as I was, so she wasn’t really hurting me.  Even when she punched me in the face.  Still, no one likes getting hit.. over and over.

She was nearly a foot taller than I was, and she was wearing high heels too, so I only got in one shot to her face which wasn’t blocked by her karate moves.  I caught her right in the jaw, and rocked her.  A little.  I was pretty sure I hurt my hand more than I hurt her.  (Note to self: try not to hit people on their most protected spots.)

Meanwhile, the cops had managed to get out of the burning cop car, and had gotten some backup.  Behind the still-flaming car were three undamaged police cars and half a dozen armed cops.  But they weren’t helping much.  First, they couldn’t close in on The Flaming Bimbo without getting rotisserie-grilled.  Second, their handguns were useless.  Every shot just bounced off her, and a couple missed and hit me. 

I hadn’t realized that I was bulletproof when I was as heavy as I could go.  It was a damn good thing that I was, because they shot me about three times by accident, and I also picked up a couple ricochets off The Inhumane Torch.

Our catfight moved away from the police roadblock and down the street about half a block, until we were slugging it out next to the back side of a grocery store.  The loading docks were facing us, so we had a lovely view of a Mack truck, two delivery trucks, and a big refrigerator truck of dairy products.

She threw a couple more fireballs at parked cars around us and sneered, “What are you gonna do now?  Let the whole street go up in flames?”  She topped that by hurling a couple more fireballs and setting the two delivery trucks on fire.  Depending on what they were delivering, that might be really, really bad.

Holy crow.  She was right, the bitch.  But this was just the classic supervillain-gives-hero-choice-of-lesser-of-two-evils ploy that I had seen a thousand times in movies and tv shows.  I couldn’t let Firebitch burn every person within a hundred yards, including Gracie.  But I didn’t want to let her get away.  And there was no nearby fire hydrant that I could see.  Isn’t there a law that there has to be a fire hydrant nearby when the hero needs one?

But I didn’t have to find a fire hydrant.  I had an idea how to put out the fires and slow her down at the same time.  I ran right at the cab of the Mack truck, and I jumped at the windshield.

In mid-air, I went light.  Now I should have thought all this out ahead of time, but I was in a firefight right then.  There’s this thing called Conservation of Momentum.  If I weighed 1500 pounds and I was leaping through the air at maybe twenty miles an hour, then what would happen to my speed if I went light in mid-jump and dropped down to, say, a fraction of an ounce?  Would I suddenly be zooming forward at a million miles an hour?

Well, it didn’t happen.  It turns out that the way my power works is not fully linked to our three-dimensional world, so the law of conservation of momentum doesn’t hold like it would for a classical high-school physics lab experiment.  Still, I sped up a lot.  A lot more than I anticipated.

I passed right through the truck before I could react, and I had to go heavy and grab a handful of metal on the other side of the truck, just to stop myself.  Then I went light again so I could slip through the truck into the truck cab.  I finally got lucky.  The truck may have been locked - I didn’t have to check - but there was a key in the ignition.  Maybe the driver had seen the super-fight coming his way and wisely decided to get the hell out of the way.  I didn’t care.

I went solid again.  I started the truck and managed to get it in gear.  It wasn’t any more complex than a couple of my ATV’s back at the estate.  I pointed it at the refrigerator truck and stomped on the gas.  That’s easy to do if you go heavy first.

I rammed that refrigerator truck with everything I could get out of the Mack truck’s diesel engine.  I pushed backward against the steering wheel and went light at the last second, so the Mack truck just passed right through me on its way to meet Elsie the Cow.  I ended up hovering in mid-air just yards away from the collision.

I was hoping for a huge explosion of milk and cream all over the street, to put out the fires.  I did get a big flood of milk pouring all around the refrigerator truck.  But it turned out that most of that load was whipping cream and whipped cream in metal containers.  The metal containers of whipped cream exploded under the pressure of a Mack truck ramming them.

Suddenly the place looked like a whipping cream bomb had gone off.  There was whipped cream everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  The melted street was covered in it.  The burning cars were covered in it.  I was covered in it.  Firebitch was covered in it.

Whoa.  Firebitch was covered in whipped cream.  A red-hot redhead in a neon-red bikini and high-heeled boots, liberally doused in whipped cream.  And she looked good in whipped cream.  Really good.  I had a sudden burst of arousal that nearly ripped my gaff loose.

On the upside - and let’s face facts, there’s almost no downside to staring at a hot babe covered in whipped cream while she’s wearing hardly any clothes - all the whipped cream was smothering the fires, and it seemed to be screwing with her ability to blast fire out from her gauntlets.  Which told me that maybe it was the gauntlets that were the key part of the fire blasts, rather than her.  Up until then, I had just been assuming she was creating the fireballs, and the gauntlets were for show, like the high-heeled boots.

So at that point, I had another idea.  While she was standing there looking sexy and confused and dairy-licious, I sprinted right at her. 

First, I needed to make sure she had enough time to notice me and go into her karate stance again.  A cheesy line ought to do it.  Sorry about the pun there.

I grinned nastily, “What’s the matter?  Lactose intolerant?”  Then  I cocked my arm like I was going to punch her in the face, and she instinctively pulled both hands up in that karate stance.  Perfect.  Just what I wanted.

I went light and waved my arm through her gloves.  I phased my hand just solid enough that I shorted out the circuitry - or whatever - that was hidden inside them.  They erupted in a shower of sparks and little puffs of black smoke.  Once I had her, I went heavy again.

I smirked at her and laughed, “Hah!”

She stood there, covered in whipped cream, and staring at the smoking ruins of her whipped-cream-covered gauntlets.  She tried to launch a fireball at me, and just got a harmless shower of sparks for her troubles.  I gave her another nasty smirk.

She finally screamed, “You bitch!”  And she kicked me right in the balls.

It turns out that getting as strong as I do when I go heavy doesn’t help all that much if the person you’re facing is just as strong.  This really wasn’t the way I wanted to learn that lesson.

I made a pathetic little squeak, which was not exactly the snappy comeback I wanted as a quote in the newspapers.  It was all I could do not to sink to the concrete and vomit.  I just stood there, my knees trying to merge together, my hands uselessly cupping myself.  Oh God, that hurt!

At that point, Fireballs ‘R’ Us decided that she had better get the heck out of Dodge.  She ran back to the bank and grabbed her duffel bag.  Then she prepared to run off in the direction away from the roadblock.  Which was towards me.

By then, I was able stand up again and even walk some.  Well, it was more of a limp, but I was mobile.  So, as she went past me, I hobbled at her and went light again.  I waved my hand through her back as she ran past me, and I went just heavy enough to get a tingly feeling in my hand.

It did a lot more to her.  She suddenly seized up, and then collapsed without making a sound.  I went heavy just in time to catch her before she hit the pavement.  Looking back on things, I don’t know why I bothered.  But I did get to hold a gorgeous redhead in my arms as I carried her up the street to the police.

The officers were more than happy to slap some massive handcuffs on her and hustle her into a security transport van before she came to.  Then they rushed her off to some sort of holding facility for mutant troublemakers.

I didn’t catch what the official name of the place was, but apparently the cops’ nickname for the place was ‘Mount Prometheus’, for some reason I didn’t really get.  I mean, I knew who Prometheus was, but he was a Titan of Greek mythology, not a mountain.  It just bugged me that I didn’t get the joke.

Another cop was kind enough to wrap me up in a big gray blanket.  I supposed that he had to.  I was standing there in nothing but panties, the tatters of a bra, and whipped cream.  The cop led me over to an ambulance, and I let an EMT look me over while I wiped whipped cream off my face and hair.

I looked down the street as fire engines roared in, and I just shuddered.  There were fires that still hadn’t been put out.  The street looked like it had been imported from Iraq.  A couple dozen cars were burned, melted, exploded, and/or shredded.  Gracie could have died.  Janet could have died.  I could have died, or been horribly injured, or God only knew what.  Dozens of people I had never met could have died.

I started shaking.  Physically, I was fine.  I mean, other than the fact that I had whipped cream all over me, and most of my clothes had been burned off by a psychotic dimwit.  I didn’t have a single burn.  I didn’t even seem to have any serious bruises, other than my still-aching privates.

Emotionally, I was just beginning to realize how bad it could have been.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  Tears were welling up in my eyes.  I had never even been in a real fistfight before as Trevor, and I had just tackled a supervillain.  Which was probably the stupidest thing I could have done.  Not counting appearing on a reality television show.

And then a cop was moving away, and from behind him were Janet and Gracie, crying and running up to me, hugging me frantically and kissing me and sobbing out their feelings.

“Oh my God, I thought I was gonna die…”

“I was so scared…”

“And you saved me…”

“And I looked, and you were fighting that maniac…”

“And I was so scared you would get hurt…”

“And you saved everybody!”

“Oh thank God you’re all right!”

I found myself laughing and weeping and hugging them back.  Somehow, all the anger I had for Gracie had been lost in that terrible fear that I was going to lose her.  Somehow, the fear and reaction from after the fight got better as my family hugged me and loved me.

Later on, I wondered if this was what it was like for real heroes.

Unfortunately, in the real world, the hero doesn’t defeat the crazed mutant, sweep the girl off her feet, and ride off into the sunset.  No, in the real world, the hero gets threatened with arrest, and yelled at by police officers who hate him.

Gracie and Janet accompanied me in a squad car as I was ‘escorted’ to the Santa Monica police station.  Fortunately, both of them were in good shape.  Janet had just been scared silly when Firebitch blew those doors out seconds after Janet walked into the middle of a bank heist.  Gracie had bruises all over her back side from landing hard in the bed of that pickup.  She also had a whopper of a bruise on her front from where I had tossed her.

I kept apologizing, and she kept telling me, “Shut up, I’m fine.  I’ve been bruised before.  Stop apologizing.”

You know, Spiderman and Superman make it look so damn easy.  Why doesn’t the person falling three hundred feet get a broken neck, or at least a whole stack of cracked ribs, when Spidey snags her with a web?  Being super-strong some of the time has some major drawbacks.

I mean, besides ruining your clothes and busting up your bathroom and making your family hate you.

Janet just said, “You didn’t know you were fireproof, did you?  Or bulletproof?  That was the bravest thing I ever saw.”  And tears began streaming down her face again.

I shook my head no.  “It was just the stupidest thing you ever saw.  I didn’t see it and say, ‘I think I might just leap into a mutant energy fireball and see what happens.’  I just reacted without thinking about it.”

That didn’t stop them from hugging me a lot more, and telling me over and over how brave I was.  I would have gotten a swelled head if I hadn’t known that I had just been foolhardy and idiotic and careless.  And scared and frantic.

And damned lucky I hadn’t been facing a competent supervillain.

We had to sit in a small enclosed room and fill out reports for over an hour.  Gracie sat with me, in what looked more like an interrogation room as far as I could tell.

Two cops sat opposite me and played ‘good cop, bad cop’.  Or maybe they weren’t playing.

Sergeant Mulligan was a big, beefy cop who looked like he survived on a diet of beer and pretzels.  He had a big pot belly, and the veins in his nose practically spelled out the words ‘alcohol abuse’.  He obviously had it in for me from before he walked into the room.  He didn’t like mutants, and he didn’t like vigilantes, and he didn’t like assholes who tore up his town.  Three strikes, and I was out.  There was a fourth strike waiting, since he obviously didn’t like anyone who lived down in ‘Faggot-Land’, as he called The Square.

Sergeant Byrd was leaner, and younger, and less obviously alcoholic.  He didn’t seem to mind mutants too much, but he didn’t like vigilantes stepping in and wrecking things.

I tried to explain things, but they were busy running through the standard list of cop techniques that worked for “The Closer”.

“Look officers, I wasn’t trying to cause trouble, and I wasn’t trying to be a vigilante.  I don’t even want to be a mutant!  I was just trying to save my big sister’s life!  Okay, I was also trying to keep Firebitch from roasting those cops in that squad car.”

Byrd said, “Firebitch, huh?  Funny.  Her real codename is Sparkler.  Her MID says she’s Sarah Lane Winslow, graduate of Whateley, class of 2006.  So she’s out of high school for three months and she’s already pulling supervillain shit.

“Let’s see…  Her MID says she’s an Ee-Ex-Two-slash-Ee-En-Two.  Whatever the hell that is.”

I interrupted, “That means she’s an Exemplar level 2, which is probably why she looks so hot, and she’s an Energizer level 2, which means she can generate or moderate energy fields at a low-to-medium level.”

Byrd looked back at his notes, “Hmph.  Says here she can use the ‘EN’ thing to toughen up her own body too…  HEY!  How the heck did you know about this stuff?”

I shrugged, “I’m a Goodkind.  My family has been studying mutant threats for decades.”

Mulligan stared at me, “You’re one of THE Goodkinds?  But you’re a mutant!”

I shrugged again.  “Nobody’s perfect.”

Mulligan growled, “Well, if you know so much about it, you oughta know what the rules are on vigilantes, and leaving the scene of a crime, and reckless endangerment, and destruction of public and private property.”

I did know a lot about that, since I had listened to plenty of discussions about prosecuting so-called ‘superheroes’ for acts like mine.  And I knew they were blowing smoke.  I hadn’t left the scene of a crime.  And the other charges were hideously difficult to prove in a courtroom when almost anything could have been done or caused by the supervillain.  Even the Mack truck ramming into the diary truck could be argued, since I could always lie and say that it must have been Sparkler’s fireballs that burned up the Mack truck’s brake lines.  But I had decided to play this a little differently and not play the jailhouse lawyer.

I sighed, “Yes sir.  But like I already said, I wasn’t trying to be a vigilante.  I was just trying to keep Firebitch from killing my sister.  She attacked me!  I mean look at me, she burned all my clothes off, and after all those fireballs, I’m lucky I’m not a charcoal briquette!”

Byrd read more from the file, “It looks like this is her second bank job in three days.  The last one was after hours, and the guards ran out before she roasted them.  This one was bad.”

Mulligan sneered, “But whaddaya know, she got her ass kicked by a little junior high girl!  That bitch is never gonna live this down!”

After they growled at me for a while, which was really a lot less intimidating than they thought, a Lieutenant Merrill came in and took over.  “Look kid, you really need to not be ripping the place up every time there’s a crime, okay?”

I looked at his badge and deliberately got his rank wrong, “Honest, Captain Merrill, I didn’t want to!  I’m not a superhero.  I just had to save my big sister and her spouse.  And I couldn’t let that psycho kill those police officers either!”

He liked being called ‘captain’.  That was working well for me.  He grinned, “Well, the guys in the squad car are damn glad you stepped in, pardon my French.  You’re the only thing that kept them from getting killed, and they know it.  You’re probably the only thing that kept their backup from getting killed, too.  That psycho burned two of my officers to death, and they were just in that bank cashing a check.  We’ve got an off-duty cop who was working as a security guard, he’s in the hospital with second- and third-degree burns over at least sixty percent of his body, and the docs still don’t know if he’s gonna survive.  Plus a couple of the bank tellers are in the hospital burn ward too, and some innocent bystanders picked up some bad burns too. 

“So, on the whole, we’re pretty glad you nailed that mutie.  Not that we’re ever gonna say so in public.  But you can’t go around super-heroing like this again, kid.”

I gave him the ‘helpless little girl’ routine.  “That’s okay, because I don’t want to ever have to do anything like that again!  I was scared!  I didn’t know I was fireproof until after that freak burned my clothes off.  I didn’t know I was bulletproof until after I got shot a couple times.  And I don’t wanna grow up to be a superhero.  I just wanna own my own business.”

Well, that was just what he wanted to hear.  He smiled, “Good.  Look kid, there are places that someone like you ought to be going to.  I made a couple phone calls, and right now someone is giving some information to one of your guardians.  You oughta be somewhere you can learn how to control your powers.  I don’t think I’d be happy knowing you’re gonna be going to high school around here.  Someone like you can cause a lot of trouble in a regular high school, and we have a lot of Humanity First! people in L.A. who’ll be picketing you as soon as they find out their kids have to go to school with a mutant.”

“Okay, Captain Merrill.  Whatever you say, sir.”

He looked at Gracie and said, “You’ve got a nice, polite little girl there.  You take care of her, and keep her safe.”

Gracie wisely just said, “Yes sir.”

We both knew he meant ‘keep her the hell away from my precinct’.  But that was manageable now that we had some money again.

He looked at me and said, “We’re not going to charge you with anything.  This time.  But if you ever pull anything like this without legal authority as a duly deputized agent of the state of California or of Los Angeles County, you’re gonna end up in ‘Mount Prometheus’ alongside your buddy Sparkler.  Got it?”

“Yes sir.”  I gave him my most intimidated look, with big scared eyes.  He figured he had made his point, and so he ‘let’ Gracie talk him into letting me go home.  Gracie and I both knew that he wasn’t going to charge me with anything.  Actually charging me with any crimes would have been a really unpopular decision, particularly with the officers I had saved, and would end up costing the county a hell of a lot of money, with no good outcomes.

Once Gracie and I were out of the interrogation room, Janet came over and hugged me again.  Then she laid into me.  “They showed me on police car cameras what you did to stop Sparkler.  Don’t you ever do that again!  You fucking could have killed her, or made her explode like a bomb, or something even worse!”

“Okay, okay!  I just got chewed out for a week by two mutant-hating cops, can you lighten up?”

Gracie deflected things by asking, “How did this bimbo get a name like Sparkler anyway?”

Janet muttered, “That’s one of the things I heard.  She’s not a fireball projector.  According to her records, all she can do is throw firework displays that don’t do any damage.”

I explained, “It was those gauntlets.  She couldn’t do anything once I trashed them.  And I have a feeling she can’t just go down to the local Evil-Mart and get a discount on a replacement set.”

On the way home, Janet told us about Whateley Academy.  A liaison officer for Los Angeles County had come by and talked to her about sending me to a school for super-powered mutants, so I wouldn’t be ripping the streets apart again, and so that mutant-haters wouldn’t be targeting me.  He had already called the West Coast League and asked them to forward a scholastic application to our address.  And Janet wanted me to go there.

I had heard rumors about superhero schools before.  It was a popular urban legend all over the planet.  The Russians supposedly had one before The Wall came down.  The Red Chinese supposedly had one hidden far away from prying eyes.  The Japanese had a hidden school for ninjas that took in mutants as well.  And, of course, there had been several supposed exposés of ‘the real American Superhero High’, all of which had turned out to be hoaxes.  I thought I remembered one of those news stories had been about some high school in Illinois that had two or three mutants posing as regular students so the school could win more football and basketball games.

But apparently there was a real school for mutants out there, somewhere.  For the first time ever, I was glad that there was something about mutants that Goodkinds didn’t know.  That in itself was really shocking.  I hadn’t realized I had changed so much in the way I thought.

I choked out, “But I can’t go to a place like that!  I’d be surrounded by.. mutants!”

Gracie said, “I think Janet’s right on this.  You can’t go to Santa Monica High without causing more problems than we can handle.  And, in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re a mutant too!”

“I know that!  But I…”  I didn’t want to admit it, but I was scared.  I had just fought a supervillain, but I was scared of going to school with some mutants.  With some other mutants.  I was scared of going to school and having to interact with mutants all the time.

Still, Janet had made up her mind.  She had convinced Gracie.  So I knew I was going to be applying to a high school that probably would have weirded out Charles Xavier.

That evening, Tiff and Amy skipped their work shifts and stayed home to celebrate with us.  They gave me big hugs for being a hero, and Tiff cooked a pretty decent dinner.

I made her show me how she cooked it.

Saturday, August 5, 3 pm
Los Angeles, CA

The FedEx truck pulled up, and Janet had to sign for a package from some place called ‘Richards and Grimm Consulting’ in Sacramento.

She opened the package and found that it was from the West Coast League.  It was the brochure and application for Whateley Academy.  Oh.  I got the joke about the return address.  After I burst out laughing, I had to explain it to Janet.

Janet and Gracie and I sat down in the living room and read the whole thing.  The brochure was freaky.  I mean, from the outside it looked like the brochure for Chilton Academy.  On the inside, it looked like the brochure for Charles Xavier’s School For The Gifted.

It was simpler to fill out than your standard tax return, but it had some very odd entries.  The check list of powers was simple: I checked flight, superhuman strength, warping reality, shift bodily characteristics, change body density.. and after a lot of thought, also disintegration.  That seemed to cover the things I could do.

But some of the other checkboxes were just plain scary.  Did some kids show up to school and they could already create antimatter whenever they wanted?  Or travel through time?  Holy crow!

The question that stopped me in my tracks was

Sex:       Male       Female     Complicated

Oh, that was definitely me.  And it led to a section on sexual preference, as well as one that said:

My powers or incidents associated with them are transforming/have transformed me:

     to have no gender.

     to become more feminine.

     to become more masculine.

     to exhibit characteristics of multiple genders.

Holy crow!  How often did this happen that they had a freaking set of checkboxes for it?

We filled the whole thing out.  Unfortunately, by then it was dinner time, and we couldn’t get it express mailed until another day.

Monday August 7
Los Angeles, CA

Of course, the first thing that Gracie and I did once the banks were open, was to make sure that Father’s accountants really were coughing up the full 300 million, and that it wasn’t trapped in subtle ways, such as being in coupon bonds which couldn’t be redeemed for twenty years.

But Father was a man of his word, as I knew.  He might be terrified that I would infect the rest of the family, and afraid that I would become another Cataclysm or Doctor Death, but he would keep his word once it was given.  The money came exactly when and where he had said it would.

So, once we had the money properly transferred into accounts where it was sufficiently protected, we had to take care of it.  That meant that we spent the next several days planning our investment strategies.  And following all the legal requirements, so Uncle Sam and the State of California and everyone else would be happy that they were receiving their fair share.

The money was only available to Gracie as the Executrix, until I hit twenty-one.  But she was accountable to me, in that she could only access the funds for ‘appropriate’ expenses.  Unfortunately for us, that meant ‘appropriate in the eyes of my social services counselor’.  There have been so many parents and guardians abusing the wealth of children in Hollywood for nearly a century that there are a host of California laws covering this.

This meant that Gracie and I had to meet with Mrs. Westmore four different times over the next week, to argue about what could and could not be done with my money.  And I had to dress as a girl for every single stinking meeting.

Mrs. Westmore was obsessed with ‘protecting’ me, as if I had no idea how to manage money.  She cooed, “Let me explain it to you, dear.  We have to make sure that your guardians don’t rush right out and misuse your money as if it were theirs to spend on themselves.  You wouldn’t want to end up like one of these Hollywood child stars who worked for years while their family spent it all on trinkets, so the poor child ended up broke.”

I gritted my teeth until I was sure I wouldn’t yell at the old battleaxe.  “Yes, Mrs. Westmore.  I do understand that.  But I have years of experience at this.  I’m a Goodkind.  I have been trained in how to manage and safeguard my money.”

She tried again, as if I were retarded or something, “But Ayla dear, we have to make sure that Gracie doesn’t rush out and buy herself a new luxury sedan.  So that Janet doesn’t splurge on a three million dollar diamond necklace.”

I took a deep breath so I would at least sound calm.  “Excuse me, but if Gracie buys herself a brand new Bentley, that would actually be a sound investment.  They last for years, there’s an outstanding Bentley repair shop not five miles from here, and they have a phenomenal resale value in Southern California.”  Okay, so I had been browsing the internet and planning on surprising Gracie with a new Bentley for her birthday.  So sue me.

“Second, if Janet wants a diamond necklace, then we wouldn’t go out and just splurge on it.  That’s not the way to buy something like a diamond necklace.  There are diamond brokers who have been working with the Goodkind family for at least sixty years.  I would work with one of them to get high-quality diamonds and some decent settings.  And third, that’s not what we’re going to do.”

Then I spent over an hour laying out for her the investment strategies I wanted to employ, including medium-term investments in some companies that I knew Goodkind International was likely to buy in the next two years, and arbitraging on three companies that I believed would fold in the next six months under competition from Goodkind International subsidiaries.  That took forever, since I had to explain everything to her, including how put and call options worked.  Didn’t this woman know anything?

It took yet another two-hour meeting with her to convince her that I should be allowed to pay off Gracie and Janet’s mortgage.  How did this woman get to be her age without learning the basics of finance?  I mean, it was agonizingly obvious that the best investment we could make would be to pay off that mortgage, because it had an annual rate that would have made Shylock wince.

We also managed to set up credit cards for me and Gracie and Janet.  My credit card actually had an upper limit, but I was going to have to live with that until Ayla Goodkind had a respectable ‘credit history’.  I made it clear to Mrs. Westmore that we had to pay them off monthly to avoid stupid finance charges which were totally unnecessary.  She seemed to think that credit card debt was normal.  What planet was she from?

The part that really pissed me off was that Mrs. Westmore was fine if I wanted to blow a couple thousand dollars on out-of-date stereo components the size of a walrus, or eighty thousand dollars on a state-of-the-art home security system, but she couldn’t see that my paying for Tiff’s SRS would be ‘appropriate’ or ‘improving of my quality of life’.  Bitch.

Wednesday August 16
Los Angeles, CA

Janet received a courier-delivered mail from Whateley Academy, informing us that I had an appointment on Monday for ‘powers testing’, at the headquarters of the West Coast League in Sacramento.  Hopefully, it was in some place safer than a building that really said ‘Richards and Grimm Consulting’ on the side.

Monday August 21
Sacramento, CA

Gracie and I flew out to Sacramento for my powers testing appointment.  We flew first class on Laker Airlines, but it was still a major letdown after spending my life flying about on Goodkind family jets.  Of course, it was light-years better than flying ‘Con Air’ as I had done to get to Los Angeles.  And it was obviously better than what the passengers in the rear of the plane had to endure.  Our seats were adequate, and the breakfast was fairly decent for what could be done on an airplane without a real chef onboard.

Then Gracie had arranged for a limo to drive us to the West Coast League headquarters and back.  The limo was large, and comfortable, and well-stocked.  But it still wasn’t the same as riding in one of the family limos, with Carter or Marlow behind the wheel, and a fully-equipped interior stocked by someone who knew your personal preferences.  Still, it was far better than, say, Janet’s old Toyota.  We rode in comfort to a large, two-story glass building in the middle of a light industrial park.

I had to admit, I was somewhat creeped out about going into the heart of a mutant headquarters.  Which was stupid, when I was a mutant, and they were supposed to be helping me, and the whole point was assessing whether I should go to a school for mutants.  But my guts were certainly not listening to my brain, and they were knotting up madly.

A high school for mutants.  I idly wondered if they had a bald headmaster who rolled around in a wheelchair.  If only I had known what they really had for the head person…

We were met at the entrance by a smiling young woman who looked like your average college-aged tour guide, right down to the maroon uniform.  She led us past a gift shop - a gift shop? - and a small auditorium and several rooms of exhibits, to a locked door that said ‘NO ADMITTANCE’.  The door looked like it wouldn’t stop Tiffany, much less a real supervillain.

The tour guide opened the door with a little keycard, and ushered us into a short hallway.  Another woman was waiting there for us.

Now that woman looked like a mutant.  She was way too gorgeous to be a baseline.  She was about six feet tall, and wearing a bodysuit that was mostly gold-colored, but with well-designed highlights.  She floated above the floor, so the two-inch heels on her boots probably didn’t affect her motion much.  She was slender and shapely, with the kind of tan that would mark her as a Southern California girl if she were normal.  Her hair was blonde and sun-bleached.  She had a beautiful, ‘Nicole Kidman’ kind of face, and she just looked like she smiled a lot.

She grinned, “I’m Sunscreen.  Welcome to West Coast League headquarters.  You must be Ayla.”

I shook her hand and admitted, “That’s me.”  Then I had to ask, “Is this really your headquarters?  Because it looks like it’s about as safe from supervillains as a 7-11.”

She laughed with a sunny Hollywood smile.  “No, it’s just our local tourist attraction.  Admissions fees and the gift shop do well enough that we can afford to keep it going here.  The real HQ is in a secret place, and well-fortified.  We wouldn’t want to have our real location known.  We have enough enemies out there that it wouldn’t be safe for everyone else in the vicinity.”

Well, that made sense.  Otherwise, they’d be under siege about thirty hours a day.

She led us into a room about the size of a high school basketball gymnasium.  We were standing at the top of a flight of stairs, so we were about at the level where the top of the bleachers would be if this were really a basketball gym.  Okay, they wouldn’t be able to hide something the size of a basketball court unless most of it was sub-grade.

While I looked around, she said, “Let me put you at ease.  My codename is Sunscreen, and you’ll get a codename if you go to Whateley, so that your loved ones will be completely safe.  I have energizer powers.  They get more powerful if I can absorb a lot of sunlight first.  I can do sunbursts and fly, but my main ability is my sun-colored force fields.  Hence my codename.  Now, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”

I looked around the ‘gym’ a bit as I told her about being able to go light and go heavy.  The place certainly looked like it was laid out to do powers testing.  At one end, there was a huge weight set that looked like it was made for Clark Kent.  There were weights set in mid-air too.  Weird.  There was a long, freaky-looking treadmill that looked like it was made by H. R. Geiger for The Flash.  There was a punching bag that had to be five feet wide.  There was a wide bookshelf full of weird stuff like card decks and shoeboxes and what looked like little toys.  There was a thing that looked like the kind of video game where you stand on a control console and move around while the game reads your movements and reacts, only this was the Buck Rogers version of that kind of game, with monitors and cameras and things I couldn’t begin to identify.

I showed her what I could do.  I got on her treadmill and ran as fast as I could until I was exhausted.  I was apparently around Olympics grade speed and endurance for women, which was pretty darned surprising to me considering that I had always been a loser at sports.  Still, that was nothing that was going to make anybody sit up and take notice.

It turned out I could get my weight up to nearly 1600 pounds now when I went as heavy as I could, and then I could lift a bit over a ton when I strained.  Based on what was stamped on some of the weights, that wasn’t too impressive for a mutant.  I told her about being bulletproof and fireproof, but she already had a report from the Santa Monica Police Force about my little scrap with Sparkler.  She tried a series of increasingly-strong ‘sunbursts’ from her hands, and I stood up to them until she hit me with one which knocked me about twenty feet across the gym.  It wasn’t agonizing, but it did hurt enough that I was ready to move on to something else.

I went light and showed what I could do when I was immaterial.  I could walk through the table, and through the monitoring gear she turned on, and through a bar of osmium.  I disintegrated a chunk of an ultra-dense plastic by walking into it and going heavy.  That still hurt, no matter how many times I did it.  I scragged some electronics by phasing through them too.  She liked that, for some reason.  I was really reluctant to try walking through one of her force fields, but she talked me into it.

Damn, when was I going to learn?

I came to, lying on the gym floor, with Gracie holding me.

Sunscreen was leaning over me.  “I’m really sorry, Ayla.  I didn’t expect that!  Are you okay?”

“Uh-huh,” I groaned.  “I hurt all over my front, but it’s not as bad as the last time I tried to push through a force field.”

She grimaced, “Hmm.  Well, that gave me a headache that’s going to require a few pounds of ibuprofen, so let’s not do that one again, okay?”

“I’m good with that.”

It turned out that I had only been unconscious for about half a minute.  While I sat on the floor and recuperated, she filled out a form.

Then she came over and sat down next to me to give me her opinion.  “Well, you’re definitely a Warper.  I’m listing you as a Warper, level 2, for now.  You’ll get testing to nail that down when you’re at Whateley.  Now, you change your own density, so that makes you a possible WA-2di.  But you can ‘fly’ when you ‘go light’ as you call it, and that’s interesting.  So I’m going to put you down as a tentative WA-2di;gi.  But that’s really a rough estimate.  Now you did well enough on the treadmill to get an Exemplar 2 rating, maybe Exemplar 3, but your physical.. umm.. peculiarities make me think that you’re not really expressing Exemplar traits.  It may be that your physical performance is coming from your Warper traits.  From what you said about healing after that bone marrow sample, I’m going to put you down as a Regen 1 also.  That will have to do until you get to Whateley and get more testing.”

So I was in.  Gracie was all excited, as if I had just been accepted to Harvard Medical School.  I wasn’t sure whether I was excited or petrified or horrified.

Sunscreen looked at Gracie and then said to both of us, “The Whateley administration also thought I needed to talk with you about your.. umm.. ‘intersexed’ condition.”

Gracie said, “Oh, thank God we can talk about that with someone!  I’ve been really worried.  I mean, how can Ayla share a room with another girl, or use the girls’ showers, when she.. umm…”

“When I still have a penis.  That’s what she means,” I said.  Well, someone had to.  You wouldn’t think that someone with Gracie’s body would be that squeamish about saying the word.

Sunscreen smiled gently and said, “Don’t worry, honey.  You aren’t the first person that’s been turned into a girl by their power.  It’s happened to avatars before when they picked up a female spirit, and it’s happened to exemplars who had a BIT that mandated the change, and it’s happened to energizers who had powers that affected chromosomes, and it’s happened to warpers who affected reality, and it’s happened to mages, and it’s happened to devisers whose devises altered their own bodies, and it’s happened due to Gross Structural Dystrophy… which I’m guessing is your problem.  But I’m not a doctor, so you shouldn’t take my word as law.  Wait until you get to Whateley, and see what they have to say.”

“So there are accommodations for people like me?” I asked.

She smiled, “There are accommodations for people who have it a hundred times worse than you.  Don’t worry about it.  You’ll get a letter from Whateley telling you what day and time to arrive, and they’ll take care of it all.”

Well, that made sense.  If there were all those mutants with scales or claws or tentacles or things I didn’t even want to imagine, then the school could probably handle someone with breasts and a schlong.

When I was feeling up to walking around, Gracie called the limo driver.  He pulled around back, and Sunscreen showed us out an unmarked exit so we could step right into the limo.

We flew first class on our way home, and onboard the plane we had a hasty dinner that was reasonable for a two-star restaurant, but not exactly gourmet.  Still, it was better than what I would have eaten at home, so I acted like it was just fine.

Tuesday, August 22
Los Angeles, CA

I woke up when Janet clattered across the kitchen in a last-second dash for breakfast before sprinting off to catch the bus to her job.  Some things hadn’t changed.

That evening, when Janet came home, we had a huge argument.  I wanted Janet to quit the job that she didn’t like, and take the time to find what she would like to do with her life.

She was adamant that she wouldn’t.  “Ayla, that is your money!  Not Gracie’s, not mine.  Yours!  I didn’t want you pay off our mortgage, but you did it anyway.  But you can NOT tell me to quit my job and sponge off your inheritance.  That’s yours!  You’re going to want to have that money, for I-don’t-know-what, I don’t get all the investment stuff you and Gracie have been arguing over, but you need money for that.  I have a job, and it’s a good job, and I’m keeping it.  And that’s final!”

She got a little smirk on her face and added, “Besides, you need someone to wake you up in the mornings so you can get going.”

Wednesday, August 23 and following
Los Angeles, CA

We decided that there were some things we should do now that we had some disposable income.  Gracie was going to be playing with a jazz group for the next five nights, so Janet took me to see Gracie get down and get funky.

Okay, so Gracie just sat on a stool and played jazz guitar while some guys showed me that: (1) I didn’t know what jazz was; and (2) the flute was actually a jazz instrument.  I mean, that guy on the flute was astounding.

With Gracie busy until all hours playing at that club, Janet was willing to take me to a couple other clubs during our otherwise-dull evenings.  The third night, we hit an alternative rock club that was featuring The Mutant Kennedys, with local group Brass Monkey as their warm-up band.

The Mutant Kennedys were all right for a techno-punk ska band.  But that other group was amazingly good.  Brass Monkey was alternative heavy metal, but there are thousands of crappy alt metal bands out there.  Brass Monkey was different.  Drastically different.

Their lead singer and keyboardist, Lena, was just a stone fox, and she had a voice that could cover at least four octaves.  Plus, she was great on her synthesizer.  All three of their guitarists were really good.  They were angry, and they were anti, and they were different.  But that wasn’t what I loved about them.

They played real music.  Not three chords and a drumbeat, but really complex polyphonic music.  They moved from one to two to three different rhythms playing off against each other, and their big finale had four different rhythms playing off against each other at the same time, with a drumline that fit with all four.  It reminded me of a cross between Frank Zappa and Philip Glass, with some of William Byrd’s “Mass for Five Voices” thrown in.  I loved it.  I even bought all three CDs they had for sale.

Gracie and Janet hated their music.  Okay, Tiffany and Amy hated it too.  All right, no one liked it but me.  But Janet kept taking me back to see Brass Monkey because it was a way to get me out of the house and interacting with other people.  I could figure that one out with one cortex tied behind my back.  Gracie had really come down a long way from her ‘Greg’ days in terms of her ability to conspire.

After the second trip to hear Brass Monkey, I knew I needed to have something other than a pixie cut when I went back.  Everyone I wanted to talk to in the entire club treated me as if I were Pollyanna.  So I went back to “Shear Madness” and showed them a picture of Lena I had taken with my camera phone.

They did a very nice job of trimming my hair and styling it into the spiky new-wave cut that Lena wore.  And since my hair was already black, that simplified everything.  No hair dye, no special shampoo and conditioner for colored tresses, no bi-weekly touch-ups.  I just had to get them to teach me how much hair glue - yes, it’s Pantene Hair Glue 3 (extra hold) - to use and how to dry it to get that look.

Janet and Gracie hated my new hairstyle.  So I said, “Then you probably don’t want to see the snake tattoo I just got across my left breast.”

They went insane over that.  I laughed so hard that I had to sprint downstairs to the bathroom.  Have I ever mentioned that peeing while wearing a gaff is not as easy as it sounds?

Once they realized that I had spoofed them, they calmed down a lot.

But I wasn’t going to dress like Lena, or wear makeup like her.  Not on your life.

Well, maybe some day for a Halloween costume.

Seriously, I had no intention of wearing the three pounds of makeup that she sported every night, or the bizarrely twisted eyebrows painted on her face.  I had no desire to dress in an ultra-goth black micro-minidress, torn fishnets, and black ankle boots with three-inch heels.

Instead, I decided to blend in with the crowd at the club with some ripped blouses and torn jeans.  And those ‘pre-distressed’ jeans in designer styles were way more expensive than what I was expecting after seeing what torn jeans cost at Goodwill.  I should have guessed, of course.  I mean, it was basic ‘Marketing 101’.

But I had another reason for opting for those tight shirts and pants.  My mutation.  It was miserable trying to hide Mister Happy, even if I wore a gaff like Gracie wanted, but if I wore anything loose and ‘went light’, the parts that weren’t against my skin might just get left behind.  And there’s nothing like walking out of most of your pants and shirt while out in public to drive that point home.  Dresses were the worst, in terms of my powers.  If I wore a tight dress with a flowing skirt, and I went light, I was probably going to leave all but a few inches of skirt behind.  At which point I was wearing a blouse.  And I was sticking my ass out for everyone to see.

What made it worse was that guys liked staring at my ass.  Which was just creepy.

I asked Dr. Parsons - I mean Candace - for some suggestions.  She advised me to get a lot of sizes of lingerie and clothes, because I needed to be prepared for changes in my body.  She pointed out that if I had gained about three inches in height and 12 pounds in weight and breasts and a butt, all in one weekend, I might unexpectedly balloon up to a larger cup size, or I might grow several inches, without much warning.

So I went shopping so that I would have a lot of emergency sizes on hand.  Better safe than sorry, and all that.  And since I had a little money now, I could do that.  Plus, Gracie and Janet both wanted to take me shopping.  I teased Gracie that she wasn’t supposed to have the ‘shopping gene’.

I hated to admit it, but by then I needed a bra all the time.  If I wasn’t going heavy, my boobs bounced.  And that was NOT comfortable.  Even worse, if I ever had to do the superhero bit again, running and jumping without adequate support up top was just painful.  How the heck did superheroines with really huge boobs do it?  I wasn’t even sure how Linda Carter managed it in those tacky ‘Wonder Woman’ bustiers.

I mean, whose idea was a set of breasts that stuck out so far they were a hindrance?  Okay, that was rhetorical.  I’ve read “The Naked Ape”, and I had a reasonable idea why homo sapiens was both upright and possessed of hooters.  But that didn’t mean I wanted to own a pair.

And I hated to admit it, but I needed women’s panties instead of boy’s briefs.  My waist was too high to be a boy’s waist.  My waist measurement was so much smaller than my hip measurement that boy underwear no longer fit me at all.  What a pain.

The first place they took me was a lingerie store so I could get properly measured for a bra.  I’d heard of such a thing, but it seemed so weird.

Well, it was weird.  The middle-aged lady at the lingerie store measured me for a bra, which was just icky.  I had to stand there with nothing on above the waist, and let a total stranger touch me.  And it wasn’t like I had Jamie Lynn Spears touching me.  No, it was an old lady.  Extra ick factor on that one.

She smiled, “Dear, you’re a solid A-cup.  Several of our 32-A bras will fit you perfectly.”

Ooh, great, I was so excited to hear that.  I just gave her a bland smile.

She beamed, “And I bet it won’t be long before you’re as big as your big sister!  Won’t that be exciting?”

Uhh, yeah.  That sounded as much fun as getting an I-beam rammed through your chest.  I was determined to get my body moving back towards ‘boy’ long before I hit Gracie’s cup size, or I was going to die trying.

And then I actually had to try on bras.  Ugh.

“Do you like this bra?  It’s genuine 100% silk, and our taupe and eggplant shades use only natural vegetable dyes.”

I asked her, “What colors and sizes does it come in?”

She checked and told me, “Well, it comes in jade, eggplant, white, taupe, black, and crimson.  And this style comes in sizes A through D. along with A-plus and B-minus sizes.”

I nodded, “Fine.  I’ll take one of each color, two in the taupe, in every size you have.”


I watched out of the corner of my eye as Gracie had to stuff her sleeve in her mouth to keep from bursting out in loud peals of laughter at the clerk’s face.

Freaking out sales clerks was almost fun.  Having to wear a bra for the foreseeable future was not.

But the part I really hated was that silk lingerie felt absolutely amazing on my breasts and butt.  It was so soft and silky and caressing…  Frankly, I had a hell of a time trying on some of the stuff without getting frantic hard-ons.  Which was NOT something I wanted to admit, or even to face!  It made me feel like a freaking pervert.

But it wasn’t getting to wear women’s clothing that was making me hot, it was the smooth, sexy feel of the stuff that made me feel so.. so…  I don’t know.  Besides ashamed and repelled, I also felt aroused.  Sexual.  Definitely unlike my old button-down self.  I didn’t know how to describe the sensations. 

One clerk looked at my face and whispered confidentially, “Don’t worry, honey.  That high-end lingerie makes me feel sexy and wicked too!”  Great.  I wasn’t hiding my emotions well enough, either.

Okay, I was going to go with ‘sensual’ and ‘wicked’ for now.  Mainly because it wouldn’t be good for me to use words like ‘thong-o-philia’.  But I was going to find a better phrase to express how much I hated the fact that I liked the feeling, and it made me feel perverted and bad.

Tuesday, August 29
Los Angeles, CA

Janet finally received the information from Whateley.  I was supposed to show up at least a day early.  They wanted me to be at the Dunwich train depot by 4 pm on September the third, for ‘special orientation’.

Crud.  Gracie had already made some tentative plane reservations for me, but for the fourth and the fifth.  Those wouldn’t work.

Gracie and I went right to her computer.  She tried to get me a first-class seat, but she had to book me for coach on an early morning flight into Chicago, followed by a first class seat on a flight into Berlin Airport outside scenic Berlin, New Hampshire.  Then I was going to have to settle for a bus from there to the Dunwich train depot, because there was no limo service available on Sunday.  On the upside, at least I wasn’t having to go by horse-drawn carriage for part of the trip.

We had a really festive dinner that night, and Tiff showed me how she cooked it so I could re-create it some day in the future if I wanted to.  I wasn’t sure that I could make that meringue, though.  That looked sort of tricky.

We had pot roast with potatoes and carrots, and some not-too-awful rolls from the grocery store.  Plus the lemon meringue pie that Tiff baked.  And Janet got out a bottle of a decent red table wine, and even let me have a glass.  One glass.

Of course, the conversation revolved mostly around my upcoming trip to “Sky High”.  Gracie and Janet and Tiff and Amy all wanted to pick out a codename for me for when I became a world-famous superheroine.  I tried to tell them that I wasn’t planning on a life in spandex, but after the Sparkler thing they didn’t see it that way.

Well, Sunscreen had said that I would need a codename while at Whateley.  And I wanted one that was better than ‘Sunscreen’.  What, did she have a battle cry of “Halt, villain!  Or I’ll slather you!”

Most of the names they came up with were already names of supers, either for real or in comics.  And Marvel and DC were supposed to be real pains about lawsuits for copyright infringement.  Not to mention the publishers who did that “Lady Lightning” comic where the heroine used to be a guy.  Ugh.  I couldn’t even think about reading those without feeling icky.

Okay, some of the names Tiffany and Amy came up with were just stupid.


“That’s taken, you know,” I pointed out

“Space Ghost.”

“Oh come on! That’s a cartoon character!” I fussed.




I reminded them, “That’s taken, you know.”


“Ooh, I like that, how about Un-weight!”


“Wonder Girl.”

I groaned, “Oh God, DC Comics would sue my ass off.”


I snorted, “I think Majel Roddenberry might have a few words with me about that one.”


“Okay, then how about just Phase?”

“Pound, because she sure ‘pounded’ that Sparkler jerk!”

“Oh, please, that makes it sound like I have a weight problem,” I griped.






I pointed out, “That’s actually taken.”


I said, “No, no one wants to be known as a lightweight.”




I griped, “I’d have to spend all my time in the gym!”



They made up names that got progressively sillier, and we got progressively sillier, until we were just sort of sitting around laughing hysterically with every new name.

But at bedtime I was thinking about Janet’s best suggestion.  Phase.  Even if I wasn’t going to be a superhero, that still was a cool name.

Sunday, September 3, 5:00 am
Los Angeles International Airport

I had to board the 5:30 am United flight to Chicago.  But I didn’t want to leave Gracie and Janet.  We were hugging each other frantically, and I was weeping like a real girl.  I had a suspicion it was the female hormones.  I hadn’t hugged Mother this much when she had taken me to European History Camp in Paris, back when I was only ten.

I was in casual clothes that Gracie and Janet just hated.  The jeans weren’t too tight, and they were my most comfortable pair.  But they were one of my favorite ‘distressed’ pairs that already had rips at the knees and a few carefully-arrayed worn spots.  I was wearing a gaff under my panties and jeans, since I had to travel in public by myself.  I wasn’t happy about that, but Gracie had been adamant.  I was fairly sure she was worried about me getting attacked.  To go with the jeans, I had spiked my hair with hair gel, and I was wearing a singlet that was ‘pre-ripped’, meaning it came with about thirty carefully-designed tears in it.

If my fellow travelers didn’t like the way I looked, they could just avoid talking to me.  If I was lucky.

I had a small wheeled carry-on of clothes and necessities, and a backpack that was a purse and storage bin.  It was amazing to me how enormous a suitcase a woman could carry onboard if it was soft-sided, and she just called it her ‘purse’.

Flying coach on United Airlines was a shock.  I watched as they called out rows and tried to get people into the jetway.  Surely, not every airline could be this incompetent?  Everyone around me was acting as though this were perfectly normal, which really made me worry that it was the way all the airlines worked.  Ugh.

We were herded down a too-warm jetway into a cabin that was ridiculously over-crowded.  People were struggling to fit suitcases the size of a Volvo into overhead compartments that were made for schoolbags.  The seats were too small for someone of my size, much less the overweight matron sitting next to me in the middle seat.  I had to share the armrest with her for the entire flight to Chicago.  Her flab spent the whole trip trying to slip over the armrest and crawl into my lap.  Ugh.

I had to concentrate hard on not accidentally going light just to get away from her.  I was fairly scared I might phase right through the cabin wall and find myself without oxygen, falling to my death from 35,000 feet.

And someone nearby was either wearing far too much perfume, or had just poured an entire bottle of it on her neighbor.  Plus, it smelled foul.  Did Chanel have a new perfume, Eau de Toilet Seat?

The flight attendants seemed competent, even if their little pre-flight spiel made me want to ask them if they had passengers who hadn’t ridden in a car since seatbelts became mandatory.  I know, they were required to say all those things by federal laws that made no sense whatsoever for 99% of all passengers.  That didn’t make it any less tedious.

Of course, since I wanted to get away from the woman next to me, she wanted to chat.  “I’m Marsha, you little darlin’, and you are?”


“Hee-hee!  Aren’t you the funniest little thing?”

Yep, that was me.  The mutant Roseanne Barr.  Oh well, there was no point in being overly offensive just because I found her offensive.

“I’m Ayla.”

She smiled, “What a pretty name!  Pleased to meetcha.  Are you on your way to meet up with your mommy or daddy?”

For God’s sake, woman!  I’m not six!  I tried not to roll my eyes as I explained, “I’m starting high school at a boarding school in New England.”

“High school?”  She looked shocked.  “You can’t be more than twelve or thirteen…”

“I’ll be fifteen in January,” I said coldly.  I had been looking for an excuse to avoid chatting with Large Marge, and I decided to run with this one.  I turned my head away and rummaged through my bag for my MP4 player.

Unfortunately, Marsha spent the rest of the flight trying to apologize to me, offering me candy she had brought, or asking about my new school, or telling me about her new grandchildren.  She had roughly fifty thousand pictures of her three grandkids, and she had to show me every single one.

Every.  Single.  Picture.

The airline was lucky I didn’t go heavy and crash the plane, just to end the torture.

Gracie had warned me about airline food, and had even insisted that I bring my own food, and a collapsible bottle I could fill up with water once I had passed through the security screening.  And let me tell you, I was thanking God for Gracie’s foresight when I saw what the food was.  I put ‘airline food’ into my list of oxymorons, right next to ‘hamburger helper’ and ‘instant oatmeal’ and ‘special K’.

But I was nearly gagging just watching the ‘airline food’ that Marsha was wolfing down.  It looked like a badly-baked dinner roll with two slices of United’s special ‘beef-fat and gristle deluxe’, or whatever they were calling it, along with a slice of processed cheese food, and as many packages of condiments as Marsha could squeeze onto the roll.  That went with several little sealed bags of inedible garbage, starting with something that was pretending to be a ‘party mix’ and ending with cookies that looked suspiciously like they were filled with whipped lard.

Then, for the last half hour of our flight, as we descended into Chicago, we were serenaded by the screams of a baby whose mother didn’t seem to grasp fundamental concepts, like ‘air pressure differential’ or ‘Eustachian tube’.  Poor little kid.  I’ll say one thing.  That kid had the lungs of a full-grown howler monkey.  I wondered if the people sitting next to them would be deaf by the time the plane touched down.

Once we reached the terminal, everyone leapt to their feet and started struggling to pull luggage out of overhead compartments as if there were some sort of race.  You would think that the pilot had announced that only the first twenty people off the plane would be allowed to use the restrooms.  The cabin was just as crowded and confused as it had been before takeoff, if not more so.  Couldn’t anybody figure out that there was no point in cramming into the aisle when there was obviously a ten-minute wait before they could move again?

Walking through O’Hare airport was better.  I was wheeling my carry-on, with my duffel/purse tied atop it.  People tended to move out of the way for the cute women walking through the corridors, and I found myself getting that perk.  I wasn’t sure whether I was appreciative or pissed off about it.  But I took advantage of it.  None of the food offerings in the terminal looked appealing, but that wasn’t stopping anyone else from crowding in to grab a mouthful of beef by-product, or whatever was for sale.

The flight to Berlin, New Hampshire wasn’t nearly as crowded.  I had a first-class seat, so I was able to sit down in a much more comfortable chair, with a more attentive flight attendant.  That flight was shorter, and much more pleasant.  I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me, so I just relaxed and listened to Brass Monkey on my MP4 player.

The Berlin airport was a lot smaller than LAX or Chicago O’Hare.  Or the Mayberry airport, for that matter.  I mean, I’ve used plenty of private airstrips when flying on Goodkind International’s private jets.  But this was ridiculous.

They were claiming to have A and B concourses, but it was obvious that they were kidding themselves.  The ‘A concourse’ was a mere handful of gates with jetways.  I walked past the ‘B concourse’ on my way out of the security area.  It was a pair of glass doors that were underneath the A concourse so that they opened up directly onto the tarmac.  That wasn’t a concourse, that was an emergency exit.

I walked to the baggage claim area (read: one baggage system posing as two separate baggage claim zones) and found a porter to collect my trunks.  Then he wheeled them behind me and waited with me until the bus to Dunwich showed up. The bus was old, and I could tell by the diesel fumes that it had an old engine that needed tuning.

I let my porter struggle with cramming my trunks and my carry-on into the bus baggage area, because there were a dozen people around, and I was supposed to be a weak little girl.  We had been instructed to travel as subtly as possible, so slinging four huge steamer trunks around like they were cardboard was probably not a good idea.

I looked at the other passengers, and spotted two other kids who looked like they were my age.  The way-too-handsome boy with what looked like yellow-green eyes was definitely Whateley material.  The big girl with the cute face looked average enough that I was going to guess ‘no’.  However, when she got her suitcases, she accidentally bumped into the steel bench.. and knocked it over like it was styrofoam.  Whoa.  Let me change that to a ‘yes’.

The girl didn’t have any trouble righting the bench with one hand, even while she looked around nervously to see if anyone had noticed.  The really odd thing was that most of the adults getting on the bus had noticed, but were intent on ignoring it.

That really made my curiosity flare.  Were all of these adults connected with Whateley?  They sure didn’t look like it.  But they were way too calm about a kid accidentally demonstrating super-strength within a few feet of them.  Was it possible that everyone in Dunwich knew about Whateley Academy?

The girl was still looking really edgy, and I didn’t want her over-reacting while we were both on a bus in the middle of nowhere, so I walked over.  I gave her a smile and said, “It’s okay.  No one’s going to say anything.  Let’s just get on the bus and pretend nothing happened.”

She looked nervous until she looked at me, and then it was as if she could read my face and pick up my lack of concern.  Okay, maybe she was one of those mutants you didn’t play poker with.

She looked at me and asked, “Whateley, right?”

I smiled, “Yep.  And I suspect the blond kid too.”

She visibly relaxed and got on the bus.

The blond kid was sitting toward the back, while the adults were spread out in the first six rows.  I led the girl back, and we sat in the seat across from Blondie.

The bus driver announced, “Okay, this bus is going to Milan, Dummer, Dunwich, the Dunwich train depot, and Groveton.  Anybody looking for somewhere different?  Good.”

He cranked up the diesel engine and roared off in a cloud of smoke.  Oh yeah, that engine needed a tune-up last year.  And the shocks were wretched.  No wonder all the adults were up front.

It turned out that the Berlin airport wasn’t actually in Berlin, but was north of Berlin, halfway to a ‘town’ named Milan.  If that counted as a town, then Westchester was a metropolis.  I mean, this was supposed to be New England, not Appalachia!

And if this was where the airport was, I didn’t have much hope for little old Dunwich.  I had checked out Dunwich in the online U.S. Postal Service records, and it only had two zipcodes: one for Dunwich proper, and one for Whateley Academy.  There wasn’t even a separate zipcode for Dunwich post boxes, which probably meant the town was roughly the size of a cowbarn.

The girl introduced herself.  “Hi.  I’m Evvie.  I guess you’re both going for the special orientation thing too, right?”  After knocking over a steel bench, she seemed unsure about whether she was safe to shake hands.  I could understand that.  I still had the occasional nightmare about going heavy and accidentally hurting someone.

The boy said, “I’m Kenny.”

Actually, he said, “Ahhhm Kee-uh-nee.”  He had an accent you could cut with the plastic knife Marsha had found in her airline snack box.  I was guessing West Virginia, but it could have been from farther south.

I decided not to make fun of him until I knew whether he could verbally defend himself.  There’s no fun in having a battle of wits with an unarmed man.  I just said, “I’m Ayla.”

Evvie was about five inches taller than me, and on the heavy side.  But she was cute.  She wasn’t cute in a Lindsay Lohan way, but rather in a girl-hired-to-play-Lindsay’s-less-gorgeous-pal-in-a-Disney-movie way.  She had a very sweet face and a kind voice.  Her hair was a plain brown, although in a simple, short cut that looked pretty nice on her.  But up close, I could see that her gray eyes had gold flecks that no baseline human ever had.  Not golden, or goldenrod, but real gold flecks.

Kenny was a very good-looking kid, with short blond hair and bright yellow-green eyes.  But he had that hick accent that made him sound like he was a bit player in the movie “Deliverance”. 

There were five adults on the bus too, and none of them looked like Whateley material, so we kept the conversation fairly bland.  Which was fine, until I admitted that my last name was Goodkind.

I thought Kenny was going to leap right out through the window.

He panicked, “Holy shit, Evvie?  Don’t you know?  Goodkind?  As in Humanity First!, and.. and the Knights of Purity?  And all that shit?  When I started changin’, those H-One assholes busted into our house and tried to kill me!”

Evvie tried to smooth things over and said, “Kenny, just calm down.  Ayla, tell him you’re not related to those Goodkinds.”

Maybe I should have lied, but I figured it was only a matter of time before everyone at school knew.  News like that tended to move faster than the speed of sound in the boarding schools I knew about.

Evvie looked at me again, “Ayla?”  I could see in her face that she knew what I was about to say.

I told the truth, “I wish I could tell him that.  Especially after what they did to me when I manifested.  But I am related.  Those ‘Knights of Purity’?  That’s my Uncle Herb.”

That kind of ended the whole conversation.  Kenny immediately got up and moved as far away from me as he could.  He made sure to drag Evvie with him, as if he needed to protect her from the Evil Mutant Hater.  Evvie gave me a worried look like she didn’t know what to do, but she didn’t want to sit with a Humanity First! idiot.

“Hey kid!  Siddown!”

“Please stay seated while the bus is in motion.  That means you!  Hey!”

The bus driver and about half the adults were telling them to quit moving around, so they hastily found an empty bench seat several rows away from me.  They still kept looking over their shoulders.  Kenny looked as if he was expecting me to pull out a machete and attack him if he didn’t keep an eye on me.  Evvie looked like she was using everything she had to calm Kenny down.  The adults kept looking back and forth between me and the two other kids, probably trying to figure out what I had done to them.  So things were really tense the rest of the way to Dunwich.  Was I going to be going through this with every mutant I met for the next four years?

I had a bad feeling that I was about to spend the next four years of my life having everyone around me either shunning me or else attacking me.  And no one had found out about my freakish body.. yet.  Things would really get bad once that got out.

I could hardly wait.

Chapter 5 - Deuteronomy

Dunwich, NH
Sunday, September 3, 3:50 pm

I sat on the bus silently, with Kenny and Evvie avoiding me.  No more friendly talks until I got to Whateley.. and found a whole new crowd of people who would hate me on sight.

Oh well, I would undoubtedly get several major discourses from the dorm parent, the student guides, etc.  I’d been through this intro stuff before, and I knew what to expect.

We finally arrived at the Dunwich train station.  Which was a dump.  It was the size of a depot.  Maybe a depot-ette.  I’d seen restrooms bigger than this ‘train station’.  And it was old.  I mean, was this thing built before railroad trains existed?  It looked like it had last been renovated during the Civil War.  Well, maybe the interior wasn’t so bad.  Or the platform side had some improvements.  Yeah, I could just imagine.  A WPA mural and a ‘new’ handcart purchased in the 1960’s.

I stepped off the bus.  When Kenny was distracting the driver about some trivial thing, I took the opportunity to go heavy and haul my trunks and Evvie’s bags off the bus.  I looked around as I walked into the depot.  I was surprised to see only about twenty other teenagers.  Whateley was supposed to have graduating classes of about 100 to 150, according to their website.  I wondered what was going on.

Just inside the depot doors were two definitely-not-fourteen babes chatting with a tiny little Oriental girl who looked about ten.  One of the mature hotties had this ultra-whitebread look of blonde hair and perfect face.  I couldn’t figure out why she was wearing a heavy coat on a day like this, or why she had a backpack hidden under the coat.  Was she packing a slew of mutant gadgets?  She had this almost angelic presence about her.  It was a bit eerie.  The other was a pretty Hispanic girl who was definitely developing.

The Oriental squirt had a definitely Japanese cast to her face.  I could tell even though she kept ducking her head, letting her hair cascade over her features.  Maybe she was just shy.  I’m sure I would have been more than just bashful if I was starting at high school at age ten, surrounded by all kinds of superhumans.  Maybe the two older girls were here as ‘big sister’ figures to get the kid situated at Whateley.

Or maybe the kid had manifested her powers super-early and had to be watched like a hawk so she didn’t let loose with whatever she could do.  I knew I had moments where I worried about my control, and I wasn’t ten anymore.  Mother had once shown me a highly classified MCO research study by Braeburn and Rothschild that indicated that age of power manifestation had an inverse correlation with power level, so maybe the kid was super-super-powerful.  She sure didn’t look it.

I stepped into the depot.  There was some bouncy bubblegum rock playing on someone’s boombox.  And there were three major hotties dancing to the music.  Two black babes, and one mostly-Hispanic fox who probably had some American Indian or Incan or something like that mixed in with the Hispanic part.  All three were getting their groove on, and all three could dance like nobody’s business.  The white girls I knew sure couldn’t dance like that!  One of the black girls was damn curvy for fourteen, but her face said that she couldn’t be much older than that.  The other black girl was a bit thinner, with a figure that was definitely hot for fourteen.  But she had a sleek, almost feline look to her, and she could move.  She had this lithe smoothness to her movements like she’d had forty years of training as a dancer or something.  The Latina was really striking.  Not only was she gorgeous, but she had a red stripe right down the center of her hair.  What, being a mutant wasn’t enough of a way to stand out?

Most of the rest of the kids were sitting there wishing they were cool enough to get up and dance like that in front of a dozen kids they’d never met.  A couple guys were hogging one decrepit pinball machine.  Then there was a gangsta wannabe with a weird knit cap.  Great.  At Chilton, white guys who were so stupid that they went with the impoverished-drug-dealing-criminal look were taken aside by the headmaster and taught the facts of life.  I didn’t have much hope of that happening around here.

Sitting around on the hideous plastic couches and chairs looking bored were a big range of kids, including a redhead who was just…  WOW!  I mean, she was WOW!!!  I could hardly take my eyes off her.  I mean, she was maybe fifteen or so, and she had this.. something that Hollywood starlets would kill to have.  I was astonished that every guy in the room wasn’t drooling all over her.  What, were they gay or something?

Not that the rest of the room was dreck.  Oh no, there were more hot babes than you’d find in your typical big-budget PG-13 ‘high school’ movie.  There was a cute, curvy blonde in capri pants who could have played the role of ‘number 1 bimbo’ in any movie you ever saw about high school kids.  There was a tanned blonde who was really pretty, even if she was hyperactive enough to be the poster child for Ritalin.  There was a hot girl who looked maybe seventeen, and must have not gotten the message about traveling subtly, because she looked like she had spent about ten hours to get her hair that color and that spiky so she looked like a freaking double for Ryoko.  If she’d gone to that much trouble on her hair, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she was wearing some fake fangs and cat-eye contacts too.  I didn’t go over and check.

And even the ‘not astonishingly fabulous’ girls were still pretty hot.  It was like a Hollywood movie where steamy starlets were also playing the also-rans and nerdettes of the school.  Trying to hide back in one corner was a pretty Latina who was obviously stacked, with gorgeous long black hair.  She did look kind of green from where I was standing, so maybe she was still motion sick or something.  And Evvie was cute enough to be one of the better-looking girls in my class at Chilton, if she hadn’t been on the heavy side.  Okay, there was one hefty black girl over there, scowling angrily at the dancers, who wasn’t exactly attractive.  But all she needed to do was lose some weight, get a decent hairstyle that would go with her face, and lose the ‘tood, and she could score some babe-age points too.

How the hell was I supposed to fit in here, when almost every girl around me was a mega-babe?  I mean, two-thirds of these girls were hotter than my sister Heather, who was a professional model!

Where the heck were the hideously deformed mutants and grotesque non-human freaks and psychotic baby-crushers?  Or did they come in on the morning train?  Frankly, I was expecting to see a bunch of things with tentacles or scales or fangs.  You know, some mutants so ghastly that Cataclysm would look good by comparison.  Instead, I was looking at a casting call for “The O.C.”  I felt pretty uncomfortable seeing that the biggest freak in the whole room was.. me.

The ratios just didn’t look right.  According to statistics Mother’s researchers had put together, a bit more than a third of mutants were supposed to look normal enough to pass as baselines (except possibly for eye color), while a little less than a third were supposed to look ‘too good to be average norms’.  Most of this room was way up in the ‘too hot for a norm’ category, only a couple were in the ‘looks like a norm’ category, and absolutely no one was in the ‘hideous scaly tentacled freaks’ category.  Unless Eminem Junior over there was hiding some scales and tentacles under that stupid knit hat.

The six or seven guys in the room were also too good-looking to be normal, at least if you ignored that gangsta wannabe, and ‘Old Weird Harold’, that guy over by the bookshelf who was at least six and a half feet tall, and weighed maybe less than I did.  There was a fine-featured, handsome kid sitting next to Miss Redhead Of The Century.  That guy had the whole ‘cute, virile guy who was going to grow into Brad Pitt’ thing going for him.  He looked pretty normal, except for his eyes.  Even from across the room, I could tell that his gray eyes were a gray that no normal person ever had.  But most of the guys in the room had that same ‘too handsome to be anything except movie extras’ look.  Kenny fell into that category too, as long as he didn’t open his mouth and let that hick accent out.

Even if I hadn’t been a freak of nature, there was no way I could compete with these guys for the girls walking around in the depot, much less the Exemplar super-babes that were probably all over a place like Whateley.  Although, if the older girls were hotter than Redheads ‘R Us over there, I was going to be walking around campus with a hard-on, pretty much 24x7.

Suddenly, the boombox was turned off.  I looked over, and a tall Japanese woman was standing there, obviously expecting us to snap to attention.  I glanced quickly at my precision Rolex, and I figured that the woman must have marched in at 4:00 to the second.  That rather suggested a certain strict attention to detail that would be good to remember.

She raised her voice a bit, “Okay, listen up!  I am Mrs. Shugendo.  I’m the Dean of Students at Whateley Academy.  There are two shuttles here to take you to the school.  I am going to call off your names alphabetically.  When I call out your name, let me know who you are, and then go out to the vans.  Now, I know that you have a lot of questions, but, unless it’s an emergency, save it for when we get to the school.”

I was rather surprised that everyone obeyed.  Even Gangsta-boy and his weird knit cap, and the grouchy black girl who looked like she was trying to find an excuse to get up in some whitey’s face.

Granted, it wasn’t as if she had us marching out to the buses like a Marine drill team.  It was loud, and confused, and relatively unorganized.  But it still went better than I had expected.  I had been sure that at least one person would go all supervillain on us and begin ranting about how he was an unstoppable force and all the rest of us must bow before him.  Or something like that.  Mother had once shown me a paper on Diedrick’s Syndrome, so I would understand why so many mutants were insanely dangerous.

I ended up on the second shuttle, sitting in the back row next to the curvy black dancer.  Not bad, so far.  I mean, she was gorgeous, in a ‘young Hallie Berry crossed with early Vanessa Williams and young Jackee Harry’ way.  All that, and she had a beautiful pair of deep purple eyes.  She had the kind of curves that no fourteen-year-old norm should have had.  And she carried her shape well.  She wasn’t slumping over like she was embarrassed about her body, and she wasn’t flaunting her body like my sister Heather and her ‘queen of all she surveys’ manner.

“Hi!  I’m Vanessa.  Vanessa Jackson.”  She had a trace of an accent that I couldn’t pin down.  Northeastern U.S., definitely.  But not New England.

“I’m Ayla.”

“Nice to meetcha.  Isn’t this amazing?”

Okay, a ‘new kid’.  I tried not to be too snide as I asked, “First time away from home?”

“Well, sort of,” she hedged.  “I’ve been away from Philly before, visiting relatives and stuff.  But I was always with mom, or staying with one of my cousins.  This is the first time I ever got to see the countryside.  Did you come in on the train?  It’s way nicer than the ones between Philly and Jersey City.”

“No, I flew into Berlin and had to take a bus up here.  These school shuttles are a lot nicer than that bus was.”

“Yeah, they’re a lot nicer than the buses in Philly,” she said.

We drove through a covered bridge and into the scenic tourist trap of Dunwich, New Hampshire.  I was amazed to actually find one traffic light.  It looked like any one of dozens of roadside places I had seen before.  Dunwich looked like it had one main road and a couple parallel roads, all of which were intersected by seven or eight crossroads.  I’d seen parking lots that were bigger than this place.

Vanessa cooed, “Isn’t this cute?  Do you think we’ll maybe get to come look through the town sometime?”

“Oh, sure,” I guessed.  “Just leave your wallet at home.  Most of the stuff in the shops is going to be seriously over-priced.”

At the traffic light, we turned off onto a road that led up into the Presidential Mountains.

Vanessa had never been in the Presidential Mountains before, so I played tourist guide and told her about the area, and the mountains and forests, which were actually quite striking.  We were far too early to enjoy the fall weeks when the leaves changed colors.  Anyway we were moving up higher into areas that had more of a mix of evergreens.

Vanessa figured that out, though.  She was a bright girl, even if she hadn’t been out of Philly much.  Inexperience is the easiest thing to fix, so I had a feeling Vanessa would do well at Whateley as soon as she got over the ‘ooh look at that’ stage.

I gave her the ‘Geology 101’ lecture on the area.  I’d looked it up on the internet, so I wasn’t exactly an expert myself.  The Miskatonic Valley was supposed to have the oldest geology in the Western Hemisphere, with only pieces of Asia and Africa holding older landforms.

It suddenly occurred to me that that couldn’t be right, or people would be doing paleontology digs in the Miskatonic Valley as often as they dug in central Africa and Asia.  Unless there was something about the area that made standard paleological digs unreasonably hard, like legal claims or peculiar rock formations or something.  Oh well, one of the science teachers at Whateley would be bound to know.

We passed several wooden signs pointing off toward summer camps and a state park.  Then the road changed from a gravelly path to a paved, well-maintained drive.  That had to mean that we were getting close to the school.

Two rows in front of us, the Ryoko fan seemed to be having a bit of an argument with the ten-year-old.  Man, she even did an imitation of Ryoko’s voice too.  It sounded like she was about to rip into the kid, when they suddenly went back to quiet conversation.

Vanessa asked, “What were you looking at?”

I admitted, “I was kind of worried about the little Japanese kid up there.  The anime fan looked like she was about to go postal on the kid.”

She smiled, “You were worried about the little kid, huh?  Do you know her?”

I shook my head, “No, I just saw her for a second at the depot, but I didn’t want a kid to get hurt before she even got to the campus.”

Vanessa grinned mischievously and admitted, “I can stop stuff like that.”

“How?”  I really wanted to know.  I didn’t think my option of going light to pass through the seats and then phasing through Ryoko II to knock her out would have been all that popular.

She smiled and said, “Pick your nose.

I suddenly realized that I was picking my nose.  In front of a hot chick I wanted to impress.  How humiliating!  I hastily yanked my finger down.

She grinned and then whispered, “It’s my power.  I can do all kinds of stuff with my voice.  I can sort of push something into my voice and make people do what I say.”

“Wow.  The ultimate crowd control ability.  Can you look at a roomful of people and just say ‘sleep’ and make them all fall asleep?”

She frowned a little.  “I dunno.  I’ve never tried it on more than one or two people.  But people don’t like it when they get pushed into doing stuff and then they figure out I made ‘em do it.  I sort of made my mom make chocolate chip cookies for me instead of the cake she was going to bake for church, and she got really, really mad, and she and granny grounded me for two weeks.  So I’ve been trying not to use it.  Even if I can do other stuff with my voice too.  I have perfect pitch now, and I can copy any singer I’ve ever heard, and I can even shatter glass and stuff.  Which is really cool.. except for when I busted the glass in my mom’s glass-front dish cupboard.  She was real mad about that too.”

She switched to a wicked smile, “But it works great on muggers.  This thug in our ‘hood, T-Bone Wilson, thought he could hassle granny and some of the other church ladies, and I made him go confess to the cops.  That was when the Reverend told mom I was a mutant and I needed to go to a school like Whateley.  He even helped me get a minority scholarship, ‘cause mom could never afford to send me to a ritzy place like this.”

I couldn’t keep the smirk off my face as I said, “So, you’re already a crimefighter.  Do you have a costume?  A superhero name?”

She giggled and waved off my teasing.  “Actually, granny and her friends were trying to come up with a superhero name for me, but all the ones they said were already taken.  ‘Push’ and ‘the Voice’ and ‘Forceful’ and a bunch of others.”

I said, “How about ‘Vox’ as your codename?”


“No, ‘Vox’.  V-O-X.  It’s Latin for ‘voice’.”  I gave her a once-over and added, “Although ‘Fox’ would fit you too.  But I think that name’s already taken.”

She grinned at me and said, “Flattery will get you nowhere, honey.”

I grinned back, even though I was really wishing that my flattery would get me somewhere good with Vanessa.

She said, “So, what about you?  Superhero or supervillain or none of the above?”

I admitted, “Superhero, I guess.”  Okay, so I wanted to impress a hot chick who was smiling at me.  “I already had a fight with a supervillain.  And won.”

“Who?” she whispered, with big awestruck eyes.

“Sparkler,” I said.

“Never heard of him,” she replied.

“Her.  And you never will.  She robbed a bank, killed a couple cops, and put a bunch more people in the hospital with severe burns.  She’s going to be in a federal lockup until she’s so old she has to use supervillain-size Pampers.”

She looked even more impressed.  “Wow.  So, what’s your thing?”

“I can change my density.  I can get so light that I pass through things, or I can get so heavy that I’m super-strong.”

She batted her eyes at me, “So you really are like a superhero, aren’t you?”

I thought for a second, and I remembered the way everyone back home thought of me.  The way I was treated in the Goodkind Research labs.  The way they expected I would turn out.  That was when I decided.  I was going to be a superhero.

No, not one of those spandex-wearing front-line fighters like Champion or Lady Astarte, but someone who helped people.  I had enough money to make a start on that, even if I couldn’t access my funds directly for almost seven years.  I knew how to invest, and how to manage funds, and how to run a business.  Surely there were superheroes who needed someone to manage their funding sources and invest their rewards.  I was going to have to look into this.  Maybe I could be.. Super-Arbitrager!  Or not.

I admitted, “I’m not really interested in wearing spandex for a living.”

She grinned, “Me neither.  But this place is going to give me a big leg up.  I just want to be a businesswoman and be a big success.”  She saw my raised eyebrow and jumped forward, “Yeah, I know it’s lots of hard work, and lots of study, and stuff.  But I’m ready to do all that.  I don’t think I’ll be Oprah, or Condi Rice, but I want to get somewhere.  Reverend Jameson says that top grades at a place like Whateley could get me into some of the best business schools in the country.  Even with a minority scholarship for college, I’ll have to work pretty hard and take whatever jobs I can get.  And then that can get me into a good M.B.A. school.  And the woman who came and talked to mom about Whateley said I could learn things here that no business school in the country could teach me.  That’s what I want.”

I suddenly felt really pathetic.  I had 300 million dollars I could access, and years of training from the richest businessmen anywhere, and this girl was planning to do the things that I should have been planning.  This girl, who fairly obviously came from nothing, wanted to be, well.. me.

I told her, “Well, good.  Because I’m going to be on the business school track too, and maybe we’ll have some classes together.  What does your dad think of your big plans?”

She tried not to wince, but it was obvious that I had really put my foot in it.  She admitted, “No idea.  I haven’t seen him since I was a toddler.  He ran out on us and never came back.  Mom and I live with granny, and mom works fifty or sixty hours a week as a clerk at Jefferson University Hospital to keep us going.  I don’t want that.  I want to give mom the life she deserves.”  She looked at me, and the way I was dressed, and said, “Let me guess.  Your folks aren’t divorced, and they have plenty of money, and you’re busy being the big rebel of the family.”

What was I supposed to say to that?  I took a deep breath and told her, “My folks are still married.  And they have plenty of money.  But that’s not much of a help for me, because they kicked me out when I showed my mutation.  They hate mutants.”

“Oh Jesus, I’m really sorry, Ayla,” she apologized.  “I didn’t know.”

I shrugged, “It’s not that bad.  I’m not dead broke, and now I live at my big sister’s house, and she doesn’t mind that I changed a lot physically.”

She looked down at her hands before she looked up at me again.  “I guess a lot of us have it tough.  You should hear what I heard in the depot about…”  Suddenly, she pointed toward the front of the shuttle.  “Hey, we’re here!”

Ahead, I saw a massive fieldstone wall that was a bit much, even for a fancy prep school.  If it had been much bigger, I would have wondered if they had borrowed chunks from the Great Wall of China.  We drove through a huge stone gate that couldn’t have been much more elaborate unless they had an entire gatekeeper’s cottage built into it.  There was a big bronze plaque that told us that this was “WHATELEY ACADEMY”, as if we didn’t know already.  Above the gate were two huge gargoyles, looking really odd for gargoyles.  They had the usual batlike wings, but they had oddly near-human bodies, and they were faceless, instead of having the traditional gargoyle faces.  I wondered if there was a story behind that.

The shuttles drove through a large, somewhat hilly area inside those massive walls.  We passed several red brick buildings, each one apparently started in a fake colonial style, with more modern additions tacked on.  By then, it wasn’t so much an architectural style as an anti-style.

We pulled up in front of a multi-story building that had what looked like a mansard-style roof with enough windows sticking out to make me think that the ‘attic’ up there was really another level of dorm rooms.  Probably the ‘penthouse’ of the building, like at several of the dorms at Chilton.

We had to lug all our stuff into the common room.  It was a fairly spiffy common room, for that matter.  All the furniture looked reasonably new and fairly sturdy.  I had a feeling that the ‘sturdy’ part was probably essential around here.  There was a row of high-tech privacy booths for phone calls on one wall.  There was space cleared at the back of the room for luggage, which was a good thing, since I wasn’t the only person who had a pile of stuff.  Still, I was the only person who had four steamer trunks (plus what I had carried onto the plane).  It was a good thing I could go heavy and haul the trunks in.

I suppose if I had Vanessa’s power I might have just ‘voiced’ a couple guys into hauling all my stuff in for me.  But all Vanessa had was one oversized suitcase and one medium suitcase, both of which had seen better days, plus her travel bag and purse.

I hauled my trunks in two at a time, and then I helped Vanessa with her suitcases.  So I went back and forth through the entryway enough to notice that on one side there was a bust of Edgar Allan Poe set in a well-designed niche, while on the other side was another niche with a tableau representing “The Raven”, including a fake raven artfully perched over an open book.

Did all the cottages have this precious naming convention with ostentatious niches in the entryways?  I thought it was a bit much.  Oh well, it could have been worse.  At Chilton, the dorms were all named for big-time donors, so there was the Walcutt Dormitory, and the Goodkind Dormitory, and the Carruthers Dormitory, and so on.

Mrs. Shugendo then had us all sit down in the common room.  With under twenty kids, it wasn’t crowded.  And Vanessa saved me a seat on one of the couches.  Mrs. Shugendo called over a middle-aged woman, and then brought in three seventeen-year-olds wearing school uniforms.

She started out confidently, “Well!  Welcome to Whateley Academy!  You will get the formal Welcoming speech from the Headmistress along with all the other Freshmen, but this little talk is just for YOU.  Now, the reason that you were all told to come here a day ahead of the other Freshmen, and the reason that you’re being put up in this dormitory, is that you all have something in common that sets you apart from the other students, even beyond your individual mutations.  You are what is currently called ‘Alternative Lifestyle’ types.  You are Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered, or so aggressively Bisexual that it is an issue for you.  We don’t condemn you for this; you didn’t really have a choice in it, any more than you chose to be mutants.  We realize that it is hard going through adolescence.  We realize that it is even harder when you’re a mutant.  You have enough to put up with already, you don’t need the extra aggravation of being branded a quote sexual deviant unquote.

“Unfortunately, homophobic bias is so deeply ingrained in the American, Canadian and British school systems, and to a lesser extent in the European schools, that letting you go around openly declaring that you’re Gay or Lesbian or Bi or Transgendered is just asking for trouble.  So, we have Poe Cottage, a place where you don’t have to worry about the kids down the hall finding out, because they already know about you, and you already know about them.”

I felt myself relaxing, for the first time in hours.  I hadn’t expected that there would be a place that would be protecting someone like me.  But there was an entire dorm of us.  And…

Oh crap.  If Vanessa was part of this dorm, then she wasn’t Miss Straight America either.  She was either lesbian, in which case she was going to be massively pissed that some weirdo boy with a dick hidden in his pants had been chatting her up, or else she was going to turn out to be like me.  And, no matter how hot she looked, I was not interested in dating someone who had a penis.  If I had wanted that, I could have been chatting up Amy back at Gracie’s house.

But Mrs. Shugendo was not going to stop her lecture for my benefit.  She went on, “While we are very proud of the fact that you were brave and honest enough to admit your... persuasion on your admittance forms, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to ask you to curb that honesty.  I’m afraid that it’s a matter of your continued safety.  There are students here who have been victimized quite cruelly.  And, unfortunately those who have been hurt that way tend to be the cruelest of all, when they find someone that they can pass that pain onto.  And in our society, homosexuals and ‘fellow travelers’ are still considered fair game for that sort of thing.  Given the abilities that students at Whateley have, a gay-bashing could turn deadly, even Apocalyptic.  It is, simply said, easier for all involved, if it simply doesn’t become an issue.  If your sense of pride demands that you come out of the closet, then you have a right to.  But please, have consideration for the other people here at Poe, and don’t reveal the overall status here.

“The reason that you were brought here a day before the more... mainstream Freshmen, is twofold: to give you a day to get used to the campus before the others get here, and so that you will sort of be part of the background when they get here.  This will give you a certain... credibility that should allow you to make connections more easily.”  She looked over and pointed at Ritalin-Girl.  “Yes? You have a question?”

The blonde babbled at about fifty miles an hour, “Ma’am, you just pointed out that everyone here is queer or something like that.  So, how is that gonna affect how we’re paired up when it comes time to choose roomies?  I mean, the brochure kept mentioning roommates like it was a given.  So, like, are you gonna put us in Boy/Girl, which would make my mother, like, shit, fart and die, or is it gonna be Boy/Boy - Girl/Girl, which would be, really, like the same thing, but for real?”

I had been worrying about that already.  Who, or perhaps I should say ‘what’, was I going to get for a roomie?  Or maybe the real question was to ask who was going to get stuck with a freak like me?

“Ahem…,” Mrs. Shugendo cleared her throat nervously.  “It will be Boy/Boy and Girl/Girl.  To have it otherwise would advertise that there was something unusual going on at Poe Cottage to everyone who looked at the roster.  However, I must remind you that Carnal Relations involving students, whether between opposite sexes or the same sex, is Strictly Forbidden at Whateley, and any homosexual student caught breaking that rule will be punished as severely as any heterosexual student doing so!”

Well, that was as clear as could be.  She knew perfectly well that the administration didn’t have a chance of stopping serious bed-bouncing, but she had to say the words, just for form’s sake.  And what would they do if two guys rooming together were doing the horizontal lambada?  Admit that it was a problem in Poe?  I didn’t think so.

I saw Captain Cuteness with the odd gray eyes raise his hand.  “What are the rules about using your powers openly, like flying for instance?”

Hmm.  So he could fly too?  I had seen him being courteous and helping several girls haul in their biggest luggage pieces, and he looked like it was taking him as much effort as if he were carrying a couple bags of packing peanuts.  Super-strong, flying ability, and well on his way to Superhero Stud shape.  It didn’t take a genius to see that I was looking at another Champion or Captain Power.

Shugendo waved that one off, “That question, along with many others, will be handled by the Headmistress at her Freshman Orientation speech in two days.  In the meantime, just try to keep a low profile.  If nothing else, it will keep you from tripping into some of the more senior students.”

Interesting.  So upperclassmen might be flying around and stuff.  This was going to be a fascinating school.

Shugendo then introduced the middle-aged woman as Mrs. Horton, the ‘house mother’ for Poe.  Mrs. Horton had that ‘middle-class suburban matron’ look about her, except that she was taller than average, and still had a younger woman’s shape.  And she had an attitude.  Not an obvious, in-your-face one, but she was very clearly unconcerned about dealing with a whole dormful of super-powered teenagers. 

It suddenly occurred to me.  Where would a superheroine retire when she was done being a superheroine?  What if I was looking at a real, live superheroine, now out of the spandex biz?  I looked at Mrs. Shugendo, who was really too tall to be a typical Japanese woman.  Maybe I was looking at two retired superheroines.  Maybe the whole darned campus was going to be chockfull of supers who were more than capable of handling your average super-powered teenaged brat.  This could get really interesting.  I wondered how I could track down who used to be what.

Mrs. Horton said all the usual blah-de-blah-blah I had heard from house parents everywhere.  Obey the rules and we’ll get along just fine.  Don’t make the upperclassmen mad at you.  Respect your roommate and your floormates.

Then she got down to more details.  Above the common-room floor, there were three floors of bedrooms plus the seniors-only attic area that we were supposed to avoid.  The bedrooms were built for two.  There was a bathroom for each sex at each end of the hallway.  There was a community room and a library for studying.  There was also a small kitchen on this floor, but meals were at the campus dining room.  Food left in the kitchen was more or less open game, but there were ‘studio coolers’ in each room.  There was a laundry room, and the students were responsible for their own laundry.  So far, so boring.

Mrs. Shugendo took over again. “So, if your heads are quite ready to explode from information overload, let us get you broken down into groups that we can actually work with. These three…” she indicated the three uniformed teenagers, “are Steve Rossiter, Belle Forbes, and Rosalyn Dekkard. They’ll be your Student Guides for today. You can also go to them for help after today, but you do so at your own risk. They’ll show you around, answer your questions, and get you sorted out as to your sleeping arrangements. And so, I’ll leave you with these words: don’t destroy anything.”

Oh man, I couldn’t help wincing at that.  That just reminded me too much of Mother fleeing in terror from my bedroom.

Steve Rossiter was a studly blonde guy who looked like he was auditioning for the lead in a Captain America movie.  Belle Forbes was a svelte girl with sapphire eyes and jet-black hair pulled back in a high ponytail. Her face was long and angular, with a long straight nose.  Not the most attractive girl on campus, by any means.  But you could see the smirking humor about her mouth, and I just had a feeling she was going to be a real character.  Rosalyn Dekkard had the same black hair as Belle, but she wore it long and styled.  She had the looks and the curves I would expect from one of Heather’s A-list buddies.  And you could see that kind of attitude in her bright green eyes  She had an almost predatory look about her.

The three ‘guides’ took turns calling off names.  Belle called out ‘Nikki Reilly’, which turned out to be Miss Thing, the hot redhead with the huge violet eyes.  Then she called out ‘Hank Declan’ (the gray-eyed Champion-in-training), ‘Toni Chandler’ (the lithe black girl who had been dancing with Vanessa), ‘Billie Wilson’ (the otaku who had a thing for Ryoko), me, and ‘Jade Sinclair’ (the little Japanese kid).

I noticed that Vanessa had been called by the ‘homecoming queen’.  Then I realized that all the other girls had been called by Rosalyn, and all the boys except Hank Declan had been called by ‘Captain America Junior’.  Something was going on.  I looked at the way Vanessa - and all the other girls in that group, for that matter - were staring at Rosalyn, and I figured it out.  Crud.

Belle ushered us out the entryway and up one of the paths.  “Very well, freshthings,” Belle sang, “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to have to discuss some rather personal things, and we don’t want the others listening in, and vice-vicious. So, Rosalyn will show the Dykes-in-training around the cottage, Steve will show his little nancy-boys around the grounds, and I will show you changelings the school buildings.”

Changelings, huh?  Well, she couldn’t have made it much plainer without making us drop our pants and demonstrate.

“You mean we’re all...?” The Japanese kid wondered aloud.

“Ah the light dawns at last.” Belle chuckled with real humor as she nodded. “Yes each of you is going over to the other side in the ages-old battle of the sexes.

I couldn’t help gritting my teeth. “OR, were drafted by the wrong side!”

“That’s all in how you look at things.” Belle shrugged unsympathetically, then waved us forward.  “Come along, we have a lot to cover in not much time.  Don’t dawdle, please!”

What, now she was Willie Wonka?

As she herded us toward what was supposed to be the Administration building, she turned to me, “Yes, yes, I’m sure that it was all very traumatic. Now keep up, keep up!  We ARE on a schedule!”

Wow.  You could just feel the love.  I think I got more sympathy from Emil Hammond.  So much for my first impression about her.  I tried not to growl.  Well, I tried not to growl out loud.

The path was a winding brick walkway wide enough for several NFL linebackers to walk abreast.  In a number of places, it was carefully overhung by stately trees, some of which had probably been replanted just to get that ‘stately old place of higher learning’ feel.  The walkway was bracketed every so often by a pair of what were supposed to be antique gaslights.  We walked up a small hill until we came to the top, where another cottage stood, dark and uninhabited.

“Melville,” Belle sneered, gesturing at the empty building. “Don’t worry, we’ll be treated to their presence starting tomorrow morning. They fancy themselves to be rather our social superiors. Everyone’s social superiors, if it comes down to it.”

Ah yes, the A-listers would get a ‘cottage’ like this.  Melville was obviously newer than Poe, and looked more like a four-star hotel than a prep school dorm.  Even Chilton didn’t have a dorm like this one.

From the top of the rise, we could see clearly down into a little vale that held what appeared to be the majority of the campus buildings. The dominant architectural style seemed to be a sort of neo-classical brick, with the traditional ivy climbing up the sides to give the buildings that look-at-us-we’re-like-Harvard feel.  But clearly, no one was adhering to architectural requirements.  One wing of the largest building was a huge, glass-looking geodesic dome.  There was a round tower topped with a white dome that looked like a bay for a world-class telescope.  But this was Whateley Academy, so it might be a Mount-Palomar class optical telescope.  Or, given that this was Whateley Academy, it might be a giant laser weapon.

Instead, Belle pointed across the vale to two other low hills. Each of those was crowned by its own large cottage.  “Dickinson and Emerson, which will also be filling tomorrow.” She gave a theatrical sigh.  “I suppose the quiet was nice while it lasted…  There are more cottages behind those, and another out behind us.  Basically, it’s like three big arms.  The girls-only arm, the boys-only arm, and our co-ed one.”  She grinned at us, “And face it.  You can’t get much more co-ed than our little group, can you?”

Nikki and Toni actually giggled at that.  I may have growled out loud.

We continued along the pathway until we reached a quad.  It was a big square completely paved in flagstone, in front of the largest building. There were stone and metal benches scattered all around the square.  A small, fairly intricate fountain occupied the center.  Belle led us to an old bronze statue in the center of the square.  It was of an old man with a beard and long hair in the style of the late 1800’s.  He had his hands resting on a cane, and he was gazing off into the distance as if he were in rapt thought.  Typical.  I had seen ‘our founder’ statues like this in plenty of places, and this didn’t look any more impressive than ones I had seen before.

Belle began, “This is the statue of Noah Whateley, the man who founded this school back in 1878.  They only put this thing up because a school is supposed to have a statue of its revered founder.  Actually, the school that he founded was mediocre at best: the highest that any graduate of the original school ever reached was a Congressman for Vermont.  Anyway, after about eighty years of producing complete non-entities, the original Whateley Academy shut down and was foreclosed on by the bank.  Then it was bought by a group of mutant superheroes in 1966, because they wanted a remote place to train emergent mutants in how to use their powers.  They kept the name, mostly so that the school would appear to have a long and presumably illustrious history.”  She had that ‘student guide who is being forced to read a script’ air that I had seen before.

She took a breath and regarded us. “Very well, now that we have that tiresome bit of trivia out of the way, let’s get down to it, shall we? First, we’ll tour the administration and school buildings, so that what we have and do here won’t be a complete shock to you. Also, this will give the girls a chance to get their luggage upstairs and choose their rooms, without tripping over us. After a decent interval of viewing the ‘torture chambers’, we’ll return to Poe, and you will lug all of your stuff up the stairs and pick your cells.  Also, we will tour the grounds, athletic fields, and the Combat Training Areas.”

Combat Training Areas?  What the hell?  I don’t think I was the only one who froze at that.

Belle grinned at us.  She had obviously been hoping for exactly that reaction.  “Yes, Combat Training Areas.  No, you haven’t been kidnapped by a Mutant Terrorist Cell, or drafted into the military.  Whateley’s policy is that the students are left completely to their own devices to make up their minds as to things like politics and philosophy.  However, given the nature of many mutants’ powers, the bellicose nature of humanity in general and the viciousness of Anti-Mutant militants in particular, it is quite likely that, whether you want to or not, you will be faced with situations where you will have to fight.  And it would be a criminal waste of all this expensive education if we let you graduate, just to let you die a week later because you couldn’t defend yourself.”

I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking.  I’d only been a mutant for a matter of weeks, and I’d already been kidnapped twice, been experimented on by a mad scientist, and had to fight a supervillain who nearly killed my sister.  Maybe a combat training area made sense here.

She went on, “And here we come to one of the reasons that we split up as we did.  Young ladies, Gentleman, we are a group apart.  Even more than being a mutant or being.. ahem.. of ‘Alternate Sexuality’, we have yet another distinction.  Whether as a matter of deep-felt conviction or as a matter of our mutation forcing it on us, we are all changing into members of the sex opposite from that which we were born in.  Others, even the Gays and Lesbians, may sympathize, but they don’t really understand.  So, while we’re here, we’re going to have to rely on each other much more heavily than the other students do.  I have to admit to you all that having six transgendered students is a trifle unusual, especially at the beginning of the year.  Normally, we only have one or two TGs at the beginning of the year, maybe with one or two showing up later in the year.  Still, the rule is that the TGs room together and help each other out.  With six, we have the makings of a nice little team.  At least, that’s what we’re going to try for.”

Us?  A combat team?  Well, Captain Niceness over there obviously had that ‘Superman’ thing going for him.  I could do a little bit, even though I’d rather not punch people in the face.  But what about the others?  What was Ryoko Junior going to do?  Threaten people with the power of her red jewels?  And Miss Redhead Of The Century over there looked like her superpower was making every red-blooded male in sight run over and kiss her feet.  Toni?  I had no idea.  Jade?  She looked like she’d be the official ‘person to be kidnapped by supervillains’ on the team.

Belle went on, “So, while we’re here, out of earshot, I’d like each of you to introduce yourself, tell the others about your background, how you feel about your change, what you want to make of that change, and- Whateley’s version of ‘what’s your major?’ - what your mutant power is. Let me start off.”

And she did.  Yowsers!  So she had wanted to go to an all-girls school instead of an all-boys school?  No wonder she didn’t have much sympathy for me.  She was definitely in the ‘want-to-be-a-girl’ camp.  Her story about using ectoplasm to turn her entire boarding school into the most frightful haunted house in England was pretty funny.  I didn’t see that her power was that awesome in a stand-up superhero fight, but I could see how the ability to spin ectoplasm into whatever she wanted could have some serious advantages.  And her story told me more than that.  If anyone around Poe was playing pranks, she’d probably be up to her flashing eyeballs in it.  Plus, she did the Hogwarts/Whateley joke that I’d been waiting for someone to try out.

Then she had Hank talk.  I felt kind of sick to my stomach hearing how his brother had called in armed soldiers on him.  I hadn’t thought about other kids having it bad with their families.  Okay, so my younger brother had seen what he thought was me attacking a maid with a bizarre mutant power, and he had panicked and run for Mother.  But having your brother call out the Marines on you?  Ouch.  He sort of glossed over the details, but if he had to fight off a squad of heavily-armed soldiers and also wreck a couple jeeps and a tank - a tank for God’s sake - to get out of there alive, then he was pretty tough.  So Hank was a Level 3 Exemplar, and a ‘PK superman’ who could exert up to five tons of force.  Five tons?  Remind me not to get into a wrestling match with him.

Toni went after that.  She was a Baltimore girl.. who used to be a Baltimore boy.  She was a martial arts guru, and she claimed to be able to see lines of ki in the Earth, and use them.  That sounded to me to be more like what nature mages were supposed to do.

She had quite a way about her, even if she held still for maybe a nanosecond while she was telling her story.  With her, it seemed more like sheer excitement than a Ritalin-deficiency, like the tanned blond babbler who went with Rosalyn.

Then it was Fey’s turn.  Man, I could hardly believe that Miss Thing used to be a schlumpy guy.  That was just too weird.  And, from what she said, I could tell that she probably was a nature mage.  When she described how her hobgoblins got loose as psychedelic squirrels that terrorized her old school, it was all I could do not to fall down laughing.  I could think of a few jerks at Chilton who deserved a pack of psychedelic squirrels on their case.  Or up their case.  As the case may be. 

From what she said, she sounded like the classic high-end Faerie mutation, right down to the allergic reactions documented in the literature Mother had once shown me.  I wondered how long it would take her to get a grip on her powers.  According to the literature, most mages needed years of training to learn how to conjure up whatever they were good at doing.

Then Belle turned toward me.  “And now for a few words from our cranky punker girl.”

I gave her a look that let her know I’d pay her back for that.  Some day.  Belle just stuck her tongue out at me.  So much for the mature ‘student guide’ persona.

I tried to downplay things.  “My story isn’t as action packed as Hank’s or Nikki’s story.  But here we go anyway.”  That wasn’t how I wanted to begin at Whateley, but I just couldn’t get into the ‘grammatically correct debater’ mindset that I wanted.  Everything still hurt too much.  My voice even cracked. My story was still too raw, and, frankly, I just wasn’t used to spilling my guts.  That wasn’t the Goodkind way, even if I wasn’t supposed to be ‘a Goodkind’ anymore.  I had even given Amy and Tiff the watered down version of events, but I felt like I could tell these people private things.  They had already revealed some of their most intimate secrets to me. 

I decided to tell them everything. Well, almost everything.  Some things just needed to be left alone.  To paraphrase Jack Webb, ‘some names have been changed to protect the not-quite-so-innocent’.

I took a breath and tried again.  “I was born Trevor James Goodkind..”

Toni, of course, butted in, “You’re not related to THE Goodkinds, are you?”

Crap.  We were already at the I-hate-you-and-your-whole-family point.  I was really growing to despise that.  I sighed and rubbed the back of my head before I reluctantly nodded.

Nikki and Toni both gave out low whistles. Hank stared.  Belle winced.  Billie grimaced, which frankly was an expression she seemed to be good at.  The only one who didn’t react like that was Jade, and she just looked puzzled.  So it would be a few hours before she found out what my heritage meant and then decided to hate me.

“Go on dear,” Belle said after a moment of silence.  Her tone was no longer teasing.  In fact there was a definite tinge of fear there.

I closed my eyes for a second at the thought of what my family name did to people like the ones I would be around for the rest of my life.  I tried to continue.  “Well, as you might guess, I’m what you call a she-male, but I was born just as male as you.”

I definitely heard Hank chuckle.

I rolled my eyes and gave it my best shot at sounding like I wasn’t upset.  “Okay, like most of us!”  I saw that Toni was sharing my eye-roll.  That was a good sign.  It certainly beat outright hostility.

“Anyway, about a month and a half ago my powers suddenly appeared.  I was heading down the stairs for breakfast and was about to walk by one of the maids, when suddenly I got the feeling that I was completely naked...”

I stopped when I noticed that everyone was looking at me oddly.  Then I realized that I hadn’t told them what I could do.  Doh!  For someone with writing and extemporaneous debate skills, I was certainly making a hash of this little speech.  I went light.  The faint blue tint appeared, as I knew it would.  Then I stepped back and waved one arm through the bench behind me.

Nikki watched me go light, and her eyes seemed to bulge.  Of course, on her that just looked sexy.  Then Nikki narrowed her eyes in concentration, and I felt a slight tickle in the back of my head.  I didn’t know what Nikki was doing, but I knew she was doing something.  And then I saw all these weird green and red lines around everything.  Holy cow!  Were those ley lines like Nikki was talking about?  If that was what it was like for Nikki all the time, then I had to wonder how she managed to do normal things like read or find her way around.  The shock of seeing those lines was enough to break my concentration, and I went back to normal density.

“As you can see I can become immaterial at will.”

Hank broke out in a chuckle. 

But it was Toni who said the words.  “You walked right out of your clothes!” she shrieked.  Then she had a giggle fit.

I could feel my face burning a bright red.  I knew that some day this would be amusing to me too, but I hadn’t gotten there yet.  I suddenly thought of an old Mel Brooks line: “The difference between comedy and tragedy is perspective.  If I get a paper cut, that’s tragedy.  The pain!  The suffering!  But if you walk into an open sewer and die, that’s comedy!”  It helped me get a bit of a smirk back on my face, so my real feelings didn’t show.

“Let her finish,” Belle said firmly.  But I could see she was laughing like hell on the inside.

“Bingo!” I said. “The maid screamed and started shouting in Spanish as she started to fall down the steps.  I reached out to grab her, but ended up phasing right through her before I became solid again behind her.  We both ended up crashing down the stairs, with me naked as a jay-bird.”  By then, Toni wasn’t the only one laughing at my story.

“Once the world stopped crashing around me, the maid took off in a run as fast as her heels would carry her, while I tried to figure out how I ended up naked.  I looked up at the top of the stairs and saw my older brother David holding my clothes and looking at me with a pale look on his face.”  I felt the tears starting to build in my eyes, but I just couldn’t make them stop.

“Then his face turned all dark and he shouted freak and ran down the stairs past me.  I scrambled to get up the stairs and get dressed again before he came back.  When he did, he brought Mother with him.  He explained what he saw, and I watched as she grew as pale as he had.  When I moved to hold her, she backed away and screamed not to touch her.  Then she ordered me to stay in my room.”

“Wow,” Hank said in a stunned voice.

“Oh, it gets better,” I snarled.  I was trying hard to hold the tears in, but I wasn’t doing too well.

“A few hours later my father came home, but he wasn’t alone.  He brought a doctor from one of the labs he runs.  That bastard jabbed me with a needle, and I woke up on one of his damn tables a few hours later.  Dr. Hammond spent the next day studying me like I was some damn test animal!” I growled.

I saw Belle react when she heard the name ‘Dr. Hammond’.  So at least she knew about him.  I would be surprised if the others didn’t know who he was too.  I mean, that trial had gotten international coverage for three months.

I thought about it, and decided to lie a bit.  There was no way I could say flat out that my own parents and brother had come to the lab and had watched as Hammond experimented on me.  That they had heard me begging for help, and had left me there.  I just couldn’t admit that Paul had waited another two days before getting Gracie’s help or pulling me out of the research lab.  But he had rescued me, in spite of everything we had ever been told about the dangers of  ‘the genetically deviant’.  Did anyone need to know details like that?  I skipped over them.

“Thankfully my other brother Paul made the mistake of calling my sister Gracie.  She must have gotten hold of Mother and Father, because the next thing I knew I was back at the mansion watching two maids pack me a bag to go stay with Gracie.

“Now Gracie is like me.  A she-male.  Only she isn’t a mutant.  I hadn’t seen or talked to her in nearly six years, as my father had disowned her and told us never to mention Greg’s name in the house again.  Greg was Gracie’s male name before she took the drugs that made her into a she-male.  She started taking them at the age of 18, just after graduation from college.  Gracie had been the heir to the running of the family business, but once she became a she-male, father and the others in the family disowned her.  Paul was the only one left who would talk to her.

“I didn’t know all that, so you can guess my surprise when I got off the plane in L.A. to discover my brother is no longer male and is now my sister.  I confess that I behaved very badly towards her that first day.  Then I learned something more shocking than my mutant power.  For some reason, every time I phased, my body grew more feminine looking.  Gracie took me to see a doctor friend of hers, and I learned that my power was making me into a girl.

“By the time I was at Gracie’s for three days, I was going by the name T.J. rather than Trevor, as I no longer looked like a boy named Trevor.  I was still fighting tooth and nail that I was turning into a girl, but by then I was starting to have budding breasts growing.  So it was a losing battle.

“A few days later, Gracie got sick of me moaning about changing and hiding in the spare room she and her wife Janet had made up for me.  She came into the room and sat me down for about an hour and gave me a piece of her mind.  By the end of the day I was in panties, bra and a dress.  And hating every second of it.  Thankfully Janet went out and got me some jeans for girls, and the rest was history.  From that moment on I dressed as a girl.  Janet even renamed me Ayla to try and help me deal with the changes in my body.”

“All that in a few days?” Nikki said with awe in her voice.

“Yep,” I said.  I didn’t think they needed to know the ugly details, though.  Then I lied, “And it gets better.”  I tried to put a smile on my face to hide the pain.  I didn’t know if it worked.

“By the end of that first week, I had given in to the fact that I was turning into a girl.. or at least into a she-male like Gracie, as her doctor had said it was doubtful I would become a full female.”

I thought it over for a second and decided that I was not going to admit what a shitty thing Gracie had done to me.  She was trying to help me, even if it hadn’t been a barrel of fun for me.

I lied, “On my tenth day with Gracie, she came down to the beach where I was sunbathing with her roommates Tiffany and Amy, two other she-males.  She told me that my parents wanted to talk to me.  Now understand that by this time I had learned all about Gracie’s story, and how Dad had disowned her and left her penniless.  It was only due to her marrying Janet and making her life in the Square that she was able to rebuild her life.”

“The Square?” Jade asked.

Crud.  I had figured that everyone in America had to know about The Square.  There were exposés on it, and lurid news ‘reports’ about it, and even a really tacky UPN television show about it.

I stopped and explained, “Sorry.  The Square is where Gracie lives.  It’s an area of L.A. near the ocean that is home to transgendered males and those who love them.”

At that point, Belle chipped in and told what she knew of it from news reports.  She said that it was basically a tiny part of L. A. carved out by the transgender community in the 70’s, and it was rumored to be the best party zone for she-males in the States.  That was close enough that I didn’t bother to correct anything.

“It seems my Uncle Theo had talked Dad into seeing that my being a mutant wasn’t that bad.  Uncle Theo didn’t seem to have the dislike of mutants that both my parents and my other relatives had.  However, Gracie didn’t trust him for some reason.”  Then I blatantly lied, “Anyway, Gracie talked me into putting on a dress and wig, as well as getting a makeover at the salon before we went to met them.  I was a little worried how they’d react to seeing me as a girl, but Gracie said they would have to see me at some point, as that was what my power was making me become.

“Well, Dad freaked out and started yelling at Gracie about turning me into more of a freak.  Uncle Theo tried to calm everyone down, but it was no use.  Mom freaked out and began crying saying ‘her baby was dead’ or some crap like that.  That was when I missed the needle by Dr. Hammond again.  The jerk whisked me out of the room while Dad’s bodyguards restrained Gracie and Janet.  I spent the remainder of the day as Hammond’s lab rat again.  He confirmed that I was becoming a she-male when Dad and Uncle Theo joined him in his lab.  Uncle Theo gave me a strange look, but that was beside the point as Gracie came storming in the door with ten lawyers.  She and Dad started screaming again, while Janet gave me my clothes back.  When all was said and done, Dad gave Gracie custody of me.. but not before he made me penniless.”

“You mean you’re broke?” Toni asked, while Nikki let off a low whistle.

I managed a brittle smile.  “Well I won’t say completely broke.  Gracie learned her lesson after what Dad did to her, so instead of my 12.5 billion I was to get at the age of 21, she got me 300 million to live off of.  So I won’t want for much as long as I watch how I spend the cash.”  I gave them a smile, but it didn’t fool anyone.  Not when tears were streaming down my face.

“Is that all dear?” Belle asked.

“Nope,” I said, as ungrammatically as I could.  I figured I would do better if I tried harder to fit in with everyone else.  “I was still messed up in the head about what I was, and still fighting what I was becoming. To add to my troubles, the second we returned to the Square, we got attacked by some loser bitch named Sparkler.”

“Oh god, what did Sarah do now,” Belle said with a weary sigh.  I was busy being angry, but I couldn’t keep from giggling at her act.

“Well, she threw this giant sparkling fireball at me that burnt all my clothes off but my panties and bra.  I wasn’t sorry to see the dress go, but if I hadn’t been standing in front of Gracie, she would have been killed.”

Belle interrupted with a confused expression, “Wait a second, Sarah can only create light shows.  None of her firecracker effects can do damage.”

“That’s what Janet told me later.  Regardless of what you know about her, Sparkler got an upgrade to her power somewhere, because she burned three cops and nearly killed the bank teller of the bank she had just robbed.  Well, I was seeing red by then and began fighting the ditz, which ruined the street we were on.”

“Wait a second. How can you turning into a ghost do any damage?” Toni wondered.

“Oh, I forgot.”  Man, was I messing up this talk, or what?  So much for coming off as a well-informed scholar.  I could feel my face turning bright red with embarrassment.  “I can also increase my density to the point that it is diamond hard.  When I do that I also get really strong, and can lift about a ton with little effort.  Janet thinks that I’ll be able to lift more as I get older.

“Anyway, I’m tossing around cars like basketballs while Little Miss Firecracker is making the street explode,” I exaggerated.  “After she ruined my bra, I ran at her and started hitting her really hard, but her skin was as hard as mine, so I did little damage there.  Then an idea hit me.  Since she was firing those damn fire blast of hers from the gauntlets on her wrist, I phased my hand into them and shorted out the circuitry in them.  But she was still kicking and managed to clock me in the balls.”

Everyone flinched.  I guess they really were guys before their change.  Hank flinched too, so I figured he’s been a guy long enough to find out about getting whacked in Mister Happy’s luggage.

“After I was able to see straight again, I ran after her, and this time phased my hand into her back.  My hand tingled, and she went limp in my arms.  Janet told me I was lucky that I didn’t kill her pulling that stunt without knowing how it works.  So, after the cops hauled Sparkler away, and Gracie talked them into letting me go home, Janet told me about Whateley and informed both me and Gracie that I was heading here. Since Gracie does whatever Janet tells her, and I seem to do whatever Gracie tells me, that’s how I ended up here.”  I gave them a little ‘what can you do’ shrug.

“No offense but your parents are assholes,” Hank quietly put in.

I just shrugged again.  I couldn’t bring myself to tell them the whole truth about my Mother and Father.  It just hurt too much.  I felt my top slip so that my bra straps slid out.  I quickly adjusted it, even though the others were watching me.

“Thank you Ayla,” Belle said as she turned towards Jade. “Next, we have the kid of the group.”

Well, it turned out that I wasn’t the only one whose powers were screwing around with his or her body.  It turned out that Jade was only about five months younger than I was, and she had been stuck like that for years.  Even more surprising was that she was still completely male under those clothes.  She was a real transsexual who was still stuck in a boy’s body.  At first I wanted to say something, but then it hit me.  Jade and I were in exactly the same situation, just with the sexes reversed.  I would have given anything to get back to being a guy, so I could sort of understand what she was going through.

She deliberately skipped over some parts of her story, but it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that her dad used to beat the crap out of her.  The bastard.  How could anyone treat a nice kid like that so horribly?  Maybe he’d show up at Whateley some day, and have a couple hundred super-powered mutants showing him how it felt to get your ass kicked by someone bigger and stronger.  Then, it was definitely freaky seeing her animate some clothing.  Could that really be a separate entity there?  I had no idea.  If Belle and Nikki couldn’t detect anything, I wasn’t going to be able to.

After that, Jade made sure that Billie told her story.  So Billie went by ‘Tennyo’ and a Japanese sensei gave her the codename?  Interesting.  I had to wonder if she knew that ‘Tennyo’ would translate as something like ‘heavenly maiden’ in English.  Plus, it sounded like a portmanteau of ‘Tenchi Muyo’.  And her story made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  My God!  Okay, so my younger brother David had been scared shitless when I manifested right in front of him.  But even David wouldn’t have given me a poison that should have burned me to a crispy critter, like her little brother did.  Even if the dork didn’t think it would hurt her much, just humiliate her horribly.  Then, being kidnapped was bad enough, but also having to fight off mutant assassins too?  Man.  For someone who had it as rough as she did, Billie certainly didn’t seem all that bothered about it.  Which just made me wonder if I was being a self-centered jerk about everything.  And her description of her powers made me wonder just how powerful she really was.  Energy sword, energy blasts, flight, strength…  She sounded like an entire combat team by herself.

After all the ‘origin’ stories, Belle took us on a tour of Schuster Hall.  I was sort of distracted as we walked into the place.  Did all mutants have origin stories like that?  Some of the ones I had just heard seemed like they should have been issues out of Marvel comics.  Hank’s and Billie’s sounded like they should have both been made into major motion pictures with a summer release.

Only Toni had sounded like her manifestation had been an easy process.  I really envied her having a family that actually still loved her and wanted to see her again.  Even if that still felt really bizarre to me.  I mean, didn’t her family think of her as a frightening mutant who could rip them apart like they were made out of kleenex?  Didn’t they think of her as someone to be shipped off to someplace way out of state, so they would be safe?  The idea that they would want her to come home for holidays just seemed so alien to everything I knew.  Even if Gracie and Janet wanted me to come home for the holidays too.

And Billie’s family just seemed bizarre.  Everyone in the family was really a mutant?  Her parents were mutant agents for the government?  Freaky.  Just kind of scary.  I knew that her whole family had to look so normal that they could pass as baselines, but I just kept having these weird thoughts of Billie as something like the child of.. oh, I don’t know.. maybe Doctor Diabolik and Tenta-rella.

Belle led us across the quad and into Schuster Hall.  I was favorably impressed.  It looked almost as nice as the entry into the main hall at Chilton, and I knew that some serious cash outlays had been poured into that.  The entry hall was large, and obviously well cared for.  It looked like the oak flooring had been polished on a regular basis, and had been maintained surprisingly well given that super-powered mutants had roamed these halls for about forty years.

Reasonably elegant armchairs and tables were scattered about the room in an effort to appear casually arranged, while still providing enough privacy for study or conversation.

Belle smirked, “It’s kind of chilly in the wintertime, but the fireplaces are nice.  Get a spot close to one if you have the chance during the cold months.  It’s a lot warmer and kind of cool sitting by the fire.  Especially with the right guy or girl.”

Most of the group reacted in shock, which was obviously what Belle had been aiming for.  I just tried not to feel depressed.  What girl was going to want to cuddle up with me in public?  So far I hadn’t seen many girls who would have to settle for anything short of Jesse McCartney or Zac Efron.

Belle then led us to an unobtrusive wooden door and peeked inside it.  She sang out, “Heigh-ho, Mrs. Linford!  I’m leading the first wave of Poe Cottage Frosh Orientation Tours.  Would you please open up the Homer Gallery?”

Mrs. Linford turned out to be a middle-aged black woman who was still trim and lively.  She went through a security routine that would have impressed Edna Mode, to let us into the Homer Gallery.

Belle explained, “This is the Homer Gallery, which is where we keep mementos of prominent Alumni.  Note, I said ‘prominent’.  Not ‘famous’  or ‘glorious’, just ‘prominent’.  Of course, the very nature of this place requires that we keep it locked off most of the time, just in case anyone not ‘in the loop’ drops by.”

Then she proceeded to give us the two-dollar tour.  She showed us a real Champion costume, and explained about his history.  I suppose I had heard more about mutants than most people, because the other kids were much more impressed.  Then she showed us an oil painting of Lord Paramount gazing dramatically at a neo-classical bust of Vlad Tepes.  Apparently, Paramount was a huge contributor to Whateley, and one of his conditions was that everyone had to be shown his portrait.  I had to wonder what his other conditions were, given his reputation.  Mother and Father had once declined a White House dinner invitation when he was one of the honored guests.  I mean, Paramount’s a powerful esper, among other things, and the President of the United States just let him meet dozens of important U.S. officials, without massive protection from psychic manipulation?  That told me all I needed to know about the IQ of our nation’s leader.

There was also a pyramidal shape built of solid gold bullion.  One metric ton, according to Belle.  Hmm.  One metric ton of pure 24-karat gold would have been a lot smaller than that mound.  There had to be some understructure that the pyramid was built over, to make the volume look larger.  And the color was off.

Oh, Belle said it was 16-carat gold, so there was alloy added to inflate the volume of metal.  I was really wondering who had donated that.  Then Belle explained that it was from Gabriella Guzman. 

Oh.  That explained a great deal.  My parents had said a good many things about Senorita Guzman and how she misused her mutant abilities to become a millionaire, none of them complimentary.  So that meant that the ton of gold was an obvious statement about Guzman’s life story.  Well, if she wanted to waste that much money, when it could have been invested and put to good use, that was her problem.

Belle made sure the Homer Gallery was properly closed up, with a warning to us about loose lips sinking ships, so to speak.  Then she led us back down the hall to a really wide set of oak doors.  She made a big production of ushering us in.  “I give you The Crystal Hall, one and all. Cafeteria is to the right, let’s eat!”

The geodesic dome was rather impressive, and someone had spent some effort to give the interior a natural feel so that it matched the exterior that we could see on the other side of the glass walls.  There was a central fountain, a grassy area, hanging plants, and even a few small trees.  Fey looked really impressed by it, but that might just have been the ‘nature mage’ in her.

“Wow!  This is Totally, Completely, Awesome!”  I was pretty sure that was Jade.

“Cool!”  That was definitely Billie there.  There was never any trouble spotting that Ryoko voice.

I could tell that most of the pack was seriously impressed by the place.  Well, it was pretty nice.  Maybe a bit over the top for a high school, but nice.

Toni, of course, bounced straight to the point.  I swear, that girl would probably be bouncy about taking out the garbage.  “Food!  Let’s eat!  I’m starved!”

The food was better than I expected, given that it was served cafeteria-style.  It was way better than what Janet and Gracie cooked, which wasn’t saying much.  Actually, it was definitely better than the food at Chilton too.  The variety was certainly a lot larger, and there was a ton of it.  My first thought as I looked over it all was that they had enough chow for a couple hundred kids, when there were only a few dozen of us around as yet.

On the other hand, I had never seen Billie and Hank eat before.  And I had thought my brothers were bad when it came to wolfing down food!  I hadn’t thought about the energy consumption needed by energizers and PK supermen and the like.  I was glad my appetite was still in the ‘normal teenager’ range, and not in Billie’s ‘entire pride of lions’ range.

I took my time and looked at all the food options before I chose what I wanted.  There was a lot of pasta, but most of it was mass-produced junk for hungry teens.  I opted for the small servings of the orrechiette with puttanesca sauce at the back of the steam table.  Similarly, I was selective about the salad greens and the dressing, the sautéed vegetables, and the beef.

While Billie and Hank were chowing down on seconds.. or perhaps thirds.. I made sure to go back to the serving line and compliment the chefs on the highpoints of my meal.

“Hi.  Could I please speak to the chef who prepared the puttanesca sauce for the pasta?”

“Uhh, I guess so.”  Well, that was definitive.

A graceful chef all in white, with a Mediterranean complexion and a carefully-waxed mustache, stepped out.  He had a look in his eyes like he was expecting to hear that I thought I had been served garbage.  “Yes?  You wanted to say something about my sugo alla puttanesca?”

He sounded so plainly French - probably southern France - that I decided to go all out.  I dropped into my most idiomatic French and told him that I thought it was the best pasta alla puttanesca that I had ever had, with a masterful blending of the capers and anchovies.  That was just a bit of a lie, as I had once enjoyed a better version of pasta alla puttanesca, when the family was in Naples on holiday.  But it was really extraordinarily good for something in a boarding school.

Chef Marcel was really pleased to find someone who actually appreciated his cuisine, and so he introduced several of the other chefs to me.  They all knew what the Goodkind name meant, and none of them reacted badly on hearing my last name.  That was a refreshing change.

There were some upperclassmen sitting around the huge dining area.  I noticed with some discomfort that there was one drop-dead incredible blond babe who was glaring at me like she wanted to hack me into bite-sized bits.  Had word about my last name gotten around the campus that quickly?  That didn’t bode well for my future at Whateley.

Belle rounded us up for more touring before Hank and Billie were really done eating.  She wanted to show us the classrooms.  Which seemed like an enormous waste of my time, since I would have no idea if I would have classes in any of these rooms until I met with a guidance counselor and worked out a class schedule.  But she was the student guide.

Then she sent us to wander about aimlessly while she pulled Nikki back.  Okay, so Belle wanted to have a private word with Nikki.  Who wouldn’t?  I let it drop.  Maybe I would ask Nikki about it later.  Instead, I asked Hank a question about the anti-mutant force that laid into him back at his base, and distracted him from what Nikki was doing.

After a quick waste of time looking at classrooms that didn’t look any different from a few hundred other classrooms I had seen over the years, it was time to rendezvous with Beltane.  This time, she showed us something really juicy.  No, not something to do with Nikki!

Whateley had miles and miles of underground tunnels.  And I got to try out my ‘flying’ for a while.  It turned out that Billie was a natural at it, and Hank flew really easily.  My ‘style’ consisted of rising off the ground and drifting whichever way I wanted, while staying completely upright.  I thought I looked like a dork, but no one said anything about it.

There were tunnels from the far cottages to the main buildings.  There were tunnels to security and admin and the hospital.  There were tunnels for combat training areas, and special labs, and reactors, and secret passages, and just about everything you could think of except a giant metal annulus that led to a planet full of Gou’a’uld.

Then Belle led us up out of the tunnels and back to Poe.  It turned out that the four closest cottages didn’t have direct tunnel access.  It occurred to me then that I wasn’t exactly bound by the same limitation on tunnel access that everyone else was.  But that would require a little work on my part, once I received my pinger so that I had legitimate tunnel access.

As we walked back to pick out rooms, Hank finally got around to the question I’d been too chicken to ask out loud.

“So… What bathroom does everyone use?”

Belle gave him a sideways glance, like she’d been waiting to spring this on someone.  I was definitely going to have to keep an eye out for her.  She asked, “Well, if we were on the main campus, dressed like that, behaving like that, would you try to go into a girls’ bathroom?”

Hank actually blushed.  “Uh, no, of course not.”

Belle said, “Right.  And in public, none of the girls here would try to go into a men’s bathroom.  Well, whatever you’d do in public, you do the same thing here.  Which means, whatever you’ve got under your skirt,” she glanced at Hank, “or pants, as the case may be, doesn’t matter.  The skirt, or pants do.  That’s how you behave here, too.  And if you’re in the bathroom here and you see something odd, well, you don’t see it.  Understand?  Because you can believe that person has problems and is probably hurting a hell of a lot more than you are.  We all stick together here, and we all support each other.  No matter what we were, what we are, or what we may someday be.  Everyone got it?”

I stared at her for a long moment and thought.  I’m basically dressing as a girl.  I have breasts, so I have to wear bras.  I’m wearing lingerie, and girls’ blouses and girls’ jeans.  So I’ll be expected to use the girls’ bathrooms.

Wow!  I mean this was a dream come true!  I was going to be showering with almost a dozen unbelievably hot babes every day!  And then it dawned on me.

Uh-oh.  I was going to be at risk of having dozens of super-powered girls getting pissed at me for looking at them in the bathroom.

On the other hand…  Getting to watch Vanessa shower!  Wow!

On the gripping hand…  A major uh-oh.  I thought about having Vanessa get pissed off at me and ordering me to go nail my dick to a tree.  Or having someone like Nikki getting pissed off at me and turning me into a frog.

Still, I could use the girls’ bathroom, and shower with the girls on this floor.  Holy crow, how could any guy turn down that opportunity?  I mean, I was getting a hard-on just imagining it.  I was going to have to give it a try.

Belle gave us some more detail on the Poe rules and Whateley rules, but none of it was as interesting as the idea of showering with Vanessa.  Or Nikki, for that matter.  Or Billie, or Toni, or most of the other girls I had seen.

Just as we were about to grab our stuff and go pick from the remaining rooms, there was a thunk against the side of the building that sounded like Champion had just thrown a snowball at us.  A snowball the size of an elephant.  Was this the kind of thing that happened all the time at Whateley?

Apparently so.  Belle looked up and dryly said, “I’d know that thud anywhere.”

We went outside, to find a crumpled heap of superhero costume struggling to get back up, after flying in and crashing right into the cottage.  Really swift move there.  Belle introduced us to - get this - Mega-Girl.  Mega-Girl was really a soph named Marty who was using a PK shell to change his physical self to female.

What was my impression of Marty?  Imagine a 16-year-old blonde with a playboy playmate body and the (lack of) common sense of your standard teenaged sitcom glamorpuss.  Now add in PK supergirl abilities.  Makes you want to cringe, doesn’t it?

I was pretty sure I heard Toni muttering, “Dear God, somebody went and gave Lizzie McGuire superpowers!” 

I only had a vague idea who Lizzie McGuire was, but I still had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud. 

Then it dawned on me.  Man, this was depressing.  Along with everything else, I was no longer the biggest smartass on my dorm floor.

And Megs was hot to be in the Cape Squad.  Only at Whateley would there be a clique of ‘future superheroes’.  And Megs was also interested in a hero-type named - you won’t believe this one - Iron Star.  Ugh.  What, did he have to paint himself with Rustoleum regularly?

I saw Toni and Nikki deciding to pair up, so I walked upstairs to see what rooms were available.  I gave Belle a quick heads-up, and she put me down for room 202.  That was fine with me, since it wasn’t any worse than any other room I had checked.  I mean, none of the freshman rooms were going to be four-star accommodations, you know.  They were all pretty much what I expected based on what I had seen of dorm rooms at Chilton and a few of the nicer summer camp dorms.

I took a moment to check out the girls’ bathrooms.  There was one at each end of the hall, but the one at the east end was just a couple toilets and a sink.  The one at the west end had all the rest of the toilets, a row of sinks, the showers, and a changing area with wooden benches.

And I was going to be showering in here with the girls.  Wow.  I was nervous and excited and kind of horny just thinking about it.

I walked into room 202 and looked around first.  Some of the rooms had small closets and some had a pair of wardrobes, but none of the rooms had space for four trunks worth of clothing and supplies.  So I needed to figure out how I was going to unpack, where I would put the trunks while I was unpacking, and what I would unpack while putting the rest in storage until I needed it.

Before I could go down and get any of my trunks, Jade was dragging Billie in to see me.  It was pretty obvious that Jade wanted something, and was trying to get Billie involved too.  I could tell that, before she opened that cute little mouth.

She looked up at me and asked, “Wouldn’t you rather be over in Room 216?  We could switch rooms…”

Okay.  So Jade wanted to switch rooms.  I didn’t care about the room, but I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of.  And I did want to know why she wanted to make the switch.  “So why do you want to switch rooms?”

She tried a fairly obvious evasion.  “You’ll be right next to Toni and Fey, a corner room with no neighbors to bother you on one side…”

That wasn’t why she wanted this room.  Or was it that she really didn’t want the other room?  “Yeah.  I see the advantages just fine.  What I want to know is: if it’s so good, why do you want to trade?”

The kid wasn’t a negotiator.  That much was obvious.  She choked, “I…”  Then she gave up and stared at Billie for help.

Billie was definitely not willing to be dragged into this.  She flatly said, “Sorry, you’re on your own.”

Jade looked back at me and got all teary-eyed, “I.. I.. nothing.  Nothing at all.  It’s cold, and dark, and doesn’t get any sun, like this room.  I’m sorry.”

Cold and dark, and doesn’t get any sun?  Sounded just like my room back at Gracie’s.  So how bad could it be?  I knew it had a window just as large as the one in this room.

And the kid wanted it so badly.  I swear, that little girl has Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes that ought to be registered as a lethal weapon.

I found myself patting her on the shoulder and saying, “Ah, what the fuck.  Sure I’ll trade.”  I didn’t even know why I was patting a stranger on the shoulder, or saying things like ‘what the fuck’.  Was I channeling Janet all of a sudden?  Maybe those Big Sad Puppy Dog Eyes were one of her superpowers.

“Huh?  Really?”  She gave this beaming look of hope that made me want to warn her about getting too excited over things like dorm rooms.

I shrugged, trying to make it look like I couldn’t care less.  “Sun’s over-rated.  Too much glare.  Wakes you up too early.  Besides,” I phased and waved one hand through one of the wardrobes, “there might be some advantages to the corner.”

Suddenly I found myself being hugged by a cute Japanese girl.  She whispered, “Thank you!” like she was about to burst into tears.

I tried to sound casual, “No big deal. I haven’t even gotten my stuff yet.”  And I walked out before I got all weepy and embarrassed myself.

I went downstairs, went heavy, and easily hauled two of my trunks off to my new room, 216.  After all, what could be the downside to having a room next to the hottest chick in five states and the funniest girl on the floor?

Billie apparently felt that she owed me a favor, because she went and hauled my other two trunks up for me.  It’s always a good idea to have people owing you favors, even if you never cash in those favors.  There was probably a ‘fixer’ somewhere on campus who was the local master of the ‘favor owed’.  I’d have to ask around and find out who it was.  It’s always useful to know who’s who in any school.

And God only knew what a ‘fixer’ might be like in a school for mutants.  A mage who could create things people wanted out of thin air?  A psi who could make people change their minds against their will?  A super-strong enforcer who could make people do what he wanted so he wouldn’t crush them like over-ripe cantaloupes?  I had no idea.

I unpacked for a while until I was ready to close up one of the trunks.  I needed to go talk to Mrs. Horton about storage areas.  There were bound to be some storage rooms in a cottage like Poe, and if those were already claimed by upperclassmen, then I’d find somewhere that I could rent some storage space.

I stepped out of my room and found half of ‘the changelings’ in the hallway.  Nikki and Toni were walking back from the larger bathroom talking about showering in the mornings, and Billie was just popping out of her room.

Billie looked a little tentative as she said, “Hi! Uhh.. would you guys like to come in and see our room?”

I looked at the others.  It looked like I was included in the group, which surprised me and made me feel a little funny.  I was still expecting them to think about my last name and want to beat me up.  I was still slipping back and forth between two equally-stupid polar extremes: either “I like these kids, and they’re not like regular mutants”; or “Holy crow, I’m standing next to mutants, what should I do’.

Toni took charge.  As usual.  She said a sprightly “Sure!” and waved us into Billie’s room.  We took over, like it was any old dorm room I’d ever been in.  Toni sort of Jackie-Chan-hopped into a desk chair, while Nikki sat on one bed.  I had to consciously not sit on the bed next to her, so I took the other desk chair.  Billie just sat.  She sat in mid-air and pulled her legs up under her like she’d never heard of gravity.  I was going to need a lot of time to get used to this place.

Billie sounded sort of nervous as she nearly stammered how Jade was out and stuff.  Billie was trying to get to know us better.  That was a good start.

As soon as she mentioned the school, Toni was off to the races.  “Pretty incredible, isn’t it? I mean , from the outside it’s just some ratty old private school, stuck up here in the middle of nowhere.”

I couldn’t let that go by, since I was the only one who actually knew what boarding schools were like.  “It’s not really ratty.  It’s a pretty sharp-looking prep school.  Even without the dome or the observatory; talk about your definition of ‘over the top’!”

Billie instantly veered off-topic for some reason.  Maybe she was worried Toni and I would get into a super-powered fight in her room over whether or not Whateley was ‘ratty’.  Was that what mutants usually did?  She said, “Hey Fey, we never got a demo of your powers.”

She actually wanted to see Nikki’s mutant powers?  Jesus!  My first instinct was to back up against the wall.  Then I realized that I was sitting there next to a kid who had been turned into a clone of Ryoko, and who was floating in mid-air.  I had to get used to being around mutants.

I mean: other mutants.  Damn.  It’s not as easy as it sounds to completely change your outlook on life.

Fey decided to stare at Billie’s stuffed cabbit doll instead of at us.  She muttered, “Consider yourself lucky.  I can’t exactly control them yet, and sometimes really weird...”  She just trailed off as she gave the stuffed animal the weirdest stare.

So I couldn’t resist tilting my head toward Nikki and teasing, “Case in point.”

I was totally surprised when Billie finally admitted, “I’m just not sure that I’m ready to go to school as a girl.”

Hey, that was exactly what I was worried about!  Well, one of the things that I was worried about.  Maybe this ‘changelings together’ plan had some real merit to it.  I confessed, “Tell me about it.”

I should have been thinking about this before.  All three of the girls in the room with me had gone through stuff I was worrying about.  I should be asking them for advice!  Maybe I had really screwed up by not getting one of them as a roommate.

On the other hand, I could invite them to my room individually for private chats.

Or not.  Maybe it would be a good idea if I didn’t try getting Nikki in a room by ourselves.  I was having a hard enough time not making a total fool of myself when I had lots of other people around.  How the heck did Toni manage not to spend all her time ogling Nikki and drooling all over herself.  I mean, she was going to be dressing with Nikki, and watching Nikki change clothes, and…

Oh God, I was giving myself an erection just thinking about that.

Fortunately, Nikki wasn’t paying attention to me.  And Toni was already off onto the next topic, “So, what do you want to do tomorrow?”

Damn!  Wasn’t she upset about ‘being’ a girl?  Okay, I pretty well picked up on that whole “I’m glad I changed” thing when she gave us the big exposition at the quad.  But wasn’t she intimidated or worried or anything?  I wished I had her attitude.

Nikki was still doing weird stuff with the stuffed animal.  Did it have freaky ley lines in it or something?  I wondered if she could see ley lines connecting people to things they had affected before.  Maybe she could see lines connecting the cabbit to workers in the factory from which it came?  Okay, now she was poking the thing.  Definitely up there on the weird-o-meter.  Maybe I had made the right choice in grabbing a single.

Nikki finally said something relevant, “I still haven’t finished unpacking.”

I grabbed my hair in frustration.  “Don’t mention that!  I still have three trunks to go!”

Everyone stared at me, “Three trunks left?”

“And have you seen how small these rooms are?  Where am I supposed to put everything?”

Billie helpfully pointed out that she had seen storage space in the basement.  But then she unhelpfully said, “That’s an awful lot of clothes for a person who sometimes sounds like she doesn’t want to be a girl.”

Oh God.  How could I explain to these girls how unprepared I was to pretend to be a girl at Whateley?  How could I explain that these moments of feminine behaviors like appreciating lingerie tended to scare the crap out of me?  How could I explain that I wanted more than anything to be a boy again, even if I was willing to do what it took to survive until then?  I ducked my head and admitted, “I know.  Sometimes I scare myself.”  I tried to explain, “But, somehow, that lingerie just makes me feel so…”  I came up with the word a salesgirl had once told me.  “Well, wicked!  It’s like I can’t help myself.”  That was so inadequate.  I didn’t want to be a girl, and I didn’t want to look like a girl, and I didn’t want to like how sexy my lingerie felt on my skin.  But I couldn’t just say that out loud!  I gave up and just thumped my forehead on the desk.  “I am so messed up.”

Well, that put a damper on everything.  That was me.  Ayla The Wet Blanket.  Billie probably wouldn’t invite me back for her next little changeling-chat.  I left while Billie was explaining that her luggage was lost, and Jade had next to nothing.

I went back to my room and focused on unpacking instead of how much of a party pooper I was being.  Then I heard something down the hall.  It sounded like Billie.  And believe me, nothing sounds like Billie except Billie.  She’s got a voice that female drill sergeants would pay good money to own. 

Then I heard her again.  “Hey!  That’s my cabbit!”

Whoa.  Was someone trying to steal her stuffed animal?  That didn’t sound like a smart idea, given what I’d heard about her powers. 

Then Toni started shouting, “Loose cabbit on the floor!”

Were they kidding?  I looked into the hallway, and the damned thing was running all by itself, and dodging Billie like an NFL tailback.  Okay, I knew life at Whateley was going to be strange and/or eerie, but this was just bizarre.  Had Nikki done something to animate the thing?

Wait.  She had been staring at it and poking at it and looking confused.  Had she seen the thing when someone else was doing something to animate it?  If she could see ley lines, then maybe she had seen someone else’s magical spell in action.  That would be a useful power to have.

In the meantime, while everyone else was running manically about, I just tried to play goalie.  I managed to block one set of stairs and thwart the little monster.  Unfortunately, the next time I managed to block its path, most of the crowd ran right into me.  Including Hank, whose name ought to be changed to ‘Tank’.  Having him run into you was basically like letting a Mack truck ram into you. 

As I knew from personal experience.

It was a good thing I had gone heavy as a precaution for playing goalie, or Hank would have smashed me into several hundred pieces.  But the stupid cabbit got away again.  And I know I heard the thing giggling.  The giggle sounded maddeningly familiar too.

After a great deal of silliness - which I really enjoyed, if I had to admit it - Billie rounded the thing up.  When she carried it past me and I could see Jade’s speaker disk stuck to its belly, I knew just what had happened.  And I had thought that Belle would be behind most of the pranks at Poe.  I was going to have to watch out for Jade too.

Vanessa dropped by a little later that evening, while I was still putting things away.  She looked angry.  Well, duh.  I had figured that one out a few hours earlier.  I hoped that she didn’t want to turn it into a supervillain fight on my first day at Whateley.  But I had already decided what I was going to do if she attacked me with her voice.

She crossed her arms over her endowments and growled, “Why didn’t you tell me you were really a boy?”

Oh brother.  I sat down on my bed and said, “First, I’m not a boy.  I’m now what they call ‘intersexed’.  Most of me is female, except for my crotch.  And my brain.  My brain is definitely male.  Second, how was I supposed to know I could tell anyone?  And third, if complete honesty is the issue here, then why didn’t you tell me you were a lesbian?”

She winced, “I’m not.  I’m bi.  It’s just that since my eyes changed and I started being able to do stuff, I’m all over the place.  It’s a real problem.  I go for boys and girls both, and back home I was having a lot of trouble not gawking at absolutely anybody who looked hot.”

I smiled at her.  “Well, that’s convenient, since I’m both a boy and a girl.”

That got her attention in a big way.  “Really?”

I nodded, “Really really.”  She giggled, so I figured she had gotten the Shrek joke.  “Do you need to see my medical charts?  My body’s naturally producing levels of estrogens that are on the high side for a fourteen-year-old girl.  But my privates are producing enough androgens for two fourteen-year-old boys.  The doctors think I’m going to end up looking like a woman with something freakish between my legs.  And they wonder why I’m so upset about it!”

“You’re upset?”

I snorted, “Sure I am.  I liked being a boy.  I wanted to stay a boy.  I don’t want to look like this.”

She suddenly had a kind of shy look.  “Oh.  Because I thought you were really cute.”

Cool!  I smiled at her, “Oh, really?  Well, I thought you were just astonishingly hot.”

She gave me the ‘interrogation eyebrow’ bit.  “As hot as that little white redhead?”

“Yeah.  But she’s cheating.  Sort of.  It turns out she has a Faerie glamour she can’t turn off that makes her more WOW than she already is.”

She rolled her eyes, “Uh-huh.  Half the girls I went with were hoping she’s a girl now, and she’s still into girls.”

I told her, “Well, from what I heard, she’s so far along the path to girl-land that you’d have to get out a speculum to prove otherwise.  And she still seems to like girls.”

She smirked, “Well, that’s gonna make a lot of girls in this dorm pretty damn happy, if you ask me.”

“Like you?”

She gave me a little smile and sat down in one of my chairs.  “No, actually I had my eye on someone else.  But I’ve got a few problems we’ve got to work out first.”

That made me want to break out into a huge grin.  I had enough sense not to.  I said, “So you’ve heard about me.  Go ahead.  Ask.”

She looked like she didn’t want to say it, but she asked, “Are you really one of THE Goodkinds?  Evvie sorta said you were, and they weren’t real nice to you when you turned into a mutant.”

I snorted, “Not real nice?  As in letting a mad scientist dart me and kidnap me and torture me like a lab rat for half a week, and then throwing me away like a sack of garbage?  Yeah.  They weren’t real nice to me…  At least my sister Gracie is pretty good about things.  I live with her now.”

She cringed at my words and said, “At least my family still loves me.  My mom and granny have been great, and ever since I saved some of the church ladies, they all like me.  And Reverend Jameson has been great.  He warned me about, well…”

“People like the Goodkinds?” I stuck in.

“Well, yeah.”

“Good advice,” I admitted.

She asked, “But you already know all about how to run a business and invest money and stuff, right?”

I shrugged, “Well, I do know a lot more about that sort of thing than most teenagers.  But I don’t know everything.”

She sort of blushed as she said, “Sharisha said that rich white kids like you would only be interested in using people like me as maids and.. and worse.  I’m gonna be rooming with Sharisha Kincaid.  She’s black too, and there’s only three of us, and the other one’s Toni, and she’s one of you guys.  Though Riptide’s really hoping she likes girls.”

Oh.  So Sharisha was the big heavyset snarler I had seen at the depot.  I’ll bet she had a really interesting view of rich white kids.

Vanessa went on, “She’s from New York City.  We’ve got a lot in common.  We’re both city kids, though Sharisha comes from a pretty bad ‘hood in New York.  She even likes a lot of the same music and tv shows I like.”

I said, “That’s good.  A school like this is likely to be pretty white, and you’ll be glad you have someone like Sharisha to hang with.”  Actually, I was hoping she would rather hang with me, but I wanted her to know I was going to support her.

She sat down on the other bed, so we were eye to eye.  She said, “The thing is, well, my mom’s job is just a grind, and she doesn’t have the degrees or the skills to get a better job, and she’s got me to worry about, and…”

“And you want to do better than that,” I stuck in.

“I want to be better than that!” she insisted.  “I want to have a job where I can make enough money to take care of mom and granny!  You wouldn’t know what it’s like being poor!  I want to be somebody who has enough money that they can help thousands of people like granny and mom!”

I was kind of surprised by her attitude.  An awful lot of the people I had met who weren’t like the Goodkinds were looking for a way to get a Goodkind to pay their way.  She seemed better than that.  Smarter than that.  And that dig about ‘being poor’ really stung.  I had been less than well off for a few days, and that had just about crushed me.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be you, or Sharisha, or even Toni,” I admitted.  “There’s no way I could.  Up until a month and a half ago, I never even thought about it.  I spent my whole life being groomed to be…  Well, something I can never do now.  I had a couple weeks of living in someone’s basement and eating Hamburger Helper, and it just about killed me.  So you’re just going to have to accept that I don’t know what it’s like to be you, just as you don’t know what it’s like to be me.”

She leaned forward and purred, “But I’d like to know about what it’s like to be you.. and me.. and…”

Then she kissed me.  Or I kissed her.  Or we kissed each other.  Or something.  It’s not like my brain was actually up to recording anything important, other than the incredible sensation of Vanessa’s lips on mine…

I don’t know how long it was before Vanessa slowly pushed herself away.  We were lying on my bed, with her on top of me, and I was having a hard time thinking.  I had a throbbing erection.  My nipples were tight and pulsing.  My breasts felt.. well.. weird.  Sort of achy, but not.

Vanessa looked thunder-struck.  Her eyes didn’t seem to be focusing, and she was breathing hard.  Her lips seemed even fuller than usual, and an arc of spit curved from them to my own.

She blinked and got herself under control.  Which was more than I was able to do, if you really have to know.  She took a deep breath and gulped, “We need to stop now.  Kissing is okay, but…”

“Just okay?” I teased.

“Oh, stop it, that was great, and you know it,” she mock-frowned.  “But I’m only fifteen!  I’m not ready to do more than kissing!”

“Umm, I hate to admit it, but I’m not either,” I confessed.  “I don’t think boys are supposed to say that.”

She kissed me on the cheek, “And that’s one of the things I find really hot about you, honey.  But kissing is gonna be it.  If you need more than that, find yourself another girlfriend!”

I found myself grinning insanely.  Girlfriend.  I liked the sound of that.

She said, “Look, I grew up in a place where a lot of black and Hispanic teenagers in my neighborhood end up pregnant before they have a chance to get through high school.  For a lot of them, that ruined what they could’ve done with their lives.  I’m not gonna do that.  I’m gonna study hard and be somebody.”

I respected her for that, even if that meant that I was going to be taking a lot of cold showers if we kept seeing each other.

Shortly after Vanessa left, and I could make my brain focus on something other than Vanessa again, Billie came by with what looked like a stuffed lion and a club.  Okay, was this a strange mutant ritual I hadn’t heard of?

But before Billie could say anything, the lion turned to me and said, “Yep, it’s all my fault!  Go ahead and let me have it!”  And it sounded like the same voice that had come out of that giggling cabbit.  Oh.  I got it.

Still, I thought I would get in a little teasing.  I raised one eyebrow at Billie and said, “So ventriloquism is one of your amazing mutant powers?”

She grinned, showing her fangs off a bit, and said, “No, it’s Jinn.  Jade charged her into the cabbit.”

I said, “Yeah, I guessed that when I saw the speaker disk on the cabbit’s


The lion actually looked embarrassed as it said, “Oops!  I’ll have to watch out for that.”

‘I’?  I’ll have to watch out for that?  I had the feeling that Jade was going to have to invent some new pronouns before long.

And how did a stuffed animal manage to look embarrassed?

So I ended up in Toni and Nikki’s room playing ‘whack-a-mole’ with Toni and Fey and Billie.  Let me tell you, Toni was just freakishly fast, and in ten minutes of messing around, she didn’t miss once.  It was really pretty discouraging to watch.  If I had ever had any pretense of athletic ability, I would have been seriously depressed just watching her.

We received a series of weird looks from passing floormates, and it was rather crowded in there, so we moved into the sunroom.  It was Toni’s idea, of course.  She sort of dragged the rest of us along in her gravitic lasso.  No, she didn’t really have gravity powers.  But she did have the kind of personality that just pulls people in.  You could just tell that she was going to be the next Werner Erhard if she wanted to be.

Once in the sunroom, playing whack-a-mole was a bit more challenging.  Well, it was for everyone except Toni, who seemed to have reflexes that Barry Allen would have envied.

Then Billie got Toni to demonstrate her martial arts skills.  I was expecting a little Jet Li or Jackie Chan.  I wasn’t expecting Supergirl.

Toni made a punch with her right hand.  I mean, I know it had to be a punch.  But her arm was just a blur.  And there was a real snapping sound that had to be her compressing the air in front of her fist, as if she had just broken Mach one.  Holy crow!  I mean, I knew she was a mutant, but that was impossible!

And she wasn’t done.  She didn’t crouch down for a jump, but suddenly she was leaping up in the air, right over a floating Billie, and doing an unbelievable mid-air flip-and-spin move to land facing us about six feet away.  And she said she couldn’t fly?  Could have fooled me.

She finished up by ultra-casually fibbing, “Oh, you know, ordinary martial arts, maybe with a little extra…”  And just to be even more casual about it, she just stood there and looked at her fingernails like she was thinking about manicures instead of powers.  Man, I wished I had her style.  Not that I was ever going to admit that to anyone.

The room was dead quiet after that.  Interestingly, it was Jade who burst out first.  Apparently, Jade had been taking martial arts too.  Then Billie got into the act.  Was martial arts one of those mutant things I was supposed to do?  Fortunately, before I had to put my foot in my mouth to find out, Nikki saved me.  She asked, “Am I the only one here who isn’t obsessed over some form of martial arts?”

Thank you, Fey!  I returned the favor by admitting, “No, I was never that fond of punching people in the face either.”

I was expecting Toni to say something to that.  Well, I had phrased it like that to get a rise out of Toni.  But once again, Jade surprised me.  She smiled, “We don’t punch people in the face.  We let them meet the mat.”

I looked at Nikki, and she returned the look.  “Uh-huh.”  Riiiiiiiight, Jade.  Let me stay far away from you at P.E.

Before I had to admit that everyone in the room including the pipsqueak could probably toss me around like a slinkie unless I went heavy first, the conversation veered off-course.  Again.  The next thing I knew, Jade was in tears over Nikki’s confession that she was still pretty upset about what had happened to her.  I never got a chance to tell Nikki that I felt exactly the same, because everyone was worrying about Jade.

The conversation eeled around a bit, including a really weird time spent questioning a toy lion to get information about a real girl.

Uhh, wait a minute, I meant a real person.  Despite what I knew about Jade, it was really hard to think of her as a boy.  Just as I was finding it harder and harder to think of her and Toni and Nikki - and even Billie, who definitely didn’t look like a baseline - as anything other than regular kids like me, who had been changed a little.  It was freaking me out a bit that I couldn’t keep thinking of them as mutants first, and floormates second.

When Jade finally came back and accidentally revealed just how agonizingly desperate she was to be a real girl, it struck a rather painful chord in me.  I hoped I didn’t sound that desperate, but I needed to go back to being a boy, just as badly as she needed to be a girl.  I wondered if there was anything we could do for each other.  And I wondered if I needed to keep an eye out for her, so she didn’t do anything too insane.

Hey, we were at a school for mutants.  We were going to have a huge fraction of all the mutants on the planet running around loose within a mile of us.  Was there anything you could do around here that would be considered ‘too insane’?

Before I said something too ‘mutantly incorrect’ on that subject, Billie was pressing Nikki for a powers demo.  So I stuck in my two cents, just to see if I could get a rise out of the Faerie mage.  “Yeah, we got part of it on the tour.  Psychedelic squirrels, turning into a girl, forced to buy cool clothes…  And which of us can’t understand that last part?”

Okay, that was sort of a lie on my part, but it did get the laugh I wanted.  I had my own problem with liking lingerie that I was not ready to discuss in public.

Well, not again.  Not after I had humiliated myself the last time.

So I wrapped up with, “But you never told us how it works,” just to get the attention focused back on her.

Then I sat back and tried to get as far away from the center of attention as I could without going light and backing out through the wall.  That turned out to be easy, as half the room proceeded to tease Nikki while she tried to explain about ley lines and what she didn’t understand about her abilities.

I was just about to slip out and finish unpacking when Jade demonstrated that she could be a lot more creative with her power than I was being with mine.  She turned Jinn into a floating blanket in which she could go to sleep.  She could be asleep while Jinn was floating around doing stuff and talking to us?  Man, they really were separate entities.  That was just weird.

I went off to my room.  I thought about going by Vanessa’s room and seeing if I could give her a goodnight kiss.  But I didn’t want to push my luck too much.  And her roomie Sharisha would probably have a fit about Vanessa necking with some whitey.

So I did some more unpacking, and then got ready for bed.  I put on a pair of silk pajamas and my bathrobe.  Then I strolled down to the girls’ bathroom to brush my teeth and scrub my face.

Which was more than worth the trip, because a hot babe was showering and I could see her in the mirror.  I left before she realized that my hard-on was jutting upward like a guided missile about to be launched.

And I needed to get out of there before I launched.  Whew!  Talk about steamy in there!

I made my bed with one set of the satin sheets I had brought, and I went to bed, stared up at the ceiling.  There was no reason why I shouldn’t turn this into bunkbeds if I had a single.  That would give me more room.  Maybe I could get permission to put up a couple of the hammocks I had brought.  And there was no reason I couldn’t keep the mini-fridge stocked with drinks and snacks.  Hey, I could turn this place into the best place to hang out in the whole cottage!

My family - my former family - obviously expected me to be the next great supervillain or something.  Just a day ago, I had been short on friends and low on expectations. 

But now it seemed that I had some friends.  I had some friends who understood what I had been going through, and didn’t hate me for it.  I knew a girl who thought I was cute, and didn’t mind what was lurking inside my panties.  In fact, she might even like me for it.  I had a place where I might be able to fit in while I grew into what Ayla Goodkind would become.  And I had expectations again.

Goodkinds don’t complain.  They fix things.  And that was what I was going to do.  I was going to find a way to fix my life, and a way to fix my body.  I was at a place where people like Sparkler were just ‘oh, not her again’ and people like the Goodkinds were ‘what a bunch of jerks, ignore them’, and I could learn how to become what I needed to be.  I could learn to become me.  I just needed to apply myself.

And, as I stared up at the ceiling, I realized what I needed to do first.

I really needed to get someone to re-paint the room.  That blah yellow color had to go.