Copyright © 2010 by R. Nelson aka Sleethr All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
** Chapter 13 **
Jennifer sat on the couch, snuggled comfortably against her husband’s side. The kids were upstairs, playing in their rooms and they were watching their favorite TV show when a blaringly loud commercial for laundry soap jolted her upright. She sighed with relief when Dave quickly hit the pause button.
“Let’s just let it build a little buffer.” He smiled at her as she glanced back to the frozen image of some woman appearing to enjoy washing laundry.
“Yeah, good idea…” Jennifer anxiously glanced up and back, towards the children’s rooms.
Everything would be perfect if she didn’t feel so worried about Brian. Ever since she noticed his eyes, she felt on edge, like something was wrong, but she didn’t know what and it bugged her because her hunches about how someone was feeling were usually right.
Maybe it was her mothering instinct or the empathetic power she feared she might have had in high school. Thankfully, she failed the tests and had no regret because having super powers only led to pain and trouble. Still, she occasionally worried that her ‘instinct’ was more than it appeared to be. Especially when she knew with absolute certainty when someone was lying to her or when one of her children was hurt.
It was the doubt and uncertainty combined with a mother’s concern for her children that were driving her to distraction. “Dave, I don’t know why, but I’m worried about Brian.”
Dave hugged her tighter to him and affectionately kissed her forehead, “He’s fine. For once the kids aren’t fighting and we have the TV to ourselves. He’s probably sitting in his room playing that game of his. What could happen?” He said with a smirk.
“Jinx!” Jennifer giggled, but her worry lessened. Her husband was probably right and like Barb said, she was probably just over reacting. “I’m sorry. I just feel like something is wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
“You could go check on him.” He pointed to the paused TV.
Jennifer anxiously bit her lip as she glanced back up toward Brian’s room. “Nah, you’re right, I’m just being a helicopter mom.”
Jennifer snuggled into Dave’s side a little more as he gave her a brief, supportive squeeze. The commercial ended and she forgot about her ‘feeling’ when the show’s star made an important discovery. Forty minutes later, the star of the show is just about to make the usual surprising arrest of the bad guy when she felt a stabbing pain.
“Oh my god! Brian!” She screamed, bolting from her husband’s side, frantically running up the stairs and into her son’s room.
Jennifer found her son’s body slumped over his desk and surrounded by a dense fog of some kind. She watched in panic, unsure what to do when the fog started to form tendrils that slowly crept up to enclose Brian’s monitor and PC.
Panting, Dave joined her at her side as the plastic casing of the LCD monitor began to dissolve while the metal of his PC case started to tarnish. Jennifer broke her momentary paralyzation and started to move toward her son, intending to pull him free.
“Stop!” Dave grabbed her shoulder, holding her back as he pointed to his son’s PC.
Jennifer screamed with panic as Brian’s LCD monitor dissolved and the fog took on a dark gray hue. Seconds later, the PC’s outer metal case was completely gone, while the inner workings are covered with and even denser fog-like haze. Tendrils of the murky fog randomly extend a few inches from the main mass surrounding the motherboard, sparks shooting inside before it retreated back into the core.
A larger, more coherent tendril linked Brian’s head to the PC’s remains with sparks dancing rapidly back and forth across that tendril. Jennifer felt her son’s pain. He was dying and she couldn’t let that happen. She pulled free from her husband and raced to her son’s side. Ignoring the sparks, she reached into the fog, intending to grab her son and pull him to safety. Her hand touched his shoulder and she was knocked backwards by a huge jolt of electricity.
“Jen!” Dave rushed to her side and helped her to sit back up.
Jennifer noticed a glow beginning to form inside the now black fog that surrounded Brian’s PC. Desperate to save her son, she tried to get back up to reach his side.
Dave held her back. “Jen! No. Whatever it is, it could kill you both if you try to touch him again.”
Jennifer felt powerless to help her son as the brightness rapidly increased with cracks, hisses and popping sounds as the electricity jumped higher and higher into the air. Dave forced her back another few feet. It was clearly dangerous to be anywhere near her son, but the pain Brian was feeling drove her insane with worry. If it wasn’t for Dave forcible restraining her, she would have tried to reach her son again. Suddenly, a ghostly woman resembling an Elvish Queen from the movies appeared next to him.
“Mom! Dad! What’s happening?!?” Lindsay yelled from the doorway.
“Stay there Lindsay! Don’t come in here!” She yelled back, not taking her eyes away from the sight in front of her.
“Be still child. I refuse to let my newest champion die.” The regal woman’s ghostly voice sounded hollow, like it coming from a great distance. She touched Brian’s head and an intense light flashed inside the room.
Jennifer felt her son’s pain fade and blinking the spots from her eyes, she noticed that the ghostly woman was gone. She spotted Brian laying on the floor, partially obscured inside a thick black cloud where his desk used to be.
Random sparks of electricity arced from within the cloud and into Brian’s body. Once again, she tried to pull away and rush to her son’s side, but Dave held her back. “Wait. Whatever it is, it’s not done.”
As soon as he finished, the cloud collapsed down to completely cover inch of Brian’s body, including his face, with a flat black coating. Jennifer instantly worried about Brian suffocating. Dave loosened his grasp on her and she pulled away.
She couldn’t see him, but she sensed that Brian was sleeping now and more importantly, he was alive. The feeling she had when she was in high school was back and it was even stronger now. Without looking, she knew that both Dave and Lindsay were deeply worried about Brian. Their emotions were clear when it came to her son. Her husband’s emotions were also deeply protective for the entire family. Without realizing it, he was Jennifer’s pillar of support.
Her hand still tingled from her previous shock and with that in mind, she crawled cautiously to her son’s side. She hesitantly reached out to touch the black substance covering her son’s body. She tentatively tested the surface as if it might be a hot pan on the stove, but was surprised to find that it was slightly cool and soft to her touch. It reminded her of a wet suit.
As she frantically felt for an opening or seam, the coating began to change. It compressed with a soft static, crackling sound. She reflexively pulled away as a fine hexagonal pattern emerged over the entire coating with light grey, futuristic stylized letters appearing across the chest area.
Jennifer pushed against the coating and was surprised to discover the suit was now a hard, inflexible shell. She tried to move Brian, but he was like a statue, his body immobilized.
There was only one place that something like this could’ve come from. She looked over to her husband. “Dave? Hand me the phone. I have a lab to call and people to yell at.”
Sergeant Jim Billings yawned as he sat in the main security room monitoring all of the feeds from the security cameras emplaced in and around the Los Alamos Nanotechnology Research Lab of the University of New Mexico. It was a boring job, but one he took seriously. There were a lot of important, high tech devices and weapons important to the Army being developed at the labs and his fellow, armed soldiers were here to ensure the research remained secure.
Stifling a second yawn, he reached for his coffee mug and was disappointed to discover it was empty. “Oh, this is going to be another one of those long and boring nights.”
Catching a glimpse of movement from one of the cameras, he spotted one of the Privates walking the perimeter outside in the cold New Mexico winter weather and shrugged his shoulders. “Oh well, at least this beats walking around outside or shivering in some cave in Afghanistan.”
While often boring, detached duty at a DARPA facility was a real plus for your military career. Testing all the high-tech gizmos got your name in front of some very high ranking officers and sometimes it wasn’t what you knew, but who you knew when it came to getting a good assignment. The one year tour of duty was considered a “hardship” tour due to the remote location and non-standard job duties, but the troops hardly considered this place a “hardship”. Compared to some middle eastern cesspit, this place was like a vacation and the extra $110 per month of “hazardous duty assignment” pay was icing on the cake.
Just as he was about to get up to refill his coffee, he was startled by the ringing of the outside phone line. Noting that the time was just past 2300 hrs, he briefly wondered if he should have refused to switch with Sergeant Moseley. There were only two reasons someone would be calling at this hour, a wrong number or something bad. He hoped it was a wrong number.
He quickly picked up the phone. “Sergeant Billings. L.A.N.R.L.U.N.M. How may I direct your call sir or ma’am?”
The sound of a distraught and angry mother on the other end of the line answered his question previous question about the wisdom of switching with Sgt. Moseley.
“Yes Ma’am! Your son visited the labs today for a field trip, okay, I will need to check the visitor logs for his name. No Ma’am. Yes Ma’am. Sorry Ma’am. Certainly Ma’am, I need to check with my OIC. Sorry ma’am, Officer In Charge. Yes, ma’am. Please hold while I call him.” A very flustered Sergeant Billings finished as he put the woman on hold and dialed the extension for Lieutenant Lyon. He had a feeling Sergeant Moseley picked a bad night to go out on a date with his girlfriend because his night of romance was probably going to be cut short. Suppressing an ambush by AK-47 toting, 7.62 spraying Afgan mujahideen was nothing compared to facing the fury of a distraught mother. Thankfully, the LT answered the line after just two rings.
“Lieutenant Lyon, L.A.N.R.L.U.N.M. How may I direct your call sir or ma’am?”
“Sir, Sergeant Billings here. I have a very upset woman on line three who is demanding to speak with whoever is in charge here. She claims that her son was injured from something in the labs during that high school field trip that came through here earlier today.”
“Why does the night shift get all the nut jobs?” Lt. Lyons asked.
Sgt Billings smiled as he reached for his empty coffee cup. “I dunno sir, but something tells me that this is going to be a long night. I’ll grab the visitors log and run it over to you.”
“Good idea Sergeant. Lyons out.” Lt. Lyons said before disconnecting and switching over to line three.
Sgt Billings sighed. “So much for an easy night shift.”
Before leaving the room, he grabbed the cordless phone and his empty coffee cup.
The phone vibrated in his hand just after he retrieved the logbook.He paused to answer the phone while trying to not spill his refilled coffee mug. “Sergeant Billings speaking. Yes sir, I have the logbook from this afternoon. Yes sir, I’ll be right there.”
Sighing, he stopped to take a quick drink from his coffee in an effort to try and keep it from spilling. “Ow...Hot, hot, hot!” He muttered before he double timed his way to the Lieutenant’s office
He managed to arrive at the Lieutenant’s office without spilling a drop, but his tongue was feeling a little sensitive. Lieutenant Lyon was still on the phone with the woman and had a notepad full of notes that included two phone numbers labeled home and cell, the names of the family members and their address.
“Sorry about the wait Mrs. Peters. Sergeant Billings just walked into my office. We’ll check the log book to find who signed his class into the complex so that I can start making calls to find your family some help.”
Sgt Billings stepped to the side of Lt Lyon’s desk and opened the book. He searched for the start of today’s entries for the lieutenant. “Sir, here it is, looks like it was Doctor Edmundson.”
“Thank you Sergeant.” Lieutenant Lyons said as he cradled the phone between his neck and shoulder as he typed Doctor Edmundson’s name into his desktop PC’s employee directory.
Dr. Edmundson’s emergency contact information popped up on his monitor. “Ma’am. Sorry, but I need to place you on hold again while I attempt to contact Doctor Edmundson. Yes ma’am. Thank you ma’am. I’ll let you know as soon as I am able to contact him.” He placed the line on hold before pushing the button to open another outside line so that he could place a call to Doctor Edmundson.
Standing attentively at the other end of the desk, Sergeant Billings winced as he stole another life giving sip of liquid caffeine.
“Sir, Lieutenant Mark Lyons, OIC at the labs. Sorry to call you at this late of an hour, but we might have a containment issue. Yes sir, we have a Mrs. Peters on hold here. She called less than five minutes ago regarding her son’s field trip. Yes, sir. The situation that she described to me sounds like it could have been something from here. No sir, it wasn’t her, but she says that her son’s computer and desk were disintegrated by some sort of cloud thing and now he’s covered in black shell thing with the letters “ILWMETSS” visible on his chest. Yes sir, a Brian Peters signed in with that high school field trip that visited the labs earlier today. Yes sir, what should I tell her? Yes sir, I’ll let her know. Thank you sir.” He pressed the button to disconnect the call with Doctor Edmundson.
Pausing for a second to gather his thoughts, he sighed as he pressed the button that would bring Mrs. Peters back on the line. “Sorry for the wait ma’am. I was able to reach Doctor Edmundson. He’s on his way to the labs right now to check on some things. He didn’t say. Either he or I will call you as soon as we have more information. Sorry ma’am. Yes ma’am, he lives nearby. I expect that he will be here soon. Yes ma’am. I’ll let you know. Which number is the best to reach you at? Home? Yes ma’am. I’ll do that ma’am. Thank you ma’am.” Lieutenant Lyons said before he disconnected the call with the distraught woman.
He paused briefly to think. “Sergeant. Instruct the guards to alert me the instant that Doctor Edmundson enters the compound.”
“Also, have the Captain's Humvee fueled and readied with the standard decon load. I think that I have a few more folks to wake up now.”
“Yes sir!” Sgt Billings saluted and promised to never again jinx himself by thinking a night of duty was going to be boring.
Wha? Did I die? If I did, this sure is a weird way to be introduced to heaven.
Why can’t I move? Even worse, why can’t I feel my body? No pain is good, but no nothing is bad. I try to open my eyes, but I can’t seem to find them. I have to be able to see! Something! Anything!
Whoa! That’s better. I can see now, but I’m not sure what I’m seeing. I’m somehow hovering over what looks like a large operating room. The room is more like a really deep well and I’m at the top looking down from a great height. I can’t seem to look up, but looking straight down, the walls and floor are impossibly white. A bed of some kind is in center of the room and I can see a human body lying on top. I’m too high to make out any details, but as I think that, I start to descend toward the body. As I get closer, I see that the body is a girl with short black hair and she is completely naked!
I’m puzzled why there is a naked girl lying on a hospital bed in my dream. This better not be one of those dreams where I wake up and have to sneak to the bathroom to clean up because having one of those dreams in this kind of room would just be too disturbing.
Her features become more distinct the closer that I get. She’s beautiful, but she reminds me of someone. I know, she looks like a younger version of my GEO character, Whisper. Except, in game, she looked old, like maybe twenty one.
I continue to sink closer to her and yep, she’s definitely Whisper, but what’s she doing in my dream? As I continue to study her from my vantage point, I notice that she’s slightly transparent and there are thousands and thousands of tiny sparks emanating from inside her body.
The sparkles captivate me. I move myself closer to her to try and get a better look. I try not to focus on her breasts, but it’s hard not to look. I’ve never had the opportunity to actually study a girl’s breasts in 3D before. Sure, I’ve seen pictures and I’ve accidentally caught sight of my sister a time or two, but that just isn’t the same. Embarrassed, I force my gaze down from her chest to her trim stomach. Her stomach flares into pleasantly rounded hips that act to draw my eyes to the forbidden zone between her legs. I feel myself blushing, so I try to send apologetic thoughts her way. Her body is so wonderfully fit, feminine and perfect. I also notice that she’s no longer transparent.
Forcing my eyes back to her face, I find myself moving closer still. Her raven black hair and shaped eyebrows accent her flawless white skin. Laying down, her hair is swept back to expose her elvish ears. Her pert nose and very kissable lips are perfectly matched against a heart-shaped face. She looks so real now. Sure, she looked good on my computer screen, but without all the rendering and shading, I think she’s absolutely stunning.
I try to pull back to get a better overall look again, but I can’t seem to find the reverse switch. I focus my attention on her face. Somehow, I find myself even closer to her. I wonder if this is like some fairy tale where the hero kisses the sleeping princess to wake her from a cursed slumber. Her lips sure do look inviting. Do I even have lips to kiss her with?
I close in and try to give her a hesitant kiss on her lips. I am pleased to discover that I do indeed have lips. As my lips brush against hers, I feel a spark arc between us. Her eyes snap open and I gasp with astonishment. Her eyes are so beautiful! I feel like I could fall into them and drown. Now I know why everyone was so freaked out by my new eye color. He eyes are the exact same jade green color as mine.
Curious to see if she can see me, I stare into her eyes to see if her pupils are focusing on anything. I can see the reflection of my face mirrored in her eyes. Then, I start to see what looks like lightning flashing from inside of her pupils.
Now, that’s weird!
The green and silver of her cornea added to the lightning flashing from inside of her acts to draw me even closer. Helpless to resist their magnetic draw, I feel myself being pulled into their flashing depths.
And..the lights go out again.
Jennifer drank her second cup of coffee while she and Dave stood watch in Brian’s room, anxiously looking for any sign that a parent’s worst nightmare might end. Their child was hurt and they, as parents, were helpless to help him. She had Dave double-checked every phone in the house to make sure the ringers were at full volume.
Except for the time talking to the officer from the labs, she had been burning up the battery in Lindsay’s phone talking to Barb. Thank god for Barb. I don’t know what I would’ve done without her advice.
She had to hang up when Lindsay’s battery started to die. Dave briefly left her side to retrieve Lindsay’s charger. When he returned, he told her that he found Lindsay still awake and crying in her bed. After returning to Brian’s room to plug in the cell phone before it quit, he returned to Lindsay’s room to try and comfort their daughter. It took thirty minutes before he was able to return to her side for the vigil over their son.
“She’s finally asleep, but I don’t think that she will be going to school tomorrow hon.”
Jennifer sighed with resignation as she hugged her husband for comfort. “No, you’re probably right. Even if she did go to school, I doubt that she would get much done. Even though they don’t always get along, they both really do love each other.”
“Any word from the lab yet?” Dave asked, hopefully.
“No, but Barb finally had enough. She and Barry will be here tomorrow afternoon. I think that she did that so she could get some sleep.” Jennifer said with a ghost of a smile on her face. “I think she’s almost as worried about Brian as we are.”
They were both startled when their quiet companionship was interrupted by all of the house phones ringing loud enough to wake the dead. Jennifer grabbed for the cordless phone laying next to her and without even checking the caller ID display, she answered it.
“Hi, this is Doctor Edmundson from the Los Alamos...oh nevermind, I don’t think you really care about that silly stuff right now. I am very sorry that it took me so long to call you, but I needed to check a few things here at the labs and organize the team before I called you back. I’m sure that you are worried, no, frantic about your son and I did not want to be unprepared to assist your family.”
Jennifer sobbed with relief. “Oh Doctor, you don’t know how glad I am to hear you say that. Brian’s just laying on the floor covered in some black shell thing and we don’t know what to do.”
“Okay, ma’am...Mrs. Peters, is it okay if i call you Jennifer?” Doctor Edmundson asked with a surprising amount of patience and compassion in his voice.
“Okay Jennifer, now I need you to go over to your son and check a few things for me. You might need to move him a little. Do you think that you can do that?”
“Yes and I have Dave, my husband, here with me just in case.” Jennifer said as she walked over to stand next to her son’s form.
“Excellent, now can you see his chest?”
“Okay, now place your hand on the center of his chest and using your fingertips, see if you can feel a seam in the shape of a small rectangle.”
Using her fingers like the doctor asked, Jennifer started to look for the seam or crack that the doctor described. She worried that she might be doing something wrong until she felt something different. It was a small seam. “Okay, I found it Doctor Edmundson. Is this the button that will get him out of this thing?”
“No, but it is a start Jennifer. What you have just discovered is the diagnostics port for our Individual Land Warrior Medical Emergency Trauma Survival Suit, but that is a mouthful to say every time so I we just like to call it a METS suit.”
“Okay, and this Individual Land...umm...METS thing is helping Brian?”
“I think so, but we need for you to try and open the port.”
“Okay...what do I need to do?”
“Now, find the top seam. The one that is closest to your son’s chin.”
“Excellent. Gently and firmly press down.”
Jennifer’s heart raced and a glimmer of hope spring to life when the shell moved to reveal the access port. “It opened and there is a little green light in here!”
“Is there also something that looks like a USB port?”
She spotted something that looked like it could be one of those things that might be on a computer. “Yes, I think so.”
“Great! Now we know what equipment that we need to bring with us. Good job Jennifer!”
“So can we get him out of this now?”
“Sorry Jennifer, not yet. What the green light is telling us is that the suit is active and that your son is in a state of hibernation. All of his bodily functions have been reduced to assist in the survival of a traumatic injury. Some of the special equipment that we will bring will be able to plug into that diagnostic port and give us a better picture of what is happening to your son.”
“How long will it take for you to arrive?”
“We have an advance team lead by Lieutenant Lyon en-route as we speak. They should arrive within twenty minutes. Doctor’s Brentwood and Roskaft will be arriving with them and they will assist in the initial site assessment. Myself and Doctor Johannson will be leaving here via helicopter as soon as I hang up with you and grab a few extra pieces of equipment.”
“Thank you Doctor Edmundson!” Jennifer gasped, relief flooding through her.
“Rest assured Jennifer. We will do everything in my power to help your son.”
The man was over a hundred miles away, but Jennifer somehow felt like she could trust the man. “Thank you, I appreciate that.”
“No problem Jennifer. Well, my ride is here. I need to go.” Doctor Edmundson said just before the line went dead.
Jennifer turned off the phone and turned to her husband to find Lindsay awake and hugging her father. Both of them look at her with hope filled eyes and she can feel the deep love and concern they both have for Brian. It brought tears to her eyes.
It took Jennifer a few seconds to collect her thoughts. “Okay, that was Doctor Edmundson from the labs. He said that Brian is in some kind of Army trauma suit thing and that he’s on his way with some equipment to help Brian. Also, it sounds like we will have some folks from the Army here in twenty minutes or so and worst of all, the house is a mess!”
Brenda knew that something was wrong the second that she caught sight of the main gate because instead of the normal two soldiers on gate duty, there were four soldiers and a Humvee at the gate. The sound of her favorite CD blaring from her car’s speakers suddenly felt like more of a distraction. Frowning, she reached over and turned off her car’s stereo system.
She recognized one of the soldiers because he had helped her move some heavy stuff around in her office and she thought he was kind of cute. She rolled to a stop and smiled at him, expecting him to give her a grin or smile in return, but she got nothing. He was all business this morning.
“Morning ma’am. Identification please” Private Jacobson asked as she dug through her purse for her ID badge.
Handing it to him, her badge received more than the standard cursory glance. Something was definitely happening this morning.
“What’s going on Jacobson?” Brenda asked, concerned that there was some sort of accident or fire at the lab.
“Sorry ma’am, but I can’t really say.” He refused to give her any clues.
Not a “Sorry, Brenda” or even “Sorry, Ms. Koshnick”, but she got a “ma’am” from him. The last time they had spoken, she got him to use her name, but now he was in 100% military mode. The panic started to set in and upset her stomach a little.
“Thank you ma’am. You’re cleared to enter” Private Jacobson returned her ID badge and waved her through.
The mystery became even more alarming when she wasn’t able to get her usual parking spot closer to the front. She was normally one of the first people to arrive, but this morning even Doctor Edmundson’s car was here.
Entering the building, she was met by battle ready soldier in full combat gear. “Ms. Koshnick?”
“Yes?” Brenda asked, confused and a little intimidated because she had never seen the labs in this high of an alert status. She had been through numerous safety drills and this didn’t feel like a drill.
“Major Thole ordered me to escort you to the C-Wing conference room as soon as you arrived.” The soldier turned to lead her toward the conference room.
“Okay?” Brenda hesitated for a second, causing the young soldier to pause. Why did she need an escort? She knew where the room was located.
“Sorry…” She mumbled as she resumed following the soldier through the halls and to the door of the conference room. Why did they need her, an HR specialist? Nothing made sense.
He opened the door for her and gestured for her to enter. She was surprised to see the room full of research scientists, Major Thole, Captain McKinney, and a very tired and distraught looking civilian woman who looked up at Brenda with desperate hope in her red, tear stained eyes.
“Ah, Brenda!” Doctor Edmundson said, looking slightly more wrinkled than normal. He motioned for her to join him at the head of the room. “Sorry about all the excitement, but we have a bit of mystery and we are hoping that you might have some additional insights. I believe that you know or have seen most of the people in the room, but allow me to introduce Mrs. Jennifer Peters.”
“Mrs. Peters, this young lady is Brenda Koshnick. She works in our HR department and was the one whom I noticed speaking to your son and his young friend during yesterday’s lunch break.”
Brenda’s heart skipped a beat when she realized who he was talking about. “Brian? Oh my god! Did something happen to him?” She quickly glanced between Dr. Edmundson and Mrs. Peters. Dr. Edmundson looked concerned about something, but it was the desperate and almost pleading expression on Mrs. Peters’ face that caused Brenda’s heart to beat hard.
“We can’t go into the details right now, but I can tell you that he is here and that he is very sick. It could be of great help to everyone if there is anything that he might have said to you or that you might have noticed that could help us figure out what has happened to him.”
“Umm, okay. Well, during lunch I overheard Brian and his friend talking about GEO.” Brenda said.
Dr. Edmundson looked confused. “GEO?”
“Oh sorry, GEO. It stands for Good and Evil Online and it is an online game that I play.”
“Okay, sorry about the interruption Brenda, but I wasn’t sure if everyone else here understood what that term meant.”
Brenda smiled at his obvious dissemination. “So, I heard them talking about GEO and I asked if I could join them for lunch. I was surprised to find out that Brian plays on the same server and even the same guild that I belong to. I was even more surprised to find out that he plays Whisper.”
“Sorry to interrupt you again Brenda. I think we can figure out what this server and guild thing is, but what is a Whisper?”
“Sorry Doctor, Whisper is the character that Brian plays in GEO. She’s a high-level rogue and right now everyone on the Good side is scrambling to find her.”
“She?” Dr. Edmundson glanced over to Brenda for a moment before waving away his question. “Oh...sorry, I guess that it’s a video game thing. A rogue? Is that like a thief or something?”
Brenda noticed the military folks in the room starting to pay closer attention.
“Yes, a rogue is like a thief. They primarily win by being sneaky and Whisper, I mean Brian is one of the best, if not the best on our server.”
Dr. Edmundson slowly nodded. “I see. So, other than being a rogue. Why is everyone trying to find Brian’s character?”
“Well...” Brenda hesitated as she considered how to explain things to her audience because she doubted they would understand. “Whisper received a quest to assassinate another player’s character.” She winced when the military folks jumped with the word ‘assassinate’.
“Are you trying to tell us that this kid is not just a thief, but that he’s also a trained assassin?” Major Thole asked, sounding incredulous.
“Umm, no sir. Not exactly. The character that he plays isn’t really an assassin, but as part of his character’s class, his character does have the skills to be an assassin. Kalisa, the character that I play is a warrior who wears heavy armor and uses a sword in battle. Do I look like I could swing a sword with any degree of skill?” Brenda watched as the room relaxed with a slight chuckle at the thought of her swinging a sword around. A few of the men looked at her with a little more interest now. She could almost see them mentally dressing her up in some skimpy, chain mail bikini popular in fantasy art.
She decided to charge ahead. “Like I was saying though, his character got this quest or mission, but he didn’t tell anyone that he had it. So, when he stole our guild-leader’s griffon after mentioning about having to sneak into someplace, the leaders on the good side went crazy because they thought Whisper, I mean Brian was going to do something with our Font.”
“He told you about this though?” Major Thole asked with disbelief.
“Yes, his friend, umm, John, kind of pressured him into telling me after I told him what Lord Vincint thought he was trying to do.”
“Okay, then what happened?”
Brenda hesitated. “Well, he was looking pretty miserable about the whole thing. So, I gave him my phone number in case he needed to talk to someone about it.”
“Did he call you?” Mrs. Peters asked, looking up at Brenda with renewed hope in her eyes.
Brenda looked directly at her and nodded her head. “Yes, he called me last night while he was waiting in Lady Seramis’ room for her to return from a party that she was hosting at her stronghold.”
“Who is this ‘Lady Seramis’? Was she his target?” Major Thole asked.
“Yes sir, she was his ‘target’.” Brenda struggled to contain her annoyance for the Major. She understood why Major Thole is reacting the way he is, but she still found it a little frustrating. GEO was just a game. Why couldn’t the man understand that?
Major Thole nodded. “Okay, so did he neutralize his target?”
Brenda slowly considered her reply as Mrs. Peters anxiously searched her face. Brenda’s heart thumped in her chest and for a second, she thought she could feel the dread Mrs. Peters was feeling as if she was the mother. How could her son coldly assassinate someone?
“I don’t think so...” Brenda slowly shook her head from side to side as she considered what she knew of Whisper and Brian.
“Why not? It sounds like he was in place and ready to carry out his mission. What could have stopped him?” Major Thole asked, skeptically.
Brenda returned her gaze to the Major and hardened her expression. Why was he being such an ass about it? Couldn’t he see how much pain Mrs. Peters was feeling? “Because, we talked about how this wasn’t the right thing to do, that it might really be a ‘test’ of his character and finally, just before he hung up on me, he said that a high level enemy player assassin had just entered the room.”
Major Thole glanced over to the other men at the table before returning his gaze to her. “So, do you think that he might have decided to stop this other assassin from killing the target?”
Brenda hesitantly shook her head as she considered what she knew about Whisper’s reputation as a character and what Brian said during her short conversation with him. “I don’t know sir. I’m not sure that he could’ve stopped the other assassin. From what I know, I am pretty sure that Whisper was much lower level than the other assassin. Whisper wouldn’t have stood a chance at stopping him.”
“This is all fairly complex for a video game, Ms. Koshnick” Major Thole said while most of the people around the table nodded their heads in agreement.
Doctor Edmundson choose that observation to step in and take charge of the conversation again. “So, now we know what he was doing just before he was...” He stops what he was going to say as he looks at Brenda then to Major Thole. Major Thole nods his head in silent agreement before Doctor Edmundson continues with what he started to say. “...before the METS suit that he somehow carried out of here with him was activated.”
Feeling confused, Brenda looked to Doctor Edmundson for an explanation. “A what?”
“It’s a prototype nano survival suit that was designed to automatically seal around a wounded soldier and stabilize them until medical help can arrive.”
His explanation confused her because Brian never said anything about a suit, but he did mention some strange UI behavior. “Would that have anything to do with Brian saying that he thought that the game was acting weird on him?”
Dr. Edmundson focused his full attention on Brenda. “Weird? How?”
“Well, he told me that it felt like the game was getting too real for him. He thought that he was able to smell the virtual food being cooked and he mentioned something about a ‘Primary Mission Success’ and ‘ROV Capture’ number showing up on his screen when he wondered what his chances of killing Lady Seramis were.” She said, feeling concerned as she watched the faces of Major Thole, Doctor Edmundson and a few of the other people sitting around the table turn a little pale.
Doctor Edmundson cleared his throat. “Umm, Brenda do you think that it would be possible for you to login to this game of yours and find out what happened to, umm, Lady Seramis? Maybe even talk to her?”
“I can try, but I will need my computer and I doubt that anyone will be online at this time of the day. Most of the people on our server are on East Coast time.” Brenda said as her body started to buzz with pride and excitement. Out of all the scientists and soldiers in the room, Brenda, a simple HR clerk, might be able to play a critical role with helping Brian and his family. On the plus side, it’s not every day that your boss asked you to play a video game and still pay you for it.
The glimmer of hope in Mrs. Peters’ eyes brought all of those feelings crashing to a halt. Brenda walked over and gave the distraught woman a hug. “I’ll do everything that I can to help you and Brian.”
“Thank you” Mrs. Peters said as she began to softly cry on the taller woman’s shoulder.
Brenda held the distraught woman, lending her support while Doctor Edmundson stood awkwardly by their side as the rest of the men quietly snuck out of the room.
“Sir, is there someplace that Mrs. Peters can rest? She’s dead on her feet here.” Brenda asked.
Dr. Edmundson nodded and reached down, lightly touching Mrs. Peters on her shoulder to help direct the woman. “Please, come with me Jennifer. Let me help you find someplace that you can rest a little. It will be a few hours before we can learn anything else.”
Brenda struggled to hold back her tears as a clearly distraught Mrs. Peters turned to her with tears in her eyes. “Thank you Doctor Edmundson and Ms. Koshnick. I don’t know what I would do without your help.”
"Please Mrs. Peters, it's Brenda. You can just call me Brenda." She said, following them both out of the room to assist Dr. Edmundson with getting Mrs. Peters settled somewhere.
** Chapter 14 **
Brenda looked around the room and took a deep, calming breath. Every director level and above lab employee as well as the lab’s top military leaders were present and all of those folks were waiting for her. Admittedly, the highest ranking military person at the lab was a major, but on the phone was someone from the Department of Defense and the only reason a general officer wasn’t here was because they couldn’t fly out here in time.
If having a high ranking audience wasn’t enough to make her feel nervous, there were also a few video cameras set up to record her playing GEO. She was going to help a kid by playing a video game in front of a live audience. It was crazy, but she couldn’t help feeling a little excited. The day had been a complete whirlwind for her and she couldn’t help grinning as she thought back to what happened after that first surprise meeting.
The ride to her apartment in a Humvee accompanied by armed soldiers was certainly exciting and the soldiers found that her excitement was infectious. Before they returned to the labs, she learned that Bravo Romeo Echo November Delta Alpha was her name using the Army’s phonetic alphabet and best of all, she learned what SNAFU and FUBAR really meant.
After she got back from ‘securing’ her PC from her apartment and getting it setup, Doctor Edmundson took her to see Brian. It was a little scary to see the METS suit surrounding Brian’s body, but according to Doctor Edmundson, the suit was actually helping to keep Brian alive.
Doctor Edmundson officially added her to the team investigating what happened to Brian and as a result, she was allowed to attend all the briefings. The most interesting briefing was Lieutenant Lyons’ afternoon briefing. It was a shame Mrs. Peters, or Jennifer as she asked Brenda to call her, missed the briefing. The poor woman was still sacked out in the room that her son was being kept in. She needed the sleep and it might have been a blessing that she did not learn that the suit had never actually made it past the animal testing phase.
Lieutenant Lyons cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention. “Okay Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for attending this briefing. I will use this time to summarize what we know to date regarding the incident with the subject, Brian Peters.”
“Item one. Subject Brian Peters. Male. DOB: 9-JUL-1992 Age 15. High school freshman. Honor-Roll Student. Visited nonsecure research labs as part of High School Field trip supervised by his Science teacher, Mr. Allen Anderson.”
“Item two. Shortly after returning from this facility, subject is reported to have exhibited signs that could indicate first stage mutant manifestation. Further investigation is required.”
“Item three. At the time of METS suit activation, Subject is reported to have been playing the popular video game known as Good and Evil Online or GEO to its players. Further investigation is in progress by Ms. Brenda Koshnick”
“Item four. Nanite container handled by subject was discovered to be empty of all mechanically functional nanites.”
“Item five. Examination of nanite container showed microscopic holes drilled into the container. Current hypothesis is that subject Brian Peters accidentally activated nanites enabling them create passages through the container, thus allowing the nanites to enter subject’s body.”
“Item six, Recorded inventory of nanite container indicates that 70% of nanites were of a low security risk medical nanites. 25% High Security risk <Classified>. Remaining 5% Unknown.”
Major Thole interrupted Lieutenant Lyons. “Excuse me Lieutenant, but we will have the brass here tomorrow and I think that they will have an issue with the ‘Unknown’ quantity. Do we have a good explanation for that?”
“Excuse me Major Thole” Doctor Edmundson said. “I think that we could change the ‘unknown’ to ‘miscellaneous’. That may minimize the impact. However; if the issue is brought up, I will address it by taking full responsibility and explaining to our guests exactly what the container’s purpose was intended to be used for. It was a learning aid to show visitors to the lab what these microscopic nanites that they are paying us so much money to develop really look like. Every nanite in the container was certified as inactive or inoperable. As such, it was never considered that it would ever be anything more than an educational prop item and in an effort to fill the container our research teams would sometimes deposit failed experiment batches. I’ve begun an audit with my team to try and narrow down the ‘miscellaneous’ list and we should have a better handle on that by tomorrow.”
Major Thole nodded his head and smiled with relief. “Ahh, thank you sir. I know how much upper leadership hates to see ‘unknown’, but that sounds like it should help. Lieutenant, I think that we can move on with the rest of the briefing.”
“Thank you sir. Item seven. Current hypothesis is that subject has mutant Esper powers coupled with an electro-kinetic energizer power and possibly a Gadgeteer or Devisor power. Further investigation is required.”
“Item eight. Prototype METS suit successfully activated for subject and monitoring of subject’s vital signs via suit diagnostic port indicates subject is alive. Further briefing data to be provided by Doctor Johannson.”
Doctor Johannson’s presentation went on to explain that due to the high cost of armored exoskeleton suits, the Army was looking for a way to help an injured soldier survive until medical help could arrive. He explained that the concept was dropped due to weight issues since the standard required load that each soldier must carry is already at the limit. He finished his presentation with some good news. His team thinks that due to how the nanites created the suit for Brian, they might be able to use that data to reduce the weight of the suit enough to make it feasible.
Brenda was glad that Jennifer didn’t hear Doctor Johannson’s description of the medical condition that caused the suit to activate. Brenda barely knew Brian and if she had a hard time hearing it, she couldn’t imagine what his mom would think when Doctor Johannson said, “During the course of our investigation, we used the METS standard diagnostic port to request the activation log. We discovered that the subject was diagnosed with a nearly always fatal condition, called ‘Neurogenic Shock’. What that means is that for some reason, his autonomic nervous system stopped communicating with the rest of his body. This is most often caused by the severing of the spinal column. Based upon the observations that Lieutenant Lyons mentioned regarding the subject’s theorized mutant powers, we believe that the subject somehow interfaced directly with the game and became so immersed in the game, that his nervous system started to shut down.”
That concluded the briefing and as she was getting ready to exit the room she overheard Major Thole tell Lieutenant Lyons to convert his part of the briefing into a PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow’s presentation. There were some VIPs that were going to be arriving in the morning and they wanted to make a good impression.
Brenda liked Lieutenant Lyons. He seemed nice and he was handsome in his uniform. Thanks to her job in HR, she also knew that he was only a year older than her and even better, single. He might have a girlfriend, but she decided it was time to make a move to find out.
“Let me know if you want any help with that Mark.” Brenda said as part of her intel gathering process.
“Oh thanks ma’am, but I need to learn this stuff. I’ve heard that you can’t make it past being Major without knowing how to make a Powerpoint presentation.” He said with a wry grin as he nervously ran his hand through his short cropped hair. “Is it okay if I hunt you down if I have any questions?”
“Sure! But, please, just call me Brenda. Ma’am makes me feel old.” Brenda smiled, happy with the outcome of her initial move.
Brenda’s thoughts returned to the present when she spotted Brian’s mom enter the conference room and look around for a place to sit. Brenda jumped up and motioned for Jennifer to sit next to her, giving her an encouraging hug as she did.
“Thank you Brenda” Jennifer said with a brittle smile.
“No problem, Jennifer.” Brenda reassured her as she took her seat and gestured for Jennifer to do the same.
The room seemed to be turning into an adhoc command center. Her computer was up and running with the display linked to the big screen for everyone to watch her play GEO. She smiled a little and wondered what Doctor Edmundson was going to think when he saw her character and the world of GEO on the big screen.
She logged in earlier to test the connection and file a petition with the Council for permission to see Lady Seramis. While Brenda could have taken it upon herself to visit Lady Seramis, she lacked the means to get Kalisa, her character, to Lady Seramis’ stronghold in the time that her boss needed and she doubted Lord Vincint’s griffon was available for the taking. In addition to those reasons, dropping in unannounced on Lady Seramis after she just had an assassin’s visit could prove fatal for Kalisa.
The only way she could pull this off was with the Council’s help. The Council of Light and Lady Seramis had created a magical mirror that allowed them to speak with each other regarding affairs of state. It was basically a video conference device and if the Council allowed her to use it, she could find out everything she needed in just a few minutes.
Brenda reached over to give Jennifer’s hand a reassuring squeeze and received a grateful smile in return. Finally, she adjusted her headset and took a deep, calming breath before she logging into the game as Kalisa.
Brenda’s character, Kalisa, sat on a marble bench just outside the huge oak and steel reinforced double doors that lead into the Council chambers. Two AI controlled guards stand with halberds in the rest position at either side of the doors. The NPC guard’s armor was highly polished, almost a bright and shiney as Lord Vincint’s paladin armor.
Brenda proudly recalled the reaction her character received when she Kalisa first appeared on the character select screen. Her character, sans helmet, appeared larger than life on the big screen.
Unlike most of the other MMORPGs on the market, her armor was 100% protective. None of those eye candy female armor designs in GEO. That didn’t mean her armor had to look ugly because Kalisa’s armor was fitted to match her female form and there was no disguising the hourglass shape of her body. Even from a distance, no one would ever confuse her for a male warrior.
Unlike a paladin or NPC warrior, her plate mail armor was more subdued and looked more like real armor would look; simple and functional. Just to show off, she purposefully waited a minute to let her character run through its preset series of combat moves and the reaction was worth it.
Brenda heard one of the scientists say, “Whoa, Brenda’s character looks tough!” which gave her a small glow of satisfaction. She’d worked hard on her character and felt proud of everything that she has been able to accomplish. Her warrior’s skills were always in high demand by her guild-mates and friends outside of the guild.
It was now 1500 hrs MST, which meant that it was 1800 hrs or 6pm EST and she had been waiting around for almost half an hour, doing nothing. It made her feel a little jumpy because she kind of felt like she was wasting time when she could be out getting experience for her character. She thought about running out and smacking around some NPC monsters just to relieve the boredom and show off her character, but she doubted the people in the room would understand.
She was just about to follow through with her idea when she caught sight of Lord Vincint striding toward the chambers. Brenda nudged her character forward, causing Kalisa to stand as she activated her voice chat and tried to get his attention.
“Lord Vincint,” Lord Vincint adjusted his course to meet her,”please excuse me, but do you know how long it might be before I can speak to the Council?” Brenda asked, her voice subtly changed to make her voice sound more commanding, more like she imagined a real female warrior would sound.
Lord Vincint smiled broadly at her. “Ah, Lady Kalisa. It is always a pleasure to see you and no excuse is needed. As I have just arrived myself, I am not sure what the Council’s status is right now.”
Brenda managed to keep the disappointment from her face. The man just logged in and it was unreasonable for him to know everything.
Lord Vincent canted his head slightly to the side, his curiosity clearly evident. “I believe that you mentioned in your request that you might have some information regarding Whisper?”
Kalisa nodded. “Yes my lord, I have first hand knowledge of Whisper’s quest and it’s only now that I can speak of it. Something bad has happened to Whisper’s player and I desperately need to speak with the Lady Seramis.”
Lord Vincint rubbed his chin as he pondered her revelation. “Hmmm, that is certainly a surprise and I hope she is okay. I find it very interesting that you would have the need to speak with Lady Seramis. I checked the server forum before I logged in today and the rumors over the last few hours have been exceptionally alarming.”
He motioned for her to join him. “And, if I know Whisper,” he smirked, “I’m sure the rumors are vastly understated, but why don’t you accompany me into the Council chambers so that we may get to the bottom of this issue as quickly as possible?”
“Thank you my Lord.” Kalisa replied thankful for his attention, now curious about her guild leader’s remark. Did he know Brian in real life? It didn’t seem likely since Brian never mentioned it during their conversation, but then again, the two of them didn’t exactly have a lot of time to talk.
Brenda was brought of character and back into reality when she overheard some of the comments from her audience.
“Holy cow! Look at his armor. Can you say Target with a capital ‘T’?”
“This is pretty cool looking; I might have to go buy this game on my way home tonight.”
She fought to contain a smirk at the thought of another soon to be GEO addict while her character entered the room to discover that most of the council members were already seated behind the elevated table located in the back of the room.
Lord Vincint motioned for her to stop at the first row of benches while he continued forward, taking his seat at the center of the table. Kalisa anxiously watched as he spoke with the seated members of the Council. She wasn’t far away, but for some reason she couldn’t hear what was said. The words came out jumbled and inarticulate to her making her wonder if there was some sort of privacy spell surrounding the council. It made sense to her, but it came as a little bit of a surprise since GEO was just a game.
After a quick conference, the eavesdropping screen seemed to disappear when Lord Vincint called for the Council’s herald to announce Kalisa. “The Council of Light requests the presence of The Lady Commander Kalisa of The Order of the Four Winds so that she may deliver news important to the safety and wellbeing of the realm.”
“Ooo, Brenda’s character is a ‘Commander’.”
“Isn’t that an officer’s rank Major Thole?”
“Yes, in the Navy, a Commander would be equal to an Army Lieutenant Colonel.”
“Hey, that means that Brenda outranks you!”
Smiling both in game and out, Brenda directed Kalisa to move forward and stop before the Council’s table.
“Thank you for making the time to see me on such short notice my Lords and Ladies. I have grave news regarding the Lady Whisper’s player and to make a request to be allowed to speak with the Lady Seramis before the evening is over.”
Everyone except for Lord Vincint was shocked by Kalisa’s statement, but it was Lord Calrent who was the first to speak. “What does the Lady Seramis have to do with a wanted criminal like Whisper? Can we add ‘traitor’ to the list of offenses that this thief has now committed?” He sneared, his eyes flashing with anger.
Brenda was shocked by his vehemence towards Whisper. She wondered what Whisper might have done to him to earn such animosity. Reminding herself that Brian was laying in a hospital bed, she hardened her resolve. “Lord Calrent, I do not know what the Lady Whisper might have done to earn such scorn by you. Yes, she is a ‘thief’ and from what I have heard, a damn good one, but I do know that she is not a traitor.”
Lord Calrent airily dismissed her reply. “And, just how do you happen to know more about Whisper than anyone else in this room Lady Kalisa?” His eyes narrowed as he studied her with suspicion.
It took all of Brenda’s self-control to not scream at the jerk. She watched as Kalisa’s posture became rigid and tense, ready for action. “I know Whisper’s player in real-life. He is a 15 year old boy named Brian and right now he is laying in a hospital bed. None of his doctors know what is wrong with him and since he was playing GEO when he collapsed, I’ve been asked by his doctors and his family to find out if there is anything in the game that could have caused his condition.” Seething on the inside, she surprised herself with how calm she ended up sounding.
You could hear a pin drop in the Council chambers as everyone, including Lord Vincint, sat back in their chairs with shock. Even the ass, Lord Calrent, had the decency to look ashamed of himself, but it was Lord Vincint who broke the silence.
“That is indeed grave news Lady Kalisa. I think that I can speak for the entire Council when I express my deepest concern for him and his family. Frankly, I’m at a loss for how we, as players in this game, would be able to help him with a medical condition in real-life. Can you explain to us why you think that we might be able to help him?”
Kalisa smiled with gratitude and her posture relaxed. “Thank you Lord Vincint. As you all may know, two days ago, Whisper received a GM level quest. What you do not know is that her quest was to assassinate the Lady Seramis...” She was interrupted by the shocked exclamations of the Council.
“Oh my god! That could start a war!”
“What was she thinking?!”
“Lady Seramis’ forces could be attacking us right now!”
Lord Vincint turned to address his fellow council members. “Please, calm yourselves before we jump to conclusions. Afterall, this is just a game and we have the life of someone to worry about right now.” The reminder has the desired effect. “Please, Lady Kalisa, continue.”
Kalisa gratefully nodded. “Okay, so the quest instructions indicated that Whisper had to kill Seramis last night. I believe that is why Whisper ‘borrowed’ your griffon.” She grinned and nodded to Lord Vincint. “I was on the phone with Brian while Whisper was waiting in Lady Seramis’ rooms for her to return from a party she was hosting. Brian hung up on me shortly after mentioning that another character had just entered into her rooms via the window. Brian identified the other character as the evil aligned assassin, Shadow Killer.”
“What? Why would the evil side send an assassin after Lady Seramis?” Lady Necina asked.
Kalisa slowly shook her head as she considered the question. “I don’t know my Lady, but I believe that GEO is trying to force Lady Seramis to pick one side or the other.
“What makes you think that?” Lady Necina continued with her questions as the rest of the Council paid rapt attention.
“Prior to Shadow Killer’s entrance, Brian and I spoke about the quest and what it might mean. The quest text specifically mentioned the word ‘test’. I think that Whisper was supposed to tell us about the plot so that we could warn Seramis. It is my belief that Brian realized that and decided to try and protect Seramis by fighting Shadow Killer, even though he was sure that Whisper would lose.”
“Why would Whisper lose?” Lady Necina asked.
Kalisa shrugged her shoulders. “Well, from everything I have heard, Shadow Killer is a much higher level character than Whisper and a specialized assassin, while Whisper is more thief skill specialized.”
Lord Vincint absently gained the attention of the Council. “Hmmm, Whisper may have had more of an edge in that fight than most here would realize.”
“What makes you think that Lord Vincint?” Lord Calrent asked with a hint of his old suspicion.
Lord Vincint grinned. “Well, in addition to being a damn good thief, Whisper is also an Illusionist.”
Lord Calrent looked shocked by Lord Vincint’s revelation. “You can’t dual class in GEO!” He paused momentarily. “Well, you can, but it’s usually not good since it dilutes your main class.”
Lord Vincint smiled at him. “Usually, yes, but Whisper has one other ‘advantage’ that I know of, she used the Font of Light to Evolve.”
“What!?!” Lord Calrent gasped with shock. “We all know that Whisper snuck into the Font chambers against the Council’s orders. She left her smart-ass little calling card there for us to find, but surely we would’ve noticed the changes in her character.”
Lord Vincint nodded with agreement. “That would be true, if not for the fact that she always disguises herself as a human using her powers of Illusion.”
“What?! If that is true, then what is she?” Lord Calrent asked while Lady Necina leaned back with a pleased, satisfied smile.
“The Lady Whisper used the Font to evolve. She is really an Elf.” Lord Vincint said.
While the Council processed the news, Brenda found her audience’s reaction to the news even more entertaining.
“What’s an Elf?”
“Umm, I think that is like Spock in Star Trek”
“No, Spock is a Vulcan. An Elf is like that Legolas dude from that Lord of the Rings movie!”
Brenda focused back to the issue at hand when Lord Vincint started to speak.
“The Council will contact Lady Seramis. Lady Necina, would you kindly attempt to open up communications with Lady Seramis?”
Lady Necina nodded. “Certainly Lord Vincint.”
Brenda and her audience watched with fascination when Lady Necina pulled a large, ornate mirror out from her bag. She placed the mirror on the table and spoke a short phrase, activating the mirror and causing it to glow. After about twenty seconds, the glow faded away, revealing Lady Seramis.
Lady Seramis glared imperiously out at her audience. “Ahh, if it isn’t the Council of Light. What a ‘pleasant’ surprise to hear from you all on this day.” She spoke with a obvious sarcasm and disdain.
“Greetings Queen Seramis. As always, it’s a pleasure to speak with you.” Lord Vincint smiled with what appeared to be genuine pleasure. The game of State was on and he appeared to be relishing his role.
“Lord Vincint, you seem surprised to see me and it’s now ‘Queen Seramis’ instead of ‘Lady Seramis’? Did something not work out as you planned?” Lady Seramis smirked.
Grinning, Lord Vincint airly replied. “Lots of things don’t work out how I plan, but do you have a specific plot of mine that you wish to address?”
She narrowed her eyes in annoyance. “You know damn well what I am referring too. If you’re calling to find out what happened to your little elf assassin, you can forget about it!”
“I see…” Lord Vincent pretended to ponder over her revelation. “So, My agent was able to reach and protect you from the evil assassin?”
Lady Seramis’ musical laughter filled the room. “So, that is how you wish to play this game? Yes, she was able to infiltrate my defenses, but I find it incredulous that you would try to imply that ‘you’ sent her to protect ‘me’. I have numerous reports of you ordering your city turned upside down looking for ‘your’ wayward assassin.”
“Merely a diversion so that the forces of Evil wouldn’t know that we were aware of their plan to have you assassinated by Shadow Killer.” Lord Vincint said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Lady Seramis laughed with genuine pleasure. She looked like she was starting to enjoy the verbal sparring. “You have got to be a lawyer or something similar in real-life Lord Vincint! I find your version of this story absolutely fascinating, but other than to find out if one of the two assassins managed to kill me, I fail to see why you would decide to call me now.”
“While it is true that we don’t see eye to eye on a few critical philosophical details Queen Seramis, I have always respected you and would never stoop to something so evil as assassination to get you out of the way. I am speaking with you today on behalf of Whisper’s parents and doctors.”
Lady Seramis’ eye grew round with surprise before narrowing with fierce determination. “Speak.”
Lord Vincint gestured for Kalisa to approach the table, bringing her into view of the mirror. “I’ll introduce you to the Lady Commander Kalisa so that she may speak on Whisper’s behalf? Lady Kalisa, meet Queen Seramis, the Bandit Queen of the West.”
Kalisa approached the table and gulped, suddenly feeling extremely nervous. “Hello Queen Seramis, I’m sorry about all this, but Whisper’s player collapsed last night and we think that it happened while he was playing GEO. We are hoping that you might be able to provide us with some clues that could help his doctors find out what is wrong with him.”
Queen Seramis’ eyes narrowed with suspicion as her gaze shifted to Lord Vincint. “Him? That is definitely not was I was expecting to learn when you called me Lord Vincint. If this is one of your vaunted tricks, I will be most displeased with you. However; I do guard my own.” Her attention returned to Kalisa, “Lady Kalisa, I will be happy to assist you with the answers you seek, but I am reluctant to speak freely in such a public forum. Will it be possible for your ‘illustrious’ leader to arrange for a portal so that we may speak more privately?”
Kalisa glanced over her shoulder, to Lord Vincint. He nodded his head with approval.
“Yes Queen Seramis, Lord Vincint indicates that the Council is willing provide me with a portal to your location.”
Queen Seramis nodded with approval. “I will open up a hole in my defenses for a single person to pass into my lands. I will signal your Council when all is ready for your arrival.”
“Thank you Queen Seramis.” Kalisa said, her emotions barely in check.
“Yes, thank you Queen Seramis” Lord Vincint added.
Seramis focused her attention back to Lord Vincint, her eyes narrowing with determination. “This better not be a another one of your tricks Lord Vincint!”
After her image faded away, Lord Vincint cleared his throat and walked around to Kalisa’s side of the table. “Well, while she is getting things set up on her end, would you mind if I had a word with you?”
“Certainly my Lord.” Kalisa said, following Lord Vincint out of the Council chambers and into the hallway.
Once clear of the chambers, Lord Vincint turned and faced Lady Kalisa. “I know this is just a game and it can far too easy for us to forget that there are real people on the other end of our screens, but if there is anything I can do to help, feel free to ask.”
His honest concern threatened to overwhelm Brenda’s emotions. She felt Jennifer’s hand grip her leg in support. That helped her find the strength she needed keep it together and stop herself from crying in front of Lord Vincint. “Thank you Lord Vincint, but why does Lord Calrent seem to dislike Whisper so much?”
“Oh yes, Lord Calrent.” Lord Vincint frowned with disapproval. “I believe that this little item may help to answer that question.” Lord Vincint said as a small card appeared in his hand. Giving it to her, he smiled and encouraged her to read it.
Kalisa read the short, handwritten note inscribed on the card. “Watch the first step, it’s a doozy! Hugs and Kisses, Whisper” There was even a little heart drawn off to the side, but she still didn’t understand why a simple card would piss off Lord Calrent so much.
Lord Vincent noted her confused expression. “The Council received that card a week after we won our Font in the Battle of Lumar Hills. Whisper was one of the first to petition the Council for permission to try and use the Font to evolve her character, but even with my support, her petition was denied. The Council refused to believe a mere thief could have helped the war effort in a significant enough manner to merit such a reward.” He sighed with frustration. “Anyway, a few days later this card was found next to the Font. Somehow, Whisper sneaked her way past countless AI controlled guards and bypassed several very strong wards and then, she used the Font and got out without anyone the wiser. Why she left a card, I don’t know, but I thought it was pretty damn funny. Lord Calrent, he blew a gasket and that’s why he dislikes Whisper so much.” Lord Vincint said with a grin.
Brenda could understand why Lord Calrent hated Whisper. She knew Whisper was a skilled thief player, but what made Brian think his character deserved the Font reward? In Brian’s defense, the Font gave his character a reward. So, maybe his petition had merit. “I guess I can kind of see why he dislikes her, but why did you support her petition? I fought in the battle and no one ever suggested I might deserve such a reward.”
Lord Vincint paused to gather his thoughts. “Hmmm, I see you also view Whisper as ‘just’ a thief and what kind of impact could a thief have in a large battle, right?”
Kalisa hesitantly nodded. “Yeah? I mean, it does seem a little odd to me.”
Lord Vincint chuckled fondly as he sat on the bench and motioned for Kalisa to join him. “While Whisper could be mischievous,” he gestured to the note, “I found her to be an exceptionally clever and loyal creative thinker who was able to work with the minimum of direction to accomplish difficult goals. No job was ever too tough and no mission ever too impossible for Whisper to accomplish. I would even go so far to say that, if it hadn’t been Whisper, we might not have won the Battle of Lumar Hills.”
His statement surprised her because she couldn’t remember even seeing Whisper during the battle. “How so?”
Lord Vincint tapped his lips as he considered how to best answer her question. “How many enemies did you personally kill during the battle?”
“I’m not sure, why?”
“Was it ten? Maybe twenty?”
“Yes, I think that sounds about right.”
“While Whisper may have only personally accounted for two or three enemies, she indirectly caused the death of three entire enemy battalions and kept at least two more battalions from joining the battle. She did that by intercepted enemy couriers, adjusted the orders and disguised herself as the courier to deliver the altered orders to the unsuspecting enemy commanders. By the time they figured it out and got their troops to the battlefield, they were all tired, worn out, hungry and completely demoralized. She made our fight much easier than it would’ve been otherwise.”
Kalisa gasped with astonishment and felt a new found respect for Whisper. That took guts and brains. “Wow and here I thought it was because our forces were stronger. You know, Good always triumphs over Evil, but how come we were never told what she did? She should’ve received at least an award or two”
Lord Vincint nodded with agreement. “A few reasons. One, Whisper didn’t want the credit. Two, it’s hard to have a secret weapon if everyone knows about it and three, because if the enemy ever found out, they would’ve sent every assassin they have to kill her.”
The AI controlled guard approached the pair and saluted. “Lord Vincint, sorry to interrupt you, but Lady Necina sent me to tell you that the portal is ready for Lady Commander Kalisa”
Lord Vincint returned the guard’s salute. “Thank you sergeant. Lady Kalisa, are you ready?”
Kalisa nodded, eager to meet Queen Seramis and get to the bottom of this mystery. “Yes, and I can’t thank you enough for your assistance and what you just told me.”
“Give him a hug for me.” Jennifer whispered in Brenda’s ear.
Brenda smirked at her request. She couldn’t picture her guild leader as the type who received hugs from guildmates, but just to see what his reaction would be, she entered the hug emote command.
“Brian’s mom insisted I give you a hug for her.” Kalisa said, surprising Lord Vincint as her character gave the man a hug.
Once the hug animation was complete, Lord Vincint looked past Brenda’s character and directly into the audience. “Yes, well, thank you Brian’s mom and I’m confident that based upon what I have glimpsed of your son’s character, he’s a fighter and you can’t count him out. If think of anything else to ask, please don’t hesitate to contact me using the following number xxx-xxx-xxxx”
Surprised and touched by his gesture, it took all of Brenda’s willpower to not break down in tears. Jennifer made it even more difficult by giving her a hug, but it didn’t stop her from noticing Major Thole copying Lord Vincint’s phone number down.
Lord Vincint spun around and motioned for Lady Kalisa to follow him. He lead her to a heavily guarded chamber containing a shimmering teleportation portal. Lady Necina was present in the chamber and surprisingly, Lord Calrent was also there.
“Good luck Lady Kalisa and I hope you find what you need to help Whisper’s player.” Lord Calrent surprised everyone in the the virtual world as well as in the conference room with his well wishes.
“Thank you Lord Calrent. Your words mean a lot to his mother.” Kalisa saluted Lord Calrent and waved goodbye to Lady Necina and Lord Vincent before stepping into the portal.
Kalisa’s vision filled with blinding light as the portal’s magic transported her to Lady Seramis’ domain. When she was able to see again, she found herself in the middle of a stone circle surrounded by heavily armored warriors with crossbows leveled at her.
A mounted officer wearing blackened plate mail with a red cape drew her attention. “Ahh, Lady Commander Kalisa of the Forces of Light I presume?”
Kalisa acknowledged his question with a nod.
“It’s so nice of you to drop in.” The man grinned unrepentantly, “I must apologize for appears to be a rude welcome, but the wandering monsters in this area can be quite vicious. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Lord General Grover of her Majesties Bandit Army. I have taken the liberty of bringing a spare mount for you to ride. If you would be so kind as to join me, my associates and I will pleased to ensure that you arrive safely to Queen Seramis’ court.”
** Chapter 15 **
Brenda worried about her character’s reception. She isn’t sure what to expect from Queen Seramis, but she definitely did not expect to arrive surrounded by a ring of steel and crossbows. Lord General Grover’s conversation during the short ride to the stronghold was polite, but with a tense undertone. She wasn’t sure if General Grover had been fully briefed by his Queen on the purpose of her visit, but she also wasn’t sure if she could tell him.
Lord General Grover broke Kalisa’s troubling line of thought. “I must admit that I am confused by your presence here Lady Commander Kalisa.”
“Oh?” Kalisa asked, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. “What do you find confusing Lord General Grover?”
“Please Lady Commander Kalisa, Lord General Grover is a mouthful to say.” He chuckled. “Just calling me Grover for the duration of this ride will be fine.”
“Sounds good to me, Grover. Kalisa is fine with me too, all the Lady this and Lord that is taxing. What were you saying about being confused?”
With the pleasantries out of the way, Grover looked at Kalisa with a thoughtful expression. “Well, for one thing. I am perplexed as to why the Council would send a representative to speak to Queen Seramis after sending an assassin the night before.”
“Maybe the Council didn’t send an assassin and wanted to help clear up the confusion before things got out of hand?” Kalisa said, deliberately in a relaxed and friendly voice.
“That may be, but I’ve served her Majesty for awhile now and frankly, I am surprised that she’s even giving the Council a chance. Additionally, pardon me for being so blunt, but you hardly seem to be the diplomatic type.”
Kalisa canted her head to the side and smiled mischievously at Grover. “Maybe I am just the sacrificial lamb?”
Grover laughed heartily. “You are hardly a lamb my Lady, but here we are now and sadly, my curiosity must wait”
As they both entered the main courtyard, Brenda took her cue from Grover and dismounted when he dismounted. A pair of stable hands leaded their mounts away and Grover motioned for Kalisa to follow him deeper into the interior of Seramis’ stronghold. The defenses were all manned by alert and well equipped warriors. The horses were all well bred and in good shape. The place looked too organized to fit the stereotypical “bandit” image that she was expecting. Suddenly nervous about what she was getting herself into, Kalisa followed.
A stone staircase led to a set of heavy, steel reinforced oak doors. The staircase was lined with five evenly spaced armored guards on each side. She knew she could take them, but they still looked intimidating to her.
The heavy doors groaned a little as they opened, but the action was smooth. Inside was a large, well lit entryway lined with additional guards. Small vertical slits lined both sides of the entryway with a second row of slits higher up on the walls. Looking up to the ceiling Kalisa noticed heavy duty chandeliers hanging from steel mounting plates next to small, six inch circular openings.
Brenda found Major Thole’s running commentary about the defenses to be both educational and alarming. “Murder holes in the walls for archers to fire through. Looks like the chandeliers could be dropped to impale enemy forces below.”
Kalisa looked up again and paled at the thought of one of those things falling on her. Major Thole’s next bit of information made her feel even more paranoid.
“I am betting the holes in the ceiling could be used to drop boiling water or burning sand onto enemy forces.”
At the end of the heavily protected entryway were two large hallways exiting to the right and the left. Each exit contained a heavy duty steel portcullis, that when lowered, would seriously hamper any assault that attempted to enter deeper into the stronghold. Brenda exhaled with relief when her character finally exited the murderous entryway.
General Grover and Kalisa arrived at smaller set of reinforced oaken doors. She heard an unseen herald announce their names. “Lady Commander Kalisa of the Forces of Light and Lord General Grover, your Majesty!”
The doors slowly opened to reveal Queen Seramis’ throne room.
Queen Seramis’ throne room was a rectangular shaped room with a high, vaulted ceiling containing crystal chandeliers lit by bright balls of magical light. A second story walkway lined the left and right sides of the room, containing more guards armed with crossbows held at the ready.
Queen Seramis sat on a raised dais in a small and comfortable looking chair at the front of the room. Brenda wasn’t sure what to expect from the self styled Bandit Queen appearance wise. Anything from a bejeweled pirate style black leather outfit to a rich fur and velvet robed attire complete with a ruby encrusted gold crown would not have surprised her in the least.
Instead, Seramis’ attire was a more subdued and unpretentious outfit that spoke more about her confidence than all the rich trappings in the world. Just sitting there, she exuded an aura of royalty that only someone born and raised to be a nation’s leader can attain. She knew Queen Seramis was only another player, but Brenda felt more intimidated than she thought she would.
“Thank you General Grover. If you don’t mind, I will need to speak with the Lady Commander Kalisa alone.” Queen Seramis politely commanded.
Kalisa noticed a slight frown dance across his face as General Grover bowed to Queen Seramis, acknowledging her command before he smartly saluted and marched out of the room.
Major Thole softly whistled, clearly impressed. “She certainly knows how to set the tone. You should continue until you are about ten paces from her and curtsy. I’m not sure if that is correct for a woman wearing armor, but it can’t hurt. Address her as ‘Your Majesty’.”
Kalisa waited until after General Grover exited the room and the doors were closed. Following Major Thole’s advice, she curtsied. “Your Majesty, on behalf of Brian’s family and myself, I thank you for granting me this audience on such short notice.”
Queen Seramis tilted her head thoughtfully to the side, an enigmatic smile touched her lips. “This evening looks like it will just be full of surprises Lady Commander Kalisa, it’s rare to find people of this era who know how to present proper court courtesy. Brian? That is the boy who was playing the female assassin known as Whisper?”
Brenda heard Jennifer’s gasp at Seramis’ accusation that Brian would even pretend to be an assassin. She felt her temper slip. “Your Majesty. Yes, Brian plays Whisper and with all due respect, Whisper is not an assassin! She is a thief and a darn good one, both literally and figuratively.”
Brenda felt confused when, instead of getting angry, Seramis’ smiled at her outburst. “I can see that you feel strongly about your friend and I agree with you. I apologize for testing you in this manner, but I had to make sure that this wasn’t just some trick by that crafty Lord Vincint. Whisper’s actions last night showed me that she is not only a skilled and brave person, but that she also possesses a strong and honorable spirit.”
Brenda’s anger deflated with Seramis’ unexpected praise. “Oh?”
Seramis paused to gather her thoughts. “Until last evening, I was not aware that this game could cause physical harm to its player. You mentioned that Brian collapsed. What can you tell me about ‘his’ condition?”
Brenda wasn’t sure why Seramis stressed the word his, but maybe she misheard her. She turned and looked at Jennifer with concern and then, to Doctor Edmundson for approval. “Last night, Brian collapsed from a condition called ummm,” She glanced back to Doctor Edmundson who whispered the term. “Neurogenic Shock.” She repeated.
Queen Seramis’ eyes narrowed. “I am unfamiliar with that term. What does it mean?”
Brenda hesitated. She wasn’t sure how Jennifer would handle the information, but she did have a right to know and one of the doctors may have already explained it to her. “From what I recall the doctor’s saying earlier, it means that his central nervous system was disrupted. The most common cause is a severe brain or spine injury.” She heard Jennifer’s quick intake of breath. Apparently this was news to her and Brenda felt her own emotions getting out of control as she sympathised with her.
Seramis’ mask softened a little as she gently asked. “I take it that Brian’s mother and his doctor is there with you?”
Kalisa nodded. “Yes, and I am sorry that I am such a wreck.”
“No apologies are needed child.” Seramis gently reassured Brenda. “I take it that this condition can be fatal?”
Brenda closed her eyes to try and help block the tears before she whispered. “Yes.”
Queen Seramis thoughtfully drummed her fingers on the arms of her throne. “Yet, nearly 24 hours later, ‘he’ is still unconscious and this worries his doctors?”
“Yes, they do not know why he is...”, Brenda paused a little to glance at Doctor Edmundson who shook his head to say ‘No’, before continuing, “...unconscious.”
Seramis’ eyes narrow with suspicion. “And the doctors haven’t noticed anything unusual about ‘his’ physical condition?”
Again, Seramis stressed his gender. Brenda wasn’t sure what Queen Seramis was trying to say or why Brian’s gender would be important to her. “Other than ‘he’ still being unconscious, no.”
Queen Seramis abruptly stood, her lips pursed as she gestured toward the door with her eyes, clearly letting Brenda know she was done with the interview. “I’m sorry, but I do not think that I can be of any more assistance to you. While it might be alarming to some, HIS physical condition should be readily apparent to anyone, which indicates that you are lying to me about his current condition.”
Brenda looked to Major Thole and Doctor Edmundson with desperation. “Wait, please! Let me ask to see if the doctors will allow me to tell you more about his condition.”
Seramis calmly sat, settling her royal attire. “Very well, I will grant you another minute to allow your associates to reach a decision.”
Brenda anxiously watched as Doctor Edmundson and Major Thole form a quick huddle to debate what more they will allow Brenda to tell Seramis. Reaching an agreement, Doctor Edmundson spoke to Brenda. “Okay Brenda, you can tell her about us suspecting that Brian is a mutant and that while visiting the labs his power activated while handling a sample of medical nanites. Also, you can tell her that we don’t know about his exact physical condition due to the suit, but that any additional information is classified and that we will be grateful for any additional information that she might be able to provide us.” After taking all that in Brenda relayed it to Seramis.
Seramis considered the information for almost a minute before responding. “This suit that is helping Brian sounds military by nature.”
Brenda noticed everyone in the room squirm uncomfortably.
Seramis nodded to herself, almost as if she could see her audience’s reaction. “Your claim that the nanites are only medical are at odds with what I observed last night during my attempt to assist Whisper with her injuries.”
Brenda felt a little nervous about the conclusions that Seramis was making and from the looks of Major Thole and Doctor Edmundson, so are they. “What do you mean?”
“After Whisper defeated the other assassin and collapsed, I attempted to aid her. I was surprised to find that she appeared to be experiencing genuine pain from her injuries and suffering from the effects of the poison that the other assassin used on his blade. I asked her why she did not just log out to avoid the pain and she replied that she could not. ‘It’ would not let her is what she said. At the time, I was unsure what ‘it’ might mean, but based upon what you have just told me and the fact that Whisper was somehow able to defeat what should have been a superior opponent, I believe that something other than medical nanites are involved.”
Brenda noticed Major Thole and Doctor Edumdson looking a little nervous. “This is getting way above my pay grade.” Major Thole muttered.
“Ummm, I’m sorry, but I can’t really comment about that.” Kalisa said, nervous about accidentally spilling top secret information.
Seramis smiled. “That’s okay, I understand how your government works. While the classified nanites may have contributed to Brian’s condition, it sounds like this medical suit is now slowing his recovery.”
“Why do you say that?” Kalisa asked as everyone in the conference room looked confused and a few muttered denials are heard.
“When I examined Whisper, I was surprised to discover that I was able to feel a link between Whisper and her player. Using that link, I cast a healing spell upon Brian.”
Seramis’ uncomfortable insights forgotten, everyone in the room was now focused entirely upon the big screen. “Excuse me, but are you saying that you think that a healing spell that you cast in the game was able to physically affect Brian?”
Queen Seramis shook her head, clearly annoyed at having her story questioned. “I am sorry that my depiction was unclear. I personally cast a healing spell and that healing spell was somehow channeled through the GEO game interface. I must admit that the fact that I was able to cast a spell through the game interface has shocked and alarmed me greatly. There is much about this game that I am finding that concerns me. However; I have since attempted to duplicate that feat, but I have not been successful. I believe my previous success was due to the unique circumstances of Whisper’s physical and spiritual manifestation within the game world.”
“You’re a wizard in real life?” Brenda asked, anticipating the question that was clearly on everyone else’s mind.
“Yes” Seramis said, simply and without further elaboration.
“Brian’s mother did see what she described as a ghostly female shape standing over Brian in his room. It sounds like that manifestation must have somehow been yourself.”
Seramis hesitantly nodded with agreement. “I am unaware if that is true or not, but I believe that your premise is probably correct. However, for Brian, I suggest that the military immediately calls in one of their healing specialized mages or if not immediately available, a mage that has some healing knowledge to examine Brian and if they find what I expect them to find, deactivate the suit.”
“What do you expect them to find?”
“That my spell was successful, but the hibernation that your suit is forcing upon Brian is only slowing the natural healing effects of my spell.”
Brenda, Jennifer and Doctor Edmundson looked to Major Thole as Seramis finished making her recommendation. He sighed heavily. “I don’t really trust all this magic mumbo jumbo nonsense, but I’ll check with Mr. Hoffman to see if he might be able to take a look at Brian. If not, then I’ll have to call General Horner. He and some DARPA honcho are going to be arriving tomorrow at 0800 hrs. Maybe he can bring a healing mage with him.”
Brenda returned her attention to Queen Seramis. “Thank you. They are going to check with our on-site mage to see if he can help. I hate to ask you this, but is there a way that I might contact you in real life if we have any more questions?”
Queen Seramis pondered her question for a moment. “I regret that will not be possible at this point in time. I do not feel comfortable with making myself known to the military at this time.” Brenda became alarmed until Seramis continued. “However, I would not be adverse to providing Lady Commander Kalisa with a room here in my stronghold to enable faster communications when I am available.”
Brenda and everyone else in the room realized that was probably the best that they can hope for right now. “Thank you your Majesty. You offer is kind and on behalf of myself and everyone here, I will be happy to accept it.”
With a smile, Queen Seramis stood, indicating that the audience was over. “You are welcome Lady Commander Kalisa and I hope that I have been of some assistance to Brian’s family and your associates. I will instruct my chamberlain to find you suitable accommodations.”
Dismissed from Queen Seramis’ throne room, Brenda guided Kalisa through the motions of meeting Queen Seramis’ chamberlain while the doctors and military personnel in the conference room erupted into vibrant debates about what Queen Seramis said and didn’t say. Paying scant attention to the debate and exhausted from the mental exertions, she viewed the suite that Kalisa is assigned too and was surprised to find out that her suite was located just down the hall from the Queen’s suite. She settled Kalisa down for the evening and logged out of GEO. Brenda was amazed to discover that it was already after 7pm and since she hadn’t eaten dinner yet, she was starving.
She looked at Jennifer and smiled at her confused expression. The scientists and military folks were talking a mile a minute using terms and acronyms that were highly confusing. “Jennifer?” She asked.
Not responding, Brenda touched her shoulder and repeated. “Jennifer?”
Jennifer jumped slightly with surprise and frowned. “Oh sorry Brenda, I was trying to follow the conversation, but it’s like they’re speaking Greek or something.”
Feeling the same way, Brenda gently laughed. “Oh, I understand that completely! I’m just as lost myself. Anyway, I’m starving and I don’t think that we will learn anything new for at least an hour two, would you like for me to grab some takeout from my favorite restaurant for you?”
Jennifer smiled with gratitude. “Yes! I am starving and thank you so much for thinking of me!”
“Oh, it’s not a problem!” Brenda grinned as she stood up and stretched after sitting for so long. “Do you want to follow me to my desk so I can show you their takeout menu?”
“Sure…” Jennifer said with obvious hesitation to leave the room with so much discussion about her son taking place.
Brenda sensed her reluctance. “Wait here, I’ll be right back with the menu.”
“Thanks and I’m sorry to be such a bother, but so much is happening and I don’t want to miss anything.” Jennifer desperately replied, her attention split between her and the highly technical discussion.
“No problem Jennifer. I totally understand!” Brenda said with a compassionate smile before she turned to leave.
After Brenda took her order and left, Jennifer watched Doctor Edmundson and his team animatedly discuss everything they have learned from the interview with that Seramis person. She seemed so in command and sure of herself and from what little she could understand from the current conversation, Jennifer felt more hopeful than before the meeting that Brian would be okay.
The arrival of a bedraggled looking man wearing jeans, a tie-dye t-shirt, black and white beaded necklace with some crystal hanging from the end and worn tennis shoes caused her some concern. She didn’t know how the man could make it past security looking like a hippy from the 70’s, but he must be the wizard or security expert.
“Hey Doctor E, what’s up?” The strange man said with a casual wave.
Doctor Edmundson’s smile looked a little forced. “Ahh, Mr. Hoffman. Thanks for coming. We have a magical problem and are hoping that you may be of some assistance.”
“Oh, no problemo Doc. Did you want me to check out that PC over there?” Mr. Hoffman asked as he pointed to Brenda’s PC.
He glanced at the PC with a confused expression on his face. “Ummm, no why?”
“Well, it’s kinda got a faint magical residue on it.” Mr. Hoffman said just before everyone standing or sitting anywhere near the PC took a few steps back to give them some distance from the possible threat.
Major Thole did not look happy to hear that revelation. “Mr. Hoffman, magical security is your responsibility here. Why didn’t your wards detect this security threat?”
“Whoa, relax Major. Lemme check it out first.” Mr. Hoffman said without concern as he walked over to Brenda’s PC and began to look at it more closely. He studied the mouse and keyboard. “Well, the traces that I am seeing are some sort of low powered empathetic scrying spell that are focused on the mouse and keyboard. What was this PC used for?”
“Brenda was using it to play GEO.” Major Thole said with a tight expression.
“Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’ve been hearing some freaky things about that game’s interface. Based on that, I’d have to say that this must be how the game is able to respond so intuitively to its players.”
Major Thole’s patience with Mr. Hoffman’s casual attitude ended. “So, is this a security threat or not Mr. Hoffman?”
“Probably not Major, but if it would make you feel better, you could unplug the internet cable and turn it off. Maybe have Brenda take it home.” He smiled and glanced around the room. “Hey, didn’t I just see her leave?”
Jennifer noticed that Major Thole looked like he was about to blow a gasket when Dr. Edmundson intervened. “Yes, I think that she went to get some food for herself and Mrs. Peters. However, the PC isn’t the reason we asked for your assistance this evening.”
Mr. Hoffman looked confused. “It’s not?”
“No, Mr. Hoffman. What we need to know is if you have any experience with healing spells?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “Not a lot, but I have done some research into them. Never can tell when being able to heal a nasty paper cut could come in handy, why?”
“We would like for you to examine a patient that we have here and tell us if you can detect any healing spells on him.”
Mr. Hoffman grinned and nodded his head with acceptance. “Oh wow, sure. Would be happy too. Where is he?”
Dr. Edmundson stood to exit the room. “Mr. Hoffman, Major Thole, Dr. Johannson and Mrs. Peters let’s proceed to Brian’s room and see if Mr. Hoffman can shed some additional light on this subject, shall we?”
During the short walk, Jennifer listened as Dr. Edmundson gave Mr. Hoffman a brief explanation of what had happened to her son. She noticed that the strange man’s stride became a little less casual and more purposeful the more that he learned. Jennifer’s felt her hope and excitement levels raise the closer that they got to her son’s room.
Entering the room, Mr. Hoffman’s eyes narrowed and then widened with surprise as he viewed Brian’s suit encased form laying on the bed. He rushed forward to first touch the suit and then he held onto the crystal that hung from his necklace as he closed his eyes. His right hand made several random looking passes over the suit before he purposefully moved to touch Brian’s head. He briefly held his hand there before moving to Brian’s chest, followed by his abdomen, and finally down each arm and leg before he stopped.
After what felt like ages to Jennifer, Mr. Hoffman finally opened his eyes again. “Amazing! Simply amazing.”
Dr. Edmundson could not contain his curiosity any longer. “What is amazing Mr. Hoffman?”
“Oh sorry Doc, I’ve just never seen anything so powerful and beautiful before. There is definitely a healing spell at work on her, but the suit is interfering with its work.” Mr. Hoffman said as he continued to look reverently at something that only he could see.
Dr. Edmundson looked confused as Jennifer gripped his arm with panic. “Her? Don’t you mean, him? Mrs. Peters’ son Brian is who is contained in that suit.” Dr. Edmundson asked.
“Sorry Doc, but there is most definitely a girl inside that suit and she would be in much better shape if we could get this suit off of her as soon as possible” Mr. Hoffman said as Dr. Edmundson pursed his lips with disappointment at the back of the oblivious mage. He gently guided Jennifer to a chair so that she could sit as tears begin to leak from her eyes.
Mr. Hoffman finally turned to look at Dr. Edmundson and noticed that Jennifer was sitting on a chair with tears in her eyes. He looked confused at the sight of a woman crying at first, but then the realization hit him that the woman now crying expected her son to be inside the suit. “Oh man, I am such an idiot sometimes. I’m so so so sorry ma’am. I didn’t realize...”
Jennifer interrupted him as she struggled to contain her tears. “But I felt him inside the suit last night. I can still feel him in there! How can you think that Brian is a girl?” She looked to an abashed Mr. Hoffman for answers.
“Ummm, maybe I’m wrong? The energy inside the suit just felt feminine. Is the caster of the healing spell a woman? If so, maybe that is what I felt?” Mr. Hoffman said without any real conviction as he attempted to sooth Jennifer’s feelings.
Dr. Edmundson looked to Dr. Johannson and Major Thole for advice. “Well, what do you two think?”
“Sir, I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what might be the right thing to do.” Major Thole said with a look of panic at the thought of being asked to make what could be a life or death medical decision.
Dr. Johannson looked deep in thought for a moment. “Well, based on the monitors, the boy’s vitals are all low, but stable. I don’t see any medical reason why we couldn’t manually deactivate the suit. If his vitals drop after that, we could always reactivate the suit.”
“Jennifer, what do you think?” Dr. Edmundson asked, gently.
“Oh my god Doctor Edmundson! I don’t know what to think right now. That Seramis woman and Mr. Hoffman think that there is a healing spell on Brian, but I don’t understand anything about that. If you all think that it might help if you turn off the suit, then I’m all for that...All I want is for Brian to be okay.” Jennifer said as she struggled to hold back her tears.
Dr. Edmundson thought for a moment before nodding to Dr. Johansson. “Okay, Dave. Would you please deactivate the suit?”
“Yes sir.” Dr. Johannson said as he moved over to the computer console that was plugged into Brian’s suit. He checked the vitals and diagnostics a few more times and then, satisfied by what he saw, typed in a command and after a brief pause to confirm his action, hit the enter key.
The suit beeped once, acknowledging the command and for a long ten seconds afterwards, nothing seemed to happen, but just as everyone in the room started to glance around with concern, the suit separated, revealing a thin glowing seam on both sides of Brian’s body.
“That’s not normal…” Dr. Johansson muttered as he hastily turned back the control console. Before he could do more than glance at the status screen, Brian’s vital signs immediately shot up and then, settled back down to normal as the glow faded.
Mr. Hoffman broke the silence first. “Wow, that was impressive. I totally want to meet the person who cast that spell!” He said, awestricken by what he has just witnessed.
Mr. Hoffman’s words jolted Dr. Edmundson out of his surprised shock. He reached for the part of the suit covering Brian’s face and carefully pulled it up and away as Jennifer fearfully stood watch.
Everyone in the room, except for Mr. Hoffman, was startled by the sight of the unconscious and beautiful girl’s face that the suit’s removal revealed. Dr. Johannson jumped to lend Dr. Edmundson a hand with the removal of the rest of the top half of the suit. The flawless milky white skin of the girl’s naked chest revealed pert breasts on a chest that narrowed at the waist before flaring out at her hips. A quick examination of her groin before the entire top half was removed proved that she was, at least on the surface, a female. However, even Mr. Hoffman could not contain his surprise when Dr. Edmundson returned to her head to begin the removal of the bottom half of the suit from her body. As he carefully lifted her head from the bottom half of the suit, her raven black hair parted to reveal delicate pointed ears. “By the Makers! She’s an elf!”
Dr. Edmundson and Dr. Johansson finished the removal of the suit followed by a more careful physical examination of her body before Dr. Edmundson covered the lower half of her body with a blanket to preserve her modesty. Instead of trusting the automated vital sign machines, Dr. Edmundson first checked the girl’s eyes by carefully opening one eyelid, shining a penlight to check for pupil response, then checking the other eye the same way. “As expected, her pupils are dilated, but they both responded perfectly to the light. That’s a good sign. Her eyes appear to be slightly larger than human norm and her brilliant green and silver iris is stunning, but other than those slight abnormalities, I feel relieved by her response to stimulus.”
He followed his initial examination by manually checking her blood pressure followed by her heart and lungs with a stethoscope. The extra time that it took and the familiar doctor routine helped to calm Jennifer as she held the strange girl’s hand. Even though her son looked different on the outside, she knew that on the inside, he was still in the room with her.
Dr. Edmundson turned to her. “Well, I am at a complete loss to explain how this could have happened, but I am happy to say that ummm, Brian looks and sounds perfectly healthy to me.” He glanced over to Mr. Hoffman. “Mr. Hoffman, do you have any insights that you could offer us? Could the spell have transformed Brian into a girl?”
“I don’t think so sir. The spell was definitely not a transformation spell. It only aided her body with its natural healing.” Mr. Hoffman said as a little bit of authority crept back into his voice as his magical knowledge returned to more familiar grounds.
Brenda chose that moment to walk into the room carrying a bag with Jennifer’s food. She almost dropped the bag in shock. “Oh my god! It’s Whisper!”
** Chapter 16 **
Washington D.C. - DARPA HQ - 16-FEB-2007 - 0730hrs
After navigating the Pentagon maze, Deputy Director Nicholas Reilly of DARPA’s Director’s Office (DIRO) sat down at his desk and plugged his laptop into its docking station with a sigh of relief. His office was sparsely decorated. He had only been working out of DARPA HQ for a month now and we wasn’t used to having a regular office. He was more used to working in the field as a troubleshooter for DARPA, but when the Deputy Director position opened up, Director Alberts insisted that Nicholas take the position.
A photo of his son, Troy and his daughter Nichole were the only personal touches on his desk. His “I love me” wall was still in a box laying on the floor. A very small box. It contained a few awards from his time in the military. A few photos and his college diploma. He liked to keep the wall salad to the bare minimum because he didn’t like the distraction caused by large displays of false ego.
Now if Congress would approve the new headquarters building planned for Arlington, VA. The commute would be so much easier. At the current legislative snail’s pace, that might be a few more years though. His secretary brought him a fresh cup of coffee with a smile, “Thanks, Susan and how many times do I have to tell you that I can get my own cup of coffee?”
“I lost count sir, but if you like, I could try and do the math based on how many days you come into the office with a frown on your face”.
“I don’t frown that often, do I?”
“No sir, but this is Friday and for you to frown on a Friday, something must be bad. So, I thought that you might need a cup.”
Nick took a cautious sip of his coffee and smiled. “Yes, you might be right Susan, but don’t let it happen again or I’ll have to give you a paid day off or something!”
“Yes sir!” Susan said with a crisp salute that betrayed her prior service background. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“No, I think that you have done enough damage to my Friday morning blues. Thank you.”
“No problem sir.” She was about to leave when she stopped. “Oh, Director Alberts stopped by on his way in this morning. He wanted me to ask if you had a chance to read the updated accident report from the lab in Los Alamos”.
Nick paused to take another sip of his coffee. “No, I haven’t, but I will pull it up now, thanks for the warning”.
Susan frowned with concentration. “Oh yeah, He also mentioned something about the video attachment and the picture of the subject that you might find interesting.”
“Okay, that could be bad.” Nick said as he sat back in his chair with a thoughtful expression after he hit the key on his laptop. It looked like the file was pretty big and was going to take a few minutes to download over the network.
“Yes sir, When Director Alberts says something is ‘interesting’, then it’s time to panic. Will there be anything else sir?”
“No, but thanks again for disobeying my no coffee order”
“My pleasure sir. I’m just following the UCMJ ( Uniform Code of Military Justice ) rules regarding illegal orders, sir”
“Interesting interpretation Susan. What are you basing that nebulous legal justification on?” Nick asked, smiling with anticipation before taking another sip of his coffee. This should be good. Even though she didn’t look it, Susan was an ex-marine and one sharp cookie.
“Oh, just the part about denying prisoners food and water.” Susan said with an impish grin as she watched her boss almost choke on his coffee with surprise.
Nick struggled to contain his coughing. “Okay, you got me, Susan. Now shoo so I can finish my POW coffee in peace.”
Susan’s pleased laugh followed her out of his office as she closed his door.
The video was still downloading, but the updated report and picture of the subject named “Brian Peters” was available. Nick read the report and the further he got, the more curious he became. He could understand the complication that the subject being a possible mutant could cause, but he wasn’t sure what a video game might have to do with the problem. The summary just stated that, “GEO player character, Seramis, claimed that she was able to cast a spell on subject Brian Peters via video game interface ( See attached video ).”
Okay, that part was cause for some concern, but any crackpot with a loose grip on reality could make a wild claim like that. The confirmation that a healing class spell was actually found to be active on Brian Peters was definitely an interesting wrinkle. He started to take another sip of his cooling coffee when he clicked on the two attached pictures labeled “Brian_Peters_1” and “Brian_Peters_2”. The first one showed what looked to be recent school photo of the boy, while the second one showed a strikingly attractive teenage girl laying unconscious in a hospital bed. He paused mid sip when he noticed that she appeared to be an elf, like his daughter.
With his curiosity peaked, Nick decided to watch the video. There was something very familiar about this Queen Seramis person. Her speech patterns and body language reminded him of his daughter’s avatar spirit, Aunghadhail. He made it halfway through the video before he absently noticed that his coffee cup was empty. Almost on cue, Susan poked her head into his office and with a smirk asked him if she should bring him a second cup. Without comment, he nodded yes and she promptly returned to refresh his cup from the carafe.
Once the video finished, Nick sat back in his chair and started to put his observations into order. Reaching a conclusion, Nick looked at the time and noting that it was already 0830, he picked up his phone and dialed a number from memory, “Whateley Academy Headmaster Carson’s office. How may I help you?”
“Hello, this is Nicholas Reilly and if Mrs. Carson is available, I would like to speak to her about my daughter, Nichole Reilly, please.”
“Do you mind holding while I check sir?”
“Sure and thanks”
Nick is only on hold for 20 or 30 seconds before he heard, “Mr. Reilly? Mrs. Carson is available. I will transfer you to her office right now.”
“Mr. Reilly. I understand that some congratulations are in order for your recent promotion. How can I help you today?”
“Thank you Mrs. Carson, I have only been here for a month now and while I have been kept rather busy, I am positive that you are a very busy person yourself. I would like to think that my daughter is a perfect little angel who never gets into any trouble. However, I think that I would only be lying to myself if I really thought that”
“True and except for a minor incident yesterday, I haven’t heard of any recent troubles that your daughter might be accidentally attracting to herself” Mrs. Carson said with a laugh.
“An incident? What kind of incident?”
“It appears that another student was very mad at her and accused her and someone else of cheating at some video game the other day.” Mrs. Carson said, dismissively.
Mrs. Carson’s tone of voice changed instantly. She sounded very alert. “Yes...how did you know?”
“That is kind of a long story, but I have reason to believe that Nikki somehow managed to cast a healing spell on someone else via the game.”
“That’s impossible!” Mrs. Carson said with disbelief.
Nick chuckled. “I’d like to think that too, but I have the proof of that laying in a hospital bed at a DARPA nanotechnologies research lab in Los Alamos.”
“Why would that person be at a DARPA lab?”
“A local high school boy and possible mutant was on a class field trip at the lab two days ago. During the tour of one of the research labs, he and his classmates handled a sample vial that contained a large quantity of deactivated test nanites. It is theorized that he somehow activated and became infected by those nanites.”
“Didn’t the boy know that he was a mutant?”
“Apparently not, his parents first noticed the first signs of mutant manifestation when he got home that evening.”
“How does the game come into all of this?”
“The boy was playing the game when he collapsed. The investigation team at the lab didn’t think that the game had much of an impact until they sent one of their employees into the game to talk to the person that saw him in-game just before he collapsed for real.”
“I know that Nikki can do some impossible things, but I still don’t see how she might be involved.”
“The boy was playing a female elf assassin who was originally sent to kill a Queen Seramis. I think she might be Nikki’s character. The boy decided not to kill her, and instead, defended Seramis from a second assassin that was there to kill her. During the fight, his character became wounded and was about to die, so Seramis healed him.”
“Okay, she cast a virtual healing spell on a virtual person in the game, so what?”
“Not exactly, and this is where it gets more confusing. This Seramis person was able to tell that the boy was actually in the game and that he was feeling everything that his character was feeling. His real body was actually dying from the virtual wounds and virtual poison he received from the other assassin during the fight.”
“Oh...and Nikki...” Mrs. Carson paused as if mulling over all the impossible ideas in her head.
“Okay, I can see her somehow managing to do that. How can I help?”
“I would like to confirm my suspicions about who was playing this Queen Seramis person. Would it be possible for me to speak with Nikki and ask her a few questions?”
“Certainly, I can have her pulled from class right now if you need.”
“That would be helpful, but I also think that Sir Wallace might be needed in this conversation.” Nick said with an afterthought.
“Hmmm, Not a problem. It could take ten to fifteen minutes. Do you want me to call you back as soon as I can round both of them up?”
“Yes, please. That will work perfectly. I need to give the Director an update. Thanks Mrs. Carson.” Nick said before hanging up his phone. He paused for a minute to gather his thoughts, and then he walked down the hall to knock on his boss's door.
DARPA Director Alberts raised his eyebrow. “I take it that you have reviewed the latest ‘opportunity’?” He asked, using the euphemism for problem.
“Yes, sir and I think that I will need to visit the site myself. I understand that Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) Director Grier and Col Thompson are already on-site and if this were a normal containment or contamination problem their presence would be more than enough firepower to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, I am worried that there could be some National Security issues with this case that might cause the SecDef and President to end up getting involved.”
Director Alberts sighed and leaned back in his chair to briefly look up at the ceiling in thought. After only a second, he looked back to Nick. “That is what I was afraid you were going to say Nick. I don’t like it, but I have to agree with your assessment. If it wasn’t for my oldest son being a GEO addict and giving me a basic understanding of the game in an attempt to get me to play, I might have missed the potential issues the interview with that Seramis woman raised.”
“Yes sir. The Seramis issue is what I am most concerned about right now. Just the chance that someone could cast a spell on someone else over the internet scares the crap out of me and I’m sure that when the boys upstairs find out about it, they will shit their pants.”
“I think you are right about that. I’ll make a call to Captain Heinricks to ask him to get the jet ready to fly you to Los Alamos. I will also let Director Grier know that you’re on the way.”
“I noticed in the interview with the Seramis woman, that she recommended a mystical healer take a look at the subject.”
“Yes, but an on-site mage was able to do that”
“True, but the subject is still unconscious and that concerns me. I would like to bring a mystical healing consultant with me, just in case the girl who was a boy, hasn’t regained consciousness by the time I am able to get there. There are still a lot of questions regarding his transformation and the magic that may have been involved.”
“True, healers are kind of rare though. Do you happen to know of any that might be available?” Director Alberts asked with a knowing smile.
Nick sighed. “Yes sir, Sir Wallace Westmont and my daughter, Nichole”.
Director Alberts just nodded his approval. “I take it that you reached the same conclusions that I did regarding this Seramis person?”
Nick couldn’t hide his frown. Nikki’s exploits were pretty well known and his boss was very cognizant of the fact that she was Nick’s daughter. “Yes sir and that’s why I want Sir Wallace to be there. His neutral mentor status and proven expertise on magical phenomenon should help to protect my daughter and reduce my conflict of interest in this case. If she really is Seramis.”
“Risky. If she is Seramis; the government is definitely going to want answers, but I can see where you are going with this. Your idea might just stop the witch hunt before it starts once this report reaches the higher ups.”
“Yes sir, that is what I hope for too. Before someone upstairs starts the panic, if I am able to prove that this spell casting thing is just a fluke and that the person responsible is on our side, that should keep my daughter safe. Sir Wallace’s testimony will also help with that.”
“I would not want to be in your shoes right now, Nick. Interesting times, indeed. I’ll seal this report to slow the damage and give you a few extra days to get things under control.”
“Thank you sir. I have a few damage control calls to make myself. I should be ready to head out in thirty minutes, but first, I need to get back to my office. I’m expecting a return call from Whateley that may answer the question regarding my daughter’s involvement in this issue. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and I won’t need to bring her and Sir Wallace.” Nick said without much hope.
“Okay, but just in case, I’ll let Cpt. Heinricks know that you might need to make a stop to pick up your ‘consultants’” Director Alberts said as Nick left his office.
As Nick walked back to his office, he worried over how he was going to keep his daughter safe. Once the report made its way up the chain and more people got wind of it, he was sure that his daughter’s involvement would come out eventually.
While he didn’t see anything in the video that would point to his daughter directly, it wouldn’t take much for an agency like the FBI or NSA to obtain the GEO account records under a National Security Letter. He didn’t even want to think about how much of a stink that the MCO would raise if they ever found out. The ‘Deadly Force Pre-Authorized’ on her MID still pissed him off and he made it a point to keep the MCO out of any DARPA project. Bringing Nikki in on this from the start was a definite risk, but it also stood the best chance of keeping all of the three letter agencies from investigating it in the first place.
He grabbed his emergency travel kit from the file cabinet in his office and reviewed it to make sure that there wasn’t anything missing when heard Susan's phone begin to ring. “Hi Susan. Is that Mrs. Carson from Whateley?”
Susan looked surprised to see him looking so anxious over a phone call. “Yes sir. Shall I transfer her in?”
“Yes please and block my schedule off for the next few days. I will be heading to New Mexico as soon as I am done with this call.”
“Yes sir. Transferring your call now.” Susan said before the line clicked over to Mrs. Carson.
“Hello Mrs. Carson, thank you. Your timing is perfect. Were you able to find Sir Wallace and Nichole?”
“Of course Mr. Reilly.” Mrs. Carson said with a pleasant chuckle. “They’re both here, should I put you on speaker?”
Nick laughed at the idea that the Headmistress of Whateley would be unable to find a student. “Yes please and thanks again for taking the time out of what I am sure is a busy schedule Mrs. Carson.”
“My pleasure Mr. Reilly and if only all parents were as understanding as you are.” Mrs. Carson said before she switched the phone over to speaker mode with a beep.
“Hi Daddy. Is everything okay with Mom and Troy?” Nikki sounded a little hesitant and worried on the other end of the line.
Nick rushed to reassure her since in retrospect, a parent calling and having their child pulled out of class was usually due to bad news. “Everything is fine with them Nikki, but I do have a question to ask you.”
“Oh, that is a relief! When Mrs. Carson got me and said that you had called I was so worried! What’s the question?”
Nick decided to just come right to the point. “Are you Seramis?”
Nick started to worry when Nikki didn’t immediately deny the allegation. “Ummm, I’m not...” Nikki started to reply causing Nick’s hopes to rise. “but Aunghadhail is. Why and how did you know?”
Nick frowned. It was just as he feared. “This morning, I watched a video with Seramis speaking with the character of one of our personnel at a DARPA Nanotechnologies research lab in Los Alamos.”
“Oh...” Nikki said, trailing off as the implications sank in for her.
“Yes...Oh. Right now, that video and the accompanying report has only reached as far as my desk and Director Alberts’ desk. I fear that holy hell will break loose once it goes higher up the food chain and people start freaking out over the idea that someone could cast a spell through the internet.”
“I...I mean Aung was only able to do that once and we explained that it was only because Whisper was somehow connected to the game!”
“Yes, I saw that and I believe you, but when the report finally reaches the DoD...they are going to s...I mean heads will roll.”
“Did my spell work and is Brian okay?” Nikki asked, sounding more concerned about Brian than the side effects.
Nick sighed. “Yes, your spell worked, but as of this morning Brian is still unconscious and ‘she’ now looks like an Elf.”
“Mr. Reilly. If I may speak.” Nikki asked. Her voice changed to sound like she was an adult instead of his teenage daughter and she wasn’t really asking for permission.
“Of course Aunghadhail...” Nick started to say before she cut him off.
“I find myself concerned on multiple levels. First of all, MCO aside, your government must be made to understand that I am not a threat to itself. Secondly, there are a few aspects of the game that I have found to be of some concern and I believe that your government would be wise to further investigate. Finally, I am deeply concerned with the health of my Subject. She should have awoken immediately or very shortly after my spell completed. Those ‘classified’ nanites of yours must be interfering. What do you intend to do to diagnose and eliminate this threat to her health?”
Nick frowned as he considered her points. “I agree with you on the first two points, but what do you mean by her being your Subject?”
“Simple, she is Sidhe, is she not?”
Nick wasn’t sure if genetic tests had been done yet that could confirm that observation. “She appears to be, yes.”
“No, she is and as such, her well being is one of my responsibilities. I did not risk so much to save her life only to have your government risk her health with its experimental technologies.” Aunghadhail said, full of determination.
Nick started to get worried. His daughter wasn’t listed as a class 7 for nothing. If Aunghadhail got pissed; she could cause a lot of damage and endanger his daughter. “Out of curiosity, just what do you intend to do?”
“Simple. I will open a gateway to her side and render her aid.” Aunghadhail said as if doing such a feat was a minor accomplishment.
“Whoa! Wait a second there Aunghadhail. While I can only guess that you can simply snap your fingers and port to her side, not only would I have a problem with you doing that, but I am sure that the US government would view your unauthorized entry into a secure government facility as a hostile action. Mrs. Carson probably wouldn’t appreciate that either.”
“Hmmm, you raise an interesting point Mr. Reilly. Sir Wallace, Nikki and Mrs. Carson all indicate their agreement on your observations. However, I must go to her aid. What do you recommend to solve this impasse?” Aunghadhail asked, sounding contrite.
“Sir Wallace?” Nick asked.
Sir Wallace sounded a little surprised to be brought into this part of the discussion. “Yes?”
“I have already made arrangements to bring you and Nichole with me, but I didn’t have a chance to ask you if that was okay with you. I am in desperate need of your assistance with this matter. Would it be possible for you to lend me the weight of your expertise for the weekend?”
“In light of the danger to my pupil and the fascinating implications that this problem raises, I don’t see how I cannot offer my assistance to you with this bit of a sticky wicket that young Nichole seems to have found herself on.”
Nick smiled, but what Aunghadhail said next really shocked him. “I apologize for my hasty words Mr. Reilly. It was wrong for me to assume that you might not have a solution already made.”
Mrs. Carson interjected herself. “Mr. Reilly, excuse me for a minute, but is bringing your daughter in like this the best way to protect her?”
Nick sighed and reclined in his chair. “Honestly Mrs. Carson, I don’t know. However, waiting until the DoD panics is definitely not something I want to worry about. I’d much rather stop it before it’s too late. Will it be a problem for Sir Wallace and Nichole to join me?”
“Given the situation, I think that I agree with your assessment and I don’t think that I could say no. What time do you expect to arrive here?”
“I will need to check with the pilot, but I would guess that it will be about a two hour flight from D.C. to the closest airstrip to Whateley. How about I call you as soon as I have an ETA? Additionally, would it be possible for Sir Wallace and Nichole to meet me at the airport?”
“Certainly Mr. Reilly, I will bring the two of them there myself.”
Nick started to feel some hope that he could resolve this issue with a minimum of danger to Nikki. His career might be in danger, but that was secondary. “Thank you Mrs. Carson. Your assistance and understanding is most welcome.”
“Not a problem Mr. Reilly. I am glad that I could be of assistance to you, your family and our government in this situation. I shudder to think what might happen if the government decided that Nikki was a threat.”
“I thank you for your concern for my daughter Mrs. Carson.” Nick said, grateful for Mrs. Carson’s understanding and support.
“Your daughter?” Mrs. Carson said with a laugh. “No, Mr. Reilly. I’d be more worried about the government if I were you.”
** Chapter 17 **
Friday, Feb 16th 2007
The flight from D.C. to New Hampshire to pick up his daughter was uneventful and it gave Nick more time to consider what else he needed to do to further stack the deck in Nikki’s favor. The thought of making a personal call mixed with business to his friend and now President of the United States gave him an upset stomach, but he was pretty sure that George would be willing to help smooth the way with the DoD. As long as Nick was able to provide enough proof that Nikki wasn’t a threat to National Security. Reaching a decision, Nick dialed the President’s personal number and was surprised when George answered his phone instead of letting it go to his voice mail.
“Hey Nick! Good to hear from you. What’s the newest National Emergency that my advisers haven’t told me about?” The President asked with a laugh.
Nick pretended to be offended. “Sir! I am hurt that you would think that the only time I call you is when there is a National Emergency.”
“Okay, so when was the last time you called and there wasn’t one?” The President asked, sounding dubious.
“Well, I called to wish you a Happy Birthday last year."
"Umm, yes, you missed it and you also mixed in the Admiral Everheart and that thing with those tiny robots during that call too."
Nick cringed as his friend called him out. "Your right, sorry. How about, Happy Anniversary?"
George chuckled. "Our anniversary is in November. I think you have a little time. What's wrong?"”
“Sorry George, but Nikki has gotten herself involved in something that could land her in trouble with the DHS and a lot of other National Security agencies.”
The President took a couple of seconds to respond. “Hmmm, you know that I make it a point to read any report that concerns Whateley and especially your daughter.”
Nick started to get worried. He could understand that the President would keep tabs on Whateley, but his daughter too? “Umm, sir…”
The President interrupted him. “Oh, don’t worry too much about that Nick. I only pay attention because she’s your daughter and you’re my friend. Well, and she’s pretty damn powerful. So, why would you think there might be a National Security issue that could cause us both some problems?”
“There is the possibility that she remotely cast a healing spell on someone through the Internet.”
“What? Did I just hear you say what I thought you said?” The President asked, sounding incredulous.
“I wish that I could say otherwise, but yes sir, based upon the evidence, I would have to say it’s highly likely.”
The President didn’t reply for what felt like the longest time. “How?” He asked.
“The short answer is that she was playing the video game called Good and Evil Online when another player became injured. She cast a healing spell from her room in New Hampshire and it hit that person all the way in New Mexico.”
“Hmmm, I can see why you would be worried. Did she have an explanation as to how she did it and can she or anyone else repeat it?”
“Yes, she has an explanation and, while I am not a magical expert, it makes sense and no, she has not been able to repeat it and I do not know if anyone else could repeat it. I am on my way to pick up Nikki along with her mentor and magical expert, Sir Wallace Westmont, before heading to the lab in Los Alamos where the boy she healed is being examined.”
“Sir Wallace? I think I have heard of him. He helped the Queen of England awhile back, right?”
“I assume that there is a report with the raw data regarding this incident somewhere?”
“Yes sir, it is DARPA-20070221X-Z01”
“Okay, I’m going to need to take a look at the report myself, make a few calls, ask a select few of my advisers some questions and see what I can do to help protect Nikki from the fallout. Based on what you have told me so far, I think that we can limit her exposure, but she will probably still need to answer a few very pointed questions before we can safely bury her part in this incident in a black hole somewhere.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir and I will try to make my next call 100% about your Anniversary.”
“Good luck with that Nick.” The President said with a friendly chuckle before he hung up.
Nick leaned back in his chair and let out a large sigh of relief now that call was out of the way. Now all he had to worry about was what Sir Wallace, Nikki, the military, the scientists at the lab and the new girl’s parents would discover after they landed in New Mexico. On the positive side, Nikki’s presence and experience with the gender and elf issue could be helpful.
The sight of Nikki anxiously waiting with Sir Wallace and Mrs. Carson when the cabin door opened took his breath away. He knew his daughter was beautiful, but every time he saw her it still took him by surprise. The hug that she gave him only hardened his resolve to do everything in his power, and then some, to keep her safe.
As he approached the trio, Nick looked at Mrs. Carson and smiled. “Thank you for your assistance Mrs. Carson.”
Mrs. Carson nodded her head and smiled. “Oh, it’s not a problem Mr. Reilly. This sounds like an interesting problem and I hope that you are able to get to the bottom of it.” Her expression turned more serious. “Not only for your daughter’s safety, but also for the safety of the child at the center of this.”
Nick nodded his agreement as he glanced briefly at Nikki before returning his full attention back to Mrs. Carson. “I can’t agree more with you on those points, Mrs. Carson.”
Nick turned back to his daughter and gave her hug. She looked up at him and frowned. “Daddy?”
“Is everything going to be alright?” Nikki’s eyes were filled with concern.
“Shhhh, don’t worry about that right now. We can discuss our plans on the plane.” His heart melted as she smiled at him.
“How long will I be gone? I’m not going to miss any school, am I?” Nikki hesitantly asked.
Nick chuckled at the thought his daughter would be worried about missing school. “No, I hope not and we should be able to have you back by Sunday night.”
“Oh, umm, that could be a problem. I have an important meeting with my training team on Sunday.” Nikki turned to Mrs. Carson. “Would it be possible to port back?”
Mrs. Carson nodded. “Yes, just call me beforehand so I can alert the magic department before they freak out.”
Mr. Reilly sighed with resignation. The idea that his daughter could teleport at will was a little intimidating. Instead of dwelling on it, he turned to Sir Wallace and shook his hand. “Thank you for your willingness to not only mentor my daughter, but to lend your assistance with this problem.”
Sir Wallace tipped his hat and a grinned. “Not a problem Mr. Reilly. In all honesty, I couldn’t resist the wondrous opportunity that my pupil has given me.”
Nick chuckled at Sir Wallace’s implication and Nikki’s discomfort. “Regardless, I’m still very grateful for your time, expertise and assistance in this matter. Are you two ready to board?” He asked, looking to Nikki and Sir Wallace.
The time went by pretty fast during the flight from New Hampshire to New Mexico. Nikki filled her father in on all of her many adventures. He initially had to look to Sir Wallace for confirmation of many of the incredible sounding details of Nikki’s stories. Sir Wallace’s simple nod at each point only confirmed to him that his daughter wasn’t just a simple teen magic user, she was a force of nature. He ended up feeling even more worried for her safety, but at the same time, very proud of her many accomplishments.
Shortly after their pilot announced that they would be landing in less than thirty minutes, Nick’s phone rang. He read the caller ID with surprise and when he looked up, he noticed Nikki and Sir Wallace’s curious stares. He mouthed, “The President” as he answered his phone.
“Mr. President, I didn’t expect to hear back from you so soon.”
“I just wanted to let you know that I looked over the report with my Advisor for Magical Affairs and my Adviser for National Security. They are here with me right now and would like to ask Nichole a few questions, if that is okay?”
“Certainly sir. Should I put her on speaker so that Sir Wallace and I can join in the conversation too?”
“Sure, we planned on doing the same here anyway. Don’t worry, this is just an informal gathering right now.”
“Yes sir.” Nick said as he plugged his phone into the cabin’s conference system.
“Hi, Nichole, this is Heather Richards, the President’s magical adviser. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” She asked with a disarmingly pleasant sounding tone of voice.
“Hi and no ma’am, I don’t mind” Nikki said as she looked at her father nervously.
“We have all read the report and watched the video, but when you mentioned that there are other aspects of the game that alarm you. What did you mean by that?”
“Well, I and others have noticed that the game’s interface seems to almost read the player’s mind. Aunghadhail has also found that the magical formulas and spells in the game are very similar to real magical formulas and spells. It would only take a slight twist or alteration to make a game spell, real.”
“Hmmm.” Ms. Richards paused. “So, you believe that there is some real magic in the game?”
“Oh yes, ma'am. There has to be some real magic in the game. It was released without any beta testing and it hasn’t crashed once. Has there ever been a computer game or program like that?” Nikki asked with a chuckle.
Ms. Richards laughed. “I’m not big on computers, but Bob, the National Security Adviser, thought that was rather interesting.” She became more serious as she got back to the issue at hand. “Based upon your MID, I see that in addition to being a very powerful Wizard, you are also a fairly powerful Empath and that alone could explain how you could have cast the healing spell on Brian. However, If it were that alone; I am sure that this would not be the first case of Internet spell casting we have heard about.”
Nikki nodded her agreement. “No ma’am.”
“Given what you have told us about the game itself, Mr. Hoffman’s examination and discovery of a scrying spell on Ms. Koshnik’s PC and Brian’s unusual connection to the game, it sounds like we have a very unique set of circumstances in this case”
Nikki looked confused. “Mr. Hoffman? Ms. Koshnik?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Mr. Hoffman is the on-site security wizard who noticed that the PC owned by Ms. Koshnik, who you know as ummm, Lady Kalisa, had a faint residue of a scrying spell on her computer’s mouse and keyboard” Heather said.
Nikki looked surprised. “Really? I haven’t noticed that on my laptop, but I haven’t thought to look that closely at it either. That would explain a lot about the game’s UI.” Nikki looked at the bag that contained her laptop with suspicion.
The President returned to the conversation. “Okay, Bob, Heather, do you two have any additional questions to ask Nichole?” He paused for a few seconds before he continued. “No? Okay. I think that we will need to open up an investigation into this game. The simple fact that the game is able to generate a magical effect on a user’s PC is very troubling and I think that it is that, more than your accidental casting of a spell that has my National Security Adviser looking decidedly nervous.”
Nick nodded. “Yes sir, that would certainly put a completely new spin on computer viruses.” He watched as Nikki and Sir Wallace looked at each other with surprise as they considered the implications.
“Exactly!” The President agreed. “I will need to talk it over some more with my advisers, but, Nichole, I would like to thank you for your assistance in this matter. Just the fact that we were able to speak with you so quickly makes all of us here breathe a little easier. There is no telling what might have happened if this report had made its way up the normal channels.”
Nikki sighed with relief. “Thank you Mr. President.”
“Nikki? This is Heather again, before we go, would it be okay if I contacted you if I have any further questions?”
Nikki nodded and smiled. “Certainly ma’am. I’d be happy to help.”
The President returned to the conversation. “Excellent! It looks like we have everything we need for now. Nick, keep me updated with what you find at the lab or if you run into any roadblocks or problems with other agencies trying to stick their noses in. If you can’t reach me, call Bob or Heather. I’ll have them send you their contact information right after this call.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir.” Nick said with relief.
After the call ended, Nick smiled with relief at Sir Wallace and Nikki. “Well, it sounds like they believe you Nikki and their acceptance of that should help keep you out of trouble with the DHS and by default, the damn MCO.” Nick’s tone of voice left no doubt about his thoughts about the MCO. “Now we just need to make it through the weekend without any major surprises and we should be in the clear.” He grinned as he thought about how likely Murphy’s Law was to affect that idea.
A government issue black SUV waited for them when they arrived at the Los Alamos Airport and from there it was a short ten minute ride to the lab. During the drive, Sir Wallace noticed that the young male driver was having problems keeping his eyes off the rear view mirror. He smiled. “Umm Fey?”
“Yes?” Nikki asked looking confused as to why Sir Wallace was now using her code name.
“Our driver appears to be having a spot of a problem with his mirror. Would you mind reducing your glamour a spot? I’d hate for us to get into an accident.” Sir Wallace said with a smile as the driver cringed and Nikki blushed. The rest of the ride to the labs went without any further accidental lane changes.
Nick smiled at his daughter’s reaction when they arrived at the labs. She looked so excited to be entering a secured area with real U.S. Army soldiers on patrol. She shuddered once when they drove past the security checkpoint.
Nick turned to her with concern. “What’s wrong,” He paused for just a fraction of a second. “Fey?”
Nikki acknowledged the use of her code name with a nod. “Oh, sorry. It was nothing. We just entered the magical barrier that helps protect the labs from scrying and other forms of magical divination.”
“Really? I didn’t feel anything.” Nick said with surprise.
Sir Wallace added. “Mr. Reilly. It would be a surprise if you had detected it. You must commend your security wizard on his ward construction. It is very well designed and I can only offer a few suggestions on how he may improve it.”
Once they arrived at the lab, Nick introduced Sir Wallace as a DARPA magical adviser and for Nikki, he simply introduced her as Sir Wallace’s apprentice, Fey. A lot of people gasped with surprise at her introduction. She was apparently more famous than even he realized. While her codename was well known, he hoped that her real name wasn’t. He wasn’t sure if anyone here would know that Fey was his daughter, but he wanted to minimize conflict of interest issues as much as possible.
Nick could feel the tension caused by his arrival ratchet up even further after Fey’s introduction. Everyone seemed to realize that this problem was about to get a lot of attention. He didn’t think that they realized just how much more attention it had already received. If they knew that the President was already involved; he felt sure that they would all be looking a lot more worried.
“Thank you Dr. Edmundson, Major Thole and your excellent staff. My presence here isn’t to bang heads or make anyone feel like they didn’t do their job. On the contrary, Director Alberts and I feel that you all have performed above and beyond the call of duty. Your thorough and unorthodox investigation has answered many questions. Even questions we would have never thought to ask.” He smiled at that thought and noticed everyone in the room relax a little before he continued. “The idea of investigating the problem using a video game is just the type of out-of-box thinking that makes you all such an asset to you country.”
He noticed an attractive redhead sitting in the back of the room blush and smile as Mrs. Peters said something to her. He realized that she must be Ms. Koshnik. The young lady looked startled at the sight of Nikki, but no one else seemed to react as strongly at the sight of Nikki. Based on the thoughtful and confused glances he noticed her trying to sneak, he worried that she recognized her as Seramis.
He shifted his attention to Mrs. Peters. “Mrs. Peters, I want to assure you that every resource that the United States Government can offer to help your son recover will be made available. I can completely understand your pain and confusion caused by your son’s transformation.” Nick said while trying not to look at his daughter.
Mrs. Peters smiled gratefully at Nick. She looked so close to the verge of tears. “Thank you Mr. Reilly.”
Nick glanced to his daughter and noticed her determined expression. He decided that it was probably a good idea to make sure Mrs. Peters new daugher was taken care of after the investigation was complete. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because if he didn’t, Nikki would never forgive him.
Nick smiled before he continued. “Now, I must warn you all that no good deed goes unpunished.” He watched a few frowns appear with that statement. “By that, I mean that while Sir Wallace, Fey and I were en route, we received a call from the President along with his National Security Adviser and Adviser of Magical Affairs.” Nick watched as he gained everyone’s maximum attention. “They wanted to express their concern regarding the issue with how this Seramis person was able to cast a spell over the Internet.” Nick noticed his daughter fidget in her chair as he mentioned ‘Seramis’.
“In a way, that’s actually good news for us. It means that we can focus our attention on how to best help Brian and learn from this incident while the President and his Advisers investigate the issues raised by GEO. Any additional data we are able to gather while helping Brian will go straight to the President. No pressure there, right?” Nick said with a chuckle as everyone in the room relaxed a little.
Now that Nick had the room’s full attention, he decided that now would be the time to completely introduce Fey. “To that end, I’d like to introduce you all to the person whom you know as Queen Seramis.” It took all of Nick’s self control not to smile as he watched Mr. Hoffman jump at the sudden dropping of Fey’s veil as she allowed Aunghadhail to come to the surface.
“I knew it!” Ms. Koshnik grinned with satisfaction, her eyes glowed with excitement.
“Thank you, Mr. Reilly. I understand that my healing spell did work, but due to the fact that Brian has not yet awakened, I am anxious to learn more about his current condition.” Aunghadhail said with a hint of impatience as she looked to Dr. Edmundson for answers. Nick felt a little sorry for Dr. Edmundson when the Doctor turned to him with confusion. The poor man didn’t see her coming and he was forced to admit that she could be very intimidating when fully engaged.
Nick smiled to try and put Dr. Edmundson at ease. “Go ahead Doctor. She’s really very nice once you get to know her.” He felt her project her annoyance with him, but he knew that she realized that she couldn’t just take control here. No matter how much she wanted too.
Encouraged by Mr. Reilly, Dr. Edmundson recovered his composure and began to answer Aunghadhail’s question. “Yes, well, since we deactivated the METS suit and witnessed your spell complete, we have taken blood samples for DNA testing in an attempt to discover why he was transformed in such a dramatic fashion. We have also continuously monitored Brian’s vitals and brain waves in an attempt to discover why she has not yet regained full consciousness.”
“What has your team discovered?” Aunghadhail asked.
Dr. Edmundson looked a little flustered by Aunghadhail’s undivided attention. “The DNA testing is still in its preliminary stages and it will take a week to get more detailed results.”
She paused as she considered the relevance of the DNA testing. “Okay, and what about the question of Brian’s continuing unconscious state?”
“My team and I agree with Mrs. Peters’ assessment that Brian is awake, but is unable to respond for some reason. We feel that it is the result of the...” Dr. Edmundson paused and looked to Mr. Reilly for assurance.
“Sir, is it okay if we openly discuss the classified systems?”
Nick nodded. “Yes, they have all been cleared and it is information that we all need to know if we are to find a solution to this problem.”
Dr. Edmundson blinked his eyes with surprise. “Yes, where was I? Oh yeah, it is the result of the at least partial operation of the tactical augmented reality system we attempted to develop to aid soldiers make more efficient use of the many types of combat related information that they are increasingly being given. Essentially it was to work like a fighter pilot’s heads up display system by helping the soldier analyze and prioritize critical combat data from multiple sources in the field of battle.”
“It ‘was’ to work?” Aunghadhail asked, skeptically.
“Umm, yes and I don’t mean to alarm Mrs. Peters, but we successfully tested the system with animal trials, but when it came time to move to human trials, the DoD decided that due to the complex nature of the nanites and the projected two million dollars per soldier, it wouldn’t be cost effective for us to try and implement. So, the project was scrapped.”
Aunghadhail looked at Dr. Edmundson with surprise. “Can’t you just turn them off?”
“We have tried, but the system is ignoring all of our commands.” He said, looking embarrassed.
Nick could see that Aunghadhail wanted to examine Brian for herself. “Excuse me, but perhaps it would be helpful if we could allow Fey to examine Brian using her magical abilities? Maybe she will be able to discover something that we have not.”
Dr. Edmundson sighed with relief. “Yes, I think that would be an excellent idea. Thank you Mr. Reilly. Umm, Fey, if you and Sir Wallace would be so kind as to follow me, I will be happy to direct you to Brian’s room.”
“Thank you Dr. Edmundson and Mr. Reilly. I apologize if I have come across too strong. Since the evening that I was able to form a connection and cast a healing spell on Brian, I have become very concerned about her condition.”
Dr. Edmundson relaxed a little with Aunghadhail’s apology. “Think nothing of it. We are all concerned about Brian. Mrs. Peters, would you like to join us?”
Mrs. Peters looked gratefully to Dr. Edmundson. “Yes and thank you Dr. Edmundson.” She turned nervously to Fey. “and thank you for coming, Fey.”
Aunghadhail’s stern outer shell cracked just a little as she smiled at Mrs. Peters.
When they entered Brian’s room, Fey’s first glimpse of Brian caused her to pause at the doorway, “Wow, she really does look like Whisper.” She continued into the room and as she reached the side of Brian’s bed, Fey reached out to touch Brian. As she did so, everyone in the room felt the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end as they felt surrounded by an invisible energy field.
A minute later, the energy in the room calmed and Fey spoke. “She is definitely Sidhe, but not of the royal line. I can sense the machines in her system augmenting her ability to keep her body healthy, but it is the machines in her head that appear to be directly responsible for her current state of consciousness.” Fey then looked to Brian’s anxious mother. “Mrs. Peters, with your permission, I would like to try and look into Brian’s dreams.”
Mrs. Peters looked startled by the question. “Umm, sure?”
Nodding her head, Fey once again turned her inner sight to Brian. She could feel the young girl’s mind, but she was unsure how to safely proceed. Fey reached into her own heart and quickly found the connection to her blood sister Sara. “Sara, I need your help. Can you help me discover what is keeping my newest relative from awakening?”
Fey felt Sara’s love and willingness to help through their bond turn to curiosity as Sara’s presence joined her inside Brian’s mind.
“We have a new relative? Oooh, and it’s a girl!” Sara gushed with excitement.
** Chapter 18 **
Something has changed...
I’m lying on my bed, but that realization makes me doubt my assumption. I’m lying down on what feels like a bed, which means that, by default, it should be my bed. However; something doesn’t feel right.
My eyes are closed, but I can tell that there is light for me to see with again. I’m not sure that I am ready to try opening my eyes yet. I’m feeling comfortable just laying here and realizing that I’m alive. It is the complete absence of noise that slowly gains my attention. I can hear my heartbeat and I find it soothing, but no other sounds. No background noise from the house. No sounds from the street outside my window. No crappy sugar pop girl music blaring from Lindsay’s stereo.
As that realization hits me, I notice that I’m not wearing my favorite Spider-Man pajamas. Actually, I’m not wearing anything, nor do I have any blankets or covers, but I’m completely comfortable. Not too hot, not too cold, just right...as Goldilocks said just before the bears ate her. I smile at the recollection of that memory. Lindsay didn’t like that version very much when I read her that for her bedtime story. Hmmm, neither did Mom and it cost me my cartoon privileges for a week. I decide that maybe I should cautiously open my eyes now.
I move my hands to cover my eyes so that when I open them; I won’t be blinded if the light is too bright. As my arms rise from my side, I feel my chest move in an unsettling manner. It doesn’t hurt, but two distinct weights attached to my chest shift in a way that I have never felt.
“What in the heck is that?” I decide that waiting until my hands can complete their journey to my eyes would be too long of a wait. I open my eyes and bolt upright into a sitting position with my hands resting behind me. The alien weights on my chest move again. As my gaze travels down to see what has been attached to my chest, I first spot what looks like girl feet attached to some nice and smooth girl legs. I forget about the aliens on my chest when I realize that those girl legs are my legs and even more importantly, that my junk is not visible at the junction of those two legs.
“Okay, don’t panic!” He’s probably just resting right now and the light is playing a trick on my eyes. Okay, but that doesn’t explain why my legs look so smooth. I know that I can be a heavy sleeper at times, but there is no way that Lindsay could have pulled off this much of a practical joke on me! Just reach down there with a...oh crap!...feminine hand too?
“Ignore that, not important!”
What is important right now is the state of my junk. Okay, nice and slow. Just reach down there and gently touch the offending empty area and I am sure that my junk will be found. My traitor hand feels what my traitor eyes are reporting. Nothing and something else instead.
“Ahhhhhhh!” I scream in a very girl like voice which makes me scream a second time. I’m sort of stuck in a feedback loop. I hear a girl scream, realize that it is me and that makes me scream some more. I begin to realize that all that screaming is hard on the throat and it’s not really accomplishing anything.
I decide that I should take it one step at a time by taking a fast touch based inventory.
Don’t forget those nipple things that I’ve admired on girls for so long. “Yikes!” Damn, “Sorry Mom!”, these things are sensitive.
Baby smooth and soft skin all over...check!
Legs, two each, smooth, shapely and girl-like...check!
Face, smooth but that part isn’t really new. Lips, softer and fuller. The shape feels different too...check!
Ears, two each and pointy...check!
Hair, longer and very black...check!
Hands and Arms, smooth and feminine...check!
I jump down from the bed and the aliens on my chest bounce while the void between my legs feels far too open. I can’t decide which part of my anatomy to cover first. I’ve only ever had one area that needs to be protected.
The motion on my chest causes me to instinctively reach up try to stop the giggles, but when I realize what I’m holding in my hands; I snatch my hands away in an effort to not get slapped by the girl that I am accidentally feeling up. Then, I realize that I need to slap myself and a nervous laugh escapes my mouth.
I compromise by using my arm to cover my chest so I won’t feel like a perv grabbing a girls breasts. I really don’t want to think about the other zone. So, I decide to try and confirm the status of my butt by turning my head and shoulders as much as I can to look at my butt.
Very shapely and attractive, for a girl...check!
Analysis, I must be having a very lucid dream about being a teenage Whisper.
I pinch myself, but it doesn’t work. I’m still here and still a girl. I don’t think I can handle being a girl. Just the thought of having to wear girl clothes, play with dolls and enjoy clothes shopping makes me sink to the floor and cry.
Crying, like a girl...check!
“Why is this happening to me?” I say with a whiny crying, but cute sounding girl voice.
Did I really die while playing GEO or am I just dreaming about being Whisper because I play too much GEO? I decide that I should probably stop worrying about being a girl right now and figure out if I am dead or just dreaming. Okay first thing that I need to do is find out where I am. The start of a plan helps to calm me and I manage to stop my post freak out sniffles with a deep breath. The deep breath disturbs the aliens on my chest. That reminds me that I need some more quality freak-out time, but “The Plan” helps override that idea, for now.
I nervously look around, half expecting someone to burst into the room, but glad that no one has. I find that I’m sitting next to the bed that I woke up laying on. The mattress is above my head now, so I decide to stand and take a closer look at it. Standing up takes me a little by surprise. I just seem to flow into a standing position instead of the usual effort that it would take for me to go from sitting on the floor to standing.
The thing that I thought was a bed is more of a pedestal with a soft top than a mattress. This pedestal is in the dead center of the room, but I’m thinking that I shouldn’t use the word ‘dead’, so let’s make the word ‘exact’ instead. The floor is pure white without any stains. The walls are also pure white and as I follow them up, I cannot detect a ceiling. This must be the room that I floated down earlier when I saw Whisper sleeping on the bed.
Turning a full 360, I do not spot any doors, but the feeling of my hair brushing against my chin as I turn my head from side to side is a little distracting. It just feels weird to go from having very short hair to now feeling my hair gently brushing against the sides of my face. I mean Whisper’s face. I don’t think that I will be keeping her face and I certainly hope I don’t keep her body. This lucid dream thing is just too freaky!
I wish I had a mirror so that I could see what I look like.
I catch something out of the corner of my vision. Turning, I spot a nice full length mirror on the wall. I know that it wasn’t there earlier, so what in the hell is going on here? This dream is so weird. I hope that I can remember this when I wake up, but at the same time, I’m not sure that I really want too.
I take a hesitant step forward and instantly regret it. The aliens on my chest move and my hips don’t work right. Before I take another step, I decide to try crossing my arms across my chest to hold down the aliens. I then take another step while looking down to make sure that I’m not going to step on something, but the arms crossed over my chest and the looking down just seems to make my hips work even worse, so I stop.
Looking back up, I can see myself as Whisper in the mirror ten or fifteen feet in front of me. I’m captivated by how I look. I see a very beautiful and lithe teenage girl with slightly large almond shaped green eyes and short raven black hair that perfectly frames her face staring back at me. I decide to uncross my arms and rest them against my sides. I know that I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am when the girl in the mirror copies my movements and exposes her breasts to me. That part would be so cool, if that girl wasn’t me in the mirror right now.
Still looking at the girl in the mirror, I take another step forward and this time, my hips seem to work better. I guess that if I don’t try so hard and let my body do what it needs to do, then things will go much better. Holding onto that thought, I walk the rest of the way to the mirror and I am rewarded by the sight of the girl’s smooth gait as her hips swing gently from side to side. I try my hardest to ignore the strange sensations that my body is reporting to me. The feelings of the wonderful looking aliens moving on my chest and the empty feeling between my legs are the major issues. I stop about two feet from the mirror.
I look down as I reach with my hands to feel the new girl parts in my groin. The view from my perspective in the mirror certainly looks like what I might have seen in one of those dirty magazines that I, as the mature and respectful boy that I am, would never have illegally purchased or even looked at while at a friend’s house. No sir! Not me!
I feel a very different sensation from down there when my fingers explore a bit too much. I think that I might have accidentally touched one of those sensitive girl parts that I have heard about in sex education classes. Surprised and embarrassed, I quickly remove my hands from down there and cross my arms across my chest again. The feeling of my breasts being hugged against my body remind me of those additional sensitive and embarrassing girl parts, so I quickly uncross my arms and decide to explore my new face a bit more instead.
I lean forward and smile at the girl in the mirror. Perfect white and straight teeth smile back at me. Her eyes are a brilliant green with silver traces. Her eyebrows are shaped perfectly with the bottom of her bangs just touching the top of her eyebrows before dropping to perfect points at the sides that end at her lower jaw line to accent her heart shaped face.
I switch from a smile to an air kiss and I am transfixed as I watch her lips form into the perfect kiss as her cheeks form the cutest dimples I have ever seen. Oh my god! If she wasn’t me, I think that I would be head over heels in love right now. Actually, I think I am in love with her. The sight of one of her delicate elvish ears as I brush her hair back with my hand just seals the deal for me.
I end up spending at least another ten minutes just looking over and touching every inch of her body in the mirror. Sometimes, I even touch it more than twice! Once aroused, my nipples are pleasantly sensitive. I make a mental note to remember that little detail. If I am dead, then I will never get another chance to look at or touch a naked girl ever again. If I’m not dead, then all the exploration can’t hurt my understanding of the fairer sex. It’s a win/win for me either way!
Okay, now I need to get back to work on the whole dead or alive question.
Once again, I try pinching my arm, but this time, a little harder. “Ouch!”
Hmm, I am still here. The pinch results are inconclusive.
So, how do I get out of this room?
The mirror changes into one of those industrial metal building doors complete with lighted exit sign and a push bar.
Hmm, fsck? What is a Linux disk checking command doing here? Did Saint Pete decide to switch from Windows to Linux? Since when did my dreams run on Linux? My PC is a Windows machine, so I have no idea where I could have got this crazy Linux thing from. I don’t see any ‘keys’, but maybe the door’s push bar is a metaphor for something? I push on the bar to open the door. I am pleasantly surprised when it opens for me to reveal...a long dark hallway with a light at the end.
“Oh shit!” I say before I realize that swearing probably isn’t a good idea if this is what I think it is.
Oops, sorry God. It slipped.
I start to cry some more as I step into the hallway. Sights, sounds, smells and sensations begin to flood into me as I feel myself now being pulled deeper into the hallway. I’m looking out of my eyes, Brian’s eyes, as I am being born. I see my Mom and I feel her touch. It feels so good and I feel so happy. I start to cry some more as I begin to realize what is happening. My life is starting to flash before my eyes...literally. It is going a little slower then I was led to believe, but I am being shown my life. This part is a little boring though, but thankfully things start to speed up some.
The first two years seems to only take an hour. Hey! I did a lot of sleeping you know? That’s what good babies like me did back then. I did learn that my Mom really did drop me on my head once too. It’s not just a joke like I thought it was.
The pace starts to slow down as I get older. I guess that I have more stuff to review now. I sure hope that it misses that time I tried flushed my sister’s favorite teddy bear down the toilet when I was four. Nope, it doesn’t miss that part. It also doesn’t miss the part about the toilet over-flowing. Well, maybe that is the worst thing I did? Ummm, nope.
It doesn’t miss the part where when I was six and I broke the VCR by stuffing my peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the tape slot. I also tried to blame my sister for that. My bad.
Thankfully, this life in review also captures my better moments.
Like the time when I was five and comforted Lindsay until she fell back to sleep after she woke up screaming from a nightmare.
When I was seven and played dollhouse with Lindsay, even though I hated it and wanted to play with my trucks instead. I smile as I see Lindsay’s smile.
The review is really starting to slow down now and I can’t seem to stop crying. I hope that by the time I reach the end of this tunnel that I will have managed to get the water works stopped. It’s going to be bad enough that I will have to face my judgment as a female elf, but to do so while sniffling like the girl I appear to be is just wrong on so many levels.
“Hey! Why are you crying?” I am startled as I hear a girl’s voice from in front of me. Looking up, I notice a stunningly beautiful red headed angel standing next to a stunningly beautiful demon girl. I’m pretty sure that she’s a demon due to the blood red hair, red slitted eyes, goth style makeup and the delicate looking claws that she has instead of finger nails. Oh crap!
I sniff and wipe my eyes. “Umm, because I’m dead?” I say, hoping that the angel will help correct that obvious error.
I’m not sure if I should feel reassured or scared when the demon girl smiles at me. “Why would you think that you’re dead?”
I think it’s pretty obvious and since they are here, they should know the answer to that question. Maybe the demon girl is just playing with me? “Well, lemme see. Besides the two of you, I must be dead because I was playing Whisper when I somehow got sucked into the game for real, got into a fight against some asshole assassin and even though I won the fight; I was dying from the jerk’s poison. Then, this really bright light hit me and everything went dark.” I notice the demon girl’s confused expression. “Sorry, Whisper is my GEO character”
The expression on her face turns from confused to shocked. “Holy crap! There really is a Whisper and you’re her?”
“Sara...” The angle says reprovingly.
“Oh yeah...sorry Nikki. I just didn’t think that she really existed! My spy’s reports were always inconclusive on the issue. If she really does exist, then she has cost me and my allies so much...” Sara, the demon ends with slight note of anger in her voice.
Nikki looks at Sara with a fond smile. “Sara, we are here to try and help her...”
“I know, I know. Sorry.” Sara says with a petulant expression.
“Umm...sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad, ummm, Sara?” I say with what I hope is a suitably conciliatory expression.
Sara’s face brightens up with smile. “That’s okay, I’m not really mad at you. I play GEO too, but on the evil side.”
Of course she plays on the evil side, she’s a demon. That’s what demons do. I am so screwed right now.
“Umm, Whisper? What’s your name?” I hear Sara ask.
“What?” I ask feeling a little confused. Her question wasn’t what I expected hear. Doesn’t she already know? I kind of forgot where I was there for a moment. Oh yeah...Heaven, Hell, Dead, Tunnel of Light...got it.
“Brian. Why?” I ask. Shouldn’t she know that already?
“We kind of lost you there. So, why again is it that you think you’re dead?” The tricky nice sounding demon named Sara asks me with a smile that jump starts my thought processes again.
“Oh yeah, well, then I woke up in an all white room without any clothes...”
Nikki stops me. “Speaking of that...Why aren’t you wearing any clothes?”
“Umm, because I couldn’t find any to wear?” I say before I remember that I never did try all that hard to find clothes. I hope that she misses that little detail in her angelic evaluation of my life.
She considers my answer for a second or two. “Hmmm, why don’t you try imagining yourself with some clothes on?”
“But...only if you really want to Brian, because I must admit, you are pretty hot” Sara says with an evil smirk.
That remark completely ruins my concentration with the clothes imagination thing. Yep, she’s evil.
“Okay, now I know that I’m really dead. Nikki is the angel and Sara is the devil or demon or whatever they call you guys. That bright light up ahead is heaven and before I can get there, Sara here is going to grab me for that time when I was four and tried to flush my sister’s teddy bear down the toilet!” I say just before I break down in tears.
I flinch a little when I feel both of them wrap their arms around me in a deviled girl sandwich. “I’m sorry. It’s my nature and I just couldn’t resist, but I can tell you that you definitely are not dead.” Sara says softly into my ear.
I try to stop my tears as I look first to Sara, and then to Nikki for confirmation. Nikki nods her head in agreement. “It’s true Brian. You’re not dead. Right now you’re lying in a hospital bed and your Mom is right next to you.”
“I’m not dead?” I say, incredulously with another sniffle as hope begins to fill me.
Nikki smiles at me and it is the most glorious smile I have ever seen. “Nope, but before we continue, could you try that clothes thing again? I know that Sara doesn’t have a problem with it, but I think that we might both do better if you had something on.”
Sara pouts as she leans back and crosses her arms in mock anger. “Oh pooh Nikki, you are no fun sometimes!”
“Are you sure that you’re not really a demon?” I ask her with a laugh that is part laugh and part sniffle.
Sara looks serious once again. “That’s kind of complicated, kiddo.”
I try to ignore her last statement. I get the feeling that if I really knew the answer, that I might freak out and I don’t know if I could handle that right now. I’m a girl, or at least I am in this dream. So, I need girl clothes. Okay, I close my eyes and think girl clothes.
I hear someone whistle. “Nice. I’m surprised that you would pick something like that on your first try.” Sara says.
“What?” I open my eyes and look down at myself to discover that I am wearing the same short skirt, heels and top that my sister wore to school last year that caused me to have my friendly chat with Billy’s fists.
I manage a strangled, “Eeep!” at the unexpected sight of my new cleavage popping out up there before I close my eyes and rethink my outfit to something a bit more comfortable for my fragile male ego.
“Oh pooh. Brian that skirt looked so cute on you” Sara says with disappointment.
This time, I hesitantly open my eyes and look down to find that I am wearing a simple pair of jeans with a girl styled t-shirt and some tennis shoes. Exactly the kind of outfit that Lindsay wears around the house or outside to play. Okay, this I can handle.
“Okay, clothes taken care of” Nikki smiles at me. “Now, where were we on this thinking that you’re dead issue?”
I decide to skip the part about the mirror. I don’t think that is really relevant to the story and well, it’s kind of embarrassing. “Oh yeah, so I decided that I needed to get out of the room and a door appeared. When I tried to open it, I got a message about my file system being in an inconsistent state and that I needed to run ‘fsck’. I wasn’t sure why I would need to do that, but it wouldn’t let me enter the door until I told it to continue. Then this hallway with the light at the end of it appeared and I started to have my life flash before my eyes. Finally, you two showed up to take me to heaven or hell or something. Are you sure that I’m not really dead?”
“No Brian, you’re really not dead.” Nikki says with a warm smile that lights up her face. My heart, or what is left of it skips a beat. I think I’m in love.
Sara giggles. “Careful with that, Nikki, I think the poor girl is starting to crush on you there and I might get jealous.”
That draws my attention back to her. Wow, she’s very beautiful too. I wonder where I might have seen the two of them to have them show up in my dream like this. They seem so real. The Nikki angel girl looks familiar though. I’m positive that I’ve seen her somewhere recently.
“You were saying?” Nikki says, laughing as she notices my star struck look.
Sara grins mischievously at both Nikki and I before getting back on track. “Okay, this is a dream and you have people waiting for you out there, so why don’t you just wake yourself up?”
“I don’t know how and I think that I’m stuck until I get done with this ‘fsck’ thing.” I say with a frustrated sigh.
“When you were dying in Seramis’ room, you said that you couldn’t log out because ‘it’ wouldn’t let you. What did that mean?” Nikki asks.
That question causes me to step back mentally and look at her again. How could she have known that unless she was there? “You’re Seramis, aren’t you?”
Nikki looks a little surprised. “Yes and no, but we can talk about that later. What the doctors and I really want to know is why you couldn’t log off.”
I’m not sure how she can be Seramis, but not be. I decide to let it go for now. “I was somehow downloading Whisper’s file and when I tried to disconnect it said, ‘Critical Operating System Download in Progress. Disconnect not allowed.’”.
“Hmmm...” Nikki says as she briefly ponders something before reaching a decision. “Okay, here’s what has been going on while you’ve been stuck here. One, you are in the labs that you visited the other day with your science class. Two, you somehow managed to activate and get infected with the nanites that were in that sample jar you held.”
Oh crap. Now I remember how funny I felt right after I held that jar. “Is that what is causing all this weird computer in my head stuff?”
Nikki nods her head affirmatively. “Yes, and based on what the scientists have told me, I think that is what has caused your current situation, but there is one more thing that I think you need to know and this is probably going to freak you out some more...” She pauses as she grabs both of my hands and looks me in the eyes.
I can’t help but feel like I could drown in her brilliant purple eyes. She looks so concerned. I’m starting to get a little worried. Whatever this thing that I need to know is, it must be pretty bad. And, here I was just getting over the whole dead thing.
“What?” I ask, afraid to hear her answer.
“Brian, you’re really a girl now.” She says with a gentle tone as she continues to hold my hands and look into my eyes. I start to process what she just told me with one part of my brain while the other part is still amazed at how pretty she is.
“I am?” I cleverly reply while the two conflicted sets of stimulus fight it out cage match style. The girl thing wins.
“I am?!?!” I yell with shock, before I collapse to my knees as the implications begin to sink in and I start to cry again. “Oh no! What am I going to do? What will I tell my parents? Will I still have my parents? How will I go to school? Why am I crying so damn much?”
That last part earns me a chuckle from Sara as they both kneel down and hug me again. A part of my brain decides that if getting hugs by hot girls comes with being a girl, I think that I could get used to this. Maybe, but the demon girl is still a concern to me.
“You’re taking this better than I expected” Nikki says with another one of those smiles that would make my knees weak if I was standing up.
I pause and consider her observation before replying. “Well, I have had what feels like a day or two to kind of get used to being a girl and having you two here to hug me is definitely helping,” I smile at both of them. “But I’m not sure that I am going to be able to handle the sudden change all that well when I get out of here.”
Sara surprises me. “Oh, I don’t know about that, Brian. You have a family that loves you very much and now you have two new friends that you can talk to about how to handle this sudden change in perspective.”
I turn and look at her with a new appreciation. She may look like a demon, but her eyes are full of compassion. “Thanks, but...” I start with a small sniffle. “You were both born girls. I think that I’m going to have a hard time getting used to this.” I say as I point to myself.
Nikki sighs and I turn to look back at her. “Umm, no we weren’t Brian. This time last year I was a boy, just like you. I never wanted to be a girl and it wasn’t until very recently that I have started to get used to the changes myself.”
“What?” I ask as her revelation shocks me to the core. I stifle my sniffles as I look at Nikki and then to Sara for confirmation. She doesn’t look like she finds Nikki’s admission funny. She looks very serious. There is absolutely no way that Nikki could have ever been a boy!
Sara nods at me. “It’s true, Brian. Nikki here was a high school freshman boy and I was a twenty seven year old male author until a year ago.”
I think that my jaw drops to the floor with Sara’s admission. I look at both of them and I just can’t believe that they could have even been guys, but then again, looking at myself, I guess it could be hard to believe that I was ever a guy either. I’m still pretty shocked by all these sudden changes in reality and I’m having a hard time forming words much less coherent thoughts.
Nikki’s expression turns a little sad as it looks like she is remembering something. Her eyes look pained and I wonder what she’s thinking about. “In some ways, I’m a little jealous of you right now, Brian.” She says, softly.
My confusion must be pretty obvious to her. She focuses her attention on me and I think that she looks a little sad. “I didn’t suddenly wake up one day looking like this. My change took almost a year. A year of going to bed and wondering what part of me wouldn’t be there when I woke up the next morning. Always wondering when I would finish changing and wanting it to stop, but worried that it would stop.” I feel the sudden urge to comfort her, but I’m not sure how. I end up touching her hand. “That part was the worst. I never wanted to be a girl, but I was more worried that the changes might stop and I would end up stuck halfway. Never really a boy anymore and never really a girl, more of an it.” She says as tears well up in her eyes.
I forget all about my problems and instinctively hug her and then feel Sara hug us both in her warm embrace. I don’t know how long we all sit there hugging each other, but it certainly feels nice and I’m a little disappointed when Sara coughs and reminds us that we have other issues to still work out.
Nikki smiles appreciatively at me. “I’m sorry Brian; I didn’t mean to unload on you like that.”
“That’s okay. I think we both might have needed it.” I say feeling a little forlorn. That long hug we just ended was really nice.
“Yeah, it was nice to talk to someone and I hope it helps you in some small way.” Nikki says with a hopeful smile.
“Oh, I think just knowing that I’m not alone is going to help, but now I’m getting anxious to finish this ‘fsck’ thing so that I can wake up.”
“Yeah, and I think I need to get out and let everyone know that you’re okay and what is going on in here.” She says as she taps my head with her finger while she looks around the hallway that I’m currently stuck in. “Sara? Thanks for your help Sis. Can I call on you again tomorrow if I need to come back to check on Brian?”
Sara smiles happily at both of us. “Sure thing, Nikki! I like Brian. I think that she’s a keeper. Do you think that I should adopt her into the family?” Sara asks with a grin that suddenly makes me a little nervous.
Nikki pauses for a second. “Ummm, I don’t think that would be a good idea right now Sara. How about we put that idea off for a few months or at least until she gets to Whateley?”
“Party pooper.” Sara says with a playful grin before she gives me a quick hug and a light kiss on my cheek that somehow manages to make the aliens on my chest tingle.
“Sara...you better not have...” Nikki says reprovingly.
“I didn’t. I just gave her a friendly kiss...nothing else...honest!” Sara says with a mischievous smile.
“Okay, let’s get out of here so I can report to the doctors, my dad and her family. Brian, when you do wake up, please don’t mention Sara when they ask you about what happened in here. Okay?” Nikki asks.
“Umm, sure?” I say, feeling confused.
Nikki smiles and suddenly adds. “Oh yeah. My dad is DARPA Deputy Director Nick Reilly. We are trying to keep that sorta secret, so please just call me Fey when you get outta here.”
“Oh. Okay, umm, Fey?” I say as they both smile at me before they fade away, leaving me in this now lonely hallway. Sighing, I take a step forward and the movie of my life starts up again.
** Chapter 19 **
I’m moving closer to the end of this memory lane thing. I wish Nikki and Sara would come back. This is kind of lonely and boring. Not that I’m really counting down the time, but just wondering how long it has been since Nikki and Sara left me produces a floating holographic digital clock that tells me that it’s been 1 hour 22 minutes and 39 seconds. I can’t stop myself from sighing with frustration.
Yep, I am definitely bored and I wish this walk down memory lane would end. Now that I know what’s happening, why do I need to physically walk down a boring tunnel? The tunnel is simply a progress bar showing how much more cleanup needs to occur before my brain is fully booted. Well, I hope I manage to reboot because it would stink to be stuck in an endless boot cycle. Okay, bad thought. Think positive thoughts.
Hey, do I really need to monitor the fsck process? Couldn’t I do the same thing from someplace more comfortable and less depressing, like maybe, my living room couch?
The boring tunnel de-rezzes and in its place, my living room, exactly as I remember it, materialize around me. With a sigh of relief, I plop myself down on the comfy couch. I wonder if this is working?
The TV automatically turns on and there, in full color and surround sound, is the story of my life. I guess that answers my question, but since this is my dream, I decide to upgrade the TV to one of those new LCD HDTV things. Instead of the light at the end of the tunnel, I add a simple progress bar with percentage indicator and completion time estimate below the TV. It’s been almost 24 hours since I started this fsck’ing trip and I really want it to be over. My geek humor makes me giggle because only a real linux nerd would...oh nevermind, it’s too hard to explain.
This is going too slow. I need it to go faster. Hmmm, what if I upped the task priority? A process window pops up in front of me showing the status and priority of the fsck task, along with a system task. Only two tasks are running? I thought I was more complicated than that? Maybe I’m the system task? What would happen if I bumped up the fsck task from a “Normal” priority to “Above Normal”?
As soon as I do that, the time to completion drops from 22 hours to 17 hours. That’s a good sign, but now my life review on the TV is running at 2x speed and it’s kind of hard to watch. Oh well, it’s not like I really care. I just want to get out of here. I bump the priority one more notch, to “High”. The life review jumps into silly speed and I feel like I’m moving in molasses, the lag is pretty bad, but the time drops to only 10 hours. I have one more priority setting I can use, but I’m thinking that “Real Time” would be a bad idea. I did that with my PC once and it pretty much locked my PC up until the process finished running. I do not want to have something like that happen to me.
Well, I guess I can live with the lag, but my life is kinda boring to watch, even at 3x speed. I need a book to read and after a second of lag, one of my favorite childhood books appears in my hand.
It’s been a long time since I read this book. I lean back into the couch and start reading. I find that if I sit perfectly still, there is only a touch of lag between page turns. It’s only a fourth grade book, not the most challenging read, but it occupies my time for 30 minutes. I need a harder book, like one of the books I read this year.
>File not found…
Dang it! I guess I can only pull up stuff I’ve read or watched prior to my fsck’ing task. Haha, yeah that joke still makes me laugh.
I did watch Star Wars. I wonder…
A small, Picture in Picture of the first movie starts playing on the TV. Does it need to be on the TV? Why not on a super high tech flat screen TV that I can hold in my lap? It takes a second, but a portable flat screen materializes on my lap and the movie starts playing on it. I lean back, my body noticeably stuttering due to the lag, and let myself enjoy the movie again. I decide to watch all three and as the final credits roll, I look up and notice that my progress bar indicates that I’m 87% complete with an estimated 2 hours 4 minutes and 57 seconds until the fsck’ing process is complete. Okay, maybe I’m enjoying my geek humor too much now. Hehe, nah, it’s still funny.
I just watched three movies, back to back, and I don’t feel the slightest bit tired. That’s kind of a bummer, because if I could take a little nap, maybe the process would run a little faster.
I’m bored again. I tried to stand and walk to the middle of my living room, but the lag is annoying. Instead of wasting time walking to where I want to go, I change my current position in memory and poof, I’m standing in the middle of my living room. I wish I could be like Luke Skywalker and use a light saber like a real Jedi.
I feel my clothes change and a sudden weight around my waist. I look down and notice, well, my boobs, but also, I’m wearing a Luke Skywalker costume, complete with light saber strapped to my extra wide hips.
This won’t work. Luke’s a boy. I try re-writing my image to be Luke. Nothing happens. I try my own, Brian self. Again, nothing. This sucks. Why can’t I be a guy in my own head?
I wonder how I look? With the costume, maybe I don’t look as girlish. I pull up a mirror and strike some aggressive poses with the light saber. Nope, the person in the mirror is definitely not a boy and I’m sorry manhood, but I can’t help it. I think the girl in the mirror looks hot and pretty darn dangerous with the glowing light saber.
The gi-like costume seems custom made to fit my, I mean her, curves and the V cut in front with the cross body design seems to accent my, grrr, her breasts. I guess it could be worse. I could be wearing Princess Leia’s slave costume.
The Luke Skywalker costume de-rezzes and in its place, yep, “The” ultimate geek wet dream swimwear costume materializes on my body. I flush a bright pink from my head to my toes. There is no denying what I’m seeing and feeling. No way, no how could a boy ever look so good wearing so little. I quickly concentrate on getting back the Luke costume and let out sigh of relief as I find myself more modestly covered. But still, I have to admit...okay; no I don’t...la la la la la...
To regain my guy geek cred, I start to play around with the light saber and pretend fight with it. I don’t notice any lag and the sound effects with my martial arts moves were pretty cool until I spot the estimated time to completion timer. It’s slowed to a crawl. I guess all my playing around is taking more resources.
So, now I am sitting on the couch with my legs folded up beside me. I could’ve never have sat like this and felt comfortable as a guy, but I have to admit that it does feel pretty cozy. I can see why Lindsay sits on the couch like this most of the time. I’m re-reading my favorite Wolverine vs. Spider-Man comic book when I hear a chipmunk voice.
“HeyBrianwhatareyoudoing?” The high pitched voice asks me. I look up from my comic and see Nikki and Sara standing in the middle of my virtual living room.
I am a little confused when I hear Nikki speak in super fast chipmunk speak. “Brian?What’swrong?Whyareyoumovingsoslowly?”
I start to reply, but realize that with the fsck in high priority mode, I’m going slower than normal. I start to say, “S o r r y...”, as I drop the priority on fsck to normal, “...I had the ‘fsck’ task on high priority and it was making me laggy.” I watch the time estimate clock slow down. I frown at that, but the slowdown is worth it with the two of them here again.
“What’s the matter, Brian? Why the frown?” Nikki asks.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just noticed the completion timer slow down to a crawl now that I dropped its priority level.” I point to the timer behind them. They both turn and spot the TV that is still displaying my life in fast forward mode, but at an almost watchable pace now.
Nikki jumps with excitement. “Wow! Only 2 hours left? Dr. Edmundson didn’t think that you would be done for another 10 hours or so.”
“Yeah, well, I have learned a few things since you were last in my head,” I say with a smile. I feel pretty darn satisfied with myself for that.
“I like what you’ve done with the place Brian. Nice costume too.” Sara glances around my VR living room before turning back to me with a mischievous smirk.
I blush when I realize that I still have on Luke’s costume. She somehow deepens her voice, adds a scary reverberation effect and clutches her hand like she’s trying to grab something. “Brian...I am your father...”
I’m sorry, but a giggle escapes me when she does that. If I was still a guy it would officially be called a chuckle, but I’m kinda stuck with chuckles that sound like giggles. We all laugh as Sara walks over and sits beside me on the couch.
Embarrassed by my geekdom, I switch back to the jeans and t-shirt outfit.
Nikki watches me and smiles as Sara makes herself comfortable next to me. “I dunno, Brian.” She pauses for a second as if she is thinking seriously about something, but her grin gives her away. “I thought the costume was pretty cute on you. We could all pick a costume and play dress-up while we go over what has happened in the outside world since yesterday evening.”
“Umm, that’s okay.” I say as I look at Sara to see what she might be thinking about that idea. She’s wearing the Princess Leia slave costume. I feel my face flush and I must be blushing a bright shade of red, because Sara laughs and puts her hand on my knee. Even through my jeans, her hand feels very warm.
“What? Don’t you think that I look good in this, Brian?” Sara asks with a mock pout as she stands and poses to display her costume to me better.
I force myself to look away. She’s really hot wearing it and unlike me, she knows how to wear it. Her expression becomes thoughtful as she taps her chin with her finger as she purses her lips. “Hmmm...I think that Brian is more embarrassed than she should be...I wonderrr? Model it for us Brian! Pleeaasse.”
My brain locks up from cuteness overload, the desire to follow her request and the knowledge of how embarrassed I would feel if I did so.
Nikki sighs. “Sara, you’re killing the poor girl.” She turns to me, looking apologetic. “Sorry Brian, she’s my sister and I love her dearly, but she has her own unique brand of shock therapy.”
Sara huffs and I feel her sit back in the couch, “Fine, I’ll just sit here and pout while you two talk. I hope you’re happy Nikki!”
I force myself to not look at Sara. I doubt that I’d be able to maintain a straight face if I saw her now. I suspect that we would all end up dissolving into uncontrollable giggles that would end up with Sara convincing me to model the Princess Leia costume. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Nikki smiles at Sara. “Thanks Sara. I know that you’re only trying to help, but I need to brief Brian on what’s going on so that we can leave and she can finish up with her memory re-org thing.”
Nikki takes a deep breath before she continues. “Okay, here is what we know: Some of the genetic tests have come back and you have definitely changed species, sort of. You’re now an elf like me.” She beams a smile at me. “Sidhe to be more precise.”
I feel a little confused. “Sort of? What does that mean?”
“They found out that your human male Y chromosome has been overwritten by a Sidhe female X chromosome. They are still trying to sequence your new female chromosome, but they think that where the Sidhe DNA matches up to human DNA, the Sidhe DNA is telling the human DNA that their version is corrupted and to use the Sidhe DNA instructions instead.”
“Hmmm…” I have not idea what it all means, but from I can understand, I’m screwed in the gender department. I think I should focus on something easier, like my race. “I know what an elf is, but what exactly is a Sidhe?”
Nikki sits up straighter and I think that she looks a little proud. “A Sidhe is a true elf. All that Tolkien and D&D stuff is all fantasy. You are now a member of a very proud, ancient and magical race. As such, you will probably develop some magical powers and you’ll want to find a magical trainer as soon as you can. Otherwise, you could end up causing all kinds of chaos without even knowing it.” She shudders a little, perhaps a memory from her past.
I feel kind of excited about the magic part. It sounds like GEO. “Okay...that sounds kind of cool and all, but why did I change?”
“In addition to the nanites in your head, your body is full of medical nanites. Based on all blood tests they have been running on you, most of medical nanites in your bloodstream are repair nanites that are helping your body heal. Your body is currently flushing out a large quantity of genetic repair nanites. Dr. Edmundson and his team are trying to analyze those nanites, but are having problems because they are so damaged.”
“Burnt out. They were all pushed past their breaking point and Dr. Edmundson hasn’t been able to extract any useful data from them that might tell him what they did. He doesn’t understand how magic could help, but based on the condition of the nanites, he is positive that if I hadn’t healed you; you would be dead right now. Alone, the nanites wouldn’t have been able to fix the massive amount of genetic damage that they caused when they started the splicing of the Sidhe DNA with your own.”
“Oh.” That is all I can say to that. Dead. That’s a little scary.
“He also doesn’t think that the Sidhe DNA came from you. He doesn’t know how it could happen, but the download you mentioned has got Dr. Edmundson and his team very curious. They are wondering if you can find that file.” Nikki pauses for a second and then, sighs with resignation. “Okay, if you really think that you need to speak to her.”
I’m not sure if she is talking to me or Sara. I look to Sara and she is looking at Nikki with renewed interest. Nikki begins to speak again, but she sounds older and regal somehow. “Greetings, child. I am Queen Aunghadhail, Daughter of the Burning Oak, and Paramount Queen of the West in the Five-Fold Court and the other half of Nichole.”
Wow, now that’s a name. I’m impressed, but I’m not sure what it all means.
While I’m trying to wrap my head around her name, Nikki/Aunghad-something or another continues. “The Sidhe race is not large in number and I felt it important to introduce myself to you while we have a measure of privacy. First of all, I welcome you, Daughter of the West.” She fondly smiles at me and gives me a hug, but it’s not like a hug from Nikki or Sara. It’s more like a hug from an Aunt or Grandma. It feels more formal.
She lets me go and stands back. “While it is rewarding to see our race grow, I find myself deeply concerned about how GEO was able to pass on the Sidhe genome to you and where it got the genome in the first place. If not for my timely intervention, you would not be among us right now, and for that, I cannot forgive GEO.”
She actually looks pretty pissed about that and now that she mentions it, I’m not too happy with GEO either. Nikki relaxes as Queen Aunghadhail, ummm, too many titles to repeat, seems to fade. She shakes her head. “Wow, Aung is really upset about how close you came to dying.”
I fell more than a little confused. “Umm, Nikki? What or who was that?”
“Oh, sorry. That was my, ummm, it’s kind of complicated. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that she is my avatar spirit, but that’s not really accurate either.” I must look confused because Nikki launches into definition mode. “An avatar spirit is like a powerful soul or ghost of someone or something that joins with a host to sort of live again. They grant their powers to their host.”
I’m still pretty confused about what she is trying to explain to me. She looks to Sara for help.
Sara ponders the problem for a second. “It’s kind of like Obi-Wan and how he died, but was able to help Luke later as a spirit. You will learn much more when you’re able to start working with a magical trainer or search the Internet.”
“Oh, okay. I guess that makes a little more sense now. That’s kind of cool actually. Will I get one of those?”
Nikki shrugs. “Maybe? No one really knows why a spirit joins or doesn’t join with a host.” She pauses and looks back to me. “Where were we? Oh yeah, the GEO file. Do you know if you still have it?”
“Hmm, I dunno. Lemme check” I say as I close my eyes and concentrate on finding a file named “Whisper”. I feel something inside me shift. I’m not sure what, but when I open my eyes I find myself floating above what looks like a stadium sized colored disk filled with blocks of every color imaginable that is rapidly being built from the inside out, block by block as it slowly spins with a clockwise rotation. The blocks are coming from all over the huge disk. Many individual blocks will combine into one block and slot into an open slot in the disk and the blocks that were there before, will move to somewhere else on the disk.
This must be what my fsck rebuild process is really doing.
If this Whisper file is going to be any place, it will probably be near the center. I zoom into the center and as I place my hand on the surface of the disk, my hand sinks into it and a directory listing flashes past my eyes too fast for me to read. I halt the listing and this time I think “find *whisper*”. This time the listing returns:
>-rw------- 1 root root 2621440 2007-02-12 22:14 whisper.obj
Holy cow, the file is 2,621,440 kilobytes! That’s 2.5 gigs! What in the hell is in that thing? I found it, but what the heck can I do with it? I think I can make a copy of it, but how would I give it to Nikki?
I close my eyes and will myself to return to Nikki and Sara. I feel myself shift and I open my eyes to see the two of them looking at me with relief mixed with concern. “What? Is everything okay?” I ask them. Sara is still wearing the Princess Leia costume and I can’t help myself when I admire how good she looks in it as she walks back to sit on the couch again.
“We were starting to get worried there Brian. Your eyes turned silver and you became as still as a statue for five minutes.” Nikki says.
That startles me because I didn’t realize that I stayed there with them. “Oh. Well, I think that I found the file and I think I can make a copy of it, but it’s two and a half gigs and I have no idea how I could give it to you.”
“Hmmm, I’ll let Dr. Edmundson know. Maybe he will have some ideas.” Nikki says.
“Okay.” I’m filled with renewed hope for a cure of my girl status, but I’m guessing my Mom is freaking out. “How’s my family?”
Nikki warmly smiles at me. “Your mom is great. She’s been by your side the whole time. Sorry, I don’t know much about your dad and sister. Do you want me to let your mom know that you asked about them?”
“Yes, Please!” I feel so grateful that Nikki and Sara can visit me here. If they hadn’t come along, I’m sure that I’d be a total wreck by now. I feel my eyes start to tear up as I struggle to hold back my emotions.
“Oh Brian...” Nikki says as she hugs me. “It’s okay. I’m glad that I can be here for you.”
That ends it for me. The waterworks start to flow. I’ve only known Nikki and Sara for maybe an hour, but I feel so close to them. I don’t understand it and I don’t really want to either.
“I’m sorry.” I say while I wipe my tears with my shirt sleeve. “I think that I have cried more in the last day or so than in the previous entire year or two. I’m really beginning to feel like a wuss here.”
I hear Sara’s snort of amusement from her place on the couch while Nikki smiles at me. “Oh Brian, I’m sorry, but I think that you will find that it comes with the package.” She steps back and looks me up and down to indicate my body. “Until you get used to all the hormones zipping around inside of you now, you’ll probably experience some mood swings.”
I don’t find her revelation very comforting. “Damn! The hugs, those I can handle, but I just want the water works problem to go away.”
Sara laughs and glances at me with one of those come hither expressions. “Come over here and snuggle up with me, I think that I know of a fun method to help you get rid of those nasty tears.”
She’s lying on her side, with her head propped up with one arm and the other arm resting on her hip. She arches her eyebrow and smirks as I struggle to take it all in. I feel a warmth form in my belly and my chest feels tight and tingly. My mouth must be hanging open because my tongue feels dry and I can’t stop myself from trying to swallow in an attempt to get the saliva in mouth flowing again.
“Ummm…” I manage to stammer out as I try to re-engage my brain.
Thankfully, Nikki recaptures part of my attention. “Sara! You are impossible sometimes!”
“Oh pooh, I’m just trying to help the poor girl learn to relax.” Sara says with a mischievous pout that does nothing for my current confused feelings.
Nikki touches my shoulder, distracting me from Sara. “I’ll let Dr. Edmundson and your Mom know that you think it will only take another hour before you are done.”
“Thanks.” I mutter, keeping my eyes turned away from Sara’s devious input.
“Oh yeah, remember, when you see me. Please call me Fey. Only my dad and Sir Wallace know me as Nikki and we are trying to keep me undercover. And remember, Sara wasn’t here either.” Nikki says as she waves her hands like she is casting some fake hypnotic spell.
I manage to stifle my laugh with a smirk instead. “Ookaay, I wish you all could stay, but I know that you have to go.” The thought that they will be leaving me again makes me pout.
Sara giggles. “Don’t worry kiddo. You’ll be outta here in no time. Then all the fun will really start!” She says with a smirk just before Nikki waves good-bye to me as she and Sara fade away.
After they leave, I just stand there for a few minutes before I take a deep breath and realize that I’m missing them already, but with the clock at 1 hour 15 minutes 18 seconds to go; I am anxious to be getting out of this place. Sara did look pretty nice in the Princess Leia costume. Feeling curious, I stand up and as I walk over to the mirror, I switch to the costume. I stop a few feet in front of the mirror and look myself over. I turn a few times and look at myself from different angles. After seeing Sara wear the costume like it was meant to be worn, I can’t find it in myself to feel ashamed by the fact that I like what I see.
“Sara, you’re so evil...” I whisper to the mirror with a tentative smile before I boost up the fsck process priority and walk back to sit on the couch. I switch to some loose fitting sweat pants with a t-shirt as I snuggle back into the couch so I can finish reading a few more comic books while I wait.
Did I just think that?
Oh crap, I am so screwed!