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Envy and the Gilded Cage, Part 2

a Whateley Universe tale

by Dr. Bender

 

Chapter 5

I felt like shit when I woke up the next morning. I cracked open my sleep-encrusted eyes and discovered that I’d even come close to missing it as the alarm clock read 11:34am. My skin felt hot all over and I was shivering, the bedclothes soaked in sweat. To top it off, my vision kept going in and out of focus like someone was playing with the dial that controlled my irises, giving me a screeching headache.

Peeling off the covers, I tried to get up and call for help, but a sudden wave of vertigo made me miss my footing and I fell onto my Persian rug. The jolt made me nauseous and barely after my first warning gag, I was vomiting enough yellow bile on the floor that I swore my toes felt hollow afterwards. My muscle spasms rocked me with such force that I was weak as a kitten afterwards and it was all I could do to hold onto consciousness lying on the floor.

Eventually, I made my arm move, knocking the cell phone off my bedside table where I could punch the panic button that would alert my mother before collapsing completely. You may have noticed that mom doesn’t mess around when it comes to my safety. The last sight I saw before losing consciousness was mom tearing my door off its hinges.

“Fino? FINO! OH GODS, FINO!”

        *        *        *        *        *

“Son? Son, can you hear me?”

Donald moaned as someone peeled his eyelid back and shined a light into his eye. “Dad?” He asked, trying to bat the light away with his hand.

“Sorry, not me,” whoever it was answered. “Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?”

“Two,” Donald replied, able to discern two shadowy fingers in front of his face.

“Great, do you remember your name?”

Donald’s vision came into focus and he discovered that he was on his back somewhere with a uniformed police officer and two EMTs hovering over him. He could make out the sky and some fluffy white clouds floating behind them. “Donald Hancock, I’m sixteen, I go to St. Andrews… I’ve got a headache like you wouldn’t want to believe.”

“What day is it?” The other one asked.

“What? Fuck, I don’t know… Thursday? Friday? Did I drink or something? How the hell did I get here?”

“That’s what we want to know, Donald. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Going to school this morning.”

“Guys,” the police officer interrupted, “I’m sorry but we really need to talk to Mr. Hancock here.”

The older EMT got up to have a chat with the officer a few feet away. Donald looked at the younger one as he helped him sit up, discovering that they were in the middle of a park he recognized close to St. Andrews. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I don’t know, Donald. The officer there said that he found you on his patrol around the neighborhood. You’ve been missing for three days. Along with your pals, Philip Tiller and Trent…”

“They’re NOT my friends,” Donald interrupted, though he wasn’t quite sure why.

“Ok, ok, big guy, just relax. Think you can stand up?”

Donald could and the EMT led him to the back of the ambulance where he could sit down. They let the police officer ask him some questions before taking him to hospital, but he couldn’t remember anything since walking through the gates of St. Andrews the day after the incident with Fino, which he kept his mouth shut about.

His parents arrived while he was in the hospital waiting for some sort of brain scan to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with his head. His mother fussed, his father accused him of trying to avoid exams and being lazy. That set them off arguing again, but, emotionally drained, Donald seemed incapable of caring. It was like he’d been lumbering along half asleep, then suddenly someone came along and woken him with a bucket of ice water. The police officer that was watching his door had to come in and break the argument up. Donald couldn’t help but feel like they were missing the point, that somehow their interest in the matter was petty and selfish… pathetic.

A while after the brain scan, Donald found himself in a small, out of the way, room waiting for the results in peace and quiet. It wasn’t long before the door opened and Dr. Zemeckis, the brain surgeon, led two detectives inside. “Donald, I have some good news, your tests came back ok, looks like there’s nothing wrong with you a couple pain relievers couldn’t cure. Naturally, with that news, these are Detectives Picton and Barnaby who would like to have a chat if you’re feeling up to it.”

Donald nodded and gave him a weak smile. “Yeah, thanks doc, I’m fine.”

Nodding, the doctor departed. Picton looked like he’d be just as suited to the Irish mafia as the police force, a large, heavy-built man with iron gray hair and lots of wrinkles from years of wear and tear. Barnaby was a surprisingly athletic woman with short bleached-blonde hair. Both dressed in plainclothes, though Barnaby favored a leather jacket and jeans while her partner wore a suit.

“Donald, pleased to meet you,” Picton greeted, smiling as both of them produced their ID like it was an automatic reflex. “I know you’ve gone over this with one of the patrolmen, but we’d appreciate it if you’d start with the last thing you remember.”

Donald went over it again in his head. “The very last thing I remember is someone telling us to go up to Principal Norman’s office; Trent, Phil and myself. I remember thinking it was about the prank we’d pulled on Fino.”

“Fino Valocco?”

“That’s right. I thought… look, I saw Trent and Phil talking to Coach Feldman in the locker room. Then Phil comes up and says he and Trent are going to lock Fino in the cupboard for a bit and leave a message for Coach. I thought it was just a prank.”

Barnaby looked bored. “Uh-huh. So you had nothing to do with the… photographs with Mr. Valocco exposed?”

“No way,” Donald shook his head vehemently, “Phil ripped off his pants and started snapping away with his cell phone. And I was like… what the hell, man? I was such a fucking idiot.”

“Okay kid,” Picton said, taking up the interview. “So you have no recollection of what happened in Principal Norman’s office?”

“Heck, I can’t even tell you if we got there,” Donald muttered, “I can’t even remember getting up and walking out of class.”

“We have eye witnesses that place you leaving class,” Picton informed him. “And another that spotted you walking up the stairs to the administration office with Trent and Phil… sure you have no recollection of that?”

“None,” Donald said, shaking his head, “what about the receptionist? Or the principal's secretary?”

“Apparently, they were having a cup of tea with the principal at the time… in the boardroom.”

“Security cameras?”

“Don’t show you arriving at the principal’s desk,” Picton informed. “So the burning question on our minds, Donald, is what happened to you after you went up to the second floor?”

Donald shook his head. “I have no idea. I wish I could tell you but I just can’t remember. I’ve been wracking my brains but there’s nothing there. What about Trent and Phil?”

“We still haven’t found them yet,” Barnaby informed him. “We were hoping you could give us some leads.”

“Donald,” Picton continued, “what do you know about Coach Feldman?”

“Coach?” Donaled asked, blinking. “Not much. I mean he’s a bit of a ballbuster, rode Fino something horrid. A little weird but ok I guess.”

“Weird how?” Barnaby pressed.

“I dunno… sometimes he had this weird look, like he was watching you for something. Said he was scouting potential recruits for the school teams but the kids he was watching hardly ever made it.”

“All right, I think we can leave it there for now,” Picton said, producing a card, “if you think of anything else, call this number, day or night. You can go home but don’t leave the city; we’ll need to talk to you again, soon.”

Home didn’t feel the same when Donald arrived. Nothing had changed but somehow, everything was different. His parents argued but they left him alone, so he cleaned his pigsty of a room. When Monday morning rolled around, he didn’t feel like sitting around the house all day, so he picked his ass up and went to school. School just wasn’t the same at all; the disappearances seemed to make everyone subdued and nervous. Sitting in class, Donald couldn’t help but feel Fino’s absence, the vacant chair where he once sat unnaturally empty.

At recess he went to the principal’s office and confessed everything. She believed him and let him off with a warning, which didn’t seem like a harsh enough punishment. At lunch, he found himself chewing on something that claimed to be beef but tasted more like cardboard and shoe leather. Sitting alone at his table, he realized that things were different without Trent and Phil too. The problem was, everything was better without those two screwing with people.

Suddenly getting up without any real idea why, he strode over to Lisa Hong’s table and greeted her. “Hey, Lisa, you wouldn’t know where Fino is, would you?”

She shook her head. “No, sorry, I haven’t seen him since prom.”

Donald slapped himself on the forehead. He’d missed prom, at least he didn’t have to find a date anymore. “He went to prom?”

“Yeah,” one of Lisa’s friends that Donald didn’t know piped up, “he came in with this reallllly gorgeous chick. I heard his mother had bought a professional escort for him. Anyway, these gate crashers hit on her and he, like, totally laid them out on their ass. Never knew he had it in him!”

Rubbing his temples, feeling his headache return, Donald blinked and shook his head a few times to try and clear it. “Sorry, still a bit on the woozy side. Look, I really need to apologize for being such a jerk to Fino the other day. You know who he hangs with?”

“No,” Lisa answered, “Fino’s always kept to himself, you know? I mean, we did projects together in science sometimes but that’s it, we never really talked, you know, until he asked me to the prom. Honestly, after what happened I kinda wish I’d gone with him, probably would have been a more exciting date than Willis Le Sean.”

“Ur… ok, guess I’ll see you later,” Donald said, walking away before he acted on the sudden urge to tell Lisa to stay away from Fino, not because he was dangerous or anything just because, for some reason he didn’t understand, he didn’t want Lisa anywhere near him.

Getting a bright idea, Donald skipped Monday afternoon sports to track down the newspaper club, who were busy putting the after-prom issue together.

“Oh, yeah, we have pictures of Fino all right,” Rhonda Gilpi scoffed, sorting through a mess of scrap paper for what he wanted. “Check this one out! It was like Chuck Norris or somethin’.”

The picture in her hand was an action shot of Fino dealing with three boys like they were babies, and they were all at least two years older than him and a foot taller . One was falling on his ass while another was getting tossed into a guy with orange juice in his face. A gorgeous Eurasian girl wearing a purple dress in the background was shrinking away from the scene, eyes wide with fright. Just looking at the picture made the headache flare up again, like something he couldn’t place was nibbling at the edges of his brain.

“They hit on his girl when he went for drinks, then kablam!” Rhonda exclaimed, punctuating her description with something that looked like kung fu moves. “He went all Batman on their asses. The judo instructor wanted Fino to join the team or something but apparently he left for some reason.”

Donald took a copy of the picture with him when he went to track down the judo instructor, Mr. Cletis. “That isn’t judo,” Mr. Cletis corrected Donald’s assumption during a break in his training, “I had to fax copies of some of the pictures to my sensei up in New England to find out what it was.”

“What is it then?” Donald asked, perplexed.

Cletis took a swig of salt-replenishing power drink before answering. “Look, Donald, I think you’re honest about making amends with Fino. Just do yourself a favor and drop it, ok? For your own good.”

Frowning, Donald glared at the instructed. “Why the heck not, sir? I made a big mistake, I should at least apologize and try to make it right.”

“Ok,” Cletis sighed, pointing at the picture, “what my sensei told me was this. This technique is Krav Maga. It’s a practical modern combat style originating from Israel that Mossad teaches to their counter-terrorist operatives. It includes the proper way to hold and manipulate firearms to your advantage in close quarters. You’ve seen those movies with Jackie Chan where he does this trick and next thing you know he’s holding the bad guys at gunpoint with their own gun? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Now, you don’t just walk down the streets of Boston or look up the yellow pages to find a master of Krav Maga to learn from. I’ll admit, I got curious, I wanted to get Fino on the team; if he knows Krav Maga he can learn judo quick enough. So I pulled his file and went to visit his apartment downtown only when I get there, it’s like there’s no-one home. Now, Donald, what I’m going to say will sound crazy but this is a crazy world. You know if you practice martial arts, you can train yourself to feel a sixth sense about situations, like superheroes do only they tend to get it without having to work at it if they ever get it at all. Standing in front of that door, I got a feeling so bad, I ran. Believe me; you don’t want to have anything to do with Fino Valocco.”

Walking home, Donald wasn’t satisfied with just leaving things be. Mr. Cletis sounded crazy, but something about what he said struck a chord. For some reason he knew that Fino wasn’t dangerous… but his house might be. He also knew, for certain, without any doubt, that Fino lived in a house rather than an apartment. How he knew that, he couldn’t say. When he arrived, he went straight into the bathroom to check that his eyes hadn’t changed, one of the first indicators of mutation, which they hadn’t. He even went so far as to take a second shower just to check that everything was in the right place, which it was. Just to be sure he hadn’t somehow mutated in a way that wasn’t obvious, he went into the garage and tried to lift his father’s car as well as levitate some playing cards with the power of his mind. Naturally he failed every test.

Dinner was horrendous. His mother ate in the kitchen while his dad ate in front of the TV. Neither was interested in talking to anyone. Donald ate at his desk, tried to study but couldn’t get the whole thing with Fino, Trent, and Phil out of his head and finally turned in, determined to sleep.

“Hey, lover, wake up.”

Donald opened his eyes to find he was staring up at the shadow of a head framed by a long mop of hair that glistened in the sunlight, beyond which was a field of fluffy white clouds on a blue sky. As his eyes got used to the light, he discovered a gorgeous blonde with a face fit for the silver screen and a body that came with its own XXX rating. She was naked, straddling his chest, her weight making it slightly hard for him to breathe. He was naked too but the idyllic park that they were lying in was warm enough that he wasn’t uncomfortable.

“Hey there,” she cooed, “you finally up, I’ve been calling you for hours.”

Confused, Donald shook his head, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. “Who the heck are you? Am I dreaming?”

She pulled his hands up and placed them on her ample breasts, moaning softly at his touch. Donald couldn’t help his sudden arousal, his member getting painfully stiff. “Do I feel like a dream?” She asked in a husky voice full of promise and heat. He couldn’t help groping her as she pressed her breasts into his hands, arching her back.

“N-no,” he answered, “you feel… really real.”

“Good,” she said, smiling as she slid her hips down his body. “Otherwise you wouldn’t feel this.”

He cried out as she slid her moist crotch along the length of his throbbing member, sending a note of pleasure up his spine that stung with its intensity. “If you want me, Donald James Hancock, I need you to do something for me,” she said, continuing to stroke his member between her legs with the motion of her hips.

“What?” Donald cried out. He was unable to stand the torturous lust that wracked his whole body but was unable to move to sate it.

“Promise me you’ll find Serafino Sophia Valocco,” she whispered, licking his cheek.

“Why? HUNN!” He gasped as she made him come so hard it hurt. “Oh god, anything! I’ll do anything, just make it stop!”

Smugly satisfied, she raised herself up and slowly quenched his need.

He woke in the middle of the night, lying in a warm wet spot with a raging hard-on that just wouldn’t quit. He had to strip the bed and wash with warm water from the sink to get rid of the creepy sensation that crawled across his skin. The only thought in his head the whole time, however, was the desire to find Fino. Nothing else in the world seemed to matter.

Feeling a distinctly insistent tugging sensation that compelled him to move, he dressed in his warmest clothes and snuck out the front door determined to follow it. Allowing the pull to lead him, he caught a bus that was mostly empty except for one or two drunks and, for the first time ever, he was grateful for the famous Boston public transport system. It didn’t last; he was suddenly compelled to get off in some rich suburb that he didn’t recognize. Freezing cold with aching legs, he kept putting one foot in front of the other, unable to stop for so much as a moment’s respite. The more he walked, the more certain he became that he was getting closer to Fino even though he didn’t have a clue how he knew.

When he saw the house, it was like getting hit between the eyes with a shovel, almost literally. For a moment, his headache was so intense that black spots appeared in front of his eyes and he thought he was going to pass out. Resolved to push on, he managed to climb over the pillar on one side of the gate, aware that he was about to trespass but unable to stop as he jumped down onto the grass on the other side. Approaching the front door, his headache got worse, like static background noise on a radio. He literally had to concentrate to perform the simplest of tasks like turning the door handle.

Inside, he knew something was very, very wrong. He could have sworn that he’d never been in the house in his life but he recognized the stairwell, knew where the bathrooms were, knew that Fino’s bedroom was upstairs and even that there was a half court out the back. The kitchen was visible from the front door and the sight brought back the sense memory of frying bacon and poached eggs.

And danger. Terrible, terrible, danger.

Creeping forward, trying not to make a sound, something banged on the nearby wall from the inside, like wet laundry tumbling down a duct into the basement. Though he knew that Fino’s bedroom was upstairs, the sensation compelled him to seek a way downwards, though he was suddenly certain he’d never seen this house’s basement. The stairs were easy to find, however, when he opened the door that led under the stairwell, it revealed some seemingly ancient stone steps that curved downward, lit by old-fashioned electric lamps powered by cables that were strung across the walls.

His headache faded as he walked down the steps, which was a welcome relief despite his increasing nervousness. The stairway seemed to go on forever but came out into a hallway hewn from solid rock just when he thought it might never end. He could feel the pulling sensation as a physical force, leading him onward through the maze of corridors. Finally, he came to a set of double doors inscribed with glowing runes that seemed to fade as he approached.

By all rights, he should have already run screaming from the oppressive air of the place but he was literally unable to take a step back. Opening the doors, he came upon a warmly lit room full of white candles, though they were by far the most normal feature. In the centre of the candles, a girl about his age floated in the air over a silver pentagram that lay inside a simple, perfect, circle.

Her face was breathtaking, if strangely familiar, and though her body was draped in a pale silk robe, he could tell that she was perfectly formed underneath. Even asleep she was enchanting, captivating, her raw charisma drawing him closer, heedless of everything around him. Leaning over her, he was awed. She made the girl in the photograph with Fino, or even the blonde of his dreams, look plain by comparison.

Unable to help himself, driven by a desire so intense that it felt as natural as breathing, he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her passionately, feeling for all the world like Romeo to her Juliet, ready to take poison just to be by her side in the afterlife.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” An inhuman voice bellowed from behind him just as her eyes flew open.

 

Chapter 6

Sometimes, I dream about being a girl; most of the time it’s about me fighting side by side with mom, usually just after she’s been in a fight. In those dreams I’m the plucky kid sidekick, doing the Robin Hood bit while hitting on anything with a pulse. A nice fantasy ruined on the moment of waking by the realization that my mother’s not the ‘give to the poor’ type.

This time was different. I knew I was dreaming but it was peculiarly vivid. I could feel the sun warming my skin, smell the bracing sea air, and even feel the grains of sand slip through my fingertips. The flawless, perfect, beach stretched out from horizon to horizon, the serene blue sea lapping peacefully against the shore. A gentle breeze counteracted the heat of the sun and the warmth of the sand, leaving me to bask in the sunlight at a comfortable temperature.

I was definitely female. Being naked makes you notice these things. Since I was dreaming, however, neither of these facts mattered to me, so I stretched out, ran my fingers through my long, silky, hair and enjoyed myself while I was able. Relaxing for the first time in so long that I couldn’t remember, I luxuriated in the heat, unable to prevent my hands from roaming curiously down the sleek form that I’d found myself in. My skin was soft and smooth like satin and I couldn’t help but feel the inner warmth of arousal grow steadily with every moment.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” I heard my mother’s scream of rage and betrayal echo across the skies, shattering the dreamscape into a million pieces.

My eyes flew open as I woke, discovering Donald’s face intimately close, his lips warm against mine as his tongue probed my mouth. A moment later he was torn away from me with what must have been bone-crushing force.

“MOM! DON’T HURT HIM!” I cried out, struggling but unable to move or even so much as turn my head. In my panic it took me a moment to realize that my voice sounded weird.

“If you have hurt my child,” I heard mom threaten, “I will flay the flesh from your bones while you are still alive and keep you as a living rug so that your screams will echo though my sanctum every time I set foot upon you!”

I coughed, trying unsuccessfully to make my voice sound normal. “Mom! I’m ok, I swear. Can you please undo whatever spell this is so I can move?”

There was a sound like someone hitting the floor. “Stay,” mom commanded. Her heels clicked as she approached me and soon, she was smiling down in my field of vision and stroking my hair, which felt longer for some reason. It was even pulling against my scalp like my head was hanging over the edge of a bed. “Hi, sweetie, you had me so, so worried,” she said tenderly, relief plain in her voice. “How do you feel?”

Closing my eyes, I took stock of myself. “I feel really weird. Sore and tired, and my mouth is dry. I’m hungry too. Mom, could you please take the poultice or whatever it is off my chest? The weight’s making it a little hard to breathe.”

She stared at me for a moment like I was talking another language before a mirthful snort burst out of her mouth. “No, no, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh,” she said, getting serious again as she took my hand. “Honey, before I let you down, you need to know that there have been some… changes.”

I felt butterflies in my stomach. “Changes?” I asked, coughing again to try and clear up whatever was wrong with my throat. I felt really strange though I couldn’t place why. Curious, I closed one eye so that I could strain the other to get a blurry glimpse of the tip of my nose. It actually did look different, more pert.

“Well, the good news is,” mom announced, pausing dramatically for effect, “you’ve finally manifested!”

I blinked. “Manifested?” I asked, the news failing to penetrate my awareness. I knew that I should know the term but for some reason my brain couldn’t connect the term with anything that might have to do with me. “Manifested,” I said again, trying to make sense of it. “You mean like mutant manifested?”

Mom nodded enthusiastically, grinning like the proverbial cat in cream.

“But if I’ve manifested,” I stated, my brain slowly coming to the right conclusion, “I’d be a mutant.”

Mom nodded again.

“I’m a mutant?” I asked, realization slowly dawning. “I’m a mutant. I… I’M A MUTANT?!?”

She hugged my neck so tight I thought she was going to accidently strangle me and showered me with kisses. “More than that, I think you’re definitely an exemplar,” she said after pulling away, still giddy with joy.

“Yes!” I exalted, close to tears from the excitement. “Come on mom, let me down, I wanna see myself!”

“Ah,” she said, her face suddenly falling.

Feeling sudden dread, I bit my lower lip, which seemed thicker than it should have been. The look on mom’s face was like a bucket of cold water poured down my spine. “Ok, what’s the damage?” I asked with some trepidation. “Is it GSD?”

She shook her head, much to my relief. “No, it’s not GSD, honey. In fact it’s not really a problem from a certain point of view; it’ll just take some getting used to.”

“Ohhhhh-kay…”

“Before I tell you,” she said seriously, squeezing my hand, “I just want you to know I’ll always love you. You’re my child no matter what and we’ll get through this together. Now do me a big favor and take a deep breath and try to relax. I know I’m making you nervous and you don’t have to be, everything is ok, really.”

I ignored the paranoid voice in the back of my head that was yelling at me that if everything was really ok, she wouldn’t be dancing around the issue so much. Trusting her, I took a deep breath as requested and tried to keep my heartbeat under control. I quietly cursed whatever was resting on my chest as it shifted uncomfortably, however.

“Okay,” mom said, smiling. “Darling, your manifestation has changed your gender. You are now, for all intents and purposes, my daughter. I cast a spell to put you into a peaceful sleep while you transformed and held you immobile in this chamber so I could break the news to you as gently as possible. I didn’t want you to panic and accidently hurt yourself before we could talk.”

“I’m… a girl?” I asked, the strangely high pitch of my voice suddenly making absolute sense.

“Yes, sweetie, you are,” mom confirmed, stroking my cheek, “I know this changes things and it will take time for you to accept your new self and adapt to your new life. However, I will always be here for you with all my heart, I promise.”

I took several deep breaths and concentrated on remaining calm, quelling the inner voice of my paranoia. It made sense, the weight on my chest, the changes I’d sensed in my face and voice. A fundamental component of my being had changed but I convinced myself that it was a meaningless part. Besides, hysterics weren’t going to make things better; my mother had taught me that. I could collapse into a weeping fit or I could, ironically, prove I had a pair and deal with it. I made my choice.

“Ok, mom,” I said in an even tone, “let me up, I need to see myself.”

Nodding, mom cradled me in her arms as she allowed the spell to fail, lowering me gently to my feet and supporting me as I tried to stand. I kept my eyes closed, concentrating on not freaking out and determined to take things slowly, one step at a time. I wobbled a bit on my feet, my reflexes being used to an entirely different body. My center of gravity was way off and I felt much lighter, making simply keeping myself steady a challenge. I might not have been able to if mom hadn’t been there holding my hand, whispering comfort and praise. It also didn’t help that I was sore all over, which I was guessing (correctly as it turned out) was a result of the transformation.

Over the first hurdle and feeling steadier, I slowly opened my eyes to look down at myself. I can’t speak for every transfigured male but the first feature I noticed were my hands, maybe because the silk robe I was wearing concealed the rest of me. They looked, and felt, tiny compared to my old body; small with long, slender fingers and thin wrists leading to arms that made me think of twigs at the time. I’d lost so much muscle mass and fat that I wondered how my organs could exist in such a tight space.

Naturally, the weight of my breasts combined with the perspective looking down at them made them seem huge, but I couldn’t pull the neck of the robe out far enough to get a good look at them and I didn’t want to disrobe in front of mom or Donald, so I continued my observations. I also tried to ignore the feeling of the silk against my nipples, which were painfully hard. I wasn’t about to grab my crotch either but clutching my thighs together proved the absence of man’s other best friend between my legs. More immediately interesting was the flare of my hips and butt, which I probed with my fingertips. With my arms at my sides, it felt like my hips were getting in the way, and my ass seemed huge, sticking out way too far to be natural despite mom’s assurances that I seemed normal.

The robe swished about quite a bit when I moved but I could tell that I had some seriously long, killer legs underneath. I’d been a leg man as a guy, so you might say I was an expert. I also had some very nice, petite feet that tipped them off beautifully.

“I need a mirror,” I said to mom as I touched my face, unable to get a real handle on how it had changed. Looking up at her, I did notice that I was taller by a few inches, though she was still significantly taller than me. Mom tops 6’2” without her heels, however, so I knew I had to be a tall girl for my age.

“I thought I’d take you over to the bathroom to get you used to walking,” mom said, smiling, “but before we do that, I better take care of some business first. Think you can stand by yourself?”

I nodded, not realizing what she was talking about until she stepped over to Donald, who was staring at me wide-eyed, and grabbed him around the throat, getting ready to twist his neck three hundred and sixty degrees.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” I repeated at a million miles an hour, suddenly panicking where I’d been calm through the whole gender change thing. “Mom! You promised you wouldn’t hurt him!”

“Uh-ah-ah,” she said, wiggling her finger at me, “I only promised not to hurt him in revenge for bullying you. Now I’m going to kill him so he can’t give our location away.”

“Whoa! Whoa! Mom, wait, I think we should talk this out first,” I pleaded, stopping her a second time. “You can just wipe his memory again, he doesn’t have to die.”

“I wiped his memory once and he made his way right back here,” she rebutted smoothly, “we don’t have any guarantees he can’t do it again.”

Silently cursing her for being right, I wracked my brain for an answer. “Er… we could… ah… keep him! Turn him into a cat or something!”

Mom let go of him and stood upright, placing her hands on her hips. “Do you want to have sex with him already?”

“What?” I asked, stunned for a moment. “No! Yuck! Come on, mom, he was my first kiss.”

Mom muttered to herself under her breath for a moment. “I knew I shouldn’t have given you time to get fond of him.”

“He’s not a puppy, mom,” I protested. “Look at him, he’s scared witless. We can move; I can’t go back to St. Andrews anyway. Just figure out how he tracked us down, sever the link and leave him here. Even if he tells people about this house, we’ll be long gone.”

“All right,” Mom sighed, to my relief, “we won’t kill him. But we can’t just let him go either. We have to move tonight and figuring out how he came back could take weeks. He has to come with us, agreed?”

I nodded. It wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t out of danger yet but at the very least I’d bought Donald some time. Mom took a bottle full of pale purple and orange mist out of her cloak and handed it to me. Turning it around in my hands, I found the name ‘Daphne’ written on the label.

“Open it under his nose,” mom commanded, “it will restore his memory.”

Kneeling next to Donald, I tried to say something comforting before opening the bottle under his nose as instructed. The mist crawled out of the bottle up into Donald’s nose, filling both nostrils before two more tendrils reached around his cheeks to enter through his ears. He shook and shuddered through the process, eyes rolled back in his head. When it was done, I found him staring up into my eyes and blushed. “Uh… hi, Donald,” I greeted lamely, grabbing the hem of my robe to make sure I was covered up.

“Fino?” He asked incredulously.

Next thing I knew, his arms were around my neck in a fierce hug, my breasts pressed against his chest, which felt really, really weird. I stiffened like a board, feeling extremely awkward and uncomfortable in his arms. It took him a moment to realize what he was doing, at which point he scooted back several steps. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I forgot! I swear!”

I wanted to curl up into a ball and die as he stared at me, eyes wide. “Holy crap, Fino,” he whispered, dumbfounded, “you’re… hot!”

The blood vessels in my cheeks went into critical meltdown.

Rolling her eyes, mom grabbed Donald’s arm and wrenched him around to face her. “By my count, this is the THIRD time my daughter has saved your life. Personally, I think once is one time too many but let me be perfectly clear now; I promise that my daughter will not save you from me another time. If you betray us, I will kill you, your parents, your dog and some random strangers just to make the point. Maybe I’ll do worse if I’m in a bad mood. Capisce?”

Donald nodded, obviously too terrified to speak.

Mom let him go. “Good. Stay within ten yards of Seraphina at all times. If you stray, I’ll tear your heart out without thinking twice.”

“Seraphina?” I asked dumbly.

“You can’t very well have a boy’s name now, can you?” Mom asked sweetly, turning to walk out into the hallway.

Blushing, I grumbled as we followed behind. “I don’t know; you named me Sophia when I was born.”

“And I was right to; you remain a font of wisdom and inspiration beyond your years.”

I didn’t feel very inspirational or wise following mom with Donald trailing along behind like a lost puppy. “Shouldn’t we do something about Donald’s looks though? I mean, he’ll be reported missing and the police will start looking for him again, we can’t drag him around like that.”

“I’ll take care of it while you shower and dress,” she said, her emphasis letting me know that it wasn’t a suggestion.

Feeling more and more body-conscious, I glanced over my shoulder and caught Donald staring at my ass. When he didn’t notice my glare, I elbowed him in the shoulder, miscalculating the force my new body was capable of and sending him sprawling into the wall much to my surprise. “Ouch!” He protested. “Hey, what was that for?”

“Eyes on the ceiling, buster,” I growled as I stormed up the stairs, not feeling one whit of sympathy as he scrambled to catch up.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, “it’s hard not to look when you’re wiggling it in my face.”

“Don’t make me regret not screwing your brains out,” I snapped, scowling.

“I told you so,” Mom commented with inappropriate cheerfulness, “now hop along while I take a look at our unwelcome house guest.”

She pushed me into the bathroom with a playful slap on the bottom that made me squeak in protest, much to her amusement. With the door finally shut behind me, I took a moment to get my head in order before daring to look into the mirror over the sink. The face and form that I discovered looking back at me chilled me to the bone.

The best way to describe my new self would be that I was a younger copy of my mother. Not a clone by any stretch but the resemblance was striking. High cheekbones, small chin, refined jaw and large, slightly upturned, emerald green eyes. I shared my mother’s light olive skin tone and straight, jet-black hair that flowed down to my ass. I watched as my reflection probed the skin of my cheek with her fingertips, mimicking my own movements as I tried to grasp the reality of what was before me.

Glancing down, the idea of having to shower suddenly made my knees tremble. The robe hid the details from me nicely but there was no doubt from the form and contours of the silk that the body beneath was radically different to what I was used to seeing when I looked down in the morning. I held my breath as I clumsily worked open the knot on the belt, unused to having such thin fingers and dainty hands that presented an illusion of weakness yet were strong enough that I accidently tore the fabric several times trying to get it off. When the robe finally fell to the floor, revealing the rest of my perfectly complexioned olive skin, I was dumbfounded.

My face would break hearts, my body could incite riots. My breasts were large enough to be impressive but not grotesquely so. A long, swan-like, neck led to slender if well-toned shoulders and a teardrop-shaped butt that seemed to stick out sexily no matter how I tried to stand. It was an impossible body, the sort that can only exist on magazine covers thanks to digital image manipulation, again much like my mother’s. I realized with some horror that I was going to attract lots of attention; lots and lots of male attention. The thought made me depressed.

I showered with my eyes screwed shut, trying to ignore the feel of my new skin and the curves of my body. When it came to the alien organ between my legs, however, I couldn’t restrain my curiosity, hesitantly prodding the outer lips of the mound as I tried to extrapolate how the darn thing worked and quickly discovering that my Sex Ed classes hadn’t really prepared me to face the real thing, let alone one that was attached to me.

“It’s simple,” my mother explained as she drew aside the shower curtain, “first you have to tease out Ms. Happy, then slide a finger up…”

Screaming, I jumped three feet in the air. “Mom!” I protested, wrapping the shower curtain around myself as I clamped my thighs shut. “I wasn’t doing anything like that!”

She raised her hands in submission. “Ok, ok, just remember the more you can masturbate, the better your first time will be. I’ll buy you your own dildo so you can start experimenting as soon as possible… unless you want skip practice and go straight to the main event with Donald…”

“Oh. My. God. NO! Bad Mother!” I scolded her, blushing so hard I swear that the water hitting my cheek was turning into steam. “I’m NOT going to do… whatever it is you’re talking about! Wait… what the hell are you doing in here? Get out!”

She sighed sadly, patting my cheek fondly. “Darling, we’re both girls here now. In fact, I got you some clothes of mine that will do until we can go shopping. Besides, not only are you going to have to get used to being a girl, young lady, you also need to understand that you are an EXEMPLAR girl. Once the shock of your change wears off, your libido is going to go through the roof; you have to face the fact that your virginity is now an endangered species, I give it a year tops.”

I realized at that moment that I only thought I’d wanted to curl up and die before, now it seemed like a reasonable solution. “Mom! Please,” I begged, holding my face in one hand while the other kept the shower curtain over my front, feeling the size of a bug on the wall.

“Oh, don’t fret darling,” she cooed sympathetically, “it’s really a lot of fun once you get used to it. I’ve left the clothes on the sink for when you’re done, take your time and don’t forget to brush your hair.”

I finished the shower as quickly as I could after that, afraid where temptation might lead me before discovering exactly how hard it is to wrangle long wet hair into submission. After that, with a towel wrapped around my torso and my hands on my hips, I found myself staring at the clothes that mom had left for me . There were a few more articles in the pile than I was used to, for a start. The bra that she’d given me wasn’t what I’d imagined, being a sort of short stretchy singlet that held everything in firmly and comfortably once I’d worked out which side was supposed to be the front. The panties were surprisingly familiar but the pad was hard to get into place and the instructions on the cover were useless. The long sleeve white shirt was embarrassingly tight but otherwise ordinary along with the thick winter stockings that were really just long socks. The skirt she’d given me ended embarrassingly high up my thigh, showing off plenty of leg. Knowing that talking my mother out of making me wear the thing was futile, however, I persevered with it and finally got it on.

“Oh, here she is now,” Mom observed as I opened the door. Flinching from her voice for a moment, I had to overcome my terror to make my way down the hall into the lounge room.

Donald had been taking a sip of water when I entered and for some reason he almost choked on it, coughing and spluttering for several minutes with his eyes bugged out.

“Uh,” I said nervously, trying not to fret the hem of the skirt with my hands, “how do I look?”

Mom swept me up in a fierce hug. “Gorgeous, darling, absolutely gorgeous; I know Donald agrees, don’t you Donald?”

He nodded, still trying to get his breath back.

“Now, I conjured some slippers for you. Your uncle will be here in a few minutes with the removalists; I’ve got the portal key in my purse. I cursed Donald here so that not even his own parents would recognise him and made sure he understood that I’d eat his balls for breakfast if he tries to pull anything… tomorrow we can get down to the question of why the hell he came back here anyway and what went wrong… can you think of anything I’ve missed?”

My stomach growled in a very unladylike fashion. “As long as Uncle’s got snacks in the car, I don’t care about anything else.”

Roman ‘Little Paulie’ Paulitto, also known as ‘Uncle’ to a few special friends, arrived just as we made our way out onto the patio along with several removalist vans. A large Italian-American male with an intimidating demeanor and small, piercing, eyes, Paulitto was the picture of what a Capo in La Cosa Nostra was supposed to look like. He had to be scary on the outside but behind the outer shell was an intelligent and dependable man with a surprisingly soft touch. Being the family’s representative to the supervillain community, Uncle had to balance these traits of his personality, villains being some of the most temperamental assets employed by organized crime. Mom tells me that there was a time just after WWI when Uncle’s position was a joke, a place to stick those with more talent than the upper echelons thought was good for them. These days, nine out of ten mafia dons once held the same position.

However it used to be, Uncle Paulitto was one of those absurdly competent people that have an air about them that other people don’t possess. The kind that doesn’t suffer fools and possesses utter dedication to their work. It’s a rare trait in a norm. He also proved his diplomatic skills when we appeared, clutching his heart dramatically. “Dear goddesses,” he flattered, using his smooth Italian accent for all it was worth, “you have to give an old man warning before appearing like that.”

“Uncle,” I admonished, blushing profusely as I crossed my arms over my chest defensively.

He chuckled playfully before getting serious. “Don’t sweat it, kid. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes but I know you’re a survivor, Fino, you’ll get through this.”

“Fina now,” I corrected sullenly, hunching over.

He gave me a fatherly smile and gently lifted my chin back up. “Seraphina, I know, it’s a pretty name. Ladies like you and your mom make being a man worthwhile.”

I blushed. “Uh…”

Mom chuckled. “Get used to it, dear, your Uncle’s incorrigible.”

“Moi? Just between us, though, I wouldn’t go spreading it around the family. Open mindedness isn’t their forte as a whole.”

I had a feeling that Uncle would have asked mom out long before now except that it was against the mob’s rules to date, much less marry, mutants. They weren’t above working with some of us, or almost anyone if it suited them, but they didn’t like us either. Uncle had pushed some boundaries offering to sponsor me in the organization and probably got his knuckles rapped for it. Even so, he was the closest thing I had to a father, so I was glad he still treated me like a human being.

He surprised me by giving me an impulsive hug before ushering us into the limo that would take us to mom’s second, pre-prepared safehouse. “Keep safe, bambina,” he whispered to me, seemingly on the verge of tears. “Don’t think you need to be a stranger to your Uncle Paulitto just because things have changed, you hear?”

Smiling, I gave him an equally impulsive kiss on the cheek before sliding into the limo, happy that I still had a ‘father’ of a sort. Mom gave him another kiss on the other cheek while Donald followed me into the car.

“I’ll send your stuff along as fast as I can,” he informed us before closing the door, bringing his professional mask back up.

It took us hours to get to the new place with the limo driving aimlessly in circles as the driver never knew exactly where he was headed until Paulitto updated his destination. We even changed limos twice inside the parking lots of large hotels where satellite surveillance couldn’t reach and plenty of other limos were coming and going all the time.

Donald was annoying the whole way. We sat in silence for the most part, though I fidgeted a lot with my hands, but every time I turned to look out the window I could feel his gaze slowly moving over me, dissecting every detail. Believe it or not, I hadn’t ogled that many girls before, at least not to the point of staring at them like a piece of meat. Finally, I gave him another glare. “Will you stop that? It’s really irritating, you know!”

He blinked. “D-dude… I mean Fina… you’re just… it’s hard to believe that it’s really you…”

I felt a little bad when he got the dejected puppy look and fixed his eyes firmly on the floor. Crossing my legs clumsily, I stared glumly out the window and tried not to think about it.

I miss Fino Donald said in a strange voice that sounded like a weird mix between his normal voice and Daphne’s.

“I’m still right here, you know,” I muttered.

Donald looked back up at me stupidly. “What?”

“You said you miss Fino. I’m still Fino just...” I trailed off, looking down at myself again. “Just… different, I guess.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t say anything.”

“But I heard…”

No Mom interrupted, he didn’t say anything.

“But mom,” I complained, “I heard him plain as day!”

Donald looked like his eyes were about to pop out of his skull.

“I didn’t say anything either, darling,” Mom murmured, looking at me speculatively, “but you heard what I was thinking.”

“So what? Now I’m psychic?” I asked incredulously before slapping myself on the forehead. “Good one, Fino, your mother casts spells and keeps a portable dimension in your basement, it’s not like actually being psychic is out of the question.”

“We’ll know more once we get you tested,” mom explained calmly, trying to put me at ease, “just try to relax. Oh and don’t concentrate too hard on anything just in case, we wouldn’t want anyone’s heads to explode by accident.”

“Not helping, mom,” I groaned.

“Wait, can that actually happen?” Donald asked, an edge of panic in his voice.

Mom and I looked at each other for a moment before turning away to stare out the windows again, deliberately ignoring him.

“Guys? Come on, guys, answer me! Guys? Guys?”

 

Chapter 7

Waking up the next morning was interesting. It took me a moment to remember why my room had bay windows overlooking the ocean. Why I had strange weights on my chest and ultra-long hair took even longer. On the upside, the feel of the silk sheets against my skin made me want to purr in contentment. Feeling better than I ever had in my life, I slid out of bed and stretched gracefully, reminding myself how much had changed. Looking in the full length mirror on the wall, I was also reminded again of how much I looked like my mother now.

Taking one of the silk robes from my closet and putting it on, I made sure the belt was good and tight around my waist before slipping out on the hunt for breakfast. The house was one of those ultra-modern designs that wasn’t afraid to incorporate traditional materials; lots of varnished ebony floors with thick rugs taking Massachusetts’ climate into account, pure white walls and polished steel. We had total beach frontage, you could hear the waves lapping on the shore and smell the salt water, an indoor pool and even a helipad. Mom seemed to have decided that we’d earned a bit of decadence.

The kitchen was all you’d expect in such a house with gleaming stainless steel countertops and black marble tiles, located centrally to the lounge and game rooms, overlooking both the heated indoor swimming pool and the spa on the outside deck. What was out of place, WAY out of place, was Donald, who seemed very intent on wrapping his head in tin foil.

Feeling a headache coming on, I rubbed my temples for a moment. “Donald… what the hell are you doing?”

“Whoa!” He shouted, ducking behind the counter so fast he had to hold onto his tinfoil hat. “Jesus, Fina, don’t sneak up on people like that!”

“Just tell me the tinfoil isn’t meant to stop me from reading your thoughts,” I groaned.

“Why not?” He asked indignantly, standing up with his hands on his hips. “It works for Dr. Herbolt.”

“Dr. Herbolt is a deviser,” I explained patiently, “his tinfoil hats work because he believes in them, not because the real laws of the universe are on his side. Besides, you really think mom will let you walk around like that?”

“I’ll wear a hat,” he answered stubbornly. “But ok, you say this won’t stop your oogy-boogy powers from eating my thoughts? Fine! I’m thinking of something right now, go ahead an’ try to read my thoughts, let’s put this to the test!”

“Don’t be stupid, even if I wanted to, I can’t contro…”

Just then, of course, my telepathy kicked in and I received the image of Donald pinching my butt so strongly that I actually felt it as if it were real. That caused me to jump several inches into the air while making a damnably cute squeak. My hand shot up by pure reflex as I came down, slapping him so hard that he fell to his knees, the tinfoil hat tumbling across the floor.

“Oh, shit,” I swore, covering my mouth as I rounded the counter and squatted next to him, carefully to make sure my robe didn’t fall open. “You ok, Donald?”

“Yeah,” he answered sullenly, rubbing his cheek, “you made your point, sorry. I just feel so… so… oh, fuck, I don’t even know. I guess I thought if the tinfoil worked, you wouldn’t have to worry about frying my brain by accident… or something. You’re right, I was being stupid.”

I pulled his hand away to check the red handprint that was starting to make his cheek swell. “Your heart’s in the right place, Donald, it’s just your execution that needs a bit of work. We better get some ice on this.”

Wrapping a towel full of ice from the freezer, I made him hold it against the bruise while I prepared a simple breakfast of cereal for the two of us. Fortunately I hadn’t slapped him too hard; the red mark and the swelling disappeared while we ate. Donald let me know that Mom had ordered some groceries delivered that morning so we had plenty of supplies for the next day or two. I was just wondering where mom had gotten to when she came into sight down on the beach with a tall, healthy-looking, twenty-something male in tow. He was wearing nothing but swim shorts while she was rocking a dark blue bikini that looked like it was made out of dental floss.

“Here we go again,” I muttered just before he opened the sliding glass door for her.

“Morning, darling!” Mom greeted cheerfully. “I’d like you to meet Rolento Tusca, I bumped into him while I was taking a walk.”

“Good to meet you Mr. Tusca.” Standing, I held out my hand to shake his, but he had other ideas, turning the back of my palm upward in order to kiss it. I think every inch of my skin must have flushed beetroot red.

“The pleasure is all mine,” Rolento said with a Hispanic accent that would have fit the protagonist of a trashy romance novel. “If I may say, you are the splitting image of your mother’s beauty.”

Yep, he knew all the lines from that trashy romance novel too. Donald was glaring daggers at him while I tried and failed to put together a coherent reply.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rolento apologized, finally noticing Donald, “is this your son, Ms. Valocco?”

Donald stood up, barely taller than Rolento’s shoulder. “Actually, I’m her boyfriend,” Donald announced, trying to puff out his chest.

“Donald!” I snapped, thinking I’d die of embarrassment. Mom didn’t help as she turned away, covering her mouth to prevent her laughter from spoiling the scene.

Rolento chuckled. “I do not think you are her boyfriend, otherwise you would be canoodling in a corner rather than eating cereal at arm’s length.”

“It was a long night,” Donald retorted. Silently, I started working on my plot to kill him, vowing that his body would never be found.

“If you say so,” Rolento relented, smirking. The boys clasped hands and held it there for several minutes as they attempted to crush each other with their grip. Donald didn’t so much as wince but it was obvious who was winning before Rolento let go.

“I apologize, but I must depart, I have an early meeting this morning,” Rolento said, giving my mother a friendly kiss on the cheek before stepping out, closing the door behind him with a final friendly wave. I couldn’t help but notice his butt in those tight shorts as he walked away, well toned like the rest of his body.

Mom slid her arm over my shoulder, staring along with me. “We could organize a timeshare arrangement if you like.”

Snapping out of it, I gave her a playful backhanded slap to the stomach. “What? Mom!”

Laughing as she slid away to retrieve the coffee beans from the pantry, she gave me a wicked look over her shoulder. “No, darling, you’re right, a nice little threesome would make for some great mother-daughter bonding experiences!” She teased… at least, I hoped she was teasing.

Finally at the end of my rope, I sank back into the chair and cradled my head in my hands. “Oh, god, could someone please pass me the brain bleach? I need to get that image out of my head.”

Donald was busy trying to get the blood circulating in his hand again to say anything, which made him a perfect target to vent my frustrations on. “And you,” I growled, reaching up to grab his ear and yank him down to my level, “you are NOT my boyfriend! Am I making myself perfectly clear?”

“Ow! Yes! Yes, all right! Calm down! I was just trying to stop him from hitting on you…”

“Give him a break, Fina,” Mom suggested from the kitchen.

“Which limb?”

Mom laughed. “No, I mean let him go, men have to try to be noble sometimes… but you know all about that, of course.”

Scowling, I let him go. “Just… you are NOT my boyfriend, ok? As far as I’m concerned, I am not going to have a boyfriend, ever, let alone you. Get it?”

Mom rolled her eyes as she brought the coffee over. “Give her some time to change her mind, Donald. If she wasn’t somewhat fond of you, I’d have killed you already.”

“I am NOT going to change my mind,” I pressed stubbornly before taking a sip of coffee.

“Don’t say that, darling, it’s a woman’s prerogative. Speaking of which, first on our agenda for today is shopping. It’s time for your first lesson in womanhood.”

“Let me guess,” Donald muttered darkly, “you’re going to turn me back into Daphne for a girl’s day out?”

“Of course not,” Mom refuted, patting his cheek, “if all of us were girls, there’d be no one left to carry the bags.”

        *        *        *        *        *

An hour later, I’d somehow found myself surrounded by ladies’ unmentionables. After working out my sizes at home, she’d conjured up a nice, comfortable, t-shirt and jeans combo for me to wear while we got me some real clothes. Conjured clothes are fine in a pinch but they disintegrate after about 24 hours unless you want to do some serious work to make them permanent and, according to mother, the fancier the clothes, all the more effort and sacrifice was required for the ritual; much easier just to buy the latest season’s fashions.

It took me a while to get over sixteen years of negative reinforcement as far as panties and bras were concerned, items that I’d never handled outside my mother’s laundry. The lacier the underwear got, the more embarrassed I felt sifting through the racks looking for my size, and I might have lost my nerve completely if not for the stern insistence of my mother who hovered nearby at all times. When I first felt the eyes of other shoppers on me, I dismissed it as simple paranoia on my part. After all, I was a teenage girl shopping with her mother for clothes and we weren’t the only ones in the store that fit that description. After a while, however, I started to catch people looking away when I turned around or noticed people actually staring out of the corner of my eye.

“Mom,” I broached in a low whisper, pretending to be looking through the bras on the rack next to her, “I think we’ve been made. People are staring at us.”

“Actually, I’ve disguised myself with an illusion, dear,” Mom whispered back with a strange note of glee in her voice. It struck me at the time that it was the same note of glee that she used while tormenting a hero caught in one of her ‘deathtraps’. “They’re only staring at you.”

The blood drained out of my face. “Me? Why?”

Mom giggled, never a good sign. “Figure it out for yourself, dear… and if I don’t see something red and practically transparent in one of your bags before we leave, I’ll lace everything with Branwyn’s Tears.”

I gulped. If you don’t know what Branwyn’s Tears do, suffice to say that your lack of knowledge is fortunate. If you already know, you can imagine why I didn’t want any of it even close to me, let alone in my underwear. The next thing I picked out was a matching red bra and panty set that made me blush as I stared down at it.

“Hi!”

Jumping several inches in the air, I quickly hid what a conservative mother might dub ‘Satan’s Underwear’ behind my back as I turned toward the speaker. She was shorter than me though we were about the same age, and cute with her shaggy brown hair done up in a sort of punkish/geek chic style. She was also wearing the all-black shirt and slacks you often see on fashion store clerks with a nametag that read ‘Alice’ on her breast. “Um, er, hello,” I said lamely, feeling like I’d been caught red-handed doing something scandalous.

She smiled up at me cheerfully. “Hey, do you need any help at all?”

“I, er, well,” I vacillated, stalling for time while I tried to cook up a story. “Um, yeah, I guess I could… I mean, I just got back in to town today and, wouldn’t you know it, my luggage went missing at the airport… so I pretty much need to replace everything.”

Despite my lame excuses, she seemed to buy it hook, line and sinker. “Wow, that sucks. So, you’re going to need colors and styles… come on, let’s see if we can get you set up!”

“Uh, thanks, I think I have most of what I n…urk!” I exclaimed, cut off as the relentless ball of enthusiasm in human form dragged me deeper into the maze of shelves and racks.

“I think that red would really suit your skin tone,” she commented when she noticed the embarrassingly erotic underwear I was still carrying, “I don’t think I could pull that sort of thing off but it’ll look fantastic on you! From the looks of things, you have enough whites too, what we need to do now is track down something that matches your eyes, maybe something black, maybe something wild just for fun… oooh, and definitely a bikini, summer’s just around the corner after all! So are you a model or a singer? Oh, wait, no, let me guess, you’re in a beauty pageant! Going for Miss Massachusetts, right? Oh my god, this would look so cute on you…”

I opened my mouth several times through Alice’s constant stream of inexplicably nervous chatter but wasn’t able to get a word in edgeways. She held item after item against my chest, seemingly approving and disapproving her choices at random. Glancing over at my mother, begging for her help with my eyes, she only gave me a wry grin and a sarcastic wave in return and left me to the mercies of the creepily enthusiastic sales clerk.

“Oh! Check this out! This would look perfect on you!” Alice squealed in excitement as she held her latest ‘suggestion’ up for inspection. I think my eyes bugged out in horror when I saw it. It was the same emerald green as my new eyes. It was what some might call a bikini but the designer had obviously decided to create a multipurpose garment that could double as dental floss in a pinch.

“A-actually,” I stuttered, having to force my tongue into submission, “I was thinking of maybe a one-piece suit…”

“Everything ok, dear?” Mom interrupted.

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Mom! I was just telling Alice here that I was looking for a bathing suit and…”

“Oh, my,” Mom gasped, reaching out to lift the tangle of string in Alice’s hands, “it’s absolutely perfect!”

I felt my heart sink into my stomach as the realization that my mother hadn’t come to save me sank in.

“Look, dear, it’s the same color as your eyes,” Mom observed slyly. “Did you choose this, Alice? I must say you have impeccable taste.”

Alice blushed sweetly. “I-I’m paying my way through college, doing fashion design, ma’am.”

“Well, I have to say you have the eye,” Mom complimented, “and my daughter here could certainly do with someone with your expertise, she’s such a stubborn tomboy, and shy. Darling, why don’t you take this to the changing rooms and see how it fits? I’m sure Alice would be happy to help.”

The look my mother gave me was one I knew very well. It was the ‘do it or suffer the consequences’ look. On most mothers, it’s a look that is not to be trifled with lightly. On my mother, it was downright terrifying. Nodding, I took the bikini from Alice, forcing my hands not to shake.

“Cool,” Alice said, grinning, “come on, the changing rooms are over here.” She led me, practically by the hand, into the back room with the changing booths and pushed me into one of the cubicles, pulling the curtains closed behind us. “First time trying a bikini, huh? Don’t worry about it, I know it’s a little nerve wracking at first but you get used to it. Heck with your figure, the guys will be falling all over you… uh, sorry, what was your name?”

Distracted as I was by the strange garment in my hands as my brain tried to work out how the heck anyone managed to keep the thing in place, it took me a moment to realize she was actually waiting for the answer. “What? Oh, uh, Seraphina Valocco… Fina for short.”

She blinked a couple of times, looking a little flustered for some reason. “S-Seraphina… that’s a really pretty name… uh… okay, why don’t you take your s-shirt off, Fina, and… gosh, they really need to turn down the heating in here… and I’ll just get this off the hanger for you…”

Alice was blushing furiously when I handed her the bikini, which was strangely comforting since I was horribly embarrassed by the whole situation myself. Turning away from her, I found myself looking into a mirror and my own partly red face. Hesitantly, I pulled the hem of my shirt up over my head, feeling acutely self conscious even with the sports bra on.

“Oh, yeah,” Alice said, peeking around my shoulder, “the bra will have to come off too.” She chuckled when she saw the look on my face in the mirror. “Boy, your mom was right, you are shy. Don’t worry, Fina, it’s just us girls here.”

I wanted to protest but for the life of me I couldn’t come up with an acceptable excuse that didn’t make me sound like some sort of freak. Trembling for real this time, feeling queasy, I lifted the bra over my head as well, quickly crossing my arms over my chest to cover myself. Standing there, naked from the waist up, I felt strangely vulnerable. I hadn’t been comfortable nude when I was a guy; now that I had breasts I hated it even more.

Alice laughed, making me feel silly. “Come on, you’ll have to move if you want to try this on. Slip this strap over your head and pull up your hair.” Taking a deep breath, I moved my arms with great effort and did as she said, trying to ignore her gaze as it slipped down to my exposed assets. “Nice,” she commented, sounding a little envious as she reached around to pull the cloth down over my nipples. She paused for a moment as her face came close to my shoulder, taking a deep breath. “Wow, wonderful perfume, what’s it called?”

“Er… I’m not wearing perfume,” I answered, perplexed. Before I knew what she was intending, she pulled some of my hair away from my neck and leant in to breathe deeply, standing on the tips of her toes to get her nose right into the crook of my neck. I shivered, partly in shock and partly because of another sensation that was completely new to me. My skin tingled pleasantly where her warm breath brushed across my skin and I could feel the tips of my nipples press against the fabric of the bikini.

“Wow,” Alice breathed huskily, seemingly entranced, “you smell so good…”

“Um, Alice,” I said, shying away from her, “are you ok?”

Suddenly she blinked, shaking her head as she took a slow step back. “Whoa, sorry,” she sighed, a little out of breath, “I don’t know what…”

She trailed off as I turned my torso around. She looked up into my eyes. Her expression grew vague and her breathing heavier, lips slightly apart as she stared at me. Concerned, I reached out to touch her cheek. “Alice, are you all right?”

“I… I’m sorry,” she apologized quickly, taking another step backward and jumping when she hit the curtain. Then, just as suddenly, she bolted out of the changing area, bumping into my mother on the way out but not even pausing to apologize.

“Fina, Fina, Fina,” mom sighed as she stepped into the cubicle, giving me a wickedly teasing look, “whatever did you do to that poor girl?”

“Me?!?” I asked in protest, folding my arms across my chest again.

Mom rolled her eyes. “Turn around so I can tie you up. Honestly, Fina, I can see I’m going to have to train you up quickly before I send you back to school.”

Turning back around, I let her pull the strings around my back so she could tie the knot. “Another school? After that mess at St. Andrews?”

“Don’t whine, darling, it’s unbecoming of a young lady,” Mom scolded. “Besides, it’s not going to be a regular school. There we are… Alice was right; green is definitely your color.”

“I guess,” I said noncommittally, not wanting to admit how good the girl in the mirror looked. Mom wrapped her arms around me and I leant back into the hug, amazed at how much alike we looked together like that. Heck, she even looked so young, it was going to be hard maintaining the cover story that I was her daughter without using illusions. I could even pass myself off as her younger sister. “Do you think Alice is ok? She got freaked out by something…”

“Darling, I love you,” Mom answered, untying the bikini and pulling it back over my head, “but we really need to have that talk. Get your own clothes back on while I pay for these things, I’ll meet you out front with Donald.”

Doing as instructed, I came out of the back room fully dressed and noticed Mom talking to Alice as the store clerk kept her eyes on the register while she scanned in the items on the counter. Making my way outside, I found Donald sitting on a bench surrounded by our shopping bags, chatting to a blond-haired boy sitting next to him that I certainly recognized. Willis Le Sean was one of the average kids at St. Andrews: not bright enough, not athletic enough, and not handsome enough, but good enough to pass in all three categories. He was blonde, tall and pale, but a bit too skinny for his height, a contrast against Donald who was dark haired, lightly tan, shorter but stockier. Feeling my stomach sink yet again, I picked up my step and strode towards them, wondering what the hell Donald was playing at.

“Hey, Seraphina,” Donald stood up, surprising me with a kiss on the cheek before I could stop him, “I’d like you to meet Willis Le Sean, we kinda struck up a conversation while he was waiting for his girlfriend. Willis, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Seraphina.”

Memo to self, I noted mentally, ask mom for lessons in the disposal of bodies in public places. “Pleased to meet you, Willis,” I said out loud, maintaining a pleasant smile even when Donald put his arm around my waist.

Willis, for his part, just stared up at me. Donald got a little annoyed after ten seconds of silence and snapped his fingers in front of the other boy’s face. “Hey, Willis, anyone there?”

“Oh, sorry,” Willis apologized, shaking his head as if to clear it as he stood, offering his hand to me. “Hi, I’m Willis Le Sean, pleasure to meet you.”

I took his hand and shook it but when I tried to extract it, he held on, forcing me to maintain contact with his sweaty palm longer than I was comfortable with. “Right, um, mom will be ready in a moment, I think we should get all these bags together ready to go.”

“Hey, I’ll help,” Willis volunteered immediately, “you’ve got an awful lot of shopping here. David was telling me you’d lost your luggage at the airport.”

I glanced at Donald, or rather ‘David’, and wondered what the chances were that we’d both came up with the same excuse. “Oh, yeah, terrible thing, I had some keepsakes in those bags. You really don’t have to help us, though; didn’t David say you were waiting for your girlfriend?”

“I wouldn’t call her my girlfriend,” Willis answered a little too quickly, “I mean, she’s a friend and she’s a girl but that doesn’t mean we’re… oh, wait here she is now!”

Lisa Hong’s sudden appearance made me do a double take. First of all, she looked shorter than I remembered her, highlighting just how much I’d grown during my ‘beauty sleep’. Secondly while she wasn’t by any means stunning, her sapphire blue dress flattered her. Last of all, she obviously hadn’t gotten the memo that she’d been relegated to friend status as she immediately grabbed Willis’ hand and gave him a chaste peck on the cheek, much to his embarrassment. “Hi, Willis, care to introduce me to your friends?”

“Yeah, sure,” Willis said it like he didn’t really want to, “this is David and Seraphina. I met them while I was waiting for you. Guys, this is the person I was telling you about, Lisa.”

The glare Lisa gave me had daggers in it. “Nice to meet you both,” she lied, “come on, Willis, we’ve got to get to the theater before the movie starts.”

Willis, however, stood solid despite Lisa’s insistent tugs on his elbow. “Oh, yeah, right, we were just going to see Spider-Man 3… would you two like to come? We could call it a double date.”

“Oh, I don’t think we really can,” I explained, softening Lisa’s hateful gaze slightly, “we’ve got all this shopping and my mom will be out any moment and…”

“What’s this about a double date?” Mom interrupted as she strode out the door with both hands full of bags, picking the worst possible moment to appear. As always.

“Hi, mom,” I greeted, my stomach now crawling down my left leg into my foot, “this is Willis Le Sean and Lisa Hong, David and I just bumped into them while we were waiting. Willis just invited us to see Spider-Man 3 with them but I was just explaining that we have all this shopping to carry and…”

“Nonsense,” mom scoffed, “I can handle all of these if we can get a shopping cart from somewhere; the four of you should go off and have some fun. I have a few things to pick up, just call me when you’re done, darling.”

“But I…”

“No buts,” she interrupted again, smiling sweetly, “go and have some fun, you’ve earned it.”

I swear Lisa looked like she was about to swallow her own tongue. While mom organized the boys into searching for a cart, I tried to get her attention even though she kept turning her back to me. “Lisa, I’m sorry,” I whispered, since mom was only a few feet away, “I know you wanted some alone time with Willis, my mother just can’t take a hint.”

She sighed, turning around. “I know, I’m sorry for being a total bitch, it’s just…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll try and get David to take me to another movie when we get there.”

Lisa bit her lower lip. “Think that might work?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to be reassuring, “David will do what I say… if he knows what’s good for him.”

They finally got the bags together and I exchanged a quick kiss on the cheek with my mother before we parted ways, Daniel immediately cementing himself on my shit list by taking my hand in a far too familiar fashion as we walked. “I am going to torture you slowly when we get home,” I said through clenched teeth, low enough that Lisa and Willis couldn’t hear as they led us toward the theatre.

“Keep smiling,” he whispered back with a smug note in his voice, “we’re supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend, remember? It’s perfectly natural for us to hold hands.”

Annoyed, I put a bit more pressure into my grip, making him gasp a little. “Just don’t get any ideas that this is a date, got it?”

“Yeah, yeah, ease up, message received loud and clear.”

I cut him some slack, though I kept the pressure just high enough to remind him of the consequences if he got fresh. “I’m going to try and get us away from those two,” I said, filling him in on the plan, “try to get us into another movie.”

“Girls,” he sighed in exasperation. “First you tell me this isn’t a date, now you want us to be alone…”

“It’s for Lisa, blockhead,” I admonished, “she wants some alone time with Willis, get it? We’re the third and fourth wheels here.”

“Oh.” He nodded, finally understanding.

As we entered the lobby, I quickly checked the times while surreptitiously stuffing a fifty dollar bill into Donald’s hand. “Oh, 300’s still running,” I commented, trying to sound off hand, “we’ll have to come back and see it sometime, right David?”

“Uh, yeah,” Donald answered, stuffing his hands into his pockets to hide the note, “haven’t you seen it yet? It’s an awesome movie.”

“Oh, yeah, brilliant flick,” Willis butted in. “Hey, we could see it now if you want!”

“Actually, I really wanted to see Spider-man,” Lisa said, trying to get Willis’ attention.

“No, it’s ok, I really want to see Spider-man as well,” I insisted.

Donald took my cue, slapping Willis on the shoulder and leading him away. “Come on, dude, we better get our seats before they all go.”

“Thank-you,” Lisa whispered to me with some relief.

“You think I want to be stuck on a date with two other people?” I murmured, evoking a smile from the other girl.

“I’m sorry but I just have to ask… why are you even with David? I mean you’re so… and he’s, well, ordinary.”

I frowned, not really getting what she was trying to say. “What do you mean, I’m so? I’m so what?”

She gave me a ‘you can’t be serious’ look. “You know what I mean. You’re so… hot and David’s just not.”

Taking a moment to pull a stray lock of hair out of my face and tucking it behind my ear, I tried to wrap my head around what she was saying. After all, I wasn’t that hot… was I? “He’s… a childhood friend; feels like we’ve known each other forever sometimes.”

Lisa smiled. “That’s nice. Look, don’t take this the wrong way but you might want to play the field a little bit, you’re far too good for him.”

I was still trying to wrap my head around her advice when Willis and Donald came back, Donald looking particularly sour as he carried the drinks.

“Four tickets for 300!” Willis proclaimed, holding them out with one hand while he cradled two buckets of popcorn against his chest with the other arm. “There aren’t that many seats taken either, so we can sit where we want.”

He seemed totally oblivious to the glare Lisa was giving him. If we’d been in a cartoon, the thundercloud over her head would have reduced him to ash. “I thought we were going to see Spider-man 3?” I asked pointedly.

“What? You seriously think I’d let you miss a movie like 300 on our account? Oh, here, I got you some popcorn Seraphina,” he said, holding one of the buckets out to me. I took it from him mostly because it’s an automatic reflex when someone tries to hand you something. I think I managed an air of resignation and disdain as I did, though honestly I found the attention a little flattering. My acceptance made him look as happy as a puppy that’d just had his tummy rubbed. “Great, this way, we’re in cinema 4,” he said, taking the lead with Lisa stalking after him.

“What the hell?” I asked Donald as he fell in beside me a few feet behind them, burdened with the tray of drinks.

“It wasn’t my fuckin’ fault,” Donald answered with a low growl, “asshole just steamrolled over me, bought all the tickets and the food and wouldn’t let me get a word in.”

I gave in to the urge that had been building and slapped my palm against my forehead. “What is with this dickhead?” I muttered to myself. “It’s like he’s trying to get rid of Lisa.”

Donald gave me a sidelong glance. “Seriously? You seriously don’t get what’s happening here?”

“No, wha…”

I didn’t get a chance to answer since we started to catch up to the others as Willis handed over our tickets. “Why don’t you two take the lead,” Willis suggested once we were through, “we’re happy to sit wherever.”

“I prefer somewhere in the middle,” Lisa interjected forcefully, though Willis ignored her again. Sighing, I took the drinks off Donald. “Go on, find us somewhere in the middle,” I instructed, letting him go first. Halfway up the ramp that led to the theatre proper, I heard a meaty thwack from behind us.

“OW! What the hell, Lisa?” Willis complained.

“Stop staring like that,” Lisa hissed, her tone full of venom.

I glanced back to see what was going on just as Willis looked away from me. “I was not staring,” he protested. Our two companions continued to bicker as we made our way to the seats, Donald in the lead with Willis directly behind me, which was starting to make me nervous. My discomfort intensified when Willis sat directly next to me. I gave one of the drinks to Donald, placed one in the cup holder of my chair for myself and tried to hand the tray to Willis so he could pass it on to Lisa but he just smiled and thanked me, taking his drink and ignoring that last one for Lisa, forcing me to reach over him to hand to tray to her. I didn’t understand what his game was until I caught him staring down at my chest. Lisa didn’t miss it either and slapped him on the shoulder again.

“What?” He snapped at her. “Christ, Lisa, what the hell is wrong with you today?”

Sinking back in the chair, I squirmed a little away from the sleazeball, putting my right arm down in between my body and the seat because I didn’t want to share the arm with him. My skin crawled, making me feel dirty all over though my heart was beating faster as well. Donald took my hand, leaning close to whisper, concern in his voice. “You ok?” He asked, having missed the altercation. I nodded, not wanting to make a scene. He glanced at the other two, wondering what was going on, but left it at that.

After what seemed like an endless series of advertisements, we all settled down as the movie started. Somewhere in the midst of the young King Leonidas killing the wolf, the dirty feeling faded and I let myself get sucked into the narrative.

“Madness?” King Leonidas inquired, outraged. “THIS. IS. SPARTA!”

At that point, I realized that I had to find out what actor was playing Leonidas, there was just something about him that was drawing me in. Whenever he came on screen from that point on, I found my eyes sliding down to his bare chest, wondering just how muscular he was in real life and how much of it was painted on. After all, if they could make David Wenham look like a condom full of walnuts, anything was possible. Leonidas could even have been played by Mini-Me in an animatronic suit.

Feeling warmer as the movie progressed, I fanned myself with one hand as I leant over to Donald. “Think they could crank up the heating a bit more?” I whispered humorously.

“Yeah,” he rebutted, rubbing his arms, “it’s freezing in here.”

I stared at him for a moment, wondering if he was kidding before forgetting about it and returning my attention to the movie. Deeply entranced, I was oblivious to everything else, right up until I felt something squeeze my right knee. Confused rather than alarmed, I didn’t stiffen until I looked down and found Willis’ hand slowly crawling up my thigh.

My heart started to race and I froze, not knowing what to do or how to react. Taking my hesitation as an invitation, he slipped his hand between my legs, stroking my inner thigh as his fingers made their way closer to my crotch. Most abominably, his touch made my skin tingle, sending little thrills of pleasure up my spine. My breathing became deeper as I felt my nipples tighten, heart racing. A little voice in the back of my mind tempted me to just let it happen, just go with the flow and enjoy the here and now.

“This will not be over quickly,” the traitorous senator Theron said to Queen Gorgo on the screen. “You will not enjoy this. I’m not your King.”

The words caused an electric surge of panic to arc up my spine, liquid fire surging through my veins. Sparks flew across the theatre as the lights exploded, the sudden shock making Lisa scream while the boys ducked for cover. The screen flickered for a moment before going black, small explosions popping off from the projection room like firecrackers. Plunged into darkness, I leapt to my feet, grabbed Donald’s hand and ran, dragging him behind me.

 

Chapter 8

It was so warm, I felt like I was wrapped up in a cosy blanket next to a fireplace during a winter storm. Soft hands caressed me gently all over my body from every angle, drawing moans of contentment from my lips. My heart hammered as I pressed myself against his hard, masculine, chest; my hands gripping his back for support as his tongue teased my neck. Urgency built as he moved slowly inside me, filling me with such expectation that I thought I was going to burst.

“YES!” I cried out, lurching into a sitting position so fast that my long hair flipped over in front of my face. Breathing hard, I looked down to find myself sweating profusely in my own bed, weak daylight sneaking through the cracks of the vertical blinds in my bedroom. Taking a few deep breaths, I sank back into the mattress and basked in the afterglow, every inch of my skin tingling.

After a few minutes, I noticed my nipples poking up under the singlet I’d worn to bed. It was a pair of pink and purple pyjamas that mom had chosen for me but despite the colors they were comfortable. Lifting the collar, I looked down at the fairly large weights on my chest merely out of curiosity, though the sight didn’t bring me any sort of epiphany as to my new situation. Breasts were just another thing I was going to have to deal with, like boys with wandering hands.

I was so distracted that it took a while for the abominably moist feeling between my thighs to reach my awareness. Throwing off the sheets, I grimaced to discover that my pants were disgustingly damp. Unable to stand the rather gross feeling, I carefully got up and changed after wiping myself off with some tissues, avoiding the thing between my legs as much as possible.

Before I could get out of the room and into the shower, however, I caught my reflection in the mirror and caught myself staring. The fact that I resembled my mother hadn’t passed me by, but how much we looked alike hadn’t really hit me until that moment. I was a sixteen year old girl who could pass for eighteen or possibly twenty. Mom was still a bit taller and looked like she was in her twenties. In other words, I looked less like my mother’s daughter and more like her younger sister, a thought disturbing enough that I put it right out of my head before going to shower along with the implications of the wet dream that I didn’t want to deal with.

Finally clean and dressed casually in a t-shirt and track pants, I descended the stairs to the lounge room and kitchen area to find Donald lying on his back, stiff as a board on the floor while mom flipped some pancakes over the stove. “Hi darling,” she greeted brightly, still in pyjamas herself, “breakfast won’t be a minute. Be sure to eat hearty, you’ve got powers testing today at ARC…”

“MOM!” I whined, kneeling next to Donald to listen to his chest. Luckily he was still breathing and his heart was still beating, but he looked like he’d been frozen solid in mid-step. With one foot raised and his arms held out, the moment he’d stopped moving he’d toppled over onto his back. “What the hell?”

“Oh, him,” Mom said with a shrug. “He was badgering me this morning and I had to shut him up so I could concentrate on breakfast. It’ll wear off in an hour or two.”

Huffing impatiently, I got up and flopped onto a stool by the kitchen bench. “You don’t have to treat him like that, mom. He’s trying.”

“He certainly is.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s not what I meant! You could cut him a little slack; he’s new to the game after all.”

Mom sighed, dolling out perfect pancakes for the both of us before adding eggs, bacon and maple syrup. “I haven’t killed him yet but that’s as far as I’m willing to stretch my patience right now. Between negotiating your enrolment at the new school and this business with the FBI, I don’t have time for petty distractions.”

Looking at all the food on my plate, I shook my head. “I thought girls were supposed to eat less?”

“Girls who need to watch their figures, yes. Psychic Exemplar girls about to undergo a gruelling exam designed to push their physical and mental limits eat hearty in the morning beforehand. Besides, it’s not like you can get fat.”

“Doesn’t that seem a little… unfair?” I asked, frowning.

“Life is inherently unfair,” Mom answered with an impatient huff. “Look, I understand why you might feel that way; it’s like white people feeling guilty that they have money while children in Africa starve. But you also have to realize that guilt is drilled into people from a young age as a means of control, especially women; guilt for our good fortune and fear of consequences. Don’t put yourself on that train, darling, enough people will be trying to foist a ticket on you as it is.”

Nodding quietly, I started to eat, still a little self-conscious but more because Donald was lying like a toppled statue behind me.

“You know,” Mom broached hesitantly after a long silence, “sex dreams are perfectly normal for a girl your age.”

I think my cheeks went incandescent. “Mom!”

“I also know I keep saying this but also for an Exemplar. It’s not surprising really, we’re built for sex to encourage procreation. Besides, with all those hormones assaulting your brain and your subconscious trying to deal with your change…”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

Mom frowned. “You mean you’d rather ignore it. What I’m trying to get through that thick skull of yours is that you can’t ignore it. Remember your reaction at the mall yesterday? You’re lucky all you did was cause a blackout rather than burying the entire theatre in gremlins. Women like us learn one of two paths when we get to your age, we either learn to use our vagina or let our vagina use us. If you’d been born a girl, I would have been drilling this into your brain by the time you were eight but as it stands I have less than a month to get this most important lesson through to you.”

“Mom, I’m not going to jump the bones of the first guy who comes onto me. Willis took me by surprise, I know what to look out for now.”

Reaching out, she stroked my cheek. “Darling, I love you but you really are naive. Human relationships are a matter of predator and prey, the difference in this arena is the predator swoops down on you with smiles and flowers rather than talons and teeth. Willis was about as subtle as a brick to the face, like most men. The really dangerous ones will try to become friends with you first. Trust me, as a sexual predator myself; I know what I’m talking about. Hell, if you weren’t my daughter we’d still be in bed together.”

“MOM!”

“It’s just a fact, dear, and it shouldn’t be so shocking to you. Do you really think I’d balk at age of consent when I’m wanted for murder?”

I’d learned long ago to ignore those sorts of questions. “I’m not going to have sex with anyone,” I grumbled. “I didn’t have sex with Daphne when she was perfectly willing and I don’t see myself starting now.”

“Yes and look how that ended up,” Mom observed, “you passed up your only opportunity to find out what sex as a man was like.”

“You’re telling me you don’t know a spell for that?” I asked pointedly.

“Oh! Speaking of which, I got you a present yesterday,” Mom said, smoothly changing the subject as, with a snap of her fingers, she produced a colorful box tied up with ribbons from thin air .

Eyeing her cautiously as I untied the present, I couldn’t read the smile on her face. Taking off the lid, I stared at the object inside for a while, momentarily confused by the shape before its use slowly dawned on me. It was about a foot and a half long including the metal grip and hilt. The rest of it was made of soft black rubber, though there was definitely something solid inside it. Pressing one of the buttons on the thumb grip, I jumped when then thing started pulsing, growing longer and shorter rhythmically with enough force that it almost jumped out of the box.

“Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is?” I begged.

“An Exemplar-rated, all purpose, robotic vibrator,” Mom squeed. “I ordered it the moment I realized you were manifesting as a female.”

Every fibre of my being wanted to drop the thing and run screaming into the bathroom to wash my hands. Instead, I put it down gently and closed the box. “Uh… thanks, mom.”

“Just remember, the more you masturbate, the better your first time will be. Now, finish up your breakfast and go get changed into your sportswear, I have to have you over at ARC in an hour and after powers testing the tailor has to fit you for your uniform.”

Powers Testing was even more gruelling than Mom had hinted at. ARC Boston is a nice, nondescript, building in the middle of a business park with tinted windows and no sign out in front. Thanks to terrorist groups like Humans First, it wasn’t the sort of business one can conduct openly. Inside, I was subjected to a battery of physical and mental tests. I lifted weights, ran on treadmills, played games, guessed cards, manipulated psychoactive substances without touching them, activated harmless magical runes, dodged holographic projectiles and even ran in a wind tunnel. Then they made me do it all again underwater, in high and low gravity, in rooms full of sleeping gas, while trying to resist a mental probe… if it could be tested for, someone had thought of a test for it.

The needles were still the worst part. Most norms would feint at the sight of an exemplar syringe; the one they had to use on me was apparently some sort of ‘diamond fiber’ gadget, nearly impossible to break even in sheets thinner than paper. On top of that, they had to immobilize my arm while a robot took blood just in case I freaked out so I wouldn’t hurt someone by accident. I didn’t freak out but I could imagine less fortunate mutants who would, and when I considered the fact that I’d just lifted a three hundred pound barbell with one hand I didn’t blame them for being cautious.

I left ARC that afternoon with a tentative classification of ‘EX-3/WIZ-4/PSI-3’, assuming nothing else came out of my blood and tissue samples. Being paranoid, Mom invoked her right to oversee the disposal of any samples they took. Not that I blamed her either, such things can provide powerful magical links in the hands of the wrong people. Heck, at home we have spells that disintegrate loose strands of hair and skin flakes for just that reason.

Getting fitted for my new uniform was more embarrassing since it required the measurement of my thighs and breast. I had a confirmed hourglass figure at 32-20-32, though I was assured that I had a bit of filling out to do. I was also quite tall for a girl my age at 5’7”, though a lot of that was leg apparently. Of course, mom had already measured my bust size the day before but being told I was a C-cup still came as a shock. More shocking, though, were some of the optional extras for the uniform: armored inserts, flame retardant cloth, all-natural fibers, anti-static, water-proof, specially elastic (to prevent wardrobe malfunctions when ‘hulking out’), built-in computers and even panic buttons were on the list.

Mom surprised me by insisting on some of the options and not others. Armored inserts and fire-proofing seemed rational but where I would have winced at the cost of the all-natural fibers, she was adamant. She dismissed my desire for the in-built computer and panic buttons, citing the probable interference of any magical power spikes I might generate, while ignoring my request for waterproofing without giving me a reason at all.

Arriving home, I flopped, exhausted, into the couch at the opposite end of Donald while he played Virtua Fighter 5. Mom retreated into her study and began to call all her friends in the supervillain community so she could skite about the results of my test. EX-3/WIZ-4/PSI-3 was not only pushing toward the higher end of the power scale but included the very rare WIZ/PSI combination. The problem with affecting reality is that even when you’re breaking the laws of physics, they still apply in weird ways, like the conservation of energy. The energy has to come from somewhere, then it has to go somewhere else. In the case of Wizards it comes from somewhere else and goes back there while Psychics draw from their own reserves then refill that reserve from elsewhere. Being able to draw energy from multiple sources made me more potentially powerful, though in reality that potential power didn’t mean much compared to straight WIZ or PSI mutants aside from the issue of stamina.

Not that it weighed particularly on my mind compared to my curiosity about why Mom had frozen Donald like a meat popsicle that morning. “You ok?” I asked, waiting until he was between bouts to broach the question.

“Fine,” he muttered, his tone more one of disappointment than resentment.

Kicking off my shoes, I curled up into the corner of the armrest and hugged my legs. “I’m sorry you got dragged back into this.”

“I’m not,” he stated with a shrug. “I was kidnapped for a few days and you know what my parents did when I was back? Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, changed. Screw ‘em. Maybe they’re better off without me but right now I don’t care.”

“I’m… sorry to hear that,” I said, trying not to sound trite. “If you don’t mind me asking, why did mom spell you this morning?”

“It was nothing,” he grumbled, starting the next bout, “I was being stupid.”

I let him play for a bit in silence before pressing him for more information. “When dealing with supervillains you have to keep a few things in mind. They’re temperamental and reactionary by nature, but they’re also driven and focused… the successful ones at least, like mom. You can’t talk them around to your way of thinking, and even trying will get you… punished in some way. I know what she does looks crazy sometimes but there’s always a logical explanation, you just have to look at it from her perspective.”

He lost several matches in a row before deciding to speak again. “I… asked her to turn me back into Daphne,” he admitted. “When she said no, I tried begging. After that I got a little upset.”

“Oh,” I said, shocked. “Uh… well, that makes perfect sense, then.”

“It does?” he asked incredulously.

“Look, Mom didn’t spare your life just because I asked. Heck, trying to kill you might just have been a test to gauge my reaction. She always has at least two reasons for everything she does, though I know she takes my feelings into account. Ether she has her own reason for keeping you alive as well or she’s making do with the tools at hand. If you think about it, her motivation is fairly obvious.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Care to enlighten me, then?”

“Same thing she wanted when we were Fino and Daphne, she wants you to take my virginity.”

Donald’s eyes bugged out again a moment before he broke into a fit of coughing that lasted a full minute. “She what?” he asked in a strangled voice.

“Mom uses sex as a weapon,” I answered with a deep sigh. “I won’t tell you the whole story but her childhood was pretty effed up. She wants me to, er, loosen up about it so I don’t make a mistake. And since I’m sympathetic to you, to her mind that means I might like you… at least enough that I’m more likely to take you to bed than some stranger.”

“Ok, that does make a twisted sort of sense,” he muttered bitterly. “I asked her to turn me back into Daphne because I thought… well, if you had someone, someone your own age, around that you could talk to. You know, going through the same things you are, then…”

“Then I might not feel lonely?”

He nodded, blushing.

“That’s… kind of sweet, Donald,” I told him. “But I’m not lonely or anything. Well, I can only imagine what you went though being Daphne. I mean, I’m a mutant, all this just happened naturally. It’s not like I can blame anyone, nobody did this to me.”

“I was scared at first,” Donald confessed. “Your mom really put the screws to us. Then you… weren’t what I expected. You could have taken advantage of me, heck your mom promised I wouldn’t have to go to the prom if I managed to seduce you. When it was all over, I actually wanted to be with you.”

“What about now?” I asked, not knowing what to think.

“It’s… weird. After your mom took my memories away, I wasn’t back to normal. Daphne managed to survive in my head somehow and I can’t tell you how happy I am that she did. I don’t want to be the old Donald again, he was an ass. Now, though, I guess I’m more Daphne in my head than Donald, so changing into Daphne again doesn’t seem so bad. If you were Fino again, I’d want to be your girl.”

“But I’m not Fino anymore,” I said sullenly.

“No you’re not. I know you’re not ready for a boyfriend and if I’m honest with myself, I don’t know if I can be someone’s boyfriend anymore. I feel like I’m Daphne wearing an old boy-suit. Guess your mom’s not the only one with two motives for everything she does.”

Pulling my hair back over my ear, I watched Donald as he played the game. Making a decision, I slid closer, picking the second controller up off the coffee table. “Mind if I prove I can still kick your ass?”

He smirked viciously. “Bring it on!”

We were in the middle of our second match when he gave me a furtive glance. “So, uh, have you… you know… yet?”

Distracted, I didn’t catch his meaning. “Sorry?”

“You know… have you masturbated?”

I gripped the controller so hard that I cracked the casing. We stared at the damage for a few moments before Donald broke the silence with a cough. “Sorry,” he apologized, “stupid question…”

“No!” I interrupted with more force than I’d intended. “I mean, no, I’m sorry, I totally overreacted.” Gently putting down the controller, I deliberately laced my fingers together. “I mean, you were a girl for nearly a week, I understand that you’d want to talk about… it. But the answer’s no, I haven’t.”

“Well, you did better than I did,” he admitted sheepishly. “First night alone, curiosity got the better of me.”

I stared at him, blinking several times as my brain conjured an image of Daphne under the covers in a dark room. “So… if you don’t mind talking about it… what was it like?”

“Weird… at least at first; I mean it didn’t really come naturally. I don’t know about you but I always found it easy as a guy. Then when I was Daphne, it could sort of hurt… sometimes. Like if I got a bit too enthusiastic.”

He was blushing and obviously embarrassed but he was piquing my curiosity. “So, you tried more than once?”

“Well, once I learned my limits, it didn’t hurt. When it didn’t hurt it was… great. Better than it was as a guy.”

“Did you ever have… dreams?” I asked. “I mean sexual dreams.”

He shook his head. “No, not as Daphne. Though, I did have this really freaky dream the night I came back…”

“Ok,” Mom interrupted, snapping her mobile phone shut as she strode out of the study, “who’s up for pasta?”

There was a long pause as Donald and I shared a look, both of us blushing from embarrassment.

“Oh, sorry,” Mom apologized, “am I interrupting a very special episode?”

“MOM!”

        *        *        *        *       *

Next morning, I slowly regained consciousness after a deep sleep to find the sun high over the horizon. Knowing my mother’s standard operating procedure, I picked up my mobile phone and flicked through the messages. Sure enough, she’d sent one to me at 8:25am.

Morning, sleepyhead! Called away to work, leftovers in fridge and money on sideboard. Condoms in my top drawer, in case you need them. Love you!

Rolling my eyes, I threw off the covers and hopped up onto my feet, stretching out the kinks. Again, I couldn’t help but catch my reflection in the mirror. Feeling cheeky, I put on an exaggerated pose and batted my eyelashes at myself. Snorting at my own sense of humor, my rumbling tummy urged me to breakfast before showering so I made my way downstairs still in my pyjamas.

The sight that greeted me at the base of the stairs brought me to a halt. Nine large men wearing a predominantly scarlet uniform with black trimming, large shoulderpads, and a high collar and hat that made them resemble bellhops leveled long, chromed energy rifles in my direction. To make their point, one of them revved the power slide, causing the weapon to hum ominously.

They weren’t as strange as the tall, wiry man that stood behind them. Dressed in a black and white striped shirt with black trousers held up by heavy suspenders, his face was painted white with black lips and little arrows pointing away from his eyes. His heavy eyebrows were extremely expressive as he appraised me from beneath his bowler hat while tugging at the wrists of his white gloves. Donald stood next to him, hammering at an invisible wall as he screamed at me silently, begging me to run as tears streamed down his face. Once my gaze returned to the demented mime, he carefully raised one finger to his lips, bidding me to remain quiet.

Slowly raising my hands, I swept my gaze along the line of henchmen. “You all have no comprehension of the shitstorm you’ve just unleashed.”

Snarling, one of the henchmen took aim and shot me in the chest.

to be continued