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A Whateley Academy Adventure

Round and Round (Part 2)

By Morpheus

 


Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Tuesday, Sept 18th, 2007

I’ve always hated long car trips.  Spending too much time in the car always made me feel a little claustrophobic and cooped up.  Of course, I probably wouldn’t feel so antsy at the moment if I hadn’t made Jackie stop off at Starbucks so I could get a large mocha.

Jackie had been driving for the last two hours while I sat in the passenger seat, feeling alternately excited, nervous, and bored out of my mind.  It turned out that the doctor she got me an appointment to see was in the next state over.  And since Jackie had already transported me across state lines after our escape from the MCO, this meant that in the past three days, I’d been in as many states.

We’d spent the last hour talking about Whateley Academy and what it had been like when Jackie went there.  It sounded really interesting, but I was pretty sure she was pulling my leg more than a few times.  After all, a famous super hero like Lady Astarte probably had much better things to do than play high school principal, and it wasn’t like Circe from the old Greek myths was a real person, much less a teacher there.  Jackie had to think I was pretty gullible to believe that.

“Can we stop for some more coffee?” I asked Jackie, looking at my empty cup of go juice and sighing.

“Aren’t you a little young to be a coffee addict?” Jackie asked with a grin.

I shrugged at that, then lied, “My parents let me drink it anytime I want.”  As soon as that was out of my mouth, I winced, realizing that I’d come off sounding like a little kid or something.

Jackie gave me a slightly skeptical look, then pointed out, “Well, it’s not like it can hurt you.  Hell, being a regenerator, you’ll burn off most of the caffeine before it can even affect you.  In fact, you’ll probably build up an immunity to it pretty fast, if you haven’t already.”

“What?” I gasped in horror, staring at my empty cup of go juice and feeling betrayed.  What good was coffee if the caffeine didn’t even affect me anymore?  After a moment, I let out a sigh and asked, “Any more downsides about being a mutant I should know about?”

“Well, you can’t really get drunk, “Jackie responded with a smirk.  “Hair starts growing in funny places.”  Then she looked at my chest and added, “And you may get unexpected swelling…”

In spite of how self-conscious I was about my new body, I couldn’t help laughing at that.  Unfortunately, it came out sounding much more like a girlish giggle.

“We’re almost there,” Jackie told me.  “Another ten minutes and we’ll be able to stretch our legs.”

A few minutes later, we pulled into a downtown parking garage that was a near some local department stores.  I was a little curious about where we were going since Jackie hadn’t given me many details, but I followed behind her without saying a word.  I had a feeling that she was just waiting for me to ask, so I avoided giving her the satisfaction.  We ended up going to the lowest floor of the parking garage and then to a maintenance door which had a flyer for a band named ‘The Sword of Damocles’ taped to it.

“We’re here,” Jackie said, waving to a security camera which was pointed right at the door.  There was a clicking sound as the door unlocked, then we opened it and went through.  “People in my line of work can’t exactly go to a normal doctor, so we have a few specialists we use instead.  Unfortunately, medical experts who are both qualified and willing to deal with mutant criminals tend to be…expensive.”

On the other side of the door, there was a large room filled with all sorts of strange equipment.  There was even something that looked like some kind of science fiction ‘death ray’, which was pointed right at the door.  However, Jackie didn’t even seem concerned about it so I only gave it a wary glance and then looked around the rest of the room.

Then I noticed the man who was walking towards us.  He was tall, about six and a half feet, and he was also very well-muscled with rugged but fairly handsome looks.  Though his hair was pure white, his features made me think that he was in his forties at most.  I suddenly wondered if maybe he was an exemplar.

“Pinball,” the large man greeted Jackie, though she wasn’t wearing her costume at the moment.  “You’re late.”

“By less than five minutes,” Jackie pointed out pleasantly.  “There was a bad traffic jam.”  Then she turned to me and said, “This is Damocles, the doctor who’s going to test your powers.”

“You’re a doctor?” I blurted out, staring at the large man in surprise.  He looked more like a professional wrestler than a doctor.

“No,” he responded with a deep scowl.  “I don’t have a medical degree or any official certification.”  His eyes flashed with anger and he snarled, “Those fools on the medical board were jealous of my brilliance…”

Suddenly, a massive sword made of glowing red energy appeared in his hand.  I gasped in fear and took an instinctive step back while Jackie just stood there with an expression of annoyance.

“Damocles,” Jackie snapped.

The large man blinked several times, then his energy sword vanished.  “Sorry about that,” Damocles apologized.  “It seems my Diedricks Syndrome is acting up.”  Then he turned his attention to me and said, “But regardless of official certification, I am a high level devisor and gadgeteer with full medical qualifications.  And of more immediate relevance, I have a great deal of experience with power testing.”

“I wouldn’t have brought you here if he wasn’t good at what he did,” Jackie assured me, which helped me relax.

“To begin with,” Damocles started, looking at Jackie.  “Is this going to be an official powers testing for MID purposes, or do you wish to keep this quiet?”

“MID?” I asked curiously.

“A Mutant Identification card,” Jackie explained.  “It goes on your official record with the government and MCO and is absolutely necessary if you want to be legitimate.  It’s a little early for you to commit to my career path, so I recommend you get one.  Besides, not having one gives the MCO an excuse to harass you.”

After I nodded my agreement, Damocles asked, “Do you have a codename picked out yet?”

I was a little startled at that.  “Why do I need a codename?”

“Your MID and test results are filed under your codename,” Jackie told me.  “It helps to protect your privacy, so most mutants have one, even if they don’t wear spandex.”

“You don’t need to decide immediately,” Damocles told me.  “Just as long as I have it before I submit the paperwork.  Just keep it in mind while we perform your testing because once you have a better idea of what your powers are, you might come up with something suitable.”

Jackie nodded at that and gave Damocles a skeptical look. “But as far as I know, you aren't in any position to issue an official MID.  Are you making forgeries now?”

“No,” Damocles responded with a shrug.  “I don't issue the actual MIDs myself, nor do I create forgeries.  However, I do have a contact with the DPA, whom I have an...understanding with.  He knows my testing is thorough and accurate, so if I send him the test results, they are filed in the DPA records as preliminary results,.  Our...understanding allows me to reserve your chosen codename until the DPA verifies the results and issues your official MID.”

Jackie stared at Damocles for a moment, musing, “And in exchange for reserving a codename, they get power testing information on people who might never go to them directly.”

“That is the price,” Damocles agreed.  “In most cases, this is acceptable for both parties.”

“I can see that,” Jackie agreed.

Damocles went to a desk in the corner and gestured for me to have a seat next to it.  Then he called out, “Salt.  Pepper.”

Seconds later, two people came rushing into the room from another door, one man and one woman.  They were both in their early twenties and looked extremely similar to each other, though the man had black hair and the woman had white hair that was pulled back into a pony tail.  From the way they looked so much alike, I guessed they were probably twins.

“Get everything prepped for testing,” Damocles instructed and the twins immediately ran off again.  He looked to Jackie and commented, “My new interns.”  Then he turned back to me and said, “Tell me everything you can about your powers.”

I wasn’t sure where to start so Jackie started off for me.  “First off, she appears to be an exemplar, and over the last couple days she transformed to look almost exactly as I did at that age.  She has regeneration like mine, and she’s even able to create force fields the way I do, although she has a few tricks with them that I don’t.”

Once Jackie finished telling him about my abilities, doing an even better job than I could have, I said, “There is something else…”  I suddenly felt self-conscious since I hadn’t told Jackie about this part yet.  “I have chronic headaches…or at least I did.  I haven’t had any since I started manifesting…  Anyway, my headaches always started with a weird pressure in my head, and even though I haven’t had the headaches, I’ve still been feeling the pressure…  It always happens when I’m close to a mutant and goes away when I’m not near them anymore.”

“Interesting,” Damocles mused, giving me a thoughtful look.

We continued the interview for a few more minutes as he asked me more questions about my headaches, the pressure I felt when I was near another mutant, and even about my physical changes.  Then, Damocles announced it was time to begin the actual testing and he took me to a strange looking machine that reminded me a little of one of those transporter platforms from Star Trek.

“This is a device of my own creation,” Damocles explained.  “It will help me determine the full range of your abilities, so stand on the platform and do not move until I tell you to.”

As soon as I stood on the platform, there was a humming sound from the machine and some odd lights.  I felt a little tingling sensation through my body, but it didn’t hurt so I remained where I was and let the machine do its thing.  I ended up standing there for over ten minutes before Damocles was finished.

“Staying in here all the time must get boring,” Jackie told Damocles while he worked.  “Especially considering your old reputation.  Why don’t you come out and do a job with me sometime…?”

“You know I gave up that kind of work after that fight with Champion cost me my arm,” Damocles told her with a chuckle.  “It took me months to clone a replacement.”  Then he shook his head muttering, “Antimatter weapons are NOT a good idea…”  After a moment, he grinned and added, “Besides, I make more money doing this than I ever did robbing banks.”

“You can step off now,” Damocles told me a few seconds later.  “We’re ready for the next test.”

Damocles took me to another room and showed me a table with a bunch of random machine parts on it and asked me to reassemble the machine, even though I had no idea what it had even been.  “Come on,” I urged him.  “Just a hint?  I mean, even Legos come with some instructions…”

After fifteen minutes with no progress, he had had me look at some fancy machine and try to determine what it was for and how to operate it.  Several similar tests followed, including one where I was shown a table covered with all sorts of random objects, which ranged from painted stones to books that were written in odd languages.

“No apparent magical affinity,” Damocles mused to himself, “And no indications of gadgeteer or devisor traits.”

Damocles put me through a long series of tests, with his interns Salt and Pepper sometimes helping.  I spent about an hour trying to see if I could read their minds or project my own thoughts and emotions to them.  All the tests for psychic and precognitive abilities proved that I had no talent at all in those particular areas.

Eventually, we broke for lunch and Damocles told Jackie and me, “Please return in an hour so we can continue with the more physical tests.”

“I noticed some restaurants nearby,” Jackie told me as we left the hidden facility.  “Some of them looked interesting.”

I nodded in enthusiastic agreement, already feeling pretty hungry.  Ever since I’d manifested as a mutant, my appetite had been through the roof.  I just hoped I wasn’t permanently stuck having to eat this much or I might have to start robbing banks as well, just to keep myself fed.

Jackie and I went to an Indian buffet where we loaded our plates up as much as possible.  I’d never had Indian food before and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was, even the vegetarian stuff.  Jackie just wolfed hers down and then went back for seconds.

“You should probably load up,” she told me as she began digging into her second plate.  “You’re going to need the extra energy this afternoon.”

When we returned to the testing lab, I changed into some exercise clothes that Jackie had brought.  I had shorts and a T-shirt, and to my surprise and embarrassment, a sports bra.

“You’re going to need this,” she insisted with a smirk.  “Trust me on that.”

I wanted to protest that I didn’t have any idea of how to put on a bra, much less any desire to wear one.  However, I had to admit that my new body probably needed one.  So with some degree of reluctance, and some loud complaints that I felt obligated to give, I went into the bathroom and changed.

“I can’t believe I’m wearing this thing,” I muttered when I came out, squirming uncomfortably in the sports bra.  I was just as uncomfortable with the fact that the label said it was a D cup, and that it fit perfectly.

Damocles started my afternoon testing off by taking a blood sample and then cutting my finger with a scalpel. My cut stopped bleeding in seconds, then sealed up and healed as I watched it.  He nodded at that and wrote something down in his notes, though he didn’t tell me what.

The next series of tests were much more straightforward, though not exactly pleasant.  Damocles had me get on a treadmill and run while he measured my speed, respiration, and heartbeat, but then halfway through, he abruptly threw a tennis ball at my head.  I glared at him but he didn’t seem to notice since he was busy writing something in his notes.

We tested my strength by having me use some kind of high tech bench press machine that didn’t really have any weights I could see.  Damocles muttered something about it being a device that measured gravitational field resistance, but that didn’t make any sense to me.  I just did my best to lift the weight while he pushed some buttons and slowly made it heavier.

When I was finished, Salt, the girl with the white hair, commented, “Twelve hundred pounds.  Fairly impressive.”

“Twelve hundred,” I blurted out in surprise. “That’s over half a ton…”

I could hardly believe that I’d lifted that much, but Jackie smugly told me, “I can lift just over a ton.”  Then she let out a sigh and admitted, “But honestly, I could barely make a thousand when I was your age.”

After several more tests, including one where Damocles tested my reflexes by putting me into a room that was like an automatic dodge ball machine, we finally got to the point where I could show off my force field.  This was the part I was actually excited about since I actually had a real power to work with, and one that I could have fun showing off.

Damocles used some weird scanners on me while he tried breaking through my force field, using a variety of tools and weapons.  I nearly shit myself when he fired some kind of ray gun at me, though by the time he used the flamethrower I was a little more confident.  Then I got to demonstrate my control, raising my sphere up into the air and then creating a smaller one and making it float around the room.

Eventually, we ended up back at the desk while Damocles looked over his notes and some information on his computer.  He made a few odd noises while I tried to be patient.  Finally, he stared at me for a moment without saying anything.

“Geez,” I said in annoyance, “I know I’m cute, but you can stop staring.” Jackie burst out laughing, as did Salt before she quickly left the room with her brother.

“My initial scan helped determine the true nature of your mutant abilities,” Damocles finally said.  “The remaining tests helped confirm this.”

“Let me guess,” Jackie said, giving me a quick glance. “She’s either an exemplar or some kind of shape shifter, not to mention an energizer and regenerator.”

“Not quite,” Damocles stated, giving me a steady look. “She’s a power mimic.”

“A power mimic?” Jackie repeated with a look of surprise.

“Probably a level five,” Damocles added, looking fairly impressed.

“What does all that mean?” I asked.

Damocles scratched his jaw then explained, “A power mimic, as the name suggests, is someone who can mimic the abilities of another.  In your case, your power imprinted on Pinball and you are mimicking her abilities, including her BIT, hence your current appearance.”

“So you’re a power mimic,” Jackie said, giving me a curious look. “That certainly explains a few things.”  Then she looked at Damocles and pointed out, “But she can do some things I can’t…”

“It doesn’t appear to be an exact duplication of your abilities,” Damocles agreed.  “Or your appearance, as the age, eye color, and blonde streak in the hair prove.  It seems that she not only duplicated your abilities, but improved upon them as well.  As you noted earlier, she is stronger than you were at that age, her regeneration appears to be slightly stronger than yours, and then there is her greater versatility with the force fields.”

Jackie stared at me for a moment, then mused, “I thought most power mimics got weaker versions of the powers they copied…not stronger.”

“Most,” Damocles agreed. “But not all.”

“So,” I said carefully, trying to think through what Damocles had just told me.  “When I feel that pressure around mutants, that’s part of this power mimic thing?”

Damocles nodded agreement. “Correct.  I believe those headaches you described were due to this as well.  Your power sensed when mutants were near and instinctively tried to copy their abilities.  You said that your headache ceased the moment you had physical contact with Pinball, so you probably require physical contact to use your mimic abilities.  It seems that when your powers couldn’t get what they wanted, they became more insistent and desperate…hence increasing headaches.”

“And now that I’m copying her powers,” I said, gesturing to Jackie, “my powers aren’t getting all desperate so I’m not getting the headaches anymore.”

“Correct,” Damocles agreed.

I sat there for a moment, silently thinking about what Damocles had told me.  “You said I look like her because I’m copying her powers,” I said, gesturing to Jackie.

“Specifically,” Damocles stated, “You copied her BIT along with her powers…and your copied exemplar traits and regeneration have rebuilt your body to the specifications of that BIT.”

“Then if I stopped copying her,” I thought aloud, “would I change back to normal?”

Damocles stared at me for a moment with a thoughtful expression before carefully saying, “I doubt it.  You have no BIT of your own, nor any exemplar or regeneration abilities.  If you lost the BIT and powers you gained from Pinball, your body would likely remain as it currently is as…just without the enhanced abilities.”

“But if she then copied another exemplar,” Jackie mused.  “A male exemplar…”

“I don’t have enough information yet on how her powers work,” Damocles pointed out.

“But you said I’m some kind of power mimic,” I responded, feeling a little confused.  After all those tests, he certainly seemed to know what my powers were.

“Precisely,” Damocles quickly said.  “You are SOME kind of power mimic.  However, that still doesn’t tell us how your powers work.  Mutants who have similar appearing powers don’t necessarily have their powers work the same way.  Someone who has the ability to start fires may get their ability from pyrokinesis, being a fire manifestor, an energizer who releases heat, or even do to using magical energies to manipulate the elements.  On the surface, their powers may appear the same, but the nature of those powers are quite different.”

“So, this means more testing,” Jackie said with a thoughtful look.

“Come back in an hour,” Damocles instructed us.  “We will continue the testing at that time.”

After that, I went to the bathroom and changed back into my previous clothes, then Jackie and I went out for dinner.  I was ravenous and ate even more than I had at lunch, but I barely paid attention to what I ate or what Jackie was saying.  Instead, I kept thinking about how my powers really worked, and how I might be able to turn them off.

From what Damocles and Jackie had said, even if I got rid of Jackie’s powers, I still might not be able to turn back to normal.  However, Jackie had suggested that even if this was the case, I might be able to copy the powers of a male exemplar and at least turn into a guy again.  The idea of intentionally making myself look like some other guy just felt a little creepy to me, but on the other hand, Jackie said that exemplar guys tended to be really good looking, which would definitely help me with the ladies.

When Jackie and I returned to the hidden facility, Damocles was already set to continue the testing.  We started off by testing my ability to sense other mutants and trying to determine what kind of range it had.  I was put in a room by myself with a blindfold on, then Damocles, Salt, or Pepper would slowly move closer to me until I could feel the pressure in my head.  Once we’d determined that my range was less than fifteen yards, we tried to see if I could tell what kind of powers they actually had.  There was no luck with that though.

“Perhaps once you have more experience with your abilities,” Damocles told me before moving onto the next test.  He held his hand out to me and said, “Attempt to mimic my powers.”

I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but as soon as I touched his hand, I felt a faint tingling run through my body.  I blinked, but it had all faded away a moment later.  The only thing I noticed that was different was that I no longer felt the same pressure in his presence.  I could still sense him much the way I could Jackie, but it was much weaker and actually took a bit of concentration to notice it.

“Now confirm whether or not you still possess Pinball’s abilities,” Damocles told me.  I willed a glowing force field bubble about the size of a beach ball to appear in the air in front of me.  After a few seconds, I let it vanish again.  “Good.  Now we’re going to see if you’ve successfully copied my abilities.”

We went back to the table full of machine parts and this time they all made sense to me.  Just by looking at the parts, I somehow ‘knew’ how they all went together.  I began assembling the pieces, almost feeling compelled to do so, as though leaving everything broken down like this somehow offended something inside of me.  But when I was halfway through, it all suddenly vanished.

“Um,” I started, staring down at a half assembled machine and having absolutely no idea what it did or what to do next.  “I think it wore off…”

Damocles and I repeated this experiment again, and for the next fifteen minutes, the various machines and devices he showed me all made a lot more sense.  But after about fifteen minutes, it wore off and I was back to normal and had no idea of how to operate the machines, much less build them.  The he had me copy his power one more time.

“Now attempt to duplicate this,” Damocles stated.  He held out his hand and suddenly that massive red energy sword that I’d seen earlier appeared.  He swung it through the air a few times, then the sword vanished again.

“Okay,” I said, though I had absolutely no idea of how to do it.  I spent the next fifteen minutes trying everything I could think of to try making it appear, but nothing happened.  When his power faded away, I shook my head, “I couldn’t do it.”

“I’m not surprised,” Damocles told me with a faint smile.  “My sword isn’t one of my powers.  It’s actually a device that I keep stored in subspace until I need it.  I wanted to see if you were duplicating just my abilities, or if you were capable of copying the effects of my device as well.”

Next, Damocles brought in Pepper, who stared at me without saying a word.  Ever since I’d arrived, I hadn’t heard him speak even once.  He held out his hand and I cautiously touched it, feeling the tingle as I got his powers, whatever they were.  A minute later, I found out that he was an external gravity warper who could either reduce or increase the effects of gravity on anything he touched, and then I proceeded to test this ability out for myself.

Once Pepper’s powers faded away, I tried it again with Salt’s abilities.  She was what Damocles called a package deal psychic, so for the next fifteen minutes, I found I could telekinetically move small objects around just by willing it, and if I focused hard, I could sort of hear what Jackie was thinking.  However, I couldn’t get much, just enough to know that she was worried for some reason.

The next stage of testing was more of the same thing, though this time I tried copying multiple powers at once.  However, I soon found that if I was copying Pepper’s abilities, I couldn’t copy Salt’s at the same time, not until his wore off.  After several more attempts, I’d confirmed that I could only copy one other person’s powers at a time.  This struck me as odd, and then made me realize what Jackie had been thinking about when I’d caught some of her thoughts.

“How come I can only copy your powers for fifteen minutes?” I asked Damocles, gesturing to Jackie.  “I’ve had her powers for a couple days…”  Then I gulped and whispered, “And they’re not wearing off like everyone else’s has…”

“Have a seat,” Damocles told me, directing me back to his desk.  “I believe I have enough information to provide my findings.”

I went and sat down, feeling very nervous about this.  I had a bad feeling that I wasn’t going to like what I heard, though I was trying to remain positive.  Jackie stood beside me, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder.  Damocles didn’t join us right away but went into some back room and came back a minute later with some random objects that he placed on his desk.

“As I told you earlier, your primary power is that you are a power mimic,” Damocles stated.  “You aren’t in Mimeo’s class, but you are a fairly powerful mimic.  However, the nature of your powers also limit you a great deal.”

“What do you mean?” I asked suspiciously.  “And why do I still have these powers?”

“You’ve imprinted on Pinball’s powers,” Damocles explained patiently.  “When you copied her powers, you did so thoroughly and at a very high level.  Her power signature appears to have been fully embedded within your own.  In other words, you copied all of her powers permanently.”

“What?” I gasped, the word coming out as a squeak.  

“I believe that with the way your powers work,” Damocles continued, seeming to either not notice or care that I was staring at him with a look of stunned disbelief.  “You would have most likely imprinted in this fashion on the first mutant you came into physical contact with.  Being able to permanently duplicate another mutant’s powers in this way is a very powerful ability, but it appears you can only use it once.”

I took a deep breath, trying to stay calm and pay attention to what he was saying.  I knew that this was extremely important in understanding my new abilities, and what they would mean for the rest of my life.  “Only once?” I asked curiously.  “But I’ve already copied your powers too…”

Damocles reached for an empty glass that he’d put on his desk a short time ago and set it in front of me.  “This glass represents your ability to hold other mutant’s abilities.”  He grabbed a metal can that was full of what looked like metal ball bearings, each about the size of a marble.  “These represent Pinball’s powers.”  With that, he poured the ball bearings, though they might have been pinballs, into the glass until it was nearly full.  “When you imprinted on Pinball’s powers, this used up most of your capacity to hold other powers.  Now imagine if these bearings were glued to each other and the sides of the glass as well so they couldn’t be removed.”

“Since she copied my powers, she doesn’t have the ability to copy anyone else’s the same way,” Pinball said, earning a nod from Damocles.

Damocles opened a bottle of water and began pouring it into the glass.  “There is still room to hold some powers,” he told me. “But you can’t hold very much and they must work around what is already present.  Because of this, you can only hold one other person’s abilities at a time, for only a very short time, and at a much lesser degree than what the original owner’s possess.”

“What if I copied another exemplar?” I asked grimly.  “What if I copied someone else’s BIT…and kept copying it?”

“You wouldn’t be able to copy anyone else’s powers deeply enough to get their BIT,” Damocles explained.  “Even if you could, Pinball’s powers and BIT would take precedence so the new one wouldn’t be able to have any effect.”

Jackie gave me a sympathetic look, then asked Damocles, “So, what are her power ratings?”

“Power mimic five,” Damocles answered professionally.  “Limited.  This limitation means that she is effectively a power mimic two for all powers but yours.  And as your abilities have been permanently duplicated, she is also an exemplar four, regen three, and energizer three.”

“Those are some pretty respectable ratings,” Jackie told me with a somewhat smug look, obviously thinking about her own contributions to my power ratings.

“Now then,” Damocles said, giving me an expectant look. “Have you decided on a codename?  As I said earlier, it’s not strictly required, but it will help protect your privacy.”

I’d been so caught up in the testing results and what they meant that I hadn’t given the matter of a codename any real thought.  I hesitantly suggested, “Mimic?”

“Copyrighted,” Damocles responded.

“Copycat?” I asked.

“Copyrighted,” Damocles repeated.

We repeated this several more times with Damocles even pulling up some sort of computer database that listed all codenames that were copyrighted or in use.  All the names I could think of which were related to my power mimic abilities were either really lame or already in use.

“How about Goldeneyes,” I suggested in exasperation, referring to my odd eye color.

“That sounds like a James Bond movie,” Jackie pointed out with a chuckle.  “But since you seem to be stuck…I mean blessed with my abilities, maybe something related to those.  Maybe Cannonball…”

“Copyrighted,” Damocles said.

“Hardball?” I asked.

“Copyrighted,” Damocles said yet again.

“How about Powerball?” Jackie offered with a grin that suggested she wasn’t being too serious.

“That sounds like a lottery,” I responded with a faint chuckle.

“And it’s already in use,” Damocles added.

Jackie jokingly offered a few more, which I suspected may have been nicknames that people teased her with in the past.  I absolutely shuddered when she suggested, “Bubbles.”

To my relief, and even amusement, Damocles responded, “Copyrighted.”

I just leaned back and summoned one of the force field bubbles, making the smallest one I could, which was about the size of a softball.  The glowing sphere floated in the air in front of me and I stared at it intently, trying to draw some inspiration.

“How about Sphere?” I finally asked.

There was a pause while Damocles looked through the database before announcing, “Sphere is available.”

“Then it looks like you have a codename,” Jackie told me with a faint smile and an amused look. “Unless you want to keep looking for something better.”

“I think I’ll stick with that,” I said, looking to Damocles.  It wasn’t a great codename, but it was one I could live with…and it was available.

Damocles nodded at that and then typed something into the computer. A minute later, an odd looking printer spat out what looked like a driver’s license.  “This is your temporary MID,” he stated as he handed it to me.  “It is only good for two weeks, but will help you with travel.  Don't forget to contact the DPA for your official version.”

“It’s semi-official,” Jackie told me with a grin.  “The only thing you need now is a costume.”  I glared at her and she chuckled for a moment.  Then her expression darkened a little and she gave me a sympathetic look. “I know you didn’t find out how to change back like you were hoping for, but you did get some good information about how your powers really work.  I just hope you can get used to this.”

“I’ll try,” I promised her quietly, though I had no idea how I could possibly get used to being a girl.  Still, the last couple days had been really weird, but not too bad.

“I’m getting hungry again,” Jackie abruptly said.  Then she put an arm over my shoulder and grinned. “Come on, let’s go find something to eat…Sphere.”

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Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Wednesday, Sept 19th, 2007

Jackie and I were at breakfast, having found a diner that offered ‘all you can eat’ pancakes during a two hour period.  I couldn’t help but feeling sorry for the owners since the two of us were definitely going to take full advantage of that offer.  By the time we were done, they’d probably be out of pancakes and might even have to file for bankruptcy.  That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but I had no doubt that the diner was going to lose money on us because of how much we ate.

I was still stunned and amazed at how much food I’ve been eating lately, finding it hard to believe that I could eat two full plates and still feel hungry.  I wondered how I could possibly fit all this in my stomach, but Jackie said it was due to having an energizer metabolism which converted all the food to energy at an extremely rapid rate.

After I’d started on my third stack of pancakes, I said, “If I keep eating like this, I’m going to be so fat…”

“Not a problem,” Jackie told me, pouring a ridiculous amount of syrup on her fourth stack of pancakes.  “It’s very rare that you’ll see a fat energizer.  We burn up the calories too quickly.  And the only time you see a fat exemplar, it’s because being fat is part of their BIT.”  Then she grinned at me and added, “Being able to eat all the junk food you want without getting fat is one of the advantages of being a mutant…or at least of being an exemplar and energizer combo.”

I chuckled at that, though I couldn’t help but thinking of all the disadvantages too.  For one thing, I was getting hungry so much more easily, and then there was the amount of food I had to eat in order to satisfy my increased appetite.  With food bills that high, it was no wonder Jackie had turned to a life of crime.  Of course, these were just the minor disadvantages of being a mutant, well behind the fact that I had the MCO after me, couldn’t go home, and had spontaneously turned into a girl.  At the moment, I was trying very hard not to think about those problems.

Yesterday, Damocles had made it very clear that I wasn’t going to be changing back to normal, that I’d be stuck looking like a younger version of Jackie for the rest of my life.  I certainly wasn’t happy about that, but it was actually a relief to know what the situation was instead of having to guess.  

I just wished that Damocles had at least pretended that he was sympathetic instead of acting like he really didn’t care.  Then again, he worked with super villains for a living and had apparently been one himself, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I guess hanging out with Jackie may have given me a distorted view of the profession, or at least made me briefly forget that they were the bad guys.

“The bad guys aren’t who they used to be,” I muttered to myself, thinking about the MCO.  I used to think they were the good guys, that they protected baselines from dangerous mutants, but now I realized that from the mutant perspective, they were the bad guys.  They hadn’t cared at all that I was just manifesting, that I was scared, confused and hadn’t done anything wrong.  They just assumed that because I was a mutant, I was a monster and a threat.  “Just like Mom.”

When we’d both finished eating, I looked to the waitress, who was cleaning plates from our table with a look of horror.  I had a feeling that she was less than thrilled by the fact that she’d been serving us plate after plate of food for the last hour, and we were going to walk out of here with a bill of only twenty bucks.  That wouldn’t leave her with much of a tip after all the work she’d done serving us.

“So what now?” I asked Jackie.  “Time for the road trip back to your house?”

Last night, we’d finished with the power testing a bit later than Jackie had expected, so instead of spending two hours driving back, we went to a motel and stayed the night.  We shared a room with two beds, which I’d found rather exciting in an odd way.  After all, I’d never expected to share a room with such a hot babe, much less one who didn’t seem to care much about getting undressed in front of me.  However, the fact that I looked like a younger version of her pretty much guaranteed that she had no interest in me.

“We need to get you some new clothes,” Jackie said after a moment of consideration.  “There are some good shopping locations in the area, and since you’ve stopped changing, we can finally get you some things that fit properly.”

I nodded at that, knowing she was right.  I definitely needed clothes that would fit my new body since I was tired of wearing things that were too tight in some places or too loose in others.  And from the way I was now built, I was fully aware of the fact that boy clothes were out of the question.

As we got up to leave the diner, I noticed Jackie left a hundred dollar bill to pay our tab with.  My eyes widened at that, especially since we only owed twenty for the meal.  I quickly glanced to the exhausted waitress on the other side of the diner, knowing that a tip of this size would probably improve her mood a great deal.

Jackie and I walked down the busy sidewalk, further away from the parking garage where her car was still parked.  After we’d finished our business with Damocles last night, Jackie had just left her car where it was rather than trying to find another parking spot.  As she’d pointed out at the time, the motel was only half a block away and everything else was within easy walking distance as well.

“We’ll start with the important things first,” Jackie told me, pulling me towards a lingerie shop.  “You need the basics, especially since you’re a little too obvious in that shirt…”

I looked down at the shirt I was wearing, wondering what was wrong with it.  It took me several seconds before I noticed that the shape of my nipples were clearly visible poking out.  I blushed at that, suddenly feeling self-conscious and admitting, “That might be a good idea.”

I felt just a little nervous as I stepped into the lingerie store, but a quickly glance around revealed that there were a couple of very hot looking women present.  I smiled faintly at that, especially when I saw one woman coming out of a changing room with a lacy bra on but nothing else on top.

“Try not to be so obvious,” Jackie whispered to me with an amused look, making me blush brightly.

After half a minute, one of the women I’d been admiring started towards us.  She was one of the sales clerks and had a name badge on that said her name was Jessica.  Jessica gave us a pleasant smile and asked, “May I help you?”

“Yes,” Jackie responded just as pleasantly.  “My sister just went through a growth spurt so we’re going to need a measurement and some new undergarments.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Jessica started, then as she turned to give me a closer look, her eyes widened in surprise and perhaps a little fear.  “Your eyes…”

“Those contacts are just too much,” Jackie quickly said, letting out an exaggerated sigh of exasperation.  “I told her she doesn’t need those to stand out, but apparently it’s the latest fad at school…”

“Hey, these are cool,” I protested, playing along to help cover for my odd eyes.  Then I grinned and proudly told her, “I’ve got another pair at home that are totally awesome…  I mean, they’re green and glow in the dark…  They’re totally awesome for the rave…”

“I’ve told you before,” Jackie said in a stern tone.  “You’re too young to go to those places…”

I snorted dismissively and responded, “You’re not my Mom…”

By this point, Jessica was chuckling at our antics and no longer seemed nervous.  “Those contacts are very interesting,” she finally told me.  “So, what’s your name?”

“Da…,” I started to answer before remembering how I looked and correcting myself.  “Na…  Dana.”

“That’s a very nice name,” Jessica said pleasantly.

“Yes it is,” Jackie added with a look of amusement.

We chatted politely for another minute, or at least Jackie and Jessica talked about what kind of things I’d need.  Once Jessica hurried away, Jackie told me, “I think we might need to get you a pair of sunglasses.  Your eyes are a little…”

“Freakish?” I supplied.

“Distinct,” she corrected me.

A few minutes later, Jessica took me and Jackie in the back, then had me take off my top so she could measure me.  Jackie watched the whole process with obvious amusement, probably at the idea of a guy getting measured for a bra.  If I knew one of the guys at school had gone through something like this, I would have teased him mercilessly.

“You should have put the sports bra back on this morning,” Jackie commented.  “It would have done until we finished here…”

“Bite me,” I responded almost cheerfully, which seemed to amuse her even more.

Once Jessica was done measuring me, she ran off to get some bras for me to try on to make sure they fit.  I didn’t bother protesting the need for one, knowing that any girl my age would be required to wear a bra, especially one as big as I was.  At fifteen years old, a D cup was a bit larger than the average, and I was also fully aware of the fact that Jackie was three inches taller than me and a few cup sizes larger, which meant that I would have a bit more growing to do as well.

Getting measured for bra size and then trying them on should have been totally humiliating, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.  Jessica treated the whole thing so matter-of-factly, acting as though it was completely normal and nothing to be embarrassed about in the least.  Jackie seemed amused by my situation, but she didn’t make too big a deal about it, much to my relief.

By the time we left, I had four bras, one of which I wore out, and a bunch of panties.  When I saw the bill for all that, I nearly choked, surprised by just how expensive it all was.  My whole dresser full of boy underwear and socks didn’t add up to what a single bra cost.

“I can’t believe you spent that much on me,” I protested to Jackie as we left.

“I guess I am getting low on funds,” Jackie teased me, gesturing to a bank across the street and saying, “How about I go make a withdrawal?”

“NOW?” I gasped in horror, though Jackie just burst out laughing.

“No,” she responded, still grinning.  “I wouldn’t pull something this close to Damocles’ place.  It would draw too much attention here and make him unhappy with me.  And trust me, you do NOT want Damocles angry at you.  Besides, I have a policy that the only banks I go after are Goodkind Bank branches.”  Then she gestured to a nearby jewelry store and mused, “Now that store on the other hand…  The owner is a pretty vocal Humanity First supporter, and if it wasn’t for Damocles living just down the street…”

I snorted and said, “You almost make it sound like being a bank robber is a good thing…”

“Well, I do donate a lot to charity,” Jackie told me with a grin.  “Mostly my own, but some of it does go to mutant support groups.”

Jackie and I started going into a clothing store so I could pick up some real clothes, and I suddenly wondered just how much this would cost.  “Why are you doing all this for me?” I asked Jackie.  “I mean, you went out of your way to save me from the MCO, and I know you probably paid that Highwayman guy a lot to help you.  I doubt Damocles did all that power testing stuff for free.  And now you’re buying me all these clothes…”

“You needed help,” she told me with a shrug.  “So I helped.”

“If you were all about helping people,” I pointed out, “then why are you a criminal instead of a hero?”  Then I paused, suddenly feeling guilty for pressing her like that, especially after everything she’d done for me.  “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude or anything.  I mean, I’m really grateful for everything you’re doing, but it just seems like so much…”

“It’s okay,” she assured me with a faint smile. “Honestly, I’d probably question my motives too.  I’m not exactly in a line of work that garners a lot of trust.”  She let out a sigh and actually looked sort of sad for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

“Don’t apologize for being curious,” Jackie told me.  “As for the why, I already told you that I felt responsible for your situation.  And like I told you, you do remind me a lot of my little brother.  He was always a smartass too.”  Then she grinned at me before her expression turned serious again and she continued, “Both of those reasons are completely true.  But the truth is, you kind of remind me of myself as well.  Between that and your…situation…I guess I’ve started thinking of you like a little sister.”

I stared at Jackie, a little surprised at that revelation, especially since it hadn’t even been a full week since we first met.  But in spite of having met because she robbed a bank and took me hostage, she’d been very good towards me.  Even while she was in the middle of a bank robbery, she’d tried to protect and look out for me.  She’d rescued me from the MCO, took care of me when I was injured, gave me a place to stay, and she’d been acting as my mentor with my powers and all things mutant related.  And along with all that, she even seemed to enjoy teasing me.  It startled me to realize that she really had been acting a lot like a big sister.

After several long seconds, I gave Jackie a nervous smile and admitted, “I’ve always wanted a big sister.”  Of course, that wasn’t completely true.  I’d always wanted a big brother, but I saw no reason to tell her that.

Jackie smiled, seeming rather happy about that.  Then she put her arm over my shoulder and announced, “Then I guess we need a sisterly shopping trip, complete with mani-pedis and a makeover…”

I groaned at that, then joked, “I should have kept my mouth shut…”

“Too late for that…Dana,” Jackie said with a grin.

I let out a sigh, wondering if I could have come up with a better name but suspecting it was too late.  “You know,” I told Jackie with my best innocent look, “Little sisters have a God given obligation to be an enormous pain in the butt…”

“Then you’re already doing a good job,” she responded with a smirk.

Jackie and I continued to talk while we looked at clothes, picking out a few outfits that would work for me.  I had to try some of the clothes on to make sure they fit, but we didn’t get carried away.  I might have a killer body now, but I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of dressing all sexy, and Jackie didn’t push me.

We ended up finding some clothes that were nice and even a bit feminine, but without being too sexy or revealing.  I could handle wearing tight jeans and a blouse, just so long as it didn’t reveal too much cleavage.

Once Jackie and I were finished getting my new clothes, we started back towards the car with our hands full of bags.  I wasn’t sure if Jackie intended to start heading back to her house, or if she wanted to just drop the bags off so we could go to lunch.

We were almost back to the parking garage when Jackie suddenly froze and hissed, “Torment.”

“What?” I asked in confusion. Then I noticed that Jackie was staring at a large man who was wearing a trenchcoat and hat.  He had on a pair of sunglasses, and what little I could see of his face looked brutish and ugly.

“That man,” Jackie said carefully. “His name is Torment, and you do NOT want him to notice you.  In fact, if you ever see him again, get away from him as quickly as you can.”

I stared at Torment, who went into the parking garage, obviously intending to go visit Damocles.  Between his name, destination, and Jackie’s reaction to him, it was pretty clear that he was in the super villain business as well.

“I take it he’s in your line of work,” I said carefully, fishing for more information.

Jackie scowled at that, reminding me of her dislike of being referred to as a ‘villain’.  “He’s a mercenary and hitman, but his hobby is doing unspeakable things to women.  I had to work with him on a job once. Never again.”

I gulped, deciding that in this situation, I would definitely take Jackie’s advice and avoid the man. If he could make her this uncomfortable, I didn’t want anything to do with him.

Suddenly, a voice called out, “Pinball!”

“Shit,” Jackie spat out, glaring at the source of the exclamation.

The woman was beautiful, blonde, and stacked…not to mention floating in the air a short distance away.  She wore a blue and white spandex costume that covered her entire body from the neck down and included a stylized star symbol that covered most of her chest and a blue mask around her eyes.

“Super Star,” Jackie said in contempt.

The flying blonde, who seemed to be called Super Star, continued to hover in the air, looking imperious as she put her hands on her hips and stared down at Jackie, as though she was a mother who was scolding a wayward child.  Something about her body language and expression immediately made me dislike her.

“Pinball,” Super Star repeated.  “I was following Torment to discover what he was up to, but I didn’t expect you to be involved.  I knew you’d gone bad, but even I never suspected you’d go so far as to work with a monster like him.  Fortunately, I saw you before you could meet up with him.  Now you’re going to tell me what he has planned.”

“I have nothing to do with Torment,” Jackie exclaimed. “Now fly your ass out of here Holly, because I have better things to do than deal with you.”

“You really think I’m going to believe that,” Super Star exclaimed, looking offended.  “I caught you and your lackey going right to him…”

“Lackey?” I blurted out, now getting angry myself.

“This is my sister,” Jackie stated grimly. “And we were simply out shopping.”  She held up the bags she was carrying.

“She may look like you,” Super Star said, “but I know good and well you don’t have a sister.  And even if everything you said was true, it still doesn’t change anything.  I heard that you kidnapped a boy, and I’m going to make you tell me where he is…”

With that, Super Star suddenly flew straight at Jackie, who merely formed her force field bubble.  The apparent hero punched the force field, though it didn’t seem to do any good.  However, Jackie dropped the force field, along with her bags, and before Super Star could react, Jackie grabbed her and threw her right into the middle of traffic where a car smashed into her.

“Oh shit,” I exclaimed.

“Don’t worry about Super Star,” Jackie told me grimly. “That Cape Squad nitwit is a PK Supergirl.  It will take a lot more than a car to stop her.”

Then as if to confirm what Jackie said, Super Star got to her feet and shoved the smashed car to the side.  She glared at Jackie with a pissed off look then started walking towards us with a determined expression.

“Damn,” Jackie muttered.  “Take our bags to the car and wait for me there. I’ll deal with her and catch up as soon as I can.”

I wanted to protest that I had powers now too and could help, but the truth was, I knew good and well that I had almost no training.  And even if I did know what I was doing, I didn’t think I wanted to fight a super hero.

“Just don’t get sent to jail,” I told her as I began picking up all the bags.  “You’re my ride after all.”

“Such concern for my safety,” she told me with a faint smirk. “Now go…”

I hurried off with the bags, turning back just in time to see Jackie rolling off down the street with Super Star flying after her.  I winced slightly as Jackie lunged into the middle of the street and bounced off a car, then I shook my head and hurried into the parking garage and the car.

“I just hope I don’t run into that Torment guy,” I muttered, suddenly feeling very nervous.

Fortunately, I made it to the car without any sign of Torment. Of course, I’d been going up a floor while he’d probably gone down to the lowest one so he could see Damocles.  After I’d dropped all the bags off in the car, I couldn’t resist going to see how Jackie was doing.

When I stepped out of the parking garage, I couldn’t see any signs of Jackie or Super Star.  It looked like they’d taken their fight out of range, much to my disappointment.  I’d actually been looking forward to watching it.

I returned to the car where I sat and waited for another fifteen minutes. Jackie finally returned, walking up as though nothing unusual had happened. However, she was wearing sunglasses, a new jacket, and a baseball cap.

“Did you beat her?” I asked curiously, both excited and worried at the same time.

“I barely even fought her,” Jackie responded with a grin. “This time, that is. I gave her a red herring, made her think I ran into a building to get away from her, then slipped away and came back here.”

I nodded at that, then hesitantly said, “It sounded like you two have a history.”

“You could say that,” Jackie replied, climbing into the car and starting the engine. “We used to go to school together, back at Whateley, but we didn’t exactly get along well even back then. She was really into some guy, but he was interested in me instead.  She accused me of trying to steal her boyfriend and I accused her of being a stupid bitch.  At the time, I couldn’t exactly come out and tell them I only liked girls, so the whole thing came off like some cheesy drama.”

I blinked at that.  “You mean, that whole thing was about some high school love triangle?”

“That’s how it started,” Jackie admitted with a sigh.  As we pulled out of the parking garage and began driving off, she explained, “A couple years later, I became at odds with the law and she saw it as a chance to settle an old grudge while claiming moral superiority. She came after me and we’ve tangled a number of times since then.”

“So she’s your…arch enemy?” I asked.

Jackie just snorted at that. “More of a high school rival who never let go.”  Then her expression darkened a bit more and she said, “But the last time I went to visit my family, Super Star attacked me.  She’d been watching my parents, keeping them under surveillance so she could catch me when I showed up.  She’s the reason I haven’t seen any of my family in years.”

“That really sucks,” I said, feeling sorry for Jackie.

I reached out and grabbed her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze and trying to be comforting.  She’d done so much to help me and I really wished I could do something to return the favor.

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Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Saturday, Sept 22nd, 2007

I stared into my half-empty cup of coffee, letting out a faint sigh. Mom had never liked to let me drink coffee, saying that it made me too hyper.  Jackie and Emily didn’t care and let me drink as much as I wanted.  This was actually my third cup today, but I still didn’t feel it.  My go juice no longer provided any go.

“Stupid regeneration,” I muttered in annoyance.  I’d already built up an immunity to caffeine, and even if I hadn’t, my power would have wiped it out of my system too fast to get much effect.

I was sitting in the living room and feeling depressed, but it had nothing to do with the coffee.  In fact, it wasn’t even because of my gender change, as awkward as that was.

It had been four days since Damocles had told me that my change was permanent, that I’d be stuck looking like Jackie for the rest of my life. I wasn’t happy about that, but at least I knew what the situation was and didn’t have to go chasing after some false hope of turning back to normal.  In a strange way, knowing that I couldn’t undo this was freeing.

Even though I wasn’t thrilled about being turned into a girl, I had to admit that it wasn’t really that bad.  Sure, I still felt a bit weird, but I was starting to get more comfortable in my new body.  And it wasn’t like losing the ability to pee standing up was a huge loss, especially when I considered all the powers I’d gained in exchange.

Over the last few days, I’d been trying not to cry or complain about my sudden sex change.  Instead, I was just trying to get used to the idea and deal with it the best I could.  After all, whether I liked it or not, this was who I was now.  I just had to get used to it.

What was bothering me and had made me mope around for the last couple days was the thought of my family. In spite of what my Mom had done, and the fact that my parents hated mutants, I still loved them.  The thought of never being able to see them again, of never being able to see Becky again…  It felt like I had a knot in my stomach from thinking about that.

Jackie came into the living room and sat down with her laptop. I watched her typing for a minute before I asked, “What are you up to?”

“I’m just reviewing a couple job offers,” Jackie responded with an amused smile.

“Job offers?” I asked in surprise.

“Sure,” she agreed pleasantly. “I have one offer from an organization that is looking for some supers to keep the West Coast Wonders occupied and distracted so they won’t be able to interfere in a robbery.  That one is a possibility.”

I took a sip of my coffee, then encouraged her to continue. “You said offers…as in plural.”

“Well, it seems like someone is also trying to put a group together,” Jackie continued.  “This one looks like a revenge attack on some hero they haven’t identified.  That one is out.  For one thing, I’m not a killer and won’t be part of an assassination attempt. For another, revenge missions are unprofessional and tend to get messy.”

“And there is one more offer,” Jackie added, looking at her laptop again.  “Someone is just putting some feelers out, looking for someone to recover an artifact of power from some heroes…  That one is a possibility, but breaking into the headquarters of some hero group sounds just a little too risky.”

“So, are you going to take any of those jobs?” I asked.

Jackie thought about it for a moment, then said, “Maybe the first one.  I’ll have to get some more details before I make a decision.”

“You know, listening to you talk about your work is pretty interesting,” I told Jackie, then before she got the wrong idea, I quickly added, “But don’t expect me to follow in your footsteps.”

Jackie gave me an amused look, then admitted, “Actually, I’d prefer if you didn’t go into this line of work.  The work conditions are lousy, the union dues are too high, and the retirement plan really sucks.”

“Then why do you do it?” I asked.  “Why not get a real job, like Emily?”

There was a long pause before Jackie carefully said, “Not everyone has that option.”

With that, Jackie closed her laptop and then got up and left the room.  I watched her go, feeling guilty for bringing something up that obviously bothered her.  However, a couple minutes later she came back into the living room, holding a duffel bag which I knew contained her costume.

“Come on, Dana,” she told me with a grin. “We’re going to go work on your powers a little more.”

I grinned at that, thankful for the distraction from all my worries and the pouting I’d been doing off and on for the last couple says.  I was also glad for the chance to get out and do something.  After all, living with a bank robber might sound exciting, but most of the time it was pretty normal and even a little boring.

After we climbed into her SUV, it didn’t take me long to realize that we weren’t going to the warehouse like I’d expected. Instead, we were heading in another direction entirely, though Jackie refused to say where our new destination was.

“Are we there yet?” I finally asked.

“Not yet,” Jackie told me.

I waited just another minute, then repeated, “Are we there yet?”

“Another ten minutes,” she told me.

I just smiled and gave her my best innocent look before asking, “Are we there yet?”

Jackie gave me a mock glare and asked, “Are you going to keep asking me that the entire way?”

“Maybe,” I responded with a cheerful smile.  “By the way…are we there yet?”

We eventually arrived at a very large and open field, and when Jackie parked the SUV, my first thought was that she needed a potty break.  But when she grabbed the duffel bag with her costume, I realized what she must have in mind.

“This isn’t quite as private as the warehouse,” Jackie told me as she opened the duffel bag and pulled out not only her costume, but also a bright red jogging suit, which she tossed to me.  “But it’s a lot more open so we can cut loose more…”

Jackie began changing into her costume so I sighed and put in the jogging suit she’d brought for me.  Obviously, she’d picked it because the color matched her costume, though at least she hadn’t brought me spandex.  After looking at Jackie, I had to admit that I’d probably look awesome in spandex, but I still wasn’t sure I liked the idea of wearing something that revealing.

A few minutes later, Jackie and I began my training, which actually consisted of another game of racing each other, playing tag, and playing bumper cars.  We both called up our force field bubbles and rolled around in the open field, giving me practice with moving and maneuvering at the higher speeds.

“Stay on the ground,” Jackie told me after I’d levitated my sphere into the air in order to avoid being hit by her. “We’ll work on that later.”

After practicing for over an hour, we paused to take a break. I was tired of keeping my force field up and definitely needed the rest. I also needed the power bars and energy drinks that Jackie had brought for us to snack on.

While we ate, Jackie mused, “I’m going to have to find a place where you can practice smashing into things and controlling your ricochets.”

“The inside of your warehouse won’t do?” I asked with a smirk.

“Not if I want to keep the place intact,” she responded with a chuckle, then quickly adding, “And I do.  Of course, we could practice in one of the other warehouses there, but if anyone ever checked on the properties and found the buildings damaged, it would increase the odds of them searching and finding the one I’ve claimed for myself.”

When Jackie and I were finished with our break, we went back to work training. This time, she helped me practice with some of the things that I could do which she couldn’t.  Specifically, I practiced flying around inside of my sphere, doing many of the same things I’d previously done on the ground.  And then, we brainstormed to try figuring out some other tricks I might be able to perform.

By the time we finished, I was exhausted and no longer had the energy to summon even a grape fruit sized bubble.  However, it had been a very productive training session and Jackie promised that we’d stop for ice cream to celebrate.

Several hours later, we were back at the house and getting ready for dinner.  Emily had been late getting home for work so Jackie was giving her a back massage while I worked on the food.

The oven was full with over a dozen breaded pork chops while a large pot boiled potatoes on the stovetop.  I was chopping up some broccoli to go with the meal, even though I didn’t really care for the stuff.  Still, that was the veggie Emily had stocked the fridge with so that was what I prepared.

Cooking like this made me feel useful, like I was actually earning my keep here rather than being a mooch.  It was kind of funny since I’d never had that concern when I was back home and had looked for any excuse to get out of what meager chores I had.

At the same time, cooking reminded me of my Dad, who’d taught me almost everything I knew.  The depression returned as I thought about him and what he had to think of me now.  Dad hated mutants which meant that he must be horrified that his own kid had turned into one.

Since I was a mutant, I knew there was probably a good chance that Becky would end up being one too.  I shuddered at the thought of my little sister having to go through the same thing I had.  Would Mom and Dad call the MCO on her too?  I really hoped that she wasn’t a mutant, just so she’d never have to find out.

I was still thinking about my family and feeling depressed as we ate dinner.  I barely contributed anything to the conversation as Jackie and Emily talked about a frequent topic, Whateley Academy.  For the most part, the two of them reminisced about their days attending the school for mutants, though they also discussed the possibility of sending me there.

“What better place is there for her to learn how to control her powers?” Jackie pointed out. Then she grinned and added, “Besides with me that is.”

“But it’s also expensive,” Emily pointed out. “And then there’s the small matter of the legalities, specifically, the fact that we aren’t her legal guardians and have no legal authority to enroll her…”

“Details,” Jackie said dismissively.  Then she teased, “For someone who used to be an anarchist, you sure are picky about the rules…”

Emily merely smiled at that and responded, “And for someone who used to be a straight arrow, you sure are eager to break them.”

“Rules are meant to be broken,” Jackie responded cheerfully, taking another pork chop from the plate.

Emily turned to me and gave me a concerned look. “Are you okay?  You’ve been pretty quiet tonight.”

“I’m fine,” I lied, giving her a reassuring smile.

Emily reached out and took my hand, giving it a comforting squeeze.  I felt the tingling sensation that told me I’d accidentally copied her powers.

Suddenly, Emily and Jackie both froze and began to scowl.  Emily yanked her hand back and stared at me in surprise.

“You most certainly aren’t,” she stated firmly. “You’re projecting your emotions…”

“I didn’t realize you were having such a hard time,” Jackie exclaimed, giving me a sympathetic look. “You haven’t been complaining about being a girl, so I thought you were adjusting…”

“It’s not that,” I responded self-consciously, feeling exposed and vulnerable at having them knowing my innermost emotions so intimately.  “At least not mostly…”

Jackie stared at me for a moment more.  “Your family,” she said in understanding.  I nodded at that, feeling guilty for making her worry.

“It’s okay,” Emily told me gently, giving my hand another gentle squeeze. “You have a right to be unhappy about this…”

“The whole situation stinks,” Jackie agreed sympathetically. “What happened with your family and turning into a girl…no matter how gorgeous.  I know it can’t be easy for a boy to go through that.”

Emily nodded at that, then joked, “Though after this, I might have to give you some lessons on controlling my powers too.  You don’t want to copy a psychic’s powers and then unintentionally broadcast all your thoughts and feelings to everyone around you.”

At the same time, Jackie had a grim expression on her face as she got up from the table. She grabbed her cell phone, an odd looking thing that was a dull black color and a little larger than most current phones on the market.

“It’s a devisor phone,” Jackie told me with a wry smile. “Encoded, untraceable, and VERY expensive.  It’s also a necessity in my line of work.”

“Who are you calling?” I asked, wondering why she’d gotten up to make a call without any warning.

Jackie dialed a number, and a few seconds later, she announced, “Hello, I’m a friend of David’s.”

“What?” I gasped in surprise.

“He is safe,” Jackie continued, “and in good health.  However, his appearance has been drastically altered due to his mutation and you would no longer recognize him.”

“Jackie,” I started, but Emily put a hand on my shoulder.

“Wait,” she told me, giving Jackie a curious look.

There was a long pause while Jackie appeared to be listening, then she said, “No, I will not put him on to talk to you, not right now.  No, this is not a threat or ransom demand.  I’m not interested in your money.  My intention here is simple. I want to help David.”  Jackie paused again, scowling as she did so. “The truth is, David was turned over to the MCO, who beat him, shot him, and intended to do far worse.  He’s afraid to return home…for good reason.”

“What are you doing?” Emily asked Jackie, looking worried.

“Is that my Mom?” I asked nervously, feeling hopeful and afraid at the same time. “My Dad?”

“I can arrange a meeting,” Jackie finally said.  “IF David agrees.  No, your home is out of the question.  Any meeting will be at a place of my choosing, somewhere I can keep David safe.”  She paused again and nodded a few times. “I’ll discuss this with David, and if he agrees, I’ll provide you with the time and place.”

“Well,” Emily urged once Jackie hung up the phone.

“That was your Dad,” Jackie told me with a grim expression.  “If you want to talk to your parents, we can do it in a safe place.  Maybe you can reconcile with them…”  The tone in her voice suggested that she was a little skeptical of that. “Or at the very least, find out where things stand once and for all.”

“Of course I want to see them,” I blurted out, though the truth was, I was terrified of doing so.  But as Jackie had just pointed out, there were some things I needed to find out for certain.

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Minnesota.  Sunday, Sept 23rd, 2007

The place Jackie had chosen for the meeting was the Silver Lake Overlook, a restaurant with a large back patio that looked out over the lake.  The two of us had arrived an hour early, partly so Jackie could keep an eye out for suspicious activity and partly so we could have lunch before the actual meeting.

I had my hair pulled back into a pony tail and was wearing a pair of sunglasses to hide my eyes. Jackie was wearing a pair of sunglasses as well, though hers were less about hiding her eyes than about fashion.

I ate my lunch in silence, feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness.  Ever since Jackie had made that call last night, I hadn’t been able to focus on anything else. Would my parents apologize and say they wanted me back, or would they tell me I was a monster they never wanted to see again?  Part of me wanted to just go find a place to hide so I wouldn’t have to get the bad news, but I reminded myself that whether the results were good or bad, this was something I had to do.

“What if they changed their minds?” I asked Jackie nervously. “What if they don’t show up?”

“But what if they do?” she reminded me pleasantly.

However, I knew Jackie well enough to know that she wasn’t quite as optimistic as she pretended.  For one thing, she was watching our surroundings very carefully, even if it was difficult to tell through her sunglasses.  And for another, this meeting place was at least an hour

drive for my parents, and had been even more than that for her.

Eventually, my Dad arrived in the patio seating area, and though I started to get up the moment I saw him, Jackie put a hand on my arm and indicated that I should stay.  We remained where we were for several minutes, watching as Dad sat down at a table and then looked around nervously.  There was no sign of Mom or Becky.

“You stay here for now,” Jackie told me quietly.  “I’ll indicate when you can come over.”

With that, Jackie stood up and walked around the patio before sitting down across from my Dad.  “Hello Mister Michaels,” Jackie greeted Dad pleasantly. “Or may I call you Gerald?”

“You’re the one who called me,” Dad said, staring at Jackie with a nervous look.

“I am,” she agreed, her expression serious.

“Where’s David?” Dad demanded.

Jackie just smiled as she responded, “Nearby.  He’s very nervous about seeing you like this, especially since he’s changed.”

“What do you mean by changed?” Dad demanded.

“As I told you last night,” Jackie explained patiently, “David’s mutation caused his body to change.  He’s very self-conscious about that, especially as far as you and your wife are concerned.  After being turned over to the MCO merely for having odd colored eyes, he’s afraid of what your reaction might be to this…”

Dad looked shaken at that, and for a moment, I thought he was going to get up and leave.  Instead, he gave Jackie a firm look and said, “I want to see my son.”

“All right,” Jackie agreed.  “I just wanted to prepare you first.”  Then she gestured to me.

I took a deep breath, then stood up and went over to Dad’s table. Dad stared at me with a look of confusion, though I just smiled nervously as I removed my glasses and sat down.

“Hi Dad,” I said quietly.

“David?” he blurted out with a look of stunned disbelief.

All I could do was nod at that and stare down at myself in embarrassment. “I’m going by Dana,” I finally said, not able to bring myself to look him in the eyes. “It seemed more appropriate.”

“What?” he gasped. “How?”  Then he stared at Jackie and I could see the flash of recognition and then suspicion. “You look like her…”

“It’s my mutation,” I tried to explain, not sure how much I could tell him.  “I sort of imprinted on her when I manifested, which is why I look so much like her.  If I’d run into a different mutant, I probably would have ended up looking like them instead.”  Of course, that only would have happened if the other mutant was an exemplar too, but I thought that might be a bit too much information at the moment.

“We’ve already talked to an expert,” Jackie said.  “Her new appearance is permanent and can’t be reversed…”

Dad just stared at me, making me extremely uncomfortable. I thought he was going to yell that I wasn’t David and that this was just some kind of trick.  Instead, he quietly said, “Your eyes…  They’re the same as they were the night before you left…”

“I didn’t…leave,” I spat out bitterly. “The MCO came in, beat the crap out of me, murdered Mister Harris, and then chained me up like I was some kind of monster...”  I gestured to Jackie and added, “She was the one who rescued me.”

Dad stared at me with a look of disbelief, then protested, “You must have misunderstood. The MCO don’t do that kind of thing…”

“They SHOT me,” I yelled, gesturing to my shoulder which had long since healed without a trace. “They tried to kill me...”

Dad gasped at that, staring at me for a few more seconds.  Then he looked at Jackie with a suspicious look. “You’re that super villain, aren’t you?  You’re the one who robbed that bank.”

“Yes,” Jackie answered without any shame or embarrassment.  “My name is Pinball.”

“Pinball,” Dad repeated, saying the name almost as though it was a profanity.  “So you’ve kidnapped David and now you’re trying to brainwash him into being a super villain?”

“She didn’t kidnap me,” I snapped at Dad, angry at that accusation.  “She saved my life…”

“Actually,” Jackie told Dad, giving him a flat look. “Between how Dana was treated by the MCO and her own family, she was already being pushed to that.  My intention is to keep her safe and give her options…”

“Like I’d really believe that of some mutant super villain,” Dad spat out.

Jackie removed her glasses and glared at Dad for a moment, but she made no threatening moves. I knew full well that if she meant Dad harm, there was nothing he could do.  Dad seemed to realize that as well, but he didn’t look like he was going to back down.

“Do you really think this is the life I wanted?” Jackie finally asked, keeping her voice low and steady, but I could hear the strong emotions in it.  “Do you think I wanted to be a criminal…unable to live a normal life or even see my own family?  I didn’t.  I wanted to be an architect.  I was even going to college for it.”

“Jackie,” I said, giving her a worried look.

Jackie had told me a lot about her time at Whateley Academy, and she’d told me a few stories about her time as a criminal. However, she’d never said a word about what happened in between, about why she’d become a criminal.

“I’d confided that I was a mutant to one of my friends,” Jackie continued grimly. “Someone I trusted.  But she outed me, told everyone I was a mutant.  Then a bunch of Humanity First supporters decided to set my house on fire…while I was sleeping.  I woke up in time to get out, but I lost my home and everything I owned.”

“Oh shit,” I whispered, not sure which was worse, the betrayal of her friend or the attempt to burn her to death.

“Afterwards, the police refused to do anything,” Jackie said with a deep scowl. “Even though I saw a couple of the people involved.  Since I was a mutant, they accused me of starting the fire with my powers.  My insurance company went with that story and accused me of insurance fraud.  The college kicked me out, saying that because I was a mutant, I was a danger to all the other students. And then, the MCO came to arrest me…”

I stared at Jackie in sympathy, realizing that as bad as I’d had it with the MCO, she’d gone through much worse.  Because of that friend’s betrayal, she’d lost everything.

Jackie went silent for several seconds before she continued her story. “After I escaped from the MCO, I realized I had to take matters into my own hands.  Since the police refused to do anything, I went after the people who’d tried killing me on my own.  They destroyed my home, so I destroyed theirs.  And while I was doing this, I found out the police chief was with Humanity First as well.  The damn bastard was covering for his buddies, so I went after his house and car too.  By the time it was done, I was officially declared a super villain.”

“That’s…horrible,” Dad said, now giving Jackie a look of sympathy as well.

“The law is a social contract,” Jackie told him with a scowl.  “It says that if you follow the rules, you will be protected.  I followed the rules but I wasn’t protected.  I was told that because I was a mutant, I didn’t have any rights and the law didn’t have to protect me.  Since the law doesn’t apply to me, why should I obey it?  Why should I follow the rules?”

“Miss Pinball,” Dad started, looking awkward and even a little guilty.

Dad wasn’t an official member of Humanity First, but I knew that he’d always sympathized with them and their goals of protecting humans from dangerous mutants.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem to care about protecting mutants from dangerous humans.

Jackie shook her head, then reached out and took my hand, giving me a reassuring smile.  “When mutants aren’t allowed to live within the law, they have no choice but to live outside it.  I’m trying to help Dana avoid that.”

“Thank you,” I told her with a nervous smile. “I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there for me.”

Jackie smiled faintly at that, then said, “I’ll give you two some privacy.”  With that, she got up and walked away.

“David,” Dad said carefully, giving me an odd look. Then he forced a faint smile.  “Dana…  Becky really misses you…”

“I miss her,” I admitted, then joked, “Even if she is a brat.”

“You do know she’s just following your example,” he pointed out with a chuckle. “She really looks up to you.”

I smiled at that.  In spite of the way that Becky was often a pain in my ass, I loved her and had always tried to be a good big brother.  Of course, being a big brother meant that I had certain obligations which included but weren’t limited to noogies and teasing.

“That villain,” Dad abruptly said, his eyes darting in the direction where Jackie had gone.

“Pinball,” I corrected Dad, feeling annoyed at him for calling Jackie a villain, especially after what she’d just told us.

“Pinball,” Dad responded with a faint smile. “Is she taking good care of you?”

“She’s been great,” I told him honestly.  “She saved me when she didn’t have to.  She’s been helping me learn to control my powers…and adjust to all this.”  I gestured down at myself.  “She’s sort of like the big sister I never had.”

“That’s good,” Dad said, looking a little relieved. “But is she getting you in trouble at all?”

I shook my head at that. “No, she’s been keeping me out of it.  She was telling the truth when she said she wasn’t teaching me to be a criminal or anything.”

Dad and I talked for a little longer, with him telling me about what had been going on at home and at the diner since I’d left.  I told him a little bit about what I’d been doing, though I didn’t mention Emily and I kept a lot of details vague.  There were certain things that he was probably better off not knowing.

Finally, Dad said, “I know I’ve never been very fond of mutants.”  Then he paused and stared at me for a moment before adding, “But you’re still my son…  Or at least, I’m still your father.  This isn’t easy for me to wrap my head around, but I’ll try.”

“Thank you,” I said as tears began running down my cheeks.  On an impulse, I gave Dad a hug, feeling better for doing so.

“Does that mean I can come home?” I asked him hesitantly.

“I want you to come home,” Dad told me, though I could hear the silent ‘but’ in that statement.

I scowled as I thought about it, then said, “But the MCO will probably be watching for me…”

Dad nodded at that, looking unhappy. “And your mother,” he finally said, grimacing.  “She…”

“She doesn’t like mutants either,” I stated, remembering the look on her face when the MCO took me away.

Dad nodded again and gave me a guilty look.  “She honestly thinks you’re dangerous and is worried that you’ll hurt Becky…  She does love you, but I think she’s forgotten that at the moment…”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so I wiped my tears away, though new ones were coming to replace them. However, these new ones weren’t tears of happiness like the previous ones.

“I don’t think it would be safe for you back home,” Dad admitted, looking almost like it was painful for him to say that.  “Not right now.”

Then Dad looked to Jackie, who was sitting down at table where we’d eaten, and he called to her, “You’d better take good care of him…her…or powers or no powers…”

“I will,” Jackie agreed, getting up and coming over.  “I’ll look after her like she was my own sister.”

Dad nodded at that, looking just a little worried but also seeming satisfied. Then he turned to me and said, “I’ll work on your mother, but for now…”  He shook his head and let out a sigh before adding, “Just try to keep in contact.  Maybe email me on my private account…”

“I will,” I promised him, giving him an honest smile.  My Mom might still dislike me for being a mutant, but at least I had my Dad back.  And who knows, maybe he’d be able to get Mom to change her opinion…though I doubted it.

Just then, there was a lot of noise coming from a short distance away.  I quickly turned to look, then gasped in horror at the sight of men in MCO uniforms.  Three men in the SWAT type uniforms I’d previously seen rushed onto the restaurant patio, and a short distance behind them were two more men in powder blue colored power armor.

“Agent Owens of the Mutant Commission Office,” one of the men in SWAT gear yelled out.  “Surrender immediately.

I stared at the man who was speaking, shocked to realize that he was the very same man who’d murdered Mr. Harris…and who’d shot me.  I recognized one of the other SWAT uniformed men from my previous encounter with the MCO as well.

“MCO,” Jackie cried out angrily.

“I didn’t bring them,” Dad blurted out, looking as surprised as I was.

“Then they must have followed you,” Jackie said grimly, her force field bubble appearing around her.

I just looked at Dad and asked, “Does Mom know you were coming here to see me?”

Dad’s eyes widened with a look of realization which answered my question.  Either the MCO had followed Dad here or Mom had tipped them off.  Whichever it was, they were here now and they obviously didn’t mean me well.

A moment later, they opened fire, barely giving anyone else on the patio a chance to get away.  Their shots bounced off Jackie’s force field while I grabbed Dad and willed my own to form.

“I’ve got you,” I told Dad, who stared in surprise at the golden bubble which surrounded us.

“What the hell is this?” Dad demanded, looking afraid and confused.

“A force field,” I told him with a self-conscious grin. “It’s my power…”

“Pinball,” Owens called out, “You’re under arrest for bank robbery, kidnapping, attacking agents of the MCO and…”

“Shut up already,” Jackie exclaimed with a look of cold anger on her face.  Then she looked to me and nodded. “Sphere, get him out of here.  I’ll deal with these idiots.”

“Sphere?” Dad asked in confusion.

“My codename,” I answered grimly.  “Apparently there’s some kind of government rule where every mutant has to have one.”

“That sounds like government regulations,” Dad muttered.  “But how are we going to..?”

“I’ve got it,” I told Dad, willing my sphere to lift into the air.  Dad gasped at that, as did the MCO agents.  I began flying us away, trying to get out of range of the MCO.

The guys in SWAT gear opened fire at me while one of the ones in power armor actually launched himself up into the air and straight at me.  He fired some sort of missiles that hit me hard and caused my bubble to get knocked back.

“Oh shit,” I exclaimed in fear, suddenly realizing that I couldn’t count on my force field to protect me from everything.  Jackie and I had practiced controlling my powers, but I didn’t know how to fight, much less for real.

When the man in power armor flew right at me, I willed my bubble to go straight down, slamming into the ground.  Then I dropped the force field, shoving Dad to the side and yelling, “Go…  They’re not after you…”

“DAVID,” Dad cried out as I ran away from him, forming my force field again just in time to avoid being hit by a missile.

I looked around and saw Jackie rolling around in her bubble, smashing right through the group of MCO agents and slamming right into her power armored opponent.  She was dealing with the bulk of the MCO agents, leaving me with only the one guy in power armor.  I grimaced, silently hoping I could deal with him until she was able to help.

My power armored opponent hovered in the air, opening fire on me again.  He didn’t seem to care that his attacks were destroying the restaurant and putting everyone else in danger. He just seemed determined to get me.

“Take down these mutants fast,” Agent Owens yelled to his people. “We can’t let them hurt anymore innocent humans…

“Big talk for someone who did all the damage,” I yelled at him angrily.

The man in power armor opened fire on me again and I could feel the pressure against my force field.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it up for long at this rate and knew I had to do something.

“Time to play catch,” I muttered as I had an idea.

After seeing the way Jackie had run right through the group of agents and slammed right into her power armored opponent, I’d decided to try the same thing.  However, I had an option that she didn’t.  I willed my sphere to fly up into the air and straight at the agent who was attacking me.  I slammed into him as hard as I could and a moment later, his armor dropped from the air and slammed into the ground.

“Gotcha,” I exclaimed triumphantly.  Then as he began to stand up again, doing so very slowly and awkwardly, I flung myself at him again, slamming into him for a second time and driving him right into the ground. “Too bad the name Cannonball was taken…”

“You lunatics,” Dad screamed at the MCO, charging right towards Owens.

“Damn mutant loving traitor,” Owens yelled at Dad, turning his rifle on him.

“NO,” I screamed, knowing I couldn’t let him kill Dad.

On an impulse, I tried something new with my powers, dropping my bubble and forming a new one…right around Owens.  He shot at Dad, but it didn’t get through the glowing sphere he was now trapped within.  I’d turned my sphere from a protective force field for myself into a cage for him.

“Let me out,” Owen screamed, shooting at the force field and trying to break out. Fortunately, my bubble held.

“You asshole,” I yelled, willing the bubble to move. It flew straight out over the lake with Owens held within, then when it reached the limits of my range, the bubble vanished, dropping the MCO agent right into the middle of the lake.

“Get out of here,” Jackie yelled at me as she rolled right into her power armored opponent again.  I wanted to help her, but I couldn’t let my Dad get hurt because of me.

“Come on,” I told Dad, running up to him and forming my sphere around the two of us.  Then I lifted us up into the air and flew us a short distance away, landing when I thought we were out of range.

“I can’t believe that,” Dad blurted out, looking shaken. “What you did…”

“Jackie’s been teaching me to control my new powers,” I told him awkwardly. “So I can defend myself…”

“Those people,” Dad exclaimed furiously. “We were just talking and they attacked…”

A moment later, a new voice announced, “So, you’re one of the mutants the MCO is after…”

I snapped around and saw that the newcomer was a cop, staring at me with an odd expression.  He glanced to Dad, who stepped between us as though to protect me from the cop.

“I didn’t do anything,” I protested, afraid of having to fight a cop as well as the MCO.

“He…she’s telling the truth,” Dad insisted.

“There’s no law against being a mutant,” the cop stated, moving his hands away from his holstered gun to show that he wasn’t threatening me.  “As far as I’m concerned, you’re free to go.”

“I wish the MCO thought that way,” Dad said, visibly relaxing now that he saw the cop wasn’t trying to arrest me.

“They’re overzealous idiots,” the cop said with a deep scowl. “Most of the people who join the MCO do it because they don’t like mutants, so having them in charge of regulating mutants is like putting the KKK in charge of enforcing civil rights laws.”

“Is there anything you can do to help?” Dad asked the cop.

The cop shook his head, scowling as he did so.  He definitely didn’t look happy. “Being a mutant may not be illegal,” he pointed out grimly. “But bank robbery is.”

I winced at that, knowing that the cop was right.  Even if the MCO weren’t complete assholes, Jackie was still a wanted criminal and the regular cops wouldn’t ignore that.  I was just lucky this cop wasn’t trying to arrest me as some kind of accomplice.

“You haven’t done anything that I know of so I can overlook seeing you,” the cop told me with a scowl.  “But your friend…”

I nodded, then asked, “Can you keep my Dad safe?”

The cop gave Dad a look of surprise, then nodded. “Sure.”

Dad gave me a look of surprise, then demanded, “What are you going to do?  You’re not going to go back there…”

“No,” I responded with a sigh.  I wished I could go back there, but the truth was that Jackie didn’t need my help.  What she did need was for me to head back to her SUV where we’d agreed to meet up if we got separated for any reason.  “But I can’t stay here, because if those guys find me again…”

“I understand,” Dad said reluctantly.  Then he shook his head and had a look of disgust on his face as he muttered, “And your mother actually gave you to those people.  When I get home, I’m going to have a talk with her…”

Tears were beginning to run down my cheeks again, though I wasn’t sure if these ones were happy or not.  I was so confused at the moment that I wasn’t sure what I was thinking, except that I was glad Dad hadn’t turned me away.

I grabbed my Dad and gave him a hug, not knowing when I’d get a chance to do this again. He grunted and exclaimed, “Not so hard…”

“Sorry,” I said as I backed away. I’d forgotten that I was a bit stronger than I used to be.

Dad gave me a look of surprise, then he smiled. “Take care and stay safe,” he told me.  “And don’t let that Pinball woman get you in any trouble.”

I nodded at that, then told him, “I will.”  Then I grinned and added, “And tell Becky I miss her…”

“I will,” he responded, looking like he was about to cry himself.

I stepped back away from him and the cop and willed my force field to form again.  Both of them stared at me with a look of amazement as I floated up into the air and began heading towards where we’d left the SUV a couple blocks away.

When I landed again a minute later, I joked, “I feel like Glinda, the Good Witch.”

Since I didn’t want anyone to follow me to the SUV, I’d landed in an alley a short distance away and then ran the rest of the way to the car. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before Jackie returned, rolling up in her force field.

“Good, you got away,” she said when her force field vanished. “How’s your Dad?”

“He’s good,” I told her with a smile. “A cop is keeping him safe.”

Jackie seemed a little surprised at that.  “A cop?  And he didn’t arrest you?”

“Being a mutant isn’t a crime,” I reminded her with a faint smile. Then before we got into the SUV to leave, I grabbed her in a firm hug and told, “Thank you.  Thank you for giving me back my Dad.”

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Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Tuesday, Sept 25th, 2007

I took a long sip of my hazelnut mocha as I stared at the small stack of paperwork that was spread out in front of me.  Emily had given this to me just a minute earlier, and though I had some questions, most of the answers were obvious when I thought about them.  But in spite of that, I still found myself almost compelled to ask anyway.

“What’s this?” I asked, looking at Emily and Jackie.

“An application form to Whateley Academy,” Jackie answered, giving me a reassuring smile.  “Emily and I talked it over, and we think this the safest place for you to be right now.”

It had been three days since the MCO had interrupted the reunion with my Dad, and even though we’d escaped them, Jackie had become increasingly concerned.  We hadn’t gone out and done any real training in the last few days since she didn’t want to take any chances with us being spotted and drawing attention.  She told me that she frequently had to ‘lay low’ after a job, and that this was no different.

“I’ve been talking to some of my contacts,” Jackie told me with a scowl.  “Apparently, the MCO examined the video footage at the bank and they noticed you were starting to glow on your own.  And unfortunately, my attempts to get you out of there before anyone else noticed sort of backfired.  They decided that you were my accomplice and put out a warrant for the arrest of David Michaels.”

“What?” I gasped in surprise.

“Ironic,” Emily commented wryly.  “And they completely missed the real accomplice.”

“You are good at avoiding notice when you want to,” Jackie told her with an amused look.  “And also getting it…”

Jackie and Emily both paused and began to kiss while I sat back and waited patiently for them to finish.  Fortunately, it didn’t take them long to remember that I was there, though that might have been because I commented, “Get a room already…”

“Back to the matter at hand,” Jackie said, looking rather smug.

“I think you had something else in hand a moment ago,” I pointed out, pleased to see Jackie turn bright red.

“Are you two sure you aren’t really sisters?” Emily asked with a chuckle.  “You certainly act like it.”  Jackie and I responded by simultaneously turning and sticking our tongues out at her.

“Now as I was saying,” Jackie continued with a grin.  “After the bank and our encounter with the MCO a few days ago, the MCO and FBI have stepped up their search for me.  They’re also looking for you, or at least for the David version of you.  They can’t seem to make up their minds because they’re alternately accusing you of being an accomplice and me of being a kidnapper.  The MCO is taking the fact that I helped you escaped their custody as a personal insult from both of us, so they’re after David just as much as they are me…hence the ambush at the restaurant.”

“It’s nice to be wanted,” I joked weakly, trying to hide just how nervous that information made me.

“Fortunately,” Jackie continued, “they don’t seem to have realized that Dana and David are really the same person.  As it is, the MCO is keeping an eye out for Dana, though they don’t seem to know much about you except that you’re a mutant who fought one of their teams and helped embarrass them.  The MCO appears to be taking that personally too, but I’m getting most of the blame for that one.  Dana doesn’t seem to be on the FBI’s radar at all.”

I stared at Jackie for a moment, thinking about what they’d said.  “So,” I said carefully, “the FBI and MCO are both after me, but they don’t know I changed and don’t look like that anymore.”

“It’s only a matter of time before they figure it out,” Emily pointed out grimly.  “That’s why we want to get you off to Whateley where you’ll be safe…before they actually know what to look for.”

“And to complicate things even more,” Jackie added with a grimace.  “The FBI called in a relatively local group of supers…the Liberty League.”

“The Liberty League?” I asked with a smirk. “Really?  That name is an annoyingly awful act of alliteration.”

Emily groaned at that while Jackie grinned.  “Absolutely abominable alliteration at that.”

“So,” I asked after I’d stopped laughing.  “Who are these lesser legion of Liberty League losers?”

“Tis a true tragedy,” Jackie said with a look of mock innocence. “Your tongue will get terribly twisted trying to…”

“ENOUGH,” Emily exclaimed in exasperation, causing Jackie and I to both start giggling.

“Needless to say,” Jackie said, her expression turning serious again.  “With the FBI, MCO, and the Liberty League involved, we need to get you to Whateley as quickly and safely as possible.”

“But if this Liberty League are the heroes,” I asked, “can’t we just tell them I didn’t rob the bank with you?”  Jackie gave me a look that suggested I’d just said something stupid.  Then when I thought about it, I realized that I probably had.  “You’re a wanted criminal,” I said with a sigh.  “Why would they believe you?”

“Precisely,” Jackie agreed.  “And from my experience, most of those so called hero types tend to be self-righteous hypocrites.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve gotten into fights with some, and after they cause just as much property damage as I have, they blame the whole thing on me.”

“You do tend to be destructive,” I pointed out wryly as I remembered her escape from the bank and the way she’d smashed into all those walls and vehicles.

“She does have you there,” Emily pointed out with a chuckle.

Jackie stuck her tongue out at Emily, then said, “Anyway, we’re going to try keeping anyone from realizing that David and Dana are the same person.  This way, everyone will be looking for a skinny blonde boy…not a gorgeous young woman.  This should help you slip past them more easily.”

With that, Jackie set a manila envelope down in front of me, right on top of the Whateley application forms.  I opened the envelope and was surprised to see a school ID, social security card, and even a birth certificate, all made out to Dana Evalynn Martin.

“As far as anyone else will know, you’re my younger sister,” Jackie told me with a smile.  “This will explain our similarities in appearance and powers, as well as give you a legitimate reason to be seen in my presence which has nothing to do with criminal activities.”

Emily nodded at that and explained, “And establishing an identity for Dana will also help to hide your real identity.”  Then she paused before adding, “I’ve also been taking care of a few legalities.  Whateley security is pretty good and I seriously doubt they’d be fooled by this for long.  More importantly, it’s a good idea to be completely up front with them.  Because of that, yesterday I went to visit your father.”

“What?” I asked in surprise.  “But the MCO…”

“The MCO may be watching your parents,” Emily pointed out with a faint smirk, but they’re looking for David or Pinball…not me.  I met your father in his restaurant and had him sign a few forms that give you permission to attend Whateley, and which authorizes me to act in loco parentis…to act as your legal guardian in certain instances when he isn’t available.”

I stared at Emily in surprise.  “Dad actually did that?”

“He did once I explained it was for your safety,” she told me.  “He also asked me to give you this…”

Emily gave me an envelope which contained a ‘get well’ card, which was signed by Becky.  She’d even written, “I hope you come home soon,” inside.  I began to tear up as soon as I read it, so Jackie put her arm around me and gave me a gentle hug.

Once I’d calmed down again, I looked at the Whateley application and commented, “I thought you said this place was really expensive…”

“It is,” Jackie agreed pleasantly.  “But don’t worry about it.  I’ll take care of that.”

“But,” I started to protest.

“Yes, I have a very nice one,” she responded with a smirk which made me chuckle.

“Won’t they have a problem with me being sent there by a known criminal?” I asked.  I’d almost said, “by a known super villain,” but I knew how much Jackie disliked being called that.

Jackie just shook her head at that.  “They won’t care in the least.”

Emily smiled at that and explained, “Whateley is the premier school for mutants in this country and they have a reputation for being strictly neutral.  Heroes and villains both send their kids there.”

“Heroes and villains?” I repeated in surprise.  “What kind of school is that?”

“A very good one,” Jackie told me with a smug look.  “You’ll learn things there that you won’t be able to learn anywhere else.  And just imagine the connections you can make.  I mean, you just might end up rooming with the daughter of Champion…or even Doctor Diabolik.”

I blinked at that, half sure she was joking…but only halfway.  “Is the current Champion even old enough to have a kid my age?”

Jackie just shrugged at that.  “No idea.”

I let out a sigh, then turned my attention back to the application forms.  As I looked through it, some of the questions surprised me.  One of the questions asked about sexual preferences and even gave a check box option for going through a gender change.  Did enough people go through this that they actually needed a check box for it?  What kind of school was this?

“Unfortunately, we can’t just put you on a plane,” Jackie told me with a sigh.  “The MCO might not be looking for Dana as much as they are for David, but after what happened a few days ago, they are on the lookout for you and would probably grab you.  We’re going to have to take the scenic route to New Hampshire, starting tomorrow morning.”

“It looks like we’re going to have a road trip,” Emily said with a chuckle.

“Not you,” Jackie told Emily, who looked surprised.  “This isn’t like the bank where you can stand in the background without being noticed.  If anyone so much as sees you with us, that could blow your cover and destroy your career.  Even worse, if they found out that we were together…they might go after you too.”  She stared at Emily with a worried look.  “I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

Emily scowled at that, looking just a little hurt.  “I’d be willing to risk getting outed if it meant keeping you two safe.  Besides, even if they saw me with you, what are the odds that they’d be able to find out who I am?”

“Super Star is with the Liberty League,” Jackie pointed out grimly.  “There’s a real good chance she’d recognize you.”

“Damn,” Emily muttered in annoyance.  “You’re right.  We had enough classes together that Holly is bound to recognize me.”  Then she hesitated a moment before adding, “Still, you can’t deal with the MCO or Liberty League by yourself, even with Dana’s help.  I could help distract anyone you run into…”

“You’re right,” Jackie admitted.  “I can’t beat the Liberty League by myself, or even a full squad of MCO power suits.  I do need backup, but I won’t risk you.”  With that, Jackie pulled out her odd looking cell phone and made a call.  “Hey, I need to call in that favor you owe me…”

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Illinois.  Wednesday, Sept 26th, 2007

“What is it with you and coffee?” Jackie asked me with an amused look.  The fact that she was holding her own cup of steaming caffeinated goodness only made me chuckle.

“I like it,” I answered with a grin, taking a sip from my caramel macchiato.  It was the largest size they had at Starbucks and I’d even asked for a couple extra shots, so even with my regeneration I was starting to feel a slight buzz.  Then I licked my lips in an exaggerated manner and said, “Yummy.”

Jackie and I had only been our road trip to New Hampshire for a couple hours and this was our second stop for espresso.  Of course, the first one had been before we’d even left town so I wasn’t sure that one even counted.  I’d also had a cup of regular coffee with cream and sugar for breakfast, but that wasn’t espresso so it didn’t count either.

“It’s a good thing you’re a mutant,” Jackie told me quietly, glancing around the Starbucks to make sure no one overheard that comment.  “If it wasn’t for your regeneration and exemplar stamina, that much caffeine and sugar would give you a heart attack…or make you bounce off the walls.”

I grinned at that and responded, “Boing boing boing.”  Then I added, “Why do you think my Mom never let me drink the stuff?”

Jackie let out a sigh, then pointed out, “You told me your parents let you drink as much as you wanted.”

I just smiled cheerfully as I told her, “I lied.”

“Someone has definitely been a bad influence on you,” she said with a shake of her head.

“Gee,” I mused with my best innocent look.  “I wonder who that could be.”

As I took another sip of my drink, I thought about the fact that I’d originally started drinking go juice so I could be more grown-up and mature, or at least pretend that I was.  However, it hadn’t taken long before I’d really developed a taste for the stuff, much to my Mom’s frequent complaints.  Dad had never seemed to mind and would even buy me a mocha every once in awhile, though he did make sure to get me the smaller sized cups.  Or at least, he used to.

We were about to leave the coffee shop when I took one more look around and realized that nearly everyone present was watching us, especially all the guys.  Most of the attention was on Jackie since she was older and better built, but I was getting my share of the attention as well.  There was one guy in his twenties who was sitting in the corner, watching me intently.

At the moment, I was wearing a pair of sunglasses to hide my odd colored eyes, and I suddenly wondered what would happen if I took them off.  Would everyone stare at my eyes instead of my chest, or would they still be so caught up with my chest that they wouldn’t even notice?  It occurred to me that I just might have to try that experiment someday…just not right now.

Jackie smiled faintly and commented, “I think he likes you.”

“Ewww,” I responded with a shudder of disgust, which seemed to amuse her.

“I know exactly what you mean,” she told me.  “Now that cute barista…  If I wasn’t with Emily, I’d probably ask her out.”

“I did notice her looking at you,” I admitted with a faint smile, trying very hard not to look at the guy who was staring at me.

Ever since Damocles confirmed that I’d be a girl for the rest of my life, I’d been doing my best to accept the fact and deal with it.  The physical adjustments were probably the easiest since taking care of long hair, wearing a bra, and even sitting down to pee were annoying, but not really that big of a deal.  And even though my body still felt a bit weird to me, especially with the way my chest pushed out and was so sensitive, I was like this twenty-four seven so was starting to get used to it.  However, it was the other aspects of my change that still made me uncomfortable.

I was still caught by surprise whenever I looked into a mirror and saw a hot looking girl staring back at me.  In spite of what I looked like physically, that still wasn’t how I pictured myself in my mind.  And then there was the way that other people treated me whenever I was out in public.  Having spent more than fifteen years of my life as a guy, I could completely understand why guys were staring at me, but that didn’t mean I really liked it.  It made me feel self-conscious, like maybe I’d left my zipper down or was having a wardrobe malfunction.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to guys staring at me like that,” I told Jackie, thankful that I was with her since she tended to draw a lot of the attention away from me.

Jackie nodded in understanding, then said, “It helps if you think of the attention as being a compliment.”

“I can do without that kind of compliment,” I responded with a chuckle, feeling like a hypocrite as I did so.  After all, I’d done my share of staring at hot girls, and for that matter, I still did.

“Then think of it this way,” Jackie pointed out with a grin.  “If guys think that you’re hot enough to stare at, then so will some of the girls.”

Jackie and I returned to the car, and I was climbing into the passenger seat when I felt the now familiar pressure in my head.  It wasn’t strong which suggested that the mutant was near the edge of my range.  I slowly looked around, trying to see the source of my current pressure.  Then I noticed a man who was climbing out of his truck.  He looked perfectly normal to me, but as I’d learned, looks could be deceiving.

With a shrug, I climbed into Jackie’s car, the one that had previously been stored in the warehouse, and absently wondering what kind of powers that man might have.  It didn’t matter, but I was a little curious.   A minute later, Jackie and I were on our way again, though something kept nagging at the back of my mind, and it wasn’t the question of that man’s possible powers.  It took a little longer but I finally realized exactly what it was.

“If the MCO and these Liberty League guys are mostly looking for you,” I said thoughtfully, “wouldn’t it have been safer for Emily to drive me to Whateley instead?  I mean, if they don’t know about her, they wouldn’t be on the lookout for her…and I could wear a blonde wig or something.”

Jackie was silent for a moment, then admitted, “The MCO might be a little more interested in you than I indicated.  They don’t know who you are, but they aren’t happy that a teenage girl took out two of their operatives…with one of them in power armor.  In a way, you embarrassed them even more than I did because I’m a known threat with training and experience.”

“And I’m a complete rookie who got lucky,” I added.

“They are looking for you,” Jackie continued.  “And being with me definitely increases the chance of them finding you.  However, my presence also greatly increases your chance of being able escape them.  If you were with Emily when they found you, she wouldn’t have been able to help you very much and probably would have been more of a liability than an asset.”

“And she would have been in even more danger,” I said in understanding.

“In spite of what Emily would have you believe,” Jackie told me with a chuckle.  “She does have a criminal record, though it’s all been sealed up in her juvenile records.  However, if the MCO caught her and had even a hint of criminal intent, they’d be able to get her records unsealed and use that to ‘prove’ that she’s a dangerous threat.”  She snorted at that and added, “There is no way I’m going to let that happen to Emily.  She’s worked too long and hard to build up a legitimate life.  It’s bad enough that she insists on doing crowd control for some of my jobs.”

“Do you really think this is going to be that dangerous?” I asked her, suddenly getting worried.  Of course, the MCO, FBI, and even a group of super heroes were involved, so that was probably a dumb question.

“Possibly,” she responded grimly. “It depends entirely on whether or not anyone is able to find us.  The truth is, none of the people who are after us have any idea of where we are, which is to our advantage.  My biggest concern is that someone might use magic to do just that.”

“Magic?” I asked in surprise.  “Magic is real?”

“The MCO isn’t above using baseline mages…or even the occasional mutant,” Jackie continued.  “And I know for certain that the Liberty League has a magic user.  It’s hard to predict what a magic user can or can’t do, so it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected.”

“Oh shit,” I gasped.

Jackie gave me a reassuring smile and added, “But we might get lucky and have a peaceful trip all the way to New Hampshire.  Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry, which is why I’ve made some preparations. Do you have that list I gave you?”

“Sure,” I responded with a smirk. “I had it tattooed on my butt so I wouldn’t lose it.”

“Then how are you going to read it?” Jackie asked with a chuckle.

After this, Jackie told me a little more about Whateley, obviously trying to build my excitement about going there.  She didn’t really need to do that though as I was already excited, just as I was also nervous and even a bit afraid.

Who wouldn’t want to go to a school where they taught martial arts, students built death rays, and everyone had super powers?  It sounded like something straight out a the comic book, which made me wonder if maybe Professor Xavier was secretly running the place.

On the other hand, it was a school for mutants, and even though I didn’t have my Mom’s views about them, I had no doubts that some mutants could indeed be very dangerous.  Every school had bullies, so I’d imagine the ones at Whateley would have to be on another level from the ones I was used to dealing with.

And then there was the fact that I was leaving all my friends and family behind and going to a strange place where I didn’t know anyone at all.  I was already having a hard time dealing with my family situation, but now I wouldn’t even have my new surrogate family either.

Jackie seemed to guess what I was thinking because she told me, “Don’t worry. You’ll love it there, and you’ll make new friends in no time.”

I just grunted non-committedly at that.  I was a little skeptical about that, but wasn’t about to rule anything out.  After all, not that long ago, I would have laughed my ass off if someone told me that my closest friend would be a mutant super villain.

In spite of Jackie’s concerns that the FBI and MCO were after us, we continued traveling for the rest of the day without seeing a single black helicopter or van with MCO markings.  Just after lunch, I did catch sight of someone actually flying off in the distance, but that could have just been a bird and my own overactive imagination.

Later that evening, after traveling a lot of miles and making more than a couple stops for food and coffee, we decided that it was time to get some sleep.  We pulled into a motel parking lot and got out of the car.  I was thankful for the chance to stretch my legs again, especially after spending all day cooped up like that.  I wasn’t looking forward to continuing the drive tomorrow.

“I always thought road trips were supposed to be more fun,” I grumbled as I bent over and began stretching my body.  “I mean, we didn’t stop to see the world’s largest ball of twine or any other kind of tourist trap.”

“Doesn’t this count?” Jackie asked me as she gestured to the motel.

“I said tourist trap, not roach trap,” I pointed out with a chuckle.  “I wonder if there’s a coffee shop nearby…”

Jackie rolled her eyes at that, then said, “You might want to put your glasses on before we go inside.”

I nodded at that and put on my sunglasses, feeling just a little ridiculous since the sun had already set.  Fortunately, the parking lot was fairly well lit so I didn’t have to worry about not being able to see where I was going.  That old song ‘Sunglasses at Night’ ran through my head and I began humming it as we went to the front office to check in.

The motel lobby was grungy and a bit dirty, which didn’t make me feel very optimistic about the rooms.  The man working the front desk was a perfect match for the lobby, looking a bit greasy and staring at Jackie and me with an odd smirk.  He kept looking back and forth at us, and I was sure that he was going to lick his lips at any moment.  He made me so uncomfortable that I almost missed the faint pressure in my head, the pressure I was sure was caused by him.  Mister Greasy here was a mutant.

“Can I help you ladies?” Mister Greasy asked, staring right at Jackie’s breasts.

Jackie acted as though she didn’t notice the attention and merely replied, “I’d like a room with two beds for me and my sister.”

“Sure thing,” he agreed, still looking Jackie’s breasts while he did the paperwork.

When Mister Greasy finally held out the room key, I reached out and grabbed it before Jackie could, making sure that I touched his hand in the process.  I didn’t really want to touch him, but I was definitely curious what his power was.  As soon as I felt the tingle that told me I’d copied his powers, I yanked my hand back.  Jackie gave me a curious look but didn’t say anything.

As we left the office and went back outside so we could find our room, I noticed that my vision had changed.  Everything I looked at had an odd tint and texture to it.  In fact, some of the cars actually seemed slightly transparent, as though they weren’t quite real.  I was so distracted by this that I tripped and fell flat on my face.

“Are you okay?” Jackie asked me, not really concerned since even if I’d skinned a knee or bruised myself, I’d heal up pretty quickly.

“I just bruised my pride is all,” I responded as I got back to my feet, noticing that I had a faint golden glow around myself.  I immediately willed it to fade again.

This was the first time that I’d begun to glow like that in several days, or at least the first time I glowed when I wasn’t used my force field powers.  Ever since Jackie had begun teaching me to control my powers, that unconscious glow thing didn’t happen nearly as much.  Of course, it still came out a little when I was surprised, as though my force field was on the verge of activating, but I was definitely getting better at preventing that.

The whole golden glow thing was a little odd though, and I knew it was part of my primary power, not the one I’d copied from Jackie.  Or at least, I assumed that was the case since I’d begun glowing at the bank before I’d ever copied her powers.  Of course, Jackie had also told me that she didn’t glow like that, not even when she’d first gained her powers and hadn’t yet learned to control them.

“Maybe I should have chosen Nightlight as my codename,” I joked.

“I used to know someone with that name,” Jackie mused with a chuckle.  “An Underdog who glowed non-stop and couldn’t turn it off.  Nice girl but a bit skittish.”

“I think I would be too if I was a constant target,” I commented.

Just then, I realized that someone was watching us.  A middle-aged and overweight woman was standing outside of one of the motel room doors, smoking a cigarette and staring straight at us.  As soon as she realized that I’d noticed her, she dropped the cigarette and hurried inside the room, almost slamming the door behind her.

“I think we’ve scared enough locals for tonight,” Jackie told me with a smirk.  “Come on.  I want to get up and on the road early.”

A minute later, we’d located our room and brought our bags inside.  I looked around, relieved that the inside of the room wasn’t nearly as bad as the lobby had made me fear.  It wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t a total rathole either.

But as I looked around, I couldn’t help but noticing that everything still looked odd and slightly transparent.  When I stared at the wall, it became even more transparent, until I was seeing through it as easily as if it had been made of clear glass.

“Cool,” I exclaimed.  “X ray vision.”

“What’s that?” Jackie asked me curiously.

“The power I got from the guy at the front desk,” I explained, feeling a little smug at knowing something she didn’t.  “Didn’t you know he was a mutant?”

Then I slowly looked around, staring through all the walls and feeling excited by this new ability.  However, when I looked into the room beside ours, I saw that Mister Greasy was standing there, staring right at us through the wall with an eager grin on his face.  I gasped, suddenly realizing exactly why he’d been smirking while staring at Jackie and me in the lobby, and I was NOT happy about it.

“Hey pervert,” I exclaimed loud enough to be heard through the thin wall, while glaring at the surprised Mister Greasy and flipping him the bird.

Mister Greasy went pale as his eyes went wide.  Then he turned and ran away, as though expecting me to burst through the wall and attack him.  Then again, since I was able to see him, for all he knew I might have been able to.  I just hoped he didn’t decide to come back and start spying on us again because his powers were already starting to fade, and if he came back, I’d never know it.

“What was that?” Jackie asked me with a curious look.

“Just scaring off a cockroach,” I answered cheerfully.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for the way I’d scared off Mister Greasy, but then I realized a very uncomfortable truth.  If I had that power permanently, I didn’t think that I’d be able to resist the temptation to use it the same way.  That thought was an unpleasant one, and as I got ready for bed, I couldn’t help but feeling just a little guilty.

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Illinois.  Thursday, Sept 27th, 2007

I’ve always hated having to get up early in the morning and that was one of the things that hadn’t changed.  Of course, what had changed was that when I woke up, I was almost immediately wide awake and full of energy.  I wasn’t sure if that was due to my being an exemplar, a regenerator, or some combination of the two, but what I did know was that Jackie was the same way.

Jackie was a bit of a morning person, so I hated her for about ten minutes or so just out of general principle.  How could anyone wake up at 5 AM and still be that cheerful?

“I wanted to get an early start,” Jackie told me as she got dressed in her costume, then began putting normal clothes on over the top of it.

“Bite me,” I grumbled as I got dressed as well.  It felt wrong to be up this early and having this much energy without the assistance of caffeine.  “I was having great dream too…”

Jackie just laughed at that, then asked, “From the way you were nipping out a minute ago, I’m assuming it was a good one.”

I blushed bright red at that which only seemed to amuse her more.  I actually had been having a pretty nice dream, one that involved me and my old crush Amanda.  Having that dream interrupted might have had something to do with my bad mood.

“We’ll stop for coffee and donuts on the way out of town,” Jackie promised me.  “Once we get a few miles behind us, we’ll grab some real breakfast.”

“You say the sweetest things,” I told her.

Just then, a car alarm began going off in the parking lot.  Jackie pushed over the curtains and peeked out, then suddenly blurted out, “Oh shit…”

“What?” I gasped, definitely not liking that reaction.

“Take a peek,” she told me grimly. “A quick one. And do NOT open the curtain or be seen…”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” I told her.

“And I don’t like the look of it,” she said, stepping back from the window and taking her civilian clothes back off.

I peeked out the window, doing as Jackie said and only barely moving the curtain aside.  A moment later, I repeated her, ‘Oh shit.”

The MCO had found us. The parking lot was full of MCO agents, about a dozen of them in total.  Most of them were wearing SWAT type gear while four of them were wearing powder blue power armor.  They were still spreading out and getting into position, and obviously one of them had accidentally set off the car alarm.

“Thank God for obnoxious car alarms,” Jackie said, slipping on her gloves and mask so that she was now in full costume.  “Without that warning, they would have caught us by surprise.”

“There’s like a whole army out there,” I blurted out, more than a little worried.

“This is going to be dangerous,” Jackie warned me, her expression grim and focused.  “As soon as we get out there, keep your force field up and move as fast as you can.  We can’t reach the car through them so we’re going to have to make a run for it.  Grab your bug out bag and leave everything else.”

I nodded at that and grabbed the backpack I’d brought with me into the motel room and slung it over my shoulder.  Jackie had insisted that I keep some essentials in a ‘bug out bag’, and keep it close to me in case of an emergency.  Suddenly, I was thankful that I’d stuffed a few extra pairs of underwear in there.

“We need to move before they’re all in position,” she told me as strapped her own ‘bug out bag’ onto her back.  “On the count of three.”

Seconds later, Jackie threw open the door and ran out, forming her force field bubble immediately.  She gave me enough cover to come out and form my force field as well, then she was in motion.

Jackie rolled forward, right through where two of the MCO agents were standing, causing them to leap aside to avoid being run over.  Then she slammed straight into one of the power suits, slamming him right into the side of a car and smashing the car in the process.

“I knew it was them,” a familiar voice yelled out.

I immediately spotted Agent Owens, standing back in SWAT gear and glaring at me furiously.  Since his attention was on me, rather than on Jackie who was actually doing some damage, I guessed that he took that bath I gave him rather personally.  He opened fire on me with the obvious intention to kill, but the gunfire bounced right off my force field.  I had yet to learn that trick of absorbing incoming kinetic energy in order to strengthen my force field, but my field was still more than strong enough to protect against that.

Owens continued yelling to one of the other MCO agents, his voice filled with a tone that screamed ‘I told you so’.  “When our informant called with news of two exemplar redheads that fit the description of our targets…with one of them being confirmed as a mutant, I knew we had them.”

“Yeah, you were right,” the other MCO agent snapped back at Owens in obvious annoyance.  “I’ll pay you that fifty when we get back, so shut your yammering and get those freaks before they hurt anymore innocent humans.”

At this point, Jackie was bouncing around the parking lot like a pinball, smashing into cars and making MCO agents jump out of her way.  She’d taken out of one of the power armor suits, but the other three were now flying in the air and out of her reach.  Still, that didn’t stop her from keeping all the ground based MCO agents occupied and on the run.

“And to think,” Jackie said when she came back towards me.  “I was worried about them using magic to find us but completely overlooked the obvious.”

“I bet it was that woman who saw me glowing,” I told her grimly.  Mister Greasy had probably realized that I was a mutant after the way I’d caught him spying on us, but I seriously doubted that he was their informant, not with him being a mutant too.  “Not that it matters.”

Until then, I’d been so caught up in watching everything that I almost forgot that I was actually a part of this.  When Owens opened fire on me again, I finally snapped out of it and followed Jackie’s example.  I rolled right at him, making him jump out of the way.  However, one of the flying power suits began firing at me as well, using some sort of energy blast that hit me and sent me flying back with a lot of force.  I smashed into the side of the motel, creating a hole and causing a nearby window to shatter.  My force field had protected me from the blow, then immediately vanished and dropped me to the ground.

“Oh shit,” I gasped, feeling a little dazed.

The power suit opened fire on me again and I just barely got my force field back up in time, though the blast slammed me right back into the wall.  This time, I was braced enough that my force field didn’t automatically drop, but I knew I couldn’t take that kind of hit many more times.

After a moment of consideration, I willed a force field bubble to appear around my attacker, even though it meant my own protection vanished at the same time.  Then I forced my sphere to fly towards the nearest other power suit as fast as I could make it, and at the last second I let the bubble vanish.  The power suit I’d been moving slammed hard into his own teammate, causing both of them to fall from the sky.  And as soon as they hit the ground, Jackie slammed into both of them.

“Good job, Sphere,” Jackie called out to me, looking rather proud.  “Now let’s get out of here.”

I nodded at that, deciding that before we ran away, I wanted to try something new, or at least something that Jackie had suggested to me during our last practice session.  I formed a golden sphere about the size of a grapefruit in the air in front of me, then with a little concentration, it suddenly went flying straight at Agent Owens, who was aiming his weapon at me again.  My sphere hit him in the chest like a cannonball, sending him flying back and into the side of a car.  I was pretty sure that I hadn’t sent the sphere hard enough to do any serious damage, especially when he was wearing that protective gear.  The fact that he was still moving and struggling to get back up a few seconds later confirmed that.

“Too bad the name Hardball was taken,” I commented with a grin, reforming the force field around myself just as several of the MCO agents opened fire on me again.

I rolled along the ground to join Jackie, but one of the power suits was still up in the air and firing energy blasts at her.  She was handling them better than I had, but I didn’t see any reason for her to deal with them alone.  A moment later, I sent my own bubble up into the air and right at him, slamming into the power armor which promptly fell out of the air.

“It looks like you’re starting to get the hang of this,” Jackie called out to me with a laugh, right before she took off rolling down the street.  I followed floating just a short distance behind her.  After a few minutes, Jackie came to a stop and said, “I think we lost them for now, but I wouldn’t count on it remaining that way for too long.  I want to get a little further away, then look for some less conspicuous transportation.”

I stopped beside her and dropped my force field, feeling a bit shaky from all the excitement and the realization of just how close I’d come to being hurt…or worse.  Those MCO guys weren’t kidding around.  They were actually trying to kill me.  I’d already seen first-hand that they weren’t the good guys I’d always believed them to be, but this just reinforced that.

“You did good back there,” Jackie assured me, putting a hand on my shoulder.  She gave me a concerned look, obviously seeing that I was still a bit shaken from the experience.  Then she grinned and added, “Keep this up and we’ll have to get you a costume of your own.”

“I think I can do without the spandex,” I responded with a faint grin.

Since I had Jackie as an example, I could imagine exactly how I’d look with that kind of outfit, and it was actually pretty good.  However, the idea of wearing something that showed off every curve of my body like that…  That was a bit more than I was comfortable with at the moment.

Then I joked, “Or the mask.”

“They’re terribly comfortable,” Jackie responded with a smirk.  “I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”

I rolled my eyes at that and added, “At least you’re ready for trick-or-treating at a moment’s notice.”

“True,” she agreed with another chuckle.  “But as well as being highly fashionable, a costume does serve several practical purposes.  It makes a statement, has built in athletic support, is very easy to move around in, and since mine is made of devisor fabric, it’s also got built in shock absorbtion and bullet resistance qualities that make it into lightweight and flexible body armor.”

“Body armor?” I asked skeptically as I looked her over.

“You have got to take costume shop when you get to Whateley,” Jackie told me.  Then she looked around and pointed out, “We need to get going again…”

I nodded at that, then said, “I was thinking that maybe I should do the transportation for awhile.”  She gave me a curious look, obviously waiting for me to explain what I meant.  I gave her a nervous smile, then said, “I mean, if I fly us out of here, we can avoid the roads and not leave as much of a trail.”

Jackie stared at me for a moment before nodding agreement.  “That makes sense.  I can avoid leaving a trail of witnesses and broken cars, and they’ll have a harder time following.”

I couldn’t help but grinning at the fact that Jackie liked my idea.  She stood close to me and I willed my bubble to appear around us, then I lifted us up into the air.  This was actually the first time I’d ever done this with a passenger, but it wasn’t any different than traveling by myself, except that I had to share my limited space.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done this without being in control,” Jackie commented as we began flying away, keeping fairly low so we wouldn’t be tracked as easily from a distance.  “Being a passenger is actually kind of nice.”  Then she paused for a few seconds before joking, “Once around the block, Jeeves,”

A short time later, I landed in the alleyway behind a large building and let my force field fade.  Without a word, Jackie opened her ‘bug out bag’ and pulled out a set of clothes that she quickly put on over her costume.  Once the clothes were on and her mask and gloves were off, she was able to walk through a crowd without drawing any more attention than a beautiful woman normally would.

“I thought you had some kind of ace up your sleeve,” I finally said, thinking about how badly the MCO had outnumbered us at the motel.  “Why didn’t you use it?”

“I didn’t want to waste it just yet,” Jackie pointed out with a faint smile.  “Besides, we got out of there all right...”

“Yeah, but you lost your car,” I pointed out.  I didn’t bother mentioning the fact that I’d been forced to leave behind all of my new clothes, some of which I hadn’t even worn yet.  Then I realized that I was actually upset about losing clothes and shook my head in annoyance.  “I really am turning into a girl.”

“And quite a lovely one you are,” Jackie agreed with an amused look.  “Now come on kid, we’ve got a car to steal.”

“Steal?” I blurted out in surprise.

“How else am I going to get a new car?” she asked with a roll of her eyes.

“But,” I started to protest that stealing someone’s car would be wrong.

“Fine, I’ll go and buy a new car,” Jackie responded with an even more obvious roll of her eyes.  Then she gave me an evil grin and said, “But first, I need to stop off at a bank to make a withdrawal…”

I groaned, realizing that I was beaten.  As much as I disliked the idea of stealing, we needed to get away from the MCO and we didn’t exactly have a lot of cash on us.  And as I’d seen first-hand, Jackie’s method of getting more cash would draw a bit too much attention, not to mention making grand theft auto look like nothing more than shoplifting.

Fifteen minutes later, Jackie and I were walking through a parking lot, looking over our options for a new ride.  “How about this one?” I asked, pointing to a red convertible.  I figured, if we were going to steal a car, we might as well go for a good one.

“I like your style,” Jackie told me with a grin.  “But the idea is to avoid attention.”

“And you’re so good at that,” I pointed out sarcastically.

“Smartass,” Jackie responded as she turned to a ten year old gray sedan. “I think this is what we’re looking for.”

Jackie pulled a few tools out of her own ‘bug out bag’ and quickly changed the license plate with that of another car, then she popped open the door and hotwired the car.  Less than five minutes after stepping into the parking lot, we were driving away with a new car.  I couldn’t help but feeling a strange mixture of guilt and excitement.

“Now that we’ve had our morning exercise,” Jackie said cheerfully, “what do you say about stopping somewhere for coffee and breakfast?  I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

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Ohio.  Thursday, Sept 27th, 2007

Jackie and I had just finished eating dinner a short time ago, and in spite of getting my fill, I was still in a bad mood.  In fact, I’d been in a bad mood ever since our narrow escape from the MCO earlier that morning.  If it hadn’t been for the fact that one MCO agent happened to accidentally bump up against a car with an over-sensitive alarm, we would have been caught by surprise and either killed or captured.  And considering how the MCO had treated me previously, I wasn’t sure which of those would have been worse.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t her normal cheerful self.  Jackie had been rather subdued today as well.  She’d been keeping a close eye out for any signs of the MCO, and at any other time, I probably would have called her paranoid.  However, the fact that I knew they really were after us changed her actions from being paranoid to being reasonably cautious.

“They found us this morning because someone from Humanity First reported us,” Jackie told me we parked our stolen car at a gas station to fill up.  “Now they know we’re on the move, that we’re traveling together, and which general direction we were heading.  That will make it a lot easier for them to find us again.  We’re going to have to be careful not to do anything to draw extra attention.”

“Like you could avoid getting attention,” I responded with a snort.  “Every guy in miles has his eye on you…”

Jackie smiled faintly at that, then pointed out, “You’re getting the same attention…miss jailbait.”

I scowled at that, definitely having mixed feelings about the attention I was getting with my new body.  It certainly made me a little uncomfortable, but at the same time, it was kind of nice to be noticed for once.  I just wished it was girls who were staring at me like that instead of the guys.

“People barely notice me when you’re around,” I reminded her with a faint smirk.  “I mean, I’m below the legal limit and they know they’d have to throw me back.  You on the other hand are a keeper…”

Jackie chuckled at that, then she climbed out of the car and slowly looked around, searching for any MCO vans or indications that someone might be following us.  I wondered if this was what it was like for her all the time, having to be on the lookout for police or super heroes who were trying to catch her.  I just couldn’t imagine living my life like that, always looking over my shoulder.  The only thing that made this bearable was the knowledge that once I was at Whateley, I’d be safe and not even the MCO would touch me.

“Come on, miss grumpy pants,” Jackie told me with a faint smile as she started for the convenience store to pay for the gas.  “I think you can use a coffee refill.”

The thought of coffee improved my mood a little bit, but not much.  After all, even a caramel mocha with extra whip couldn’t make the MCO go away, especially when the caffeine didn’t even do much for me anymore.  Still, coffee was coffee.

Jackie and I began gathering up the road trip necessities, which consisted of coffee, pop, and a lot of snacks.  After looking at the pile of junk food we were getting, I was suddenly very thankful that I didn’t have to worry about getting fat anymore.  And with my increased appetite, I suspected that we’d be finished with half of this before we even stopped for the night.

Suddenly, a voice yelled, “Nobody fucking move…”

I jumped at that and snapped around in fear at the thought that the MCO had found us again, but then I saw the speaker and actually let out a faint sigh of relief.  He was dressed in normal street clothes and had a bandanna over the lower half of his face.  From the skin that was visible on the top half and his hair, it looked like he was either Hispanic or a dark haired Caucasian.  He had a gun in his hand, pointing it straight at the cashier, but the fact that he clearly wasn’t with the MCO made him somehow seem far less dangerous.

“Give me everything in your register,” the robber demanded of the cashier, waving the gun around back and forth between the cashier and the customers in the store.

“Just great,” Jackie muttered with a look of annoyance.  “Just what I needed.”

I stared at the robber for a moment, having a bad sense of deja-vu at being caught in the middle of another robbery.  Then I realized there was another guy with a bandanna around his face standing at the door, holding it open and apparently acting as a lookout.  Both of them seemed pretty jumpy.

I glanced to Jackie and quietly asked, “Are you going to do something about them?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” she answered grimly.  “It would be kind of hypocritical of me.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” the robber demanded, pointing the gun straight at Jackie and me.  Then he stared for a moment and called out to his partner, “I think we found us a couple dates for tonight…”

The robber came closer us, holding his gun in a cocky fashion.  I couldn’t see his face beneath the bandana, but I could imagine he was smirking or even licking his lips eagerly.  He pointed his gun straight at me while staring at Jackie’s breasts.

“Do NOT point that gun at her,” Jackie ordered him in a cold voice.

“Or what?” the robber demanded, moving the gun to point it at her instead.

Without saying a word, Jackie suddenly reached out, moving at a speed I hadn’t realized she was capable of.  She grabbed the robber by his wrist and twisted, clearly breaking his arm.  He screamed and dropped his gun, which she casually kicked aside, right before throwing him halfway across the store and into one of the display cases.  He slumped to the floor, holding his arm and crying out while his partner suddenly ran out of the store.

“Stupid, sloppy, and unprofessional,” Jackie said with a sigh as she went over to the robber.  “You really should find a new line of work.  You really aren’t very good at this one.”

“Oh my God,” the cashier exclaimed, staring at Jackie in amazement.  “You stopped him so easily.  Are you a super hero?”

“Hardly,” Jackie responded with a loud laugh, acting as though that was one of the funniest things she’d ever heard.  Then she bent down over the cowering robber and took the wallet out of his pocket.  She pulled all the cash out, then tossed the empty wallet aside.  “I think this should cover our purchases,” she told the cashier, dropping all the money from the robber’s wallet right onto the counter.

“That was…interesting,” I commented as Jackie and I hurried out of the store.  Then I teased her, “So, what’s it like being a hero?”

“Don’t ask me,” she responded with a wry smile.  “I just hope I don’t get kicked out of the union for this.”

“Come on,” I urged her, feeling just a little better than I had earlier.  “It could be a whole new career for you…”

Then Jackie and I both froze as we saw the robber’s partner driving away…in our stolen car.  Without a word, Jackie began running after him, forming her bubble and rolling towards the car at high speed and then slamming into it before it was even out of the parking lot.  The car slid from the impact and came to a complete stop.

“You can keep the car,” Jackie told the shocked and terrified robber as she yanked open one of the doors and retrieved our backpacks.  She came back and tossed my backpack to me, then said, “We’d better get out of here before the cops arrive.”

“I guess we’re looking for another new car,” I said with a sigh while slinging the backpack over my shoulder.

Jackie and I hurried away as quickly as we could on foot, and we were only half a block away when the police finally arrived.  They didn’t see us and we continued to slip away, being careful not to use our powers since that would draw even more unwanted attention.  A short time later, we found a parking lot behind a decent looking restaurant.  From the grin on Jackie’s face, I knew we were about to do a little more car shopping.

Just a few minutes later, Jackie had picked out another plain looking car and had switched the plates again.  As she unlocked the door and began to hotwire it, I hesitantly asked, “Can I try some of the driving this time?”

“Do you have a license?” she asked me curiously.

“I’m only fifteen,” I reminded her with a sigh.

“How about a learner’s permit?” she asked.

“Not yet,” I reluctantly admitted.

Jackie gave me a faint smirk and pointed out, “Well, it’s illegal to drive without a license.”

I just stared at her for a moment before responding “And NOW you care about the law?”

“Climb on in, sis,” Jackie told me, gesturing to the passenger side door and making it clear that she wasn’t going to let me drive.  “And don’t forget your seatbelt.”

“You’re almost as bossy as my other sister,” I commented, thinking about Becky and letting out a sigh.  She might only be six, but she certainly had a lot of attitude.  I figured that Mom and Dad were really going to have their hands full once she became a teenager.

Jackie chuckled at that, then turned and stared at me for a moment, her expression becoming serious. “Dana,” she finally said.  “I’m sorry things aren’t going as smooth as I’d hoped.  In fact, everything has kind of turned to a cluster fuck.”

“Two counts of grand theft auto in one day,” I pointed out, holding up two of my fingers.  I gave a forced smile and weakly joked, “That is NOT going to look good on my college application.”

“I don’t know,” Jackie joked with a forced smile of her own.  “They tend to like ambition and real life experience.”  She let her expression turn serious again.  “That’s all on me, and I’ll make sure the cops know that.  With my record, I don’t think they’ll have any problem with me taking all the blame.  Hell, if necessary, I’ll just tell them that I kidnapped you and forced you to come with me.  You’re a good kid and you don’t deserve any of this crap that’s happened to you, but I’m proud of the way you’ve been dealing with it.  Things may not be going as planned, but trust me when I say that I’m going to keep you safe.”

“I do trust you,” I told her, starting to tear up as I did so.

Ever since I’d turned into a girl, I found that I tended to get a little more emotional than before.  I wasn’t completely sure if it was the new hormones, or if it just felt more acceptable to show my emotions now.  What I did know was that I was suddenly very grateful that Jackie had been there for me.  If it hadn’t been for her, I have no idea how I would have dealt with all the changes to my body and life, much less actually survived them.

With that, I suddenly bent over and gave Jackie a hug.  “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” I told her, the tears beginning to flow freely.  “You’re the best big sister a former guy could have.”

Jackie stared at me with an odd smile, looking as though she was starting to tear up as well.  “Thank you,” she told me, seeming quite happy. Then she joked, “But I’m still not letting you drive.

“Darn,” I responded with an exaggerated sigh, giggling as I wiped the tears from my eye.

“But since we lost most of our food back there,” Jackie said, gesturing in the direction of the gas station where we’d dropped almost everything while running. “How about I make it up to you by stopping for coffee?”

I just grinned at that and responded, “Do you really need to ask?”

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Continues in Part 3

 

 

 

 

Comments   

+2 # Mazaki 2017-03-07 05:51
Thank you for round two of a very fun story. Was the hotel clerk someone's father, because he seemed an awful lot like a very annoying Peeper? Looking forward to round three and thanks again.
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