A Whateley Academy Adventure
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The apartment door opened with an enthusiastic bang, startling Marty, who'd been heads-down playing GEO on his computer. "Grab your stuff, kiddo," cheerfully ordered the intruder, a very shapely, attractive woman who appeared to be about twenty-five.
"Hey, Mom," Marty replied without looking up.
"We've got a trip to take, so let's get moving," Marty's mom, Tatiana Hughes, repeated. "Time's wasting."
Marty cringed. "Don't tell me we have to ...."
Tatiana puzzled for only the briefest of moments before she smiled. "No, no, no. Not this time. Since school is out for the summer, I figured we could go to Colorado and spend a couple of weeks in the back-country."
Marty's eyes lit up. "Great! I was wondering if we were going to do anything this summer, or if you were going to be busy with ... jobs."
Tatiana shrugged. "I'm on leave for a bit."
Marty rolled his eyes. "Meaning you're laying low after the last job, and backpacking in the mountains is a good way to stay out of sight."
Tatiana chuckled. "Yeah, something like that. But it was a well-paying job," she added in her defense.
"When do you want to leave?"
"As soon as you can get your stuff together," Tatiana replied. "I already rented a car for the trip."
"Under one of your aliases?" Marty asked with a grin. He knew his mom - and her profession - well. "Who are we this time?"
"Rosalie and Chuck Matthews. One I haven't used for quite a while." She tossed her purse on the sofa and strode in her usual sexy gait to her bedroom. The tight jeans looked like they were painted on her long, shapely legs, and curving just so perfectly around her hips and ass. The knit shirt, with a low-cut scoop neckline, clung to her torso and seemed to amplify her generous bosom and narrow waist. Even in her every-day clothes and tennis-shoes, she looked like a million bucks, partly because she was an exemplar, and partly because she aged about a third as fast as most people. Most would guess her age at twenty-one or twenty-two, never her actual age of thirty-six, and there was no way anyone would imagine that Marty was her son - unless she disguised herself to appear older, and even then, most people would assume that she was a teenager when she'd had him. In public, they appeared more as siblings than mother and son.
"How long are we going?" Marty called from his bedroom, where he was retrieving his backpack. He stored it in his closet ready to go; all he had to do was stuff his down sleeping bag into a stuff sack, grab a couple of extra items of clothing suitable for a car trip, and he'd be ready.
"I figure three weeks," Tatiana replied from her room, where she, too, was putting last-minute comfort items into her backpack and a travel bag for the road trip.
"Okay." Like his mom, Marty kept his backpack ready to go. In her line of work, it was necessary to have gear prepared in case they had to leave quickly, like they'd had to do a few times. They had 'bug-out bags' stashed in several locations, and a few secreted caches of supplies and money strategically placed near several escape routes out of Phoenix. Twice a year, she pulled a surprise 'bug out' exercise on Marty, sometimes even having a friend initiate the exercise at a random time and day so even she was taken by surprise. All he had to do was chuck a few extra shirts, underwear, and socks into his own prepared travel bag, and then sat on his bed, pulling out a cell phone. "Hello, Sensei?" he spoke when he'd connected with his gym.
"Yes, this is Sensei Roberts," the voice answered. Besides being Marty's instructor, he had become a good friend.
"This is Marty Hughes. Mom just pulled a surprise backpacking trip, so I'm going to be missing classes for the next three weeks," Marty explained.
"I understand. Kids in summertime are supposed to have fun. Where are you going this time?"
"Colorado," Marty answered.
"You're going to miss the tournament," Sensei Roberts reminded Marty.
"Yeah, I know, but Mom and I haven't been backpacking for months, and I've got the itch to go."
"Well, I can't say that I blame you. This isn't one of those extreme survival camping trips is it?" the sensei asked, a bit worried.
Marty chuckled. "No. And the last one was a lot of fun!"
"I wouldn't call living three weeks with only the contents of your pockets fun," the sensei laughed in reply.
"It was a blast!" Marty repeated. "We were the only ones who made it the whole time without having to use our emergency kits."
"Better you than me, kid. Enjoy yourself and be careful."
"I will," Marty promised. "And I'll be back in the gym before you know it." He hung up his cell phone and stuffed it in his pocket.
"All set?" Tatiana called from the family room, where she had her backpack and travel bag waiting.
Marty joined her, carrying his own bags. He knew how to pack ultra-light for camping, but he still wished that he had his mom's exemplar strength. At times, it would be handy, like at the end of a long hiking day, when he was fatigued but she was still going strong.
Tatiana grinned. "Let's get going." She shouldered her backpack with one strap, picked up her travel bag, and practically danced out the door. Marty, sighing at her boundless energy, followed, pausing to turn off the lights, arm the alarm system, and lock the door.
Marty followed her down to the car and tossed his gear in the back. She'd rented a VW Jetta, an incongruous little car that wouldn't stand out too much, which was always a requirement for a supervillain. That part always chafed with her; she loved driving cars that were sporty but not ostentatious, something that wouldn't be thought of as the transportation of choice of the rich, or of a supervillain. Her Mazda Rx-8 fit the bill perfectly, but even that was too flashy for laying low.
While Tatiana played a compilation CD of her favorites on the car stereo, Marty put in his headphones and listened to his own type of music. It wasn't that his mom's taste in music was necessarily bad; he could listen to Christina Aguilera, Pink, and several of mom's other favorite artists without going insane, but Marty's taste in music tended to be more country-oriented, which drove his mom nuts. She didn't understand how anyone could like 'that stuff', and it had led to many friendly arguments in the past.
When the album ended, Marty shut off his music player. "A couple of the guys really wanted to go camping with us," he said.
Tatiana laughed. "They wouldn't last a day."
"That's not fair. Jack and Ray are pretty good at backpacking. Their troop goes out a lot."
"There's a big difference between a two-day backpacking trip in a state park and a three-week outing in back-country," Tatiana reminded her son.
"Jack's troop went to some major mountain camp last summer. He said it was ten days in the wilderness."
"I know you'd like to have friends along, Marty," Tatiana replied, "but I can't take responsibility for anyone but my own son. Besides, you're far more skilled in woodcraft and survival than they could ever be, right?"
Marty shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Maybe after they take a professional wilderness survival class, and they're eighteen so I'm not responsible to their parents ...."
"In other words, pretty much never, right?" Marty sighed.
"Yeah, pretty much." She tussled his hair, which drew a snort of disgust. "Besides, you and I both know that the only reason they want to go camping with us is so they can ogle your mother."
"Mom!" Marty cried out, abhorred at her blunt statement.
"C'mon, kiddo," Tatiana laughed. "You know it's true as well as I do." She glanced at her son, noting his discomfort. "And to be honest, if Jack was eighteen, I might do a little more than wiggle for him to gawk at!"
"Mother!" Marty stuck his fingers in his ears. "I _so_ do not want to be hearing this!"
"Maybe later this summer, we can do another wilderness survival class," she speculated after a bit, so Marty would calm down from her suggestive comments.
Marty grinned. "We really blew their socks off the last time, didn't we?"
"Yeah. They probably figured we were rank amateurs and wouldn't last."
"I especially liked the looks on their faces when they came to camp and found us eating that trout."
Tatiana chuckled again. "I'm sure they thought you were just showing off the way you cooked it."
"Hey, it was fair. The wild rice was in season, and the berries made a nice makeshift compote. It's not my fault that the instructors don't like fine dining."
Tatiana looked thoughtful for a moment. "I think I _will_ get reservations for another trip to Alaska, and another wilderness course. It's summertime, after all."
Marty frowned. "Is there something you're not telling me?" he asked. "We usually only do one trip a summer."
She chuckled as she shook her head slightly. "I've heard you on the phone talking to Shelby," she said. "I know you're more than a bit interested in girls, and that you're rapidly coming to a point where you'd rather do things with them than with me."
Marty frowned. "Mom, I _love_ backpacking with you," he protested.
Tatiana sighed. "Maybe," she said, "but you need to spend time with kids your own age. Eventually, you're going to get a girlfriend, and ...."
Marty winced, knowing his mother was right. Thinking about Shelby Richards made his heart go pitter-patter, among other things, and he knew that if she asked him, he'd spend time with her rather than his mom. "But ... I ...." He wasn't quite sure what to say.
"But nothing. It's called growing up. Every kid does it, and you're no different." She smiled at him. "Besides, you don't want people thinking you're a mama's boy, do you?"
Marty looked down, embarrassed and feeling ashamed that he already had thoughts of leaving mom at home for the night and hanging out with a girlfriend. "I suppose not." He didn't want to tell her that he'd already been in a few fights because some older kids had called him precisely that. He'd won, of course; the bullies didn't know that he was working on his third-degree black belt in karate.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Crested Butte, CO
"You folks just camping overnight?" the older clerk asked. Tatiana was completing arrangements for the car to be parked safely while she and Marty were in the back country, and the small outfitter's store seemed a perfect place, in that they would probably deal with such requests periodically.
"No, actually we're going to spend a little over two weeks hiking and backpacking," she replied with a gentle smile.
The clerk's eyes bugged out as he looked at their packs and the small amount of freeze-dried food they were buying. "Two weeks? Aren't you traveling a little light?"
Tatiana looked at Marty, who acknowledged her grin as a hint. "Actually," he said, "for us, this is traveling pretty heavy."
"We're both experienced in wilderness survival, and we like a minimalist approach to backpacking," Tatiana said smugly.
"Which reminds me," Marty added, "we'll need two fishing licenses."
"Fishing licenses? Yeah, I can help you out. Do you need any fishing tackle or bait?"
Marty chuckled. "No. We've got a few feet of line and a couple of hooks. We're good."
The clerk eyed Marty carefully. "Okay," he said slowly. "Do you need anything else?"
"No," Marty answered. "I think Mom and I are good."
The clerk's eyes darted to Tatiana. "Mom?"
Tatiana was in her 'older person' disguise. "Yeah. What did you think? That I'm some kind of perverted older woman preying on a young boy?" she asked in a challenging tone, daring the man to reply.
"Uh, no," the clerk stammered, taken aback by her blunt and confrontational approach. "It's just ... you look kind of young."
Tatiana decided to let him out of the corner he'd verbally backed into. "Why thank you. I was a teenager when I had him," she said. "Best thing in my life," she added, like a proud mother.
After paying a nominal fee for the supplies, parking, and the licenses, mother and son pulled on their backpacks and began their hike out of the small town of Crested Butte into the wilderness.
"You're hiking too fast, again, Mom," Marty complained after they'd been on the trail for about an hour.
"You keep forgetting that you're an exemplar, and I'm not," Marty complained. "You get excited about hiking and forget all the time."
"How about if I let you set the pace?"
"Do you have a plan, Mom, or are we just winging it?"
"North of Mt Emmons, to Purple Peak, down for the night, up Ruby Peak, to Lake Irwin, and then summit Mt. Emmons before coming back to get the car and go home. I figured we'd do relatively short days, and maybe spend a day or two at some of the lakes along the way."
"Okay. Just remember that I'm not an exemplar."
Tatiana chuckled. "You keep up pretty well for a fourteen-year-old baseline."
Marty was quiet for a while, hiking in the silence of nature and his thoughts. Finally, he asked, "Mom, do you think I'm going to be a mutant?"
Tatiana paused. "Let's stop for a few minutes." She led him to a couple of large rocks to sit on.
"Well?" Marty asked again after a few gulps of water. "You didn't answer my question."
"I never told you a lot about your father," Tatiana said. "He was a baseline."
"Oh." Marty sounded disappointed.
"You won't mean any less to me if you aren't a mutant like me," she tried to reassure Marty. "You're my son and I love you no matter what."
"But ... you want me to be a mutant, don't you?" It was less a question than a statement of fact.
"Marty," Tatiana said solemnly, "I want you to be happy."
"I ... hope I get cool powers like you," Marty said wistfully, voicing for the first time his wishes and hopes. He'd assumed that he'd be a mutant just like his mom, but lately, fears and doubt had been haunting him because he hadn't yet manifested.
"Marty," she said, scooting closer to him and wrapping her arm around his shoulder, "being a mutant isn't all fun and games," she said. "You know that."
"I'm a wanted criminal," she continued. "Does _that_ sound like fun?"
"But you're too good to get caught," Marty protested.
"I only took up this line of work because ... because a lot of people hate and fear mutants," she explained. "I ... was in college, hiding who and what I was. One professor found out, and he ... blackmailed me to keep his mouth shut."
Marty's eyes went wide at what she was implying.
Tatiana nodded, confirming Marty's suspicion. "Even after that, he decided to just out me as a mutant. I ... had to run for my life." She closed her eyes momentarily at the memories. "I was kicked out of college when I tried to report what he'd done, because no-one believed me. They all blamed me for what had happened."
"You never told me."
"I know. And you never asked." She sighed. "Anyway, that's the first time I used my powers for ... what I do. I framed the bastard for embezzling research funds, to get back at him for what he'd done to me."
"I thought you had a college degree."
Tatiana smiled. "I do. I had to go under an alias, but I finished my business degree. That's where I met your father." She shook her head sadly. "We were happy for a while, but after I got pregnant, I ... figured I had to tell him, because there was a chance that you'd carry the meta-gene complex, too."
"He ... didn't take it well, did he?"
"He tried to beat me up, calling me a liar and a cheat. When he couldn't hurt me because of my regen, he outed me again and left me, and I've never heard from him since."
Tatiana snorted. "Yeah. Oh. I almost lost my first serious job at a bank, but a manager decided that he could blackmail me, too."
"You set him up, didn't you?"
"Oh, yeah," Tatiana replied with a wicked grin. "Major embezzlement, fraud, involvement in an insider ID theft ring. He might be out on probation in another fifteen years." She sighed again. "Anyway, that's how I got my start in the business."
"You never really told me what you do. Only that you've got some limited mimic powers." Marty winced slightly. "And that you can do some mind-reading, so I couldn't ever get away with anything."
"And they say being a mom is tough!" Tatiana chuckled. "Now, I'm a freelance villain. Someone wants to frame someone else, they call. I can defeat almost any biometric security system through my limited mimic power, and then I plant evidence to make an iron-clad case against the ... target."
"And your last case?"
"A politician. He was crooked as a snake, but he'd been really good about not leaving tracks." She shrugged. "He double-crossed someone he had a deal with, and they didn't exactly appreciate that." A grin crossed her features. "You know what they say - an honest politician is one that stays bought. Anyway, I left enough evidence to unravel a lot of his deals and put him in prison."
"But what about the company that hired you?"
Tatiana shrugged again. "They paid me, so I'm good with that."
"But ... they're crooked, too."
"Maybe, but they paid. He didn't." A thin smile crept onto her features. "I'm honest about that - if someone pays, I deliver and don't double-cross them. It's really bad for business."
"How much _did_ you know, all these years?"
Marty chuckled. "I knew you did something on a part-time basis, that paid well, was probably illegal, and that you're a villain. But I didn't know exactly what you did, and to be honest, I didn't want to know, so I never asked."
"What gave it away?"
"Several things," Marty laughed. "Having to move suddenly, leaving everything behind, but buying new stuff when we got relocated. Not everyone has enough money to do that. You never talked about your work, unlike other moms. You never brought gifts home for me from your business trips, like the other parents did. And you don't work very often, but we've got more money than most of my friends - put together."
"Smart boy." She took a long sip of water. "I'm starting to think that I should retire."
"But won't you miss the excitement?" Marty asked.
Tatiana laughed softly. "Probably. But I figure that I should get out of the business before it starts to threaten you. Some devisors are getting wise to my ways, and they're starting to sell security systems that give me some problems. Lord help me when someone comes up with a working psi-block that's cheap enough for mass use." She glanced at her watch. "Long enough of a rest. Let's get back on the trail."
"Okay." Marty stood and pulled on his pack, following his mom after she'd checked the topographic map.
"So you really like Shelby?" she asked with a mischievous grin as they resumed their hike.
July 1, 2007
Gunnison National Forest
Two and a half weeks had gone by in a blur for both mother and son. The first day, they'd eaten freeze-dried foods for convenience sake, but the rest of the time had been catching and finding wilderness food and using survival techniques - and they didn't eat poorly. They were too skilled to allow themselves to go hungry, and in fact, they'd dined rather well. Both mother and son were talented field gourmet cooks, able to improvise delicious meals with only what they could find. And they had some freeze-dried food in reserve in case of an emergency.
Hiking had been demanding on some days, and restful on others, like the two days they spent at Lake Irwin. They'd summited Ruby Peak and Purple Peak, navigating the whole time with map and compass instead of a GPS system. They _had_ a GPS in mom's backpack, but it was more fun for the pair to do things the old-fashioned way. The area had few established trails, so the hiking was a little more rugged, and their routes had to be more carefully planned from the map to avoid steep slopes. Because of that, their progress was slower than it would have been in an area with extensive hiking trails, but they knew they had time to enjoy the adventure without feeling rushed for time.
The pair was making a rather precarious traverse across a steep slope on Mount Emmons when Tatiana's satellite phone rang. She hated carrying the thing while they were in the wilderness, but it was too vital to her work and security to not have it. Once, when they were on a backpacking trip, a tip on her secure phone alerted her that someone had ratted her out, leading to a search for her; with this knowledge, they were able to detour from their plans and easily avoid the searchers.
Marty rolled his eyes and stopped climbing. Her phone calls could take a while.
Tatiana answered the phone because she never knew if it was a vital call. "Hello?" she spoke at the phone, which she had switched to speaker mode to keep her hands free.
"Setup, where the hell are you?" a gruff voice greeted her.
"I'm on a mountain right now," she grumbled. "Why are you calling me here, Cyberbeast? My service should have told you I was unavailable."
"Someone who knows I'm your agent offered a very lucrative job."
"Not interested right now," she replied. "After that last one, I'm laying low for a bit. And you're _not_ my agent! How many times do I have to tell you that? You're just a friend."
"Who lines up work for you. Sounds like an agent to me. I think you'll be interested when you hear the payoff," the caller chuckled. "Seventy-five million."
"For one job? What is it?" She frowned. "You know there's a line I won't cross, and with a payoff like that, it sounds _way_ over that line."
"Yeah, right," Cyberbeast snorted. "Was that why you framed Meteor Gal for manslaughter?"
"That was once, and I really hated myself for doing it," Tatiana growled. "I swore off those kinds of jobs. Besides, I was hired for an extortion setup on that job, not a murder rap."
"Did it matter? You got paid."
"Yeah, and you remember what happened after that?"
"No. That was always a little murky." Cyberbeast laughed. "Rumor is that you framed him for the entire frame-job, and a couple of murders to boot, after you emptied his bank accounts."
"I can neither confirm nor deny that I had anything to do with that," Tatiana said wryly. "But I made sure the word got out that I will _not_ touch any setups regarding murder, human trafficking, or kiddie porn."
"Sure. We all know that if the money is good, you'll do the job. You're the best in the business."
"Damned right I'm the best," Tatiana snapped confidently. "But I still won't touch those."
"Well, then it's fortunate that this job doesn't involve any of that. So, are you interested?"
"Can it wait a couple of weeks? I'm on vacation right now," Tatiana protested. "My son and I are doing a little backpacking."
"That mama's-boy runt? You mean he can handle backpacking? When's he going to grow up and man up?" Cyberbeast chortled.
"Fuck you! That's my son you're talking about, and if you make any more cracks like that, you'll be my next target! And I might forget my scruples!" Tatiana snarled angrily before switching off the phone. She looked at Marty, regretting that she'd had the phone on speaker to keep her hands free. "I'm sorry," she started to apologize.
"... that Cyberbeast is a total asshole?" Marty finished. "He's right; I am a little smaller than the other boys in my class, but I can kick their asses! And I'm very proud to be _your_ mama's boy. You're a great mom!"
Tatiana felt her cheeks moisten with pride and love for her son. "Let's get off this slope and onto a trail."
"What trail?" Marty deadpanned.
Tatiana laughed. "The one we make, goof." She reached out and tussled his hair.
As they walked, Marty felt the need to defend himself against what Cyberbeast had said. "I know I'm kind of small, but I'm okay with that."
"I didn't say you weren't," Tatiana replied.
"And I'm not gay or anything."
Tatiana laughed. "If you were, you wouldn't be interested in Shelby, would you?"
"I know you're not as poisoned by excess testosterone as a lot of your friends and school-mates," she continued. "You're a lot more thoughtful and rational. But you're still a boy with interest in girls."
Marty felt his cheeks burn a tiny bit. He didn't like being praised for being practical. "Yeah, well, I can still kick the bullies' asses when they try to pick on me."
Tatiana chuckled. "And you used to wonder why I made you take martial arts for so many years."
July 4, 2007
Mount Emmons, CO
"How far to the summit?" Tatiana asked as they climbed along a ridge toward the top of Mount Emmons. They'd been hiking for almost an hour and a half, with the gently-sloping ground around Lake Irwin giving way to steep, rocky slopes and difficult hiking until they came to a ridge leading to the summit. The mountain was rocky and rough, with a lot of loose scrabble and many falloffs to either side of the ridge. Treacherous was one way to describe the terrain.
Marty paused, his feet straddling two rocks as he pulled out the map and unfolded it. He stared at the map, and then looked around. Having had a lot of practice, he was pretty good at estimating position from the topographical lines and the direction to other prominent features, like peaks and lakes and such. In a matter of moments, he had a good idea of where they were.
"It looks like we're about a kilometer away from the peak," Marty reported.
"Good. We'll have lunch there, and we'll be back in town by mid-afternoon."
"And a hotel room tonight?" Marty asked with a grin.
"With a nice tub to soak in for an hour or two," Tatiana purred, thinking of how a bath would feel.
"Sounds like a plan," Marty replied. He folded the map, and as he reached behind himself to put it back into the pocket of his backpack, he reached with his other hand to a water bottle hanging on a carabiner from his waist belt. He shifted his weight slightly, just enough to cause one rock to shift with his weight, and he stumbled, off balance. He cried, startled, as his legs swept from underneath him, causing him to fall back and to one side, where his hip impacted a larger rock. Still falling from his momentum, he slipped as he tried to grasp something to steady himself, but before he could find a good purchase for his hands, his momentum carried him over the edge, where he bounced down the steep slope. His scream of terror was interrupted by a muffled thud, and the sound of loose rocks bouncing down the steep slope.
Tatiana spun, her exemplar reflexes giving her faster reaction time, but even a speedster wouldn't have been able to react quickly enough to prevent Marty from falling over the edge. "Marty!" she cried frantically, unbuckling her backpack with one hand. She dropped it and recklessly started scrambling down the slope, to where Marty had stopped sliding, her reflexes the only thing which kept her from falling as well.
She reached where Marty lay wedged between two large rocks, his eyes staring vacantly as he moaned in pain. Fighting panic, she looked for signs of life and to assess his condition. He had at least one compound fracture of a leg; a white, sharp bone jutted out of ragged, torn flesh, and blood ran freely from the gash, telling her that it was a very serious wound. An arm stuck out from under his body at an impossible angle, and he had multiple scrapes on his face.
"Marty?" she asked firmly, fighting panic. "Marty, are you okay?" She _hoped_ that he was conscious and would respond, but after several calls, and lightly touching his face, Tatiana was certain that he was out. At least his pain-filled moans let her know, without having to check, that he was still breathing, but when she watched his chest riding and falling, she could see that his respiration was ragged and shallow.
Tatiana looked around; they were miles from the nearest town, which was Crested Butte, through rugged terrain. But she feared that Marty was going to bleed out if she didn't get help very soon.
Carefully, ignoring the heart-breaking moans of agony that she was causing, she pulled Marty from between the rocks, slipping his backpack off before picking him up in her arms. She was grateful for exemplar strength; she wouldn't have been able to pick him up without it. Only after she'd picked him up did she think that she should get his first aid kit from his backpack. She wasted a couple of minutes trying to retrieve it.
Going back up was out of the question; the path was too steep and treacherous even without being encumbered. That left going down the steep slope without slipping and injuring herself, and without further injuring Marty. Looking down, she saw that she had to descend about a hundred and fifty meters before the terrain leveled off a bit. She glanced at Marty again, panicking that he seemed to be getting paler, a result of the profuse bleeding from his shattered and torn leg.
Cursing that she only had a rudimentary, lightweight first-aid kit, Tatiana slung Marty's backpack over her shoulders, and then she sat down and cradled Marty in her lap - sort-of, and began to scoot and slide down the rough terrain. She didn't care that she was tearing up her pants, or that she felt cuts and bruises from the multitude of rocks over which she slid; all she cared about was getting Marty to a place where she could attempt some type of first aid to stop or slow his bleeding. Every moan that came from his mouth was a dagger to her heart; she wanted to be able to stop his pain and heal his injuries; she knew that if it had been _her_ instead of him, she'd already be well on the way to healing.
As soon as she could, she laid Marty on his back, feeling complete anguish every time he whimpered or moaned in pain. Now that she wasn't holding him, she could see a large contusion on the side of his head, with a massive bump forming. Tearing her and Marty's shirts, she made some crude bandages, which she applied in thick layers to the area that was bleeding worst. She tied them on tightly to halt or slow his blood loss, and then moved to the lesser wound on his arm.
Blood was already soaking through the bandages on his leg, and she had to fight down another surge of panic. If his leg shifted and the bone ends moved around, they might tear up the inside his of leg even more, and if a sharp bone tore a major artery, he'd bleed to death, and she seemed to recall hearing that it would only take minutes for a person to bleed out from such a wound.
She cursed that she didn't have a better first-aid kit. She cursed that she'd left hiking poles at the top of the ridge. She cursed that they were above the tree line, and there were no branches or limbs for her to make a crude splint. And too late, she realized that her satellite phone and most of their water was in her pack atop the ridge. She took a water bottle from Marty's pack and gently put it to his lips, tilting it until some water flowed into his mouth. Only semi-conscious, he nevertheless swallowed a few small sips. She took a small drink herself; if Marty came to, he might be thirsty, and she wanted to save as much water for him as she could.
Picking up Marty and cradling him as gently as possible, she began to descend again, even more quickly now that she was off the rockiest, steepest part of the grade. The dust kicked up by her shuffling feet choked her lungs and stung her eyes, but she refused to slow down until she got into the tree line, and she put Marty back down before taking another sip of water.
"Mom," Marty suddenly said weakly, "he started it." His voice was faint, and he was gasping for breath. "I didn't mean to break his arm." His words were incoherent, meaningless babble as past thoughts ran through his brain.
Tatiana's heart was breaking. Her son was dying from his injuries, and she was powerless to stop it. But she had to - somehow. He was all she had, and she wasn't going to lose him. The problem was that she didn't know exactly how she was going to do that.
Three tree branches sacrificed themselves to become makeshift splints, which she tied firmly around his injured leg. She'd worry about the arm later; at that moment, she had to keep his leg from moving so he didn't bleed worse.
Satisfied with her patchwork job, she picked Marty up again and began to trot as fast as she dared without risk of slipping, falling, and compounding his injuries. He was babbling softly, delusionally, and every muttered noise spurred Tatiana onward. And then she realized that the GPS was in her pack, way back up on the ridge. She had the map, but in the trees, it would be difficult to orientate herself as to position and direction of travel. The best she could do was to guess their position and then use the compass to try to move in the straightest line she could toward Crested Butte. She felt like she was running blind. A cry of anguish escaped her lips.
It was that cry that proved to be her salvation. Within moments, two hikers who had heard a mournful cry converged on her as she wept aloud, trotting and carrying her injured son.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" one of the hikers, a lad of about eighteen, asked. He had on a daypack, which gave Tatiana hope that civilization was close.
"My ... son ... slipped and fell down off the ridge up there," she explained, hardly winded at all despite running. "He's hurt pretty badly, and he's bleeding a lot from his broken leg."
"Set him down," the boy said in a firm, confident voice. "Steve," he called to his friend, "give me your first-aid kit."
The first boy began to examine Marty, while Steve offered Tatiana his water bottle. "Thanks," she said. "How far is it to get medical help?"
"Crested Butte is over that next ridge - about three miles." He pointed through the sparse trees to a rocky ridge not far off.
"Do you need help with him?" the first boy asked, looking up from tending to Marty's wounds.
"Yeah," Tatiana said, grateful for the offer. She wasn't sure of the terrain, and could easily get lost; such a mistake would be fatal for Marty. "My GPS and my sat phone are in my backpack up on the ridge."
"I've got the wound packed as well as I can, but he's still bleeding pretty badly. We better get moving, and quickly."
Steve looked at the injured boy. "We better figure out how to make a makeshift litter to carry him."
Tatiana shook her head. "No, I can carry him if you guys can lead." She picked him up, cradling her precious son gently, which caused the two boys to goggle at her. "I'm stronger than I look," she added hastily. "I work out a lot."
Steve exchanged a wary glance with his friend. "Okay," he said warily. He pulled out and glanced at his cell phone. "There isn't coverage up here, so I can't call for help."
"Just lead on. And don't worry about the pace. I'll keep up."
With Tatiana carrying Marty, and one boy in front leading, and the other beside her in case she needed anything, they started across the rugged terrain. After a few minutes, listening to Marty moan in pain, Tatiana announced, "We've got to go faster."
"Okay, if you say so," the lead boy said. He increased his pace, and was surprised to find that Tatiana, with her burden, was easily keeping up with him. He sped up again, certain that there was no way she could keep up. But she did.
Steve, hiking beside her and struggling on terrain that seemed to be no impediment to her, wondered aloud, "How can you do that?"
"I'm probably pretty juiced on adrenaline right now," she lied. "Haven't you ever heard stories of amazing things mothers do when their children are in danger?"
"Mother?" Steve stammered, glancing at her again.
The trio crested another ridge line, and the boys paused. "Over there," the first boy announced. "That's Crested Butte. See it?"
Tatiana peered into the distance and saw a few roofs among the trees. "Yeah. How fast can you go?" She was beyond worried; Marty hadn't moved or made any sounds for the preceding several minutes, even though he was still softly breathing.
"Faster than we were?" Steve asked, incredulously.
"It's his life. Yeah, faster," Tatiana replied grimly.
"Okay," the lead boy said warily. He stepped quickly through the forest along the mountains, even more quickly than before. Behind him, Tatiana was keeping up, but Steve, trailing, was having some difficulty matching the pace.
"You two go on ahead," Steve called from behind, pausing to catch his breath. "I'm out of gas."
Twenty minutes later, the boy in the lead also had to pause.
"I think I've got the directions now," Tatiana said. "Follow this stream-bed down to the road, and left into town."
"Yeah. You're looking for the town clinic. Have you got a cell phone?" he panted, out of breath.
Tatiana nodded. "No."
The boy gave her his phone. "You should be able to get reception down closer to the road. Just leave the phone with the deputy or sheriff, and they'll get it back to me."
"When you get down near the road, call 911. The sheriff will probably dispatch an ambulance or car to pick you up and get you to the clinic."
"Okay. Thanks. I was afraid I was going to get lost." With that, she turned, and with mountain-goat-like dexterity began scrambling down the rocky stream-bed, leaving the kid behind her watching in utter amazement.
"Hang on, honey," Tatiana cooed to him, tears staining her cheeks, as she scurried down the valley. "Mama's going to keep you safe. Hang on, honey." Emotionally, she was exhausted, but she _had_ to keep talking, to give him a voice to focus on, and to encourage him that things were going to be okay. Even if Marty couldn't hear her, the words offered _her_ some small amount of comfort.
The stream bed turned a corner, and suddenly, there was a bridge across it. Weeping with joy at having made it that far, Tatiana scrambled up the bank and onto the road. She set Marty down long enough to pull out her cell phone, and then, after lifting her son again, began to run down the road as she awkwardly worked the phone.
"Please state the nature of your emergency," the 911 operator said in a bored, routine tone after he picked up the call.
"My son fell off a ridge while we were hiking on Mount Emmons," Tatiana said tearfully into the phone. Because her hands were full cradling Marty, she had the phone on speaker, holding it awkwardly.
"Can you describe the incident and the nature of his injuries?"
"Yeah. About thirty-five or forty minutes ago, he fell down a pretty steep slope. He's got a compound fracture on his leg that's bleeding pretty bad, a broken arm, plus scrapes and cuts all over. And he hit his head pretty hard on a rock or something."
"Where are you?" The operator had a little more urgency in his voice.
"South of town. I'm not sure where, exactly, but there's a bridge where we came out of the ravine leading down from the mountain."
"Okay, I'm sending a deputy to meet you. Please stay on the phone."
"I'm running as fast as I can carry him toward town," Tatiana cried. "He's lost a lot of blood, and he's pretty pale and not responding."
"Calm down, miss. I've alerted the doctor at the clinic, and the deputy is only a minute or two away from you."
"I hear the siren," Tatiana reported. It was, at that moment, the sweetest sound she'd ever heard, which was ironic, given her profession.
Five minutes later, after driving at break-neck speeds through the mountain roads, the deputy's car pulled up in front of a rather non-descript building with a sign reading, 'Public Clinic'. Without waiting for the deputy to even put the car in 'park', Tatiana grabbed Marty and ran frantically into the clinic.
The operator had alerted the staff, and they had a gurney waiting for Marty. With his mom at his side, he was wheeled back into the closest thing they had to a trauma room. One of the clinic staff stood to one side, asking Tatiana for information as she took notes for the records. "His name?" she asked first.
"Chuck. Chuck Matthews," she lied easily. She had the IDs, and had to stay under cover.
"Your name and relationship?"
"Rosalie Matthews," she answered. "I'm his mother."
The nurse in the room waved off the office admin. "You can get that later."
"Do you know his blood type?" the doctor, a short, plump woman, demanded after examining Marty and getting his respiration, pulse, and blood pressure. The makeshift splints had been removed, as had the bloody improvised bandages. "He needs a transfusion stat."
The doctor winced. "That's going to be difficult to match. At least we can get some plasma into him." She gave a nurse direction, and the nurse scurried away to fulfill the doctor's orders. "He's going to need whole blood, though, and soon."
"But ... why?"
"Plasma will replace the lost volume, but not the red cells that transport oxygen. If I can't get that in him soon, your son will start to have tissue damage." Her expression turned grim. "If he hasn't already."
"Can't they fly some in?" Tatiana asked, her worries renewed.
The nurse returned. "No O-neg," she reported grimly. "None in Gunnison, either."
"That means Grand Junction?"
"I called. The weather has the airport shut down."
Tatiana's panic rose at what the nurse was saying. The doctor had just told her that Marty desperately needed blood, but there was none of his rare type available. An O-negative patient could only receive blood from an O-negative donor, and Tatiana knew it. "I'm O-negative," she volunteered immediately.
The doctor eyed her warily, noticing that Tatiana looked rather young for a mother of a fourteen-year-old, and she wasn't even sweaty from carrying him down the hill as she claimed. "Are you a mutant?" she asked.
Tatiana knew that she had to answer, or she wouldn't help. "Yes."
A fierce battle raged in Tatiana's mind. "Low level," she lied, knowing that no doctor in his or her right mind would transfuse from a high-level regenerator.
"Blood from anyone that's rated Regen-3 or higher is a biohazard, you know."
"Yeah, I know. If he can't get a transfusion, how does it look?"
The doctor grimly shook her head. "Not good. He's likely had some tissue damage. We can hope there's no brain damage yet, but that's a tossup until he regains consciousness and we can test him."
"You've got to try."
"Given his trauma and how long he's been losing blood, you should prepare yourself that he won't make it."
"I'm O-negative," Tatiana repeated insistently, "and you can transfuse from me."
"Where's your MID?" the doctor asked. "Protocols prohibit transfusion from a mutant without an MID because of the dangers."
"It's in my backpack up on the mountain," Tatiana explained. "You've got to save him! I'm O-negative, so you need to use me as a donor." She thought about how she could force the doctor if she refused, because Marty would probably die or be a vegetable without one. She knew she'd lied, but the doctor was more than implying that his chances without her blood were very slim. With a transfusion from her, the odds weren't great, but they were better than doing nothing.
The doctor's eyes narrowed; she'd probably figured out that Tatiana was clutching at straws in a desperate gamble to keep her son alive, and without an MID, was uneasy about the claim that Tatiana was only a low-level regenerator. But she had no way to test Tatiana's statement. She had to go on the mother's word. "You realize that, since you're a regenerator, there's a risk to him?"
"Yes. Do it."
"I'm required to inform you what can happen with higher-level regenerator blood in a transfusion" The doctor was trying to ferret out more information from the woman, and to frighten her from what she knew was a risky transfusion from a mutant. "Only about a tenth are successful. Another third become clones of the donor, often with a wiped memory. The rest ... are fatal."
"You're wasting time that he can't afford," Tatiana snapped. "Just do it already."
"Okay. As long as you know the risk to your son." The doctor glanced at the nurse. "Draw a unit of blood from Mrs. Matthews, and as soon as you have it, we'll transfuse into her son." As the nurse started to leave, with Tatiana, the doctor added, almost as an afterthought. "Since we can't test it, treat the blood as a level 3 biohazard - just in case."
As the blood streamed from her vein into the collection bag, Tatiana considered whether she was doing the right thing. Marty's fate was entirely in her hands. She was a regen-5, and her blood could kill Marty, possibly in a hideous, painful way, or it could save his life. But if she did nothing, the doctor didn't hold out hope that he'd make it, at least not whole. Her stomach churned and her heart ached, hoping that she was making the right decision for Marty.
July 5, 2007
Crested Butte, CO
"Mrs. Matthews?" The voice penetrated the sleepy haze in which Tatiana's mind drifted. "Mrs. Matthews?" it called again, accompanied by a gentle shake of her shoulder.
Wearily, Tatiana pried her eyes open. "Wha ...." She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. It took her a second, as tired as she was, to respond to the alias she'd given the clinic. "How is he?" she asked immediately.
"Better," the nurse answered, but there was nervousness in her voice.
Tatiana knew immediately that something wasn't right. "What's wrong?" she demanded, standing slowly so the pain and cramps from sleeping in an uncomfortable chair would stretch out. At least they'd let her curl up and sleep in a corner of one of the small exam rooms, while Marty occupied the only room in the clinic with a proper hospital bed. "Can I see him?"
"The doctor is in with him now," she said.
"What's wrong?" Tatiana demanded, her eyes suddenly focused and alert as she saw and heard the signs of concern in the nurse.
"He .... I ...." She grimaced. "You'll have to talk to the doctor." She turned and walked down the hall, followed closely by Marty's mom.
Before they got to the room, the doctor intercepted Tatiana. "What's wrong?" she asked the doctor.
"Is he a mutant?"
Tatiana shook her head. "No. At least I don't think so. If he is, he hasn't manifested yet." She read the doctor's scowl. "What's wrong?"
"He's got a very elevated temperature."
"But he's alive?"
The doctor nodded. "And you weren't exactly being honest when you said you were a regen-2, were you?" she continued.
Tatiana scowled. "What are you implying?"
"We had to take two units of blood from you to stabilize him. If you weren't a strong regenerator, you would be very weak right now. I checked the medical journals. If you were a regen-2 as you claimed, it would have taken you a couple of days to recover from donating that much blood, especially given your body size and mass. But you show no signs of significant blood loss, which implies that you're a higher-level regenerator."
"To hell with that," Tatiana snapped. "I want to see my son."
The doctor gazed impassively at the distraught mother, and then stepped aside so she could enter.
Through the door, Tatiana could see Marty lying on the bed in the tiny room, now occupied not only by the bed, but by most of the equipment the clinic had for monitoring vital signs. His arm was in a cast, and his leg was pulled by a traction-weight holding the broken femur in proper alignment. A bag hung on a pole, dripping vital fluids into his arm through an IV line, and monitors stacked haphazardly in the improvised ICU beeped rhythmically. A good fraction of his body, though, was covered in ice packs.
Tatiana stepped closer to the bed, to her badly-injured child, taking his hand. "Honey," she said softly, "I'm here."
No sooner had she sat down beside his bed than a stall, stocky man in a police uniform entered the room. "Ma'am," he said in a calm, authoritative tone, "I'd like to ask you some questions, if you don't mind."
"About what?" Tatiana asked, her internal alarms sounding like klaxons.
"If you don't mind, we'd prefer to carry on this conversation at the station," the officer replied.
"I can't leave my son!" she protested. "Are you trying to arrest me for something?"
"No, ma'am, I'm not arresting you," the officer replied calmly in a friendly, non-threatening tone. "We just have some questions, and we'd like to talk with you."
"Can't it wait?" Tatiana asked warily. "Or you can ask me here, so I can stay with him."
"There are two things we want to talk with you about," the officer replied, noting her caution. As they talked, a second officer strolled casually into the room. "First, the Sheriff's Department always collects information about any back-country accidents that happen in our county," he said matter-of-factly. "We've already talked with the Young boys about what they know, and we'd like to get your view of what happened."
"Okay." Tatiana replied. Her internal alarms were starting to sound, telling her that she had to be careful. "And the second thing?"
"Ma'am," the officer said, his voice betraying his discomfort at the subject he had to raise, "you admitted to the doctor that you're a mutant, and you gave a transfusion. We have to be cautious about medical procedures. I'm sure you know that blood products from mutants such as yourself are considered hazardous."
"I know. I'm sure you realize that, as his mother, I gave consent for my child to receive my blood because of the ... circumstances. Now, I really need to stay with my son," Tatiana replied in the tone of a worried mother. Despite her worry, a rational part of her brain was working, thinking about how to deal with law enforcement. She knew how to control her emotions - mostly - and despite being worried almost to death for her son's security, she had to rely on logic to guide her every word and decision. But since it was Marty's life, she was having difficulty putting her emotions to one side. "Can we talk about that here, so I don't have to leave him?" she asked, wrinkling her brow in a worried expression.
The deputies exchanged a quick glance, then the first one nodded. "I think that would be okay. It would be much easier, though, if you had your MID, because we wouldn't necessarily have to involve the MCO."
"The MCO?" Tatiana wasn't surprised. Usually, local law enforcement didn't want to deal with mutant issues. "Why?"
"It's against the law in the state of Colorado for a mutant regenerator with a classification of three or higher to donate blood or otherwise knowingly expose any individual to a biohazard."
"Oh," Tatiana replied as if it was a surprise to her. In fact, it was a felony in most states, and she well knew it. "But my rating is regeneration two."
"Yes, ma'am. We have the doctor's statement that you said that." The officer frowned almost imperceptibly, almost controlling his expression. "But the doctor also noted that your own scrapes and cuts healed very quickly, which would be inconsistent with regeneration level two or lower. And although you said your son wasn't a mutant, he is apparently displaying characteristics of his own regeneration."
This time, Tatiana's reaction was genuine. She hadn't gotten any word from the doctor yet about Marty. "Is there something wrong?" she stammered.
"You'll have to ask the doctor for specifics, but there is enough ... doubt ... to believe that your blood transfusion is causing ... strange effects ... on your son - which could possibly make your blood donation a criminal act. We have to follow up on this." The deputy struggled to keep his voice calm. He could see that she loved her son greatly, and gathered that she wouldn't have done anything deliberately to hurt him. At least he _hoped_ that's how she felt. If not, they were dealing with a manipulative, psychopathic mutant to whom a son was simply another tool.
"Effects?" Tatiana looked around for a medical person to answer the flood of questions that was coming to her.
"Would you like to talk to the doctor first, ma'am?"
"Yes, please," Tatiana answered immediately.
The deputies stepped aside, but stayed in the room, while Tatiana stuck her head out in the hall. "Doctor?" she called, her voice betraying her concern.
The doctor came quickly to the summons. "Yes?"
"The deputy said there's something wrong with my son," she said, struggling to contain her panic. Had she inadvertently done something, in her haste to save his life, that was going to kill him? "What's with all the ice packs?"
The doctor glanced warily at the deputies. "This is a private medical matter," he said, "and HIPAA rules dictate that you must leave the room."
"Very well." The lead deputy, the one who'd done all the talking, nodded. "We'll be outside so we can take your statement when you're finished with the doctor." The two stepped into the hall, closing the door behind themselves.
Tatiana nodded, but her mind was racing. If they were waiting for her, then they _did_ suspect something, and were probably going to stall until the MCO could get to the scene. She knew that she needed a plan, with options and sub-options, each weighed carefully, but her concern for Marty was making it hard to think so coolly and logically.
"What's wrong with him?" she repeated urgently.
"He has a very elevated temperature," the doctor explained slowly. "His temperature spiked, and we had to pack him with ice to keep it from being fatal."
"Do you think it's burnout?"
The doctor shook her head. "I don't think so," he replied. "You said he's not a mutant, so he shouldn't be having a power-related burnout."
The doctor grimaced, and then stepped to Marty's bedside, pulling back a few ice bags and a cover. "Look for yourself."
Worried, Tatiana stepped closer, looking at her son. She gasped aloud, and looked up at the doctor, who just nodded. "Yesterday, he had severe contusions and cuts. Now, there's hardly any trace of them."
"But ... that's impossible! He's not a mutant!" Tatiana protested. "That's impossible!"
"Look closer at his face."
Tatiana goggled at the doctor, then fearfully looked back at Marty. "What?" she asked, confused, looking at the lack of scrapes and cuts on his cheeks.
"He's healing, like a regenerator," the doctor repeated, "but he's also changing."
"His face appears thinner to me. It might be from loss of blood, or it could be something from your blood, but my first reaction is that it's a structural change, not a result of loss of fluids. The worrisome thing is that it's happening in a very short time."
"What ... what else is going to happen?"
The doctor shook his head. "We don't know. The big question is whether he's having a reaction to your regeneration factor. Regen-2 is _supposed_ to be safe," the doctor said, her voice trailing off.
Tatiana sank into a chair, her eyes wide in horror. What had she done? Because she was a regen-5, she knew what regenerative cancer was. "If ... if I hadn't given blood ...?" she whispered hoarsely.
The doctor shook her head. "It's very doubtful that he'd have lasted an hour. Now?" She shrugged and shook her head again. "Only time will tell."
Tatiana was rattled to her core. She might have inadvertently condemned her son to a gruesome death. She barely noticed the doctor leaving, nor the two deputies coming back in.
"Ma'am," the deputy said, trying to sound sympathetic, because he recognized the shocked expression of someone who's just heard some really bad news. "Would you like us to come back in a little bit?"
Tatiana, waved them off, not even looking, as her head was down, her thumb and fingers of her other hand supporting her forehead, the elbow resting on the arm of the chair. What had she done? She asked herself over and over, somehow faulting herself for the entire situation as she replayed the events repeatedly in her mind. She'd asked Marty where they were, which caused him to take out the map and slip because he wasn't looking where he was stepping. She'd given him a transfusion of her regen-5 blood. She'd condemned him to death. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she fought a delaying battle against her guilt.
Nearly an hour later, during which she hadn't moved at all, even when the doctor and nurse came in to check on Marty, the deputies returned. "Ma'am," they asked her once more.
This time Tatiana looked up at them. "Are you able to talk about the accident?"
"Yeah," she said, her voice devoid of energy and life.
"Name?" one of the deputies pulled out a recorder.
"Rose. Rosalie Matthews," Tatiana lied. It was the alias she'd used for this trip, and she knew she was burning it, but she had contacts to get another if necessary, and she used her aliases expecting to burn them once in a while.
"And your son?"
"Chuck," she continued her fabrications. She had to be careful; with her emotions so jangled by Marty's condition, she might accidentally blow the cover from the alias she was using. She had to make sure that they didn't have any useful information, not even Marty's real name.
"Okay, can you please describe everything you remember about the accident?"
Tatiana had a very good memory, thanks to being an exemplar, but with her emotional turmoil, she accidentally fuzzed a few details. The deputies didn't seem to take any special notice, because such minor inconsistencies would be expected of someone under considerable stress. The deputies interrupted her tale frequently with more detailed questions. It took over half an hour to satisfy the deputies' probing questions about Marty's fall.
"We still need to ask you some questions about your mutant abilities and status, and the transfusion," the first deputy said when they finished questioning her on the accident. "We'd like you to come down to the station so we can fill out some paperwork."
"I need to stay with my son."
"I understand, but based on the doctor's report, we have to treat this as possible bioterrorism until we can definitively prove that you are not a high-level regenerator - even if it is your son. I'm sorry," he added in an almost-apologetic voice, "but it's the law."
"If you're willing, the second deputy volunteered, "we can deal with this right away at the station and get the paperwork filled out in a few minutes."
Tatiana's eyes narrowed slightly. Every time a law enforcement officer talked about 'paperwork' when dealing with a mutant, they meant the MCO. It was a not-very-subtle and well-known euphemism that they _thought_ wouldn't alarm mutants. "I need to stay with my son," she replied. "I'm his _mother_. He's everything to me."
The deputies nodded. "Okay. We understand that you want to remain with him. Will you be here for a few hours, or is there another place you're staying that we can bring the forms and paperwork to complete?"
Tatiana's mind clicked back into gear. If they were asking about her location in a few _hours_, then the MCO wasn't on the scene yet. She had time, but she had to act, and quickly, to get both herself and Marty out of danger from what mutants considered their worst enemy, the MCO. "I'd like to talk to the doctors a moment, and then I'll go down to the station with you so we can get this taken care of."
The deputies exchanged a surprised, but pleased look. This might go down a lot easier than they'd expected. "Okay. We'll wait in the hall for you."
"Could you please send the doctor in if you see her?"
"Yes, ma'am." The deputies left, a little bit of swagger in their steps. This one was going to be cooperative, and even though the MCO would claim the credit, if they could get her on record in the sheriff's office computers, they'd get some credit.
The door had barely shut following the deputies departure when the doctor returned. "You have some questions?" she asked.
"Yes, doctor. I know this isn't a real hospital and you're doing the best you can, but I was thinking that we should get him to a proper hospital."
"That would be better for his recovery."
"When will he be stable enough that we can take him, and where should we go? Denver?"
The doctor shook her head. "That would be ideal. I'd recommend transferring him by ambulance to Gunnison, and then an air ambulance to Denver or Colorado Springs. But the weather isn't exactly cooperating, so the best option is probably to do an ambulance transfer to Grand Junction."
"Okay," Tatiana said, making mental notes. "How long before he's stable enough to transfer? I ... I want him to get the best care as soon as possible."
"Except for his fever, he could be transported right now," the doctor replied. "It's that fever that concerns me."
"No, I think the worst is past," the doctor said, audibly relieved. "But I'd recommend against transferring him until we can get his temp down near or below one hundred."
"Okay." She stood and put her hand on the doctor's arm in a gesture of silent gratitude. "Thank you for caring for him so well. I've got to go to the sheriff's office for some paperwork, apparently, but when I get back, we'll talk more about how soon we can transfer him."
The doctor nodded. She'd been the one to report the suspected bioterrorism to the deputies, and she knew that the mutant mother wouldn't be coming back. The MCO would see to that. And they'd probably take her patient, too, so she'd be absolved of all responsibility. Then this crazy ordeal with the mutants would be over and she could get back to patients with routine bumps and bruises and colds.
Sheriff's Office, Crested Butte, CO
It appeared that Tatiana was casually glancing around the office, but her trained eye was noting every detail she thought might be important. The two deputies were taking no chances; they were in a small office, on the pretense of keeping out office noise, but as there was only one secretary in the office besides them, it was a weak story. Tatiana knew that they wanted to keep her isolated while they waited for the MCO to arrive.
The deputies were acting like this was a completely casual interview, but Tatiana already knew what they had planned for her. They hadn't searched her, because they didn't want to alarm her, nor did they want to deal with an upset mutant. Better to just treat the whole thing as a casual interview. But she also knew that the MCO had been alerted, and the small office in Grand Junction had already dispatched officers, although they weren't expected for another forty to forty-five minutes. She'd gleaned all that information from one of the officers, though he didn't know it. A minor stumble while leaving the clinic, and the officer reached out almost automatically to give her a helping hand. Her limited telepathy took advantage of the touch, and delved into his mind to find out what she needed. Now she had to play out the rest of the scene.
"I lost my MID card with my belongings on the mountain," Tatiana explained for the third time. "It was in my pack, which I abandoned so I could carry my son." She was waiting for the right moment to act, and so far, they hadn't given her the opportunity. She also was worried that her emotional turmoil over Marty's injuries would interfere with the mental acuity necessary for what she needed to do.
"I suppose we can contact the MCO and have them pull up the records for her," one deputy said. "They should have a record of her MID."
"Under her code-name," the other deputy noted with a scowl of disgust. "That's the way the rules work."
"Oh, yeah," the first one said, chastised at not remembering basic procedure.
Either that, Tatiana thought, or he was hoping to get her to slip up while she was torn with grief over her son's condition. "Could I get a cup of coffee?" Tatiana asked innocently. "We've been talking for a while, and my throat is a little sore." She forced a hollow chuckle. "And I'm going to have to use the restroom in a bit if we go much longer."
Her act was lulling the deputies into reduced awareness. "Tom, why don't you go get us all some coffee?" the first deputy said casually. He held up an empty cup. "I'm dry, too."
"Okay, Al," the second guy replied. He took the two deputies' cups, and walked toward the door.
Tatiana knew it was time to act. Faster than the seated deputy could react, she lashed out with a ridgehand strike at the side of his head, smashing him out of his chair and into a wall. Even as he was falling, she turned toward the standing deputy by the door. A pneumatic dart gun, which she _always_ wore on her forearm as a precaution against unexpected situations like this, hissed, and a tiny dart stuck the second deputy in the neck. He slapped at the sting, but his hand didn't complete the movement before he crumpled to the ground, the coffee cups falling and shattering against the hard tile floor, and the deputy's body wedged in the doorway, keeping it propped open.
As Tatiana darted the first deputy, just to be sure, she smiled grimly that she wouldn't have to worry about bypassing an electromagnetic door lock on the interview room.
Now Tatiana used another talent against the deputy. Touching him again, she waited a moment, and then held her thumb against the thumbprint scanner of the deputy's laptop computer. Her mimic ability had copied his biometric identifications to her, temporarily. When the laptop's security system prompted her for a PIN number, she easily typed in the number she'd stolen from the deputy's mind.
After that, it was a trivial matter to find all the records from the accident and from the doctor's report. She frowned when some of the data didn't give her an option to delete it, so she instead typed quickly, altering key details and information so as to render the files utterly useless. Satisfied, she stood and strode confidently out of the interrogation room.
Another dart rendered the secretary unconscious. Though it was a waste of a very expensive and rare devisor drug, Tatiana knew it was necessary. Not only did the drug cause nearly instantaneous unconsciousness, but it also interfered with short-term memories, muddying details that were less than about four to six hours old. With the confused data, the sheriff's office would hopefully have no leads.
Smiling to herself, she used a key she'd liberated from one of the deputies to open his car, and then she drove quickly to the store where she'd parked her own car. After swapping to her rental car, she drove to the clinic, and walked casually into the building. The receptionist / nurse recognized her, and smiled warmly. "We weren't expecting you back so quickly," she said.
Tatiana had already noted that the waiting room was empty, and the nurse was catching up on note and charts in a computer. With a false smile, she darted the nurse, and then helped herself to the computer. In a matter of minutes, she'd altered or deleted every record the clinic had pertaining to her son. Fortunately, all the clinic's records, including diagnostic equipment and scanners, fed into a single database, so Tatiana was able to wipe it clean very quickly and easily. And she noted with satisfaction that there was no backup file system.
When she walked out of the reception area into the hall, the doctor was startled to see her; she hadn't expected her to return from the sheriff's office. Smiling knowingly, Tatiana didn't dart the doctor - not yet. "Get him ready for a road trip," she commanded the doctor in a deceptively calm voice. "Now."
The doctor stared at her a moment, wondering if she should resist this small woman, but he almost immediately decided against it. She was a mutant, and from her statements, she'd carried her son down from near the summit of Mount Emmons, which meant she had superhuman strength. "You don't have to do this," she said as he walked, with Tatiana trailing him, to Marty's room.
"Yes, I do," Tatiana said firmly. "You aren't a mutant. You don't know how evil the MCO can be to people like us," she snarled. "You think they're some wonderful law enforcement agency that protects the public from danger."
"They do," the doctor insisted.
"And to the MCO, every mutant is a dangerous criminal that deserves to be locked up or killed," Tatiana continued. "They routinely violate the civil rights of innocent people who happen to have a different set of genes. Does _that_ sound like something you'd like to deal with on a routine basis?"
The doctor hesitated. Her words were challenging one of his perceptions, that the MCO was a force for good. "They're ... necessary."
Tatiana shook her head, a scowl on her face. "Some mutants are dangerous," she admitted, "but that's no reason to treat all of us as criminals, guilty even after proven innocent. They _drive_ some mutants into a life of crime because they make it impossible to live within the law." She halted her little lecture. "Get him ready to go. I want to leave in five minutes."
Quickly, the doctor disconnected all the sensors, and removed the ice bags.
"What do I need to do to care for him, and what do I need to watch for?"
The doctor continued to prepare Marty. "His temperature is a little more stable, but you want to make sure it stays under one-oh-two."
"I'll take the ice bags and a thermometer, then."
"Without the traction, his leg may heal wrong. If it does, then someone will have to re-break the leg to set it properly."
"So, minimum movement on his left leg. Got it. What else?"
"He needs to keep hydrated. Unless he wakes, he won't be able to take food, so you'll have to find a way to keep him fed. We are using a glucose solution, but you won't be able to do that."
"How long do I have to get him to a clinic or hospital to get back on an IV drip?"
The doctor shrugged. "I wouldn't recommend more than an hour to an hour-and-a-half, but theoretically, he can go for twelve to fourteen hours. Less if he's regenerating, as I suspect."
"Okay. I'll deal with that. What do I give him for pain?"
"I've been using Demerol," the doctor replied. "But that's to be given in an IV line."
"Leave the line in his arm, then." She thought a moment. "Get me several bags of whatever solution you're using, too" she ordered. "I'll rig up something for a bag holder. How much should he get? Write it down, please. All of it."
The doctor thought a moment, and then wrote down directions for the glucose solution for Marty, specific to the number of drops per minute through the line.
"And prepare half a dozen doses of pain shots for him."
"I can't do that! That's a controlled substance," the doctor protested feebly.
"You _will_ give them to me," Tatiana repeated, her words like steel.
Realizing that she had no options against a mutant, and not feeling particularly brave, the doctor did as suggested, carrying the supplies to her car.
Once everything was ready, Tatiana nodded to the doctor. "I would offer my thanks," she said, "but you won't remember them," she said. She saw the doctor's shock as she realized what Tatiana had said, but before she could react, a dart zipped into her body, and she collapsed to the ground.
Stepping over the unconscious doctor, Tatiana picked up Marty, wincing when he moaned in pain as his leg and arm were moved. "Shhh," she cooed to him. "Mama's here. I'm taking care of you." Gently, she carried him out to the car, pausing to note that several passers-by were looking curiously at her, but she turned her attention back to Marty, laying him as gently as possible in the back seat.
She knew that the MCO was on the way, despite the uncooperative weather, so she figured she should pause later to rig up some type of drip; in the meantime, she had to get as far from Crested Butte as possible, and there was only one real route - to the south, toward Gunnison. Driving slowly, to attract minimum attention, she turned the car onto the highway and soon had the small town in her rear-view mirror.
Like any good villain, she'd not only planned her vacation, but she'd planned several routes away, to escape if necessary. The MCO office was in Grand Junction, and was probably only a couple of officers, but they were intelligent, and had access to much data. Her car, a rental from Phoenix, would have been noticed, and despite the muddled and deleted records at the sheriff's and the clinic, she couldn't erase all evidence, and the car would be quickly traced. It would be a quick supposition that she'd return to Phoenix, so a sensible MCO dragnet would cordon off the direct routes, searching for a car with Arizona plates. Tatiana began to think of other options.
She could drive to the east, toward Interstate 25 at Pueblo, and then drive south through Santa Fe and Albuquerque, where she'd turn to the west in Interstate 40. She could then either cut down to the southwest down the Mogollon Rim, or go all the way to Flagstaff and drive down Interstate 17. It was further, but on the interstate, she could make far better time, which was critical to Marty.
Rain hampered her progress as she drove, and she barely noticed a car turning north in Gunnison while she waited at the intersection to turn to the east. She had no way of knowing that the non-descript car contained two MCO agents, on their way to Crested Butte to deal with a mutant. _They_ in turn had no way of knowing, in the dismal, gloomy rain, that the car _they_ passed contained the very mutant that they sought.
Tatiana glanced over her shoulder at Marty, lying unconscious in the back seat with an IV bag hanging over his head from the coat-hook above the door. "Are you going to be okay?" she asked, hoping that he was awake and would answer her.
Tatiana wasn't sure if he was doing any better; they'd been on the road for a couple of hours, and were in Pueblo, now in a parking garage out of sight of the street. Either the Demerol or his pain had him unconscious, and he was in a fragile physical state. Tatiana knew she had to get him to medical assistance as quickly as she could - and she couldn't just take him to any doctor or hospital.
Tatiana slipped out of the driver's seat, closing and locking the door behind her. It wasn't too hot outside, and inside the parking garage, it was cool enough that there was no danger of Marty having heat-related problems while she ran her errand. It tore at her heart to leave him, but circumstances left her no choice. Keeping the rental car was too risky. If she was stopped, it would almost immediately involve the MCO, and they had a well-deserved reputation for not caring about the health or injuries of mutants.
Most people would have been shocked to know what was in her holdout kit that she _always_ carried in her car, even this rental. A second GPS system, a few nonlethal and lethal weapons, emergency food and a water filter, a first-aid kit, and a _lot_ of cash, although the cash was so well concealed, sewn into the padded straps of the pack, that no-one would find it. Now, as often in the past, that cash was going to be handy.
She trotted out of the garage, and then strolled casually down the street, toward a used-car dealership that she'd passed moments before parking. As she walked onto the lot, she was already looking around at the selection, while a smiling salesman moved toward her like a hawk swooping on prey. "Can I help you?" he said with his best impression of a caring, warm human being. He saw her as an easy mark.
Tatiana knew how to handle the situation. She extended her hand to the salesman to greet him, and as they shook hands, she bored into his brain to get information about the cars. "I'm April. April Richardson," she introduced herself, knowing she was burning still another ID. "I'd like to look around your lot for a few minutes, first," she said. She already knew everything that the salesman knew about the cars, so she focused her attention on the cars that had no known issues.
After having the salesman open a few cars so she could more closely examine the interior and engine compartment, she looked at a two-wheel-drive Explorer. It had some minor damage to the rear door, and a few scrapes on one fender, so it wouldn't fetch top dollar, but mechanically, it was the best one that suited her criteria. She carefully looked at the fluid levels, and then at the condition of the tires.
"Let's talk about this blue and tan Explorer," Tatiana said with an air that said her mind was made up.
"Uh, we have several better vehicles," the salesman countered gently.
"What can you tell me about this mechanically?" Tatiana came right back to the car she'd selected.
"Well, it's a one-owner vehicle, and since it's only two-wheel drive, it hasn't seen heavy off-road use. The drive train has been inspected and is in good working order and ...."
"The mileage is reasonable for its age," Tatiana noted, interrupting what she knew would become a sales spiel. "And it's got the interior room I need."
"It's an older vehicle," the salesman protested weakly, "and ...."
"It fits what I want," Tatiana insisted with an unyielding tone. "Now, let's go in the office and talk numbers."
Realizing that her mind was made up and he wasn't going to persuade her, the salesman relented. Better to make a sure sale than to possibly chase her away. He led her into a small building and sat behind a desk after pulling out a chair for Tatiana. "Now, the listed price is ..."
Tatiana cut him off. "I'm willing to go three hundred over your base cost," she said firmly. "Cash deal."
The salesman's eyes bugged out. "Cash?" he stammered. The offer she'd made penetrated his semi-addled brain. "Uh, I can't go lower than ...."
"Get your manager," Tatiana commanded, interrupting him. "Or I go elsewhere to buy a car."
Wincing, the salesman picked up his phone, dialed a number, and explained the situation. In no time, another man came into the office.
Tatiana rose and shook hands with him. "Good afternoon. I need to buy a car, and I'm interested in the blue Explorer."
"Hmm," the manager said, feigning concern. "The vehicle has some body damage." He was about to try to lure her into other vehicles, probably with better profit margins for the dealership.
"The blue Explorer, cash deal," Tatiana explained coldly and firmly. She took a pen and wrote a number on a piece of paper. "This is my offer. Take it or leave it. There are other places I can buy a car if you don't want to do business." She knew, from the brief use of her telepathy, that the Explorer wasn't highly prized in the area because it was two-wheel drive, and with the minor cosmetic damage, it had been on the lot for a while despite being mechanically very sound and having relatively low mileage. Her powers had given her all the cards.
The manager was lost in thought for several seconds. "That offer is exclusive of tax, title, and license," he half-stated, half-asked.
"Of course," Tatiana said with a nod.
He thought again. "Okay, you've got a deal."
"And I'll handle the licensing, so I'll just need a title signed for transfer and a bill of sale," Tatiana added. "Since the plates on it don't expire for a month, I can do it myself. It's out-of-state, you understand, and it'll be easier to do it myself."
"Ah, yes, that _will_ be easier," the manager noted.
Twenty minutes later, she drove her acquisition off the lot. She made a quick stop at a mini-mart to fuel the vehicle and grab a few snacks, and then she drove quickly back to the parking garage, pulling into the spot beside the rental car.
"Hey, kiddo," she called out hopefully as she exited the Explorer. "Are you doing okay?" She was concerned by having had to leave him for nearly an hour.
"... leg ... hurts." His voice was faint as he'd been drifting in and out of consciousness.
"Yeah. Like the cast is too big."
Tatiana nodded, hoping her concern didn't show. If the cast was ill-fitting, it meant that his body was changing. That could be due to either him manifesting, which seemed very unlikely, or worse, a side effect of her regenerator blood that he received. "I'll get you to Doc Morris' clinic as soon as we get into Phoenix." She smiled at him, hiding her resurgent fears from him. If it _was_ from her regenerator blood, then even a biodevisor doctor like Doc Morris wouldn't be able to do anything for him. And she couldn't take him to any research hospital, either, not with her status as a supervillain. At that moment, she wished desperately that she wasn't an exemplar and regenerator, because caffeine and other means of staying alert and awake had zero effect on her. It would make the drive longer and much more difficult for her.
"I'll get our gear moved, and then I'll get you settled in." She transferred everything to the Explorer, and then gently moved Marty. "I see it's not hurting you as much," she observed when he didn't whimper or cry out.
"Demerol ... makes me ... sleepy."
"If you can do without it, I'd rather not keep you doped up," she agreed. "But if you start hurting, let me know so we can keep the pain down." She hung the IV bag in the same way she'd had it in the car, and then gently closed the door behind him, reaching through the front door to arrange a pillow behind his body against the door so he'd be as comfortable as possible, even though it looked like he was asleep again.
Friday, July 6, 2007
The hot golden orb had long since risen over the Valley of the Sun, promising another brutal day of baking the desert dry and scorching anyone foolish enough to be outside. Behind her, Marty was still asleep, which actually concerned Tatiana. He'd been dozing in and out as they traveled through the night, and she'd had to give him two more shots of pain medication. It seemed the last shot wore off quickly, which caused Tatiana more worries.
Tatiana pulled out her cell phone, working the buttons while she drove.
"Good afternoon. Hytech labs is closed for the holiday weekend. If you care to leave a ..."
Tatiana pushed a sequence of buttons, ignoring the greeting. She was rewarded with a live operator. "Morris and Associates. How can I help you?"
"Sylvia? Setup. I'm bringing my son straight to the clinic."
"Setup! We haven't seen you for a while. Have things been well?"
"Marty and I were hiking, and he had a bad accident. I had to donate blood to keep him alive."
"Yeah. Tell Doc that I'll be there in about fifteen minutes."
"We'll be waiting. Use the alley into the warehouse, as usual."
"Okay. I'm in a blue Ford Explorer with Colorado plates," Tatiana added. She knew the security protocols used by the clinic, and that it was better to give them all the information she needed to speed her entry.
"Got it. We'll see you in a few."
She hung up and glanced back at Marty. He was sleeping again, and moaning softly."
Doc Morris' Clinic, Phoenix
"What can you tell me, Doc?" Tatiana asked, practically leaping to her feet as soon as Doc walked into the small waiting room.
Doc Morris shook his head grimly. "He's stable, but ..."
"Then what?" Tatiana asked, baffled.
"You better see for yourself." He led her down a short hall and through a large lab full of many of his devises which he used for testing and medical treatment of mutants. Beyond the lab was another short hall, with several small rooms on either side; he led her into one.
Marty was lying unconscious in bed, looking pasty and gaunt, with an IV bag dripping into his arm. He'd been sweating enough from his fever that his hair was matted and damp. The cast on his leg had been cut off, and not replaced, as had the plaster bandage on his arm. Tatiana looked at Doc Morris, shocked.
"What's going on, Will?" she asked. "He has a broken arm and a compound fracture on his left leg," she protested.
Doc Morris shook his head. "Not any more. I'm guessing that he manifested during the whole ordeal, because he's regenerating, and at least at level 3."
Tatiana frowned. "So ... why does he look so ... drawn? He should be getting better, right?"
"I wish you hadn't given him _your_ blood, Setup," Doc Morris said sadly. "You're a regen 5, right? And you _know_ how dangerous that can be?"
"I had to, Doc," Tatiana protested. "There was no other choice. He was going to die if I didn't try!"
Doc Morris wrapped his arm around Tatiana's shoulders to comfort her. "I know," he said softly. "I know."
"So what's wrong with him? If it's not regen cancer, then what?"
In answer Doc Morris stepped to one side and turned on a computer monitor. "This is an internal scan I just did a few minutes ago."
"Okay," Tatiana said, moving closer to look. "Um, I don't know what I'm looking at, so you'll have to tell me."
"These," Doc pointed to the screen, "aren't supposed to be there."
Tatiana gasped. "I thought you said he didn't have cancer!"
"He doesn't. These ... are part of a female reproductive system."
"What?!?!? But ... that means ..."
"Regen cloning. Marty's body is becoming a clone of the blood donor. Of you."
Tatiana staggered as her world spun. "Are you sure?" she asked, stepping to the bedside, and firmly grasping the bed rails on Marty's bed, to try to keep herself from falling.
Doc Morris nodded. "I'm sure. Look." He reached over Marty and pulled the cover off him.
Tatiana gasped in shock. Outward evidence of the doctor's assessment was undeniable on Marty's chest. Though small and under-developed, there was no mistaking the female breasts that were growing. "He's ... he's turning into a clone ... of me?"
Doc Morris nodded yet again. "Yes."
"My son ... is turning into my ... daughter?"
"That's a good way to put it. Now before you get all panicky, I want you to think of the positive things here."
"Positive?" Tatiana asked, stunned. "What could be positive about this?"
"Several things," Doc countered. "First, he's alive. Second, he doesn't have regen cancer."
"Maybe," Tatiana said softly. "But ... how's _he_ going to take it when he finds out he's becoming my clone?"
Doc Morris' expression was grim. "He might not know."
Tatiana spun to face the doctor. "What do you mean?"
"In a large fraction of the regen cloning cases, the clone has a mind-wipe. Or is quite insane."
Tatiana gasped, her hand reaching reflexively to her mouth. "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed softly. "So ... even if he lives ...." She collapsed into a chair near the bed, crying in her hands, overwhelmed emotionally at the possibilities that lay in store for Marty.
Doc Morris' Clinic
Monday, July 9, 2007
"Setup?" A gruff-sounding, large lab assistant shook Tatiana's shoulder roughly. "Setup, Doc wants to talk to you."
"Huh?" She rubbed her eyes, wincing at the bright light stabbing them. "What?" She'd been asleep for who-knows-how-long on one of the unoccupied beds in the medical area. She still hadn't been home from their trip because she wasn't going to leave Marty's side, and she looked quite haggard.
"Doc wants to see you," the assistant repeated.
"Okay. Let me go to the bathroom first," Tatiana said. Inwardly, she cringed. The only reason Doc would want to talk to her was that he knew something about Marty's condition. The hope of a mother coursed through her that, against all odds, Marty was going to be okay. Reality, though, told a different tale. She and Doc had talked about known cases of regen-5 cloning. Marty had less than one chance in five of coming through this with his mind unchanged - and that was assuming no damage from possible anoxia between the mountain accident and the transfusion.
Refreshed, but dreading the coming conversation, Tatiana followed the assistant to Marty's room, where he lay prone in the bed, surrounded by monitors and gadgets beeping and drawing various squiggly lines on their displays. As expected, Doc was in the room with a nurse, bent over the prone and still-unconscious boy. Tatiana flinched when Marty's body convulsed, but then she heard him breathing, wheezing without the ventilator tube, which Doc and the nurse had just removed.
He did a quick check with his stethoscope, and then, satisfied, turned to Tatiana. "His breathing is pretty good, considering."
"Considering ... what?" Tatiana asked nervously.
"He's been unconscious for two and a half days. His body is undergoing major changes."
"How's he doing? Honestly," she added.
Doc sighed. "According to the monitors, he's recovering well. His broken bones have healed, including the compound fracture, so that indicates he's got some regeneration. Whether that's from your blood or from his own manifestation is yet to be determined."
Doc simply nodded. "I'm about ninety-percent certain."
"So he should have my regeneration, especially since he received my blood, right?"
"I don't know," Doc said, shrugging. "We won't know until we're able to test him."
Marty shifted slightly, moaning in pain, which caught Tatiana's and Doc's attention. "Aren't you giving him something for pain?"
Doc smiled sadly. "You're an exemplar and regenerator. How do pain meds work for you?"
Tatiana lowered her gaze, shaking her head. "I ... didn't think of that. So there's nothing you can give him?"
"No. His body burns it out almost instantly - just like yours does."
"Do you know ..." she started to ask, hesitantly.
Doc guessed what she was thinking. "The brain activity monitors are very active, like one would expect in a person in a dream-state, like we'd see in a case of unconsciousness." He put his hand on her shoulder. "You're going to have to be patient to see what happens. No-one can tell yet."
"It's so hard," Tatiana said, sobbing and collapsing into his arms. "I ... I might have killed him. I could have left him a mindless vegetable. I ... I didn't want to lose him, but I might have hurt him myself."
"You can't continue to beat yourself up for trying to save his life," Doc replied. "Now, I'm going to send in Felicia to talk with you about a few things, while I go take care of another patient. I'll be around if you need anything."
"Yeah," Tatiana forced a weak laugh, "in your lab playing with your devises."
Doc smiled. "You know me well." He turned and left, and a moment later, his nurse came in.
"Doc thought it would be better if I was with you ... for the next bit," she said awkwardly.
"Oh?" Tatiana got a sinking feeling in her heart; Doc would only send in a female nurse for one reason.
"Based on what we've seen, I need to take out ... his ... catheter," she said. "It's in the way of ... changes."
"And ...." Tatiana asked nervously.
The nurse shrugged, and then closed the door. At the bedside, she pulled the blanket down off Marty's body, the sight of which elicited a gasp from his mom. Before, there had been small, conical breasts growing, little-girl tits that could easily be bound with Ace bandages and hidden. Now, though, there was no way to hide the rounded bulges on Marty's chest. If the cones had been pre-teen bumps, these were late-teen, rounded, prominent breasts.
Tatiana couldn't help glancing down at her own chest, the full C cups she sported, and then back at Marty's chest. She couldn't help thinking that she was looking at her own breasts from when she was Marty's age. If he was going to follow her BIT and body, he was going to be small B cups at his age, and then grow to a full C by the time he finished high school. Of course, he might just immediately gain into the twenty-something curves that his mom already had, but that depended entirely on how the regeneration and clone issue worked themselves out.
"I need help lifting to get this under ... Marty," the nurse said uneasily. She was holding what looked to Tatiana like a large diaper.
"A ... diaper?" Tatiana asked, puzzled.
"Yeah. We can't have a cath in for much longer. You'll understand when you give me a hand." With a nervous glance at Tatiana, she pulled the blanket down to Marty's knees.
Tatiana gasped. She saw - and understood. "He's ...." she tried to say something, but words failed her.
"Can you lift, um, him so I can slide this under his butt?"
Staring at Marty's crotch, Tatiana focused long enough to lift Marty. The nurse slid the oversized diaper under his rear, and then Tatiana let him back down. "He's ...." she stammered again.
"Get ready to tuck this in front of ... his ... crotch, and then fasten it. There's apt to be some leakage when I take the cath out."
As soon as the nurse removed the catheter, Tatiana folded the diaper over what remained of Marty's male genitalia. She felt her heart breaking with anguish as she realized what she'd done to her son. His penis was less than an inch long, and pencil-thin, and his testicles were gone. Where his scrotum had been, the skin was folding into labia. Tatiana was looking at incontrovertible proof that Marty was changing into a girl, as if the breasts hadn't been enough evidence. A whimper of distress escaped her as a tear dribbled from her eye.
"I lost my son," she sobbed, sinking back from the bed and staggering into a chair, looking shell-shocked.
The nurse glanced sympathetically at her, knowing that Tatiana had to be very traumatized by what was happening, and as soon as she put the catheter in the biohazardous waste container and washed her hands, she put her hand on Tatiana's shoulder supportively, hoping she could in some small way offer comfort and compassion to the anguished mother.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
"She seems to be coming around," Doc Morris told Tatiana, who was in what passed for his waiting room.
"You're not mincing words, are you, Doc?" Tatiana asked somewhat bitterly. Marty's uncertain mental state had her more than nervous.
"Why? There's no point. Marty is a girl now, head to toe, one-hundred percent. She's a clone of you, more or less. You're just delaying the inevitable by not calling Marty 'her', or using 'she'."
"Damn you and your logic," Tatiana spat, though she was unable to refute his argument. "When can I see hi... her?"
"That's why I came to get you," Doc Morris said with a wry smile. "I'm going to bring her around, and I figured it'd be best if you were on hand when she comes to. I'm sure she'll have a lot of questions." He thought a moment, wincing. "Maybe," he added. The single word was enough to voice all their fears; no-one at the clinic knew what state the regenerative cloning had left Marty's brain. He could be like a newborn baby, or like himself, or something else completely different. That was the scariest part to Tatiana. As these and other frightening thoughts bounced around her head, they walked silently to Marty's room.
He - she - lay in bed, as she had for the past several days, but most of the complicated monitors were gone. Marty's face was changed; _her_ cheekbones were higher, and her hazel eyes seemed bigger and softer. Gone was Marty's semi-square jaw, replaced by a smooth, rounded triangle that completed her heart-shaped face. Tatiana didn't need to look in the mirror to know that Marty's sexy lips, with a near-perfect cupid's bow, matched her own. Marty's hair was a touch longer than it had been, but it still had a somewhat masculine cut that clashed sharply with the utter femininity of her face. In time, Tatiana knew, it would grow to be a match for her own sandy-blonde locks. For now, though, only the roots were blonde, while the rest of his hair was dark brown, like it had always been.
Marty's arms lay atop the blanket, on either side of her torso. Damn, Tatiana thought, thinking of Marty as 'she' was going to take some getting used to. While the old Marty wasn't a weight-lifting jock with huge biceps, her arms were now much more delicate and finer, ending in hands that could _never_ be described as rough or manly. Without realizing it, Tatiana looked down at her own hands, at the ruby-painted short nails she had, and knew that the color would go well on Marty's nails - depending on his, er, her, outfit, of course.
Doc Morris injected some type of stimulant into Marty's IV line to waken him. For several minutes, nothing happened, and then she twitched a little. A moment later, another twitch, in the other arm, and then she twisted her head, moaning softly.
"Marty?" Tatiana said lovingly, grasping one hand, and caressing Marty's cheek with the other, "I'm here."
Marty's tossing and turning became more pronounced, and she batted at something in front of her face absently, but her eyes weren't opening.
"Marty?" Tatiana repeated. "I'm here. You're going to be okay."
"Mom?" Marty whispered very softly, still not opening her eyes.
Tatiana felt like her heart was going to burst with unbounded happiness. "Yes, Marty," she said, tears of joy suddenly wetting her cheeks. "Yes, dear. You're okay."
"Hurts," Marty said, wrinkling her pert little nose.
"Yes, dear," Tatiana said. "You had a very bad accident, but Doc Morris has you all fixed up."
"Remember - falling. And ... a car? Don't remember ... much else," Marty said.
"You remember some things, though, and that's what's important." She looked at Doc Morris.
"When she's more awake, we'll do some tests to see if there is any brain damage."
"No brain ... damage," Marty whispered. "I'm ... okay."
"Well," Tatiana said hesitantly, "you're healed. But ... you'd lost so much blood that you needed a transfusion. I ... was the only compatible donor."
Marty pried her eyes open, and Tatiana could see that they were an exact match for her own, a bluish-hazel in color, that looked a little bigger on Marty. In reality, Marty's face had shrunk a bit, making her eyes seem larger. "Regen ... cancer?"
"No, Marty," Doc Morris said firmly. "You don't have regen cancer."
"The good news is that my transfusion didn't kill you, and it doesn't look like it affected your memories," Tatiana said, letting her words trail off.
"Good news, bad news?" Marty whispered, letting her eyes drift shut again.
"Yeah, a bit."
"What's ... the bad news?" She seemed to be a bit stronger with every passing moment.
"Well," Tatiana said, wincing, "now I've got a ... a daughter."
"A ... what?!?!?" Marty's eyes were wide open.
Tatiana leaned over and kissed Marty on the forehead. "When they gave you my blood, my regen sort of ... rewrote your body."
"Rewrote ... as in ... cloned?" Marty said. She lifted her right hand, but when the IV tube prevented any significant motion, she dropped it and lifted her left hand in front of her face. "Oh, shit," she swore softly. "It's .... My hand looks like ...."
"Like mine," Tatiana finished.
"How ... how much changed?" Marty asked hesitantly. When Tatiana glanced nervously at the doctor, she continued, "Do I have to sit ... to pee?"
"Afraid so," Tatiana said, wincing. She leaned over and hugged Marty. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean for this to happen to you!" She was crying by that point. "I was so scared of losing you, and when they didn't have any blood for you, I didn't have any other choice!"
Marty let her head sink back into the pillow. "So, it was this, or die?" she asked in a very hushed voice.
Tatiana nodded. "Yeah."
"I guess it could be worse then," Marty tried to sound philosophical. "If half the population can do it ...." The act wasn't very convincing.
"I'm sorry, dear. I didn't mean ...."
"Mom," Marty said firmly, wincing a bit at the sound in her ears as she used more than a whisper for the first time, "you did what you had to, to save me." She sighed heavily. "I'll ... we'll figure this out. Just like we always do."
"Yeah," Tatiana said, wiping at her tears. She'd always been surprised by how strong and resilient Marty was, and this time was no exception.
"Can ... can you get a mirror? I ... I need to see ... what I look like."
Doc Morris laughed. "A clone, and she wants to see what she looks like?" That got a chuckle out of Tatiana as well, which was a well-needed bit of respite from her guilt and self-recrimination.
Marty winced. "That was kind of stupid, wasn't it?" she said softly.
"Not really," Tatiana chuckled. "You look like a younger version of me, so you're a little different."
"And ... I've got ....?" Marty slid his hand up to his chest, wincing at the obstructions that were now a part of him. She let her hand fall weakly back to the bed.
Tatiana turned to the doctor. "Have you got a mirror? I think Marty should see himself. Herself."
Marty grimaced. "That's going to take some getting used to, isn't it?"
"Yeah. But I'll help you." Tatiana smiled. "I don't have any jobs for a while, so I can be a doting mother, and help you adjust."
Marty forced a smile. "That'd be great. I suppose ... you can't call me Marty anymore, either."
"I figured we'd deal with that later," Tatiana replied uneasily.
"Maybe Martina? Like grandma?" She sank back onto her pillow, fatigued. In moments, she was asleep again.
"Well, Doc," Tatiana observed as she watched her new daughter snoozing, "that went a lot better than I thought it would."
"And it seems that she doesn't have any, or much, memory loss or brain impairment." Doc Morris smiled. "Now if I could figure out how to make it work like this every time...."
"Doc," Tatiana's eyes narrowed as she glowered at the doctor, "you are _not_ making a project out of trying to understand Marty's cloning! Got it?"
The doc sighed, nodding sheepishly. "Okay, Setup. Nothing special here." He looked up. "Can I at least get some blood samples and do some diagnostic tests?"
"As long as they're non-invasive, and you only get a total of four hours of his, er, her time!"
"Six, and you aren't going to try any new devises on her." Doc Morris grimaced, and Tatiana noticed. "Nothing you can't develop in the next week," she conceded.
They walked out of the room, dimming the lights as they went. Behind them, unseen in the dark, Marty opened her eyes and turned to watch them leaving. Her lower lip quivered, and a single tear trickled out of one eye.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, mid-afternoon
Martina stretched out on the sofa, the television squawking mindlessly in the background and being ignored. The girl looked wan and tired, and her hair was disheveled from lack of care. Despite that, she looked much improved over her appearance only a few days prior in the clinic. Even though the hospital bed was more comfortable physically than the sofa, being home was psychologically more comforting to Martina. She'd been home for only a few hours, and could already tell that her mood and outlook were improving. At least, she thought they were. In spite of the huge change she had to deal with - which changed her whole life.
Martina sighed. Maybe she _wasn't_ improving her attitude over the change. It was, at times, way too much to take in. At least school was out, so she didn't have to face other kids her age.
"Do you need anything, hon?" Tatiana asked, poking her head around a corner from her computer desk. She, too, looked much improved and not so stressed compared to the past few days. After bringing Martina home, she'd had a chance to take care of herself during the early afternoon while Martina had been napping. A hot shower, washing her hair, and clean clothes did wonders for her own mood.
"Nah," Martina answered, but after a second, she changed her mind. "Yeah, I need something that'll magically change all my habits and thoughts so this all seems normal."
"I know it's difficult," Tatiana began sympathetically.
"No, you don't!" Martina snapped, sitting up and glaring at her mom. "You have no idea how hard this is!" After seeing the stunned expression on her mom's face, Martina had an attack of guilt, and she flopped back on the pillows beneath her back. "I'm sorry," she said, feeling misty-eyed at having been so snarky toward her own mom.
"Honey," Tatiana said, walking around the corner and sitting on the edge of the sofa beside Martina, "I know you're having a rough time adjusting. I know _I_ would, if it was me! But I'm here to help you."
The girl sat up and wrapped her arms around her mother. "I know, Mom," Martina said, wiping her tears on her mother's shirt. "It's just ... sometimes, it seems like a bad dream, and everything I do, like going to the bathroom, are like waking up to a nightmare."
"At least Doc Morris is done poking and scanning you," Tatiana said with a smile, trying to put a positive spin on things. "And you're home."
Martina nodded. "I think he'd still be testing me if you hadn't stopped him."
"He's a devisor. It's his nature to want to understand things, and if necessary, make new devises to keep testing." She smiled. "I think he's hoping to learn how to control regen transfusion side effects."
Martina released her arms from around her mom and sat back, looking down at her well-endowed chest. "You call _this_ a side effect?"
"Beats the alternative," Tatiana reminded the girl.
"Yeah, there is that."
"I know what you need." She saw the puzzled frown on Martina's face. "A nice, hot soaking bath."
"But ... I can just take a shower!" Martina protested.
"Not as weak as you are right now," Tatiana ordered. "And besides, it's time you learned why women like nice soaking baths."
"I don't know ...."
"Would you rather I took you back to the clinic for a sponge bath?" Tatiana asked with a threatening look.
"Uh, no!" Martina reacted immediately. "I _hate_ those things."
"Okay. I'll go fill the tub for you," Tatiana said.
A few minutes later, Tatiana held Martina's elbow and guided the weak girl into the bathroom. Martina's eyes bulged. "Bubble bath?" she gasped. "That's so ...."
Tatiana smiled. "And my bubble bath is lightly perfumed. I think you'll find the experience very relaxing and refreshing. Most women do." She guided her daughter as the girl reluctantly stripped off her clothing - a simple sweat suit and a pair of her old 'boy' briefs. "Nothing I haven't seen every day of my life," Tatiana joked, which caused Martina to turn beet red.
Forty-five minutes later, Tatiana held Martina's arm while the girl dried herself. "Well?"
Martina's eyes had a faraway look in them, and she sighed contentedly. "That felt nice."
"Told you. Okay, here's how girls wrap in a towel. First, get your hair." She helped Martina wrap a towel around her short locks, curling it like a turban on her head. "Don't _ever_ dry your hair like you used to. You'll get tangles that'll be impossible to get out."
"How do I dry my hair, then? Just let it air dry?"
"What do you think blow-driers were invented for?" Tatiana giggled.
"If you grow your hair longer, you'll develop a real love affair with your blow-drier." She took another towel off a rack. "Normally, the first thing you do after a shower or bath is to wrap your hair. Then you dry off your body." She wrapped the towel around Martina's torso, so the girl's boobs were covered, and the towel hung down like a short dress. "This is how you preserve some modesty."
"That's not so hard," Martina said.
Tatiana smiled knowingly. "That's just the start. Wait until we get into hair styling and makeup."
"I'm ... I'm not going to do ... makeup!" the girl said, almost spitting the words distastefully from her mouth.
"Yes, you will," Tatiana replied. "You'll eventually learn that a girl _likes_ to look nice, and the right makeup can really enhance your looks."
"But that's to attract guys, and I'm _not_ going to do that!"
"Girls can be very competitive, and catty, about appearance," Tatiana chuckled. "Surely you noticed that when you were in school."
Martina winced; she _had_ seen girls acting like that before. "But ... I don't want to compete for beauty queen or anything."
"That won't stop the cattiness and competition."
"I suppose you're going to make me learn how to do makeup now."
Tatiana shook her head. "No. Not now." She led the girl into her bedroom. "Sit," she said, gently pushing Martina onto her bed.
The bedroom still had a masculine, teenage-boy look to it, which comforted the girl some. She'd expected her mom to have redone her room to force her to confront her femininity, but she'd left it alone - for now.
Tatiana opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of panties. "Here," she said, tossing them to Martina. After gawking at them for a second, Martina unwrapped the towel and slid the lacy undergarment up her legs, standing so she could pull them up to cover her crotch. As soon as she sat, her mom tossed her a bra.
"No way!" Martina protested.
Tatiana chuckled. "Suit yourself. You'll change your mind soon enough."
"How much of my stuff did you get rid of?" Martina asked unhappily.
"None of it is suitable anymore," Tatiana replied.
"But ... I can wear my T-shirts," the girl countered.
Tatiana started to open her mouth, but changed her mind, and, smiling, pulled open a drawer and pulled out a rock band T. "Here." She tossed it to Martina.
Eyeing her mom suspiciously, Martina pulled the T over her head and down. Immediately she frowned. "It's a little ... tight," she observed.
In reply, Tatiana pulled her up off the bed and led her to a mirror. "One, your body is a little larger, so in overall size, it's a size small. Second - and third - you've got two reasons that a too-tight T isn't appropriate anymore. Besides, boys' Ts fit differently from girls' Ts." She turned Martina so her profile was displayed in the mirror, where it became painfully obvious to the girl that her new bosom was way too large for the shirt. If she'd hoped the T would help hide her breasts, the image in the mirror convinced her otherwise almost instantly.
Martina winced. "It's ... too tight." She didn't want to say that it emphasized her boobs instead of concealed them, because that would give her mom a reason to say 'I told you so'.
Smiling knowingly, Tatiana walked into her bedroom and returned with one of her T's, which was rather pink for Martina's taste. Wordlessly, she led the girl back to her bedroom, and helped the girl remove the too-tight T-shirt. She handed Martina the bra. "Put this on."
"Didn't you notice how your nipples were sticking out so prominently?" Tatiana asked. "A bra gives support and hides them. Now, here's how _I_ put on a bra." She helped Martina put on her bra, first fastening the band around her ribcage, and then slipping her arms through the straps, pulling them onto her shoulders and settling her boobs into the cups. After that, she put on the T that Tatiana was holding out.
"This is like wearing a straitjacket," Martina complained.
"You'll get used to it. Put on the shirt now."
Frowning at her mom's comment, Martina pulled on the T. She noticed immediately that it wasn't tight around her chest.
Martina nodded. "I suppose so."
Her mom ducked out the door, returning a few seconds later with a pair of jeans. "These are going to be a little tighter than you're used to," she advised the girl as she sat and began pulling the jeans over her legs. "You'll find that it takes a little work to get them over your waist, but I figured it was better than giving you a skirt your first day home."
Martina goggled at her mom, wondering if she was joking. "I suppose." Standing, she pulled the jeans up, and quickly found what her mother was talking about. Tugging, wiggling, and sucking in her gut, the girl was finally able to get the jeans pulled up.
"While we're here, do you have any questions about hygiene?" Tatiana asked nervously. In truth, she wasn't looking forward to explaining things to her new daughter, and she suspected the girl found discussing the topic with her mom equally unnerving.
Monday, July 16, 2007
The smell of the spaghetti sauce cooking made Martina realize how hungry she was. She inhaled deeply, her eyes shut in a near food-gasmic experience. "I didn't realize I was so hungry."
Tatiana chuckled. "You'll find that when you regenerate, you'll be extra hungry. The good thing is that being an exemplar, you won't have to worry about getting fat. Your BIT won't let you."
The replacement sat-phone ringing interrupted Martina's question to her mom's comment. Before the girl could get it, Tatiana punched the speakerphone button. "Setup."
"Hey, Setup," the familiar voice answered. "Are you done with your little hike?"
"We're home, but I had a setback when Marty was injured. What have you got?"
"The contract is still open," Cyberbeast said. "You want in?"
"What's the job?"
"So you _are_ interested," Cyberbeast chuckled. "I knew you would be."
"What's the job," Tatiana repeated.
"A faction in a certain country wants a government official to be discredited," Cyberbeast said, "next month at an oil conference in Houston."
"Would this be a Middle East country, by chance?" Tatiana asked, curious.
"You want me to send you the details?" Cyberbeast asked, knowing that Setup _was_ very interested.
"Still a seventy-five-million payoff?"
"They upped it to ninety. Plus my agent's fee."
Tatiana frowned. "That means they're desperate. That could make it tricky."
"What do you say? Are you in?"
"I need some time to take care of my child," Tatiana replied. "Call me back in three or four days."
"They might find someone else," Cyberbeast cautioned.
Tatiana chuckled. "No they won't, and you know it. Use the delay to squeeze them for a bit more. See if you can't get them up to one-twenty" She hung up the phone.
"While you eat," she told Martina, "I'm going shopping for some clothes for you, because a) you don't have the same taste in clothing that I do, and b) I don't like sharing my outfits with you."
"Okay. Nothing too girly." Tatiana didn't reply. "Nothing too girly," Martina repeated. "Okay?"
"Whatever." She grabbed her purse and strode out the door, leaving Martina with a sense of dread.
An hour later, that sense was increasing, since her mom still wasn't back from shopping after the girl had eaten, put away the leftovers, and cleaned up dishes. She had barely stretched out on the sofa to watch TV when the doorbell rang. With a heavy sigh, Martina strode to the door, opening it a crack.
She gasped; it was Jack Rogers, one of Marty's friends who lived nearby. "Hello, Jack," Martina said nervously.
"Hi, Mrs. Hughes," the boy replied. "Is Marty around?"
Martina was startled, but then recovered. Tom had believed her to be her mother. The resemblance _was_ pretty strong, and with her severe haircut and wearing her mother's clothes, she _did_ look older. "No, he's not," Martina said nervously. "You haven't heard? Marty was injured in a backpacking accident. He's in the hospital."
"Is he okay?" Jack asked immediately, concern in his voice.
Martina shook her head. "No, he's in pretty bad shape. It's very serious."
Jack looked stunned. "Oh. I'm sorry. Can you tell him I stopped by?"
"Sure. I'll make sure he knows you're concerned about him."
"Thanks, Mrs. Hughes," Jack said. "I guess I'll go tell the others."
"Thank you for caring," Martina said, not knowing whether to chuckle that he was fooling his friend, or to cry because the change meant he might possibly lose that same friend. "Bye, Jack." She shut the door, leaning against it and sighing. Jack's visit had emphasized, most dramatically, that things with friends, classes, and such would probably never be the same. She wiped at the tears before they could run down her face.
Friday, July 20, 2007
"I'm home," Tatiana called as she walked into the apartment, shopping bags dangling from both hands. She paused to kick the door shut before looking around. "Marty? I mean, Martina?"
"I'm in the study," Martina replied.
"I picked up a few things," Tatiana said as she strode confidently down a short hall, entering Marty's room. "In your room."
Martina trudged wearily into her bedroom wearing an expression of unhappiness mixed with boredom. "What now?" She sounded resigned as she flopped down on the edge of her bed. Around her, the room was a showcase of sudden femininity. Dark blue curtains had been replaced by lighter shades, with lacy under-curtains. Plain, dark bedding was gone; in its place was a white and baby-blue ensemble of comforter, dust ruffles, pillows and linens that would seldom be found in a masculine room.
Marty's posters of hot cars and sophisticated jet fighters were gone, not at her mom's insistence, but because Marty, in a fit of anger, had torn them down, screaming at his mom how much she hated being forced to change, after which she stood among the shredded pictures, glaring at Tatiana and demanding whether she was happy now. Of course, Martina regretted her fit within minutes, and she locked herself in the bathroom, sitting on the floor and crying at how life felt completely out of control, which was itself further proof of how the change seemed to have brought his emotions closer to the surface.
"I figured, from your reaction last night, that the skirts and dresses were a bit too much, too soon," Tatiana started.
"No! You think?" Martina asked sarcastically.
Tatiana ignored the moody outburst. "So I got some shorts, pants, and tops that are ... plain. At least, as plain as I could buy."
Martina opened one of the bags, pulling out a pair of jeans. She winced when she saw the decorations adorning the rear pockets.
"Sorry, dear," Tatiana said, "but that's as plain as they come."
"At least you get my size right," Martina sighed, "so I don't have to go with you and try on hundreds of outfits."
Tatiana chuckled. "Yes, I suppose there are advantages to what happened."
"That's the only one I can think of so far," Martina snorted.
"Apart from being alive?" Tatiana asked pointedly. She lifted Martina's chin and turned her head so she was looking right at her mom. "I think that's a _huge_ advantage."
Martina winced at the blunt statement. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "It's just that ... _everything_ is changed. _Nothing_ is the same."
"Not true, kiddo," Tatiana said, sitting beside Martina and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "You're still my child, and I still love you."
"I know, Mom," Martina said, wiping a tear which had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "But ... this isn't easy. Even moving seems so ... different, and awkward. It' kind of ... overwhelming." She shook her head, her unkempt, shaggy hair dancing above her eyebrows. That was the only major difference, apart from the age her face appeared. Her mom's sandy-blonde hair was shoulder-length, and always attractively styled. Martina' hair was dark brown still, except for about a quarter to a half inch at the roots, and her haircut was short and rather masculine.
"Try them on," Tatiana said. "And pick out a blouse. You've got your hair appointment in twenty minutes."
"Mom!" Martina complained.
"_You_ were the one who said you needed something more appropriate for your hair, not me!"
Martina sighed heavily. "I know. It's just that ...."
"I've got an answer for you feeling awkward," Tatiana replied. She saw that she had Martina's attention. "I've lined up a ... coach ... to help you with grace and movement and such." She saw Martina's mouth drop open. "It'll help you with coordination, and it'll also help you with mannerisms so you don't look so ... awkward. You'll fit in better."
Martina stared at her for several seconds. Finally, she nodded. "I _have_ been complaining about that, haven't I?"
"And you're worried about fitting in at school, so you don't look like a clumsy oaf, or like a guy trying to be a girl."
Martina grimaced. "Yeah, I _did_ say that, didn't I?"
"I know this is hard, but you're doing pretty well so far."
"Some days it doesn't feel like it," Martina said softly.
"Get some clothes on, and we'll go get your hair cut. Then we have an appointment at the clinic for power testing."
"I know. I didn't forget," Martina replied.
An hour later, sporting a new short, sassy haircut that had been bleached and colored to match Tatiana's, Martina walked awkwardly into the clinic, followed closely by her mom. Even ignoring the difference in hair and facial appearance, Martina's lack of feminine grace was a dead giveaway as to which of the two was the clone and which was the original.
"Good morning, Setup," the receptionist at the clinic said cheerily. "What are you here for today?"
"Power testing," Martina said unenthusiastically.
"Oh. That'll be ... interesting," the receptionist said. She knew only too well what people thought of power testing. "Do you have something more comfortable to wear?"
Martina held up a gym bag. "Yeah. I've got a pair of sweats."
"Good. It'd be a shame to ruin a cute outfit like that in testing."
Martina's eyes popped open. "Cute?" She spun toward her mother. "You said these were _plain_!"
Tatiana shot a quick angry look at the receptionist, but moderated her expression toward Martina. "It's about as plain as I could find. It's not like I was buying you cocktail dresses!"
"I don't wanna be cute!" Martina exclaimed, frustrated.
"So why did you pick a cute hairstyle?" Tatiana asked bluntly.
"I ... I ... I don't know!" Martina sputtered. "I ... thought it'd look good."
"And it does, dear," the receptionist interjected. "Now, why don't you go back to a changing room and get into your sweat suit? I'll let the doctor know you're here."
Sighing, Martina trudged down the corridor to the changing room, followed closely by her mother. As soon as she opened the duffel bag, she rolled her eyes and sighed again. "Pink?" She shook her head. "Why did it have to be pink?"
"If you'd gone to the gym with me all the times I asked," Tatiana countered, "you'd know that all my sweats are pink. Or other 'girly' shades and patterns."
Martina rolled her eyes. "Aaarghh!" she screamed softly toward the ceiling. "Why me?"
Testing _was_ difficult. Martina started in what seemed like a regular gym, and Doc's lab assistant had her lifting weights. She lifted five hundred fifty pounds, which surprised her, but she was disappointed to discover that the weight set went up to ten tons! Her short-lived euphoria over being strong crashed back to earth when she realized how weak she was compared to some mutants. On the treadmill, she managed to sprint at over thirty-five miles per hour, and run at a constant twenty-three miles per hour for almost half an hour - without feeling fatigued. Having been humbled by the weights, Martina asked how fast the treadmill could run. Unsurprisingly, it went up to one hundred twenty miles per hour.
The next test was to see how high she could jump, so Martina leaped over increasingly high barricades. When the barrier was seven feet high and she easily cleared it, the assistant went to get the doctor. The obstacle was elevated to ten feet, and Martina nervously jumped over it while Doc observed her with his instruments, repeating the feat several times as he scanned her with even more of his devises. Finally, he put a sensor package on her and had her jump again.
"Very interesting," he muttered as he looked at the results.
"What?" Martina was intrigued.
"It appears that you might have a psychokinetic field that's assisting you in jumping," he said absently. "I wonder ...." He looked at the instruments again. "I want you to jump - but start your jump from back by the wall."
Martina's eyes bulged at his absurd request. "That's impossible!"
"Do it." There was no room to argue.
Shrugging, Martina took a half-step and leaped to clear the obstacle - and found herself sailing over the barrier and crashing ungracefully into the opposite wall - which was half a gymnasium away. As she slid down to a crumpled heap on the floor, Doc was bouncing around excitedly. "Do it again!" he urged.
"Again?" Martina clearly wasn't fond of the idea of crashing into a wall again.
"Jump from there, and focus on landing at the base of the wall."
Picking herself up from her less-than-graceful crash, she sighed. "Do I have to?"
"Yes. Now jump! And focus on landing at the wall."
"Okay." She reluctantly repeated her jump, but with less energy, and though she flailed about a little trying to control her body position, she landed near the base of the wall.
"Again. Try to move like you're in slow-motion!"
Wordlessly, she repeated the jump, focusing on moving slowly and landing at the base of the wall.
"You've got a PK field!" he said enthusiastically. "Try it again, and focus on just floating slowly over the barricade."
Martina repeated the task five more times, including stopping once in midair above the barrier and reversing direction, her eyes wide with amazement as she was successful with all of the challenges, albeit very ungracefully so. "I ... I can fly?" she asked, stunned? "Is that what this means?"
"Yes. Let's see what else you can do with your field." Doc was taking a personal interest in her testing.
Hesitantly, Martina tried levitating, successfully. Then she levitated carrying increasingly heavy weights until she couldn't levitate any longer, which counting her weight, was about one hundred eighty pounds. She tried to try pushing or pulling objects - without success. And to her dismay, she was punched, pretty hard, and despite great desire on her part, she failed to use her PK field to deflect or lessen the blows, even though Doc thought she should be able to.
"Maybe you'll learn," he observed dispassionately.
"That's a great comfort considering how badly your toys beat me up," she sassed back.
"It's standard powers testing," he chuckled. "Sorry. Every mutant has to go through it. And you should be grateful that it's gotten easier from when I was powers tested."
"Easier?!? That was _easy_?"
It got worse. Martina was on another treadmill where Doc was measuring friction to see if her PK field could make things slipperier when she was suddenly hit in the head with a tennis ball shot from an air cannon . "What the fuck?" she demanded angrily.
"No danger sense." He frowned, making a funny face as he thought. "Your mother has a decent danger sense, so I was expecting that you would as well. Hmmm. Maybe you don't have any esper talent. We'll check that next."
And so the games went on. No ESP; he brought in an esper and a telepath to check. No telepathy, either, which was another surprise, as that was one of Setup's powers. "Hmmm," Doc noted. "I wonder if it was the transfusion and regeneration activated your own mutation, or your traumatic injuries. If it was the injuries, it would explain why you don't match Setup's powers."
A variety of magical crystals indicated no sensitivity to magic in Martina, and a puzzle of mechanical and electrical parts revealed that she knew nothing about assembling the parts into gadgets or devises. Finally, after a grueling five hours of testing, Doc told her to go to the locker room, and to get out of her sweaty clothes and shower.
When she came out of the locker room, the receptionist bade Martina sit in the waiting room with her mother, who grinned as the tired, bruised girl slumped in a chair. "How was the testing?"
"Hmmph," Martina grunted. "You know damned well how it was, and judging from your grin, I get the feeling you think it's was a rite of passage. Right?"
"Busted," Tatiana chuckled.
Martina groaned and looked down at her chest. "I'd rather you didn't use that word," she said, sighing. "In my case, it's a little too accurate."
Tatiana leaned a little closer. "But now you can do what every teenage boy wants." She saw Martina's eyebrows lift in curiosity. "You can cop a feel anytime you want."
"Well, it's true," Tatiana continued.
"Would you get serious?"
Tatiana started to reply, but was cut off when a well-muscled, large man in a tight T-shirt, with the appearance of a stereotypical circus strong man complete with a waxed handlebar moustache, entered the room. When he saw mom and daughter sitting, he grinned wickedly. "Setup! How the hell are you?"
Tatiana glared at the newcomer. "Okay, no thanks to you, Thud Mitten."
"It's ThunderFist," the man growled.
"Where's your wimp of a son?" ThunderFist chuckled after glancing around.
"He's _not_ a wimp, BlunderHand!" Tatiana replied angrily.
"And who's this?" he asked, leering at Martina. "Did you get a replacement for that little mama's boy? She looks a lot like you."
"It's none of your business, Dunder Paw."
"But since you asked so nicely," she said sarcastically, "it's my daughter. So keep your BumbleThumbs off."
ThunderFist obviously wasn't used to being treated as a joke, especially by another supervillain, and he was getting highly annoyed. "You only had one child - that sissy-boy son. What did you do, have Doc whip up a clone for you to help with jobs that are too tough for you?"
"Says the man who got his ass kicked by a pair of blonde, teenage cheerleaders. Baseline teenagers! You looked so cute tied up with those pink ribbons of theirs."
"They were black-belt in jiu jitsu or something!" Thunderfist's face was crimson. "At least I can do my jobs alone. I don't need a cheap knockoff to help me out of a jam!"
Tatiana clenched her jaw angrily, rising to her feet. She was several inches shorter than ThunderFist, and was outweighed by over two hundred pounds, but she was angry at the insult to Martina. "Listen, you ham-fisted, lame-brained moron," she began, her voice icy, "you can say what you want about me, but _nobody_ insults my child."
"Afraid the little girlie is going to cry?" ThunderFist taunted.
Tatiana started to move her arm toward ThunderFist, to aim her forearm dart gun at the insulting lout, but he obviously knew of her tricks. Moving deceptively quickly for such a large man, he blocked her arm so she couldn't get a shot at him, while with the other hand he slapped her hard, knocking her across the room.
"Mom!" Martina cried as Tatiana flew into a wall, impacting with a serious thud. She ran over to her mother, who lay in a heap on the floor. Enraged, Martina stood and toward ThunderFist. "You asshole!" she screamed, and as she yelled, she lashed out blindly at the bully with her PK field.
The equivalent of a two-hundred-pound fist slammed into ThunderFist like a lightning-fast punch, but with far more momentum. The big guy was slammed back, toppling over chairs as he tumbled to the ground. Another PK fist slammed into him, breaking ribs, while a third smashed into his gut and knocked the wind out of him.
"That's enough," Tatiana said, placing her hand on Martina's shoulder, stopping the girl before she could seriously hurt ThunderFist. "I think he'll get the point."
Shaking with rage, Martina slowly nodded and let her mom guide her to a chair. "All those years with Sensei, and I lost control in a real fight," she said, her voice quavering.
Tatiana smiled. "You were protecting your mom," she said. "We tend to get emotional when it's family."
"He knocked you across the room!" Martina said, awe-struck by how fast her mother had recovered.
"Regen-5. It's very handy," Tatiana grinned.
Martina hung her head. "I ... wouldn't know," she muttered. "I'm not even a good knockoff of you and your cool powers."
"What's going on out here?" Doc asked sharply as he walked briskly into the waiting room, looking around at the upset furniture and the inert form of ThunderFist on the ground. He sighed heavily. "Don't tell me that you two got into it again!" he grumbled to Tatiana.
"Asshole started it, like usual," she replied, looking at her nails as if bored by the whole thing. "And I let Martina finish off the idiot this time."
Doc shook his head. "At least he doesn't have a dozen of your little darts sticking out of him. The last time you darted him so heavily, it scrambled a week's worth of his memories."
"It's not like he has a lot of brain to scramble," Tatiana snarked.
"Be polite, Setup," Doc said reprovingly.
"Why? He's a dolt." She looked at the papers in Doc's hand. "You didn't come out here to talk about FumbleFingers. What have you got?"
"I've got the results for Martina. As expected, she's an Exemplar-3, just like you. That's where the similarities end. Basically, she's a psycho-kinetic-2, with flight and some kind of ranged attack. Maybe with time, she'll learn to control her PK enough to have a shield, too. And we know from her stay previously that she's a regen-3." He handed a piece of paper to Tatiana.
"No telepathy, no mimic?" Tatiana asked, which evoked a wince from Martina.
"No. My tests seem to indicate that she went through a manifestation as a result of the regen-cloning. I'll probably get a couple of papers out of it," he added, smiling and staring into space as he contemplated what he would want to publish. He shook his head to refocus on the conversation. "You know the drill. Take this to the MCO office, and they'll issue her an MID."
Saturday, July 21, 2007
"I'm back," Martina called as she entered the apartment.
"Good. How did it go?"
Martina shrugged. "Okay, I guess. They didn't ask a lot of questions, except about us having identical biosigns and such."
"I figured as much," Tatiana said. Around her, at their dining table, were piles of bills that she was working on paying.
"And thanks for the mask," Martina said, pulling one of her mom's masks out of her purse. "The ones they had were pretty stupid, and I think they were designed to not hide a person's identity very well." She eased herself down into a chair.
"It _is_ the MCO, hon," Tatiana said dryly. "Did you get your ID?"
"Yeah." Martina pulled her new MID card from her purse and held it out to her mom.
"Attractive girl," Tatiana said with a smile. "Very cute. And that mask - it looks familiar."
"Very funny, mom," Martina commented.
"Knockoff? You're using Knockoff for a code name?"
Martina shrugged. "I couldn't think of anything else, and, well," she said, lowering her gaze and sighing heavily, "ThunderFist was right. I'm just a cheap knockoff. I don't have your cool powers or anything. I'm just a poor copy of the original."
Tatiana reached out and lifted Martina's chin so the girl was looking right at her. "Don't you _ever_ think that!" she scolded Martina firmly. "You are _not_ a cheap knockoff."
Martina pulled her chin free and looked down again. "I don't even feel like I'm my own person anymore," she mumbled. "And I know you're disappointed in me."
"No, I am _not_ disappointed! I never will be!" Tatiana replied instantly. "You're my child, and I will _never, ever be disappointed in you! I'm so proud of how well you're taking all of this. So banish those thoughts, okay?"
Martina looked at her mom for several long seconds, before she slowly nodded. "Okay, mom," she said without conviction. "I'll ... try."
"Okay, good." Tatiana sat back and stretched a moment. "When I feel a little down, you know what I find helps cheer me up?"
Martina grinned. "Chocolate."
"Chocolate gelato, to be more precise. What could be better on a hot summer day than some premium chocolate gelato?"
"What are we waiting for?" Martina asked.
Twenty minutes later, the mother and daughter were sitting on a bench in the Paradise Valley Mall, eating the premium dessert from Puro Gelato. It was their favorite place to get a cool treat; they'd been enjoying the frosty treats from that store for years.
"See?" Tatiana asked, reveling in the delightful flavor. "I told you that this would help."
"Yeah," Martina agreed. "For some reason, chocolate seems to taste better."
Tatiana laughed. "Of course. You're a girl now. You can properly appreciate chocolate in ways guys never can." She leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially, "I think all that testosterone messes up their sense of taste."
"I don't think that's it," Martina objected.
"Oh, yes it is," Tatiana countered. "No guy will ever know the joy good chocolate brings a woman. In some ways," she added, lowering her voice conspiratorially, "it's better than sex."
Martina reared back, startled. "I wouldn't know," she stammered. "Besides, I'm getting all creeped out by how the guys are looking at us."
Tatiana laughed. "I bet they think we're sisters."
"All that girl stuff you're trying to teach me is kind of scary," Martina admitted after another bite of her dessert.
"Why? It hasn't been a hindrance to me, has it?"
Martina was taken aback momentarily. "No," she admitted, "I guess not."
"I've been thinking," Tatiana said, "maybe it would be easier for you to learn 'girl stuff' from another person. It might not be so embarrassing to you."
"Maybe," Martina started to respond, but she was interrupted by shouting. As she turned toward the noise, she asked, "I wonder what that's all about?"
Tatiana, too, was looking, while calmly eating her gelato. "I don't know," she said. "Sounds like a robbery or something."
A few stores away from where Martina and Tatiana sat, there was a Native American jewelry store, and that was the source of the disturbance. One masked person stood outside the store, his mask garnering unwanted attention as he nervously scanned the crowd. From within the store, the sound of breaking glass was audible over the whooping of an alarm.
Tatiana swallowed a spoonful of her treat. "Amateurs," she said scornfully.
"How do you know?" Martina asked, stunned by the matter-of-fact, bored comment from her mom.
"First, it's the middle of the workday."
"So there's no traffic, and the police can respond much quicker. They should have hit at the beginning of the day, when there are fewer customers and witnesses, and the police would have to deal with rush-hour traffic. Even fifteen seconds can be the difference between a clean heist and getting caught. Second, they didn't disable the audible alarm, so there's a crowd of witnesses gathering to see what the disturbance is all about."
"I noticed that." Indeed, as Tatiana had noted, many people had stopped what they were doing and were standing and staring at the in-progress robbery.
"Third, they don't have a plan."
"How can you tell?"
"Look at the guy outside, the lookout. He's probably a blaster, since he doesn't have a gun, but he's nervous."
Martina observed him for a few seconds. "Yeah, I see that."
"If the police or security show up now, someone's ...."
Her sentence was left unfinished when two mall security officers ran through the crowd. As soon as they saw the man with the mask, they stopped to pull out their guns. The masked man didn't wait; he panicked and blasted one of the officers with an explosive fireball; the fringe effect knocked the other officer down. The crowd began to back away, riveted by the ongoing scene and not quite able to tear their eyes away, but now fearful of the mutant power that had been displayed.
"Now he's looking at murder on top of robbery. The MCO is going to fry his ass," Tatiana said, calmly taking another bite of her gelato.
"Are you going to do anything?" Martina asked, almost frantically. She hadn't been exposed to crime like her mother had, and thus was not used to such mayhem.
"Nope. Not unless ...." Tatiana's voice trailed off. "Oh, shit."
The second thief, hearing the ruckus outside, had come darting out of the store, carrying a gym bag that was obviously full of loot. He looked around, just as nervously as the first guy, and then he zipped to a nearby mother and scooped up her two children, running back to the side of his buddy.
"It's the Henshaws!" Martina gasped, watching in horror. Ever since their birth, Marty had frequently helped Mrs. Henshaw at the apartment complex, including watching the two-year-old twins while Mrs. Henshaw ran errands.
"No!" Mrs. Henshaw shrieked. "Give me my babies!" Two of the crowd members grabbed her, restraining her, because they saw the blaster looking nervously their way. "My babies!" she wailed over and over, fighting to get free to run to her children.
"Get back," the speedster yelled in a booming voice. "Everybody get back, now!" His eyes darted about nervously, frantically, as if to emphasize that the two thieves were in over their heads and their plan, if they had one, had failed miserably. "Get back!"
Tatiana frowned, and then her frown deepened. "Martina, no!" she said when she realized that Martina was walking slowly toward the two frightened mutant thieves, one of whom was holding the two young Henshaw twins.
"Get back!" the speedster yelled frantically at Martina, who was slowly approaching. Behind her, Tatiana, startled at her daughter's actions, circled the crowd to the left, watching fearfully lest something happen to Martina. She knew better than to take on two mutants head-on, so she was looking for an edge, an element of surprise. The speedster shifted his grip so both kids were held in one arm, and he pulled a wicked-looking knife with his now-free hand.
"You don't want to do this," Martina said gently. "You don't want to add hurting hostages to your problems."
"Get back!" the speedster yelled again, moving the knife toward the kids' throats, while the blaster looked around the fleeing crowd nervously.
"You're getting yourselves in deeper than you need to," Martina continued, deceptively calm.
"Yeah? You don't know what it's like for us mutants!" the speedster snarled. "You got no idea how hard it is to try to get an honest job, or to deal with hatred all the time."
"I ain't gonna let the MCO take me!" the blaster added angrily. "Not again!"
"You can drop the hostages and the loot and walk away before they get here," Martina said soothingly. "No-one has to get hurt."
"Stay back!" the blaster warned. "One more step and I'll fry you!"
"I just want to talk," Martina said, halting her approach. "What's your name?"
"You're just stallin'," the speedster snarled. "You're like all the others. You don't give a shit about us or our lives; you're just talkin' to keep us busy."
"Why don't you let the kids go?" Martina asked. "They're innocent little kids. They didn't do anything to you."
The speedster was wavering, nervously, but the blaster was getting angrier. Martina wasn't sure what to do, but she knew she didn't want to see innocent kids hurt. In the background, someone silenced the store's alarm, and in the sudden stillness, the sirens of approaching police cars could be heard.
"It's the cops, Jimmy," the speedster said, his voice cracking from the strain. "What are we gonna' do?"
"We're gonna stay here until they see we've got hostages, and then we'll use them to get us a getaway car," the blaster answered angrily, but he, too, sounded uncertain.
Martina knew the two were getting more desperate with each passing second. Too much longer, and there was going to be a tragedy. Hoping that her mom would figure out what to do, and fearing her lack of practice and control, Martina reached out a hand toward the speedster - and unleashed a PK punch right at his face, deathly afraid that she'd miss and hurt the twins.
As soon as she saw the speedster crumple from Martina's PK punch, Tatiana launched one of her special darts at the blaster, and Martina raced to the two kids, who'd been dropped on the floor, to scoop them to safety.
"Bitch!" the blaster screamed at Martina, getting her attention. She spun, just in time to see him launching a fireball at her and the two kids. Ducking in front of the kids, she punched at the fireball, hoping to deflect it. Instead, the punch caused it to explode into a larger ball of flame; Martina felt the heat from the large fireball on her exposed skin. Wincing, her eyes half-shut to avoid the light and heat of the blast, she sent a PK punch toward the blaster, hoping to hit him before he could launch another of his fireballs. He was knocked back, but was still on his feet, shaking his head to clear it after being momentarily stunned. "Oh, fuck!" she cried softly, realizing that her PK punch had barely affected the blaster. Angry, he launched another fireball at her, which she also detonated with a PK punch.
Behind her, she heard something, and after the worst of the fireball effects were over, she glanced over her shoulder. Mrs. Henshaw had darted in, braving the mutant fight and fireballs, and was roughly dragging her kids away from the fight, one arm in each hand. Martina turned back just in time to bat away another fireball, which exploded on a blank wall of the mall, charring it severely.
A blow to the back of her head crumpled Martina at the same time that Tatiana screamed, "Look out!" She'd seen the speedster pull himself up off the floor, and now angry, he dashed in to deliver a speed-enhanced punch at Martina in retribution for her attack. When the girl fell, he stopped, looking around for the gym bag of loot he'd dropped earlier. He was stationary just long enough for one of Tatiana's darts to hit him, and he went down for a second time.
The blaster, seeing his compatriot crumple, roared with anger. He looked around, searching for a target, and his eyes returned to Martina. "I'm gonna fry your ass, bitch!" he snarled. He started to raise his hands to form a fireball to kill the defenseless girl who was trying to shake off the cobwebs and push herself up to her knees.
Tatiana's side-kick in the blaster's leg didn't hurt him much, but it was enough to spoil his aim; the fireball sailed wide to the right of Martina, and slightly above her head. Frustrated, the blaster turned toward Tatiana, punching toward her angrily. Tatiana easily deflected the blow past herself, grabbing his arm and using the blaster's own momentum against him as she stepped into him and flipped him neatly over her hip. Shaken, he rose again - just in time for one of Martina's PK punches to clip him in the face. He staggered, and she punched again and again, until she'd worn him down enough that he toppled.
Tatiana looked at the two, and then walked over to Martina, eyeing her top-to-bottom to see that her daughter was safe. "What the _hell_ did you think you were doing?" she hissed at the girl.
"I ... I don't know," Martina replied hesitantly, her eyes starting to tear up. "I couldn't let them hurt the twins." She looked down, ashamed. "I ... I know you're ... disappointed in me again," she blubbered.
Tatiana glanced around. She could hear the sound of running approaching them, along with the clank of heavy armor, probably from the MCO. "Later. Let's get out of here." She tugged Martina away from the scene of chaos and destruction, down a corridor to restrooms, but instead of going into the ladies' room, Tatiana opened an exit door a crack and glanced around. Satisfied, she tugged Martina out of the mall to the outside. Nearby, dozens of police cars and MCO vehicles, with multi-colored flashing lights in a display that even in the daylight was painful to look at. Tatiana led Martina away from the cluster of emergency vehicles and ducked behind a dumpster enclosure to get out of sight for a second while she planned.
"Sorry, Mom," Martina apologized softly. "I ... I know I'm a disappointment to you."
"Stop saying that you're a disappointment," Tatiana said gruffly. "You _don't_ disappointment me. You never have, and you never will."
Since the chaos inside had ended with the two suspects unexpectedly down and subdued, the police and MCO agents swarmed into the building, leaving only a couple of officers outside. Tatiana figured it was a good time to get away from the building, so she took her daughter's arm and nonchalantly walked across the parking lot, glancing at the cop cars with what should have passed as sufficient bystander curiosity to avoid alerting the cops by behaving suspiciously.
The two drove back to the apartment in silence, Tatiana not sure what to say to Martina, and Martina afraid to say anything to her mom.
Once the apartment door was shut, though, Tatiana turned to the girl. "What the hell were you thinking? You could have gotten yourself killed!"
"I don't know, Mom!" Martina bawled, a small rivulet streaming down her cheeks. "I ... I couldn't let them hurt the twins! Not when the Henshaws have been so good to me!"
Unexpectedly, Tatiana pulled Martina into a hug. "I know you meant well," she said, "but you can't save the world. It's very dangerous to fight mutants."
"I ... know," Martina sobbed. "But ...."
"But nothing. You got lucky. They were young and amateurs. If they'd have had any real experience or training, they'd have killed you."
"I'm sorry, Mom," Martina continued to cry.
"Sweetie," Tatiana said soothingly, "I'm not upset at what you did. That was very brave of you, and I'm proud that you rescued the twins. But I don't want to lose you."
After hugging silently for a bit, Martina nodded, sniffling. "I'm sorry, Mom. I won't do that again."
Tatiana smiled to herself. "Yes, you will," she said softly to Martina. "Because that's the kind of person you are." She released the hug and backed off a step, holding Martina's shoulders. "I want you to promise me, though, that if you go the hero route, you won't try to hunt down and capture your mother!"
Martina goggled for a second, and then laughed, breaking her gloomy mood. "I promise."
"Okay, hon," Tatiana said, patting Martina on the head. "Well, those fireballs sort of ruined your hair, didn't they?"
Martina frowned. "They did?"
Tatiana took Martina's hand and led her to the bathroom. "See?"
"Oh, crap!" Martina said, her hand touching the singed ends of the hair on one side of her head. "Wait! Won't my regen just grow out it again?"
Tatiana chuckled. "Hair isn't living tissue. It doesn't work like that. Otherwise, you'd never be able to change your hair style."
Monday, July 23, 2007
Sensei Robert's Dojo
"Again!" Sensei Roberts snapped impatiently.
Sighing heavily, Martina got back in her stance, and started going through the kata.
"Stop!" Sensei snapped when she was about halfway through. "How does that movement feel?"
Martina wrinkled her brow. "It feels ... wrong."
"That's because it _is_ wrong." Sensei frowned. "It looks like you are fighting your body, like you aren't comfortable with it."
Martina scowled at Sensei. "I'm trying. It's just ...,"
"Your coordination is off. Your brain is acting as if you had your old body, which doesn't work with your new body and reflexes," he observed. Martina winced at that; Tatiana had made sure that she privately briefed Sensei Roberts on Martina's change and condition. "As an exemplar, you should have very good reflexes and coordination, but your higher brain is fighting it because of what you'd learned before. You _know_ the moves. You know the katas. You just have to retrain your mind to your new body."
"How do I do that?"
Sensei Roberts didn't answer, but instead walked to one side of the dojo. He retrieved a jump-rope from a hook and tossed it to Martina. "Two hundred reps."
"Two ... hundred?" Martina stammered.
"And then you'll start with the two basic katas. Twice each, slowly. Then repeat."
"Are you kidding?" Martina asked, surprised.
"No. And each time you go back to the jump-rope, you'll be doing more difficult jumps. One-legged, skipping, cross hand."
"No buts. Start." Sensei Roberts watched as Martina began skipping rope. At first, she was quite clumsy, tangling herself frequently, but slowly she improved. Finished with her first set, Sensei Roberts watched her going through the basic kata. He could see that Martina was self-aware, and was noticing things that didn't feel right and trying to correct them.
"Take five and get a drink," Sensei ordered as soon as Martina had finished the set of katas.
Martina took a big gulp of water from her water bottle. "How long are you going to torture me?" she asked, knowing that Sensei Roberts had a good sense of humor and wouldn't take the question as an insult.
"Your mom arranged for four hours of instruction a day for the next few weeks."
Martina groaned. "So much for free time."
"And during your break, I lined up a special surprise for later this week. An old friend of mine who's a teacher now, but she's on summer break, will be coming by for some special instruction that your mom thinks will help you a lot." He clapped Martina on the shoulder. "Break's over. Next set, and this time, I want you to alternate feet while you skip rope."
Thursday, July 26 2007, mid-afternoon
Sensei Robert's Dojo
"Buzzsaw!" a lithe, older woman with silver-streaked dark hair called enthusiastically as soon as she recognized Sensei Roberts.
A smile broke out on Sensei's face as soon as he recognized the voice. He turned quickly and bounded to the door, wrapping the woman in a warm embrace. "Wildhammer," he called in reply. "It's been a long time. How the hell are you?"
The woman was grinning. "It's been too long. I see you're teaching, too."
"Yeah. It doesn't pay as well, but ...."
The woman laughed. "Yeah, I know the story. It beats the Rat Trap."
Sensei chuckled. "I won't argue with that. I was getting too old for that, anyway."
"It's great seeing you, but I have to ask why you interrupted my summer vacation with such a cryptic request."
"I've got a student who needs some special attention. The type of attention that only you can give."
"Okay," the woman replied cautiously. "Why can't you find someone who ...." Her eyes widened as soon as she saw Martina going through her kata. "Setup?!?" she asked, astonishment in her voice.
Martina stopped and looked toward the door. "Uh, no," she said, shaking her head and glancing around the dojo, afraid of being overheard and having secrets revealed. Fortunately for her, the other students were with another instructor in the other classroom.
Sensei Roberts' jaw was nearly touching the mats. "You _know_ her mom?"
The woman goggled. "Her mom?" She looked at Martina. "You're Setup's girl? You look just like her!" She shook her head in disbelief. "Yeah, I know Setup. After I got out, I had a private self-defense school for a while. That was before I got my current gig. Back then, Setup was one of my pupils." She scooted across the mat and took Martina's hand, clasping and shaking it heartily. "How is your mom doing?"
Martina was quite flabbergasted by the strange turn of events. "Uh, she's doing fine."
"And you look just like her! It's like I'm looking at a picture of her from all those years ago," the older woman repeated. "It's positively uncanny - more than one would expect from a mother-daughter pair."
Martina snorted. "It was kind of an accident. We were backpacking, and I ... fell halfway down a mountain. Mom was the only one who matched my blood type, so ..."
"Regen cloning?" the woman asked, eyes wide, already certain of the answer.
"Yeah," Martina admitted sheepishly. "I kind of ... changed ... from that ...."
"And now Setup wants you to adjust to your new body, right?" the woman asked. "If you don't mind my asking, how much difference is there between what you used to look like and now?"
Martina blushed furiously. "I'm a couple of inches taller, and ... shaped more like Mom."
"What Martina isn't saying," Sensei added, "is that she used to go by the name Marty."
"Oh," the woman nodded knowingly. "I see. That _would_ make a difference, wouldn't it." She looked over Martina from head to toe in a way that made the girl feel like she was under a microscope. "How long ago did you ... change?"
"I got out of the clinic a couple of weeks ago," Martina admitted.
"How about powers? Are you a mutant, like your mom?"
Martina shook her head. "I manifested, but I don't have the same powers Mom has."
"What _do_ you have? Have you been tested yet?"
"Yeah," Martina nodded. "Because of ... things, I recovered at Doc Morris' clinic, and he did power testing. I'm an exemplar 3, a regen 3, and a PK 2."
"Hmmm," the older woman said, thinking aloud. "Exemplar and PK. I can work with that." She turned to Sensei Roberts. "This _is_ going to cost a bit, you know. If I'm going to give up part of my vacation, it has to be worth my while."
Sensei chuckled. "Tell me what you want and I'll put it on Setup's bill. She wanted me to give Martina a couple of weeks of intense training, and she said money is no object."
"Oh?" The woman's eyebrows rose. "Why? Is she planning something that ... involves you?"
Martina vigorously shook her head. "No. It's just that, well, when I was ... different, I got picked on a lot. Mom figured that I'd get even more, with my change and all, and she wants me to be able to defend myself. She's afraid someone will mistake me for her, and ...."
"And she has a few enemies," the woman said knowingly, nodding.
"And the mismatch between her reflexes and knowledge and her body are making it tough for me to teach her," Sensei Roberts added.
The woman nodded. "That's understandable." She looked at Martina. "I want you to go through a kata so I can get an understanding of what we need to work on first."
Three hours later, Martina flopped heavily into the passenger seat of her mom's car.
"Rough day?" Tatiana asked, putting the car in gear and pulling away from the curb.
"You could say that," Martina said wearily. "Not only was Sensei pushing me hard, he called in a friend to help with something called grace."
"Yeah," Martina said. "You'll get her bill a part of Sensei's bill."
"So what was this grace thing about?" There was an oddness in her voice, as if she might know the answer.
"A lot of really stupid shit," Martina groused. "Walking in high heels while carrying a cup of tea in each hand. Balancing a book on my head while going through a kata."
Tatiana laughed. "Believe it or not, that'll help you a lot with your coordination." She paused, thinking. "I wonder ...."
Martina missed the tone of her mom's last words. "She thought I was you when she first walked into the dojo."
"Yeah, she said you were a student of hers a while ago."
"Wildhammer," Tatiana said with certainty. She chuckled. "It _has_ to be her." She smiled. "She's a tough teacher. All I can say is, be ready for anything, no matter how silly it sounds. She knows her stuff. And it's really, really helpful."
"Great. Two sadistic teachers instead of one," Martina grumbled. "But she did say she could help some with my PK field," she added with a note of hope.
"Yeah, I bet she can. She's a pretty tough PK brick. She'll help you figure out what you can do with your field."
Sunday, August 12, 2007
"Mom, we're out of orange juice," Martina called, her head half in the refrigerator.
"You know where the grocery list is," her mom replied from her computer desk, not bothering to look up from the monitor.
"You know, if I had a drivers' license, you wouldn't have to drive to the store all the time," Martina suggested.
"And if you were old enough, you'd have one. In the meantime, you're not driving."
"But I _look_ old enough," Martina countered, "and you could easily get me fake records so that I _could_ get a license."
"Nice try," Tatiana chuckled, "but no."
"It'd help so you didn't have to take me to class every day, too," Martina added. "Twice on some days."
"I'm not in the middle of a job, so it's no problem," Tatiana replied with a smug smile that declared, 'I won, so be quiet and accept it.'
Tatiana perked up when she recognized the plaintive tone on Martina's question. "Yes, dear?"
"Um, I ... um ... was talking with my teacher, you know, in the grace class." Martina was very hesitant.
"Uh, yeah. About ... things," she said the last word very softly.
Without looking, Tatiana could tell her daughter's cheeks were bright red. "Oh? What sort of ... things?"
"She ... um ... talked more about, you know, girl stuff," Martina muttered. Her profound embarrassment was only too evident in her voice.
"Oh. Didn't Laura talk to you about that at Doc Morris' clinic?" Tatiana knew very well that the nurse had spent time talking with Martina. She'd insisted that someone else talk with Martina about those things, because she was certain that it would be too embarrassing for the girl to discuss them with her, especially since Martina had been a boy only a little earlier. After a few discussions between Martina and Laura, the nurse had told Tatiana that the girl _was_ very shy and embarrassed. But she'd listened, at least a little, which probably wouldn't have been the case if it had been Tatiana trying to have the talks.
"Yeah," Martina answered. "But today, Wildhammer talked more about, you know, that I'm going to have a period and sex and birth control and stuff." Martina's voice was barely above a whisper. "And since it's been several weeks since I changed, its ...."
"I know. You'll probably have a period very soon, dear," Tatiana said soothingly. "I know you've probably heard horror stories about them, but you shouldn't be afraid."
"I'm ... I'm not," the girl said, trying to sound brave. "It's ...
"Dear," Tatiana hugged her daughter, "when it happens, I'll be here to help you. I know it's probably going to be embarrassing for you, and it might be uncomfortable, but I'll help any way I can." She smiled at Martina. "Even if the only thing I can do is make sure you have an adequate supply of chocolate."
Martina scowled. "Yeah, but every time you get some that's supposedly for me, _you_ end up eating it!"
"Yes, I do, don't I?" Tatiana shot back with a mischievous grin.
Martina looked at the papers spread around the computer desk, and the display on the monitor. "How's the plan coming along?"
Tatiana sighed, shaking her head. "Not good. I think the target has been tipped off that there's a plot against him."
"Who's the target?" Martina asked. "What's the goal?"
"Jonas P Thornton. I'm supposed to make sure he's in no position to stop a proposed merger."
"A merger? It's a business thing?" The girl sounded surprised that businesses would engage in very nasty methods to achieve their ends.
"They're the nastiest most of the time," Tatiana acknowledged with a derisive snort. "From what I've researched on the contract, Mr. Thornton is President and CEO of a medium-sized oil-field service company that's the target of an acquisition bid. He's is blocking the deal, but there are a few major shareholders who stand to gain a lot - billions - if the deal goes through. Someone wants him taken out of the picture."
Tatiana nodded. "Probably. The publicity of the takeover deal is driving up the share prices, so if it is completed, someone's going to make a killing. Billions."
"And if it falls through?"
"They'll take a bloodbath. The major shareholders will lose out on all that potential profit, and probably some of what they currently have in the stock."
"What's the problem?"
Tatiana clicked her keyboard, causing the display to change. "This is the problem," she said, staring at the three pictures on the display. "Mister Thornton is a very suspicious man, and he's hired three mutant freelancers as assistants and bodyguards," she reported. "According to my info, one of them is a talented psychic, EEG, so she'll be able to tell if I've done anything to her boss. In fact, based on what Cyberbeast told me, she sensitive enough that she can tell if I'm even in the area."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
"When you get past that, how are you going to take him out?"
Tatiana smiled at her daughter's curiosity. "How would _you_ frame him?"
Martina frowned. "Insider trading."
"Good, but not good enough," Tatiana observed. "Too obvious."
"What would you do, then?"
"Hiding the insider trading through some multi-party exchanged favors with a second and third parties, involving stock swaps for real-estate and some short-selling through the second party. The CEO launders his profits by selling the real-estate back at inflated prices. All three of them would make out like bandits."
"Wow. That's convoluted."
"Yeah. Someone who's CEO of that big of company would know better than to directly buy or sell stock, so it has to be laundered. I just plant the evidence ...."
"And then alert shareholders or the SEC or someone?"
Tatiana nodded, smiling. "That's my girl. That's exactly the way to do it. But to be sure, the evidence has to be hidden like Mr. Thornton is doing a cover-up of even those connections."
Martina scowled. "What if ... they don't find the evidence?"
"They will," Tatiana assured her. "The cover-up has to be flawed enough that it can be torn apart, and since the whole thing will look like a cover-up gone wrong, the story will instantly gain credence. Once someone, like the press, gets a hint that something dirty is going down, they'll stir things up so _all_ shareholders will demand an investigation. And if the 'leak' is traceable back to Mr. Thornton's inner circle ...."
"He'll ... go to jail?"
"Not my problem," Tatiana said with a shrug. "Besides, if it'll help your conscience, the dossier indicates that he's been screwing a lot of people, including shareholders and employees, in dirty deals for years."
"But ... won't they deny that they did anything?"
Tatiana laughed. "Of course they will. And when the attempted cover-up falls apart, he'll go down."
Martina chuckled. "That's ... pure Machiavelli."
"Why, thank you. That's the nicest compliment anyone has ever given me on my work!"
Martina smiled; despite the fact that her mother was doing something criminal, she couldn't help but admire the intricately-layered plot being woven.
"How are you going to get past EEG and the freelancing guards?"
Tatiana winced. "I don't know that part yet."
Martina hesitated a moment. She _did_ have an idea, but she wasn't sure her mom would go for it. "Um, if they're looking for you ...."
"No." Tatiana sensed immediately where Martina was heading with that line of thought.
"But Mom ...."
"No buts, hon," Tatiana said. "My line of work is dangerous, and even being a decoy would put you in grave danger. I can't lose you like I almost did." Her voice cracked at the end.
"Mom, how do you think _I_ feel, now that I know for certain what you do?" Martina countered, her voice quavering. "Do you think I want to lose you?"
"But ... that's different."
"Mom, do you know how many years, on 'Take your Child to Work Day', I was the only one in my classroom at school? All the other kids got to see what their parents did, but I didn't."
"I'm sorry, honey," Tatiana began.
"At least once, I want to go to work with you. I want to be part of your work day."
"It's too dangerous."
"Mom, I'll be a decoy, leading the guards around. It'll be in public. What can they do?"
"Honey," Tatiana said sternly, "these are very serious people, dealing with ruthless leaders."
"The conference is in Houston! It's in public!"
"That won't stop them. Martina, I don't want you to be in danger."
"Okay. Have you got a better plan to get past his security?"
Tatiana glared at her daughter for several seconds. She closed her eyes, drawing deep breaths, as she struggled to find a way to refute what Martina had said. But she couldn't. "No," she finally admitted. "I can't think of one."
"I'll wear some makeup to look older, and I'll need a wig since my hair is so short," Martina said eagerly. "And I'll need a fake ID, so I can ...."
"Martina," Tatiana said firmly, "we'll work on a plan together. But if I find a way to do this without endangering you, you'll stay home."
"But Mom ...."
"Those are my conditions. Take them or leave them."
Martina looked down unhappily. "Okay."
Monday, August 20, 2007
A purse over her shoulder, Martina strutted into the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel where Mr. Thornton, the target of the plot, was staying, three blocks from a major oil and gas trade show and convention at the George R Brown Convention Center. She walked slowly and deliberately to ensure that people would see her. Following her mom's advice, the girl paused to observe the coming and goings of people several times, giving the impression that she was gathering information for something. Around her neck, Martina wore a special piece of jewelry, enchanted by one of her mom's 'business associates' to give off the mental 'signature' of her mother, so that any espers or telepaths who were watching for Tatiana would pick up on her presence instead.
She wore one of her mom's dresses, and as she walked in high heels, she was giving silent thanks to the tutor at Sensei Roberts' dojo, who'd schooled her quite thoroughly, for several hours a day over two weeks, in little things like being graceful _and_ combat-effective in heels and skirts and dresses. That which seemed tortuous at the time was showing itself to be a blessing. On her head, Martina wore a wig - not quite like her mom's hair, but then again, if she was really in disguise for a job, Setup would have disguised herself, too. The trick was to be disguised enough to be convincing, but not so well disguised that guys protection missed her. Every detail had been carefully planned, from her timeline of activities down to her watch, which was subtly enchanted to give her a psi-block, so telepaths couldn't read her true thoughts. That would be a dead giveaway, no matter how convincing the disguise appeared.
Martina went into the lounge, which wasn't out of character for patrons, since it was late afternoon, and the convention was already starting to wind down for the afternoon. Sitting at the bar, she smiled to herself as she ordered a glass of wine. Her mom hadn't like the part of the plan where she might have to drink, but one of Doc Morris' devisor drugs ensured that she wouldn't get even the slightest buzz from the alcohol. Her mom had insisted on that, and despite being tempted to 'cheat' and not take the drug, Martina knew that it wouldn't be good for her to be sloshed and put her mom in danger. So she took the drug and had a little wine as cover, like everything else she was doing.
It didn't take long before Martina picked up a tail. He was being subtle, but some pointers from her mom let Martina spot him. Smiling to herself, she finished her wine, strolled to the sidewalk, and hailed a cab. Even in disguise, her mother would never do something like walk the three blocks in the brutal Houston summer heat to the convention center. She'd debated allowing the observer to put a tracker in her purse, but decided against it. If she made it too easy, they'd probably figure out that something wasn't quite right, and their scheme would be blown.
The trick for her now was to go from the hotel to the convention center without losing her tail, and without crossing her mother's path. According to the plan, Tatiana would need about 2 hours with the target's computer to plant all the evidence - assuming that she made contact with him to read his biosigns and memories.
When the cab dropped her off in front of the convention center, Martina took her time paying the cabbie, pretending to fumble in her purse for smaller bills. While she was doing that, she was watching to ensure that her tail was still following her. Satisfied, she strode easily into the building, a wry smile on her face, and up to the exhibit hall. Pausing before entering, she put on a name badge which identified her as a representative from a company that had legitimate business with their target, in the hope of winning contracts to supply machinery. Inside the exhibit hall, she checked a map, and made a beeline for the target's company booth.
"Excuse me," she said to one of the company representatives when she got to the booth. She noted that she still had a tail.
"Yes?" the rep asked, his pleasant smile broadening when he saw the attractive young lady before him. "How may I help you?"
Martina smiled pleasantly. "My company has developed a mobile machining center which we believe will be of interest to your company." She was working from a prepared script that she'd memorized. "How much downtime do you spend typically on a rig when you have fittings fail?"
The rep was taken aback by her immediate leap into tech talk. "I'd have to look that up," he answered uncertainly.
Martina grinned. "If you're like most service companies, the answer is four days, counting transit time, usually with expensive chartered air freight delivery. Four days to get parts back to your machine shop or your subcontractor for repair." She was amazed at the degree to which her mom had made her study the business so that she could bluff her way around. She launched into a detailed discussion with the representative, outlining the costs and benefits of the 'borrowed' company's products compared to how the service company normally did business. She and her mom had liberally borrowed information from an innovative subcontractor, knowing it would pique the interest of Mr. Thornton if it looked like it could save his company time and money.
After a bit, the company representative looked convinced that the technology looked worthy of more investigation. "I think it would be appropriate to set up a meeting with our President and CEO, ..."
"Mr. Thornton," Martina answered immediately, smiling. She read the look of surprise. "One doesn't blindly approach a prospect such as your company," she chuckled. "I do my homework."
"That's the kind of company we like to do business with," the rep replied, smiling himself. "Perhaps I should introduce you to Mr. Thornton himself, and you can present your proposal to him."
"That'd be good," Martina said. She knew the bodyguards would be watching for an attempt like she was about to make, so it would keep them occupied for a bit, while her mom completed the real work.
"Ellen," the rep said to a woman working in the booth, "take over. I'm going to introduce this charming lady to Jonas. Her company has a product line that I think he'll be interested in. He's in a meeting room on the third floor, where we have less ... public ... conversations."
"I understand completely." Smiling pleasantly, but nervous, Martina walked with the man out of the main hall, toward an escalator. A fleeting glance told her that her tail was still present, and looking a little agitated.
As soon as they got off the escalator on the third floor, two large men intercepted them. "What's going on?" Martina asked nervously.
The sales rep grasped her arm firmly, much more firmly than a baseline should have been able to. "Very nice of you to drop by to visit, Setup," he said with a wicked grin.
"Setup? Who's Setup?" Martina asked, quickly becoming frightened.
The man half-dragged, half-carried her by one arm through the corridors toward the back of the building. "Don't play dumb. Just tell us who hired you and this will be very easy."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Martina protested, tugging to free herself from the painful grasp. "I'm not this Setup person you keep talking about."
One of the men clamped his hand over Martina's mouth so she couldn't scream, and they painfully dragged her to the rear of the building. Outside, on the loading docks, a van awaited with its side door open. Martina was roughly dragged into the van, as one of the men clamped restraints on her hands. Almost as soon as the door was shut, the van began to move, away from the convention center.
A woman sitting in the van grinned wickedly at her. "I knew you were too greedy to not try, Setup," she sneered. She stared at Martina for several long seconds, and her expression became less pleased as she did. "She's ... psi blocked," the woman snapped. "I thought you got her file from our contact."
The 'sales rep' frowned. He pulled out a tablet computer and fumbled with the displays. "According to the file our contact gave us, she has no psi blocking talent or ability."
"Unless she developed talents she neglected to tell the MCO," the woman replied angrily.
Martina was feeling panic grip her. These people had access to the MCO's files, apparently, and they gave every impression that they weren't going to play nice.
The man punched her hard on the side of her face, causing her head to snap to one side, and she cried out in pain. "The nice thing about a job like this," he sneered, "is that with your regen, I can cause you more pain than you can take, and you'll just heal in time for more." He had an evil grin on his face. "So if you just tell us what we want to know, we can avoid a lot of misery - on your part!"
"I'm not ... Setup," Martina said slowly, tasting blood in her mouth.
The woman frowned, but the man reacted angrily, pulling out a knife and stabbing her viciously in the leg.
As Martina screamed in pain, the woman took out a scanner and passed it near Martina. She read the results, and then glanced at the man's tablet computer. "Biosigns match. She's Setup, alright."
The man looked at Martina's leg, which he'd stabbed. Blood was still oozing from the wound, but it was slowing, and a scab was starting to form. "Hurting regens is so much fun," he said sadistically. "Because you can take so much torture, and heal up for more."
The ride was relatively short, only ten minutes, which was good thing, because the sadistic man had stabbed Martina in the other leg, and had punched her hard enough to break a couple of ribs. The van door opened to reveal that it was inside a garage or warehouse-like building, dark and cavernous with a high ceiling and littered with parts of machines or engines, and the men roughly hauled the girl out. Unceremoniously, she was fastened with heavy-duty arm and leg bands into a stout chair. As soon as she looked up toward her captors, the sadist backhanded her face again. She felt a loose tooth, and tasted even more blood.
"Anything, EEG?" the man asked of the woman.
"Nope. She's psi shielded."
The man grinned. "So we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way." His hand moved quicker than Martina would have expected, and his fist smashed into her nose, shattering it.
As the girl struggled to breathe through the blood gushing down her face and the back of her throat, the man chortled. "I can keep this up as long as you can, Setup," he sneered.
Monday, August 20, 2007 - Time unknown. Location unknown.
Martina was hanging onto consciousness out of desperation. She had to keep these guys occupied for a while longer while her mom completed the job, although she couldn't see a clock, and had no idea how long she'd been being tortured, nor how long her mom needed to complete her job. She _did_ know that only the thought of protecting her mom was keeping her from breaking and blabbing everything that she knew.
"Go get us something to eat. I'll watch her; she's not going anywhere with those shackles. They're rated for Exemplar-4, and she's only a 2," EEG said.
"Pizza," EEG replied. After the sadist left, EEG leaned over and grasped Martina by her battered cheeks, making her nearly faint from pain. "What the hell is going on, Setup?" she demanded. "You're not supposed to be psi-shielded, and you aren't regenerating as fast as you're supposed to." She frowned. "But your biosigns match." She paced back and forth a couple of times, thinking. "Did you somehow manage to get into the MCO systems and get your file and MID changed?" she speculated. "This is ... odd."
"Hurt," Martina said weakly. She had multiple broken ribs, a broken nose, probably a broken cheekbone, and very likely a broken femur. Multiple stab wounds in her things and arms were no longer bleeding, but they hurt like hell. She _wished_ she had her mom's regen.
"Oh, you do?" EEG asked with an evil chuckle. She stopped pacing abruptly and grasped Martina's jaw again, squeezing her cheeks painfully, eliciting a cry from the girl. EEG laughed cruelly. "We can keep this up as long as we need, so you might as well give up and tell us what we want to know."
"And then you'll dispose of me because I _took_ the contract, right?" Martina asked. "I know how the game is played."
"Depends. Are you up-to-date on your insurance?" EEG asked bluntly.
Martina knew to what she referred; her mom had briefed her. For a price, the Syndicate provided insurance to protect members and independent contractors, like Setup, essentially providing a 'ransom' for those captured in the line of their work. It was an extension of their 'prison' insurance. Martina didn't know if her mom had such a policy, and she suspected that even if she did, she wasn't protected because she wasn't her mom, even though she was a clone.
"How long?" she gasped, fighting waves of pain.
"How long until what?" EEG asked, suddenly interested.
"Time? What time?"
"Are you curious how long you can hold out?" EEG sneered. "Not long enough, because you haven't cracked."
Martina sighed. She knew there were at least two goons with EEG, but at least the sadist was out getting dinner. She hoped that it would take a while, and that her mom had completed her tasks. She had to get out of the shackles, take care of EEG and the goons, and then find her way out of the building and back to the rendezvous point - without knowing where she was or her way around Houston. If she didn't, they were probably going to kill her accidentally, thinking she had her mom's regeneration ability; things that would seriously hurt her mom would kill her.
As EEG paced in front of her, Martina lashed out with her PK punch, taking EEG by surprise and knocking her violently against a wall. As soon as she'd done that, the two goons reacted, slowly at first because they weren't sure what had attacked EEG, but when she could see the first one, Martina PK punched him, focusing on his jaw. The man crumpled like a rag doll. The second man, though, pulled a gun, and before Martina could punch at him, he shot frantically toward her. A hot poker stabbed into her already injured leg, causing a scream of agony.
While she was momentarily distracted by pain, the goon stepped closer, his gun raised and leveled at her. Through a red haze of agony, she saw the barrel of the gun pointed at her, appearing as large as a cannon. Instinctively, she tried to duck the shot she knew was coming, and as she winced, a PK punch lashed out at the goon, smashing into his gun and driving it back into his gut just as he pulled the trigger. The shot missed, whizzing by over Martina's head, and she pushed again. This punch hit the goon in his throat, crushing his windpipe and snapping his neck, but the girl didn't realize that she'd killed him; all she saw was that he crumpled and didn't move.
Fighting pain, Martina turned her attention to the shackles on her wrists. She heaved her right arm against the metal, but between the cuts and bruises and the sheer strength of the metal, nothing happened. She heaved again, and again, still with no results. Crying with frustration she tugged and unknowingly smashed into the metal with her PK punch; the combined effect of her exemplar-3 strength and the PK field bent the metal and, fortunately for Martina, sheared off the bolts holding the shackle to the chair.
Once she realized what she'd done, it took only seconds to similarly unfasten the other shackles. Her head swimming as she fought the pain, Martina struggled to her feet, wobbling unsteadily on one leg, using her PK power to stand, since her shattered left leg wouldn't bear any weight.
"You're not going anywhere, Setup," EEG's voice said icily from behind her. The unmistakable click of a gun cocking chilled Martina to the bone. She turned slowly, unable to move quickly. "I don't care what the boss says," EEG continued, glaring at Martina. "You're going down now." She lifted the gun higher, fixing her sights on Martina's head, her eyes burning with uncontrolled fury and her jaw clenching tightly in grim determination.
Martina pushed as hard as she could with her PK field, her blow striking EEG in the face and snapping her head back as her jaw and nose shattered. The blow spoiled the villainess' aim before she could even pull the trigger, and her muscles twitching in response to losing consciousness loosened her grip on the firearm. It clattered noisily to the ground.
Martina knew she couldn't walk or run from the scene due to her injured leg. For a brief moment, she wondered what to do, but then she remembered that she could fly. Lifting herself off the floor, the wounded girl glided silently toward the door; she paused nearby and, without thinking, smashed at the door with her PK punch, forgetting that she couldn't fly and punch at the same time. The door splintered, but Martina fell heavily to the floor, landing with a sickening thud and screaming in agony.
"What the hell is going on?" the sadistic goon's voice sounded from the doorway, where he stood with four boxes of pizza in hand. It took a moment for the situation to register, and as soon as he realized that Martina was free, he dropped the pizza boxes and dashed toward the girl.
Sitting up slowly, shaking her head to try to clear it, Martina heard his voice, and then she saw him moving toward her. She sent a PK punch at him, which only slowed him. Wincing at the realization that he was a brick, she pushed herself upward with all her strength toward the high ceiling. The sadistic brick growled, and after looking around a bit, grabbed a large chunk of scrap from the floor and hurled it at her. Flinching, Martina PK punched at the metal even as it left the man's hand, resulting in her dropping seven or eight feet before she caught herself and flew back up out of reach - but she dropped enough that the heavy cylinder head sailed over her and crashed into the ceiling.
Inspiration hit Martina like a hammer as she frantically looked around for an escape. She flew toward a skylight, and just before she hit it, she did a PK punch. As expected, she dropped a few feet, but the skylight exploded outward in a shower of black-painted glass and aluminum. The light streaming through the new opening momentarily blinded Martina, and she almost lost control of her PK field, but she managed to halt her plummet, and she darted back upward toward the hole, her jerky motion throwing off the aim of another of the sadist's scrap metal projectiles, which crashed through a concrete block wall, accompanied by a loud string of profanity.
Martina knew it was risky to be seen using mutant powers openly, but she had no choice. She had no idea where she was, and she had to fly higher to see. She glanced down at the ground and rooftops a hundred feet beneath her, and realized too late, that she had a fear of heights. She fought a surge of panic, focusing her sight back up and managing to stabilize her flight.
In the distance, she could see the red and white of the convention center, probably half a mile away. Orienting herself, she flew toward the building, dodging a couple of hurled projectiles from the PK goon, before lowering herself until she was just above the roofs in the area.
Houston, Early evening
Atop a Parking Garage
Tatiana paced back and forth nervously, glancing at her watch, and then looking around, worry lines etched on her face. Martina was late, which wasn't like her at all. With each passing moment, her imagination created new ways in which her daughter was injured or lying dead somewhere. She cursed herself for allowing Martina to talk her into using her as a decoy; Tatiana was trained and experienced; the girl was not, and she was playing in the big leagues.
"Mom?" Martina's voice came from above Tatiana, and her head twisted up toward the sound.
"Honey!" Tatiana said, and immediately she saw the blood stains on Martina's clothing. Next she saw the massive bruising on the girl's face.
Martina lowered herself, and as soon as she landed, her wounded leg collapsed, pitching her forward. Fortunately for her, Tatiana caught her. "Honey! You're hurt!"
"They had their own plan," Martina said with a weak smile. "I didn't like it."
"Shhh," Tatiana said, picking up the girl and cradling her in her arms. "I was so worried about you! What happened?"
"They grabbed me at the convention center," Martina said softly. "They had a brick that I couldn't get away from."
Tatiana rounded a corner to a busier street, and stepped to the curb. In moments, a cab pulled up beside the two. Tatiana set her daughter gently into the back seat, and then climbed in beside her, ignoring the strange looks from the driver. Tatiana told him where they were staying, and then turned her attention to Martina.
At the hotel, Tatiana crawled out, then leaned forward into the back seat. "Here's an extra fifty if you forget that you saw us," Tatiana said to the cabbie, handing him a few bills from her purse.
"You got it, lady," the cabbie answered enthusiastically.
Tatiana lifted Martina out, kicking the door shut with her foot, and carried her into the hotel, ignoring the people gawking at her. It wasn't a fancy hotel, like her target had been staying in, but a more modest two-story travelers' hotel. Fortunately, they were on the first floor, so Tatiana didn't have to negotiate stairs or an elevator; they were quickly in their room, out of sight of other patrons and staff.
Without worrying about the bedding which was immediately blood-stained, Tatiana set her daughter on a bed. "Honey?" she asked nervously, afraid that Martina had slipped into unconsciousness again.
"Hurt, Mom," Martina moaned. "I'm ... sorry ... I messed up."
"You did very well," Tatiana assured the girl, gently caressing her forehead. "I'm sorry I got you into this mess. Do you need anything? Water?"
"Yeah," Martina nodded weakly. "Thirsty."
After Tatiana got water for her daughter, she sat on the edge of the bed and took her secure phone out of her purse, punching in a single number that was obviously speed-dial to a frequent contact. "Hello, Doc? Setup."
"Hey, Setup. How are things?" Doc Morris, in his clinic in Phoenix, answered cheerfully.
"Not good. Listen, I need a contact in Houston for a clinic or doctor - you know the kind."
"Let's just say that it's occupational hazard."
"But you're a regen-5!" Doc Morris.
"Find me a doctor, okay?"
"Will do. I'm at my computer doing a search."
"Great," Tatiana answered. She copied down the number that she was given. "Thanks, doc."
"No problem, Setup. By the way, when are you going to bring in your daughter for a follow-up? I've got a new devise that should help figure out more of what happened with your blood."
"You won't be seeing us for a while, Doc," Tatiana said.
"Oh. One of those," Doc answered knowingly. "Okay. Take care and when you pop up again, stop by and say 'hi'."
"Will do." Tatiana hung up, and then dialed the number Doc had given her.
"Mayfair Assisted Living Center. How may I help you?" came the cheery greeting.
"I need to get an appointment with Doctor Stone."
"Just a moment." The voice was suddenly more serious, and the line clicked as the phone was transferred to another office. "Doctor Stone's office."
"Doc Morris referred me to you. My daughter and I are traveling, and she was rather severely injured."
"We can see her immediately. Can I text you the address at this number?"
"Yes. We'll be there as quickly as we can."
"Fourth and a half floor. Press the 4 and 5 buttons at the same time, release and press the door closed button, and then press 4 and 5 together again."
"Got it." Tatiana disconnected the call, and moments later, had directions. She called a cab, and then she very gently changed Martina's clothing and carried the girl to the lobby to wait. Moments later, she took the girl to the taxi that pulled up.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Between rest, the medical care from the 'doc' in Houston, and her regeneration ability, Martina was nearly completely healed. She was standing over a cutting board, dicing vegetables for the dinner she was cooking.
Nearby, Tatiana was sitting at the table with her phone to her ear and her computer open. "Triplicator? Setup."
Martina couldn't hear the other end of the conversation, but she was listening to her mom talking to try to figure out what mysterious project she was up to now.
"Yeah, I know. Listen, I need to call in a favor."
Tatiana paused only a moment. "Yeah. I need two clones." She winced. "That long? I need them a bit ... sooner."
"No, you can guess why. Yeah, again."
"Okay, parts would do."
"No, I'm going to call in a favor from Thermobaric, so there won't be much left. Just enough to get DNA to confirm."
"Two days after you get the sample? Okay. I'll have Doc Morris have a warper carry a sample to you."
"Really? The school keeps them that long? That'd simplify things a lot."
"Yeah, I'm trying to keep the contacts down on this one. I need the tracks to be airtight."
"Then it's a good thing the students aren't back, so no-one will poke and pry, right?"
"Saturday's fine. Have a warper bring them to Doc Morris' clinic in Phoenix. You've got the info, right?"
"Speaking of that, when does school start this fall?"
"Yeah, probably. If I can get her paperwork done in time."
"What? Oh, yeah. I'll stop by sometime to visit. Been a while since I was there, y'know."
"Right. If you get a chance, say 'hi' to Mrs. C for me, okay? Bye." She clicked off the phone.
Martina's curiosity was more than slightly piqued, but she knew better than to poke into her mom's business, especially when she was working with some kind of deadline, which it sounded like she was.
Tatiana made another call. "Thermobaric? How the hell are you?"
"Yeah, I need a favor."
"What? You said you owed me at least two after I got your ass out of that jam!"
"Okay, this is the last one. I promise."
She chuckled. "Okay, I can't promise, because you never know in this business, but next time, I'll pay."
"Yeah. I need a package that will not quite totally destroy an RX-8."
"Yeah, leave enough so there's some DNA evidence. I need it Saturday. Sunday at the latest."
"Yeah, another one."
"No, I hope this is the last. I'm thinking of retiring now."
"Deliver it to Doc Morris' clinic in Phoenix."
"Okay, if it does the job well, I'll pay for materials, and maybe throw in a little something for labor."
"Yeah, you know the deal. You never heard from me."
"Right. Later." She hung up the phone again and came into the kitchen. "What's for dinner?"
"Just a simple stir-fry," Martina replied as she continued cutting up veggies. "Now, are you going to tell me what all _that_ was about?"
Tatiana winced. "It's kind of complicated."
"We're moving again, aren't we?" Martina asked, but it sounded more like a statement of fact than a question.
"I figured so."
"This time is a little more serious," Tatiana grimaced. "With that big of a payoff, someone's going to come after us, and they'll find any enemies I have to help."
"So ... we have to move?"
"We're staging our deaths, so we can lay low."
"I've already got an order in with one of my contacts to get new IDs for us from the CIA."
"The CIA?!?" Martina asked, stunned.
Tatiana nodded. "I've done a lot of contract work for them over the years, and they owe me a lot of favors."
"You're not strictly a black hat?"
Tatiana laughed. "I've done work for the CIA, for MI6, the Mossad - lots of intelligence agencies. I expect I'll do more for them, so the CIA has a vested interest in keeping me alive."
"Which means that they're providing us new identities, like the witness protection program."
"Yeah." Tatiana glanced at the girl, and there was a worried look in her eyes. "And I'm going to send you to Whateley Academy for high school, at least for a bit, until things cool down."
"What?" Martina asked, stunned by the sudden news.
"You'll be safe there," Tatiana continued, "and you'll learn to make the most of your powers." She smiled. "You're a legacy; I went to school there, too, but that was ... several years ago."
Martina fought her eyes misting up. "I don't want to go!" she sniffled. "I don't want to leave you."
"Honey," Tatiana said, gently holding her cheeks so she was facing her mom, "I don't want you to have to leave, either, but you'll be much safer this way."
Martina's tears overwhelmed her ability to control them. She fell into her mother's arms, sobbing softly. "I want to stay with you," she repeated softly.
"I know." Tatiana held her hands against the girl's cheek, holding her so she was looking eye-to-eye with her mom. "I've got to take a break, you know, and I think I can afford to rent a place in the Northeast - nearby - so we can spend time together. K?"
Martina nodded. "K."
Saturday, August 25, 2007
"There's a question I'm not sure about," Martina called out to her mom as she pored over a stack of forms and information from the Whateley application packet.
"Two actually. They ask about gender."
Martina wrinkled her nose. "There are several choices. Male, female, male-to-female TG, female-to-male TG, other, complicated."
Tatiana poked her head around the corner. "What?"
"What I said. I suppose I'm a male-to-female TG, right?" She frowned. "Should I check that one?"
"No," Tatiana said sternly. "When I was there, we had a transgender student who was picked on by nearly everyone. She ... she couldn't handle it." She wiped at a tear at the memory of her friend's suicide. "You don't want to have to deal with the bigots, so put down female."
"Okay." Martina checked the box. "The next one is for sexuality. It has hetero-male, hetero-female, bisexual, lesbian, gay, complicated."
"Same thing. If you don't want to deal with the bigots, put down hetero-female."
Martina's eyebrows shot up. "But that means ... they'll think I'm interested in guys!"
"No, it means you'll be considered normal, and there's no rule at Whateley that says you have to date or kiss or ... other things."
"But ... I'm not sure. I don't' really think of ... things like that."
Tatiana put her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Would you rather deal with anti-gay bigotry and hatred, or tell the boys no?"
Martina winced. "I guess it'd be easier to say no."
"Right." She smiled. "I'm sure there's a spot for your powers, and also somewhere to mention that you're a legacy."
"I put that down in my essay," the girl replied. "And they asked for 'preliminary powers', with a note that they do complete power testing, so not to worry about that too much."
"They've got the best power testing research in the world," Tatiana said, her voice echoing pride in her alma mater.
"Yeah, maybe," the girl said hesitantly, "but the last time really sucked, and I _don't_ want to go through that again!"
"Sorry, kiddo," Tatiana chuckled, "but it's a rule. Many testing facilities are _completely_ wrong, and since Whateley is to educate kids about using their powers, it's important to accurately know what those powers are." She paused and gave Martina a hug around her shoulders from behind the girl. "Now hurry up. We've got to get our things out, drop this off to the courier, and then my car has an appointment with destiny."
Saturday, August 25, 2007 - late evening
Highway 74 Northwest of Phoenix
"You're kidding, right?" Martina asked with a dumbfounded expression.
Tatiana shook her head. "No. It's the best way to make this look real."
"The first time you let me drive, and I have to wreck the car?"
"Think of it this way," Tatiana chuckled. "You're a teenager, and you're going to wreck a car sooner or later. This way, you get it out of your system sooner. Do we need to go over this again?"
Martina nodded nervously. "Yeah."
"It's an automatic, so it's easy. Just drive down the highway and get your speed up to about sixty or sixty-five. It's a straight road, so you should have no problems. Once you activate the timer, you have four seconds to get out of the car and clear of the blast zone."
"What if the car goes off the road?"
"It shouldn't. The road is straight, and I had the wheels aligned less than a month ago. Just don't' bump the wheel when you're getting out."
"Okay. Isn't that cutting it close?"
Tatiana winced. "Maybe. But with your PK flight, you've got the best chance of getting out of the car without being injured." She smiled. "I bailed out of a car once, and even with regen-5, it took a week for me to completely heal. I do _not_ want to do that again."
"Let's practice a few times, just to be sure. Make sure the 'spare parts' are in place, too."
Martina shuddered. "They're just too ... creepy! And it's not comfortable sitting with them. And it's going to be hard to drive, isn't it?"
"You get used to it. It's part of the business."
The girl nodded, and crawled behind the steering wheel. "Okay. First, after I get up to speed, I set the cruise control, right?"
Martina went through the motions, pressing the buttons appropriately. "Now I get my legs clear of the steering wheel?" She swung her legs up and clear, so she was in a somewhat awkward position, sitting with her legs across the center console, her torso twisted so she could drive.
"Then I activate the timer," Martina pressed on the dashboard next to the radio control button, "And I get the hell out quick." Using her PK flight, she hurled herself out the window, floating clear of the car, moving quickly up and away to the rear of the car.
"And ... BOOM!" Tatiana said when her watch showed that four seconds were up. Martina was a good distance behind the car and accelerating. Once she heard her mom indicate the timer would have gone off, she stopped and reversed direction, landing gently beside her mom.
"Again." Martina repeated the steps flawlessly.
After several more run-throughs, Tatiana nodded grimly. "Okay, then I guess it's show-time." She couldn't hide the nervousness in her voice.
"Yeah." Martina started the car, trembling a bit. "I'm ready, I guess."
"Be careful, and get the hell out of the car. Remember, if you feel like you can't get out in time, shift into neutral or tap the horn; that'll stop the countdown and reset the timer." She leaned into the car and kissed Martina on the forehead. "As soon as you're clear, fly right back here. You should see my blinking light to guide you, even if you can't see the road."
"Okay, Mom," Martina said. She drew a deep breath to calm herself, and then, with her foot on the brake, put the car into gear and accelerating away from her mother.
Inside the car, Martina was learning that it was difficult to drive and focus on multiple things at once. It took a few seconds for her to learn to use small inputs to the steering wheel to get back on line, and while she was watching that, she didn't realize that her speed had crept up to nearly seventy-five until she glanced down.
Muttering disgustedly to herself, Martina eased off the gas, now alternating her gaze between out-the-windshield to the speedometer. When she got to the desired sixty-five miles per hour, she turned the cruise control on, and then pressed the 'set' button. Not sure if it was working, she eased her foot off the gas pedal experimentally, and was pleased to note that the car maintained the desired speed.
Carefully, keeping the car moving straight down the long, deserted stretch of arrow-straight road, the girl swung her legs up from under the steering wheel. She realized that the tests had proven very useful, contrary to what she'd initially thought; it _was_ difficult to steer the car with her body turned.
She waited a few seconds to ensure that she was ready, watching the stripes pass by in a blur as the wind howled past the open window. The girl took one last deep breath, and then, steeling herself, pressed the radio power control button.
The practice sessions hadn't conveyed the urgency that came with the knowledge that there was an active explosive device in the car, set to detonate in seconds. Martina fought a brief surge of panic, and then, letting go of the steering wheel, launched herself out the window.
One thing the practice sessions hadn't accounted for was the wind force on Martina's body as she exited the car. Instantly, the wind slammed her against the door post, momentarily pinning her in place, before she pushed away from the post using her PK force. And she was clear.
Remembering what her mom had said, the girl turned away from the car's direction of travel and sped away from it, following what she thought was the road, although the faint moonlight gave no hint of her actual course.
The flash of the explosion preceded the sound wave and blast overpressure by a fraction of a second, startling Martina and causing her to stop to look at the source of the flash. Fortunately for her, the shock wave was greatly attenuated by distance; the hundred and twenty meters between herself and the car meant that the wave was a gentle push.
On fire, missing its roof, the car careened off the road into the desert scrub, bouncing on the rough terrain, until it coasted to a stop. Martina hovered in mid-air, transfixed at how the intense orange-and-red flames lit up the area.
It took a moment for her to tear her gaze free of the inferno that had, until seconds ago, been her mom's car. Looking around, she tried to spot the signal light from her mom, but the fire had ruined her night vision, and it took many long seconds for her to spot the waving, flashing light. She quickly flew to the light and landed by her mother. "Now what?" she asked.
Tatiana gave her a hug. "Good job. I'm proud of you, and not only for this, but for the way you handled the job in Houston."
Martina got an 'aw, shucks' look, but took the opportunity to hug her mother back.
"Now," Tatiana said, taking Martina's arm, "we take the rental car back to our hotel room, and tomorrow, we go shopping for a new apartment, and then for furniture." She grinned. "You realize it's going to take a few days of non-stop shopping to replace everything we need to, and you'll leave for Whateley in a week and a half."
"Yeah," Martina said with a wry smile. "Just as long as we don't run into more amateur robbers, we'll have fun shopping together. You and me, mother and daughter."