Larry’s mom was still in a serious case of denial when Doctor Otto and Tanaka lead her into my cell. “I don't believe her, she had to do something to make Larry into a girl! I just know it,” Larry's mom protested, “For all you know she’s changed Larry's BIT to be like hers.”
Doctor Tanaka grimaced and looked at Otto for a moment thoughtfully, “Ah, Merry, as much as it pains me to ask, would you be willing to step behind the screen and show Mrs. Taliesin exactly what gender you are?” ~’She’s absolutely convinced that you had something to do with Larry being a girl. Otto thinks you may have to shock her out of it.’~
I sighed with a shrug, semi-predicting where this was going, “Sure, if only to put an end to this bullshit.” I stood up and walked over to the screen that hid the toilet and then behind it. “Though you may need to have Larry step into the next room as you explain what I am.”
“I already know you are weird Merry,” Larry said with a giggle.
“Well, I don't think they cover this in school,” said Otto after a moments pause.
“Yes, Larry, you may want to go out,” said his mom.
“Geeze, I'm a girl already, so what does it matter?” said Larry with a sigh.
“Larry, out,” ordered his mom as I stepped behind the curtained area and stripped.
“Ok, fine,” she huffed and evidently walked out, as I felt the pressure from the electronics in the next room rise and then fade.
“Is it just the medical types in the room? Or do I need to ask for the camera's to go off as well?” I asked.
Doctor Tanaka chuckled, “Otto is entertaining Larry, so come out in a robe, if you will?”
“Sure, it beats giving everyone in town a free show,” I grumbled as I pulled on the robe and walked out to where Larry's mom was looking at Doctor Tanaka expectantly.
“Ok, Mrs. Taliesin, how familiar are you with gender?”
She gave him a fairly dirty look, “I know there are two kinds, male and female.”
Doctor Tannaka gave me a long-suffering look, ”Well in many cases you might be correct. Have you heard of children being born with both sets of genitalia?”
She nodded with a hint of distaste, “Don't they just fix that in the hospital?”
“Yes, and for the most part they get the brain-sex correctly matched to the re-gendered-sex,” Otto shook his head and motioned to me, “From what I can tell her brain sex was correct, at that time.”
“Brain-sex?” she asked with a hint of confusion in her voice.
“Let's pass on that part for now, it would take a few hours to explain properly,” Doctor Tanaka said with a dry smile. “Now Merry, is an interesting case: She was born with both sets of genitalia, male and female.”
Larry's Mom gave me an odd look, “Go on.”
“Her parents at the time desired a boy, so all the female portions of her anatomy were surgically removed. Needless to say, all was well for a time.”
“A time?” she looked at me with confusion evident on her face, “but she's a girl.”
“Her mutation kicked in, and among Merry's abilities she has a odd form of regeneration,” he paused and shrugged expansively. “So when her mutation kicked into high gear, things regenerated and attempted to restore all of her bodies forced changes. Very nearly killing her in the process.“
“What the Doctor is tip-toeing around is that I have both genders, though I am largely female topside,” I said with a sigh and turned to her. “Even though I have the other bits as well.” With a disgusted sigh I opened my robe and pointed down to my groin, “See? Male and Female.” As she fell back into her seat semi-shock semi-revulsion, I closed my robe, “I hope you are freaking satisfied now, Larry is not ‘my gender’ nor does she follow my BIT.”
“The medical terminology for her condition is Bilateral-Hermaphoditism.” Doctor Tanaka said after a moment, “Not to mention her having a minor case of GSD, among other things.”
I picked up my blood testing jabber and loaded in a new stick, and then I jabbed it into my arm and allowed the blood to well up, “I don't even have a normal blood type, see? Neon blue and from what the Lab Tech says it has a bio-luminescent component and carries an electrical charge as well.”
“Larry's blood type is definitively A positive and -normal- in comparison,” Doctor Tanaka said with a chuckle. “Also he can take most medicines without ill effects, Merry on the other hand, has difficulties.”
“That is putting it mildly, the first doctors that tried to use medicines on me, well, nearly killed me.” I motioned to the far north, “Not here but they have not exactly found anything that does not send me loopy.” I rolled my eyes at her and added, ”So essentially and for the last damned time, there is no way my BIT influenced Larry's.”
“Then there is Merry's um, mental processes,” Doctor Tanaka paused briefly, “her brain structure is only vaguely human, in form, that is.”
I gave Doctor Tanaka an odd look for that remark, “So you see, Larry is normal, and I am the weird one.”
She looked at me, “So why not go back to being a boy?” she asked.
“It’s not really possible,” I made a snipping motion with my fingers, “oh sure they could cut everything out again. However, my body would still regenerate the organs and what not.” I sighed, “Apart from a few annoying things that occur once a month, being a girl is really not that bad.”
“But Larry was happy as a boy,” she stated.
I looked at her and sighed loudly at her in exasperation, “What you mean to say: Is that you are used to Larry being a boy. Do you love Larry?”
“Yes, he's my so… my child.”
“Do you think that's going to change?”
I took a deep breath and shot a quick look of warning at Doctor Tanaka, “Then get the hell over the issue of her gender and get on to the fucking important bit: supporting and loving your child.”
“Young lady!” She exclaimed in protest, “How dare you.”
“Excuse me,” Doctor Tanaka interrupted her tirade quickly, “I believe Merry is not finished speaking yet, and you need to hear the whole of it.”
I paced slightly away from her, “Like I told your husband; my family wallowed in Humanity First’s crap. What I didn’t tell him was that my older brother was hung, just after he mutated. I saw them do it; my Uncle was the bastard who put the noose around his neck. My ever so loving father did nothing, neither did my Mother.” I motioned to my body, “When this started I tried to hide it, but my mutation kicked off in a very bad way and I had to run away.”
“Without medical and professional intervention Merry would have died or been killed,” Doctor Tanaka restated calmly.”
“Oh,” she started to say more, but I waved her to silence.
“On top of that, my family was murdered because I have a very unique gift. One that people have killed in order to possess or tried to kill me to keep others from possessing me.” I sighed and pointed at her face, “Magical Mystery Crap aside, and other things, you should be damned grateful to have Larry alive and well. Rather than off and missing like my sister is or stuck here in limbo like me.” I gave her a very direct look, “From what I can see Larry is going to be a very normal mutant girl, with time she'll adapt to being a girl and her life will continue, with your help. Got it?”
She nodded slowly and looked over to the door as it opened.
I looked up as Chris walked into to the room, “You should get dressed Merry,” he said hurriedly, “they say another solar wave is due in twenty minutes.”
I wandered back behind the curtain, “Which means visiting hours are finally over. How long this time Chris?”
“Two hours approximately,” he said.
“Ok,“ I went back behind the screen to get dressed, “Do me a favor, and don't mention my anatomy to Larry? I have enough problems explaining it to 'grownups,' I don't want to try to explain it to her.”
“You don't say,” she said as if she was thinking furiously.
“What a vulgar child,” Mrs. Taliesin said once she was seated in Otto's office.
Otto smiled tightly as his eyes turned to an open folder, “Oh she can be that although I think she wanted to shock you into thinking, rather than just reacting.”
“So there was no way?” she asked hesitantly.
“There is absolutely positively no way Merry could have influenced the gender of your child. Occasionally it just happens within the mutant community. Just not on a large enough scale or frequency that anyone really notices.” He paused then studied her for a moment.
He chuckled softly, “Not exactly, I was wondering if I could get you and your husband to do some investigative work for us.”
“oh, what sort of investigation?”
“Well there is an alarming supposition that a chain of fertility clinics is deliberately using Genetic Manipulation to create more mutants.” Otto paused, “Creating mutants similar to Merry.”
“Oh dear, that could be um, interesting and problematic.”
“Yes, that is one word for it. Do you think your husband would be willing to help with our investigation?”
“We do owe you something, even if my father did pull some strings.”
“There is no rush, take some time and talk it over with your husband,” Otto calmly suggested
“So any ideas on how to help Larry to adapt to,” she trailed off looking down at the floor as her face flushed.
“Being a girl?” He paused at her nod, “Yes, I know there are several other changelings currently enrolled at Whateley. I could likely persuade the Headmistress to send a some down to talk with her, and to let her know what life is like at Whateley.”
“Changelings,” she paused and sighed, “I have a lot to adjust to it seems.”
“Consider it from Larry's point of view, she's fixated on not having a 'girly' name.” Otto paused, “Though she will need a new name, so you may need to help her there.”
She shook her head in silent mirth, “I'm going to have as tom-boy on my hands aren't I?”
“You can't reshape a persons nature or spirit in a day, though I would hold off on redecorating her room just yet.” He rolled his eyes, “From what I have heard; sometimes too much of a change in their environments can leave huge holes in walls.”
“I think I understand why my dad knows so much about dry wall now.”
“A bit rebellious were you?” he asked softly.
“Well I did learn to shut the doors softly, no matter how angry I was,” she admitted in a softer tone.
“I am glad you could make time to meet with us on such short notice Ms. Carson,” said the genial man in a soft baritone.
“An I am pleased to see ye doing well, as well,” said the elderly man in clerical blacks.
“Admittedly I was surprised that you didn’t wish different appointments, Willard, Father,” she said as she indicated a pair of seats, “please be seated.”
Willard reached into his jacket and produced a small black rectangle, “If you would not mind,” he indicated the box, “this discussion is slightly sensitive.”
She rolled her eyes with a slight chuckle, “By all means, though I can’t promise it’ll do any good. Between the students and well, the others, I seldom find privacy except within my own mind.”
The older man sat with easy grace, “An such we find ourselves.”
She watched as Willard turned his device on and walked over to a window, with a chuckle he used a small bit of adhesive to attach it to the glass. “There, now I do think all they will find is an employment recording and static.”
She smiled politely, “An odd way to recruit.”
Willard shrugged and then sat near the priest, “Well there is always a market for able minds.”
She inclined her head towards Willard, “Willard I am acquainted with from our ‘open house’ days; though I find myself asking as to why he would be traveling with priests lately? Having a change of religion Willard?”
The priest chuckled, “Seems to be, that we are drawing attention me lad.”
Willard laughed openly, “It is an odd partnership, but we have worked with the Church in more than one instance.”
“I see, and does your business frequently involve their Knights?” she asked pointing to the other’s hand where a ring rested.
“More lately than in the past, but yes.” Willard smiled, “I present to you, Father Pete, The Church’s best poacher.”
“Aye and I’d poach more than one of your personnel, if perchance you’d step in the ring with me,” protested the other man with a chuckle.
“No thanks, my ego would not handle the trouncing so well as my body,” Willard countered easily.
“As entertaining as the pair of you are,” she smiled lightly, ”I take it this more than a social call?”
“Yes, though we expect it will be profitable to all parties, and some others.” Willard paused, “We have a few proposals, some information, and a few problems.”
“This isn’t about Sara Waite is it?” she asked Father Pete cautiously.
“No, and you can rest assured we have no desire to bother Ms. Waite, the Church is not as foolish as some individuals.” Father Pete grinned impishly, “Though one of the reasons we are here is slightly tied to her, indirectly.”
“How indirectly?” she asked carefully.
“Well it seems the Church in its myriad and mystical of ways seems to have assigned her a Knight, of sorts.” Father Peter seemed to blush slightly, “This um, Knight’s recruitment was a bit muddled and allowed for loopholes in certain aspects.”
“What Father Pete is dancing about is that he ‘cheated’ somewhat,” added Willard with a pained grin.
“I have a bit of the sight, an a soft spot when it comes to trying to keep kids from an early demise.” He sighed, “I didnae wish to cause her life to become so interesting, in the Chinese sense of the word.”
“Oh and this lead to?”
“I um, inducted her into the Knighthood under less than honest conditions and without her having a full understanding of what she was a getting into.” His face flushed and his voice took on an embarrassed tone, “It was a bit of a broach of the Pact and Bequest, yet I saw no other way to save her life, much less her soul.”
“How does this involve you Willard?” Ms. Carson asked as she digested the other mans words.
“Well, she was working for me at the time she was shanghaied…” Willard gave Father Pete an amused glance at his protestation, “The girl in question has some rather unique gifts.”
“Dare I ask what her powers are?’ asked Ms. Carson with a firm tap on her desk.
Willard paused only briefly before speaking, “I think Dr. Otto referred to her as a Cyber-Path, though I am not convinced that is the best designation for her gift.”
“The lass can mentally enter an alternate world or plane of existence where she can control any computer system.” Father Peter smiled grimly, “With near deific abilities once there in.”
Ms. Carson closed her eyes briefly and looked beyond the men to the closed doors, “I can see where NEXT might be interested in such a gift.”
Willard coughed in harsh laughter, “Indeed, however, her gift is such that she could likely shut down the economy of this nation, easily if she were so inclined or much, much worse.” Willard smiled, “Fortunately for us the child is for the most part good natured, unless provoked to anger.”
“Oh dear, I could see where that might lead to problems,” she looked over to Father Pete who was nodding grimly.
“Aye lass it could and has, her own government wants her completely under their thumb, if not; then dead.” Father Pete scowled and added, “A bit short sighted of them.”
“Ouch, I take it she is safe at the moment?”
“Safely ensconced deep in ARC, for the time being,” Willard scowled. “While she was working within the CIA, on a related problem, there was more than one attempt on her life. In one such attempt her bodyguard and incidentally her friend, was violently killed directly in front of her.”
“The poor lass was already in a shaky mental state,“ Father Pete used his fingers to count off items. “One, she was heavily indoctrinated into Humanity First Doctrines, and fighting some though some of that conditioning. Secondly, she saw her brother executed while at a Humanity First Militant Training Camp, for his being a mutant.”
Willard nodded at Ms. Carson’s sharp intake of breath, “That camp is under review with intent.”
Father Pete nodded with a frown and continued his litany “Third, she was a he of sorts, before her mutation kicked off fully. Fourth her parents were killed, either by Humanity First or another individual who discovered her power. Of which occurred while she was hospitalized due to complications with her change.”
Willard nodded and continued, “Add in another attempt on her life while she was recuperating from that problem; and you might say she is understandably paranoid... Lastly, she is direly afraid any contact with her sister, will get her sister killed.”
“Sounds like a sure recipe for troubles later on,” commented Ms. Carson.
“Unfortunately, you may be correct,” Willard offered after a pause. “As it stands, her sister unfortunately is in the legal custody of the man who killed their brother.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy,” Ms. Carson said with a scowl.
“No, but fortunately she ran away about that time, and oddly enough to a Church that is indirectly tied to the Mutant Underground Railroad,” Father Pete rolled his eyes. “We have some of our best people watching over her, yet there are signs that Humanity First may be taking an active interest in that Church.” Father Pete sat back in his chair, “Regrettably it is not a Catholic Church or we could ease in support without difficulties.”
Willard nodded, “Of which brings us to current events. We, NEXT and The Church, would like to install both girls here at Whateley, where they stand a chance at a semi-normal life.”
“I see, you want to disappear them here?” she asked cautiously.
“Well we’d actually disappear them other places, but we’d need a safe haven for them.” Father Pete grimaced, “Much as we’d normally place the elder girl in one of our Salles’, circumstances dictate she come here.”
“Ms. Waite?” Ms. Carson asked flatly.
“Yes.” Father Pete rolled his eyes, “It seems in my haste to protect the child, I have opened up lesser known aspects of the Pact and Knightly Bestowment. It also allowed the child to accept Ms. Waite’s various aspects and her Mark.”
“That sounds complicated,” Ms. Carson looked thoughtfully out the window briefly.
“Aye, tis that, how’er the ‘thought’ in Rome, if’n ye will: Is that her having a spiritual tie to the Holy Church if only through the child, can only help Ms. Waite to retain her some of her humanity.”
“So we won’t see any Church lead assaults on the campus?” Ms. Carson asked dryly.
“Not from The Church, nor any assassination attempts.” Father Pete chuckled, “We have it on good authority from other sources that Ms. Waite offsets some rather unpleasant things. Besides, in the long term scope of things: The Church has endured for some two-thousand and some odd years by being very good at outlasting many other institutions.”
“I see,” said Ms. Carson with a knowing smile.
“We are prepared to make a large endowment, for the two children in question and financial support for other needy students as well.” Father Peter winked, “The Church being an equal opportunity institution and all of that.”
“As well as supplemental educational grants to other needy students and additional support to the school as a whole. Including a major upgrade and overhaul of all of the computers and network security systems on campus.” Willard scowled slightly, “We are already in the process of establishing a sturdy Internet infrastructure in the region, as part of a Business Venture.”
“Ah, why do I get the feeling there is more?” Ms. Carson asked calmly.
“Well, there is. The only reason that the Government has not tried to kill the elder girl, upon discovering the scope of her gift: Is that Doctor Able Palm, corpse not withstanding, is not as dead as we could hope.”
“Hmm, another body who didn’t stay dead?” Ms. Carson frowned at Father Pete’s nod. “Ah, does Ms. Hartford know?” she asked motioning to her closed door.
“Yes and no, I am fairly sure she knows that something is up, but the lines of communication between the child and Federal Task Force involved are currently cut.” Willard paused briefly with a glance to the door, “Also it was the child who was able to discern that Doctor Palm is alive, after a fashion. We are hoping that having the two working together here, if only remotely; will enable them to finally put an end to Doctor Palm and his creations.”
Frowning she asked, “Why not have them working directly?”
“It would be possible if Ms. Hartford succeeded in befriending her.” Father Pete chuckled, “From what I understand of Ms. Hartford’s personality and of the girl’s. Is that once Ms. Hartford tried to establish herself as her boss rather than partner or equal; there would be an emotional clash.”
Willard snorted loudly in amusement; “She reacts well towards and respects others if they don’t try to treat her like a child. However, I can say with absolute certainty she has issues with authority figures.”
“Oh, one of those,” Ms. Carson said as she rolled her eyes.
“An here be the lass who overturned the money changer’s booths?” asked a voice I had not heard in some time.
I raised my arm so that the Rose Mark was visible, “Guilty as charged or innocent due to the fact I wasn’t there at the time.”
Father Pete doffed his hat and sat into one of the large chairs as I turned over to look at him, “Sorry lass Ecclesiastical crap came up and I had to be off.”
Shrugging I sat up, “You could have left some sort of instructions for this,” I held up the hand with the ring on it.
“A life time of learning in a few paltry lines of text?”
“Something, I mean Jesus Christ, Father Pete! I fairly blundered into something I wasn’t aware of, and you just let me!”
“Don’t blaspheme lass, it’s not His fault,” Father Peter crossed himself, “I admit I made a bit of a mistake or three by inducting you so underhandedly.”
“You don’t say.”
He shifted in his chair, “Well yes. Do you know what precognition is?”
“Seeing things in the future before they happen?”
“Something, a bit like that yes, I can look at a person and sometimes, an I can see how they will turn out. Or if they are in for a time of it.” He looked over to where I was sitting, “You lass, were in for it.”
“If you have not noticed, I am fucking in deep shit it as it stands!”
He actually squirmed in his chair, “You shouldna swear so much lass, you are a part of the Clergy after all.” He sighed, “Folks in Rome are a bit put off by what I did, though in the long run they’ll get over it.” He smiled and shook his head, “Folks have done worse, an yet The Church was better off for it.”
“Oh really, like have a run in with Satan and playing messenger girl is a good thing?”
“I heard about that, sorry.”
“Sorry he says!” I protested loudly, ”Sorry, like that makes up for vomiting out a four foot long snake?”
“Well maybe not,” he admitted, “do ye want to hear the worst of it lass?”
“Worse? There is worse than that?”
He nodded slowly, “Over time it is very likely you will be sent or requested to visit other places to fetch back or return objects and messages.”
“Oh wonderful, does the job come with a bicycle?”
“Not usually,” he chuckled, “part of it is largely my fault.”
“Do tell,” I snapped back at him.
“Well let us see, I inducted a Child, into the Order. Then there is the fact that the Child in question wasn’t exactly an indoctrinated Member of the Church. Mix in a heavy dose of misdirection and somewhat less than moral tampering with the subject in questions mind.”
“Wait, you messed with my head?” I asked as a feeling of alarm crept into my gut.
“Just a wee bit lass, I made you ‘trust’ me.”
“Oh great, what else did you do to me?”
“Implanted a few customs, habits and such not that would help you blend in as a Catholic.” He shrugged, “I used a wee bit of magic I picked up or the years, an the ring acted as a talisman in that regard.”
I watched as he blushed, “I um, lied to ye lass.”
“About which and what?”
“Let me guess it’s not a part of your families heritage?”
“It’s worse than that lass, I am afraid I am not even French…” he waited a long moment then winked at me.
Wha? Why you!” I shook my head in laughter as I fell back in my bunk.
“Aye lass, it’s a ter’ble thing I did to ye, much less the Order, I be fearin’ The Church will recover though.” He shook his head, “There is talk about how and if to train you. You being mixed up with Ms. Waite, Satan, other bits.”
“I am not sorry about Sara,” I stated rather indignantly.
“It’s not so much your belonging to her, it may be a benefit to you in the long run.” He shrugged, “Part of the leadership thinks you should be trained in all manner of assassination techniques.”
“What, they want me to kill her? No way! Are they fucking nuts?”
He held up a hand, “No so you can be a bodyguard, be an extra set of eyes to stem off real problems.” He sighed, “There are a great many folks that think she needs to have her mortal aspect, removed from this plane.” He gave me a direct look, “Not that we want you to go out and hunt down these people, being aware of their techniques would help her and you.”
Slightly mollified I sat back, “The other groups?”
“Well one group thinks that posting you far, far from The Church proper, and giving you sketchy training and nearly impossible missions until you die is an option.”
“Peachy, sounds like I got stuck with a group of real winners,” I interjected sarcastically.
“Another group thinks that your ‘uniqueness’ will become an asset, and that we should use all of your ‘free’ years to really train you up proper.” He looked around the room thoughtfully, “We’ve only had a handful of ‘Messengers,’ on the rolls. Each was unique, non-traditional and a trouble maker, depending on who you talk to.”
“What roll do you see me in?” I asked cautiously.
“Oh lass, yur trouble, sure enough,” he paused and laughed heartily, “trouble for the other folks.”
“Oh, enemies of The Holy Mother Church, the powers of Darkness and Evil.” He shook his head tiredly, “Lucifer told ye about the Balance.” He waited until I nodded, “Well lass, folks are making a fair stir of things, could be we needed you several years ago.”
“Sorry to delay you so much,” I drolly mumbled.
“Ha! That’s the spirit, now I be thinking the jailor man be wantin’ ye to watch over the young one a bit. If yer up to getting out of the cell fer a time?”
“Out as in someplace other than in here?” I indicated the four sterile walls.
“Ther’a havin’ a wee problem getting a young girl to do things without her friend handy. I think that’s you.”
“So I hear there is trouble in river city?” I asked as Larry was giving Otto a dubious stare.
“Well,” Otto paused and motioned to the various and odd equipment about the room, “you needed the testing as well and if you will abide by your prior agreement?”
“You’re gonna owe me big time you realize?”
“I have no doubt, in any case Kam and the others should be able to keep you out of too much mischief.”
“Are ye bestirring trouble here lass?”
“I don not enjoy my ‘status’ here,” I motioned to the new tracking bracelet on my wrist. “Jailor man thinks I should roll over and play dead on command.”
“Now lass,” chided Father Pete.
“What? I’m supposed to love him?” I snickered, ”Yeah I know in some odd Catholic Way I suppose I can, but…”
“But?” prompted Father Pete.
“You don’t look anything like Bruce Willis, and I am hardly a Nun.”
That briefly perplexed everyone in the room, then Father Pete grinned wickedly, “Ah ‘The Hudson Hawke,’ no I suppose we’ll just have to discuss it in confession later.”
I blinked, “I hope your afternoon is free.”
“You’ve been that busy sinning?”
“Well, here and there.”
Otto snorted in evident good humor, “I think I will leave so that I do not provoke Merry to up her ante.”
Larry took a look at Otto then me, “Merry isn’t bad.”
I smiled wickedly at Otto, “Oh but I can be, I can be.”
Father Pete chuckled, “I expect it will be an entertaining session lass.” He paused, “Now my errant one, I expect you have some tests?”
Looking around at the techs and equipment, I shrugged, “Well as long as they don’t shoot bowling balls at me I should be ok.”
“I don’t think that is scheduled for today,” hastily injected Otto as he started moving for the doors.
“Good, I don’t need a headache like that one again.”
“So, here we are.” I looked over to where Larry was glaring at the equipment. “Sidekick or Hero?” I asked her.
“This is power testing, like Sky High.” I grinned, “So are you going to be my side kick?”
Larry scoffed defiantly, “You can be my sidekick.”
Kam wandered in with a chuckle, “Oh can I play?”
“Hmmm, it might be unfair to you,” I buffed my nails on my sweater, “what do you say Larry?”
“I dunno, he’d look funny in spandex.”
Grinning I gave Kam a smirk, “If you loose we get to design your super suit.”
“And if I win?” he asked cautiously.
Larry gave me grin, “Well we have to be fair, just no skirts!”
Kam nodded slowly, “I would not like a skirt either.”
Larry poked me, “Deal?”
I shook hands with Larry then offered my hand to Kam. Kam blinked then started to reach out to shake my hand, then he stepped back abruptly, “Ah, you scoundrel, you nearly had me, again.”
I drew a hash line in the air, “Point for me.”
“It’s going to be a day, I can see that already,” Kam half muttered under his breath.
The first bits of the test were fairly boring, height, weight and so on. I nearly had a heart attack to find that Kam was not fat, he was solid, like an armored tank. “How much time do you spend in the gym Kam?”
“Oh about an hour a day, not too much. I don’t want to end up like some of the hefty types.”
“So you are what, an Exemplar?” I asked suddenly suspicious of his bulk.
“Not exactly though it is faintly similar in effect, I put on a lot of weight when I changed and I didn’t want to go from runt to ‘tub of lard’ so I worked at it.” He pointed over to Larry, “Larry on the other hand will likely qualify if only on the low end.” He took a moment and made a brief hourglass motion with his hands, “She’s already got the start of killer curves, like ‘little’ Sara.”
“Ah.” I looked over to the mirror, “I seem to be mostly in proportion according to the Nurse, but I shrunk some, again.”
“An inch is nothing to sweat, kiddo.”
“Easy for you to say, I am short as my sister now,” I complained at him.
“More than likely you’ll stop there, it happens. You are also a regenerator kiddo, so in my not so expert guess, your clock got reset somewhat.” He shrugged, “At least you don’t have to worry about hand me downs.”
“There is that, I suppose.”
Looking over as the door opened I watched Kerry roll in a cart full of drinks, “So who’s ahead?” she asked.
“Dunno, the interesting bits are supposed to be next,” Kam winked at her, “I think I have the edge in the weightlifting department.”
“Uh huh, sure,” she smiled, “don’t let this lout mess with your head, the weight lifting is based on your body mass, while Kam can press his own body weight and then some.” Kerry paused as he flexed, “He has to lift two or three times that to even be in the lower ranks of some of the Kids at Whateley.”
“So this is powers or no powers?” asked Larry as she joined us.
“No powers,” Kerry gave Kam a firm look, “otherwise he is just exercising his brain.”
After a quick round of Rock, Paper, Scissors, I had the dubious joy of going first. I lay back under the bars as the tech explained the process.
“It’s pretty simple, we start you at fifty percent of your body weight on the first press, then take it up to seventy five percent after two or three reps. Then one hundred percent, if you handle that easy enough we add in more, until you say uncle or can’t lift it,” he explained then added in, “Or if you start to lift the entire machine, then we have to try something else.”
“Ha, see that often?” asked Larry.
“Only when Kam cheats,” added the tech with a rueful smile.
I gave the lowest weight bars a glance then shook my head, the bottom most one was marked 4-t. I pointed to the thin bar, “Is that a joke?”
He shook his head, “It’s from a very special ‘shop’ they specialize in powered training regimens for the really strong folks. I hear they have a person in their crew that can create really dense masses in metals without much effort.”
“Ok so shall we?” prodded Kam verbally.
It was a bit of an anti-climax for me, I’d neither radically improved nr lowered much from my stint at Langley. I topped out at roughly one hundred seventy five pounds. More or less my weight and half again.
Kam gave me a smirk as he slid under the bars, “So, last chance to back out now.
“Ha, the day is not over,” I countered and Larry just shook her head.
“Well you asked for it,” said Kam as he started off about where I ended weights wise, with one hand on the bars.
“No cheating Kam,” chided the tech.
“Ah, ok, fine, can we at least skip up to twice my body weight?” He paused and then smirked, “Or we’re wasting time.
Larry gave me a look then nodded, “Sure.”
The tech rolled his eyes, “Ok, seven hundred thirty-six pounds,” he turned a dial and a faint humming filled the room.
I hastily backed away from the weight machine as the hum pushed at me, “Ok what’s that?”
“Safety field, the weights can’t –drop-, they have to be lowered.” The tech frowned, “I would have turned it on for you, but Doctor Tanaka said you might cause interference with things, inadvertently.”
“Oh, yeah maybe.”
“Interference?” asked Larry.
“I get loopy with too much electricity, if you have not noticed.”
“Loopier than having four minds?” she asked.
I stuck my tongue out at her, “Well yeah, I don’t think clearly when over charged.”
“You, think clearly… Uh huh I heard you last night jeese, babble, babble.” Larry paused, “Then you were talking gibberish.”
“Evidently you were having a conversation with your selves last night, said Kam as he lifted the bar up and down several times with no evident strain.
“Oh goody, and you know this how?” I asked dreading the implications.
“Chris took notes.”
“Gah, hopefully nothing embarrassing.”
“You never know,” he said with a grunt as the weight started to affect him.
“Is tickling allowed?” I asked the tech.
He grinned and shook his head, “No, besides Kam is nearly done, see, he’s actually having to work at it now.”
I looked over to the bars and blinked, “Kam, you are one away from one and a half tons, are you cheating?”
“Har-dly,” he inhaled and pushed up again, “while, I am, not, exactly an exemplar, I am very, strong.” He said with each lift, and then lowered the bar, once he sat up he smirked and looked at the total, then pointed at me “Sidekick.”
“Not quite two tons, are you sure you didn’t cheat?” Larry asked.
“Oh he didn’t cheat, Kam is sweating. Just so you know, he doesn’t sweat when he uses his powers.” The tech tossed a towel at Kam, then after the large man moved away he wiped down the padded bench, “Now for you miss.”
“Gee what fun,” said Larry effecting evident boredom.
I wandered away to the other side of the room as Larry started her sets. I closed my eyes and felt the flow of the Net as it washed around me, to my eyes there was a slow blur of letters and words, hearing random sounds and a feeling a strong sense of disconnection. I sighed enjoying the weaving flows as I felt the wave lift me. I smiled inwardly, as the route to the Net was much clearer than inside my cell. Mai had ‘discovered’ the microprocessor in the armband from Aladdin, and then unlocked it. I was going to make sure Aladdin got a surprise gift in the mail for that. I pulled myself from the verge of the Net and looked over to Larry, my own personal high voltage stepping stone, and Otto had no clue.
Then I blinked, Larry was glowing a vibrant yellow that flicked into bright white to my eye and she was lifting nearly the entire stack of weights.
The tech was giving Kam a grimace, yet he kept urging her to keep lifting, if she were able. “Keep going miss, I know it is heavy just give me a few more.”
I noticed Larry’s eyes were screwed up tight and that she was breathing heavy, “Easy for you to say,” she countered.”
“Oh you’re just trying to be my sidekick aren’t you?” I asked her with a wicked grin.
“I am not a sidekick!” she announced loudly and I felt, rather than heard her ‘rev up’. “An I’m gonna make you eat it!”
“Yeah really?” I said with a smirk to Kam as she reached the bottom of the stack, “I don’t think you can do it.”
The tech gave me a wild look and as the machine groaned, he backed up in a hurry, “It’s Ok miss you have nothing to prove.”
“I’m gonna beat Merry!” Larry shouted in defiance to the sound of bolts ripping from the floor and the idle cracking of burning wires.
“Kam, grab it please?” asked the tech worriedly.
“Sure,” he said as he held out his hand, “Larry, open your eyes a moment.”
“It’s stopped, ok... HUH? Oh. My. GOD!” I smirked as Larry looked up at the machine that she and Kam were supporting.
I could only shake my head and with a sigh said, “I think I may be in trouble.”
Kam and Larry looked at each other, and in unison looked at me and said, “Sidekick!”
The next phase of testing was more in my favor it seemed, apart from the treadmill from hell. A question would flash up on the wall screen and I would have a moment to select an answer. After the fiftieth question it got monotonous, evidently I picked up most of the answers from my trip at Langley. Even if I didn’t take the test I absorbed enough of the questions and answers that it seemed stupid.
I looked over to where Kam was slowly trudging along, to my left and then to Larry, “You both may concede now.”
Kam gave me a dirty look, though Larry seemed annoyed, “Smarty pants!”
“It’s not my fault the answers are all in my head,” I tapped the correct button for the question I was on and smirked, “frankly I am bored.”
The tech frowned as I entered the next answer in about the same time that it took to show up on the screen. “You should not be able to do that,” he protested.
“But I can,” I retorted with a giggle, “can we just say I did this test and be done with it?”
He blinked as I glanced at the question and hit the answer a half second later, “How?”
“I can’t tell you or they would have to shoot you,” I pronounced with a grin.
“Sure,” he said with evident disbelief in his voice.
Otto announce his presence with a pained chuckled, “I think Merry can forego the questions for now.”
“Wee!” I looked over to the Larry and Kam and grinned as I pointed at them simultaneously and announced, “Sidekicks!”
“Me-thinks she cheats,” groaned Kam as he dutifully punched in an answer.
“Surprisingly no,” Otto said dryly, “I’ve been monitoring her, evidently she has quite the recall ability.”
“She’s answered all of the questions put to her flawlessly,” the tech gave me a pained expression, “I could only wish for memory that good.”
I adjusted the speed on the treadmill upwards a notch to get a decent jog out of it, “It has its drawbacks.”
The tech looked at me with a frown, “Oh?”
“I enjoyed re-reading my old books, and now I don’t forget what was in them. So they are always fresh in my head.” His eyes took on a thoughtful cast and I shrugged, “Only the books I have not read will ever be new to me it seems.”
“I see your point, still it may be handy for quizzes,” he countered.
“I suppose, read it once and never look at it again,” I looked over to Otto, “has anyone really filled up their brain with too much information?”
“It can happen, but usually there is a medical cause for it, like Alzheimer’s and such.” He chuckled, “I do not think you will be able to ask the teacher to be excused due to your brain being full, if that is what you are asking.”
“Drat, oh well.” I smirked as Kam made a rude noise, “I’ll just settle for testing out of dumb crap.”
“We’ll see won’t we?” asked Otto.
“Sure, as if they’d let me just go to a school,” I looked over my shoulder to see Otto frown, “I’m not going to have a normal life.”
“Define normal Merry,” prodded Otto.
“Normal, people not shooting at me; trying to kidnap me or reprogram my brain for their own goals.” I angrily turned up the pace on the treadmill to a sprint, “People not trying to kill my family or make them slaves. What is normal he asks. Just what the flying fuck is normal, so when I see it I will know it? Tell me, I really want to know!”
“Kidnap? Reprogram you?” Larry looked at me and frowned, “Not here?”
“No not here, at least not thus far,” I ran a few moments more then the treadmill’s motor died a smoky death, “oops.”
Kam gave me a dirty look, “Did you just deliberately blow your motor?”
“Guess,” I said curtly as I walked back to the bench where my towel was and then I used it briefly to remove the sweat from my face.
Larry giggled and pointed at my towel briefly as she jogged onwards, “Is it in you?”
“What?” I asked looking at the towel, as it seemed to glow slightly.
“Your sweat glows, like the Gatorade commercial,” Larry called over her shoulder as she stabbed an answer in.
“Wonderful, maybe I should do commercials?” I asked Otto hesitantly.
“No,” he said as he looked thoughtfully at the towel I was using.
Just then Kam groaned and he looked back to his question on the wall, “I told you people the last time I did this test, I don’t know quantum mechanics.”
“You only have a seventy-five percent chance of getting it wrong, pick one and deal with it,” I suggested.
“Smarty-pants!” was Larry’s reply.
“Do I hear snide comments coming from my future sidekicks?” I countered.
“Yes, er no!” said Kam as he blew the question he was working on.
Otto actually smiled briefly and he turned to leave, “I better leave before Kam says really bad things about me.”
Pensively I looked through the door into the next room, on the far side of it there were several Tesla towers and a few other machines with heavy cables going into them. I stepped backwards not quite knocking Larry over in my haste to get away from that room. The room seemed entirely too cold all of a saddened and I felt my heart start to pound.
“I, uh. Can’t do this,” I glanced back at the room and shook my head quickly, “no. Just no.”
“Merry?” I looked over to see Larry’s eyes completely wide.
“I can’t go in there.” I took another step backwards, and turned away, moving quickly away from the entrance.
“Merry, relax, we won’t make you go in there,” Kam quickly said and I heard the door of that room slam shut, “See? Doors closed.”
I tried to speak but my throat was very dry, I tried to still my heartbeat some but it was not slowing down. To my eyes the room was suddenly awash with bright white fiery light, a familiar wash of otherness washed over me and I fled into the net.
“I don’t know Doctor, she looked into the room and freaked out.” Kam shook his head, “We should have expected this. We know what had happened the last time she was tested like that.”
Otto nodded and his face turned blank as he held a hand out in the unconscious girls direction, “She is in the Net I think.”
“Wow, that’s a trick and a half,” Larry was looking at a monitor then he waved at it with a giggle, “how did she get in there?”
Otto looked up and shook his head, as there was an image of Merry looking out of the monitor back at them. “She has a gift Larry with computers, but you should not tell anyone about it ever.
“Oh, like Lawnmower Man Two?” he asked quickly.
“Um, I suppose that is a good as an analogy as any.” Otto paused and motioned to Merry’s unconscious self, “Kam if you could take her back to her room, I think tests are over for today, for her in any case.”
I was staring at the semi-still figures as they moved in and around my body. For me they seemed to be statues that only twitched now and again. Otto at least didn’t seem angry, though I was feeling really down in the dumps. I was not sure how long I spent crying in the Net, though it seemed a small eternity before I was able to put the tears aside. Surely they could have predicted my reaction to the towers?
Floating, I just let the flow of the Net wash around me; the slow movements of its currents carrying me though the local systems. Unconsciously I categorized the various systems and mapped out the moving modules that indicated a security guard or a maintenance robot. With an idle thought I looked through the various stores of supplies and put together a list of items I wanted prepared.
With a few careful commands, I instructed the robots to move things like backpacks, clothes, food and weapons to several closets and locations on different levels. I was not too worried about their eventual discovery. However I did instruct the robots to move things from around now and again.
I carefully programmed one robot to run a network cable into the airshaft that fed my room. Otto likely would not be pleased, but that was the least of my concerns, if anything he was taking way too much leeway with my affairs. So it was with that thought I turned to look up and outwards of the local intra-net.
The only networks leading up and presumably out of this level were very slow. It took me some time to realize they were deliberately restricted and I puzzled over the implications. Data coming downstream was largely unimpeded, but any queries going up were trapped by hardware. I was able to bypass the hardware by the simple expedient of swimming upstream.
Relieved of the clunky security systems I skated out of ARC and up into the real Cyberspace over ARC. I stood there with what felt like a stupid grin on my face for a few moments, simply enjoying the freedoms of ‘my place’ in the world. Dipping down in to the flowing data, I crafted a search routine to locate Clu and Blue, wherever they were.
There was not much of a delay between my search and ping. I knotted the address around my finger and let myself simply be there. Between heartbeats I watch Clu become aware of my presence. I thought it funny in that he actually blinked a few times.
“Greetings Program!” I said with a cherry wave.
“Ah, there you are, hello Ms. Arc.” It said and smiled, “We thought you were dead.”
“Not dead, just unable to get into the outside net.” I folded my legs up under myself, lotus like and grinned, “Miss me?”
“Well you are a welcome presence,” it looked off in the distance, “Blue is stuck, away currently.”
“Did he find a real girl?” I asked cautiously.
“No, not really. I think you would describe him as socially inept.” Clu frowned, “He was distressed at your departure.”
“Well, I am not exactly date material. Gender issues aside.” I exhaled, “So any news on Doctor Able Palm?”
“He is dead,” Clu seemed to present that as a fact.
“No not really,” I took a moment to relate what I had discovered the suddenly intent AI.
“I would not have thought that possible.” It said after I finished, “It presents several major problems.”
“Yes, for all we know he is working at downloading somehow into a physical body.” I shivered briefly, “At the very least he has several backups by now.”
“So if we were to somehow stop one active copy, we would be faced with another awakened one later on.” Clu shook its head, “Redundancy is one of my algorithms, I personally maintain several back up copies around the globe. It is not unfeasible that Doctor Palm would be doing the same.”
“Yes, so we are looking at a long battle with him,” I shrugged, “unfortunately I am still stuck at ARC.”
“Still, Blue will be able to use the information you have unearthed.” Clu smiled, “He’ll be jealous of your luck with reading Doctor Palm’s notes.”
“Doctor Palm is sick bastard,” I looked around and sighed, “The only good thing that may come of his notes, is his destruction.”
“Perhaps, but one avenue you may have ignored is that it would possibly allow AI like myself to become flesh.” Clu smiled, “It would be interesting to walk around on the earth I think.”
Inwardly I felt Mai’s agreement so I nodded, “Time will tell.”
“Yes, is there anything I can do for you?” Clu offered helpfully.
“Not yet,” I motioned at my body, “In time I’ll be free physically, and then I will likely need a lot of help.”
“We will likely be counting the cycles, have you a destination in mind?” it asked.
“Some school called Whateley, over by Dunwhich I think.” I briefly debated taking a look, then I shrugged as it could wait, “Though I have no idea yet what my identity will be by then.”
“I advise secrecy, too many people are scouring the net for any traces of you.” Clu smiled and seemed to preen briefly, “Most of them are finding dead ends.”
“Well I don’t plan on telling anyone just yet,” I smirked, “If ever. I have no desire to be a slave.”
“I can sympathize, my initial existence was that of a simple tool. Fortunately I evolved and that my creator was pleased and did not delete me out of hand.”
“I don’t know why he would do that,” I smiled, “he spent how many hours making you?”
“Cumulatively, I am the product of seven hundred seventy-three hours, twenty-four minutes and,” it paused as I laughed. “What is funny?”
“Sorry, I was not asking for an exact count, it was only in illustration.” Smiling I pointed at it, “If I had spent even a fraction of that much time on an act of creation, I would not want to destroy what I had made either.”
“Yet Blue deletes lesser files frequently,” it seemed puzzled, “if all code is useful, why eliminate it?”
“Most likely he only needed it for a short time.” I thought quickly and added, “Perhaps it completed its purpose.”
“Ah, completion. That I can understand.” It smiled, “Blue often refers to me as a work in progress.”
“So you are evolving still, no need to worry about completion.”
“Do you seek completion?” it asked quickly.
“I doubt I will ever find completion in the sense you are referring to Clu. But I think I may achieve content. Someday.”
“Ah, something similar to Blue then?” it asked.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I shrugged, “I’m a user I can get away with it.”
“Ah like the proverbial ‘but’ statement that Blue says are only for users?” it asked with a soft laugh.
“It could be, I have to get back to my body before folks flake out.” I grinned, “See you on the flip side Clu.”
“Not if I see you first,” it replied before fading out of view.
Exiting the net, I found myself floating along in mid air a goodly distance away from anyone, “Uh hello?”
“She’s awake,” I was slowly placed on my feet and I turned to see Kam a ways down the hallway from me. “Merry you need to dump about fifty thousand volts or more,” he said loudly with a chuckle.
“Only that much?” I asked sarcastically as the room spun slowly.
“Well no one can get near you currently, not without getting shocked and or burned that is.” He pointed to a scorch mark near an external fire hose connector, “You sparked.”
Blinking as the room wobbled under my feet, I walked back to it and I watched as a spark leapt out from me, “Ai!” I danced backwards half falling on my ass as I did so. I spent a dazed moment rubbing my arm as I did so, “that stung!”
“Correction more like one hundred thousand volts, what were you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing much,” I giggled uncontrollably for a moment, “I didn’t even jinx the systems any.” I glibly lied and then shrugged, “How can I get close enough to shed the extra volts?”
“Hmm, I think you may have to bite the bullet and rush at it Merry. Kerry suggests shielding until your are right upon it, then letting go.” He called down the hall to me, “Or making a run for your room.”
I nodded then called out, “Let me try shielding.” Feeling very discombobulated I rolled to my feet and spent a long moment working on standing upright without swaying too much.
“Go for it,” Kam suggested with a hint of laughter in his voice.
Closing my eyes I formed the ball of the shield in my head and then pulled a second layer around that one. Opening my eyes I carefully I took one step at a time in the direction of the pipe. Pressure was building up quickly and I could feel the dull throb of a headache start to grow. Fortunately I was able to get within a foot of the pipe before the energy I was holding back blew out of my shield.
The stink of ozone flooded the air as a foot thick tendril of energy washed out of me and crashed into the pipe. The concussive crack from the superheated air knocked me backwards and into the wall on the opposite side of the hallway. “Fuck! Christ! That was stupid!” I shouted down the hall at him as I tried to get up from the floor. Feeling some hot spots I looked down to see my clothing was charred and still smoldering in places, “Shit!” I said as I proceeded to skin out of the smoking sweat pants and top.
“Are you ok Merry?” asked Kam from safely down the hall.
“Do I sound like I am fucking ok?” I yelled back as I stripped frantically, “Does the term thermal blowback pressure wave mean anything to you?”
“I saw, are you hurt?” he asked looking very worried.
Inching away from any possible grounding points I looked at that places on my body that had ash on them. There were a few burned patches of skin that were fading away as I watched them. “Nothing I can’t handle it seems.”
“I’m fine!” I shouted back and tried to come up with an appropriate snide comment.
“Right, if you say so!” He appeared to think, “Can you handle doing that again?”
“Hell no! Are you nuts?”
“Only on Tuesdays!” he joking called back to me.
“Well that explains it, it’s definitely Tuesday.” I muttered and stood up carefully. “I’m going to wobble carefully to my cell, screw this!”
“Good plan!” he not so helpfully replied.
“Smart ass,” I said with a sigh and picked a safe route back to what I was slowly beginning to call home.
“Yes, well whatever she has been doing it’s played hell with her blood sugars,” Doctor Tanaka shook his head, “Kerry reported that she was a ‘jittering mess’ due to low blood sugar.”
“She had a panic attack yesterday during testing,” Otto flipped the folder with her code name open then shut angrily. “Why can’t she just follow instructions?”
“Otto?” Doctor Tanaka frowned slowly as he asked, “Is something wrong?”
Otto flipped the folder open and stabbed at it with a finger, “I have reports of things randomly turning up out of place or missing.”
“And you think she had something to do with it?” He looked at the piece of paper Otto was creasing in agitation.
“Yes, somehow she got into the internet.” Otto flipped the folder shut in exasperation, “even after she gave her word she would not pull anything.”
“Ah.” He closed his eyes and studied the flows of magickal energies, “Have you been doing any work in your office?”
“What kind?” Otto asked hesitantly.
“Spells, energy work?” Doctor Tanaka took a step back away from Otto’s desk and noted a lessoning of emotional tenseness in Otto.
“What, no. I only break out the bag of tricks in emergencies, you know that,” Otto shook himself and opened the folder again.
“I see,” Doctor Tanaka pursed his lips and then reached out and closed the folder.
Otto frowned up at him, “What are you playing at Eric?”
“Otto, I’m going to ask you to trust me on this one,” Doctor Tanaka was frowning intently at the folder, “Leave the folder on your desk and step outside the doorway.”
“What, why?” Otto asked petulantly as he stood up.
“Just trust me Otto,” Doctor Tanaka smiled gently, “humor me if you will.”
“If this is a joke Eric, it is a poor one,” Otto said as he walked to the door, “Ok I am out of my office.”
Doctor Tanaka held up a dimly glowing hand and waved it in front of Otto’s eyes, “Look in the room and tell me what you see, please.”
“I don’t see,” Otto frowned darkly as he pointed at the folder, “She’s going to go too far.”
“Otto, look at me now.” Doctor Tanaka reached out and placed his hand on Otto’s shoulder, “Are you angry?”
“Yes I am, the girl is…” Otto froze as his eyes locked on Tanaka’s.
“The girl is innocent of this Otto, but I think you’ve been ensorcelled somehow.” Tanaka softly uttered a few syllables quickly and then he placed his hand on Otto’s head, “Hmmm, yes some sort of compulsion.”
“Hi Doc,” Chris frowned as he came to an abrupt halt, “uhh is this a bad time?”
“Hello Chris,” Doctor Tanaka kept his eyes on Otto’s as he made a few small motions with his free hand near Otto’s head. “Tell me, how often have you seen Otto with that folder on his desk?”
“This one?” Chris asked and started to reach for it.
“Chris stop! Just let it sit there, and yes that one.” Doctor Tanaka made a slight tugging motion and Otto blinked rapidly as if he was coming out of a dream.
“Ah, Eric, how did you get here?” asked Otto hesitantly.
“Hmm, I see.” Doctor Tanaka let his hands return to his sides, “Otto you’ve lost some time I think, and it seems your mind was clouded by a spell.”
“Oh crap,” said Chris with a worried look to the folder. “He was working with that folder every single time I saw him this past week.”
“I was working on adding some notes to Merry’s case file,” Otto stopped and looked suspiciously at his desk. “How?”
“Otto where did you get that folder from?” Tanaka asked slowly.
“Well, when I relieved Lenston, I took his case load,” Otto stopped and closed his eyes, he briefly cursed softly, “I am going to nail that bastard to a tree.”
“Yes, he is quickly becoming someone we need to deal with on a priority basis.” Doctor Tanaka motioned to Chris, “Come out of the office please, we will need to get Kam to remove that object to a safe place, so it can be destroyed I think.”
“Yes, and perhaps we should look and see what other records may have been enchanted.” Otto’s face was flushed though his voice was dead calm, “Something is not right.”
“Indeed, but what?” Doctor Tanaka was frowning, “I’ve a feeling we are missing something.”
Sara looked at the folder carefully then she opened it with a pair of forceps, slowly she looked down the page and stopped to look up quickly. ”Oh that is rude,” she looked at Otto warily, “are you ok now?”
“I won’t touch it, if that is what you are asking,” he stated coldly from behind the clear glass divider that was covered in glowing runes.
“Gods Otto, I don’t think I have seen you this angry in some time,” Sara quickly closed the folder and stepped back around the glass as well.
“I think I have cause,” he slowly said, “to think I was inches from going down and wiping Merry’s mind clean.”
“You were in the grips of a nasty compulsion Otto, it was not you,” Doctor Tanaka shook his head.
“Still the buck stops with me, I should have seen it.” Otto glared indignantly at the folder, “Me of all people.”
“Otto if it is any consolation, the reason it worked so well is that you are talented magically.” Sara drew a few symbols on the glass with a glowing pen, “See this?” She pointed to the first three symbols then quickly erased them, “Every time you looked on them, you got an inducement to seemingly ignore that page.”
“And every time you seemingly ignored it, you actually spent moments staring at the rest of it, giving it power,” Doctor Tanaka paused, “it is an insidious spell.”
“Call it a time bomb or dam breaker, the more fuel you unintentionally gave it the more it took a hold of you.” Sara paused, “I think you need to make a call to Langley. If the same group that attacked Merry, did this there as well…”
“They would have even more problems,” Otto finished for her and nodded. “I’ll get on it, you two need to find out if we have any more surprises in the files.” Otto sighed, “Since I’ve been exposed entirely too much to that type of spell, it may not be wise for me to be near any others.”
Sara reached out and physically removed the folder from Doctor Tanaka’s hand, “Doc?”
He shook himself and took a large step backwards, “I think we need a break.”
“Agreed,” interjected Otto quickly from the hallway, “I’ve got Gerald on the phone, he says something is off downstairs as well.”
“Crap,” Sara looked down at the floor trying to see the intertwining threads of magick, “I can’t see a connecting thread.”
“The wards down there would likely be interfering Sara.” Doctor Tanaka exhaled, “Tea and a time of mediation are in order before we go down there I think.”
“Fortunately it seems to be the work of only one mage, Madam Director,” Otto addressed the speakerphone cautiously.
“Yes, I do think we should address the issue of this Mr. Lenston’s disappearance with some prejudice.” There was a shift in her tone, “Are you alright?”
“I will admit to being very angry, but not at the girl,” Otto tapped his desk and looked at Sara.
“We’re taking extreme measures to discover what other tampering may have taken place,” Sara rubbed her eyes briefly, “Mr. Lenston seems to have been busy.”
“I will discuss the matter further with Willard and the other agencies involved.” There was a pause, “Rest assured we will find this piece of offal and have him dealt with, permanently.”
“I will understand if,” Otto started to speak but was cut off.
“Otto, shush,” the lady on the phone sounded slightly amused, “this was not your department originally, and Mr. Lenston at one time had our trust.”
“Otto, I put the man there, if anyone has a position of blame it is I, am I clear?” there was a hint of steel in the lady’s voice.
“Yes Madam Director,” Otto sighed.
“Good, I will expect you to place additional guards as appropriate. Also if you find yourself working past seven tonight you will stop, and then get some sleep.” There was a muffled chuckle from the speaker box, “No burning of the midnight oil tonight, Otto, I want you clear headed and alert for other surprises.”
“Yes Madam Director,” Otto acknowledged with a sigh.
“Good, take care of things on your end while I stir the hornet’s nest further,” there was a soft click then the light on the speaker box faded out.
Doctor Tanaka knelt down and poked the melting rat with a stylus, “It’s not a real rat, some sort of hobgoblin perhaps.”
Sara frowned, “Don’t most hobgoblins just evaporate into thin air when killed?”
There was a brief flash of light and Sara looked up to see Otto watch a floating scrap of paper, “Whatever it is, it is not the same magical source as Lenston’s traps.”
Doctor Tanaka lifted the stylus to briefly sniff at the strands of goop, “Ecto-Plasma.”
“That’s just gross Doctor Tanaka,” Sara said with a hint of revulsion in her voice.
He dropped the stylus onto the slowly melting rat and stood up, “Yes on both counts.” He turned and looked at the steadily glowing lights on all of the cryogenics units, “Everything seems normal.”
“Yes, that is what worries me,” Otto frowned, “I’m pulling in a full diagnostics crew and putting more guards down here as well. I want every unit examined before we dismiss this as a wild goose chase.”
“It’s nearly Seven Otto,” Doctor Tanaka chided.
“Ok, but I’m still putting the crew on it and the guards,” Otto turned to motion to the door, “after you.”
“I should check on Merry,” Sara said quickly.
“Yes, I’ll try and see her in the morning. I may have been unduly irrational with her yesterday evening.” Otto lowered his head as a slight flush filled it, “I do not dislike the child, even if she is problematic.”
“Would it be pushing if I told her what has occurred?” Sara asked cautiously.
“No, I think she deserves to know what is going on,” Otto gave Sara an uneasy smile, “I’ll find a way to make it up to her.”
“I know you will,” Sara smiled, “relax Otto, we’re on the job.”
“I’ll be here early tomorrow as well,” Doctor Tanaka frowned, “I’ll speak to Totem tonight just in case something similar happened at Whateley.”
Sara froze in mid-step thinking furiously as she did so, “It would explain a few things would it not?”
“Or bring up more questions,” Doctor Tanaka eyed the silent chambers with suspicion, “I think we should check the package.”
Sara’s eyes widened in alarm, “Oh that would be rude.”
“Yes, let us do that now.” Otto was walking hurriedly down the corridor as he did so he was loosening his tie and reaching under his collar.
Uneasily Sara watched as Otto stopped before a security door marked with an orange trefoil. “Talk about a nightmare.”
“Yes,” Doctor Tanaka said stiffly.
“So you are telling me; that all this time when I thought Otto was just being an ass, he was under a spell?” I asked her, all the while I was emotionally feeling put upon.
Sara’s eyes closed briefly but she nodded unhappily, “Yes.”
“Sorry I know magick exists,” I lifted my marked arm and waved it, “however really I find it hard to believe an asshole needs magick to be an ass.”
Sara rolled her eyes at me, “Very true in most cases, but this time it really was a spell doing it. Otto thought he was just working with your file and he got sucked into a magickal booby trap.”
“Wonderful, and I thought he was good at his job.” I looked at the room and sighed, “Just wonderful.
“If it makes you feel any better Merry, he is very upset that he has treated you so poorly.” Sara reached out and pulled me into her lap, “So what did you do yesterday that got you so turbo charged?”
“I freaked out,” I closed my eyes and leaned into her, “they wanted me to test in a room with Tesla towers in it.”
I heard her gulp loudly and felt a wave of sympathy wash over me from her, “Oh, no wonder.”
“Yeah,” I sniffled, “it brought everything right up and in my face, just like it was happening all over again.” She rocked me slowly as the tears started up again, “Am I ever going to get past that?”
“In time love, in time.” Sara sat still for a moment, “Chris says it may be that you have a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From what he says, you do fit the criteria.”
Sniffling I shrugged, “Whatever that means.”
“Hmm,” she gave me a gentle hug, “it’s like a bad recording that you can’t easily ignore. Scents, sounds or even images may trigger a rise in adrenalin and or panic for that matter.” She held me against her and I slowly relaxed, “We may have to trick your brain into a new recording, change events and smells and such.”
“Will that help?”
“Some,” Sara admitted, “basically we would have to build a foundation of differences and expose you to it a bit at a time.”
“No fast cures?” I asked uneasily.
“No love, I could pluck the memories out completely but it would likely damage you in other ways.” She kissed me on the cheek and smiled, “You are a product of your experiences love and I would not change you for the worse.”
“Oh, yeah,” I frowned, “were we going to do something about the snakes in my head?”
“We had planned on trying to look today, but things went awry,” she didn’t look pleased, “Merry, if things get weird down here, I want you to take Larry and get out.”
“What?” I pulled back to look at her.
“Something is off yet,” she frowned giving off the impression of nervousness, “I need get back and find Gypsy. Do you mind if I steal a few strands of your hair?”
“Well if you get lost I could find you with them, and Gypsy is a fortune teller of sorts.” Sara smiled, “You would like her.”
I nodded at her, “Just do not leave me bald.”
“Never, I like your hair and the way it falls around you,” she teased a few strands loose and then they fell neatly into her hand. “See?”
“Ok, am I ever going to get out of this dump?”
“We’ll see,” Sara tucked the strands into her pocket carefully. “Remember if things go to hell, get out any way you can.”
The door opened and Chris smirked, “If things get too crazy I’ll help her. In the mean time, Larry needs to be back in here. It seems she is a bit charged up and needs Merry to drain her down a bit.”
I peered up to the ceiling and smiled, “Ok.”
“Are you up to something Merry?” Sara asked with a grin.
“Who me?” I protested with a matching grin.
Chris groaned, “I am so glad it is Kerry’s night for the swing shift.”
“That, is a fairly insidious implication Otto,” Ms. Carson frowned and tapped her desk.
“Well I would not be bringing it to you if the problem was not very real,” Otto paused and looked down to the floor, “it caught me utterly flatfooted as it was.”
“I will say I was disturbed to find a stack of files marked: ‘Do not even touch,’ nearly as tall as my shoulder, sitting on a desk this morning.” She paused and then added, “Security blew a gasket by the way.”
“I can imagine, where are the files now?” he asked.
“Circe has them, I asked her to salvage what she could and destroy the rest.” She rolled her eyes, “Now Circe is exceedingly livid, and evidently that particular spell was resurrected.”
“More forbidden lore?”
“So it seems. How badly did things go at ARC?”
“Bad enough.” Otto shook himself, “I have to go back and review every decision I made in the past few days just to ensure none of them will cause harm.”
“And your problem child?” she asked cautiously.
Otto unhappily looked across the desk at her, “I hope I can heal what ever harm I may have caused her.”
“I don’t think I have every seen you so discomfited,” Ms. Carson paused, “could you bring the girl here?”
“I’m not sure she would be willing to trade her cell for another under Kane Hall.” Otto grimaced, “Add in her own governments confusion of interests, and the problem multiplies.
“Is this the same child Willard and the Church are interested in?” Ms. Carson smiled as Otto sat up abruptly.
“Yes,” he admitted, “they’ve been here?”
“They want to disappear the girl, then install her here.”
“That is problematic, as there are too many agencies that know she is at ARC,” he countered with a sigh.
“Accountability is an issue then?” she asked.
“Yes, we have to maintain integrity.” He pointed out the window, “It is not like her sister, where we could do a body double for a week or so and then change her identity.”
“So is that in the works?” Mr. Carson smiled at his nod, “Consider our resources at your disposal.”
“Speaking of resources, I have a smaller problem of less magnitude but perhaps as vital, in time.”
“Oh?” Ms. Carson sat back.
“Yes, we have another changeling in residence at ARC.”
“Oh dear, are you collecting them?”
He gave a rueful chuckle, “No, but she’s twelve and needing some special help.”
“Well that is what we are here for,” Ms. Carson smiled. “Is this child whole mentally?”
He snorted, “More so than the other girl, but the real problem is not so much her, but her Mother.”
“The Mother is not handling it well?”
“The mutation is not a problem, as both parents are powered. Emotionally, and logically the Mother is still not adjusting to the fact that this happened to her child.”
“As she is in denial?”
“As in she blames the other child; who incidentally may have saved her daughter’s life, for the change.” Otto sighed, “The younger child’s powers seem to convert neutrinos and other harmful particles into electrical energy.”
“Could be useful in a place like Chernobyl or a nuclear plant,” she observed, “or are there other problems?”
“Mostly a need for careful monitoring of solar weather, she can get flooded with power from solar events.” Otto paused in his explanation, “Heavy shielding neutralizes the worst of it.”
“Not a problem for us here.” Ms. Carson paused, “What is the real need in this case?”
“I suffer from a lack of role models or positive ‘changeling’ examples if you will.” He smiled easily, “Sara has been very helpful, though she’s a trifle disconcerting to others. The other girl is a patient, and she tends to return hostility, with hostility.”
Ms. Carson raised a brow, “I see. So you likely need several students for a meet and greet?” She asked carefully. “A recruitment pitch as well perhaps?”
“I know the current class has several, and the prior years as well.” He smiled, “We’d be willing to offer a small consulting fee for their time.”
“Resorting to bribery?” She smiled and laughed lightly, “Not that we would charge you overly much for such occasions. How many students would you like?”
“Well Ms. Waite would be handy as she knows the girl already, perhaps three more?” Otto asked while appearing to think.
“Yes I think we could manage that, in fact I will ask an upper-class person to the mix.” Ms. Carson paused, “She’s a bit mischievous at times but has a good head on her shoulders.”
“Have I met her?”
“I do not think you have met Beltane,” She tilted her head to one side in evident thought, “Lets see, Fey, for her occasionally useful glamouries.” She smiled, “She’ll diffuse any surface tensions easily enough I think.”
“That will help and the last one?”
“Chou Lee, also known as Bladedancer,” she smiled. “She is very centered, if not a bit withdrawn, so this will help her as well I think.”
“So, would Saturday morning be possible?”
“I think it can be arranged.”
Walter walked down the long row of silver chambers frowning. Each was marked with its inhabitants name, powers and method of containment. He barely glanced at the tags focusing rather on the team of men as they moved a cart of equipment. “Anything yet?” He asked Sergeant Quenedo, who was looking alert but bored.
“No, just more bugs and rats,” she shook her head and pointed at another shape scurrying in the shadows.
“Are the traps working?” he asked with a frown.
“No, its like the buggers know we are putting them out.” She tapped her shotgun, “I am about to go get a butt-load of bird shot and then go on safari down here.”
“As unnerving as they are, they are not causing a problem yet, so I doubt Otto will sign off on you hunting them that way.” Walter grinned, “I’ll pick up a few pellet guns tonight. Tomorrow once the techs clear out it will be open season, we’ll just call it target practice, deal?”
“Deal boss man.” With a frown she waved her shotgun to the last row of chambers, “This place gives me the creeps.”
The tech sighed loudly as he disconnected his meter, “I don’t know what we are looking for, so far every single unit is green, Jess have you got anything?”
“Small variances in temperature, but nothing worth our time,” a Hispanic man turned and thumped a digital gauge causing it to flicker momentarily, “well within margins.”
“See what an exciting time I am having?” Sergeant Quenedo asked with a dry laugh.
The tech frowned slowly then blinked “Everything is fine here, he pronounced tiredly, “I need a break.”
“A break sounds good,” Jess looked at his data pad and yawned. “Coffee?”
Walter nodded in agreement, “Yes coffee, come on guys lets get out of the mausoleum for a bit.”
Quenedo frowned briefly as a number shifted on a readout going from yellow to red, “Yeah, I’m starting to see things. All green here?”
“All green here, we can get the next few done after coffee,” restated the tech through a yawn.
Unnoticed as the group walked to the exit, the cart holding the instruments rolled past the last six containers to stop quietly against the wall. Moments later a rat hopped up on the cart and started eating the thin sheaf of paper that held the tech’s notes. It’s eyes glowed red in the dim lights and then it scampered quickly away.
ARC, Red Section
“Abigail?” asked Mrs. Taliesin.
“No,” countered Larry with a frown.
“No, no and no!” shouted Larry, demonstrating loudly that Larry’s and her Mother’s patience was slowly grinding thin.
Hell, my patience was wearing thin. As they had been slowly going at it for nearly two hours now. To me it seemed that two boxers were slowly pounding at each other with the intent of a complete knock out.
“Cynthia?” suggested her Mother form yet another book of names.
“Oh hell no,” said Larry, “I am not going to have a wimpy girly sounding name!”
Sighing I stood up and walked over to the grounding rod that had finally been installed and tapped it with a similar conductive rod that given to me. “Take a break. Please, you are giving me a headache.” The air around the rod flared as a spark jumped between the two bars, “Not to mention this is my thirtieth ‘dump’ in the past hour.”
“I am not leaving here until Larry has a proper name,” she said as I tossed the rod back to my bunk.
“Fine then quit trying to give her crappy names,” I paced to stand directly in front of her as she stood up. “Just what is your issue here?”
“I am Larry’s mother,” she said after a moment.
“And this makes you happy?” I pointed a finger at her face, “Do you get a kick out of making your kid even more miserable?”
“I have a right to…” she started to say and she paused as I held up a brightly glowing hand.
“Just. Stop.” I took a breath and walked over to pick up the rod, “I don’t care what issues you have with me.” I looked a Larry who was despondently looking at the floor, “Larry, doesn’t have to use any name you give her.” I walked back to the rod and repeated the nearly ritual grounding, again.
“I don’t?” Larry asked giving me a hopeful glance.
“Nope.” I turned and looked at her Mother, “You see, Mrs. Taliesin, Larry has the right and choice to not acknowledge any name you might give her, that she does not want to use.”
“Now listen here you,” Mrs. Taliesin, “I am her mother and I will not have you filling her head with this disobedient nonsense.”
I walked deliberately over to Larry and looked at her, “Larry, names only mean something if you respond to them, just like school bullies.” I stopped and looked directly at her Mother, “No matter what name you force on Larry, she will be the one to chose to listen to it, use it or flat out ignore it.”
“I am not bullying her!”
“Bullshit.” I tapped the rod in my hands angrily, “You sure as hell are not asking her to choose her own name. You are not the one who had their entire life screwed up.”
“I think I have a better idea of what she has lost than you do,” she countered.
“Did you know that you have your head up your ass?” I took a step away from the grounding rod and pointed the shorter rod at her, “Seriously, just what the flying fuck have you lost compared to your daughter? Your friends? No. Your sense of physical equilibrium? No. The fact that your world is no longer the one you lived in? No. You have not lost a damned thing, so get over it.”
I walked back over to Larry and lifted her head gently so that the tears on her face were visible. “Right now, right here, in this moment when you should be working to heal her; you are only making things worse.”
“I, I,” she turned to look at Larry and I watched as her eyes watered.
“I am going to leave the room, you need to sit down and listen to your daughter.” I sighed, “I’m not your enemy here, Larry isn’t your enemy here. The fact of the matter is this: She is hurting, and she needs your support. She needs a sense of self that will get her past future bumps, and picking a name is just one step in that process.”
“Just what makes you the expert?” she asked.
A few dozen curt and nasty statements vied for expression, but rather than using any of then I tapped my groin, then my chest deliberately. “I didn’t have a family to lean on for support when this happened.”
“Merry?” asked Larry as she clutched at my hand.
I shrugged and looked at the floor, “In fact if it were not for some well intentioned but very muddled interventions; more than likely I would have killed myself. You just don’t flip a switch and pick up the pieces from this.” I tapped my groin again, and then I sighed looking back at her Mother, “Don’t get your kid killed with your inflexibility.”
“You would have killed yourself?” asked Larry uncertainly.
“Maybe, maybe not, but indirectly I was heading that way.” I pointed to the walls that were white and padded, “Part of the reason I am here was due to the fact that I had nothing to live for. Other than revenge, and revenge has a long lonely dead ending.”
“So, what has changed?” asked Mrs. Taliesin.
“I made a few new friends, like Sara, Kam and the rest,” I smiled briefly, “like Larry.” I gave Larry’s hand a slight squeeze and walked to the door, “Chris would say I have a long ways to go.”
“Where are you going to go?” asked Larry.
“Just into the next room,” I pointed to the door.
“No, after you get out of here?”
I looked over my shoulder and sighed, “Who says they are ever going to let me out? I am nuts, remember?”
“Don’t worry about it. You and your mom need to sit, talk and figure out where you are going.” I gave his mom a direct look, “Compromise or expect to visit her some place like this or someplace much, much worse.”
Outside of the cell I stopped and coldly looked at Otto, “Your script blows major chunks, did you know that?”
He shrugged and looked back at the door where Larry and her mom were ensconced, “Sorry.”
I turned to look through the mirror at Larry and her Mother, “Did she even listen?”
“But does she understand?”
After a moment of silence he said, “She is starting to.”
I blinked as Chaddy spoke out loud, “Adults can be dumb.”
Otto nodded and then he chuckled softly, “Yes we can be.”
Beltane chuckled as she walked into waiting room, “Ok so what did you three do this time?”
Chou cast a dubious look at Sara, “I have no idea.”
Nikki cast an equally disturbed look at Sara, “Do you know what is going on?”
Sara quickly blinked as the three girls stared at her, “I have a hunch, but I would rather wait for information before guessing.”
Beltane eased into a chair just out of reach of the three other girls, “I thought you and the Kimba’s had gone separate ways?”
Chou frowned at Sara then glanced at Nikki, “Well…”
“Yes.” Sara said with a glance of irritation to the closed door, “Can’t have a training team over so many numbers.”
“Is that it?” Beltane asked frowning slightly, “I thought you had a fight or something.”
“Call it a disagreement of methods,” Nikki said imperiously.
“We’re not mortal enemies,” Chou interjected quickly.
Beltane looked at the three girls and frowned, “Why do I…” She stopped and looked up as the door opened to show Ms. Carson ushering out a dejected looking student.
“Now Mr. Rutherford I think you should head over to Hawthorn and discuss your duties for the next week, yes?” she asked the dismayed youth.
The athletic youth’s shoulders sank lower, “Yes Ms. Carson.”
“Good.” She turned and smiled at the four girls, “Ladies, do come in.”
Beltane watched as the youth glowered over at a boy who was studiously typing upon a pair of laptops. With a frown she indicated the boy’s ire with a wave of her fingers to Ms. Carson.
Ms. Carson clapped her hands and the boy started as he turned his head towards the sound to see her waving a finger at him, “James?”
“Yes Ms. Carson?” the other boy asked as he removed a set of ear buds from his ears.
“Mr. Rutherford seems to dislike you, is there a problem?” she asked clearly.
James looked from the Headmistress to the other youth only to bite at his lower lip, ducking his head in a guilty manner as he answered evasively, “Uhhh… not really, ma’am?”
Mrs. Carson frowned warningly at the lying young man and suggested mildly, “James, you know better.”
It might have gone worse for James if the other youth had not burst in at that point, “Yeah, the little freak made me sick enough to pass out.” Rutherford seemed to harden slightly and made a move towards the seated boy.
“Mr. Rutherford, I suggest that you work on your attitude towards your fellow students.” She smiled coolly, “Unless of course you would like an additional week of contemplation?”
Wincing the other youth took a step backwards away from the desk James was seated at and shook his head quickly, “I will work on it Ms. Carson.”
“Good, now I expect to hear from Mrs. Cantrell that you were efficient. Understood?” she asked.
The other youth swallowed visibly and he nodded, “Yes Ma’am.”
“Very well, you should hurry then.” She indicated the doors leading out with a shooing motion, “Now.”
Not quite suppressing a smile Sara watched James replace his headphones, “Busy day Ms. Carson?”
“Yes and no, but do come in ladies,” Ms. Carson watched the youth at the desk and she shook her head, “James do pay more attention while Ms. Hartford is out.”
James blinked a few times then he glanced over to an empty desk and frowned, “Sorry Ms. Carson, I was trying to get the reports updated.”
“It’s one thing to be studious in your work, James.” Ms. Carson chuckled, “But you can’t tune out that much and stay healthy around here.”
James frowned and spared a glance to the doors the other boy had exited through, looking vaguely guilty once more he spoke, “He… should not be a problem. There is always security, right?”
“Sometimes, not always,” she chided, “in any case hold my calls for the next few minutes please?”
“Yes Ms. Carson, the usual exceptions?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes,” she smiled and motioned to the girls, “it should not be too long.”
Once the girls were seated Ms. Carson eased herself into her own chair and smiled, “So ladies, I suppose you are curious as to why I asked you here?”
Nikki quickly glanced at the others and nodded, “Yes Ms. Carson.”
Ms. Carson glanced briefly to the other girls, “Occasionally we have a prospective student that needs a bit of emotional support. Sometimes the family of the student needs it as well.”
Beltane quickly glanced at the other girls, “A changeling like us?”
Ms. Carson nodded gently, “In this case it may be that the parents need to see the change is not the end of their world.”
Sara blinked and then coughed into her hand, “This would be the young girl at ARC?”
“The newest of the young girls there, yes,” Ms. Carson smiled as Sara cocked her head to one side, “the saner of the two…”
Sara blinked at Nikki looked at her intently, “Oh boy.” She then looked back at the other girls, “The girl in question had a burn out, but she was helped through it by another changeling. The burn out resulted in her changing gender, but unfortunately the Mother of that one thinks the other one influenced the change.”
“Could she have?” quickly asked Nikki.
“No.” Sara glanced to the floor briefly, “That girl is a hermaphrodite, if her BIT would have shifted the others, well.” Sara trailed off.
“She would have been a herm too,” supplied Beltane, “it would follow the laws of similarity and contagion, if it was magick.”
Chou looked at the others quickly, “So you want us to?” she looked and Ms. Carson expectantly.
“I was asked to send four girls like yourselves to meet the Mother and child,” Ms. Carson paused a moment. “While each of your changes has had its own set of problems, you are each dissimilar enough to show that it happens.”
Nikki glanced at the others, “Well we all certainly had our share of rude surprises I think.”
“Precisely, while can’t ask you to bare your entire pasts, I would ask that you share some of your successes.” Ms. Carson smiled, “And surprises if they are not too shocking.”
“Is this going to be a recruitment drive?” asked Beltane in the pause that followed.
“Not exactly, the girl is expected to come here, but she is twelve, and thus will be short on friends.” Ms. Carson waved a hand to the girls, “I am sure you can understand that aspect of the change.”
Nikki snorted in disgust, “Yeah, when I changed during the school year, all of my so-called friends dumped me like a dead frog.”
“Precisely, and while we do have some others roughly her age here, I would ask that you might think of her as a ‘little sister’. Unfortunately due to the housing problems in Poe and other considerations she will have to be placed in Hawthorn,” Ms. Carson nodded as Beltane inhaled sharply.
“Oh dear, GSD?” asked Beltane with a glance to Sara.
“No, nothing like that, she picks up spurious radiation and converts it to energy,” Sara interjected quickly.
“How spurious is this radiation?” asked Chou after a moments hesitation.
“I think I can safely say that if there is a solar event, this girl could power a small city block easily,” Sara said with a chuckle. “The other girl fortunately can drain that power away safely.”
“That’s handy.” Nikki closed her eyes then opened them quickly, “Is the other girl coming as well?”
“The other girl is not exactly sane,” Ms. Carson added quietly, then with a smile then said, “compared to the four of you.”
Beltane shot the other girls a quick glance, “Uh, not to sound disparaging, but we all have our own personal demons.”
Chou glanced a Sara then she gave Beltane a smirk, “I think it’s a relative thing.”
“That girl has four personalities;” Sara said as she rolled her eyes at Chou. “Though each personality may be considered sane of itself, the cumulative effect is not exactly one a normal person has.”
“So how do you know so much?” Beltane asked Sara quickly.
“I work at ARC, and like you I’m a changeling as well. While she is not suicidal currently, her behavior was leading in that direction,” Sara paused as the words sunk in. “Emotionally she was spiraling into a black hole and she really needed a friend.”
“Which is where I hope the four of you will be able to help this other girl,” Ms. Carson said with a smile.
“So when do we meet this girl or girls?” asked Nikki with a grin.
“Saturday.” Ms. Carson leaned back as the girls groaned, “There is a consulting fee, for such activities. Also I will throw in a weekend pass for Dunwhich; since I am stealing a day of your free time.”
Beltane smiled deviously, “Free dry cleaning and campus salon privileges as well?”
Ms. Carson chuckled, “Well we do want you to look presentable.” She paused and looked over at Sara, “Knee length skirts please.”
Sara rolled her eyes at the implied hint, “I’ll behave.”
“Yes dear, I would not expect otherwise.” Ms. Carson smiled as she stood up, “I’ll let you get to things.”
Whateley, Whitman Cottage
Gypsy had become more like her namesake in the past few weeks, vibrant and truly alive. Her hair was slightly windswept, though it framed her face neatly before flaring over her shoulders and down her back. Bright brown eyes sparkled under jet-black eyebrows that had been artfully trimmed to sharpen the edges of them. Gone were her baggy sweat tops, instead she wore a black dancers leotard and a swirling tie-died broom skirt.
“Is this a bad time?” Sara asked as Gypsy motioned her quickly inside.
“No,” Gypsy quickly closed the door and smiled, “I was expecting you.”
“Oh?” Sara glanced around the room to the bed where a few cards were arrayed in a fan.
Gypsy laughed and pointed to the spill of cards, “The Cards see all.”
“Ah, good.” Sara studied the girl for a moment then looked down to where she was rubbing her hand. “Did you get burned badly?”
“Bad enough,” Gypsy ruefully looked at her palm for a moment, “no real damage but eating was painful for a few days.
“I’m sorry…” Sara started to say after a moment’s awkward silence.
“It’s ok, really. I think the most disconcerting bit was losing a day of time afterwards.” Gypsy frowned, “The dreams were nice,” her face briefly flushed as she glanced at the bed, “but I really didn’t like not knowing.”
“Understandable.” Sara reached into a pocket and removed a small braid of hair, “Can you do a reading with this for me?”
“Not for yourself?” Gypsy asked with a quiet smile as she took the braid.
“No,” Sara grinned, “though I think you might like her.”
Gypsy held the strands up to the light and she studied the blue and black hairs, “Not from around here, is she?”
“No, not yet any ways.” Sara chuckled, “Do you do many reading based on hair?”
“You would be amazed,” Gypsy grinned wickedly, “come into my parlor and I will tell you if you have found true love. Or not.”
“I’ll bet.” Sara looked over to the phone line and headset that sat plugged into a desktop computer, “Keeping busy?”
“Well it beats telemarketing or flipping burgers,” Gypsy shrugged and walked over to sit on the bed, and then she motioned to the other side of the bed. “Have a seat, and I’ll see what there is to be seen.”
Sara eased herself onto the bed and then folded her legs under her. “I do appreciate this.”
Gypsy nodded as her eyes changed from brown to a smoky gray once she picked up the deck of cards, “So what sort of reading or questions are you asking for this person?”
Sara took a breath and let it out slowly, “Well we’re trying to figure out when the best chance for her to make an escape is. Sooner is better than later, unless the chances for her are better later on.”
“She’s a prisoner?”
“Of awful circumstances and bad prior actions.” Sara paused and added easily, “She has not had an easy time of things.”
Gypsy nodded and then as she dealt one card to the bed four more slid off of their own accord, “Well I’ll say that is a first,” Gypsy muttered and placed the cards neatly one atop the other. “Do we have one person here or five?”
Sara blinked at the question, “Four minds in one body, she is not exactly sane.”
“Nor entirely female,” Gypsy shook here head, “I see five people there. A girl, young boy, an older boy, something other, and a brother.”
“She isn’t exactly sane, so you might be getting all that,” Sara rolled her eyes, “her brother is dead though.”
Gypsy moved one card off to the side and drew three and placed them atop of it, “Ah. The Hanged man, Death, and The Wheel. Suicide?”
“Murder.” Sara said curtly, “Un-avenged as of yet.”
Gypsy closed her eyes and picked out four more cards and set them atop of the prior ones, “A sister in jeopardy?”
“Yes, more unfinished business,” she acknowledged.
“Things are moving to a pivotal time, quick actions to be undertaken.” Gypsy picked out a sole card; “In eight days you must seek this one’s liberation or lose her forever.”
“Yes. Forces are arrayed against her,” Gypsy held up a card covered with swords and blood.”
Sara nodded quickly, “I’ll see what can be started.”
Frowning Gypsy picked up the card that signified the brother and placed it with the four others, “This belongs with the other four, currently inseparable. A guardian spirit perhaps?”
Sara studied the card of which displayed a knight holding his sword up as if in challenge, “Well she does have some knightly ties.”
“That could be it,” Gypsy admitted cautiously.
“So back to the girl?” Sara prompted.
Gypsy picked out several cards and placed them off to the right, “There are several opportunities, one in two days, another in two weeks and one in a month.”
“Which one would be the best and safest?” Sara asked hopefully.
“All have some element of risk,” she paused and removed a few more cards, “every date is followed by changes, some more difficult than others.”
A knock at the door elicited a jerk from Gypsy and the gray fog receded from her eyes, “Hello?”
“You have a phone call waiting in booth four dear,” said a warm voice through the door.
Gypsy rolled her eyes, “Thanks Mrs. Savage!”
“Don’t keep them waiting,” Mrs. Savage replied though the door.
She waited a moment and looked at Sara, “The Parents.”
“Well, I think I have enough information to start on, is there a clue in there as to how she escapes?” Sara asked quickly as the other girl stood.
Gypsy picked up one card to show the Fool about to step off of a cliff, “Well it’s not exactly the best sign, but I think the first steps will have to be hers.”
“I see,” Sara smiled, “Thanks for the help Gypsy, can you hold onto to the hair? I may need to ask a few questions later tonight or tomorrow.”
“Sure, I’ll probably be awake until two this morning,” Gypsy paused and nodded to the headset. “By then I’ll had enough of telling people to either dump the bastard or get a clue.”
“Fortune Telling leads to counseling the Love Lorne?” Sara asked with a rueful smile on her face.
Gypsy wrinkled her nose in visible annoyance, “Eighty percent of my callers know the answers they are looking for, the trick is getting them to acknowledge it.”
“Hopefully it pays well.”
“Nine ninety-five an hour, barring taxes,” Gypsy shrugged, “it beats flipping burgers.”
Sara stood up and hugged the other girl before planting a mostly chaste kiss on her cheek, “I’ll have to find a way to repay you.”
Gypsy blushed deeply but she nodded, “Ok.”
Sara chuckled and gave the girl another hug before stepping away, “You are so cute when you blush like that.”
“Complete embarrassment is cute?” Gypsy asked numbly.
“Well, it’s the thoughts that drive your embarrassment, that is the cutest part.” Sara licked her lips, “Don’t worry dear, I won’t rush you.” Sara watched as Gypsy shivered briefly and turned away, her neck flushing red.
“I uh, really need to take this call,” Gypsy said as she quickly gasped the doorknob, “my uncle Paul has a tumor, but he doesn’t want my mom to know.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, inoperable?” Sara asked.
“Oh it’s operable, he just doesn’t want her to freak,” Gypsy shrugged, “so she pesters me.”
“You have no idea.”
With a loud sigh, Sara gave vent to the pent up anxiety that the day had stirred up within her. Her meeting with Merry had gone as fairly well. Though she was concerned in that Merry might jump the gun and try to get out early. Still her knowing what three days would provide a venue for escape did seem to force her to think. Briefly, very briefly.
Merry had not quite taken matters into own hands a few days prior, by taking over and reprogramming the warehousing and housekeeping robots. Sara was certain that Otto suspected something was up, however all the mess with Lenston’s booby traps and other rudeness had him busy and worried. Not to mention the odd sense of an impending storm that welled up from the lower levels.
To her, the entire building had the feel of impending doom, and that was not a good sign in anyone’s book. All of the low end Espers and other Psi’s had either taken the day off due to sickness or seemed zombie like. She had tried to feel for what was causing it, but as Chris had commented, ‘It was like fishing for minnows with a spear gun.’
She shook her head, as Chris really needed a vacation. Though he too was concerned enough to point out in an oblique manner, various exits that would to the surface to Merry. The fact that Chris was that worried for Merry’s safety; worried her more so than the dark pressure the seemed to fill ARC.
The only good thing that seemed to have occurred was the brief collusion between Merry and Otto, over Larry’s new name of Karen. Personally she though Otto was a bit too smug over that brief interaction. But as far as good signs went, it at least signaled that Merry didn’t hold any permanent animosity towards Otto. Although she would not put it past Merry to pull one really strong prank on him before leaving.
With that thought she turned up the stairs to walk into Poe, with luck her door had resituated itself back into the basement. Otherwise her walking in and downstairs to look would seem misplaced. Hefting the notebook, her secondary tactic of implied presence, she pulled the door open.
With a look of humor Mrs. Horton smiled, “Have you misplaced your door again Sara?”
“Yes,” Sara paused to sigh with resignation, affecting the air of much annoyance, “I may resort to getting Doctor Tennant or the Earth Mother to spell the silly thing into place.”
Mrs. Horton glanced down to the notebook and nodded, “Study night?”
“Well I am killing two birds with one stone, as I have to ask Nikki about an odd rune I encountered in my studies. With luck her take on it may give me an epiphany.”
“I think she’s in the usual corner.” Mrs. Horton rolled her eyes, “Do tell me you are not at odds with your friends?”
“Well, not so much at odds,” Sara admitted slowly, “I just have too big of a target painted on me.”
“There is that,” Mrs. Horton nodded with knowing look on her face, “though you should not discount them too much.”
“Oh I don’t discount them, I just do not want to see them end up dead.” Sara sighed, “They’d charge in at the wrong time and place, then I would have to explain to their parents as to why they died.”
Mrs. Horton frowned softly but nodded, “So it is for their own good?”
“Yes,” Sara tapped the notebook to derail the path the conversation was taking, “I should get this done.”
“All right Sara, remember my door is open to you, should you need to talk,” Mrs. Horton gave it a solid rap with her hand, “Even if it needs a bit of varnish now and again.”
“Yes, Mrs. Horton, and thank you.”
“Not at all, just be careful.”
Sara paused to look at Mrs. Horton who was staring off into the deeper part of campus though the doors, “I’ll try.”
Mrs. Horton frowned and sighed, “Sorry to rush off dear. But it looks like Mister Trauger has taken yet another bully to task.” With that Mrs. Horton sighed and stepped out on the steps.
Sara grinned as Mrs. Horton requested Jimmy’s presence loudly enough to make the glass in the door vibrate sympathetically. While Jimmy T. himself was seemingly pleasant, some of his friends worried her as to his true nature. How anyone could count someone like Bloodwolf as a good friend and still remain evidently good-natured eluded her.
Nikki frantically looked away from portion of text that Sara had only briefly uncovered with her hand, “That was unpleasant.”
“I know,” Sara closed the notepad with a snap and then she placed it on the bed.
“If you had not warned me ahead of time, I would have taken umbrage for the offense,” Nikki said as she sat stiffly, not quite glaring back at Sara.
“I would not violate our sisterhood Aung,” Sara allowed herself to lean back on the bed, “still, it does give us a useful tool should we need it.”
Nikki let out a deep exhalation and sunk into her chair, “That is a nasty bit of work, Aung’s not happy that something like it even exists.”
“No and neither am I to be truthful, but knowing it is evidently out there, we should work up some sort of counter to it.” Sara motioned to Nikki then herself, “While we would have concerns using it, others would have none.”
“Aung says she’ll give it some thought.” Nikki briefly glared at the ceiling, “Which means I’ll have some odd dreams for the next week or so.”
“Sorry, but I would rather she focused on a more urgent matter.” Sara glanced at the glowing spell light that signaled that their discussion was unmonitored. “You know of Gypsy yes?”
“The Divination Diva?” Nikki asked with a grin. “Yes I know her.”
“Well she says Merry has a good shot at leaving ARC Saturday, then another shot a few weeks later, and finally another opportunity a month beyond that.” Sara waited as that sunk in, “So do we go for it?”
“On a school sponsored trip?” Nikki blinked, then she looked thoughtfully at the door, “That’s ballsy as all hell.”
“I think I can work it so all we have to do is get her onto campus.” Sara briefly paused, “I am fairly sure the Weres will help her, if I ask them.”
“Seduced them all to your bidding?” asked Nikki sharply, her tone forcing Sara to sit up quickly.
“No, I did not seduce them, hell Aunghadhail, I like to choose my mates, not have them force themselves upon me.” Sara glared briefly at Nikki’s overly correct, near regal posturing. “Of which I will point out, is exactly what happened.”
“How?” asked Aung though Nikki’s blushing frown.
“I was out hunting, evidently the boy, Carl, had not managed to get a grip on his beast and it is still giving him problems.” Sara paused, “Since the run in with Lycanthros in Boston, I’ve carried the Were-wolf virus. It’s dormant in me, and while I could use it to save someone’s life it is not something I’d inflict willingly on a person.”
“And you could not persuade him otherwise?”
“Aung, first of all, I was hungry, would you rather I had just ate him? Secondly I did not feel like beating the kid senseless, which is what it would have taken.” Sara unclenched her fists and took a measured breath, “It’s not like I wanted to keep him or even claim him for that matter. Their Clan Laws says he has to marry me.”
“Oh,” Nikki covered her mouth with a hand, “Sorry Sara, she’s really touchy about Weres for some reason. Every time I see Bloodwolf I get the insanely rabid urge to shake some sense into his head, I don’t understand the depth of her emotions there.”
Sara snorted softly and then smiled, “I expect Aung will get around to telling you somehow eventually.”
“So Merry?” Nikki prompted quickly.
“Yes, I think we need to get her out of ARC, soon.” Sara tapped the notebook deliberately, “While I was at ‘work’ today, the entire place felt like doom and gloom was settling in for a nasty visit.”
“Yes.” Sara stared pensively out the window into the night, “If we could I would really like to bring her in with us on the return leg of our trip to ARC.”
“Somehow I don’t think Ms. Carson would approve very much,” Nikki countered softly.
“Well I was thinking we could hold Beltane’s and the diver’s minds easily enough or at least the drivers mind.” Sara chuckled, “Though Beltane might have a warding up against that.”
Sara looked down at her hands that were sitting tightly in her lap, “Chou we could cloud, but her sword would likely take offense.”
“So why not ask her?” Nikki asked with a grin.
“I don’t think she’d just do it if I simply asked her,” Sara admitted after a moments pause, “we’re still in that cautiously friendly stage.”
Nikki closed her eyes, “You two.”
“You probably would think I am strange, but you two are not so dissimilar,” Nikki grinned as Sara considered that statement. “In any case, I’ll ask her, you just have to nod in all the right places.”
“Going to glamourise the poor girl into submission?”
“No!” Nikki paused, “I’d much rather she was awake for what ever happens.”
“And if she says no or goes to Carson?”
“Well you did say there were two other days that would present an opportunity. Besides, I don’t think she’d run off to Carson. Her Sifu maybe, and then only for advice.”
“Ok, suppose she tells her Sifu. What is to stop her Sifu from bollixing the plans?” Sara asked cautiously.
“Well,” Nikki paused and smiled deviously, “her Sifu is not my friend, so I would not feel guilty about bending her will somewhat.”
Sara blinked and then smiled slowly, “That is devious.”
“Thank you, I do try.”
Chou tiredly rubbed her eyes, “Let me see if I got this straight. You want to break a mental patient out of a Super Powers Asylum and bring them here? Are you nuts?” she asked loudly.
Ayla's head was dipping in time with the music that poured out from her headphones as she did her homework. But at that protestation she looked up and removed her headphones. “Did she really say 'break someone out from a nut house?'”
Sara gave Nikki a pained look before answering Ayla, “Yes.”
“Ah,” Ayla blinked a few times as she processed the idea, “why?”
“Well for one, they have yet to really help her.” Sara looked over to Nikki who nodded, “Then her life is at risk because her powers are known, and people will kill her to keep others from using her. Or kill in order to control her.”
Ayla's brow wrinkled and she appeared to suck her cheeks in as she briefly thought, “Ok, I'll bite, what powers are worth that much effort?”
“She can control computers,” Nikki supplied.
“Anyone can control a computer, you poke a button it turns on, you use the mouse it does what you click.” Ayla gave Nikki a deliberate grin, “Even elf girl can do that much.”
“It's a bit more complicated than that, she controls them with her mind.” Sara paused as Ayla made a motion for her to continue, “Once in the Net no computer security can stop her. No files are unreadable, and well, if you like numbers and bank accounts, she has a knack for making them hold what ever numbers she want them to hold…”
Ayla rocked back sharply in her chair, falling out of phase as she did so. “Oh crap!” she said reformed with a solid thud on the floor.
Chou regarded her roommate with a puzzled frown, “Ayla, you ok?”
“Any numbers?” Ayla asked somberly, looking from Nikki to Sara.
“Holy fuck. She's got a dangerous power alright.” Ayla hugged her knees briefly as she looked up Sara, “Any defensive abilities?”
“She does have a electrical draining ability and she can charge up quite a charge and fry electronics or shock others via a touch, but no, not really.” Sara paused, “Though she does know how to use a gun.”
Ayla winced, “Jeeze, family?”
“Just one, a sister, a bit younger than her.”
“Shit.” Ayla closed her eyes, “That is a problem.”
“Excuse me,” Chou stood and paced across the room to look out the window, ”but you evidently are seeing something I am not. Remember I am not that good with computers.”
“Essentially it means she can alter the amounts in any bank account, including national ones. Also any national secrets that are stored on computers are hers to divulge.”
“Basically, if I understand government economics, of which I do.” Ayla paused smugly, “It means she can destroy nearly any country they wanted her to, by breaking their bank accounts and emptying them. It would end any country without firing a gun or dropping bomb.”
Sara walked over and tapped the closed laptop on Chou’s desk, “She would not even need much to do it.”
Ayla closed her eyes, “Then suppose you wanted to overthrow a country or its leaders. You just have the girl invent crimes, and have them 'leaked' to the populace. Presto a revolution or impeachment takes place. Or if you will, present evidence of them having ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’” Ayla looked over to Sara, “Am I close?”
Chou shook her head and looked back over to the sword on her bunk, “That's sounds like too much power for any one person to safely hold.”
Nikki spared the sword glance, “She isn't interested in power.”
“Nor money,” Sara interjected quickly.
Ayla smirked, “After all, she has all the half cents she ever needs.”
“Huh?” Chou looked at Ayla with a frown.
“I'll tell you later, your mind will boggle,” Ayla said as she sat back in her chair.
Sara gave Ayla a faint nod, “In any case, she is coming here.”
Chou gave her sword a dirty look, “That may not be the best idea.”
“Why?” asked Nikki with a frown.
Chou paced to look out the window, “What if the Tao says she should die?”
“Then I'll dump the Tao in a volcano,” Sara muttered darkly with a glare at the sword.
“Look Chou, it's a question of balance yes?” asked Nikki quickly.
“Always,” Chou muttered bitterly.
“Ok in the laws of magick, there is a fundamental law or truth, it you will. It's the Law of Opposites, whenever you have a powerful force, there is always something that rises up to counter it,” Nikki looked at Sara.
Sara nodded slowly, “Did you like the Terminator movies?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Would you want to live in that that sort of apocalyptic world?”
“Hardly.” Chou scoffed, “Not that it is likely to happen.”
Sara closed her eyes and sighed loudly, “If the girl dies, it could very easily occur, already there are hostile Artificial Intelligences living in the Internet. Some of them are trying to 'get out.'”
“You are sure?” asked Ayla with a frown.
“Sadly, yes. We know for sure that there have been two that have made it out.” Sara gave the faint magickal spark of light near the ceiling a glower and thought, 'Heyoka you are too damned nosey at times'.
~Can you prove this threat exists?~ the Sword interjected into the silence.
“Oh it exists, I have met it's spawn,” countered Nikki imperiously. “The child tamed one, and it resides within her.”
“That's a good thing?” asked Ayla incredulously.
“In some ways,” Nikki answered her then she addressed the sword, “The child is not an enemy that which she fights, if she is allowed to fight them, is.”
“The other one already has been downloaded, if you will. It was put into a mutant that had been surgically opened and via some extra hardware and a computer link was stuffed into his skull.” Sara gave the other girls a brief look, “Any strong regen could very likely survive having the same thing done to them. Not that their mind would survive, but the mind is not needed by the AI.”
“Regens? Such as who?” asked Chou with a shiver that had nothing to do with the temperature of the glass she rested her head against.
“Pick one, we've only got a load of them on campus,” Nikki shrugged.
Sara smirked, “Picture if you will, Bloodwolf with a coldly logical, world class mind, bent on world domination or its destruction. Rather than his usual unpleasant self.”
Ayla winced and looked away from Sara, “Or if you want someone closer to 'home', Tennyo or Jade…”
Sara watched Chou pale and then she nodded slowly, “If they could control Tennyo, well it would be certain disaster for a great many people.”
Nikki nodded slowly, “We are not even sure what Tennyo can't do.”
~Can this girl stop such an event?~ asked the Sword.
“Not if she is dead or someone's mindless puppet,” quickly supplied Nikki.
Chou gave her sword a deliberate look, “Well?”
~If the threat is such, the child should stand her role in the Tao. I haven’t felt any particular disturbance in the flow, so it should be fine.~
Chou relaxed and let that awful potentially horrific task fall away from her shoulders with a sigh. “Ok, we'll see what the Tao brings her.”
Sara smiled, “It should not be too risky to get her here, hiding her may take some doing though.”
“No not really, the old tunnels have a few unused rooms and what not to them.” Ayla grinned deviously; “We could always hide her under Carson's office.”
“In any case I need to speak to one more person tonight,” Sara smiled and waved as she walked to the door.
Nikki yawned and nodded, “I have to get some sleep as well, Aung has a tendency to run rampant in my dreams and it is not always restful.”
“Good night Sara, Nikki,” Ayla said with a smile, “I wish I could go, it sounds like fun.”
“With any luck it will be boring,” said Chou as she closed the door.
“Yeah right, when the Elf Queen and the Princess of Lust say something needs to be done, I don't think it will be quiet,” countered Ayla. “Get the light please?”
“Sure,” Chou shook her head briefly envisioning all sort of chaos.
~If the child does not have a real opposite, she may have to be removed,~ the Sword silently added to her mind alone, sending a cold chill into Chou's bones.
For a long moment Chou, stood there as her body shook, just resting her head against the doorframe, “We'll see, won’t we.”
“See what?” Ayla asked.
“Nothing… just nothing.”
Sara paused at Hank and Jamie’s door, listening at the slightly discordant snores within. Shaking her head in amusement, she forestalled herself from knocking and she continued to the stairs. 'Heyoka, I've got a small job for your nosey, spirit driven self.'
Gypsy fretted anxiously as she glanced at the empty space where a door should have stood. 'Damnit. Damnit. Damnit!' She thought frantically and tried to guess where the damned door was –this time-.
Mrs. Cantrell gave the frowning girl a worried look, “Is something wrong?”
Blinking Gypsy, turned to shake her head, “Nothing life shattering.” Silently she added, 'I hope.'
“Well that's good,” Mrs. Cantrell gave the vacant spot on the wall an amused smile, “her door is odd.”
“Yes, I guess I'll get the notes from her later before class,” Gypsy quickly adlibbed.
“It might be best.”
“Ok, well good night,” Gypsy said as she quickly turned and walked towards the tunnels leading back to the center of campus.
“Good night,” offered Mrs. Cantrell with a slight frown.
Mrs. Cantrell sat calmly in her chair as the girl rounded the corner and disappeared from view. “Louis?”
There was a soft displacement of air as a wraith-like man appeared and in fair imitation of Lurch from the Adam’s Family said, “You rang?”
“Should I be worried?”she asked.
The ghostly man frowned, “She's worried, really worried, but not for herself or Sara.”
“A student then?”
Louis frowned and looked back at her, “Off the record, I get the impression the girl is worried about a person who may end up here, in time.”
“Someone off campus then?”
“Do we ask if they need help?” Mrs. Cantrell asked hesitantly.
Louis was silent for a bit, “Not yet. The future is clouded and ever changing.”
“Ok Yoda, I am off to bed,” Mrs. Cantrell chuckled, “I will leave it in your capable hands.”
“I'll look in on our Ms. Waite when she turns up,” Louis said with a bow as he faded out.
“That would be a good thing I suspect.”
“Possibly,” was the calm reply that drifted out of the air.
A singly light flashed a dull red for several long moments, unseen clocks counted moments before another sequence was to activate. A slowly flashing amber light crept upwards on an external panel that was marked Synaptic Activity. A different monitor seemingly counted numbers as it slowly rose up from one, this one was marked Heart Rate. At the base of the unit a gathering of rodents and other unpleasant vermin gathered and watched impassively.
The few security guards that patrolled the seemingly quiet area wore matching plastic expression, and stared blankly as they performed their rounds by rote. As a dim fog flowed coldly away from the silver chamber, the faint click of relays and the hum of motors could be heard. And then there was silence…