Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 16 – Les précieuses ridicules
9 pm, Holographic Simulation Center
They popped into being in the middle of a city street in between some skyscrapers. Every one of them looked around and checked their teammates.
<(Chaka) Lancer’s missing. Lock him… >
<(Fey) Already got it.>
<(Tennyo) How bad is this gonna be? Are they going to up his powers too?>
<(Chaka) Still a PK field, no matter what. We just gotta take down the field. Remember. Anything hard we throw at him, like a magical attack, he may be able to throw back at another of us. So either Tennyo punches him through the field, or Fey takes it out. Then we let him have it.>
<(Generator) And if those don’t work, we’ve still got a bunch of stuff Phase dreamed up.>
<(Chaka) That girl needs to take a chill pill. She’s wound so tight she’s gonna break if she doesn’t dial it down.>
<(Generator) Or maybe Vox dials it up.>
<(Tennyo) Focus. Without Lancer, we’ve got to do the Team Dad thing ourselves.>
<(Chaka) Okay, but… Shit! Incoming!>
Chaka sprinted to the side, grabbing Shroud as she ran past. <(Chaka) MOVE IT!>
As she used a Chaka Chaka Bang Bang to blast a display window apart, she dove through the remaining cloud of glass shards, holding Shroud in front of her so she didn’t get sliced up. She glanced back, and it was already too late.
The entire street had been nuked. A ball of plasma about the size of a Volkswagen Bug had already hit right in the middle of the street, turning it – and the entire team – into dust.
She threw Shroud toward the back of the store and turned her hands-first leap into a cartwheel that led smoothly into a slide across the linoleum floor.
It was just barely enough. The plasma blast filled the street and took out most of the storefront. She kept moving toward Shroud, who still hadn’t reacted.
The blast wave knocked a couple racks of clothing over, and she had to turn her slide into a backflip and another cartwheel to dodge them. She grabbed a dress off the nearest rack and pressed it over her face to protect herself from the dust and debris.
<(Shroud) What the hey?>
<(Chaka) We got nuked. And that wasn’t Lancer. It was Bomber.>
<(Shroud) So we got the Dark Grunts?>
<(Chaka) I think we just got the Grunts. They just decided not to tell us we were done with the Dark Whoever sims.>
<(Chaka) Anyone on besides me and Shroud?>
Nothing but silence came in over the Spots.
<(Chaka) Da-yum. Oscar the Grouch really let us have it this time.>
<(Shroud) Can we take a look at the street?>
<(Chaka) No. If Tennyo survived that, we’ll hear her any second now. Pretty much everybody will. No one else did, or we’d hear ‘em on the Spots from inside Fey’s forcefield bubble. The Grunts gotta know they didn’t get all of us in their initial strike, ‘cause the sim’s still going. So they’ll be looking for us. And they got all the advantages now.>
<(Shroud) So maybe Lancer’s out of the sim, or maybe he’s playing on their team?>
<(Chaka) I figure those are the two options. Even if he’s not in the game, they got Bomber flying overhead, Bunker using her Psi powers to track us, Deadeye lurking somewhere with a sniper rifle, Mule as their tank, Slapdash runs these things in power armor, and then Breaker.>
<(Shroud) We can still beat those guys.>
<(Chaka) We’re sure gonna give it our best shot.>
<(Shroud) So what’s your plan?>
<(Chaka) First, we got to get out of their killzone here and into some other part of this city. Without getting blasted by Deadeye. Then we move to guerilla warfare. We try to take out anyone we can, and then fade away before they can launch a coordinated strike.>
Shroud grinned evilly. <(Shroud) Can we split the team?>
Chaka almost laughed out loud. After all the Team Tactics training and everything else they’d been through, Bardue and the Grunts would probably expect them to stick together. But with the Spots, they could split up and still stay in communication. She nodded.
<(Chaka) The Grunts practice doing C & S, and all this jazz.>
<(Shroud) C and S? Oh, right! Cordon and Search! I sorta forgot.>
<(Chaka) They can’t track us unless we expose our position. They can’t find us with Bunker’s Psi power, even if she can kill you with her PK if she gets a clear shot. Deadeye can’t take you down with a sniper shot. I got no idea if Slappy has anything that can do a PK blast, but we’ll have to watch for that.>
<(Shroud) Phase would know.>
<(Chaka) Well, Fey cut her outta the comms on our way down here just in case Bardue tried an end run with another Phase attack. So we can’t call her for help.>
<(Chaka) Yeah. Oops. It would count as cheating, anyway, so we’ll skip it. We can do this on our own, girlfriend.>
<(Shroud) I think I oughta drop the costume and anything big, and stick to some small gear they won’t notice.>
<(Chaka) How small is small?>
<(Shroud) Umm, how about two knives on cables, some sand, a few nanowires, a speaker, and my Spot?>
<(Chaka) No hornets? No gun?>
<(Shroud) Nope. G had all of that stuff.>
<(Chaka) Okay. Drop your other stuff in the trashcan there, turn what’s left into a nice little package, and hide inside my gi. Then I can go full speed and not leave you behind.>
Chaka watched as Shroud went limp and dumped herself in the trash. Then a clump of sand emerged. The clump was just barely big enough to hide two throwing knives, and it quickly flew over to hang on her belt to the left of the knot. Okay, even if they took her down, they wouldn’t know why the sim was still running.
Next step: get the hell out of here before the Grunts managed to get their cordons in place. With only half a dozen people, they couldn’t be too darn effective. Deadeye would be up high somewhere with a sniper rifle, but she ought to pick him up before he could drill her. Well, she’d find out. And Bomber would be flying around looking for any survivors, but she had no idea if he could corner while he was buzzing around. And this was a cool way to find out, when nobody was going to get hurt for reals.
She went up. As far as she knew, there was no way to go down from here. “Hmm. Note to moi. Find a manhole cover, pop it off, and leave it not quite back on. Let ‘em go nuts searching the sewers.”
She felt something like a Psi probe, so she made sure her brow chakra was closed. Let Bunker go wild searching the place with Psi, a Psi wasn’t going to be able to read either remaining Kimba, and hopefully wouldn’t be able to locate them either. Chaka was pretty sure she would find out the hard way if Bunker could do either.
This was really pretty awesome. It was like getting to watch a training team in action, only so you got to test yourself against them too. Maybe she could get a few minutes alone with Breaker and see what moves he had.
It didn’t take any time at all to get to an upstairs window. Not when Shroud was good at sliding under doors and opening them from the inside. She watched for a minute or two, and it looked like it took Bomber a long time to circle around. Boy had the speed all right, but he cornered like… well, he didn’t corner. He made big honkin’ curves like a 767 with a load of fancy-schmancy Ayla-esque passengers who didn’t want to get jostled. And she still had no idea where Deadeye was hiding, just that it was probably on the roof of one of those skyscrapers that looked down on everything. Which was also Ayla-esque. Man, she really missed getting to be snarky in these sims.
So… how was she gonna get outside their cordon before they gave up on ‘search’ and went straight to ‘nuke’?
<(Chaka) I think I’m gonna need a tactical feint from you. Can you move out this window, around the building, over to the far side of the blast zone, and ‘engage the enemy’?>
<(Shroud) How engaging do ya want me to be?>
<(Chaka) I was thinking ‘engagement with extreme prejudice’ if you get my drift.>
Chaka watched a couple handfuls of sand and stuff sneak down the outside of the building and duck under a bush.
She had to admit it. Way easier to sneak around as some sand than as Shroud. Not as easy as the Jamie spyspecks, but the Jamies were pretty useless except for intel-gathering. She was about as deadly as she was in her full costume, and she could sneak up on Grunts easier this way.
Okay, the Hello Kitty compact was a lot more fun. Stabbing someone? Gross. Stabbing someone in the butt with a Hello Kitty compact? Hilarious! She really wished she could have seen Phase’s face when she nailed Phase in the butt in that Dark Fey sim. It was probably as funny as the Home Alone face.
Nobody ever thought about what it was like for her to stab someone when she was the knife. The super-close-up view as the blade cut into someone. The way it looked inside someone. The sound. Eww, the sound was ultra-gross, even if the person didn’t yell or scream or make all those other awful noises. And you could feel it as you cut into someone. Yuck and a half. She was just glad she didn’t have taste and smell when she was like this. That would be awful. And then Generator had to remember all of it when they recombined. Eww. She tried not to think about it much.
She skirted around the huge blast area. There was even a big, round crater chewed into the asphalt and concrete. Bomber’s plasma acted an awful lot like Tennyo’s. That wasn’t a good thing, either. She’d love to get even with Bomber for nuking Tennyo, but there was no way she was going to catch a guy who was flying like three or four hundred miles an hour and not coming down. And Tennyo would get mad at her if she tried to get even after the sim, even if it was something funny like turning his hair green or making him pee blue for a week.
No, what happened in the sims stayed in the sims. You had to stick to the rule, or else the school jerks didn’t have to stick to the rule either, and that would be really annoying.
Even if it would’ve been really funny to get even with that tubbo Belphegor after he stole all that stuff from Mega-Death and Jericho and those guys, just for that combat final against Phase. Who totally pwned him. But really, stealing stuff from blind guys and ‘drickers? Could you stoop any lower? Even if she sort of suspected that maybe Jericho wasn’t really blind, any more than she was. Because sometimes he forgot he was supposed to be blind, and he looked over at stuff. She figured he had some sort of psychic or mystic sight like the Shroud in Marvel Comics. She sort of thought maybe Stormwolf did too, because sometimes he acted like he could see something big coming up behind him. After all, Stormwolf was American Indian and was supposed to have relatives or ancestors who were shamans or something. She ought to remember to ask Heyoka.
Okay, she had managed to move two blocks over, on the other side of the crater, and she still hadn’t found anyone.
She ducked under a bush and hid in the bark mulch or whatever it was. And two of the Grunts came past her, moving in tandem. It was Bunker and Slapdash. Perfect. Because Bunker was probably the only one who could blast her PK-ness out of stuff, and Slapdash was the only Grunt who might have a raygun that could kill her PK. She could see the purple color of mutant powers around Bunker’s head, and there were little flashes of purple at points around Slapdash’s head.
She ducked right behind Bunker, hitched a ride on the back of Bunker’s body armor, and followed them. Slapdash was in partial power armor. It covered his legs and arms and torso, and there was a helmet with a fancy sighting thing on it, and stuff like that. But his knees and hipbones and elbows and neck and face were totally vulnerable.
Blast, this is Keystone. Blast, this is Keystone. Come in.
Ooh, she was close enough she could hear what Breaker was saying over their earpieces! Cool! Then she heard Bunker talk back to Control.
Keystone, this is Blast. No sightings.
And she could hear Slapdash talk from where he was crouched only twenty feet away, because he wasn’t using a Spot or any kind of sub-vocal system.
Keystone, this is Clank. Ditto. Do we have any sightings from air support?
She wondered. Did they change their codewords all the time so people couldn’t eavesdrop on them with some sort of interceptor and decryption system? Cool. She would’ve picked better codewords. But maybe if they did this three times a week, they’d run out of cool codewords pretty fast.
Clank, this is Keystone. High and Sky report no sightings at all, but the sim is still live. Expect anything.
She couldn’t resist a line like that. While Bunker was using her Psi power, she had no PK going on. Or at least, Shroud was hoping so.
She slid a nanowire around Bunker’s throat and pulled tight. Nothing happened. It was like trying to get at Lancer. Bunker was using her PK for a Supergirl deal. Crap.
Bunker smoothly reached for a hand that wasn’t there, to throw an attacker over her shoulder.
Shroud slipped the nanowire away and dove down to the ground, hiding in the grass between Bunker’s feet.
Keystone, this is Blast. We have engaged. It has to be Shroud or Generator.
Slapdash wheeled about to face Bunker, and began looking around for opponents.
Keystone, this is Blast. No psychic signatures. No idea how they’re covering.
Keystone, this is High. No sign of any bandits. Repeat, NO sign.
Keystone, this is Armed. May be a devise shield.
Shroud slid under a little shrub and let Bunker move off a few feet. Slapdash carefully moved over the open ground, not even looking at the dirt under his feet.
Shroud waited until Slapdash stepped over her. Then she slid up his back and used one knife to slit his throat. She dropped the knife and ducked behind his torso as he fell to the ground.
Sky, this is Blast. Nuke this position NOW!
Bunker leapt into the air, zooming off down the street. Shroud did her best to rush off in the opposite direction, but she could see the raw energy of Bomber’s plasma crashing down on where she was seconds ago, and she wasn’t moving fast enough. She wasn’t sure Bunker was moving fast enough. The blast hit the ground and exploded outward.
<(Shroud) Got Slap. Bomber’s nuking the…>
She sighed as Shroud’s comms went dead. So Slapdash was down, and maybe Bunker but maybe not.
She decided she should have sent Shroud after Deadeye. Too late to whine about it, but Shroud could have zoomed up to the top of one of the skyscrapers in no time, then found him and taken him out. And once Shroud got him, she’d have a nice, big-ass sniper rifle to play with. The Grunts probably wouldn’t like being on the receiving end of sniper fire, assuming Shroud could aim the thing with anything approaching accuracy. After all, it wasn’t like Shroud could look through the scope to aim.
Oh well. She’d talk it over with Lancer and Phase later on. For now, it was time to go out and play a little.
She knew where Bomber was, and how slowly the guy could turn at full speed, so she opened the window wide and used her ki to run down the side of the building. Then she cut across the street at top speed and ducked into an alley. She really wanted to run up to one of the nearby roofs to scout around, but that was probably the worst thing she could do when Bomber was flying overhead and Deadeye was up on one of those skyscrapers looking for someone to shoot.
Nope, she knew what she wanted to try. She wanted to track down Breaker and get in a little one-on-one sparring with someone good. She never got to spar with the guys like Breaker, and there was no way she was going to pass up this totally fresh opportunity.
Then, once she took down Breaker, she’d try some sniper time. She still had no idea how far one of her Chaka Chaka Bang Bang attacks could go and still have any punch on the far end. So after she took down Breaker, she would try taking out Bomber. And as soon as Deadeye tracked her down, she’d know where he was hiding out, and she’d see if she could Chaka Chaka Bang Bang his shiny white butt. If she got him before he picked her off, then that would only leave Mule and Bunker. So Bunker next in the line-up. She’d taken down PDPs before, although this PDP was packing heat. And finally, Mule. That would be a real challenge. She liked challenges.
She started humming a little Shakira to herself as she started hunting down a Grunt.
I heard the gang misbehaving on the stairs well before they got to the hallway. They crowded into my room and took over their usual locales. Billie and the J-Team floated in the middle of the room, Hank flopped down in his favorite beanbag chair, Toni did a two-finger handstand on the back of my deskchair, and Nikki floated herself up into the lower hammock.
“So… was it Dark Lancer?” I wondered aloud.
Hank rolled his eyes. “Nope. No more Dark Phoenix scenarios. They came into my cubicle, told me not to alert the team, and they pulled me out of the sim. Then they hit everyone else with a cityscape and a quick nuking from Bomber, and the Grunts swept through and cleaned up after.”
Toni laughed, “Well, they tried to clean up after us.”
Jinn said, “It would’ve been a lot more fun if we’d saved G too, because then we could’ve chased ‘em with hornets, and let Nanoha cover ‘em with pink glitter, and all that stuff. It would’ve been hilarious.”
I frowned, “You mean we lost?”
Billie shrugged. “Sorta. I was kind of grouchy about it, because I only got like ten seconds of sim time. But Toni pointed something out. It wasn’t like it was a fair match or anything. And so what if we lose? It’s just a sim. If we lose here and there, Bardue’ll get off us about being such hotshots.”
Nikki said, “Not that it’s worth throwing a bunch of easy matches to lower our rating. But if Bardue wants to nuke us in the first second and call it a loss, we’re done for the night and we can go home.”
Jade said, “I don’t like losing, but… so what? I mean it’s not like it matters. We got important stuff to worry about.”
Hank scowled, “I still feel like I let everyone down.”
Toni teased, “Hey, relax Hulkster. Nobody but Ayles gets all that worked up about these things, anyways. And she wasn’t in there, so you’re off the hook. For this one, anyway.”
I asked, “What happened? The Grunts got to blindside you?”
Hank shrugged unhappily. “Pretty much. As soon as Bardue walked into my cube with Breaker and told me not to warn everybody, I figured it out. I mean, Breaker was standing right there in a sim suit, ready to go kick someone’s ass.”
Nikki said, “So we popped into the middle of a city with no warning, and Lancer wasn’t there. You weren’t there either, but we knew it wasn’t you.”
“Unless they were about to hit us with Dark Stephen Hawking,” teased Toni.
Billie continued the story. “So while we were looking for Dark Phoenix, we got blindsided. Chaka was the only one who reacted fast enough.”
Toni said, “I picked up on the focus, but that didn’t tell me it wasn’t Lancer. But it was movin’ way too fast. I yelled out a warning and got my jet on, but I wasn’t fast enough to do more’n grab Shroud on the way out of the killzone.”
Jinn said, “And we almost didn’t make it. We went through a store window and got to the back of the store, but Bomber’s nuke took out the front half of the store too.”
Billie frowned, “I heard Chaka, but instead of taking off at top speed, I looked around to find the threat. I was thinking I could just fly up and take Lancer out, but it wasn’t him. I totally messed up.”
Jade said, “You didn’t mess up. We just got gypped.”
Nikki said, “And what’s the point, really? We already knew we’re not invulnerable. If the other team’s going to get enough time to locate us and blow us up, we might as well ignore it and spend our time preparing for real threats.”
I asked, “So… what happened after the big nuke?”
Toni shrugged, but Jinn grinned, “Chaka saved me, and we decided I should go light, so I dropped pretty much everything except my Spot and a speaker and some nanowire and knives and sand and stuff, so I made a tiny little package Chaka could tuck in her belt. So she had me go sneak over to the other side of the blast zone to make a diversion, and I got to attack Bunker and Slapdash.”
“How’d that go?” I wondered.
She frowned, “I picked the wrong time to jump Bunker. I went at her with a nanowire and she was doing her PK Supergirl bit, and I couldn’t do anything. So I went over and got slappy with Slapdash. But then Bunker called in a bombing run and I couldn’t get out of the killbox in time.”
Toni said, “So then I figured I’d go over and give Breaker a little what-for, and after that, I’d try out my Chaka Chaka Bang Bangs and see what kinda range I could get on ‘em. But when I found Breaker, turns out the boy’s got like no sense of humor. I just wanted a little sparring funtime, and he had his pals snipe me. Maybe I shouldn’t a called him ‘Snacky Chan’.”
Jade and Jinn burst out in laughter, while Nikki giggled. I had to ask, “What?”
Jade snickered, “Snacky Chan! He’s an Asian rapper!”
I said, “That sounds like a cheap shot.”
Hank said, “And if Breaker’s never heard of Snacky Chan, he probably figured it was a racist slur. You know, Jackie Chan plus something with an ‘S-N’. Sneaky or snotty or something.”
I said, “This is Toni. She compared him to a rapper. That is a slur.”
Toni rolled her eyes and groaned, “Oh man, you mean I have to go apologize to him for making a rap joke?”
Nikki said, “Maybe you should at least explain it was a rap joke and not something nasty.”
Hank said, “The Grunts aren’t exactly famous for their sense of humor.”
I amended that, “Bomber is a sociopath. Slapdash has Diedrick’s, although not as severely as Harvey or Olympia. Bunker has more than a few issues of her own. Mule’s still dealing with losing one of his best friends fall term. Deadeye’s not exactly Mel Funn. And you just insulted Breaker when probably his entire team could hear.”
Toni groaned, “Why does high school have to be so… high school-ish?”
Hank said, “Look, it’s not that big a deal. And it’s not like we spend any time hanging with the same people as they do.”
Toni snarked, “Do they hang with anyone except other Grunts?”
Hank said, “Okay, I explain to Breaker that you were making a rap joke. Maybe they think some of my friends are loonies. Not a crisis.”
Toni said, “Except Breaker prob’ly won’t want to spar with me anytime soon.”
Billie said, “And maybe they’ll really unload on us every time we face ‘em in the sims.”
I added, “So they start by dropping mortars and grenades on us, instead of a plasma ball that can take out a city block? Not seeing much of a change.”
Nikki said, “Well, Bunker will probably hit the entire team with her ‘fog of war’ attack as soon as the sim starts.”
And I replied, “Which means… what? If Hank’s not on our team in the sims, the only one of us that is going to affect is me. Unless you stand around and let her bushwhack you.”
“Again,” she muttered.
But no one on the team except me was all that upset about losing to the Grunts. Billie was glad to know someone on campus could take her out in an emergency. Jade and Jinn were just sorry they didn’t get to chase people around with angry hornets and magical girls. Nikki wasn’t really worried about a duel between her and Bunker. Toni was thinking about ways to get Breaker to spar with her. And Hank was cooling his heels until he could sneak out of the room and go see Lily.
It was really just me. No one else really cared if we had a loss in a simulation. I cared, just as much as I cared about earning an A+ in every course. Yes, I wanted to see what each of the major training teams could throw at us. But I still didn’t want to lose any of the sim matches. I knew that wasn’t a realistic goal, but that didn’t really make much difference.
Nikki warmed up my tea for me before she and Toni went to their room to do homework. Jade charged up Jinn to babysit me for a while longer, while she and Billie left. Based on the argument, they were either going to do homework, or else pretend to do homework while playing a Japanese dating sim. Hank took off to go see Lily.
Jinn settled into the upper hammock, even if she wasn’t really putting her weight on the ropes. Then she pulled out a notebook and went back to writing. “Hey Ayla, how do you tell when to use its or its?”
Well, that’s what it sounded like. I explained, “The apostrophe only goes in if you really want to say ‘it is’. If you want to say something belongs to it, then no apostrophe. So every time you write an apostrophe in there, just read it and see if it makes sense to say ‘it is’ instead.”
“Okay, that makes sense. Why’s it so hard to remember?”
I said, “Because it looks like it’s breaking the usual rules of possessives. Ayla’s book – apostrophe s. Jade’s lion – apostrophe s. Its ball – no apostrophe. Just tell yourself that ‘its’ is like yours and his and hers. No apostrophe.”
She said, “I used to have trouble with phase and faze too.”
At least, I’m fairly sure that was what she meant. With the J-Team it was possible she meant ‘Phase’ and ‘phase’. Or ‘Phase’ and ‘faze’. Of course, with the J-Team, virtually anything was possible. Maybe even ‘faes’ and ‘Fey’s’.
I admit it. I decided that I would be better off not asking.
It was another hour before Alex strolled into the room. Jade had already come by to refresh Jinn’s charge once, and Nikki had walked in to warm up the tea. But Alex didn’t show up until fairly late. I didn’t know whether she was with Tara or Steve or one of her other buddies, but I was hoping she didn’t get Tara into trouble. By the time Alex showed up, I had phased out of my school clothes and taken a trip to the bathroom. Unfortunately, I had to go to normal density to pee, so that I didn’t cause a plumbing catastrophe, so my legs were really hurting by the time I got back to my room. I just gave up and went to bed without anything on. The effort involved in getting on a pair of pajamas just didn’t seem to be worth it.
Alex grabbed her bathroom gear and vanished for roughly long enough to brush her teeth and such. She came back and slipped into a nightie while she complained, “Jesus, is Shroud just gonna hover ominously over us for the rest of the night?”
Jinn said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll just spookily vanish in the middle of the night… when you least expect it. Mua-ha-hah!”
Alex rolled her eyes and said, “I think Ceecee is spookier than that.”
Jinn said, “Hey, at least I’m not going around asking if you’re a real vampire and if it’s okay if I put a stake through your heart.”
Alex said, “Very funny.” She looked at me, and I just gave her a raised eyebrow. “You’re kidding.” I just kept it up.
Jinn said, “It was pretty hilarious. She really figured you had to be evil just because you dissed her outfit.”
“And all the other stuff you say to her,” I contributed.
Jinn said, “Lucky for you Ayla has that compulsion to lecture about everything. So Ceecee got a big lecture on the types of vampires, and why you’re not one, and why she shouldn’t stake you even if you are mean to her.”
Alex said, “Yeah, I’ve noticed Basil Exposition can’t resist lecturing on pretty much anything.”
I just said, “Austin, you need to go brush your teeth again.”
“Ohh be-haive,” she smirked, in a fairly weak imitation. She really didn’t have the right tonality to pull it off.
But then, after Alex finished being a pill and got in bed, she started complaining about me. I knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I was trying not to move. Still, she was bitching about my every movement. I was twitching too much. I was groaning too much. I wasn’t falling asleep. I knew I wasn’t managing to be silent or motionless, so I didn’t argue with her.
Still it’s a lot harder to fall asleep when someone keeps complaining that you’re not asleep yet.
A large part of the problem was that my breasts and buns were tingling and itching like mad. I just kept telling myself it was a good sign. I hoped. I was really looking forward to getting a male body again. Assuming everything didn’t go horribly wrong.
It was murder getting to sleep. My arms and legs and head hurt. My stomach roiled. My breasts and buns just wouldn’t stop itching. I told myself these were good signs.
Sometimes I tell myself some really moronic things.
Saturday, March 10, morning
I woke up when the alarm started playing Brass Monkey. I slapped the snooze button and almost immediately realized I had made a major body movement without searing pain. All right!
And I was incredibly thirsty. Really hungry, and extremely thirsty. My eyes didn’t feel like opening, because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night.
I sat up. As my arm moved back to its normal position, it hit something. Something which hurt. I opened my eyes and…
“HOLY MOTHERFUCKING CRAP!”
Vamp growled, “Shuddup, ‘m tryin’ ta sleep.” She buried her head under her pillow.
I sat up and scrambled out of bed, whacking my head on the metal frame as I clambered out. What was with that? I never bonked my head.
But I was incapable of focusing on the cranium-steel interaction, because I was still struggling to cope with what I had seen when I opened my eyes. Strings of cursewords didn’t fully convey my feelings.
I had tits.
Let me explain. I had been enduring a set of A-cup breasts for most of a year. They weren’t that big, even if they jiggled and bounced and otherwise reminded me far too often that I wasn’t Trevor Goodkind anymore. They were imminently concealable with little more than a sports bra or an elastic bandage. They weren’t on my chest anymore.
I had grown overnight. My chest had been itching and tingling, and I had been hoping my breasts would shrink, or possibly metamorphose into a male chest. Perhaps even an Exemplar male chest. That hope had turned out to be futile. I had boobs. I had hooters.
I had freaking ICBMs jutting forth from my chest.
I didn’t know how big they were, but they were massive. They were bigger than Billie’s. Hell, they were bigger than Nikki’s! And my chest was still narrow, so they looked even bigger in comparison.
What the fuck had that creepy little drowed-up weasel done to me? I looked down at the cantaloupes bulging out of my chest, and I decided I was going to do the cruelest thing feasible to Jobe.
I was going to invoke the clauses of our contract.
The rapid knocking at my door still wasn’t enough to distract me from this disaster. “C’mon Ayles, open up! We both heard ya, and if you’re screaming and cussing, I know somethin’s up.”
I didn’t want to open the door and have Toni see me. Not like this. Not when my body was so hideously transmogrified. Not when…
The door unlocked and gracefully swung open. The light blue glow around the metal of the door told me that Fey had just exerted a modicum of her power. Toni glided in, while Nikki yawned her way into the room.
Toni walked over to me and gaped, “Da-yum, Ayles! I thought you said you wanted to go Exemplar guy.”
I insisted, “I did! I still do! It’s all gone wrong. I… I’m the same height as you.”
Toni looked down at our feet. She was barefoot too. And Toni didn’t slump. No, she was always in a martial arts stance, even when she was in the shower. She said, “So you did grow. And not just in a Pam Anderson way.”
Nikki fussed, “Toni!”
I probably would have said something unforgiveable, but my brain was stuck on something else. I really had grown. I had grown an impossible amount for one night. I had been five foot nothing when Jobe gave me that injection. Toni was a lithe 5’5”. And I was now the same height as Toni. In one night, I had grown taller than Lily and Billie and Nikki. That had to mean that I was now nearly as tall as Jinn and Hank. I was no longer second-shortest on the team. I was now tied for third-tallest.
Toni reached out and snagged some of my hair behind my ear. She pulled it so it draped over my face, and she said, “Looks like everything grew, even your hair.”
I looked at my hair and swore again. “Son of a bitch!” My hairstyle had been a nice, short, new wave cut. A haircut I could live with. My hair had been short black locks. My once-black, once-short hair was now eight or ten inches long, and only black at the ends. The rest of my hair was a light blonde. I hastily pushed my sweaty hair back over my crown and back toward my nape. Like that was going to solve anything.
I was so not dealing. I mean, I was shouting obscenities. Goodkinds did not lose all self-control and stand around screaming like Tourette’s patients. I was standing around unable to make comebacks to snarky comments. I was staring down at a pair of gazongas that looked bigger than Vanessa’s.
My thirst overcame my inertia. I stormed over to my fridge, my new pectoral accoutrements bouncing like two coconuts on a rough sea. I shrugged my way into my bathrobe, which was no longer big enough for me. I drank all the tea that was remaining in the teapot, even though it was cold. Then I drank two glasses of the spring water I used in the coffee maker and the teapot. Then I ate every yogurt in the fridge.
“Jeez, Ayles. Are you turning into Tennyo here?”
Nikki frowned, “Stop teasing her, Toni! She’s really upset!”
Toni rolled her eyes. “Well duh! Why do you think I’m teasing her? If I don’t get her thinking about something else, she’s just going to freak out some more.”
“Thank you, Doctor Phil,” I muttered.
Nikki said, “Come on, hon. You need to shower; and we need to measure you and find you some clothes you can wear.”
Toni said, “Yeah. You need a few minutes away from the fridge so your body can absorb summa those calories, otherwise you’re gonna end up with a stomachache on top of everything else.”
It wasn’t until she brought that up that I realized I was no longer having those agonizing shooting pains through my body. There was plenty of residual aching, like the feeling you have when your migraine fades away to a faint twinge. My headache and upset stomach were gone, too. I just had to figure out how to deal with these melons jutting out of my chest.
All right, what I really meant was that I just had to deal with them until I could force that weasel Jobe to fix this fiasco.
If it could be fixed. Oh God, what if it couldn’t be fixed?
“Come on, Ayles. Let’s get you outta here and into a shower!” Toni insisted.
Alex sleepily sat up and growled, “Hell yeah, I’m tryin’ to sleep in here! And…” Her jaw dropped as she finally got a look at me. Her eyes zoomed down into my cleavage, which in my now-undersized bathrobe was really an immense ‘V’ that ran most of the way to my navel.
Her eyes ducked down to her own less-than-inspiring chest, and back to my breasts. She yowled, “Are you doing this just to SPITE me?”
I was suddenly filled with the need to pick up something massive, like the bunk beds, and smash Vamp into the floor. Repeatedly.
I didn’t get the chance to do anything like that, or even curse at her, because I was flying out of the room and down the hallway. And not under my own power. Nikki had a hand on my back, and we were flying down the center of the hall toward the bathroom.
I heard the door to my room slam shut, and then Toni was sprinting under us and racing to the bathroom door to yank it open just before we reached it. We flew in, my bathrobe peeled off me, and I found myself standing in one of the showers.
I growled, “You should have-”
“No way,” Nikki interrupted.
At the same time, Toni said, “Unh-uh. Not happenin’, Ayles. You woulda ripped her head off. Not that she didn’t deserve a little sump’m fer that crack, but I’ve never seen you that mad. You gotta rein it in some.”
Nikki added, “You’re not in control right now. You usually keep everything all bottled up, so no one even knows what’s up, unless they can feel your emotions.” She glanced over at Toni and added, “Or read your Ki.”
“Or see your aura, or whatever,” Toni added.
Nikki continued, “You’re so upset you’re over-reacting. You need to calm down and just deal first. So take a shower and calm down.”
I gritted my teeth. “I don’t even have my bath gear or my towel or anything. And my bathrobe doesn’t even fit anymore!”
Toni held up my smaller dop kit and one of my towels. She ran her fingers over the towel. “Y’know, I figured you’d have like the world’s best towels and stuff, but this is… da-yum!”
Nikki waved her hand, and the water turned on. Whatever spell she used, the water was already at the right temperature, and I didn’t have to wait for the pipes to warm up. Toni handed me my soap and a washcloth, along with my shampoo. I held the shampoo with one hand, and my hair in the other, and grimaced.
Nikki said, “You can get your hair cut short, you know.”
Toni asked, “You gonna go with the new color, or just get it dyed?”
Nikki said, “I liked the spiky black New Wave cut. It was really you.”
Toni agreed, “Yeah. It said, ‘I am not taking any of your shit so just back off.’ It was hair with ‘tude.”
Nikki smirked, “Is there a hairdo that says ‘queen of all she surveys’?”
Toni asked, “Why? Unga-Dunga thinkin’ about getting you a new ‘do?”
A high-pitched voice down somewhere around Nikki’s shins piped up, “Her Highness would look good with any of your hairstyles. But She does not need styling. Her hair will always be perfect.”
Nikki said, “Thanks you Koehnes, but I don’t think I need to devote the Essence required for banks of permanent haircare and skincare spells.”
“But… Your Highness!” Koehnes squeaked.
Toni grinned, “See? This is why you need your own World Tree. Free hair styling. That salon in Dunwich is good, but there’s always a big wait.”
I washed my hair, which felt just uncomfortably long. I wondered how Nikki stood having hair like that. I washed my body, which was distinctly uncomfortable. I mean, I liked handling Vanessa’s breasts, but I didn’t like having an even larger pair stuck on me. Being five inches taller did have a few advantages, but standing in a shower wasn’t one of them. Well, maybe it made it a little easier to drink water from the showerhead. I really was ridiculously thirsty.
Once I was done having to cope with the casaba melons sticking out of my chest, I washed downward. And that was when I found the next charming surprise, courtesy of Jobe Wilkins’ own Industrial Light and Mad Science. “AAAAUUGGHH!”
“What? What’s wrong?”
I stomped out of the shower, completely ignoring the fact that I was naked and dripping wet and largely covered in soapsuds. “That little bastard!”
“C’mon, you gotta give us more hints than that,” urged Toni.
I stepped forward and slipped. I would have been a lot more carefully about that, since I was wet and soapy, but I was busy being furious.
Nikki thrust out a hand, and I stopped falling. I just sort of flailed spastically as I floated in mid-air while my body was tilted backward about seventy degrees. Then Toni looked me over for a second and tapped me on one knee. That was enough to make me pivot properly, so that I swung back upright.
Nikki carefully set me on my feet and tried again, “What’s wrong?”
“My BALLS! They’re GONE!” I was trying to be normal, but all rationality was long gone. Toni told me later that I was shrieking like a little girl, but she didn’t want to rub it in at the time because I was already about to go postal on the bathroom.
Nikki immediately raised her hand, and I floated up off the floor again. She asked, “Are you sure?”
“Am I SURE?” I yelled. “This isn’t like I’m trying to invalidate Trickle-down Theory!” I pointed at the place below my dick, where there was now an empty scrotum. “They’re gone!”
Nikki waved her hand again, and I rotated until I was floating on my back. I growled, “Is there a point to this?”
She said, “I’m not seeing it. If your testicles were really gone, it ought to show up in your aura and…”
Toni said, “Your ki says they’re still there, along with Mister Happy.”
Nikki stared at my body for long seconds, while several waves of sky blue light passed over me. “Oh. They’re still there. They just ascended up into your abdomen.”
Toni said, “Like the sumo wrestlers do. So, you know what this means. No more getting kicked in the nads! Score!”
I growled at her, “Thaaaaaanks.”
Nikki said, “You need to go back in the shower and calm down. Again. And this time, watch your footing.”
She floated me back underneath the spray, and I nervously returned to washing myself. But I spent the entire time worrying as I washed. What else was I going to find that the little loon had done to me? Fortunately, I didn’t find anything else. There were no horns growing out of my head. No tail ripping forth from my coccyx. No third eye growing on the back of my head. No spiderlegs tearing out from underneath my own arms.
Nothing utterly inhuman that would further drive home just how badly I screwed up by trusting Jobe Wilkins, even though I had a really strong contract in place. I did make sure I washed everywhere, even though I may have rushed a bit to get done with my new breasts. Ugh. Having soccer balls jutting out of my chest? Just wrong.
“Feeling a little more human?” Toni kidded, as I finally stepped out of the shower.
I wasn’t exactly happy, but at least I felt a little calmer. Like I might be able to get through the next ten minutes without screaming imprecations at everyone around me. Even if I was still really cheesed off at Vamp. This wouldn’t have been an issue if I still had Chou as a roomie. She would have been sympathetic. Understanding. Helpful. Vamp was utterly egocentric.
Well, it wasn’t my fault Alex was ‘the carpenter’s dream’. You know. Flat as a board, and easy to nail.
I did my usual Phase-assisted drying off, even if it left my hair wet. So I had to towel my hair dry too, for the first time in ages.
Feet tromped into the bathroom. “Fuck! Who’s the new honky? She got back! And some nice gazongas.”
Crap. Had I just thought only seconds ago that I might be able to go ten minutes without cursing and screaming? I took the towel off my head and flatly said, “Hello, Sharisha. Nice to see you too.”
“Oh no! No fuckin’ way! I am not hittin’ on the Goodkind!” She turned around and virtually flew from the bathroom. I could still hear her screeching as she ran for her room.
Vanessa said, “Something you want to tell me when you have time, honey?”
I sighed, “A ton. But I’ve got to go see Jobe and get this disaster fixed. Then I’ll talk your ear off about how surprised and unhappy I was this morning.”
Toni rolled her eyes. “Unhappy? UNHAPPY? You were like Psycho-Ayla there for a couple minutes, Captain Euphemism.”
Vanessa gave me a smile and hurried off to deal with a completely freaked roommate.
Toni pretended to pout, “Gee, Sharisha never says nice things about my butt.”
Nikki pretended to think it over. She tapped her cheek with one fingertip and said, “Are you sure? Because the other day I’m pretty sure I heard her saying you were one gigantic ass, or something like that.”
Toni snorted with laughter and said, “That’s right, honky. This baby got back.” She proceeded to turn around and demonstrate with a dance move that – if done in conjunction with a pole while on a stage – was probably illegal in a number of states. I still don’t think spinal columns and hips were meant to move like that.
Nikki helpfully said, “Well, you got Ayla’s mind off her body.”
It still took me a couple more seconds to pry my eyeballs off her posterior. I cleared my throat and said, “Umm, right. I need to…” I paused for a moment, as my stomach growled like a cougar. “Oh man, I need to eat some more. And maybe polish off that half gallon of spring water.”
Nikki asked, “I know your body’s trying to replace a ton of fluids and electrolytes and everything else, but are you aware you still haven’t needed to go pee?”
“I must be even more dehydrated than I thought,” I replied.
Toni grinned, “If you rehydrate, those things gonna get bigger?”
“Maybe I’ll go on a fast,” I reconsidered. I looked down at my breasts again. “For the next decade.”
Nikki was staring out into the hallway, with her arm extended and her hand raised like some passerby was going to want to play catch. But before I could ask what she was up to, a cloth tape measure came flying into the room. It rolled up into a tight coil and smacked into her upraised palm.
Toni said, “I know that’s not ours.”
Nikki said, “It’s Jade’s. I thought it would be useful so I could figure out sizes for Ayla.”
I pointed out, “You can’t take something out of Jade’s room without some of the J-Team noti-”
A notebook flew into the room. It complained, “Hey! Who’s pulling a me and making my tape measure run away? Would that be Fey?”
Nikki said, “I just needed it to get some measurements on Ayla, and-”
The notebook turned and faced me. “Holy crap on a popsicle stick! You didn’t look like that last night! Why didn’t you come get me?”
I admitted, “I didn’t ‘come get’ the Daring Duo either. They just woke up when I saw myself this morning and started screaming like Agamemnon upon his homecoming.”
“I never get your jokes, you know that, right?” the notebook said. Was it possible for a notebook to pout? “Here. Hold me.” Then the notebook jumped into my hands and sagged.
Nikki tilted her head toward the hallway. “Oh boy,” she groaned. “I really should’ve thought this one through.”
Toni turned her head so she could face the bathroom door. “Oh.”
I gave up. “What?”
Nikki said, “She’s waking up Tennyo now.”
Jinn flew into the room and exclaimed, “I’ll be here in a second! I just have to wake up Billie first!”
I sighed, “You really don’t have to wake her up. She needs her sleep too.”
Jinn frowned, “Oh no, I don’t listen to me when I tell me stuff like that. That’s what I said, but I just pretended to listen, and then I went ahead and ignored me! Poopyhead.”
Koehnes squeaked, “I am sorry, Your Highness, but I did not understand that at all.”
Toni said, “That’s a sign that you’re still sane, shorty.”
“Don’t call her shorty,” Nikki fussed.
“Thank you, Your Majesty!” squeaked Koehnes.
Nikki muttered, “I’d better get this done before they get here.” She stepped over and wrapped the tape underneath my breasts. I knew women did this in stores, but I was still a little uncomfortable about it. She said, “Thirty-one.” Then she wrapped the tape around me where my breasts jutted out the farthest. “Good thing this is one of her long tapes. Thirty-seven.”
“Ugh,” I complained.
Toni handed me my bathrobe. As I shrugged into it, she said, “You’ve got a clothing problem, Ayles.”
By then, Jade and Billie were flying in, both of them barely awake and in bathrobes. Jade stared at me and yelped, “HOLY CRAP! And on a popsicle stick too! I mean, when I woke myself up I thought maybe I was seeing things, because I don’t see the same when I’m not me, but… you got a lot taller! That’s totally not fair!”
Billie stared at the boobs only half-covered by my now-inadequate bathrobe and said, “Umm, Jade, I don’t think that’s the part Ayla was yelling about.”
Nikki cautiously asked, “Ayla, you had a ton of different sizes of bra, right? What’s the biggest you’ve got?”
I said, “I bought everything from AA up to D, in several different colors, just in case. How big am I?”
Toni winced a little. “Well, you’re maybe an F cup. Or a triple D. Or an EE. Depends on breast shape and bra manufacturer.”
“Crap.” I just wanted to go punch Jobe in the nose. Not that it would do any good, when he was now a high-level Regen. And he would come up with all manner of horrific revenges.
Billie asked, “You got any sports bras? Or minimizers?”
I said, “I’ve got a few sports bras in my old size. After adding in kinetic gel protection. But there’s no way I’d be able to squeeze these things into a B cup sports bra.”
Toni looked at Nikki and asked, “How big’s Bugs?”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “Not even close. And Vox is too small. Even Verdant’s too small.”
Billie said, “Jody has some baggy sweatshirts and stuff.”
Toni shrugged and said, “Prob’ly your best chance, unless you wanna call up Mindbird and ask her if you can borrow summa her lingerie.”
“I’d rather eat a Moon Pie,” I grumbled.
Toni gave me her best male announcer voice. “And now, with EXTRA MOON!”
Jade burst out laughing, while Billie giggled. I might have laughed too, if I weren’t so angry and frustrated and humiliated and… Oh my God, I was going to need lined notepaper to list every single emotion weighing me down.
Billie said, “They’re really not bad. Unless you hate marshmallow. Or chocolate. Or graham crackers.”
I really didn’t feel like arguing about the difference between the kind of chocolate I liked, and the cheap junk that usually was used in that sort of product. And I frankly didn’t know whether Moon Pies used decent chocolate, or something really dreadful, like the ‘dipping chocolate’ I had read about that actually had wax in it to make it easier for people to dip food into it. Why would people be willing to use something that grotesque? Why would people be willing to eat something that grotesque? Was there an RDA for paraffin I somehow had managed to overlook?
And why was I wasting time worrying about people who ate chocolate with wax in it? Oh yeah, avoidance behaviors.
Nikki and Toni led me into their room, while Billie went over to bug Jody, and the J-Team went pretty much everywhere else.
Toni had me sit down on Nikki’s bed, and Koehnes even let me. Toni said, “You need to make with the icy, Ayles. We’ll get through this. And if worse comes to worst, at least ya got up to 5’5” so you’re not one of the team midgets anymore.”
“Hey! I resemble that remark!” insisted a blanket that flew into the room. The blanket had two oven mitts for hands, and it was carrying a half-gallon bottle of my spring water and my serving tray. The tray was covered with fruits and cheeses, along with a serving knife. Which was utterly redundant, because someone’s nanowire was removing wrappers and peels, and then slicing everything into manageable bites.
I sat with Toni and ate until I finally stopped feeling like I was starving. By the time I was done, I had consumed almost all of the water, too.
“AYLA! GODDAMMIT, GOODKIND!!!” There was no mistaking Vamp’s shriek.
Toni stuck her head out into the hallway. “Hey Alex, whassup?”
I could hear quite plainly as Alex griped, “Does someone wanna tell me why my alarm clock’s goin’ off and dancin’ around in the frakking air singing ‘Can’t Touch This’ so I can’t grab it and turn it off?”
The blanket sort of gathered in on itself and whispered, “It wasn’t me, but we did it.”
“No kiddin’,” muttered Toni.
“I never would have guessed,” I said dryly.
I stepped over to the door and yelled, “Jade! Give Alex her damn alarm clock!”
You know, if I hadn’t been so miserably unhappy, I probably would have enjoyed the situation immensely.
Apparently it was the alarm clock that yelled back, “What? She was totally crabby when I came in and sent me over to Nikki’s with your stuff, so I put me in the alarm clock too and then I snuck back out and left me here! And it was really funny! I got video of me!”
Toni whispered, “Okay, I wanna see that.”
Nikki whispered, “In Technicolor. With surround sound.”
They looked at each other and grinned, “Bunny’s AV equipment!”
Koehnes piped up, “Your Highness, shall I go over and make sure your paramour is awake and ready for your visit?”
Nikki blushed a little and said, “No, we’ll do it later. We need to take care of Ayla right now.”
Toni asked, “Yeah. So Nik, when you gonna make with the bibbity-bobbity-boo and fix this?”
Nikki frowned, “I’ve been trying to get a handle on it every since we took Ayla to the shower. But there isn’t anything in her aura that says ‘fix me!’ so I don’t know what to do.”
Wait a minute, this was stuff I didn’t know about Nikki’s talent. “Umm, you mean you have to use your empath trait or your magic to find something that ‘wants’ to be fixed. before you can do anything about it?”
“Well, sure,” she said with a shrug that completely distracted me because of her breasts bobbling.
Oh God. Guys – other guys – were going to be staring at my chest and fixating on my breasts. I was going to have a lot of bobble. I looked down at my chest and winced.
Nikki said, “I mean, this is ‘magic’, but it’s not completely open-ended crap like Zatanna. Now that’s stupid. She’s a complete moron. If I had powers like that, every morning I’d hold up a newspaper and say the words ‘reveal every threat I will face for the next two days’ backwards, and then I’d be ready to kick some guys’ butts. Or I’d do the backwards spell thing and make Lex Luthor have a change of heart. Or make Superboy Prime powerless. She can do anything, and most of the time she’s absolutely useless.”
Toni said, “I think someone’s pet peeve is kinda derailing this conversation.”
Nikki glared at her. “At least I didn’t complain about someone calling my stuff bibbity-bobbity-booing again.”
Toni couldn’t keep the smirk off her face. “Boy you do one fairy godmother joke, and you’re in trouble.”
Nikki said, “Try a hundred fairy godmother jokes, and a bunch of Maleficent jokes, and the Gandalf jokes, and the Hermione Granger jokes-”
“Nah, you’re shaped more like Tinkerbelle.”
“Ugh!” Nikki looked at me and said, “You see what I have to deal with?”
I pointed my finger at her. “Any time you want to switch roommates, you just say the word.”
She looked at Toni, then looked off toward my room. She thought for a couple seconds and finally said, “Naaaaah.”
Koehnes softly said, “I like our roommate. She reads me wonderful stories.”
Toni grinned, “Hey Koehnes, you get brownie points fer that.”
Nikki groaned, “And that’s another thing!” She glared at the J-Team member who was still floating near me. “You guys are still not off the hook for that book!”
“That wasn’t me!” insisted the blanket. “Well, it was me. But it was another me. Pretty much.”
Nikki returned to my problem. “I think I was talking about your condition before we got all sidetracked.”
“Go ahead,” I encouraged.
She frowned, “It’s like this. The kind of Healing I can do is controlled by your body. If you’re sick with something nasty, I can help with the symptoms, but I can’t just magically poof the virus or whatever away automatically.”
“Automagically,” Toni helped.
Nikki rolled her eyes and went on. “When you’re in pain, I can find the source and fix it. But not if it’s supposed to be there. Like with Hank’s growing pains this year. I can’t do much more than a couple aspirin would do for him, because who wants me to ruin your normal growth and maybe screw up your body? Same for you last night. And now… There’s nothing in your aura that says there’s anything wrong with how you look right now. Okay, your BIT’s pretty screwed up all the time, so that makes it harder to see anything. But I can’t just say ‘knirhs sieboob’ and make it go away.”
“How long did you think about how to say ‘boobies shrink’ backward, homes?”
“Umm, ever since I got on that Zatanna rant,” Nikki admitted.
The blanket flexed, and the oven mitt reached inside a fold of the blanket to pull out some underwear. It said, “Hey, I know your bras won’t fit, but I brought you some panties.”
Toni looked at my backside with a practiced eye and said, “Hate ta admit to, but I think Sharisha’s right. I don’t think those panties are gonna fit. You got any larger sizes on ‘em?”
I tried stepping into the panties, and found that Toni was unfortunately correct. My butt was bigger. Not massively bigger, but just big enough that the silk underwear no longer fit me. Damn it. I sighed, “I’ve got more sizes of underwear in my closet, in the storage container.”
“Oh, you mean your little TARDIS?” the blanket asked.
I clarified, “Yes, I mean the parallelepiped on the right-hand side of my closet. It’s got a variety of sizes of clothes that aren’t – I mean, that weren’t – my size. The one on the left-hand side has bedding. Don’t bother rooting through there, unless you’re in need of silk pillowcases or down comforters.”
The blanket smirked, “Ooh, I bet Alex’ll be so happy to see me again so soon!” It spun round and took off toward my room.
I have no idea how a blanket can smirk, but this is the J-Team we’re talking about.
While I waited for the J-Team to simultaneously check my available clothing and drive Alex crazy, I made some phone calls.
“Hi, Jody? It’s Ayla. I’m sorry to bother you so early, but…”
Jody said, “Oh, it’s no problem. Billie already came by and explained. I’ve got some sweats you can borrow, but they’re not gonna take care of the real problem. I already checked with Mrs. Horton, and she has a bunch of supersuit tops and bottoms in storage, and you can use a couple of them until you get some stuff that fits. Billie ought to be upstairs with a couple of each pretty soon.”
Well, that one was promising. I called Jobe’s lab next.
I flatly said, “Well Freight Train, I see that those etiquette lessons are really paying off for you.”
I went on, “Is Jobe there? Or Belphoebe? Or Bova?”
She bellowed, “Hey PRINCESS! You got a fan on the line!”
In a few seconds, Jobe snatched up the phone and sneered, “Jadis, if this is you again-”
“It’s not,” I interrupted. “It’s Phase. And you really have to find a way to get someone else as your receptionist. Anyone else. Bloodwolf would be a better choice.”
Jobe complained in an aggrieved tone, “If only I could! It’s like having Olympia as your phone operator, only without the Diedrick’s.”
An angry voice with a New Jersey accent yelled from across the room, “YO! Watch it, princess!”
Jobe muttered, “I knew I should’ve gone with Grabby instead…”
I interrupted the oncoming whine-tasting. “Look, I have a problem from your serum, and it’s a clear violation of our contract. So you need to be prepared to deal with this as soon as I arrive at your lab.”
She put on a ‘talking to toddlers’ voice and sneered, “Ooh, what’s the pwoblem now? Does its wittle arms and wegs hurt? Is its wittle tummy all rumbly?”
“Can it, Christopher Robin,” I snapped. “No, it’s the Mindbird-sized hooters on my chest.”
“Oh ha ha. You can make up something more realistic than that. There is no way you could have ended up with further growth in the secondary to tertiary sexual characteristics.”
Nikki yanked the phone out of my hand. “Look, you abomination before the True Sidhe, I’m standing here looking at the effects, and Ayla has a set of triple-D breasts. She’s not making this up.” She shoved the phone back into my hand.
I casually added, “Oh, and the Sidhe on campus may be about to declare war on you and your drow junto if you can’t keep it in your syringe.”
“Well, at least you have a decent vocabulary, even if you routinely associate with the inmates of Arkham Asylum and you have no grasp of the subtleties of biochemistry,” Jobe bitched. “Come right down, and let me see just how much you’re exaggerating and whining.”
Man, that Jobe certainly was a master of the gracious statement. She probably thought How to Win Friends and Influence People was a book about mind control.
Billie flew in with a small stack of clothing in her hands. She set it on the bed and showed me what she had from Jody and Mrs. Horton. The big sweatshirt was definitely Jody’s. I recognized it right away. Nobody else around Poe had a Wright State Raiders sweatshirt. In addition to the sweatshirt, there were two supertops and two superbottoms. Both were cut like aerobics outfits. The bottoms had a low waistline and would probably come down to mid-thigh. The tops were bra-tops that wouldn’t cover much more than a sports bra. I frowned at them, but I had to admit they were better than nothing.
Nikki asked, “Jody really let you take that sweatshirt?”
“Why? What’s wrong with it?” asked Billie.
Nikki said, “Well, it’s her ‘I feel fat and lonely’ shirt. She only gets it out when she’s feeling bad about herself and she wants to cover up more than usual.”
Billie said, “She’s not fat.”
Jinn said, “She’s not skinny, like, say, everybody in this room, y’know.”
Toni said, “Yeah, whenever she’s feelin’ really crappy about her self-image, she goes and digs this puppy out and hides in it.”
Nikki said, “And we know most of the reasons she feels bad about herself are in here right now.”
Toni defended herself. “Hey it’s not just us. There’s also Rip and Bugs and Scrambler and Verdant and X-O. And maybe Vamp too, just from the ‘tude she’s got goin’ on.”
Jinn said, “And we’re not the ones who said Jody was a fat pig.”
“Who said that?” I growled.
“Stoner. She was trying to get him to stop arguing with Gabriel for like the zillionth time, and he said she was a fat pig and she was so fat even he wouldn’t do the f-word to her.”
“That guy is such a jerk,” Billie complained.
Jinn said, “That’s why he got a giganto wedgie like ten seconds later, as soon as I could get one of my little wedgie centipedes in there.”
Toni said, “Well, you’d be pretty grouchy too, if you had a head so freaky you were in danger of getting slapped in Twain, and none of the guys in the whole dorm wanted to get down with you after you smacked one or two guys around.”
“What’s he got?” Billie asked.
I said, “You haven’t heard? He’s a Gorgon. He has what looks like a head of snakes, like Medusa. That’s why he wears those stupid hats all the time.”
“Can he turn you to stone if you look at the snakes?” asked Jinn.
I said, “Apparently, he can’t literally turn you into solid stone, but he can coat your skin with a thin layer of stone, which would be fatal within minutes for all but a handful of supers.”
Jinn said, “I thought Gorgons were supposed to be girls.”
Nikki said, “They are. There are no recorded cases of male Gorgons.”
I said, “The powers testing guys are stymied. They don’t know why he got the Gorgon power when he’s male, or why he hasn’t turned into a girl. It’s not like he has an Exemplar BIT to keep him in his current form.”
Toni glared at me, “Ayles, you’re not supposed to be raidin’ all the powers testing files.”
Nikki rolled her eyes. “Seriously? You’re complaining about that? Like we didn’t know she was gonna get her mitts on every powers testing file she could and go Doctor Amazing on ‘em?”
Jinn said, “Well, I’m glad Ayla found out. So now I know to only piss him off when I’m not me.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Pronouns, please?” I knew she meant that she wouldn’t do it if she was in Jade’s body, because all her other forms were invulnerable to Gerald’s kind of attack. But Stoner wasn’t stupid. If the J-Team went after him, he would know to go find Jade and pay her back directly. And he was mean enough to do it.
Toni said, “So anyway, I think you oughta take Jody’s sweatshirt back. It’s cool she’s willing to loan it to Ayla, but I don’t think we wanna be the ones who lose it or get it wrecked or whatever.”
I said, “And I don’t want to walk off with one of her security blankets. Not when she’s being so helpful about everything.”
Jinn asked, “Aren’t you supposed to make your employee do whatever you want?”
I gave her a glare.
“Hey! Don’t get so mad!” she said. “It was just a question! I mean, Solange… And Traduce… And the rich people on tv…”
I didn’t bother to keep the ice out of my tones. “A Walcutt may act like that, or an Armstrong, but Goodkinds do not mistreat their trusted employees! We expect loyalty, and we extend loyalty in return!”
“Jeez, don’t get your panties in a wad.”
“J? Maybe not a good day ta get Ayles all glassy,” said Toni.
Jinn said, “I didn’t mean to get her all mad. I mean, even more mad. I just… Well, everyone says Traduce is super mean to everyone she hires, and I just wanted to know…”
I took a deep breath to calm down. Unfortunately, that made the hooters on my chest rise like hot air balloons, which in turn made me more upset. “Sorry. It’s just a sore spot with me. Everyone expects us to treat our people like serfs, and… It’s something that matters to the family.”
“I thought the Chicago Goodkinds had that big lawsuit going on with some retired company people, and then that thing with the Goodkind lady in New Orleans…” Jinn wondered aloud.
I sighed. “The Chicago Goodkinds are like our poor trailer trash relations.”
Nikki checked, “They’re like some of the richest people in Illinois, aren’t they?”
I admitted, “Well, probably, but they’re still not part of the central family. Neither are the Maine Goodkinds.”
Toni asked, “They’re the ones with the ‘Good-time Goodkinds’, right?”
I managed not to wince. “Right. Gabriella and Trevi, and their slutty friends, like Maritza Armstrong and Jenna Preswick-Walcutt.”
Nikki smirked, “Ooh, Armstrong and Walcutt? Would that be some relatives of Solange and Traduce? And your relatives are BFFs with ‘em?”
“Yes. As far as I know, Jenna is a second or third cousin of Tansy. But there’s a lot of cross-contamination. Hartford’s mad at me, probably because my older sisters were mean to her younger cousins. If there are a smaller number of prestigious schools to send one’s children to, then eventually everyone knows everyone else through school or work or society.”
Billie asked, “So… are you related to Tansy too? Or Hartford?”
I frowned, “Yes. But only in the same sense that I’m related to Benjamin Franklin and George Washington and Paul Revere.”
Billie asked, “But what about that Abigail Goodkind in New Orleans?”
Toni snorted with amusement. “Hey, you know she’s an old black lady? I don’t think Goodkinds do black.” She looked at me and said, “Not countin’ you, Ayles.”
I overlooked the whole Vanessa issue and said, “We’re not sure, but we believe Abigail Goodkind is the granddaughter of an Abigail Goodkind who was born in the 1800’s and may in fact have been descended from slaves who may have worked in part for some Goodkinds in the early 1800’s. As such, the family has a hands-off policy on her and her companies, because it’s generally felt that some members of the family made some bad judgment errors in the first half of the 1800’s, and there’s not much else the family can do to atone for those sorts of activities anymore.”
“Wow, was that a direct quote from your lawyers?” Toni teased.
Nikki said, “I thought your family was all northern U.S. and anti-slavery in the Civil War.” Toni gave her a raised eyebrow, and she said, “What? I googled the Goodkinds when we met Ayla last year. There was a lot of historical stuff.”
I frowned, “We were staunch abolitionists and fought for the North in the Civil War. Still, it’s not a matter of public consumption, but in the first half of the 1800’s, the Goodkind family did also have some investments in southern plantations. And Colonel Edgar Gabriel Goodkind, who’s one of my direct ancestors, made a small fortune as a slave-catcher in the years around 1830. We’re not exactly blameless on the subject. On the other hand, he opposed the South in the Civil War and managed to fight in the war even though he was getting on in years.”
Toni said, “Okay, so your whole fam has like two or three racist jerks in it? That’s nothin’ compared to like Tidewater’s family.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” I said.
After an awkward pause, Nikki said, “Look, I’ll just put a glamour on you so it looks like you’re wearing a cape, and you can get going.”
“Thanks,” I said, although I didn’t say what I was thanking her for. It was incredibly uncomfortable thinking about it. But the Goodkinds had championed rights for blacks, and they had championed rights for immigrants, and they had championed rights for Jews, but they were doing the complete opposite when it came to one particular minority today.
I pulled on a pair of spandex panties that actually fit, followed by a supersuit bottom that stopped four inches above my knees. The supersuit top was large enough to hide a sports bra, if I had one that fit me, but it wasn’t much bigger than that. It stopped above the bottom of my ribcage, and it didn’t come up to my collarbones. It was completely sleeveless, and it had a racer back. I felt like I was exposing more skin than I had at any time since Christmas, other than showers.
And it was all made worse when I now had the biggest boobs on the entire floor. I could see myself in the mirror on Nikki’s closet door. Ugh. I looked like a Playboy centerfold. Blonde hair with black tips, big green eyes, sexy mouth, heart-shaped face, and an Exemplar body. The only good thing was that I didn’t have a rack like Attributes. Or the body of an arachnid.
Okay, when it came to Jobe, there were a lot of ‘could be worse’ possibilities.
Jinn had grabbed a pair of my Doc Martens, but they were now a little too small. It probably wasn’t too surprising that if I had grown five inches in height, I might have picked up a half size in my footwear. But she also had a pair of my summer sandals, and I was able to fit into them simply by buckling them two holes further back on the strap that circled behind my heel. I slung my utility belt around my waist, just in case I needed it later, and I checked that I had my notepad and pens and bPhone tucked away in the right pockets.
Nikki cast a glamour about me so it looked like I was wearing a cloak. That was about as good as I could ask for. I thanked everyone and headed down to the tunnels.
I had a drow to confront.
to be continued