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A Whateley Academy Tale

Out on a Tether

By Morpheus

Reno Nevada, Tuesday October 2nd.

High school is an utterly amazing place. Not only is it a bastion of learning and education, but also a social melting pot where you can interact with a lot of different people, giving you the opportunity to make contacts and friendships that can last a lifetime.

Who am I kidding. School sucks.

Maybe, if I’d been a big buff jock like my older brother Brad, then school might not have been so bad. After all, he never had to deal with bullies, and had no problem getting girls to notice him. I, on the other hand, was a short and chubby geek, which meant that my high school life was a living hell.

It was lunch, and I was sitting in the back corner of the cafeteria, in the area near the garbage cans that was usually relegated to the freshmen…and the less popular freshmen at that. I wasn’t quite so unpopular that I was forced to sit there, and could have gotten away with sitting in a few other places. However, this was a lightly populated table, and I valued the relative privacy it offered me.

“Hey, Mikey,” a familiar voice called out.

I looked up, just in time to see Aaron Matthews sitting down in the seat across from me. Aaron was my self-proclaimed best friend, which meant that I couldn’t get rid of him if I’d tried. When I started at this new school last year, Aaron had clung to me as a ‘kindred spirit’ and I’d been stuck with him ever since. Admittedly, he annoyed me less than a lot of the other kids, and he was actually excited about my hobby.

“My name is Mike,” I corrected him yet again.

At fourteen, I was old enough that I was tired of everyone calling me Mikey, since it sounded like a little kid name, and had been trying to get people to call me Mike instead. Unfortunately, I wasn’t having much luck. If I couldn’t even get my ‘best friend’ to call me Mike instead of Mikey, how could I get anyone else to do so?

Aaron seemed to completely ignore what I’d said, because he immediately asked, “Hey, Mikey. Have you done any more?”

I rolled my eyes, knowing better than to fight a losing battle. Without a word, I slid the sketch pad that I’d been working at to him. Aaron immediately opened it up and looked at the final couple pages, his eyes opening in delight.

“This is awesome,” Aaron stated with a broad grin. “You need to get this published…”

“Thanks,” I responded with a smile, remembering exactly why I still hung out around Aaron. He was a total comic book geek, and he really appreciated the fact that I’d been working on my own comic. In fact, he was probably the only one who did. “I’ve been thinking of posting this online.”

“You really ought to,” Aaron agreed with a broad grin before he slid my sketch pad back to me. “You’re really good.”

I basked in the praise, even if it only came from Aaron. I flipped open my sketch pad, which was actually more of a folder since I’d removed a lot of the pages and had tucked the paper back in.

The very first picture in the notebook, was a drawing I’d made of a heavily muscled man with a massively oversized gun. This was Major Macho, the main character of the comic that I’d been working on for the last year. He was the epitome of all things manly, and made even Chuck Norris look like a wimp in comparison.

Of course, every hero needs a villain, and for Major Macho, that was Ms. Perfect. Ms. Perfect’s picture was the next one, and I was quite pleased with how that one turned out. She looked sexy and athletic, with the dark hair that hung down over half her face, similar to Jessica Rabbit or Veronica Lake.

Ms. Perfect was a great villainess, being absolutely perfect at everything she did. She was a femme fatale, master of multiple martial arts, an ingenious scientist, and a brilliant mastermind. Major Macho had sometimes messed with her schemes, but she usually accomplished her real goal anyway, and he has never been able to catch her…except for the one time when she let him as part of her plan.

“You know,” Aaron said with a thoughtful look. “You’ve been doing this storyline for awhile, but Major Macho is barely even in it…”

“He’ll show up,” I promised, without much enthusiasm.

Major Macho was the hero of my story, but the truth was, I was kind of bored of him. He was a big dumb brute, who either punched or shot his way through every problem. Ms. Perfect was a much more interesting character, so I’d found myself focusing more and more on her.

Aaron was saying something about a possible plot idea I should use, though I barely paid him much attention as I ate my lunch and considered what I was going to do with my current storyline. Major Macho was going to come bursting in soon and stumble over Ms. Perfect’s scheme, so I needed to figure how she was going to turn it to her own advantage.

“Did you hear about those supervillains who were tearing around last weekend?” Aaron abruptly asked me, his eyes gleaming with excitement.

“Only three times,” I responded with a roll of my eyes.

“They’re probably here from Vegas,” Aaron offered.

“Maybe,” I agreed, not particularly caring.

“I mean, some hero was fighting them,” Aaron continued, “but they gave him the slip…”

“Or they paid him to let them go,” I added with a shrug.

Aaron gave me a look of shock and disbelief. “No way… Superheroes can’t be bought.”

“Everyone can be bought,” I pointed out with a roll of my eyes. “You just need the right price.”

Aaron just stared at me like I’d kicked a puppy or something. He was a nice kid, but definitely naive. He probably still thought that Santa Clause was real and that politicians told the truth.

“They’re superheroes,” Aaron said slowly, as if trying to explain something simple to a child. “That means they’re the good guys.”

“Yeah, right,” I muttered with another roll of my eyes. “Just like the cops.”

Aaron pouted a little at that, then decided to change the subject by asking, “Anyway, what do you think those villains were after?”

I shrugged. “No idea.” I hadn’t even known there were any supervillains in the area until Aaron had told me about them. He was a lot more interested in that kind of thing than I was.

Once I finished eating, I took my tray to the garbage can a short distance away, only to have someone ‘bump’ me from behind. I staggered and spilled the leftovers from my tray onto the floor, right in front of the can.

I turned around to look at the person who’d pushed me, Jackson Lewis, one of the more obnoxious kids in school. He was a sophomore, and just a general jerk, though not one who’d caused me many specific problems before. I was just a target of opportunity.

“Pretty clumsy, ain’tcha?” Jackson asked with a smirk, clearly daring me to do something about it.

I wasn’t stupid enough to get into a fight with Jackson, since I knew I’d only get my ass kicked. I was definitely no Major Macho, so instead, I started to walk away, only to have Jackson grab my shoulder.

“I think you need to clean that up,” Jackson said, pointing to the mess on the floor. “With your bare hands.”

“What?” I asked with a snort. “You’re not gonna ask me to do it with my tongue?”

Jackson grinned, as if he liked that idea. But before he could say anything, he suddenly had a hand on his shoulder and the large boy looming up behind him asked, “You got a problem with my brother?”

“Hey, Brad,” I said, smiling in relief at the sight of my brother.

“Brother?” Jackson gasped, giving Brad a nervous look.

“Yeah,” Brad agreed, making a show of cracking his knuckles. “My brother.”

“It was just a little misunderstanding,” Jackson told him as he backed away. “No problem…”

As soon as Jackson was gone, I told Brad, “Thanks…”

“No problem,” Brad responded, punching me on the shoulder hard enough to leave a bruise. “But you’re doing my chores for the next week…”

I let out a sigh and nodded my acceptance. Brad gave a nod, then turned and walked away. There were good things and bad things about having a brother like Brad. He often protected me from bullies, scaring them away with the threat of violence, but he had no problem with pushing me around himself.

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Reno Nevada, Tuesday afternoon, October 2nd.

The school day was over, much to my relief. I was on my way home, where I was eager to get to my room and work on my comic. I had a great picture in mind for Ms. Perfect, and I wanted to draw it before I lost my inspiration.

I was just across from the apartment where I lived with Brad and our dad, when I noticed the cop car parked in front. The apartment manager was next to the car, leaning over and talking to the cop. Then, as I watched, the apartment manager slipped him an envelope that was probably full of cash. His monthly protection fee.

I wasn’t surprised by the payoff, only that they were doing it in the open rather than in the manager’s office. At least when my dad had to slip the cops a little extra to look the other way, he was smart enough to do it behind closed doors, or where there weren’t any witnesses.

As my dad always said, life is like a game, and you had to pay to play. If you couldn’t afford the buy in, then you had no chance at the pot and the real players would roll right over you. I’d seen that first hand.

Before we’d moved here last year, we’d lived in a house that my dad owned. Unfortunately, the city council had declared eminent domain on the entire city block and kicked everyone out of their homes. Afterwards, they sold the property to a private company to build a high end country club.

I didn’t bother giving the cop or apartment manager another look, and casually walked past, acting as though I didn’t see a thing. Two minutes later, I was in our third floor apartment, where I found my dad home from work early.

My dad, Harry Cook, was a big man, though not quite as big or solid as Brad. And like Brad, he was good at getting his way through either physical violence or the threat of it. However, he was also an opportunist who usually had some scheme going.

I wasn’t the least bit interested in playing the tough guy, or even in looking for a quick buck, so I was something of a disappointment. The truth was, I really didn’t care. It all seemed pretty pointless to me.

“Hey, Dad,” I greeted him.

“Mikey,” he responded. Dad had a deck of cards spread out on the coffee table in front of him, and I was pretty sure that he’d just finished marking them, or at least, I wouldn’t have put it past him. “Make yourself useful and go get dinner.”

“Sure,” I responded with a shrug, holding out my hand and waiting for the money. There was no way I was going to spend my own meager allowance on dinner, and after a minute, Dad grudgingly slapped a couple twenties into my palm.

I took my time leaving the apartment and heading down the street. I already knew where I was going since we were regulars at the little Italian restaurant. None of us were even halfway decent in the kitchen, so we lived off a steady diet of take-out and delivery.

Once I arrived, I greeted Mel, the owner, “Hey, I’m back again.”

Mel was a stocky guy, only an a couple inches taller than me. He gave me a friendly nod before joking, “You’re here so often, I’m thinking about naming a pizza after you.”

“Just as long as there aren’t any anchovies,” I told him with a grin. “Or peppers. I hate peppers.”

“I think I can do that,” Mel replied with a chuckle. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“The usual,” I told him. “Lasagna, two chicken parms, and big side of meatballs.”

While I waited for my order to be readied, I took a seat and looked around the restaurant. I’d been here more often than I have my school library, and I wasn’t exactly a stranger there. In some ways, this place was my second home, or at least, the place I liked to hang out when I wanted to get away from the apartment.

I was looking around the décor on the walls, when I suddenly felt a strange pressure through my entire body. It passed in just a second, or at least most of it did, but I sat there gasping for breath, realizing that I could still feel something odd. I couldn’t really make sense of what it was I was feeling since I didn’t have a frame of reference, but I knew it wasn’t normal.

I was still trying to make sense of what I was feeling when Mel was ready with the food. “Thanks,” I told Mel, grabbing the bags of take-out and giving him another nod before leaving.

A few minutes later, I was back home, and I had barely made it through the door before Dad and Brad tore into the food. I ate my own chicken parm, which was pretty good as always, but I was still aware of the strange sensation.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the pressure I felt was actually more of a faint pull. In fact, it felt like I had some sort of bungee cord or tether, gently pulling me in another direction…back towards the restaurant. That faint stretching sensation had become more noticeable the further away I’d gone from the restaurant.

Out of curiosity, I gave a mental tug on that tether, and suddenly, I felt a strange pressure through my entire body, right before everything vanished. An instant later, I was back in the waiting area of the restaurant and looking around in shock and confusion.

“What the fuck?” I blurted out, trying to make sense of how I’d gotten back here. However, I did notice that the strange pressure and mental bungee cord were gone.

I just stood there for several seconds, trying to make sense of what had just happened to me. However, I wasn’t stupid. This kind of weirdness didn’t just happen to normal people, or at least, not most normal people. However, this was exactly the kind of weird thing that always happened around mutants.

“Oh shit,” I whispered with a sinking feeling. A moment later, I ran out the door.

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Reno Nevada, Saturday afternoon, October 6th.

“I’m a mutant,” I said as I stared into the bathroom mirror, stating this as a simple fact.

On Tuesday, I’d suddenly vanished from the dinner table, giving Dad and Brad a bit of a shock, though not nearly as large as the one I’d suffered. When I’d returned home a short time later, through the front door, I’d been forced to come up with an explanation for what happened, though I didn’t know much more than they had.

“I think I’m a mutant,” I’d told Dad, worried about what he’d think or do.

On the way back from the restaurant, for the second time, I’d had visions of how Dad might react to the news that I was probably a mutant. I’d imagined him flying into a rage or disowning me on the spot, however, the way he’d actually reacted, scared me even more than either of those possibilities. Instead of getting upset, my dad had just stared at me with a grin, and the same gleam in his eyes that he had whenever he saw an opportunity for an easy score.

After that rather shocking event, I’d been left to figure out whether I actually had manifested some kind of mutant power, or if what had happened to me was just a one-time event. I’d spent the entire night, willing myself to go back to the restaurant, without any success. But then, just as I’d been about to give up, I confirmed that I really did have powers, almost by accident.

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how these powers worked, and I was pretty sure that I’d figured them out. Unfortunately, I might be a mutant, but so far, my powers didn’t seem all that impressive.

As I stared into the bathroom mirror, I was clearly reminded that my mutation came with more than just those weird powers. Ever since Tuesday, I’d lost almost fifteen pounds. My fat was just melting away, and I no longer looked quite as chubby.

“Losing weight is a good thing,” I mused, reaching up to touch my hair. “But this…”

For some reason, my hair had darkened from its usual light brown into a dark chestnut brown, and it had grown about four inches longer. And though I couldn’t point out anything else specifically, I was pretty sure that my face looked just a little off as well.

I’d heard stories of mutants becoming hideous freaks after they manifested, so these changes concerned me more than a little. Fortunately, I didn’t seem to be growing scales or horns, but I was still pretty worried.

Suddenly, there was a loud pounding on the bathroom door, which could only come from one person. “Hurry the fuck up,” Brad called out from the other side of the door. “I need to take a crap.”

“It’s all yours,” I told Brad, not even bothering to open the door.

I could feel an invisible bungee cord stretching out from me to my bedroom, so I gave it a mental tug. An instant later, I was standing in the middle of my bedroom, and the invisible tether that had tied me to that spot was gone.

I stuck my head out of my bedroom and repeated, “It’s all yours.”

Brad glared at me from further down the hallway, muttered, “Damn show off,” and then stomped into the bathroom.

As I’d originally suspected, my mutant power was a kind of teleportation, but I couldn’t simply teleport wherever I wanted. Instead, I could set a sort of ‘anchor’ wherever I was at, and tether myself to that spot. Then, all I had to do was give a mental tug on that tether, and I’d suddenly get pulled back to the other end, removing the anchor and tether in the process.

“Now, where was I,” I muttered as I took a seat at my desk.

I looked over the comic page that I’d been working on, nodded to myself, then went to work on it. The current page had Major Macho bursting through a wall in stereotypical badass action hero fashion, as he attempted to catch Ms. Perfect by surprise.

“Have you still not learned how to use a door?” I asked aloud, which was what I was going to have Ms. Perfect say in the next panel. However, I had to finish with this one before I could get back to hers.

Though Major Macho was the star of my comic, I’d always enjoyed drawing Ms. Perfect a bit more. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to look at a hot looking babe over an overly muscled guy? And admittedly, I’d always related to Ms. Perfect a little more. She was smart, sexy, confident, and able to do just about anything she wanted. Who wouldn’t want that kind of freedom?

I was just finishing up with the final panel on that page, when there was a pounding on my bedroom door, followed by my dad coming inside. “Mikey,” he exclaimed. “I’ve got a job for you.”

My ears perked up at that…and all my warning bells began going off. “A job?”

“I need you to make a delivery,” Dad told me, looking rather satisfied with himself.

I gave Dad a suspicious look, already guessing why he was asking me to do this instead of Brad. With my new power, if things got a bit messy, I could just use it to escape. Ever since Tuesday, Dad had been looking for a way to use my powers, and it appeared that he’d found it.

“Take this,” Dad said, handing me a box that was about the size of a brick. “If anyone hassles you, haul ass back here.”

“Got it,” I told him with a scowl. Then, with a faint smirk, I added, “And when I get back, I think we need to talk about raising my allowance.”

“You know,” Dad told me as he left my room. “You being a mutant just might be pretty damn useful…”

Once Dad was gone, I used my new powers to create an anchor to my bedroom. I could now feel myself being tethered to my room, which gave me an odd sort of comfort since I could instantly return back to this spot if things got too hairy.

A few minutes later, I left the house to deliver the package like Dad asked. As I walked down the street, I could feel my tether stretching more and more. At about two blocks away from home, I reached the end of my link, and I could feel the pressure from it pulling at me.

I suddenly realized that I had two choices. I could let the tether snap me back to my room right that instant, or I could let it go. Since I had no intention of going home now, I let go of the link and all the pressure instantly vanished.

“There goes my shortcut home,” I muttered in annoyance. “Dad is really gonna owe me for this one.”

When I arrived at my destination, I stood outside the bar and wondered how I was going to get in. There was a big guy standing next to the door, and I wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to be a bouncer or some kind of guard. Either way, I was pretty sure that he wouldn’t let a kid like me in, at least not unless I greased his palm, and I didn’t have enough cash for anything like that.

Suddenly, I had a strange certainty that the guy at the door had a gun under his jacket. In fact, I was equally sure that he also had a knife and that his name was John. I couldn’t say why I knew these things, only that I somehow did.

After a little consideration, I went around the corner of the building and set an anchor. Then, I went up to the front entrance and told John, “Hi. I have a delivery for Mister Harper.”

John stared down at me with a hard expression that might have made me change my mind and leave, if I didn’t already have my exit plan arranged. “What delivery?” he finally demanded.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I was just told to bring it to Mister Harper.” Then, because I was pretty sure of what he was going to say next, I quickly added, “And I was told that I couldn’t give it to anyone else.”

For a moment, I thought John was going to demand I give him the package anyway, but instead, he said, “Come on inside, kid.”

I nodded, not trusting myself to say anything as I went inside with him. I was told to stay at the door while John went back and talked to someone else. A minute later, I was waved back to the back room.

As I walked through the bar, whatever that thing was that let me know those things about John, it was still going on. I knew the bartender had a shotgun beneath the bar and his hand was resting on it. I knew the old drunk in the corner wasn’t drunk, and that he too was armed. This strange sense of what was going on around me was extremely unnerving, but at the moment, I was also grateful for it.

“In there,” John told me, pointing to a door.

With a gulp and a nod, I went through the door. It was a large office, much larger than I would have expected from the back of a bar, and all the furniture was wood and leather. The man behind the desk was tall and athletic, and was dressed in a suit and wearing a pair of sunglasses.

Again, I was suddenly struck by a strange certainty, but this time, I was sure that he had superpowers. I didn’t know what kind of powers, only that they were dangerous. That just made me gulp again.

“I was told that you have something for me,” the man stated in a cold tone.

“Mister Harper?” I asked him nervously.

“That’s me,” he responded.

I suddenly wondered what it was my dad was mixed up in this time, because as far as I knew, this was the first time he’d ever gotten involved with someone who had powers. Then again, Dad might not know that Harper had powers.

“My dad told me to bring this to you,” I told Harper, carefully setting the box my dad had given me onto his desk, then stepping back.

I was curious about what was in the box, but I hadn’t asked Dad and I wasn’t about to ask Harper. I had a feeling that this was one of those things where the less I knew, the safer I’d be.

“Stay there,” Harper ordered me as I began to back out of his office. I froze.

He opened the box, pulling out a much nicer container that had been inside of it, one with a black felt covering. Seconds later, he opened that box and pulled out a handful of what looked like diamonds. My eyes shot open as I saw them and realized what I’d been carrying with me.

For a moment, Harper looked satisfied, then he froze, holding one of the diamonds up for a closer look. He dropped it onto his desk and held up another one, scowling intensely.

“It seems your father is trying to screw me,” Harper said, glaring at me. “These are fakes… Good quality fakes, but fakes nonetheless…”

“I didn’t know,” I blurted out, taking a fearful step back. “Dad never told me what was in the box…”

Harper stood up, looking far scarier than any bully in school. “I’m afraid that I have to send your father a message…”

Those words were all I needed to turn and run. I was barely out of his office when Harper yelled, “Get the kid.”

The ‘drunk’ in the corner immediately leapt to his feet and drew a gun on me, while the bartender pulled out his shotgun and actually opened fire. I dove to the side the moment I saw him making his move, surprising myself with just how quickly I was able to do so. However, I wasn’t quite fast enough as a couple pellets caught me in my upper arm and shoulder.

I yelled in pain, but my survival instincts were sharp enough that I didn’t just grab my injuries and start crying. Instead, I took one quick glance towards the door, where John was waiting, then ran to the open bathroom.

“Get that kid,” Harper yelled again.

I didn’t wait for Harper or his people to come after me, and as soon as I was out of sight, I gave a mental tug on my tether. An instant later, I was outside the building, where I could catch my breath and check my wounds.

I reached to where I’d been hit in my arm, and to my surprise, there was a little blood…but no wound. Instead, I had a small round scar, which felt very tender but didn’t hurt very much. I couldn’t quite reach my shoulder, but that felt about the same as my arm.

“Holy shit,” I gasped, stunned by this latest revelation about my mutant powers.

Since my tether had been used up when I’d teleported back to this spot, I set a new anchor, just in case. As soon as I’d done that, I started running for home, eager to get away as quick as I could. And the, once I got home, Dad and I were going to have a little talk.

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Reno Nevada, Monday afternoon, October 8th.

There is a universally accepted rule that Mondays suck. For kids like me, going back to school after having the weekend off, and then having to turn in all the homework that we were supposed to have done, was quite discouraging. For most adults, Mondays meant going back to work and dealing with the bullshit of rude customers, obnoxious bosses, and everything else that comes from being part of the rat rate. And for my dad, who never works a regular Monday through Friday shift, I was pretty sure that he hated Mondays just on general principal.

Even though I was back in the great social experiment that they called school, and sitting in the middle of Mrs. Mueller’s biology class, my thoughts were still on the events of Saturday. I didn’t know what kind of scheme Dad was involved in, only that he’d sent me into the lion’s den with a box full of fake diamonds. I’d almost been killed as a result, and Dad still refused to tell me what was going on.

“Don’t worry about Harper,” Dad had told me, looking quite smug as he did so. “He doesn’t even know who I really am. I used a fake identity and threw in a few red herring, so we’re all safe. Just keep your head down and your eyes open though…just in case.”

I was pissed at Dad, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the whole reason he’d sent me was because I had the ability to escape when he couldn’t have. Of course, that hadn’t stopped me from being shot.

As I thought about my narrow escape, I rubbed my arm where I’d been hit with the shotgun pellet. The injury had healed over and scarred almost immediately, but I’d fallen and scraped my elbow on the way to school this morning, and it was still messed up. Why had I healed after being shot, but not after scraping my elbow? The only thing I could think of, was that after being shot, I’d used my powers to teleport away, and I hadn’t done that today.

The events of Saturday had given me a lot of questions, and made me realize that I didn’t really know as much about my new powers as I thought I did. Not only was there the matter of my healing, but there was also the fact that I’d somehow known things that I shouldn’t have. I’d known John’s name, who in the bar was armed, and even that Harper had powers. Of course, I’d never seen Harper actually use any powers, but I had seen the ‘drunk’ and the bartender pull out their weapons. And unlike with the healing, that hadn’t gone away.

Ever since Saturday, I was still having small flashes of insight, where I suddenly ‘knew’ things about the people and places around me. While I was sitting in my algebra class, I became certain that my teacher was cheating on her husband. When I sat next to Donnie Artez in English, I’d known that he had a bag of weed in his backpack. And when I’d seen our school principal in the hallway between classes, I’d been struck with the realization that he was gay.

At first, I’d wondered if I had mind reading as well as that weird teleportation, but I didn’t think I was hearing anyone’s thoughts. And besides, when I’d walked into my history class before anyone else had arrived, even the teacher, I’d suddenly known that there was a gun locked up in one of the drawers of the teacher’s desk. Instead of mind reading, it seemed that I had some kind of ESP.

Almost as soon as I realized that I had this ability, I began considering how I might be able to use it. Could I tell what cards were in another player’s hand? Would I be able to predict what card would be drawn from a deck next? The things I was picking up didn’t actually seem to be that specific, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to choose what I suddenly ‘knew’. So far, I hadn’t had any luck when I tried.

And then there was the fact that casinos tended to be on the lookout for cheats, even ones who uses mutant powers. I had a feeling that if I crossed any of the casinos that way, I’d probably be buried in a shallow grave somewhere in the desert.

I glanced at Mrs. Mueller, still not paying a lot of attention as she droned on about chromosomes, though I wondered what she’d say about mutant powers. How did people become mutants anyway, because the whole thing about spontaneously changing and manifesting powers was pretty damn weird. It was no wonder that there were so many people who saw mutants as freaks.

On one hand, the idea of actually having powers like Major Macho or Ms. Perfect was exciting, but on the other hand, it would have been nice to have some simple powers that made a bit more sense. Being able to teleport normally would have been awesome, but the way I did it was a little less useful. And then, there was also the minor fact, that if anyone actually found out I was a mutant, it would be extremely dangerous for me.

Just then, Aaron distracted me from my thoughts by leaning over from the seat beside mine and whispering, “What did she say?”

“She said that cows and chickens can reproduce together,” I quietly responded, just to mess with him. “It just takes a lot of booze.”

Aaron gave me a look of annoyance, which confirmed that he wasn’t stupid enough to fall for that. However, he did leave me alone for the rest of the class, which was all that I’d really wanted. However, as soon as class ended, he was there again, asking if I had any new pages for my comic.

“I didn’t get much done this weekend,” I told him, showing what I had finished. “I’ve been a little…distracted.”

Aaron nodded his head in understanding, though the truth was, he had absolutely no idea of what I’d really been up to. As much as I enjoyed drawing and working on my comic, that was nothing compared to dealing with that kind of thing for real.

“Hey, Mikey,” Aaron said, flashing me a grin. “That was awesome how you shot up that rope today in gym. I mean, normally, you can’t even make it halfway up, and today you climbed it like it was nothing.”

“I just had a good day,” I responded, suddenly feeling self-conscious.

The fact was, normally I was less than athletic, and as Aaron had just pointed out, I sucked in PE. Whenever our sadistic PE teacher made us climb the ropes in some vain attempt to reach the top, I never did especially well. But today, for some reason, I’d been able to climb it all the way to the top without much effort. Obviously, this was yet another benefit of my mutation, even if it wasn’t nearly as impressive as my escape route trick.

“I bet Major Macho couldn’t have done it any better,” Aaron told me with a broad grin. “Maybe you’re a mutant…”

“Don’t even joke about that,” I snapped at Aaron, hoping that no one heard him. I didn’t want anyone to get any ideas, especially since I actually was a mutant. “Jenna Morton is really into Humanity First, and if she overhears you and gets the wrong idea, I might end up with those guys picketing my house or something.” The ‘something’, which I hadn’t specified, could have been a firebombing or a number of other equally unpleasant results.

“Sorry,” Aaron responded with an apologetic shrug. However, he still added, “But that was cool…”

“I don’t think it will happen again,” I said, knowing that I’d have to be a lot more careful from now on. “I just got lucky today.”

“Well, your pictures are good,” Aaron told me, changing topics back to the one subject we could always talk about. “Have you ever thought of doing some kind of cameos, like, maybe adding Doctor Amazing or the Magus?”

I considered that for a moment, then shook my head. “Not really. I mean, bringing in real people might tempt them to sue me or something.”

I probably could have continued talking with Aaron about my comic, but we only had a limited amount of time until our next class, the last of the day, and we’d already used most of it up. I began putting my drawings and books into my bag and was about to leave Mrs. Mueller’s room, when Aaron stopped me again.

“Mikey,” he said, staring at me with a strange expression. “You look kind of…different.”

Those words made me wince, because I knew just how true they were. I did look different, and it was more than just the fact that I’d lost weight or that my hair had become longer and darker. Most people never paid me much attention, so didn’t notice these changes, but Aaron… If anything, I should have been surprised that he hadn’t noticed them earlier.

“What’s going on?” he asked me. Then his eyes went wide and he quickly looked around before whispering, “Are you a mutant?”

My heart skipped a beat at the question. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I answered in a flat tone. “And if I was a mutant, I certainly wouldn’t talk about it here at school.”

Aaron’s eyes widened a little more but he gave me a faint nod of acknowledgement. “Sure, I get you.”

A few seconds later, Aaron and I were both out the door and on our way to our final classes of the day. He had some art class, while I had social studies. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be paying any more attention in that class than I had in my last one, and as it turned out, I was right.

The last class of the day passed in the blink of an eye, and before I knew it, school was over for the day. As soon as the last bell rang, just about everyone rushed out the door as fast as possible. I took my time to get up and leave.

I had just started down the hallway when I found my path blocked. Jackson stepped out in front of me, puffing himself up to look even more intimidating, not that he needed it. The instant I saw him, I knew that he must be planning to continue the business from last week that Brad had interrupted.

“Your brother ain’t here to protect you this time,” Jackson announced with a smirk.

“Really?” I asked wryly. “You’re really gonna go with this cliché?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jackson demanded.

I shook my head sadly, then told him, “Sorry, but I’m not going into a locker or head first into a toilet, so you can forget whatever it is you have planned.”

With that, I turned and ran while Jackson started to follow me. As soon as I turned around a corner, I dove into an open classroom door and pulled on my tether. I’d set an anchor as soon as I arrived at school this morning, remembering how useful it had been to have an escape route on Saturday, and making sure that I had one here. An instant later, I was outside the school, right behind some hedges where I wouldn’t be seen.

I smirked to myself and decided that I was really starting to like being a mutant. These powers were definitely starting to come in handy, and I could easily get used to this.

“Oh yeah,” I mused, remembering my earlier thoughts about my powers, and specifically, about something I’d been planning to test. I looked at my scraped elbow and saw that it was completely healed, without so much as a scar. Then I looked at my arm where I’d previously been hit with a shotgun pellet, and to my surprise, the scar was now gone.

“So, teleporting actually heals me,” I said in amazement. I ran a finger over my formerly scuffed elbow and grinned. Then, I started towards my waiting bus, saying, “Yeah, I can get used to this.”

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Reno Nevada, Tuesday afternoon, October 9th.

I sat in the waiting area of my favorite restaurant, trying to be patient while Mel finished getting our usual dinner order ready. While I sat there, I slowly looked around, remembering the fact that it was one week ago, in this very space, that I’d discovered I was a mutant. However, even after a week, I was still trying to wrap my head around everything that came with that, and what it meant for me.

I absently rubbed the palm of my left hand, frowning as I thought about the experiment I’d performed earlier today. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the way my scuffed elbow and my injury from Saturday had healed, so I’d used a razor blade to make a small cut on my palm. After ten minutes, the cut had still been there, so I’d made a short teleport, and the cut vanished. However, I’d also realized that whenever I teleported like that, I not only healed from my injuries, but that my body also changed a little more.

Until now, I’d been a little concerned about the changes my body was going through, but not nearly as worried as I probably should have been. After all, I’d lost weight and had become more athletic, which weren’t things that most people would complain of. However, my hair had also darkened and lengthened, and I’d noticed a number of smaller changes that were only now becoming apparent. So far, these weren’t really bad, and I hadn’t seen any signs of fur, scales, or anything else really weird, but that didn’t mean those kinds of things might not come.

“Hey, Mikey,” Mel called to get my attention. “Your order is ready.”

“Thanks,” I told him, trying to ignore the slow trickle of information from my powers, which now told me that he had four kids and was mildly allergic to strawberries. I gave him a faint smile, grabbed the bags containing my food, and took off.

I barely stepped out the door when I was suddenly struck with the feeling that I was in danger, though it took me several seconds before I realized why. A man was climbing out of a car in the parking look, and I immediately recognized him as the bartender from Saturday. I wasn’t about to forget someone who’d shot at me. At the moment, I couldn’t see any weapons on him, but I still knew that he was armed with a pistol and a knife. And at the moment, he didn’t appear to have seen me yet so I reached for my escape route and teleported back home.

The moment I appeared in the living room of our apartment, I blurted out, “Oh shit…”

“Where the hell is our dinner?” Dad immediately demanded, which made me realize that the food hadn’t come with me.

“Shit,” I cursed, thinking about both the lost food and the bartender. I glared at Dad since this was all his fault and said, “One of Harper’s guys was there.”

This time, it was Dad’s turn to mutter a few profanities. “And he came after you?”

I shook my head at that. “I saw him before he saw me.”

“Good,” Dad responded with a deep scowl. “It’s all that bastard Marco’s fault… He assured me those diamonds were dead perfect. All I had to do was slip those to Harper, and were supposed to be good…”

“Well, it didn’t work,” I pointed out as I glared at Dad. “Now those guys are after ME.”

“Then, let’s just go kick their asses,” Brad offered as he came into the room. He made a show of cracking his knuckles, which made me roll my eyes. “And more importantly, what are we gonna do for dinner?”

“You’re welcome to go get it,” I pointed out, gesturing to the door. “I think it’s probably on the ground next to the restaurant door. Or at least, that’s where I assume it is, since it didn’t come with me.”

Brad came over and stared down at me, obviously intending to intimidate me into being quiet, or possibly into going out and getting dinner again. However, after several seconds, he exclaimed, “Your eyes…”

“My eyes?” I blinked in confusion.

“What the hell happened to your eyes?” Brad demanded. Then he gave me a suspicious look. “Is this more of that weird mutant crap?”

I had no idea what Brad was talking about, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Since my body was already changing, I hurried to the bathroom and stared into the mirror above the sink, immediately seeing what Brad meant.

“No way,” I gasped in surprise.

The irises in both of my eyes had changed from their normally dull brown, to a brilliant emerald green. However, as surprising as that was, I was even more shocked to see that the whites of my right eye had turned solid black. My left eye looked different than normal, but still within the normal range for a human, but my right eye stood out as strange and even a bit creepy.

“No way,” I repeated in stunned disbelief.

I knew those eyes…even the odd right one. I should know them, since I’d imagined them often enough, even more than I’d drawn them. Those eyes belonged to Ms. Perfect. Her right eye was her one feature that was less than perfect, which was why she usually hid it behind her hair. Now, I somehow had those eyes.

A cold sinking feeling settled into my guts as I realized that Ms. Perfect’s eyes weren’t the only thing of hers that I had. I reached up and touched my hair, which was now a rich dark brown, which could easily be mistaken as black in the right light…just like Ms. Perfect’s. And my chest. Even though I’d lost most of my fat over the last week, some of his remained on my chest, which now looked like a small pair of breasts.

“I’m turning into her,” I whispered, staring at my reflection and seeing other signs, lots of small ones that all added up to one conclusion. “I’m turning into Ms. Perfect…”

The idea of turning into a girl...into a fictional character that I’d created…was completely and utterly shocking. I stood there for a moment, trying to absorb this, while also wondering why couldn’t I turn into Major Macho instead. After all, he was big, strong, and manly. If I turned into him, at least Dad would be happy, but with Ms. Perfect… I shuddered in dread at what he’d say.

When I went back into the living room a minute later, still shaking at this discovery, I saw Dad talking on his cell phone. Without even listening to the conversation, I ‘knew’ that Marco was on the other end. I didn’t know much about Marco, other than that Dad had been working with the guy lately, and that he was probably getting my dad in a lot deeper than he could handle.

As soon as Dad ended the call, he stared at me with a hungry expression, one that clearly said that he was seeing me as an ‘opportunity’ rather than as his son. I didn’t need any ESP to tell me that he had some crazy scheme in mind, and that I wasn’t going to like it at all.

“Marco and I have a plan,” he announced, grinning the same way he always did when he thought he was about to make a good score. “And with you and your freaky ass powers, we can pull it off…”

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Reno Nevada, Friday October 12th.

I was sitting at a bus stop, with my behind parked on a hard and uncomfortable bench while I watched the building across the street from me. I’d been sitting there for over an hour while several busses had already come and gone. Of course, I wasn’t actually waiting on a bus.

“I can’t believe Dad talked me into this,” I grumbled, absently adjusting the sunglasses that hid my eyes and then the baseball cap which covered my dark, shoulder length hair. “Why couldn’t Brad do this instead?”

Of course, I already knew the answer to that. I was doing this instead of Brad, because I happened to have mutant powers. I’d heard that some kids got rejected by their parents when they manifested as mutants, and I almost wished that I had that problem. Instead, I had a dad who saw me as a golden ticket to easy street, or at least, as a tool he could use for his latest scheme.

I scowled as I considered what Dad was up to, and how he’d pulled me right into the middle of it. Unfortunately, Dad wasn’t very forthcoming with the details, but I’d picked up enough to have a general idea of what was going on.

Apparently, Dad and Marco had come up with a ‘brilliant’ scheme to ‘earn’ some easy money. They’d learned about a guy who buys gemstones for a chain of jewelry stores, and somehow, they heard that he’d been skimming loose diamonds off the top for years, and that he had them stashed away in his home safe. Dad and Marco waited until this guy was off on some business trip, about two weeks ago, then they broke into his house. Unfortunately, once they found the safe and broke it open, it was almost completely empty.

Normally, an empty safe would probably just be considered a major disappointment, but in this case, it was a serious problem. It turns out, Dad and Marco had made a deal with Mr. Harper. Harper had greased a few wheels, helped them get past the security system, and had even giving them the tools they used to open the safe, and in exchange, he was supposed to get more than half the diamonds. Since Dad and Marco didn’t think Harper would believe them about the safe being empty, or accept that as an excuse for his not being paid, they’d come up with the fake diamond plan, which only made things worse.

“What idiots,” I muttered bitterly, wondering how Dad had survived this long. “It’s no wonder Mom left his sorry ass.” I just wished that Mom had taken me with her when she left. Then again, since she’d died of an overdose less than a year later, it was probably a good thing that she didn’t.

I’d always known that Dad was involved in a lot of less than legal businesses, but I’d always thought it was more in the line of the occasional con job than in straight out robbery. This time, Dad had gotten himself in a lot deeper than ever before, and was now in over his head.

I let out an exasperated sigh, wishing that I could just walk away and let Dad dig himself out of this mess he’d gotten himself into, but that wasn’t an option. Unfortunately, Dad had pulled me into the mud with him. I was the one who’d delivered the fake diamonds to Harper, and who had then embarrassed him by escaping, so I seriously doubted that he was going to just let me walk away. My only way out of this mess was to stick with Dad and Marco…and their new plan, which seemed just as hair-brained as the last couple.

“Marco is a bad influence on you, Dad,” I said with a sigh. Dad used to be smarter than this, or maybe, I was just losing my youthful naiveté.

At least, with my new powers, I had a chance of getting out of this mess without either ending up in jail, or with my ass shot off. Of course, if I didn’t have these powers, then Dad probably never would have pulled me into it to begin with. Probably.

Thinking about my powers brought my thoughts back to the fact that my body was changing, and that I seemed to be turning into Ms. Perfect. At first, the realization that I was turning into a girl had left me shocked and absolutely horrified. What would Dad think? Or Brad? I already had more than enough trouble with people teasing me about being a wimp, so if they found out that I was turning into a girl as well… I shuddered at the thought of what that would mean for me.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t really scared of turning into a girl. I was scared about what OTHER people would think…and of what they might do to me. I was even more surprised to realize that the idea of turning into Ms. Perfect…excited me. I’d always related to Ms. Perfect a lot more than I had Major Macho, but I’d never imagined that I might turn into her…or that I’d actually be looking forward to it.

I was confused by my own emotions, which made no sense to me. What guy in his right mind, would want to turn into a girl? The answer, it seemed, was me. But why? Though I hadn’t really wanted to admit it to myself, I’d always envied Ms. Perfect’s beauty, grace, and style. On some level, have I always wanted to be her? Have I always wanted to be a girl, and just hadn’t realized it? The answer, I was starting to suspect, was yes.

Of course, I might be starting to look like Ms. Perfect, but I wasn’t actually turning into her. For one thing, there were my powers. Ms. Perfect was absolutely brilliant, an Olympic level athlete, and an expert in numerous different areas, but she didn’t actually have any powers. In that way, she was sort of like a female Batman.

After discovering that I was a mutant, I’d done a little research online to try learning more about my new powers. It seemed that my teleportation trick was what they called a warper power, and I seemed to have some kind of esper ability as well, though neither of those powers seemed very powerful. However, I suspected that I might also be an exemplar, which was why I was starting to look like Ms. Perfect.

I let out a deep sigh, still afraid of what Dad would say once he realized how I was changing. So far, he was so distracted by what my powers could do for his schemes, that he barely seemed to even notice. However, once this whole situation was done with, I was sure that there’d be questions, ones that I wasn’t sure how to answer. After all, I was already starting to look a little girly.

“But first,” I said, reminding myself why I was there. I stared at the building across the street, knowing that it was almost time.

The building that I’d been carefully watching for the last hour was a jewelry store. Specifically, it was the flagship store for a local jewelry store chain, and this particular location acted as something of a distribution center for the whole chain. Or at least, that was what Dad told me.

The ‘brilliant’ plan that Dad and Marco had come up with, was to hit this place and grab a bunch of loose stones. They figured that if they could pull this off, they could pay off Harper and still walk away with a nice score. Of course, I thought the entire plan was sheer idiocy, and the only reason it even had a chance of working was because of my powers.

“I can’t believe I agreed to go along with this,” I grumbled in disgust.

Of course, Dad hadn’t given me much choice. Not only was he family, but I really wanted to get Harper off my ass. I figured that in this case, Dad was probably right. If we actually did pay Harper what Dad owed him…plus a REALLY nice bonus, he’d be willing to forget the whole thing. Or at least, I hoped that he would.

“Come on and hurry up,” I muttered impatiently. “My ass is going numb.”

Then, I saw what I’d been waiting for, as a very plain looking white van parked in front of the store. In spite of its appearance, I’d been told that this van was actually a small armored car, one that was designed to blend in and not be noticed, so that no one would realize that it often carried a lot of jewelry. If what Dad said was right, they were in the process of dropping off some new stones, which would later be put into various settings and then sold.

When the van opened, a man climbed out of the back carrying nothing but a briefcase. Most of the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of the van, the man, or the briefcase, if it wasn’t for the fact that there were actually three guards with him. None of them were really dressed like you’d expect of guards, but I ‘knew’ that they were all armed, and that they were keeping a close eye in case anyone tried anything.

My cell phone rang, and when I answered, Dad immediately said, “We’re getting in place now. You know what to do.”

“Yeah,” I responded with a scowl, standing up as I did so. “I know.”

Then I paused, having a faint sense that something was wrong, though I didn’t know what. I slowly looked around, not seeing anything at first, but after a few seconds, I saw a woman further down the sidewalk. She didn’t stand out in any way, but I ‘knew’ that she had powers. Somehow, I must have picked up on that.

I glanced back towards the building, and saw the guards stepping out the front door and then locking a metal gate over the whole thing. According to Dad, this was part of their procedure, that they’d shut the store down until they had the new materials secure in the back. However, once they had the store locked up, the guards were already getting back into the van and leaving.

“You’re up,” Dad told me over the phone.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I responded, looking back in the direction of the woman, who’d moved on. “I think…”

“I don’t care what you think,” Dad snapped. “Do your job.” With that, the call went dead.

For a moment, I just glared at my phone, thinking of all sorts of clever things I should have told Dad before he hung up, but it was too late now. Instead, I just muttered a quiet profanity, then prepared to do my part. I already had on a hat and sunglasses, so I put on one of those cheap and disposable respirator masks that Dad bought from the hardware store for a couple bucks. Once I was ready, I made my move.

Late yesterday afternoon, when the store had been at its busiest, I went inside and looked around, blending in with the crowd as I took note of where every security camera was. I also left an anchor, right in a corner spot where none of the cameras could see. With a feeling of intense worry, I reached into my backpack, pulled out two smoke grenades that Dad had given me, and then I mentally tugged on my tether.

As soon as I appeared in the jewelry store, I noted that there were only two other people, and one of them was the man with the briefcase. However, I immediately threw the smoke bombs, before they even realized that I was there, then I ran for the door and unlocked it. A second later, Dad and Marco burst into the shop, while I ran out.

The idea was that after I’d done my part, I would haul ass and get away from there, only meeting up with Dad again back at the apartment. I hadn’t gone very far before Dad and Marco rushed back out of the store, briefcase in hand. I paused, turning back to watch them for several seconds when I had another bad feeling. Before I could figure out what was setting off this bad feeling, she appeared.

A flying woman dropped from the sky and hovered several feet in the air, with what looked like a small tornado swirling around her. She had well-tanned skin and black hair, though I couldn’t make out her features because she had a dark blue mask over half her face. She wore a costume that was dark blue and white, and which had webbed wings along her arms and side, like one of those flying suits that adrenaline junkies sometimes used to glide.

“Windswept,” I exclaimed, recognizing one of the local superheroes. And what was more, I realized that she was also the same woman I’d seen right before the robbery. “No wonder I had a bad feeling about this…”

I froze where I was for a moment, not sure what to do. I couldn’t just run away and leave Dad there. Well, actually I could, but that would create all sorts of other problems. On the other hand, I might have powers, but I was pretty sure that they wouldn’t do much good against a real superhero. Being able to teleport away from trouble didn’t mean that I was a match for her.

Before I could think of what to do, a massive gust of wind came out of nowhere and hit Dad and his partner, sending them both flying back to slam into the wall of the jewelry store. The wind was still blowing, pinning them in place. Windswept was gesturing towards them, obviously controlling the wind, though she had an almost bored look on her face. I guess a couple of small time crooks weren’t nearly as exciting to deal with as a supervillain.

I stared at Windswept, afraid that she’d notice me and come after me next. I really wanted to just turn and run away before that could happen, but that would mean abandoning Dad.

“What would Major Macho do?” I asked myself, before realizing that was the wrong question. “What would Ms. Perfect do?”

Ms. Perfect would probably send some disposable minions after Windswept to keep her distracted while she got away with whatever it was that she was really after. That might work, if I had a bunch of disposable minions. Unfortunately, all I had was myself.

“Damn,” I muttered with a wince. “I must be crazy.”

With that, I set an anchor, then started running right towards Windswept, making sure that my breather mask was still on. She saw me coming and turned to look at me, so I flipped her off, then started running in another direction.

“Stop where you are,” Windswept ordered, sending a gust of wind at me.

Normally, this blast of wind would have been enough to knock me over, but ever since I’d manifested, I’d become much more athletic. I was able to add an extra burst of speed and get out of range of the wind.

I was afraid of getting caught, but to my surprise, I actually felt a strange sense of excitement at this. I glanced back, seeing that Windswept had begun to fly after me, turning her back on Dad and Marco, which was exactly what I’d wanted.

“You’ll never catch me,” I called back, sliding across the hood of a parked car and then ducking down behind it right before another blast of wind hit.

I peeked my head around the corner of the car, seeing that Dad and Marco were taking advantage of the opportunity to run. Unfortunately, Windswept took advantage of my distraction to come around the car.

“Surrender now,” she commanded, making me let out a squeak and try running. A blast of wind sent me flying, where I landed face first on the ground. “You are under arrest…”

“For what crime?” I asked her with a grin she couldn’t see. “As far as I know, it isn’t illegal to flip off some showoff with delusions of grandeur…” Of course, I didn’t know if she’d actually seen me running out of the jewelry store or not, but it didn’t hurt to play innocent.

Windswept hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough for me to scramble to my feet and begin running again. Once again, a massive blast of wind hit me, and then kept swirling around me like some kind of miniature tornado, pinning me to the ground.

“What are you up to?” Windswept demanded.

I just smiled, unable to move much because of the wind, though in spite of that, I wasn’t really concerned. Instead, I gave a mental tug on my tether, and suddenly, I was back where I started. Before Windswept could locate me, I went back to the original plan, and hauled ass out of the area as fast as I could.

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Reno Nevada, Saturday October 13th.

I was sitting at the desk in my bedroom, hunched over a sheet of paper and focusing intently on my drawing. I wasn’t actually working on my comic, just a few doodles and character sketches. At that moment, I probably would have seemed calm to anyone watching, but the truth was, I was extremely worried.

Yesterday, I’d fought a superhero. I must have been out of my mind, because the idea of me fighting a superhero, even a lower level one like Windswept, was completely and utterly ludicrous. Sure, I went in knowing that I had an escape route ready, but I still must have been crazy.

“And I actually got away with it too,” I reminded myself, though that didn’t make me feel much better.

I kept expecting Windswept or the cops to suddenly show up to arrest me. In fact, when the wind had picked up last night, I’d been certain it was because of Windswept, and I’d spent half the night peeking out my window for a glimpse of her.

Of course, the cops and heroes weren’t my only worries, and not even my biggest one. That belonged to Harper, who hopefully, wouldn’t be a problem for much longer. Dad had been gone all morning, taking the diamonds to Harper in order to apologize for the ‘misunderstanding’. I was worried about Dad, because he’d gone into the lion’s den, and if Harper didn’t accept his apology, then there was a good chance that he wouldn’t be coming back.

With a deep sigh, I closed my eyes and tried using my weird ESP power to tell me how Dad was doing, but that didn’t do any good. Unfortunately, my power didn’t seem to work like that. Instead, I just seemed to get odd bits of information about the people and things around me, especially when they might be dangerous.

After a minute, I let out another sigh, then thought about the other thing that had me concerned. I cautiously poked at my chest, which had become swollen enough that my budding breasts were now noticeable as such. They still weren’t very large, but they were enough to give away the fact that I was turning into a girl to anyone who paid attention. There were other changes too, which were growing more obvious. If this continued, then I wouldn’t be able to hide this from Dad for much longer. Maybe another week at most.

“Maybe if I wrap them up with bandages,” I mused, holding my small breasts with a strange mixture of eagerness and worry. A growing part of me wanted them to be bigger, yet another part was afraid of the change and wanted it to stop.

That just made me think of Little Mikey, who was also undergoing his own opposite change. Little Mikey was noticeably smaller than he used to be, and I was pretty sure that my balls were starting to pull up inside of me. I had no idea how long it would take to fully turn into a girl down there, but every time I teleported, I seemed to change a little more.

“I should stop teleporting,” I told myself, thinking that this would make it easier to hide my changes from Dad. However, I also felt the temptation to go out and teleport as much as I could in order to speed things along. It was enough to make me shake my head in frustration. “I should probably break the news to Dad first.”

Suddenly, there was a loud pounding on my door, followed by the door flying open. I jumped at that, momentarily afraid that the cops had come for me. But then, I saw that it was only Brad and let out a sigh of relief.

“Dad told me to take care of the laundry before he left,” Brad announced. “So go take care of it…”

“I did the laundry the last two times,” I reminded my brother with a scowl. “And I did dishes last night…”

“Well whoopety fuckin doo,” he responded with a roll of his eyes. “You get freaky eyes, and now you think you’re too good to do your chores…”

“You mean YOUR chores,” I pointed out, trying to keep the smile off my face.

Brad glared at me and cracked his knuckles, but at the moment, it was more to make a point than a real threat. The truth was, we were in the middle of a negotiation, and this was his traditional opening tactic.

“I fought a superhero yesterday,” I commented, acting almost as though it was no big deal. “And not only did I help Dad on his big job, but I also helped him stay out of jail. Now, whose side do you think he’s going to take when he gets home?”

“Fine,” Brad snapped in annoyance. “Five bucks…”

I made a show of thinking about it, then shook my head. “Ten bucks, and I’ll take care of dishes for the next three days too…”

Brad glared at me for a moment before nodding agreement. “Deal.” A few seconds later, he reached into his pocket, pulled out the money and slapped it down on top of my dresser. “Get a damn haircut,” he abruptly told me as he turned to leave. “You’re starting to look like a fuckin chick.”

“I wonder why,” I quietly responded with a roll of my eyes.

When I left my room a couple minutes later to go take care of laundry, I could hear Brad back in his bedroom, or at least, I could hear the ‘clank clank clank’ of his weight set. This was a pretty familiar routine, since Brad absolutely hated having to do anything around the house, especially ‘girl work’. And the truth was, Brad didn’t even need to bully me into doing his chores for him, because if he didn’t do them, then Dad would simply make me do them instead. At least, this way, I’d get something out of it.

Ten minutes later, the washing machine was packed up and running, and I went to the kitchen to empty the dish washer. Since we ate so much takeout, doing dishes wasn’t really that bad a chore, though I liked to exaggerate how long it took just so I could squeeze out a little extra cash from Brad.

A short time later, Brad came out of his room, flexing his muscles and showing off a bit like he always did after working out. “I’m off to see my girlfriend,” he told me, more to brag about the fact that he had a girlfriend than because he wanted me know where he was. “Later, loser.”

“Later, asshole,” I responded, absently waving to him as he left.

It wasn’t much longer before Dad returned home, coming into the apartment and slamming the door behind him. He had a dark look on his face, one that suggested that he didn’t have a very good morning. However, the fact that he was actually home and had no signs of blood or broken bones was a good indication that things weren’t all that bad.

“Are you good with Harper?” I asked Dad, trying to keep my voice neutral.

“Yeah,” Dad responded with a nod. “Harper isn’t a problem anymore.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “Good.” Now I only had to worry about Windswept and the cops, but since none of them had seen any of our faces, they were unlikely to be too big of a problem…regardless of what my nerves said. Or at least, I hoped that was the case.

“So, what’s wrong?” I asked Dad. I knew that something was wrong, and it wasn’t my ESP. It was just good sense and knowing my dad. If everything was hunky dory, he would have come home in a better mood than he was currently in. “Is it Marco? Did he skip town with the rest of the score?”

Dad stared at me for several long seconds with a grim expression. “Yeah,” he finally answered. “It’s Marco. Come on, Mikey. I need your help to fix something.” I hesitated a moment, but Dad snapped. “Come on. Move it.”

Since Dad obviously wasn’t ready to spill the beans yet, I grabbed my sunglasses so I could hide my eyes, and a baseball cap for my hair. After yesterday, anything I could do to keep people from recognizing me, the better. Of course, it wasn’t until we were out the door that I realized that with the baseball cap and shades, Windswept would be even more likely to recognize me.

Dad drove us to the other side of town, not telling me where we were going until we arrived. We pulled up into the parking lot of the Arch, a casino and hotel that earned its name from the large arch that had been set up in front of it, and which looked something like a smaller version of the one in St. Louis. Without a word, Dad got out of the car and started for the doors, gesturing for me to follow.

As soon as we stepped into the lobby, my powers began to point out the location of every camera, though I carefully kept my head down and avoided looking at them. Between that and my hat, they’d have a hard time getting a good image of my face. However, my power also began to bring other details to my attention, such as the fact there were several men around who were armed, even if they didn’t look it.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I muttered, not sure how much of that feeling came from my powers and how much was common sense. I set an anchor, wishing that I’d thought to do that when I was still outside.

We stopped at the far side of the lobby where some elevators were located, and Dad told me, “Set one of your anchor things right here.” He pointed to a spot on the ground.

“Okay,” I responded, though I didn’t bother to do so since I already had an anchor set, and one that was a little closer to the door.

Dad nodded, looking even more grim as he called the elevator. Too my surprise, we went up to the top floor, and when we stepped out of the elevator, there were two men standing there and either side. I immediately realized that they were both armed, though I couldn’t see their weapons at the moment. I glanced to Dad, feeling even more worried about what was going on.

“Mister Corvas is expecting us,” Dad said, his voice shaking with fear though he tried covering it.

I gulped, shaking a little as I asked, “What’s going on?”

“Go in,” one man instructed us. I suddenly ‘knew’ that his name was Paul, not that it really mattered. The other man opened a pair of large wooden doors and gestured for us to go through.

I had a VERY bad feeling about this, and as soon as I stepped through the doors, I realized that it was right. We were in a very large office, with the entire far wall being covered with floor to ceiling windows. There were a half dozen people already present in the room, and I immediately recognized two of them.

Mister Harper was standing to the side, armed though he didn’t have a weapon in his hand. Previously, my powers had told me that he had some sort of power, but now, I was getting the impression that it might be some kind of increased strength. The other person I knew was Marco, who was tied to a chair with a pool of blood beneath him. I didn’t even need my powers to tell me that he was already dead.

My powers immediately pointed out who Mr. Corvas was. He was tall and solidly built, with black hair that was combed back, and he was wearing a nice suit. And though he wore a pair of glasses, I could see a set of very hard eyes behind them. Those eyes alone, were enough to tell me that he was a very dangerous man.

There was a man standing in the corner, away from everyone else. He was slender and balding, not looking the least bit dangerous. For some reason, I had the feeling that he was Corvas’ assistant or secretary. Someone who took care of paperwork, or something along those lines.

And then there were the final two people, who were both dressed up in costumes, and who I ‘knew’ had powers. One was a woman with platinum blonde hair that was pulled back into a long braid, and she wore a white and silver costume. The man beside her wore lightweight green and grey armor, which included a helmet that covered the entire upper half of his face.

I took one look around the room and both my powers and common sense were telling me that this was a VERY dangerous place to be. I was suddenly terrified, even more so than when Harper or Windswept had been chasing after me. Dad told me that he’d dealt with Harper, but I was suddenly sure that he’d only done that by dragging us out of the frying pan and into the fire.

“Here…here he is,” Dad said, shaking in fear. “I brought Mikey…just like you told me to.”

I looked at Dad. “WHAT?”

My eyes snapped back to Corvas since he was the one Dad had been talking to. I suddenly recognized the name, or at least, remembered where I’d heard it before. He was a local mob boss, and appeared to be the guy Harper answered to.

“So,” Corvas said in a menacing tone. “You’re the mutant who cost me a great deal of money…”

“What?” I asked, looking around in fear and confusion. I looked to Dad, who looked away with a guilty expression. “I didn’t do anything…”

“Yesterday,” Corvas stated, putting enough emphasis on that single word that I instinctively stepped back, only to realize that Paul and the other guy were blocking the door. I wasn’t going out that way. “Yesterday, you robbed a jewelry store of a small number of loose diamonds…”

My eyes widened at that and I gulped. “You… You own that store…”

Corvas snorted dismissively. “No.” That just confused me, until he explained. “In two days, a large shipment of merchandise was scheduled to arrive at that location.” Then he gestured to the two people in costume. “I brought my associates to Reno, for the sole purpose of stealing that shipment…and the contents of their safe...”

“We were expecting a ten million payoff,” Harper offered, only receive a look from Corvas that made him go silent.

“Thanks to your interference,” Corvas continued, once again fixing his eyes on me, “they have changed their plans, increased security, and will likely have superhero protection. Because of you, we have lost our opportunity, and a great deal of money…”

My heart was racing and I felt like I was about to piss myself. “Dad,” I started, but he still wouldn’t look at me. I turned back to Corvas, “It’s not my fault…”

Corvas stared at me wth his hard eyes. “Petty thugs are of little consequence to me,” he said, fixind Dad with his gaze. “But I will NOT abide powered criminals operating in MY city without my permission. I have to make an example of you…”

“Please,” Dad said, and I felt a moment of hope since he was going to beg for my life. Dad would get us out of this. However, his next words made me gasp in horror. “You promised that if I brought you my son…you’d let me live. Well, here he is… We’re square now…”

I stared at Dad in shock, feeling a sudden and crushing sense of betrayal as I understood why he’d really brought me to this place. He’d already made a deal to save his own neck…at the cost of mine. “Dad,” I whispered, unable to put my thoughts and feelings into words. Tears ran down my cheeks and my Dad still wouldn’t look at me.

“Sorry, Mikey,” Dad finally said, his voice shaking. “But it’s either me or you…”

“Then,” I started, looking back to Corvas and shaking with a mixture of fear, anger, and grief. “Then I guess it’s you.” And with that, I pulled on my tether.

A second later, I was standing back in the lobby, right where I’d set my anchor. The lobby was almost entirely empty, and I didn’t see a single customer in sight, which was strange enough. Then I looked to the elevators where Dad had told me to set my anchor, and I saw three armed men, all standing there with their guns drawn. My eyes widened at the sight as I realized exactly what it meant. Dad had known I’d use my powers to escape, and he’d arranged for me to run right back into their hands. Or at least, he’d tried to.

Suddenly, one of the men yelled, “Over there…”

I immediately turned to run out the door, though just as I reached it, I heard a gunshot. I’d barely registered the sound when I heard a second one, at the same time I felt a burst of pain through my side. I screamed and pushed through the door, staggering as I did so.

“SHIT,” I cried out, tears running down my cheeks from the fear and pain.

They were coming after me. My heart raced in terror, and as I grabbed my bleeding side, I wanted to just drop to the ground and curl up in a ball. I knew that if I did that, they’d get me. They’d kill me. It was with an immense among of effort that I ran…or at least staggered away at a fast pace.

The three men burst out of the Arc and ran after me, so I ducked down an alley. Unfortunately, they saw where I’d gone and came in right after me. I made it halfway down the alley before I crouched down behind a dumpster.

“Do you really think you’re gonna hide from us that way?” one of the men called out with a mocking laugh.

“It doesn’t hurt to try,” I called back with a pained smile, right before I tugged on my tether. I’d set an anchor right before coming down the alley, so I was past the men and hurrying on my way.

Suddenly, I ‘knew’ someone was there. I snapped around, only to discover that one of the goons had stayed back and was about to jump me from behind. I snapped around and found myself face to face with him. He started to raise his gun, but I lashed out and hit him, throwing him against the wall. He hit pretty hard, surprising me with the fact that I was able to do that. I’d known I was stronger and more athletic than before, but to do that…

“Worry about it later,” I muttered with a grimace, holding my side, which still hurt like hell, even after that teleport. Apparently, getting shot with a bullet was a lot worse than catching a shotgun pellet. “Gee,” I snorted sarcastically. “Who knew…?”

I hadn’t gone far before I saw the men following me again, so I set an anchor and then staggered down the street. I went around the corner where they couldn’t see me, then ducked into a store. I watched through the window, and once I saw the men go past, I pulled my tether again and quickly went another direction.

Once I’d lost those guys, I finally sat down, gasping for breath and wincing in pain. I pulled up my shirt to see how bad it was, and I saw that I was no longer bleeding. The bullet hole was completely scabbed over as well.

“I need to teleport more,” I told myself, feeling pretty tired. “I need to heal some more…”

I looked around, afraid those guys may have doubled back and might have found where I’d gone. With a wince, I got up, then continued on my way. I managed to make one more double back with my power, but I was pretty wiped out and didn’t think I could do any more at the moment. I wasn’t sure if that was due to pushing my teleport power too many times, or from blood loss. The truth was, it didn’t even matter.

Once I was confident that I really had lost those guys, I began to think about what had happened. I was nearly hyperventilating as I thought about the fact that my dad had turned me over to a mobster to be killed. Tears ran down my cheeks at the betrayal.

“Bastard,” I snarled. “Fucking backstabbing bastard.”

But even though I wanted to just curl up and cry, I knew that I couldn’t do that. Not yet. I still wasn’t safe, and wouldn’t be until I could get off the streets.

“I can’t go home,” I reminded myself as I frantically tried to think of where I could go. After a minute, I could only think of one place where I might be safe, though I was very hesitant to go there. “It’s not like I have much choice…”

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Reno Nevada, Sunday morning, October 14th.

I woke up, feeling groggy and a bit confused, especially when I opened my eyes and didn’t recognize my surroundings. As I sat up, I felt a sharp pain in my side, which woke me up enough to remember where I was.

“Oh yeah,” I muttered, rubbing my eyes and looking around.

I’d been sleeping on top of several sleeping bags, which had been spread out beneath me to act as a mattress, and I had a couple blankets and a pillow as well. This pile that I’d slept in was located in the middle of a large shed. There was a lawnmower a short distance away, as well as several bicycles. A couple small windows provided enough light for me to see all this with.

Being a little more careful with my movements, I checked my side where I’d been shot. I no longer looked like I’d been shot yesterday. Instead, I’d healed enough that it probably looked like it had been a couple weeks. I was grateful for that, because it meant that I didn’t have to worry about bleeding anymore, or about needing to go to the hospital.

Once I was done looking over my wound, I shook my head and then had to brush the hair out of my face. My hair looked like it had grown another inch or two after all of my teleporting yesterday. And of course, my hair wasn’t the only thing to have grown. When I looked at my breasts, they appeared to have become a little larger as well.

“I think,” I quietly mused to myself, “that I might need a bra soon…” I felt an odd mixture of embarrassment and excitement at that thought.

A couple minutes later, the shed door began to open. I immediately tensed up and felt for my tether, having set an anchor just down the road, in case I needed to make a quick exit. However, when the shed door opened, I let out a sigh of relief and allowed myself to relax a little.

“Aaron,” I said, greeting my friend from school.

Yesterday, when I’d needed a safe place to rest, Aaron had been about the only person I could think of who might have been willing to help me. I’d spent hours making my way here, both walking and using the bus, while trying to avoid notice. It hadn’t been easy, and by the time I arrived, I’d been completely exhausted.

It had been pretty easy to convince Aaron of who I was, because he’d noticed my earlier changes at school, and he’d already suspected that I was a mutant. However, the part that had been a challenge, had been convincing him not to tell his parents. If they realized that they had an injured mutant in their home, they probably would have either called the cops or an ambulance, neither of which would have been good for me. Either of those things might have led Corvas and his people straight to me, so I’d hidden in Aaron’s shed instead.

“Hey,” Aaron said a little awkwardly. “I brought you some breakfast…”

He set a plate down in front of me, and I saw that it contained an apple, yogurt, a bagel, some bacon, and juice box. I grinned in anticipation, more than a little hungry since I hadn’t eaten a thing since yesterday morning.

“Thanks,” I responded, already taking a bite out of the apple.

Aaron just sat back, watching me with a strange expression. Of course, I’d changed a bit since the last time he’d seen me at school, and I was pretty sure that he found that a bit unnerving. And then, he obviously had a lot of questions about what was going on as well. After all, when I’d arrived last night, I’d been too tired to explain everything and had promised that I’d tell him once I’d rested. I frowned slightly, realizing that it was time to pay the price for his help.

“You…you look like a girl,” Aaron blurted out, turning bright red as he did so. I realized that he was staring at my bare chest, which made me turn red as well.

“Um…yeah,” I responded awkward, scrambling for my shirt and putting it on. This wasn’t the same shirt that was soaked through with my blood, but one that I’d ‘borrowed’ from a store yesterday while I’d been on the run. I realized that I was still in my underwear too, but since I was covered in blankets up to my waist, that wasn’t really a problem yet. “About that…”

“What’s going on?” Aaron asked, his voice filled with a mixture of worry and curiosity. “Did your dad kick you out for being a mutant?”

I winced at that, remembering Dad’s betrayal. “Something like that.”

Aaron was silent for several seconds, obviously not sure of what to say. Finally, he awkwardly asked, “Are you okay?”

I just shook my head. “Not really.” Then I gave him a weak smile. “But you really saved my ass…”

I hesitated a moment, knowing that I owed him some answers, even if I didn’t really feel comfortable sharing them. Still, nothing was ever free, not even his help. Part of the price for that, was answering his questions.

After taking a deep breath, I quietly admitted, “I am turning into a girl…” Aaron’s eyes went wide at that. I gave him a forced smile, then explained, “I think I’m an exemplar…”

Though I was about to explain what an exemplar was, Aaron nodded in understanding. “So, you’ve got a BIT and everything?”

“I’m not really sure,” I admitted with a shrug. “I mean, I think I’m an exemplar, because it would explain all this…” I gestured at my body and gave him a wry smile. “And I’m not just turning into a girl. I think…I’m pretty sure that I’m turning into Ms. Perfect…or at least that I’m starting to look like her.”

“No way,” Aaron blurted out, staring at me for several seconds before nodding. “Yeah… I can sort of see it…” He continued staring at me before awkwardly asking, “So, you’re a girl now?”

“Not yet,” I quickly assured Aaron, not wanting to make the situation any more awkward than it already was. “But it’s pretty obvious that I’m turning into one… I figure, that if I keep changing at the rate I have been, I’ll probably be done in a couple weeks, maybe a month at the most.”

“No way,” Aaron repeated, his eyes going wide. “That’s… Man, you must be freaking out…”

“A bit,” I admitted with a wry smile, not wanting to admit that I was actually looking forward to it.

Aaron gave me a sympathetic look, then in an obvious attempt to change the subject a little, he asked, “Do you have any powers?”

I gave Aaron a real grin this time. “Yeah. I can sort of teleport.”

I decided not to mention my ESP thing, since I hadn’t even told Dad or Brad about that one. Dad always says that you need to keep an ace up your sleeve, and since the people who were after me knew about my teleportation, this one was mine. I had a feeling that I was going to need every advantage I could in order to get away from them.

Aaron looked excited at the mention of teleporting, and he asked, “Sort of teleporting?”

“It’s REALLY limited,” I admitted self-consciously.

“Can you show me?” Aaron asked excitedly, just as I knew he would.

For a moment, I was about to turn him down, because I already had an anchor set as an escape route, and I didn’t want to give that up. However, I realized that I could use a little more healing, so I might as well get some while I was in a relatively safe place. So with a nod, I released the anchor I already had and formed a new one right where I was at. I moved back to the far corner of the shed, then tugged in my anchor and reappeared in front of Aaron.

“Awesome,” Aaron exclaimed, nearly jumping with excitement.

“It saved my life,” I told him, feeling rather proud of myself before I reminded him, “but like I said, it’s really limited.” That resulted in my having to explain about how I could only teleport to where I’d set up an anchor, and how I could only set up one at a time.

“Yeah, but you still have powers,” Aaron said, looking jealous.

“I might have powers,” I told Aaron with a deep scowl. “But people are trying to kill me because them.”

And with wince, I remembered that my dad had also thrown me under the bus because of them. If I hadn’t been a mutant, then he never would have pulled me into his latest scams, and I wouldn’t be hiding from mobsters.

I began to tell Aaron about what was going on, and what Dad had pulled me into. I kept a lot of the details pretty vague, and I neglected to mention my part in the robbery. However, I did tell Aaron about how I’d distracted Windswept so Dad could get away, which impressed him a bit.

“I can’t believe you fought a real superhero,” Aaron exclaimed, staring at me in amazement. “I mean, Windswept isn’t as cool as the Star Spangled Woman, but still…”

“Oh yeah,” I muttered with a roll of my eyes. “It was really fun.”

Yesterday morning, I’d been afraid that Windswept or the cops would figure out who I was and come after me, but now, I had bigger worries. After all, why should I be concerned about someone who MIGHT become a problem, when I had several confirmed ones out looking for me. And since there had been a couple supervillains in Corvas’ office, the next time, he might send them after me instead of his goons.

“I…I need to get out of Reno,” I said, trying not to shake in fear. “Maybe go to Vegas…”

Aaron nodded at that, but asked, “Why not tell the cops where these guys are? Or the heroes…?” I could see his eyes lighting up at the idea, but I just snorted.

“No way,” I responded with a shake of my head. “Corvas probably has them on his payroll. And even if he doesn’t, the LAST place I want to be, is in the middle of a fight between them.” I was pretty sure that this would be an almost guaranteed way to end up dead. “I’m better off staying under the radar.”

“Okay,” Aaron said, looking a little disappointed. However, after a few seconds, he brightened up. “Hey, my folks went to church and shouldn’t be back for a couple hours. Why don’t you come inside and clean up? You kind of need a shower…”

I definitely liked that idea, and a few minutes later, I was inside the house and taking a shower. I’d tried cleaning up yesterday at a McDonald’s bathroom, but I still had some dried blood on me. Between the hot water and just getting clean, I felt much better. The only problem was, my hair had grown long enough, that it had become a bit of a pain to dry afterwards.

While I used a towel to try drying my hair, I looked into the mirror above the bathroom sink. It was all fogged over, but once I used the towel to wipe it clear, I had a good look at myself. Yesterday morning, I was starting to look a little girlie, and in the time since, it seemed that I’d crossed some line. I now looked a little more like a girl than I did a boy, and it wasn’t just my hair or breasts.

“I almost look like I could be Ms. Perfect’s daughter,” I said, focusing on my eyes, which were my most distinct features...especially the odd looking one. The rest of my body might not make that obvious, but my eyes certainly did.

I cupped my new breasts, then ran my hands down my body, which was definitely starting to look feminine. I gulped, feeling a mixture of fear, nervousness, and excitement. A part of me said that this was right…that this was the kind of body I should have always had, yet another part insisted that I should be ashamed of looking like this…and for liking it.

Once I was finished with that, I looked at my clothes, frowning as I did so. I’d replaced my ruined shirt yesterday, but not my pants. I still had a bit of dried blood on them, which was pretty gross. After a little consideration, I wrapped a towel around my waist, then I hesitated a moment before wrapping a second one around my chest, just like I’d seen girls do on TV. Since I now had breasts, albeit small ones, this was a habit I might have to get into.

“Hey, Aaron,” I called out when I left the bathroom.

Aaron came into the hallway, then froze, staring at me with his mouth dropped open. He blinked several times, then gasped, “Wow… You really look like a girl…” Then as he turned bright red, he quickly added, “No offense…”

“None taken,” I responded wryly, though that did make the wheels in my heads start turning. I had been about to ask Aaron if he had any spare clothes I could borrow, but now I had another idea. “I was thinking that maybe I should dress as a girl. You know…as a disguise.”

“That’s a great idea,” Aaron answered, brightening up. “I mean, if those guys are looking for a boy…” He grinned at that. “It’s like the plot of some movie…”

“Great,” I responded wryly. “My life has turned into a comedy. I guess that’s better than a horror.”

Aaron stared at me with a thoughtful look before saying, “You know, my sister Karen is away at college…and she isn’t really much bigger than you are…”

And with that, Aaron ran down the hallway and into one of the rooms. I followed after, only to find him in what was obviously a girl’s room, with him already digging through the closet. He spent several minutes, looking for some of Karen’s old clothes, which she’d outgrown but had never gotten rid of. Before long, he found me several outfits to wear, including an old bra.

“I hope this works,” Aaron said, looking rather proud of himself for finding what I needed.

“Me too,” I responded, giving him a nod of appreciation. “Thanks.”

I took the clothes and went into the bathroom to change, grumbling and making a few complaints about how embarrassing it was to wear girl clothes, more for my image than for anything else. The truth was, I was turning into a girl and I was curious about what it would be like to dress like one…not that I’d admit that to Aaron.

“Shut up,” I told the voice in my head that said I should feel guilty and ashamed for wearing girl clothes. “It’s for a disguise…”

Aaron gave me enough clothes that I could pick what I wanted to wear, so I tried them all on, trying to find a combination that both fit and looked good. Once I was finished, I had on a pair of white sneakers, some capri pants, and a shirt that said ‘Girls Rule’ in sparkly writing. With my new curves, the clothes actually looked right on me. I actually looked just like a girl.

Of course, my disguise wasn’t perfect. A lot of girls my age didn’t wear makeup yet, so that wasn’t a problem, but almost all of the ones I knew wore earrings. And then there was my hair. My hair was now just past my shoulders, and just the right length to be perfectly believable for a girl. However, my hair may have grown longer, but it hadn’t magically formed into a well-groomed style. As a result, it looked pretty messy. I solved that by pulling it back into a pony tail.

“Not bad,” I said, admiring myself in the mirror. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was a normal girl. Well, except for my eyes, or at least one of them, and those could be covered with sunglasses. “Not bad at all.”

“Hey, Mikey,” Aaron called out through the door. “You’ve been in the bathroom so long, I’m starting to think that you really are a girl…”

“I’m just getting in character,” I called back, before opening the door and standing there in what I hoped was a feminine pose. “Well, how do I look?”

“Wow,” Aaron gasped, staring at me in amazement. “You really do look like a girl…”

“Call me Michelle,” I suggested, trying to sound like a girl. From the look on Aaron’s face, I suspected that I was doing a good job. Then, so he didn’t get the right idea, I grumbled, “I can’t believe I’m actually wearing this crap…”

“Better than being killed,” Aaron reminded me, and it was all I could do to keep from smiling at that.

“I guess,” I added with an exasperated sigh. “But if you ever tell anyone about this…”

“I’ll keep my lips shut,” he promised with a faint smirk. “Now, stay there. I’m gonna get a camera…”

After giving Aaron the finger, I sat down on the couch, making a conscious effort to move like a girl. I didn’t want to give myself way because of my body language, and I was going to need the practice. I tried to imagine how Ms. Perfect would move, but I didn’t think I could be that graceful and sexy.

“So,” Aaron asked. “What are you going to do about your comic? I mean, if you’re turning into Ms. Perfect, does that mean you can use yourself as a model.”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, feeling pained as that reminded me that I couldn’t go home. I fought back tears, though I wasn’t sure well I was doing at that. “All my pages at are back home, so I probably won’t ever see them again…”

Aaron looked sad at that, giving me a sympathetic look. But then he paused, looking out the window and going pale. Before he said a word, I knew exactly what the problem was.

“My parents are home,” Aaron exclaimed, looking a little panicked.

We both jumped to our feet. “The clothes,” I gasped, thinking of the ones I’d left in the bathroom. Not only my own discarded clothes, but the extras that Aaron had given me.

“I’ll get the clothes,” Aaron said, already running towards the bathroom. “You need to sneak out the back.”

Instead of running for the back door, I gave a mental tug on my tether, and found myself back inside the shed. I let out a sigh, thankful that I’d slipped out of the house before Aaron’s parents found me there. Admittedly, if they saw me, they’d probably just think he had a girlfriend over, which might actually make him look good…at least in his dad’s eyes. However, that was something I wanted to avoid for now.

“Things are looking up,” I told myself, not that I really believed it.

I had a damn good disguise, so that even my own dad would probably never recognize me, much less Corvas and his goons. After a good night’s rest and a couple more jumps, my injured side was feeling much better. And I had a safe place to lay low while I figured things out.

Unfortunately, I was well aware of the fact that I couldn’t stay in this shed for very long, hiding from Aaron’s parents along with everyone else. This shed was a very short term solution to my problems. And though I was grateful for Aaron’s help, I couldn’t keep relying on him that way. Now that I was rested and dressed, it was time to figure out my next step.

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Reno Nevada, Monday October 15th.

I sat on a park bench, carefully watching the people who passed by, though trying to look as though I wasn’t paying any attention. I’d never been much of a people watcher before, mostly because I didn’t care about other people enough to bother. However, because of my powers, people watching had taken on an entirely new level.

A man walked past with his dog, and I ‘knew’ that he was cheating on his wife. The strict looking business woman had some kind of drug problem. The cop was on the take…though admittedly…I knew that last one because my dad had once given him a payoff, rather than from my power. Still, my power did tell me that he was also diabetic.

In spite of the fact that I just seemed to be killing time, there was actually a good reason that I was there. I wasn’t just people watching. I was practicing with my power, trying to get a better sense for how my ESP worked. I was trying to see if I could pick up specific types of information, instead of just these random details.

“They aren’t all random,” I told myself, already having noticed at least some pattern with the information I pick up. If someone was a potential threat to me, such as being armed or having powers, I tended to pick that kind of thing up right away. “Maybe I can learn to choose what I get…”

I slowly looked around the area, tensing up as I realized that one man was a rapist, though he continued on his way without even looking in my direction. However, I saw one nerdy looking guy who was talking on his cell phone, and my attention locked on him. He had powers, though I didn’t know what kind. That made him a good choice to try focusing on.

“Let’s see,” I mused, trying to figure out what kind of powers he had.

His name was Robert. He had two kids. He went to high school in New Hampshire. These details were coming to me pretty slowly, and I was afraid that he’d be out of my range before I learned what I wanted. His name was Doodad. He was wearing mismatched socks. He was a mutant. His wife was named Sarah. And then he was out of my range.

“Damn,” I muttered, frustrated by the slow rate I picked things up.

As I’d learned from spending a lot of time with Aaron yesterday, I could pick up quite a bit about someone…if I stayed close to them and was very patient. I never needed to know that he wore silk boxers or had a crush on Jenny Piller from school. I just wished that I’d paid closer attention to Dad, because I might have had some warning that he was going to sell me out. I clenched my fists in anger as I thought about him and what he’d done to me.

“This is all his fault,” I stated bitterly.

Yesterday, I’d made a decision to get out of Reno, but that was easier said than done. Because of Dad’s betrayal, I’d lost everything. I didn’t even own the clothes on my back, since I was ‘borrowing’ those from Aaron’s sister. Before I could do much, I needed a better handle on my powers as well as some money. Because of that, I’d stayed in Aaron’s shed for another night while I worked things out, but I knew I couldn’t afford to do that for much longer. Maybe one more night at most.

It was then that I noticed another cop in the area, one that was walking towards me with a curious look. I was pretty sure that he was on the take, though it wasn’t my power that told me that. I just figured that all cops were on the take. However, what my power did tell me was that his name was Dave and that he was definitely armed.

When Dave reached me, he gave me what was probably intended to be a friendly smile, and asked, “Aren’t you a little young to be out here on a school day?”

I blinked at that, since that wasn’t quite what I was expecting. “My family just moved here this weekend,” I said, quickly trying to come up with a believable lie. “I’m not supposed to start at my new school until Wednesday…”

Dave looked a little skeptical, but he didn’t call me on it. Instead, he said, “A girl your age shouldn’t be wandering around our here by yourself.”

I gave Dave a forced smile, ‘knowing’ that he had a daughter who was only a little younger than me. I relaxed a little at that since it meant he was probably just trying to be protective instead of creepy. However, this ‘helpful’ attention was something that I didn’t want to deal with.

“I’m just trying to explore the area a bit,” I lied. “And I’m staying in public areas…” Dave nodded at that, but still didn’t look fully convinced. After a few seconds, I shrugged and said, “Maybe you’re right. I should probably get home anyway so I can help unpack.”

With that, I got up from the bench and excused myself from Dave. As I walked away, he was still watching me, and I was afraid that he’d follow me at a distance to see if I was telling him the truth. Because of that, I took a brief detour and went to the park restrooms, making sure that I went in through the girl’s door. The moment the door closed behind me, I tugged on my tether and teleported to where I’d set my anchor, a block away.

I smirked to myself, feeling rather smug. My teleportation power might not be very useful as a means of transportation, but having an instant escape route available was extremely useful. I haven’t been a mutant for very long, but that trick has already saved my ass a few times.

Since I was done with people watching for the moment, it was time to focus on what I should have been doing all morning instead. Making money so I could buy a bus ticket to Vegas. Sure, I could just hitchhike, but that could lead to a lot of other problems that I’d prefer to avoid. Besides, I needed money for food and a place to stay as well, because I had no intention of living on the street.

After setting a new anchor, I made my way into a jewelry store, feeling nervous as I remembered the last time I’d gone into a jewelry store. My powers told me where all the cameras were, so I didn’t have to go looking for them. This allowed me to keep my head down so I could keep them from getting too good a look at my face.

“Hello,” a sales woman asked me with a plastic smile. “Can I help you find anything?”

“I’m just looking,” I told her, quickly adding. “I’m trying to get ideas for Christmas…”

That seemed to satisfy the sales woman, who said, “Let me know if you need anything.”

I nodded at that and continued looking around, thinking about how easy it would be to steal something from these cases. All I had to do was ask to see a piece, and I could then teleport away with it. However, in spite of how easy that would be, I avoided doing that. That would be easy…but also stupid.

Even though I hadn’t looked at any of the cameras, there were enough of them around the shop that they still had a good image of me. And besides, it wasn’t smart to teleport in front of witnesses unless I had no choice. At the moment, Corvas and his people were probably still looking for a boy, but if they heard about a girl who could teleport too… With a shake of my head, I walked out of the shop empty-handed.

After this, I wandered through a few different stores, trying to get an idea of what to do. I saw a lot of things I needed, or could at least use, and though they would be easy to shoplift, I didn’t want to risk getting caught…or even seen. So, I was on my best behavior, even when some guy who was the same age as my dad, came up from behind me and pinched my ass.

I walked into a clothing store and immediately glanced down at myself. The only clothes I had were ones that I’d ‘borrowed’ from Aaron’s sister, and those wouldn’t last long. I slowly looked around, then paused as I saw a man standing up near the front, looking over the store with a smug look. He had a name tag that said his name was Mr. Preston, and beneath that, it said he was the owner. However, besides that, my power gave me a few more details, such as the fact that he beat his girlfriend last night.

“Naughty naughty,” I mused, looking around the store and seeing several cameras. However, my powers told me that most them weren’t real cameras, but were fakes. My guess was that he was too cheap to buy real cameras, so bought a bunch of fakes and placed them in plain view as a deterrent. The only real ones were pointed at the registers, as if he was more worried about the cashiers stealing from him than the customers. “That might work if someone didn’t know they were fakes.”

Since I knew exactly where the real cameras were, I carefully avoided them as I walked around the store, picking out a few items that I liked. I even found a rack of various types of makeup in the corner, so after a few seconds of consideration, I grabbed a bottle of polish. After all, most girls my age used nail polish, so this would help me blend in. Besides, I kind of thought the color might look good on my nails.

Once I had what I wanted, I went to the back changing room and put the new clothing items on over what I was already wearing. As I’d discovered, I couldn’t carry very much with me when I teleported, and what I did bring with had to be close to my body. If I was wearing everything, that would make it a lot easier. Finally, I slipped a jacket I found and put the polish into the pocket.

“This should do it,” I said, right before tugging my tether and going back to my anchor.

As soon as I’d escaped with my haul, I made sure no one was watching, I took off the new items and folded them up inside the jacket, which I was going to carry with me. The only last bit of business from that store, was the nail polish. I opened the bottle and began to paint my nails. Though I’d never done anything like this before, I’d seen plenty of girls doing it at school so had a pretty good idea of what I was going.

“Nice,” I announced when I was finished, holding my fingers out in front of me and admiring how the polish looked on them. It definitely made me look more feminine, which gave me a thrill of satisfaction. Of course, there was still a part of me that felt guilty for this, but I told it to shut up. “Maybe next time, I’ll try some makeup too…” To my surprise, I found myself giggling at the idea.

A few minutes later, I continued on my way, satisfied with my new shirt, pants, and jacket, though also cursing myself since this wasn’t what I’d been looking for. I still needed to get some cash, and now, I had to carry these things around with me.

However, I hadn’t gone very far when I had a bad feeling. I looked around and immediately saw her, a woman with platinum blonde hair that was pulled back into a long braid, and who was wearing a white and silver costume. Her entire body actually sparkled.

I immediately recognized the woman as one of the supervillains from Corvas’ office. This time, my power told me her name. White Diamond.

I saw White Diamond before she saw me, and with a surge of fear, I immediately changed direction. As soon as I rushed around a corner, I tugged on my tether and returned to my anchor spot half a block away.

“Another close call,” I started to say in relief, when White Diamond suddenly appeared in front of me.

For a brief moment, White Diamond froze, staring at me with what I thought was surprise, though it was hard to tell from her calm expression. I immediately took advantage of her momentary distraction to run, quickly losing her since she didn’t follow.

Once I was far enough away, I paused just long enough to set another anchor, just so I could double back if I needed to. But just seconds after I set the anchor, White Diamond suddenly appeared in front of me again, and this time, she didn’t hesitate before leaping at me.

I reacted even faster than I thought I could, dodging her punch with a loud, “Shit…”

Since running away didn’t do any good, I tried to punch her out of desperation, even as I knew that fighting a supervillain was a VERY bad idea. White Diamond didn’t even try blocking or dodging, and when I hit her, it was like punching a wall.

“FUCK,” I yelped in pain.

White Diamond didn’t say a single word. Instead, she held out something that looked like it might be a stun gun. I had only just registered that, when she touched the device to me and everything went black.

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Reno Nevada, Monday evening, October 15th.

Bed. I was in bed. I was surprised to wake up and discover this fact since the last thing I remembered was fighting that supervillain White Diamond.

I slowly sat up and looked around, immediately noticing that I was in a hotel room, and a very nice looking one at that. There was a definite difference between a hotel room and the spare room in someone’s house. I was confused by this, but relieved as well. After all, I could have woken up in much worse places…or not have woken up at all.

After taking half a minute to wake up and get my bearings, I cautiously climbed out of bed, only to realize that I was completely naked. Someone had undressed me while I was unconscious, which filled me with a sudden dread. I had no idea what they could have done to me. Even if they hadn’t done anything to me, they would have seen my body. I shuddered at that, suddenly feeling ashamed.

My body was mostly female now, but the spot between my legs told a different story. My testicles had pulled up into my body and vanished, but Little Mikey was still there…barely. He was just a nub now, and at the rate I was changing, even that would be gone soon. As it was, I was currently only a little more anatomically correct than a Ken doll.

“But not for much longer,” I quietly told myself with a mixture of nervousness and anticipation. I was changing even faster than I’d expected, and it wouldn’t be long before I was a real girl.

Since I was naked, in an unknown place, and had been taken out by a supervillain, I felt more than a little vulnerable. I frantically looked around, then let out a sigh of relief when I saw my clothes, folded up on a chair. Or at least, these were the clothes that I’d been wearing. The clothes that I’d shoplifted had been lost when I dropped them in order to run away from White Diamond.

I quickly got dressed, though I kept looking nervously towards the door, afraid that someone would burst in at any moment. Once I was dressed, I felt a little better, though not much. After all, Corvas’ people had found me, and they’d seen how my body had changed. I turned bright red in embarrassment.

“Where am I?” I asked nervously, though I already had a suspicion. When I looked out the window, I saw that I was pretty high up, though the surroundings did confirm my guess. “I’m at the Arch.”

I stood there for a moment, staring out the window and feeling like I was on the verge of panicking. However, I took several deep breaths and reminded myself that they could have easily killed me, but they didn’t. That means that they have a reason to keep me alive…at least for now. And as long as I was alive, I might be able to escape.

“Just not out the window,” I muttered, looking down at the ground. That was way too far to jump.

With that, I set an anchor, having already gotten into the habit of creating one whenever possible. If I was going to escape, and I certainly wanted to, I needed a way to jump back to safety, and also a way to double back if I needed to. Of course, that wouldn’t do any good at all if I couldn’t get out of the room.

I was just about to check the door to verify whether or not it was locked, when someone knocked on it. I ‘knew’ it was White Diamond, even before the door opened and she stepped into the room. She was no longer wearing her costume, but instead, had changed into a nice looking suit. A white suit at that. Without saying a word, she gestured at me to follow her.

I hesitated a moment, then followed after White Diamond. I was still nervous and even scared, but I was also growing more curious. I followed her into a large open room, which made me realize that I hadn’t just been in a single room. I was in a room that was attached to a suite of rooms. And at the far end of this room, there was a desk, with a man sitting behind it.

The man looked to be in his thirties or maybe even forties, and he was wearing an expensive looking suit. My powers told me that he had powers of some sort, which let me recognize who he was, even if he didn’t have a helmet sitting on the desk beside him. He was the other supervillain who’d been in Corvas’ office, standing next to White Diamond.

“Come over here,” the man ordered me in a calm tone. I gave a nervous glance at White Diamond, then did as he instructed. He looked me over with an unreadable expression. “You’ve changed your look. No wonder Mister Corvas couldn’t find you.”

“It…seemed like a good idea at the time,” I responded self-consciously. I took a deep breath and tried to look more confident than I actually felt as I asked, “How did you find me?”

“My associate, Ms. Diamond,” he answered, gesturing to White Diamond. “She’s sensitive to various types of warper abilities, so each time you use yours, it’s like sending up a signal flare. It took awhile for her to get a good lock on your signature, but now that she has it, she can find you anywhere.”

I gulped at that since it was obviously a warning about how pointless it would be for me to try escaping. When I glanced over at White Diamond, she nodded faintly to confirm what he said.

“My name is Focus,” the man stated, drawing my attention back to him.

My power told me that his name was Adam Dupree, just like it informed me that White Diamond was Martina Simmons. And as I glanced around the room, it also pointed out the location of a half dozen weapons that were hidden out of sight. I briefly considered that I might get to one of those weapons and use it to escape, but quickly discounted that plan as suicidal.

“And what should I call you?” Focus asked as he fixed me with a steady gaze. “Your father says your name is Mikey, but you don’t look much like a Mikey anymore. Ms. Diamond informs me that you’re midway between changing genders, so I have a feeling that you might not ever look like a Mikey again.”

I gulped in embarrassment, but tried to look and sound confident as I answered, “Michelle. I’m using Michelle.” I hoped that my voice didn’t squeak too bad when I said that.

“Michelle it is,” Focus said, as though my change of gender was nothing unusual. “Michelle, we have a problem. You interfered in a job that I spent weeks planning, costing me a great deal of time and money.”

“I didn’t mean to,” I blurted out in fear. “I didn’t know anything about…”

Focus cut me off with a gesture. “I know that this was not intentional on your part, which is why I am going to give you the opportunity to make things right.”

I blinked at that, a little confused by this sudden change since the other day, Corvas had tried to kill me. I gave him a suspicious look. “I thought you guys wanted to kill me…”

“I am a businessman,” Focus told me. “Killing unnecessarily is wasteful and sloppy. Mister Corvas sees you as an example that needs to be made, but I see you as a potential asset. You can be useful to me, for which you should be grateful. You and your father owe me a debt, and this usefulness will allow you to pay it off.”

“What about my dad?” I asked a bit nervously. Though I’d been trying hard not to think about it, I had been worried that they’d kill him after my escape. He kind of deserved it for throwing me under the bus like that, but he was still my dad.

“He is useless to me,” Focus answered with a scowl. “It will be up to you to pay off the debt that you both owe.”

Just then, Focus looked at White Diamond, who was making some weird gestured with her hands. It took me a moment to realize that she was using sign language.

“Yes,” Focus told her with a nod. “I believe you are correct.” He turned his attention back to me and said, “To ease your worries, your father is still alive, albeit badly beaten. Mister Corvas would have killed him as an example, but Mister Harper asked for leniency. I believe that this was because your father did pay him the diamonds he owed, and because your interference was a direct result of trying to repay that debt.”

I let out a sigh of relief, grateful that Dad was still alive, though I wasn’t too worried about his being beaten. After all, he still sold me out in order to save his own ass.

“I can’t pay you back,” I told Focus nervously. “I don’t have any money…”

Focus almost seemed amused by that. “You cost me a job, so you owe me a job.” He held up his pointer finger and continued, “If you help me complete one job to my satisfaction, I will consider your debt paid. One job and you will be free and clear.”

“Just one job?” I asked, remembering how I’d already helped Dad at the jewelry store. “What about Corvas? Is he good with that?”

White Diamond made a few gestures in sign language and Focus nodded. “Good idea.” He looked back at me again and said, “As soon as you agree…I’ll tell Mister Corvas that Michael Cook is dead. You’ll have him off your back for good. Consider this an act of good faith.”

I stared at Focus for several long seconds, feeling a mixture of suspicion and relief. He was offering me a way out. All I had to do was help him with one job, and I wouldn’t have to worry about any of this again. I’d already done one job…two if I counted shoplifting at the clothing store. I could do this. It was certainly better than the alternative.

“One job?” I asked to clarify. “Then we’re square?” When Focus nodded agreement, I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. “Okay. What do I have to do?”

Focus smiled faintly, as did White Diamond. “Details are still being worked out,” the villain told me. “But it should be within the week. I need fresh capital for an investment opportunity that will only be available for a limited time, and that window is quickly closing.”

“Okay,” I said, nodding in acknowledgement.

Again, White Diamond began talking in sign language, which I couldn’t follow. Focus made a few gestures back, obviously to tell her something without my knowing what, because she seemed to be able to hear just fine. After a brief exchange, Focus turned his attention back to me.

“For now,” Focus said, giving me a thoughtful look, “I need to know exactly what you’re capable of, so I can figure out how to use you. I know someone who can do some power testing…”

I just nodded at that, already having figured out that this power testing wasn’t optional. Until I got out from under my debt to Focus, my best bet was to just go along and cooperate. Besides, I had to admit, I wanted to know more about my own powers anyway.

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Reno Neva, Tuesday morning, October 16th.

White Diamond stared at me with a look of stern disapproval. She reached out and touched my hair, which was currently pulled back into a pony tail, then shook her head in what I assumed was disgust. After a few seconds, the silent supervillain stepped back and looked me over again, frowning as she did so.

I was offended by these contemptuous looks she was giving me, though I didn’t want to say anything. After all, it probably wasn’t a good idea to piss off a supervillain, even if she had no problem doing that to me. The only thing I could think of, was that she wasn’t happy that I was trying to pass myself off as a girl. True, I wasn’t a real girl yet…but I would be soon. Surely that had to count for something. Then again, maybe that was what bothered her.

After a few more seconds, White Diamond turned and began signing to Focus. As I’d learned last night, she couldn’t talk due to some kind of minor GSD that affected her vocal chords. Apparently, she hasn’t spoken a single word since she was around my age.

“You can take care of that later,” Focus told White Diamond. “Right now, you need to get the kid to power testing.”

I glanced to the door, feeling a little worried about leaving the suite, where I’d been since White Diamond brought me here yesterday. The fact was, we were inside the Arch, which was Corvas’ territory. Sure, Corvas had absolutely no reason to suspect that I was now presenting as a girl, and he’d even been told that the old me was dead. However, I didn’t want to take any chance that he or his people might see me, and possibly recognize me from Saturday.

White Diamond nodded to Focus and gestured for me to come closer. As she did so, she began to sparkle like she’d been doing yesterday. A second later, I felt a powerful tug pulling on me, right before I was suddenly surrounded by a thick fog on all sides. The fog only lasted for a second before I was standing in the middle of a parking garage, feeling dizzy and extremely nauseous. White Diamond’s method of teleporting was different from mine…and a lot rougher on my system, which I proved by bending over and puking all over the ground.

The supervillain watched me with a faint look of amusement, though it seemed to turn to one of sympathy. She gestured to the car that was parked beside us, silently indicating that I should get into the passenger seat, and after spitting out the nasty taste in my mouth and wishing I had some water to wash it out with, I climbed in. A few seconds later, we pulled out of the parking garage and were on our way.

I had no idea where we were going, and it wasn’t like White Diamond could tell me, so I tried to be patient. To my surprise, we left Reno and began driving west along I-80, heading into California.

We spent over an hour driving west which made for a long and boring drive. Since my companion couldn’t talk, there was no chance of having a conversation. She did put in some jazz CD, which wasn’t bad to listen to, but other than that, I had to occupy myself by looking out the window and watching the scenery go past. I was bored out of my mind.

Since I didn’t have anything else to do, I ‘listened’ to White Diamond, slowly picking up bits and pieces about her. In a way, it was like reading her biography by opening to a random page and reading one sentence here and another there. I learned that she was twenty-seven, an only child, and that she loved dark chocolate, among other irrelevant things.

However, the most interesting thing that I learned about my traveling companion, was that she was more than just a teleporter. Her real power was that she was some kind of power mimic, but she could only copy certain kinds of warper powers. I still didn’t understand how her power really worked, but I knew more than I had before.

Eventually, we arrived in some town I’d never heard of, where we pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I jumped out of the car, eager to stretch my legs and get a little fresh air. However, I had barely begun to look around when I noticed that White Diamond was starting to sparkle again.

“No,” I started to protest, only to get yanked back into that strange fog, then unceremoniously spat out in another location. I bent over and grabbed my knees, fighting the same nausea as before. However, this time, I didn’t actually puke. Then, glaring at White Diamond, I spat out, “I wasn’t ready…”

White Diamond seemed completely unconcerned by my discomfort, and instead, walked up to a large and intricately carved wooden door that was set up against the wall. I blinked at that, then turned to look at my surroundings. I was standing in what looked like an empty convenience store, or at least, what looked like it had been a convenience store before it had been closed down and emptied out. The windows were even boarded up.

I couldn’t see any security cameras, but I ‘knew’ that two of them were currently watching us. After a few more seconds, the wooden door opened, revealing an elevator on the other side. I followed White Diamond into the elevator and carefully avoided looking at the hidden camera inside. The elevator descended a short distance, then opened up to let us out.

A middle-aged woman met us just outside the elevator. She had red hair…crimson in color…and a patch over one eye. The woman also wore a tie-dyed lab coat, which added to her odd appearance. Along with that, I ‘knew’ that she not only had powers, but that she was armed as well.

“About time you got here,” the woman announced, nodding to White Diamond and then looking at me. After a moment, she said, “I have an extra patch, if you want to hide that eye…”

That comment made me a little self-conscious and reminded me that I hadn’t put my sunglasses back on. However, I was pretty sure that if there was any place where I didn’t have to hide that I was a mutant, it was here.

“Is that what you’re doing?” I asked curiously. “Hiding your eye?”

“Fuck no,” she responded with a snort. “I lost mine while fighting some damn superhero…” My eyes widened at that and the strange woman gave me an almost predatory smile. “They used to call me the Nightmare Nurse when I was younger. You can call me Doctor Betty.”

I gulped nervously at that and glanced to White Diamond, who didn’t seem the least bit concerned. However, she did pull out a note pad and quickly wrote something on it before holding it up for me to see. “BETTY WILL PERFORM YOUR POWER TESTING. DO AS SHE SAYS.”

“Focus asked for basic power testing,” Dr. Betty said, looking at White Diamond. “Do you want a fake MID with that?”

After this, Dr. Betty let me into her lab, which made me pause to stare in surprise. All of the work benches and shelves were intricately carved wood, which looked beautiful and impressive, but not at all what I’d been expecting. There were even a number of plants set up along the room, including some small fruit trees that were growing what looked like blue oranges. I ‘knew’ that it would be a VERY bad idea to try eating any of that fruit, even though I didn’t know exactly what it would do to me. However, that was something that I’d be very happy to never learn.

While I was looking over the lab, Dr. Betty lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. After blowing the smoke out to the side, she held up a large syringe, gave me a scary smile, and announced, “Let’s begin…”

In spite of Dr. Betty’s intimidating demeanor and creepy bedside manner, the testing wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. It started off with by taking a blood sample, asking me a bunch of questions about my powers, and then giving me a brief examination before we moved on to the treadmill and weight room.

To my surprise, I was stronger than I realized, being able to lift well over four hundred pounds. For someone of my size and build, that was absolutely amazing. My speed, reflexes, and stamina were all equally impressive, much to my amazement.

“I’m rating you as an exemplar three,” Dr. Betty told me, right before ushering me into the next test.

Dr. Betty didn’t waste much time testing for every possible power that I might potentially have, and focused mostly on trying to learn more about the powers I already knew I had. I hadn’t told her about my ESP, wanting to keep that a secret in case I needed an ace up my sleeve, but she somehow picked up on that anyway.

“Your esper abilities seem to be primarily focused on environmental awareness,” Dr. Betty told me. “With elements of psychometry and a danger sense thrown in.”

I rubbed the back of my head when she told me that, glaring at her as I remembered the way she’d tested for a danger sense. I had ‘known’ that there were several weapons aimed at me, and even that none of them were lethal, but I hadn’t received any warning before they began to actually shoot tennis balls at me. Apparently, my ESP picked things up a little too slowly for that.

White Diamond had watched all of my testing, keeping her distance and not interfering. However, her interest definitely perked up when she found out about my esper power, and she watched with a suspicious look afterwards, probably wondering what I might have picked up from her.

In the end, not only did Dr. Betty classify me as an exemplar 3, but also as a warper 3 and an esper 2. And to my delight, I’d also learned that my teleporting power was a little more versatile than I’d previously thought, though not by much.

“Focus has already delivered payment to my account,” Dr. Betty told White Diamond. Then she looked at me with an almost predatory expression, one that had slipped through several times during the testing process. “And this sample of your blood should be a nice addition to my collection.”

White Diamond nodded, wrote something on a sheet of paper and handed it to Dr. Betty. Dr. Betty read the note and then started to laugh, though I had no idea what she was laughing at. Before I could ask, my companion started for the elevator and gestured for me to follow. I was more than happy to get away from that creepy doctor.

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Reno Nevada, Wednesday October 17th.

I held up my bra, staring at it with a mixture of pride and annoyance. When I’d first borrowed this thing from Aaron, or from his sister Karen, it had been a bit loose on me. Now it was tight and pinched. Over the last couple days, I’d definitely grown larger, and I was now about a B cup.

I was currently in ‘my’ room, or at least, the hotel room where I’d been staying for the last two days. Focus was still keeping me close, not letting me out of his or White Diamond’s sight until after they were done with me. He probably thought that I’d change my mind about helping him and run off, and if it wasn’t for the fact that they were keeping such a close eye on me, I might have tried just that.

Unfortunately, since they were keeping me tucked away in their hotel suite, I haven’t had much opportunity to take care of the things that I needed to…such as getting more clothes. The ones that I’d been wearing for the last couple days were getting pretty ripe. Nor had I been able to tell Aaron that I was all right. Since I never returned to his place, he probably either assumed that I’d split without telling him, or that Corvas’ people had found me.

Just then, there was a quick knock on the door, and before I could even cover my bare chest, the door opened up. White Diamond came into the room, not the least bit concerned about my privacy or the fact that I was half naked. She gave me a vaguely curious look, then set a small stack of clothing down on the bed. Focus had given her the task of watching me and playing babysitter, and from the new clothes she’d just brought, she was taking the job seriously.

White Diamond slowly signed, “GOOD MORNING,” to me. I hesitated a moment, then repeated it back to her. She actually smiled faintly and responded, “GOOD.”

Yesterday, after we’d returned from my power testing, White Diamond had given me a book on ASL…American Sign Language. Since I didn’t have anything else to do, I read through the book last night, memorizing a lot of it. Normally, there was no way I could have memorized all that, but for some reason, I didn’t have any problem remembering what I’d read. I was pretty sure that it was because I was an exemplar, because apparently, a better memory came along with the increased strength and altered looks.

My keeper signed something else at me, but she want a little too fast for me to catch it. She repeated it a little more slowly, and though I didn’t recognize all the gestures, I understood enough to pick up that she just wanted me to get dressed. Then, just before she turned to leave the room, she signed, “BREAKFAST AFTER.”

As soon as White Diamond was gone, I looked through the clothes that she’d brought. There were a pair of slacks and a blouse, both of which would probably look good on me. However, to my surprise, there were also some new panties, a bra, and even a new pair of shoes, which were nicer than my second hand sneakers.

Since I’d already showered this morning and had been in the middle of getting dressed when White Diamond had barged in, I quickly removed my pants and put on the new clothes. The new clothes all fit pretty well, even better than the ones I’d ‘borrowed’ from Aaron’s sister. I wasn’t sure how White Diamond had gotten my sizes when I wasn’t even sure of them, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain.

Once I was dressed and presentable, I looked myself over in the mirror. With my slowly improving figure, I looked even more feminine than before…and more beautiful. My facial features had changed enough, that if it wasn’t for my eyes, my own dad probably wouldn’t have recognized me now. That was a relief, but also just a little disturbing.

“I’m not Mikey anymore,” I told myself with mixed feelings, seeing that in the mirror even more clearly than ever before. Even if I wanted to, I could no longer even pass myself off as the old me. I couldn’t help but feeling just a little sad at that, at the loss of my old life and identity. “I’m Michelle now.”

I gave a bitter-sweet smile to the mirror, practiced a couple quick feminine poses, then went out for breakfast. White Diamond was in the main living area of the suite, with a cart full of food from room service. I stared at the food for a moment, vaguely amused by the irony of the fact that Corvas had been looking for me, and here I was, living under his roof and eating his food, without his even being aware of it.

“THANK YOU,” I signed to White Diamond, gesturing down at my clothes. I hoped that I got that right, though I was pretty sure that my signing was a bit awkward. Still, she seemed to get the point because she signed something back. It was kind of fast, but I was pretty sure it was, “YOU’RE WELCOME.”

After helping myself to some of the food on the cart, I sat down to eat. Then, for the first time since I’d met White Diamond, the two of us had a conversation of sorts. She signed to me, going slow so I could make out what she was doing, and even repeating herself when I had troubles. I signed back as well as I could, with her frequently correcting my movements. Of course, I didn’t need to sign to her since she could hear just fine, but this was good practice, and it helped me learn a lot faster.

We were just finishing up with breakfast when Focus came into the room, wearing a nice suit like he had been every time I’d seen him since Corvas’ office. In fact, White Diamond had been out of costume and dressed nicely too, ever since she’d captured me. Since I’d barely seen either of them in costume, it would have been easy to forget that they were both supervillains and very dangerous.

White Diamond casually greeted Focus, then began signing to him faster than I could really follow. “No,” he told her, giving me a thoughtful look. “I don’t have any plans for the kid today. I’m still getting everything put together for the job, and I’m not ready for either of you yet.” She smiled faintly and signed back.

“What?” I asked, not sure I liked the way White Diamond was looking at me.

“It seems that Ms. Diamond has plans for you,” Focus told me, almost looking amused. “Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”

“What?” I asked White Diamond, getting nervous over whatever she had in mind. However, she just gave me an enigmatic smile as she spread some jam onto a slice of toast, not answering me.

Even though White Diamond wasn’t willing to tell me what she had planned, she still spent the next hour making small talk with me, mostly so I could practice sign language. She went slow, kept things simple and corrected my mistakes, even teaching me a few vocabulary ‘words’ that weren’t in the book. By the end, I certainly hadn’t become an expert, but I was better than when we’d started.

Once we were finished with the sign language lesson, White Diamond announced that it was time to leave, mostly by gesturing for me to come over and then signing, “WE ARE LEAVING.”

White Diamond teleported us to the parking garage, and this time I avoided losing my lunch. I was still dizzy and nauseous from her way of teleporting, but it wasn’t quite as bad as yesterday. Maybe I was building a tolerance for it. I still had no idea of where we were going, at least not until she parked the car right in front of a hair salon.

“What are we doing here?” I asked.

She answered, or at least I assumed she was answering my question, but she signed too fast for me to keep up and used some gestures I hadn’t learned yet. At my blank look, she rolled her eyes, pulled out a sheet of paper, and wrote, “IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE A WOMAN, YOU MUST LEARN TO TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR APPEARANCE. YOUR HAIR IS ATTROCIOUS.”

“But,” I started to protest that she always had her hair in a long braid, and that wasn’t too much different than my pony tail. However, I also knew that she was right. My hair had grown a lot during my changes, and I needed to get it cut and styled. The only reason I was wearing it in a ponytail was because it looked way to sloppy otherwise. “Okay.”

My companion seemed pleases that she didn’t have to argue with me over this, or have to drag me inside. I went in, feeling a little nervous, but also curious and even eager. I was starting to look really good, and getting a nice hair style could only make me look better. By the time we reached the door, I was almost pulling her inside.

Five minutes later, I was sitting in a chair, having been put into the hands of stylist named Patrice. Patrice didn’t even blink at my odd looking right eye, perhaps assuming that it was a contact or simply not caring if I was a mutant. What she did care about was my hair. She immediately took my hair out of its pony tail and ran her fingers through it.

“Thick and silky,” she commented with a faint note of approval. “You have very good hair, which makes it such a pity that it hasn’t been properly cared for…” She played around with my hair for a few more seconds, making me a bit uncomfortable. Then, in a clearly disapproving tone, she asked, “When was the last time you had this styled?”

“It’s…been awhile,” I answered awkwardly. The last time I’d had my hair cut was a little more than a month and a half ago, right before the new school year had started.

Patrice handed me a photo album and said, “Let’s see if we can find you a style you like…”

I flipped through the photo album, looking at pictures of women with different hair styles. A couple of them probably would have looked really good on me, but then I saw one that immediately caught my attention. “This one,” I announced, pointing to it eagerly. “I want this one.”

Patrice looked at the picture and smiled. “A very good choice. A style like that should look exquisite on a lovely young lady like you…”

The compliment made me blush in delight, especially since I technically wasn’t even a real lady yet. In fact, at the moment, I was a complete neuter, with no primary sexual organs at all. Or at least, none that were visible on the outside of my body. However, that would be changing very soon, which I was both nervous and excited about.

Patrice went to work on my hair, holding me as a captive audience while she lectured me on proper hair care and maintenance. I paid attention to everything she was saying, knowing that this was the kind of thing I’d need to know now. And besides, it wasn’t like I had anything else to do, other than listening to whatever irrelevant details my power wanted to tell me about her and the people around us.

Patrice spent a lot longer on my hair than any barber ever had in my life, and as annoying as that was, I knew that it was something else that I’d have to get used to. Or at least, it was something I’d have to get used to if I wanted nice looking hair.

Once Patrice was finished, she finally let me look at the results in the mirror. I gasped in amazement and delight, since my hair looked even better than I’d imagined. She’d cut several inches off, so my hair was now just a little longer than shoulder length again, and she’d styled it so that part of my hair swept down over the right side of my face, obscuring my right eye. In spite of the fact that I had hair in front of my eye, I didn’t actually have any problems seeing. Maybe it another aspect of my ESP or odd eye.

“It’s Perfect,” I said with a faint smirk. Ms. Perfect. My hair style was very similar to the one that I’d always drawn for Ms. Perfect, which drastically increased my resemblance to the fictional character. I now looked like a teenage version of Ms. Perfect, which I sort of was. “I love it.”

A minute later, White Diamond got a good look at my new hair and smiled in approval. She signed, “BEAUTIFUL,” to me, which made me smile.

“So, you really think it looks good?” I asked, sort of fishing for more compliments. She smiled again and nodded. “So, what next?”

White Diamond signed something, but I didn’t know what she was saying. With a faint look of annoyance, she wrote ‘manicure’ and ‘shopping’ on her node pad, then repeated the gestures she’d previously made, pointing to the words that matched the meaning.

The next couple hours were amazing and educational. White Diamond took me for a manicure, which was something I’d never had in my life. As with the hair salon, it was a lot of sitting down while someone else worked on me, but I found the process interesting and absolutely loved the results. Then we went shopping, picking out a couple more outfits for me.

I had no idea why White Diamond had taken it upon herself to mentor me in all things feminine, or why she’d spend so much money on me. Maybe she was being altruistic, trying to give me a good start with my new gender. Maybe she was trying to help me fit in better for our upcoming job. Or maybe, she was just bored and had decided to do this on a whim. What I did know, was that I had a great time, and my fading sense of male identity withered away a bit more as a result.

Once we were finished with the shopping, we returned to where White Diamond had parked the car. However, as we got close, I froze, blurting out, “There’s a bomb…” I ‘knew’ that there was a bomb in the car.

White Diamond didn’t question me and immediately looked around with a grim expression, her entire body sparkling as it did whenever she used her powers. A few seconds later, a muscular guy stepped out from behind a nearby car, where he’d obviously been positioned to watch us blow up.

“He has powers,” I warned my companion. “And he’s armed…”

However, even as I gave the warning, the man pulled out a gun and shot at us. I immediately dove for the ground, wishing that I had an anchor set up somewhere other than beside the car. At the moment, that particular anchor was almost useless.

White Diamond just started walking towards the man, not flinching as he shot her. The bullets just bounced off, as though she was as hard as diamond. By this time, I’d been near her long enough to realize that she was using some kind of density warping ability to make herself extremely dense and tough. This was one of the three warper powers that she’d semi-permanently copied.

“White Diamond,” the man announced, dropping the gun and then bracing himself for a fight. His hands both began to glow with reddish-orange energy. “I’m here to collect that price on your head…”

The man punched at White Diamond with his glowing fists, but she dodged to the side and grabbed his elbow. A second later, she yanked back and there was a sickening crunch, followed by a yell of pain.

“Fucking bitch,” our attacker yelled, trying to hit her with his good arm, though she’d positioned herself on the other side of his body and was still holding his arm, so he didn’t have a good angle to reach her. “I’m gonna kill you…”

I was back on my feet, watching the fight in fascination. Suddenly, I noticed that the ground beside them was starting to sparkle, just like White Diamond herself was. She pulled back swept her opponent’s feet out from beneath him, dropping him right onto the sparkling spot where he dropped through the ground as though it wasn’t even there. A second later, the sparkles were gone, and all that was left of her opponent was a hand reaching out from the concrete.

Once the attacker was defeated, White Diamond calmly adjusted her clothes, which had gotten a little messy from the fight, then casually went to pick up the shopping bags that she’d dropped. She had been so nice to me today, that I’d almost forgotten a very important fact, though I was now very clearly reminded of it. White Diamond was a supervillain.

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Reno Nevada, Friday October 19th.

I sat at the dining table of our hotel suite, with several sheets of paper spread out in front of me. However, it was the one that I was currently working on that had my full attention. I’d nearly completed a very nice drawing of Ms. Perfect. It felt strange to draw Ms. Perfect, now that I looked so much like her.

Yesterday, White Diamond had bought me some paper and drawing pencils, partly to keep me occupied, and partly to reward me for saving her from the car bomb the other day. If it hadn’t been for my warning, she probably would have been killed. Of course, since I was with her, I would have been killed too, so it all worked out well for me.

I frowned slightly as I thought about yesterday, and how White Diamond had taken me out for another shopping trip. However, yesterday had actually been less about shopping, and more about testing my powers. Each time we went into a new store, she had me point out where the cameras were as well as if there were any undercover security guards. She had me do this in a couple banks as well. Still, I’d come away from it with even more clothes, so I wasn’t complaining.

I noticed Focus come into the room, though I pretended that I didn’t. He’d been busy making plans for this job, and I hadn’t spent nearly as much time around him as I had around White Diamond. I’d actually seen her kill a man with my own eyes, but he somehow made me more nervous.

Focus came over and looked at the comic pages I’d been working on. Without asking, he picked up the one I’d just finished of Ms. Perfect, then stared at me.

“Very good resemblance,” Focus said with a note of approval. “I assume you’re working on costume designs…”

“Something like that,” I lied. He didn’t know about Ms. Perfect or the comic I’d been working on, and obviously assumed that I was drawing pictures of myself. It would be an easy assumption to make. “Mostly, I was just killing time.”

Focus nodded at that. “I’ve got a more productive use of your time.”

He went to an open spot in the main room, kicking some furniture back and out of the way to make even more space, then he removed his jacket and carefully set it aside. He gestured for me to come over as well, before taking what was obviously some kind of fighting position.

“The job is tomorrow,” he told me, which was no surprise since he’d already told me that last night. However, I still had absolutely no idea what this job was. He didn’t trust me enough with that information. “If everything goes right, then your debt will be cleared.”

“That will be good,” I agreed.

“You’re not bad at slipping a tail,” Focus said “but I want to see how well you can fight. Come at me.”

I stared at Focus for a moment, gulping nervously and then cautiously going towards him. I wasn’t a fighter, and had lost every fight I’d ever been in. The most humiliating one was when Susie Michaels had kicked my ass in Jr. High. I didn’t hear the end of that one until I’d moved last year.

“I’m not very good at this,” I admitted to Focus, right before punching him.

Focus blocked my punch and retaliated with a punch of his own, one that probably would have knocked out a couple of my teeth if he hadn’t been holding back. We trade a few more punches and kicks, making it very clear how outclassed I was. I was just thankful that he wasn’t using his powers too. Focus was some kind of energizer, though I didn’t know exactly what his powers entailed just yet.

“You’re an exemplar,” Focus told me calmly. “You’re stronger and faster than a normal person. You’re stronger and faster than me. Normally, that would give you the advantage, but skill and experience can still beat you out. Once you develop a bit of that, you’ll be much more effective in unarmed combat.” I noted that he hadn’t said anything about armed combat, or about when dealing with someone who had powers.

I just nodded at that, though I was actually ‘listening’ to what my powers told me about him, hoping that it would give me something useful.

He has a personal rivalry against a hero named Vorpal. He has a college degree in business. He can gather nearby energy and focus it into a single spot. That was interesting, but not useful at the moment.

“Make a fist like this,” Focus instructed me. “Keep your balance and don’t overextend yourself when you punch.”

Focus and I sparred like this for over an hour, with him giving me almost constant advice on how to punch, block, or avoid being hit. Then White Diamond returned from wherever she’d gone, watched us for a few minutes, and switched out with Focus.

Sparring with White Diamond was quite a bit different than doing it with Focus, and not only because she had a different style. She also didn’t give me any advice, or at least not the verbal kind. At most, she’d slowly repeat a move so that I’d get the idea.

Once we were finished, White Diamond signed, “GOOD PRACTICE. NOW SHOWER AND GET CHANGED.”

I looked down at myself, and my clothes which were now rumpled and soaked with sweat. These definitely weren’t workout clothes, but they’d gotten a workout all right. However, neither Focus nor White Diamond had been wearing any kind of workout clothes either, so I wasn’t going to complain.

I’d already had a shower this morning, but that didn’t prevent me from taking my time with this second one. However, once I was done with the washing, I did hurry with getting dressed again. Before long, I was wearing slacks and a blouse, which looked quite nice on my transformed body.

“You look way better than you used to,” I said, blowing a kiss at my reflection.

There was still the part of me that felt guilty for looking and dressing like this, but that voice was fading away pretty quickly. I figured that by the time my new genitals finished coming in, that voice might even be gone entirely. I kind of hoped it was, because those little whispers of guilt and shame still made me uncomfortable.

Once I finished making sure I was presentable, I left my room and returned to the common area of the suite, only to find that we had guests. I froze at the sight of Corvas and Harper, both of whom were talking to Focus. White Diamond stood back, clearly visible but not part of the conversation, as though she was playing the part of bodyguard or eye candy instead.

My heart jumped into my throat at the sight of these two men. I’d only met Corvas once, but it wasn’t a meeting that I’d ever forget. Harper, I’d met twice, but neither of those encounters had been good ones either. To see the two of them here…where I’d been sleeping for the last few nights… Even though I didn’t look the way I used to, I was still terrified that they’d recognize me.

“Who’s the girl?” Harper asked, giving me a suspicious look that quickly turned to a knowing smirk. I blushed as I realized that he must be assuming that I was sleeping with Focus.

“This is Leah,” Focus answered, apparently making the name up on the spot.

I wondered why he didn’t use Michelle, since I’d told him that was my new name, but then it dawned on me. Michelle might be just a little too close to Mikey, and I couldn’t afford to give Corvas any clues to who I used to be. And since Focus had told Corvas that ‘Mikey’ was dead, he didn’t want to risk Corvas finding out the truth any more than I did.

“Leah is an…intern,” Focus lied calmly. “Ms. Diamond has been giving her lessons in the business.”

White Diamond nodded at that before signing something to Focus. Between the bad angle and how fast she went, I couldn’t quite make out what she said. However, Focus nodded agreement. “Yeah. She’ll probably be useful for our new job.”

“About this new job,” Corvas said, fixing Focus with his gaze. I would have frozen under those eyes, or at least have teleported away. However, Focus met them without flinching or looking the least bit intimidated. “You have yet to provide me with any details.”

“No, Mister Corvas, I have not,” Focus agreed calmly. “The job that you brought me in on has fallen through, so our previous agreement is null and void. This is a separate job that I have been preparing on my own, with my own resources.” Corvas looked like he was about to say something, but Focus continued, “I have informed you of this job out of respect for your position, but I cannot allow you to seize control of it.”

Corvas scowled deeply, and I saw Harper tense up as a result, clearly preparing to fight Focus if he had to. “Listen here,” Corvas snarled. “This is my city…”

“Of course it is,” Focus agreed. “Which is why I have informed you of my intentions, and why I am still going to provide you the same percentage that we agreed upon for the failed job.”

Those words had the effect of immediately soothing Corvas. “Continue.”

Focus bowed his head slightly. “In recognition for how much you invested into the failed job, I will still honor our previous agreement. You’ll receive your share, but this is my job.”

Corvas stated at Focus for several long seconds before he finally nodded. “Agreed.” Then he gestured to Harper. “Harper will get you anything you need.”

They talked for another minute, while I stood back as far as I could, trying to avoid being noticed. Corvas didn’t give me another look, even when he turned to leave. Harper on the other hand, stared at me for a few seconds, though ‘leered’ might have been a better description. It was the kind of attention that suggested that he was imagining me naked, which was creepy enough without even taking into account that I was only fourteen.

When Corvas and Harper were gone, I let out a sigh of relief, thankful to be away from them. For awhile there, I’d been afraid that I’d have to make a quick exit, via my power. At the moment, my anchor was currently set in the parking garage, right next to the car. I’d actually set it there, so that the next time White Diamond wanted to take me somewhere, I could at least skip one of her teleportation hops. Her powers still made me nauseous each time she used them on me.

After a moment, I looked at Focus, who was returning to his desk. I hesitated for a few seconds, having a question that I wanted to ask, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Then again, Focus had been surprisingly open to answering my questions, ever since I’d agreed to do the job with him.

“I don’t understand,” I said cautiously, getting his attention. “I mean, you made a big deal about how your old deal with Corvas was null and void…and that this job is completely unrelated. Then you turn around and offer him a cut anyway…”

Focus stated at me for several seconds, with an expression that I couldn’t quite read. “Sure, I could cut Mister Corvas out of this,” he finally answered, “but he’d eventually find out, and he’d be pissed. One thing you need to know, kid, is that you shouldn’t burn bridges unnecessarily. That kind of thing will almost always come back to bite you in the ass eventually.”

I frowned thoughtfully for a moment before nodding my understanding. “So, this is basically just a payoff…”

Focus actually smiled faintly at that. “I prefer to think of this as investing in a resource I may need again someday.”

I was about to ask more, when White Diamond gently clapped her hands together in order to get attention. As soon as Focus was looking at her, she signed something to him. I missed part of what she signed, but did make out a little of it, enough to catch that she’d said something about my name. From the way Focus nodded agreement, he’d obviously caught the whole thing.

“Michelle,” Focus started, looking at me again.

“Not Leah?” I asked innocently, thinking of the name he’d given me a few minutes ago.

Focus smiled faintly. “About your name, kid. We’re performing the job tomorrow, and you will need a codename.”

“A codename?” I asked in surprise. Just because I was helping them with a job, that didn’t mean I was a supervillain too. Did it?

“IT IS A GOOD IDEA,” White Diamond signed.

“It’ll help hide your identity,” Focus explained. “And it will help provide the right kind of image. Once the job is over, you never have to use that one again, if you don’t want.”

I frowned, but I could see his point. For a brief moment, I thought about suggesting Ms. Perfect as a codename, since it would be perfect for the way I now looked. However, it would also be pretentious as Hell. Ms. Perfect might work for a fictional character, but in the real world, it would probably make me sound as though I had a huge ego that needed to be taken down.

“How about…Tether?” I asked, thinking about my powers. That was a nice modest name, one that probably wouldn’t get a lot of attention or make people think of me as a threat. Since I didn’t really want anyone to remember my part in this job once it was over, a nice forgettable name would be perfect.

Focus considered that for a few seconds before nodding his acceptance. “Tether it is.”

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Reno Nevada, Saturday October 20th.

I was standing in the middle of a hotel room, though this wasn’t a nice suite in the Arch. In fact, it was less a hotel, and more of a cheap motel that was located on the other side of Reno. There were four of us present, and only one of us in the room wasn’t wearing a costume. Unfortunately, that one person wasn’t me.

This morning, White Diamond had given me a costume to wear. It was a black cat suit that covered everything from the neck down, and included a black mask that covered the top part of my face. With this outfit on, I looked like I was supposed to be some kind of femme fatale cat burglar in a movie, or at least a junior version of one. And to my amusement, this wasn’t really all that different from what Ms. Perfect usually wore in the comics, though her outfits tended to have stiletto heels and no mask.

White Diamond was wearing her usual white costume with silver trim, which I’d only seen her wearing twice before today. Focus was wearing his green and gray armor with the helmet on. The one person in the room who wasn’t wearing some costume, was a guy Focus had introduced as Tech Head.

Tech Head was a slender black guy, in his early twenties, and he was completely bald. However, he also looked a bit odd, due to the high tech implant built into his left eye, which made him look a little like a Borg, and the fact that he actually had four plug in jacks that ran along that side of his head. It seemed strange to me that Tech Head was the only one not wearing a costume, when unlike me, he was actually a supervillain.

Tech Head was the third member of Focus’ team, though he’d come to Reno separately and had intentionally kept a low profile, just so that Corvas didn’t realize he was there. Though Focus hadn’t said anything directly, I got the impression that he’d been keeping Tech Head as an ace up his sleeve, which shouldn’t have surprised me. As I’d seen first-hand, Focus was good at keeping things from Corvas.

“Is there anyone else involved that I should know about?” Tech Head asked Focus, refusing to even look at me.

He hadn’t looked directly at me even once since we’d arrived at his motel room, but I wasn’t offended because he hadn’t looked directly at White Diamond either. My power told me that Tech Head was extremely nervous around attractive women, which was something that made me grin. He thought I was an attractive girl. I wasn’t the least bit interested in Tech Head like that, but I still felt rather giddy from that unspoken compliment.

“No,” Focus responded. “I contacted the Imp for her assistance in bypassing security, but she turned down the job. Regardless, we should still be fine with just the four of us.”

“Understood,” Tech Head commented.

With that, Focus unrolled several large sheets of paper onto the table and spread out some photos of a building and compound. “Our target is a vault owned by a man named Doctor Hansel Averton…”

“Also known as Doctor Avarice,” Tech Head added in an even tone.

My eyes widened slightly at the sound of the name. I’d never heard of either Dr. Averton or Dr. Avarice, but the second name definitely had a certain ring to it. “That sounds like a supervillain name…”

“It is,” Tech Head agreed, still not looking at me.

“Doctor Avarice is less a supervillain,” Focus commented almost absently, “and more of a high level kleptomaniac and hoarder.” White Diamond scowled and signed something at him quickly. “Yes, he did once have the largest known collection of power gems…and he still has enough to be dangerous when confronted. However, this compound is merely one of his storage caches, and I’ve confirmed that he’s currently in Atlantic City. We will have to deal with whatever guards and security he left in place, but not him directly.”

“Do you steal from other criminals very often?” I asked, more curious than accusatory.

“This is a Syndicate job,” Tech Head said, looking straight at Focus. I wasn’t quite sure if that was meant to be a statement or a question.

“Not officially,” Focus answered. “Doctor Avarice owes a large sum of money to the Syndicate and has been slow in repayment. They aren’t at the point of forcible collection yet, but have removed most of their normal protections as a warning. Since Doctor Avarice still hasn’t taken the hint, they informed me of this cache, so I could help them make a point.”

“Is the Syndicate providing payment for this job?” Tech Head asked, sounding vaguely curious, which was the most emotion that I’d heard from him so far. “And are they expecting a percentage?”

“No to both,” Focus answered. “I called in a favor to find out about this cache, and the Syndicate gets the benefit of sending Doctor Avarice a warning. Our only payment is what we take from the vault, which will be more than enough.”

With that, Focus began to go over the pictures and building diagrams, discussing our entry point and security. It quickly became clear that he didn’t have a lot of details about security, due largely to this job being on such short notice. Still, I paid close attention to everything that he said, knowing that my life could very well depend on remembering these details.

“As you’ve already pointed out,” Focus told Tech Head after awhile, “their security systems are isolated and can’t be remotely hacked. That means you’ll be providing sky watch and support.”

“Understood,” Tech Head repeated.

“Diamond,” Focus said, turning his attention to her. “You’ll provide access to the vault and our exit when its time to leave.” I had a feeling that he was saying that more for my benefit than for anything. “Tether, you’re our canary. Your job will be to identify any security threats before they become a problem.”

I groaned at that, but didn’t say anything. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d have me play the role of canary in a mine shaft. After all, my power gave me an easy escape route, which meant that I was the logical one to send right into the hot spots. Never mind the fact that White Diamond could turn extremely dense and hard. I was the one who was expendable.

White Diamond signed to me, “BE CAREFUL.”

“And I’ll be providing firepower,” Focus finished off as he looked around the rest of us. “Any questions?”

I had LOTS of questions, but I was afraid to ask. And of course, I was pretty sure that if Focus wanted me to know the answers, he would have answered them already. That meant, my best chance to learn anything, was to keep my mouth shut and keep listening. Maybe my power would fill in the rest.

After this, we split up, climbing into two vehicles. Focus climbed into the driver’s spot of a mini-van, while White Diamond took shotgun and I was left to the back. Tech Head climbed into a small moving van and began following behind us as we pulled out of the parking lot.

I just frowned, still not even sure where Dr. Avarice’s compound was. Focus had been keeping a lot of this information to himself until the last minute, though I wasn’t sure if it was because he liked to play things close to the vest, or because he didn’t trust me. Probably a bit of both.

It didn’t take long before we arrived at our destination, where we parked right outside the main gate. The compound, as Focus had called it, looked less impressive than the name implied. It actually looked like a small warehouse with a cinderblock wall around it. There were no signs, and if I didn’t know better, I would have just assumed that some store was using it to store their merchandise.

I looked back for Tech Head’s truck, but he had separated from us and had parked about a block away. Obviously, he was not going to come in with us, though I still didn’t understand what his role in this job was supposed to be.

“There are two video cameras watching us,” I told Focus, who didn’t seem the least bit surprised. I pointed them out to Focus. There was one located on either side of the gate. “And I get the feeling that the gate is dangerous.”

“Electrified,” Focus responded as he climbed out of the vehicle. “I can feel it from here.”

Focus didn’t seem the least bit surprised of concerned. White Diamond and I climbed out of the mini-van and joined Focus next to the gate, though he didn’t even look at us. Instead, he held out his hand, and suddenly the light seemed to fade from around us, and several small sparks jumped from the gate to Focus’ hand. A second later, he flung out his other hand and a blast of blue energy shot out, hitting the side of the gate which was wired into the power. There was a small explosion as the gate was blown open, with the frame bent and twisted near where Focus had zapped it.

“Tether,” Focus said, looking to me with a silent reminder that my job was to play canary.

I gulped and nodded. “Got it.”

“BE CAREFUL,” White Diamond signed to me.

I nodded again, then cautiously stepped across where the gate had been. There was a small parking lot with four cars parked there, and a loading dock into the warehouse. I could feel four cameras watching me, but I could also feel something else. Four something elses. Each of these parked cars was actually some kind of weapon system in disguise, waiting for us to enter just a little further before they activated.

Suddenly, I realized that eight more cameras were now watching me, which confused me because all of them were well above me. I looked up and was startled to see a bunch of remote control drones flying above the warehouse and compound. There seemed to be about two dozen of them in all, but only eight of them were focused on us. For a moment, I wondered where they came from, but then I realize, these were what Tech Head brought to the table. He was the one controlling all of them.

Once I shook off the surprise of all these drones, I warned Focus about the cameras watching us, as well as the cars. “Then it looks like we’ll need to trip that trap on our terms,” he responded.

“Damn,” I muttered, remembering that I was supposed to be the canary.

With that, I silently cursed Dad for dragging me into this mess, and then ran to the side. Two of the cars immediately split open as massive gatling guns popped up and turned towards me. Before they could fire, I tugged on my tether and appeared at the gate, beside Focus and White Diamond.

A moment later, I saw two of the drones descend from the air and land almost on top of the gatling guns…and then explode. The large weapons were badly damaged, but I was pretty sure that they weren’t completely out of commission. However, Focus immediately repeated what he’d done to the gate, gathering energy from nearby and focusing it all into a single blast, destroying one of the weapons before repeating this with the other.

“That wasn’t quite what I meant by triggering the trap,” Focus told me with a scowl. “But good job, kid.”

With that, one of the other drones dropped down, close enough that the other two cars revealed themselves. They split apart, revealing some sort of energy canons, which fired blasts of red energy at the drone, destroying it instantly. Two more drones descended and exploded on top of the canons, but they didn’t do much damage.

White Diamond gestured to me, then at the canons, right before she disappeared into sparkles. She reappeared right behind one of the canons, which immediately started to turn and track her. Understanding what she wanted, I gulped and ran forward again, getting the attention of the second canon. Both White Diamond and I teleported away, just in time for Focus to let loose with a couple more energy blasts, wiping out both canons.

“I don’t feel any more weapons,” I told Focus. “But the cameras…”

“Too late to worry about those,” Focus told me. “Then again, if the system has any other surprises, it’s a good idea to keep it blind.”

Focus gestured to the ground, and I was confused why, until I realized that he was tapping into an underground power cable. As soon as he had the energy, he fired a blast to one of the cameras, then to each of the others that I’d pointed out. Only then did we continue to the loading dock, with me leading the way. We broke open the large back door without any problems, but we had barely gone into the building when we found the path blocked with a heavy metal door that looked like it belonged on a bank vault.

“I’ve been told that the entire building is one large vault,” Focus commented as he looked it over, not the least bit concerned. “And this is the only door into the vault.”

“Are there are going to be more traps inside?” I asked since my powers didn’t tell me anything about what was on the other side of the door.

White Diamond shook her head and signed, “UNLIKELY.”

“Doctor Avarice is notoriously…frugal,” Focus answered with a scowl. “He is incredibly adept at acquiring whatever catches his attention, but not nearly as effective in protecting it from theft.”

“FORTUNATELY FOR US,” White Diamond signed with a wry smile before turning her attention to the vault door.

The vault door began to sparkle and shimmer, just like White Diamond herself did whenever she used her powers. At the moment, she was using one of her copied powers to turn the door intangible, just like she had the ground while fighting that bounty hunter. As soon as she nodded, Focus walked right through the vault door as though it wasn’t even there and I followed a second behind him. Only once we were both through did White Diamond join us.

As soon as I looked around, I let out a gasp of surprise. There were rows of cars lined up, and though I didn’t know much about cars, I recognized that some of these had to be ridiculously expensive. There was a Porsche, a Lamborghini, and even something that looked like a superhero’s ride from a movie. However, I ‘knew’ that this one wasn’t just some prop from a movie or TV show.

“Can I keep one of these?” I asked, nearly drooling over a candy apple red Ferrari.

I was half joking, but Focus answered, “Once we have what we came for, you can help yourself to anything left. Of course, by then, there will probably be too much heat on this place.”

I looked around the cars again, which only took up about half the vault. The other half had row after row of shelves, and of random stuff just piled up on the floor. There was what looked like the engine block of a monster truck, some antique furniture, and a crate that appeared to be full of nothing but Beanie Babies.

“This is a lot of crap,” I commented, pausing to point up at one shelf. “There’s a camera.”

Focus blasted the camera, then commented, “Doctor Avarice steals anything that catches his interest, regardless of how valuable it is.” He paused to gesture around us. “Once he has it, he just dumps it all into one of his hidden storage cache’s and forgets about it.”

“There’s another trap up ahead,” I commented, gesturing to a pile of ‘junk’. “I think it’s another of those gun turrets.”

Once again, Focus charged up his powers and blasted the pile of ‘junk’ so that it became one in more than just appearance. “A bit more internal security than I expected. Good eye. Keep looking.”

“You know,” I mused as I looked around. “I bet if Avarice sold some of this crap, he might be able to pay off that Syndicate you mentioned.”

“He could,” Focus agreed. “And he could afford to do a serious upgrade on security too. As it is, if he doesn’t pay back the Syndicate within a month or two, they’ll probably clean out all of his caches…and make an example of him. In fact, I suspect that the only reason they haven’t done this already, is that they don’t want the trouble of having to dig through the clutter.”

“Two more cameras,” I commented, pointing to where they were. “And another trap.”

After blasting both the cameras and trap, Focus commented, “You’re useful to have around, kid.”

White Diamond signed something to Focus. I didn’t see enough to really tell what she was saying, but from the smug look on her face, I had the impression that it was something along the lines of, “I told you so.”

I watched Focus, who ignored most of the stuff we passed. “You’re looking for something specific,” I said in realization.

Focus nodded agreement, gesturing around us. “It would take years to catalog this, and to figure out what was worth taking in the first place. We’re going for a known score…something I KNOW Doctor Avarice took out of Vegas a few years back.”

“And what’s that?” I asked.

Focus stopped and began to grin, which was surprising because I don’t think I’d seen him actually do that before, at least not to this degree. Then he pointed to a pile of silver metal bars that were stacked up on the ground.

“Silver?” I asked in surprise.

“Platinum,” Focus corrected, looking to White Diamond. “You know the spot now, so get to work.”

White Diamond nodded, then began to sparkle until she vanished, along with half the bars. She returned just seconds later, and without the bars. She didn’t even bother to look at me before she vanished again, along with the rest of the bars.

While White Diamond was doing this, Focus touched the side of his helmet and announced, “Understood. Keep an eye on them and stall them if necessary. I’ll be out to join you in just a minute.”

“What?” I asked in confusion.

“Tech Head just informed me that several superheroes have arrived to investigate the explosions,” Focus answered. He didn’t seem to be worried about that though. When White Diamond returned again, he told her, “We have the platinum, so just collect anything else you think will be worth taking. There are a couple superheroes outside, so Tether and I will distract them while you take care of that. When you’re ready, come extract us.”

“Distract them?” I blurted out in surprise. However, neither of them paid any attention to me.

White Diamond nodded and signed, “GOOD LUCK,” before she started walking down the nearest row to see what else she could find.

“Here,” Focus said, handing me what looked like a ray gun. “This is basically a ranged stun gun, so don’t be afraid to shoot anyone. You take your shortcut and distract the heroes, and I’ll be there the long way.”

I muttered a few quiet profanities even as I nodded my acceptance. Facing superheroes when we could just cut and run instead, seemed kind of stupid to me. However, I’d already agreed to do this job, and knew that if I ran off now, everything I’d already done would have been for nothing. I had to finish this job.

With a tug on my tether, I found myself standing outside the warehouse, right in front of the vault door where I’d set my anchor. I looked around and immediately saw the superheroes that Focus had mentioned.

“Windswept,” I muttered bitterly, recognizing the hero who’d interfered at the jewelry store.

Standing next to the ruins of one of the energy canons, I saw the second hero, a large and muscular man who was made of dull black metal. I knew that Cast Iron was a local hero and a brick, but I didn’t know much more about him than that. Actually, I suddenly ‘knew’ that he had a dynamorph too, which might have been more useful if I knew what a dynamorph was.

The last of the three heroes was a gorgeous blonde, who had a tight one piece outfit that covered everything from her neck down, except for her arms which were bare. Her onesie was blue and covered with stars, though she also had white ankle boots, a white sash around her waist, and fingerless white gloves. This was the Star Spangled Woman, though I ‘knew’ that her friends called her Laura.

I’d never liked patriotic themed heroes, like the Star Spangled Woman. They’d always struck me as pretentious…acting as if they somehow represented the entire country. I had nothing against patriotism, at least in theory, and I was definitely a fan of the Bill of Rights. I was a fan of anything that guaranteed my rights. However, to claim that you represented an entire country and all the people, just because YOU said you did, struck me as the height of arrogance.

Of course, that kind of pretentious arrogance was appropriate since the entire government was one big hypocritical mess, corrupt from top to bottom. The people in power were the ones who craved power, who would do anything to get it, and who were good at manipulating the masses. By their very nature, those in power were the ones who could least be trusted with it. As far as I was concerned, the only real difference between a hustler like my dad and those guys in DC, were that they were either better at playing the game, or simply had enough money to buy the pot.

I stared at the Star Spangled Woman with a sneer of contempt. If that was the kind of hypocritical system that she wanted to symbolize, then I wasn’t going to feel the least bit guilty about this.

The heroes saw me appear and turned to face me, with Windswept immediately starting to blast wind in my direction, but I was already in action. I set an anchor, opened fire on the Star Spangled Woman, and then ran, all in a couple seconds.

“You’re under arrest,” Star Spangled Woman yelled, floating up into the air and then flying right at me. I saw her coming, and with my reflexes, was able to dodge out of the way and avoid her. As she flew past, I had a clear shot at her back so took it. She let out a grunt as the beam hit her, and crashed into the ground.

“That looks painful,” I commented, only to have the large and slow moving Cast Iron charge at me.

I moved to the side, getting Cast Iron between me and Windswept, so that he acted as a barrier against her wind. I was trying to figure out what to do next when the drones descended…all of them. With that many drones zooming around, the heroes were too distracted to focus on me.

“What are these…?” the Star Spangled Woman started to ask, swinging her fist at one of the drones, only to have it explode in her face. She was knocked back and looked a little singed, but not really hurt.

“They’re a nuisance,” Cast Iron exclaimed in a deep voice. Two of the drones exploded, one on each side of him. He barely seemed phased by the detonations.

However, in spite of the distraction, Windswept somehow got past the drones and got a clear path to me, and sent a massive blast of wind that sent me flying back. I hit the ground and tumbled, but before I could regain my footing, she sent a miniature tornado towards me as well.

Suddenly, a flash of energy hit the ground in front of Windswept, making her jump back. She snapped around, looking for the source, only to see Focus, having come out of the now open vault door and joining the fight. Without saying a word, he fired another blast, this time hitting Cast Iron in the chest.

“How many villains are here?” Windswept demanded in surprise.

However, Cast Iron pointed out, “We don’t even know what this place is yet. For all we know, they’re the rightful owners…”

Windswept made an exaggerated look at one of the destroyed gatlin guns and wryly commented, “I doubt it.”

Focus didn’t say a word as he gathered energy, making the light dim around him as he even gathered the light and added it into the energy blast. He fired at the Star Spangled Woman, missing her by a good distance, though she flew up and out of the way.

“Who are you?” The Star Spangled Woman demanded, right before flying right at Focus. I just shot at her with the gun Focus had given me. So far, it seemed to annoy her but not much more. She snapped around and glared at me, “Stop shooting me…”

“But you make such a nice target,” I responded with a faint smirk.

The Star Spangled Woman snarled, changed direction in mid-air, and flew straight at me. I waited until right before she reached me, then gave a mental tug on my tether. A second later, I was in just the right position to shoot her from behind.

I was now pretty close to Focus, so when he gathered energy and fired a blast at Windswept, only to miss, I wryly asked, “Could you hit the broad side of a barn?”

“Killing heroes is bad for business,” Focus responded, already gathering up more energy. “It might build you a rep as being dangerous, but the other heroes take it personally, and they’re more likely to come at you with lethal force.” He gestured to the gun he’d given me and added, “I usually use that when I want to take them out without using lethal force.”

From the swirling dust devil in in front of Windswept that was growing larger and more powerful as I watched, it looked like she was getting ready for a large attack. I just shot at her, and unlike with the Star Spangled Woman who mostly shrugged it off, she collapsed to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut.

“WINDSWEPT,” The Star Spangled Woman cried out, glaring at me in anger before flying straight at me.

Suddenly, there was a sparkle in the air, right before White Diamond appeared between us. The Star Spangled Woman hit her instead of me and bounced off almost as though she’d hit a wall. The silent villainess was knocked back a few feet, but didn’t appear hurt.

“Extraction time,” Focus stated, blasting Cast Iron in the chest and then rushing back over to White Diamond and me. “Just a second.”

With that, Focus held up a small remote control and pushed a button. Suddenly, the minivan that we’d arrived in exploded in a massive ball of fire, destroying what was left and the gate near it. But then, smoke began pouring from the ruins of the vehicle, a lot more than I thought there should be.

“Now,” Focus stated.

White Diamond nodded, and I felt myself being pulled back into the gray fog of hers, right before I was spat back out again. I staggered, took several deep breaths until my nausea faded, then looked around.

The three of us were now in the back of the moving van, though half the space was filled up with platinum bars, jewelry, and somewhat random looking items that White Diamond had collected from the vault. I had absolutely no idea how much this stuff would be worth, but Focus nodded in satisfaction when he looked at it.

A second later, I felt the moving van begin to actually move, and since Tech Head wasn’t in back with the rest of us, he was obviously the driver. As we drove off, I thought about the explosion and all the smoke, and realized that Focus must have set that up as a distraction. After all, if the heroes were paying attention to that, then they’d never notice the nearby moving van driving away.

But as I thought of the fight with those heroes, I thought of something else. “You know,” I told Focus with a scowl, “the heroes were locked out of the warehouse and probably didn’t even know we were inside. There wasn’t any reason for us to go out and distract them…”

“Oh, I had a good reason for that,” Focus responded, giving me a faint smile. “I wanted to see how well you dealt with hostile heroes.”

I glared at Focus, not at all happy to learn that he’d thrown me into that mess just to satisfy his own curiosity. However, I kept from snapping at him by reminding myself that I’d just finished paying off my debt to him. Now that we’ve completed the job, I was free and clear.

linebreak shadow

Reno Nevada, Sunday October 21st.

I stood in front of my mirror, adjusting my clothes and my hair until I looked neat, attractive, and definitely feminine. Of course, with my new body and curves, I could no longer look anything other than feminine if I tried, much to my delight. With that, I lifted my chin, stuck out my chest, and projected my inner Ms. Perfect.

“Damn, I look hot,” I mused with a deep satisfaction. There was still a small voice in the back of my head that said I should feel ashamed of this, but I told that voice to shut up and let me enjoy this.

After a minute, I let out a sigh and slowly looked around my hotel room. This was my last hour in the Arch, and even though I’d been living under Corvas’ roof and sleeping in the same suite as two supervillains, I was actually going to miss this place. The bed was comfortable, the scenery was great, and the room service was fantastic.

Yesterday, after the job, White Diamond and I came back to the Arch while Focus and Tech Head took off with the truck and all of the goods we’d stolen. Focus hadn’t come back to the suite until sometime in the middle of the night, and I had yet to talk with him about my debt…and how I expected it to now be cleared. Of course, I could have just up and left at any time, but I didn’t want to risk him or White Diamond coming after me due to a misunderstanding.

“Almost time to go,” I said, turning my attention to all my new clothing.

White Diamond had bought me a few sets of clothing, which was quite generous considering my situation, but this certainly wasn’t a full wardrobe. Still, it was going to be a pain taking this stuff with me, when I didn’t even have any luggage, though fortunately, I’d kept the shopping bags, and they should do until I could find something better, or a place to store them.

I was getting ready to leave, but I still didn’t know what I was going to do next. I had originally planned on making my way to Vegas, but now, I was thinking about heading west and going to Sacramento instead. From there, I might make my way to San Francisco.

“But first thing first,” I reminded myself. I still had to take care of an important technicality before I left.

I left my room and went to the area that had been set up as Focus’ office. Focus and White Diamond were sitting there, both dressed in professional suits instead of their villain costumes, and they were caught in an animated discussion. It was strange to watch, because White Diamond’s hands were moving fast, and I could only make out about a third of what she was saying. They stopped as soon as they noticed me.

“Come on over, kid,” Focus said, gesturing for me to have a seat.

“I do have a name,” I said as I went over and sat down. White Diamond chuckled silently at that.

“Tether,” Focus said, using my codename from yesterday. Maybe he just thought it was weird to call me Michelle, when he knew that not long ago, I’d been Mikey.

“I wanted to talk about my debt,” I told Focus, getting right to the point. As I’d learned, he wasn’t the kind of guy to beat around the bush, and he’d appreciate the direct approach.

“Of course,” Focus responded, giving me a thoughtful look before leaning forward a little and stating, “As far as I’m concerned, the debt is cleared.”

I let out a faint sigh of relief at that, because I didn’t know what I would have done if he’d changed the agreement and wanted more. “Thank you.”

“Your warnings kept us from walking into several traps,” Focus told me, “so you saved us a great deal of trouble. And since our total take was a little large than the jewelry store would have been, I decided that you deserve a little bonus.”

Then to my surprise, Focus set a stack of cash on the desk in front of me. It was hundred dollar bills, and after giving Focus a look of surprise, I flipped through it. Ten thousand dollars.

“Um…thanks,” I finally responded, stunned that after all this, he’d just given me a stack of cash. Of course, we’d left that warehouse with a pile of platinum and a lot of other expensive stuff, and I had no idea how much it was all worth, but guessed that was probably in the millions. This was small change compared to that. “This will be useful.”

White Diamond smiled as she signed, “YOU DID GOOD FOR A FIRST TIME.”

“You’ve still got a lot to learn,” Focus told me. “But you’ve got potential.” He and White Diamond shared a look before he said. “In fact, that’s what I really wanted to talk to you about…”

Focus looked like he was about to say something more when someone started knocking on the door. “It’s Corvas,” I announced. “And he’s armed.” However, I was pretty sure that part was a given.

Focus stood up, so I followed his example and did the same. White Diamond went and answered the door, letting Corvas into the suite, along with Harper and two other men. All of them were armed, though I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to point that out.

“Mister Corvas,” Focus greeted the mobster politely. If he was intimidated by the show of force, with the three men accompanying Corvas, he didn’t show it. Then again, Corvas was a mobster while he was a supervillain. “I have something for you.”

“That is why I’m here,” Corvas said, fixing Focus with hard look.

Without saying a word, Focus nodded to White Diamond, who sparkled and vanished. She reappeared several seconds later with a briefcase in her hand, which she held out for Corvas. However, Corvas didn’t take the briefcase. Instead, he looked to Harper, who accepted the case and then popped it open, revealing that it was full of cash.

Corvas looked over the money for a second, then nodded to Harper, who shut the case. However, instead of looking happy with the money, Corvas instead turned back to Focus and grimly asked, “Now where is the rest of it?”

“This is the percentage I promised you,” Focus responded just as grimly.

Suddenly, Harper lashed out and punched White Diamond in the face. She began to sparkle an instant before impact, when she was thrown back through the wall. At the same time, Corvas and his goon drew their weapons, and had them pointed at me and Focus.

“If you even think of using your fancy powers,” Corvas warned Focus, “we’ll put a bullet through your head. Yours and the girl’s.” He glanced to me.

I gulped, realizing just how much trouble I was in. Regardless of what happened, I was pretty sure that Corvas planned to kill me, probably as a warning about how serious he was. This wasn’t my power, just common sense. I saw what he’d done to Marco.

I instinctively reached for my tether, but hesitated to tug on it. I could escape right now, but was pretty sure that he’d immediately shoot Focus. Considering everything else that had happened, Focus and White Diamond had done right by me, so I couldn’t just abandon them to get killed…at least not until they had a much better chance.

Harper set the briefcase onto the floor, then walked over to the hole in the wall and checked on the unmoving White Diamond. I ‘knew’ she was still alive. She’d increased her density just in time to save her life, but she hadn’t been able to increase it quite enough. She was out of it for now, and had returned to her normal density, leaving her vulnerable.

Corvas gave Focus a cold, hard look. “You found out that Doctor Avarice had a vault in MY city, and you didn’t tell me.”

“It sounds like Focus was being a bad guest,” Harper commented. “And after everything you did for him…”

“If you’d told me about the vault,” Corvas continued, “we could have worked together. We could have made plans to get everything…”

Focus stared back at Corvas, appearing calm on the surface though I could see the anger burning in his eyes. “This is bad business, Mister Corvas. The logistics of your plan would take a month to arrange, and I had neither the time for that, nor the window of opportunity. The Syndicate…”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” Harper said. “The fact of the matter is, you took advantage of Mister Corvas’ generosity, then stole from him.”

“You have no claim to either the vault or its contents,” Focus replied, not taking his eyes from Corvas. “You didn’t even know it existed. I offered you a share out of courtesy and respect, and this is how you repay me? Unprofessional.” There was a clear note of contempt in that last word.

“Check the rooms,” Corvas told one of his men, who nodded agreement and then quickly began to go from room to room within the suite. When he finished, he came back and shook his head. Corvas scowled at that before demanding, “Where is the platinum?”

“Gone,” Focus answered with a faint smirk. “It’s already out of Reno and in the process of being sold. You aren’t getting your hands on it, but the rest of Doctor Avarice’s vault is still there…”

“And is being inventoried by the feds,” Corvas snapped. “I want my money…”

I stared at Corvas, biting my lower lip and hoping that he’d forget I was there. Unfortunately, his goon hadn’t forgotten me and still had a gun pointed at my face. I was doing my very best not to piss myself at that fact. But in spite of that, I still found myself paying close attention to the conversation between Corvas and Focus. I half expected Corvas to announce that Focus owed him a debt, though I was pretty sure that Corvas took his debts…and imagined debts…out in blood.

“I see that we aren’t going to resolve this the easy way,” Corvas said with a deep scowl. “We have a…guest room upstairs. It’s nice and soundproofed. Perfect for our discussion.”

That, I knew, was a VERY bad sign for me. So far, I hadn’t escaped because I knew they’d kill Focus the instant I did, but if Corvas ordered his man to shoot me, then all bets were off. I might feel bad for leaving Focus in the lurch, but I wasn’t going to stand there and let myself get shot.

“You,” Corvas announced, and it took me a moment to realize he was looking at me. “Hand me the briefcase…” He gestured to the one full of money that Harper had set on the floor. “Slowly…”

I picked up the briefcase, pausing momentarily to appreciate the fact that this was the most money I’d ever held in my life. Then with a grimace, I handed it over to Corvas, making sure to move slowly. Once Corvas had the briefcase, he gestured to his men and Focus. All of them began turning their attention to Focus, which meant that they stopped paying attention to me.

For a brief moment, I just stood there, and then I realized that this was my opportunity. I mentally reached for my tether, but not the main one that was currently anchored in the parking garage. Instead, I reached for another tether, one that was much smaller and weaker.

I could only set one solid anchor at a time, creating only a single tether that I could use to teleport myself to safety. However, during my power testing, I’d discovered that I could set several smaller anchors, linking them to small objects instead of to a location. I couldn’t use these to teleport myself, but when I tugged on those tethers, I could pull those objects to me.

A second later, the stun gun that Focus had lent me on the job yesterday, suddenly appeared in my hand. Without any hesitation, I shot Corvas in the back and then blasted one of his goons. Both dropped to the ground. Harper snapped around to face me with a look of surprise on his face, but I was more concerned with the last goon, who had a gun in his hand and was about to shoot me. He was close enough that I rushed forward and rammed into him. I was a lot stronger than I looked, an exemplar 3 if Dr. Betty was correct, so he was sent flying back into the wall, where he slammed into it and dropped the gun.

“What the hell…?” Harper demanded in surprise. Without a word, I shot him in the chest. Unfortunately, he just scowled and snapped, “That stings…”

“Uh oh,” I gulped, remembering that the weapon had been about as useful against the Star Spangled Woman. Apparently, it was damn near useless against anyone who was tougher than a normal person.

“You made a BIG mistake, girlie,” Harper said, taking a step towards me.

Suddenly, the lights began to flicker, which reminded Harper that Focus was still in the room. He snapped around, but it was too late as a blast of energy caught him in the chest. Harper staggered back and dropped to his knees, holding his chest in pain. The fact that he wasn’t dead was enough to show that he was a lot tougher than a normal person, and even more than I would have guessed.

“You would have walked away with a nice profit,” Focus said in a cold tone. “Without having to lift so much as a finger. This was a very poor business decision.”

Focus glared at Corvas, then turned his attention to Harper as he began to gather energy again. I was pretty sure that he saw Harper as the only one who was still a threat, so he was the next target. However, the guy I’d slammed into the wall, managed to get his gun back and was about to shoot Focus, until Focus turned and blasted him, turning him into a charred smear on the wall.

“What…what happened to not using lethal force?” I asked Focus, trying to keep my voice even.

“I said that I don’t like using lethal force unnecessarily,” Focus corrected me with a deep scowl. “This was necessary.”

Harper got back to his feet and lunged at Focus, who moved fast enough to avoid the punch. “Get Diamond,” Focus called to me as he began charging. “I’ll take care of this…”

“Got it,” I responded, pausing long enough to kick Corvas between the legs. The grunt of pain told me that he wasn’t as out of it as I’d thought.

“NOW,” Focus snapped at me.

This time, I did as Focus instructed and ran to White Diamond, who was still embedded halfway in the wall. I carefully pulled her out, then slung her limp body over my shoulder, which would have looked strange to anyone who saw. Fortunately, I was able to handle the weight and carried her to the door, pausing only a moment to look at the briefcase. However, after one look at Focus, I continued on my way out of the suite.

I started to carry White Diamond down the hall, and she stirred a bit on my shoulder as she started to come out of it. “Come on,” I told her. “Wake up. I can teleport myself out of here, but not you…”

Unfortunately, at that moment, I ‘knew’ that there were three armed men coming around the corner down the hallway. As soon as they turned the corner, I opened fire, taking three shots before I was able hit one of them. He immediately dropped to the ground, but the other two had backed up and used the other hallway as cover while opening fire. I pressed myself up against a doorway, cursing and wishing I could just teleport away.

“Shooting in the hallway is bad for business,” I called out. That only earned me a couple more shots.

White Diamond squirmed in my arms, which made holding her even more awkward than it already was. However, she was in the process of waking up, which meant that I probably wouldn’t have to carry her for much longer. Once she was awake, she could teleport herself to safety and I could haul my own ass out of here without feeling guilty.

I fired several shots towards Corvas’ men while desperately trying to think of a way out of this. Unfortunately, my mind kept going to the tether, which I KNEW could get me out of this. Me and only me.

“Wake up,” I ordered White Diamond, pressing up against the door so I could get her off my shoulder. Her eyes opened, but she was clearly still dazed.

I was about to shake the silent villain in the hope that it would help clear her head, when the door to the suite suddenly exploded. Energy burst through the frame, revealing that Focus was still busy. From the destruction he’d just caused, I imagined that he wasn’t going to get his room deposit back.

“Play possum,” I told White Diamond, running right towards the destroyed doorway. As I’d hoped, the goons started to chase after me. I felt a burst of pain through my thigh as a bullet tore through it, and I dropped to my knees with a scream.

“Gotcha now,” one of the goons exclaimed as he caught up to me, pointing his gun right at my head.

“Do you?” I asked with a grin, mentally tugging on my tether and teleporting right back to where I’d just left my anchor beside White Diamond. Without hesitation, I shot both goons from behind, smiling as they dropped to the ground. However, my smile didn’t last long at all because my leg hurt like hell. “DAMN IT.”

White Diamond put a hand on my shoulder, though I wasn’t sure if she was trying to comfort me or just use me as support until she regained her balance. I looked up and saw that she no longer looked dazed and out of it. Instead, she had a dark expression on her face, one that made me thankful that I wasn’t the one she was angry at.

“Focus was fighting Harper,” I told her with a grimace, looking towards the ruined door.

She nodded at that, then started walking towards the door, though she moved slowly and was clearly a still a bit unstable. However, she didn’t have to go all the way, because Harper stepped out of the suite, wearing nothing but charred rags. His skin was blistered and badly burned in several spots, and in his right hand, he held Focus, lifting him up by his shirt.

“Damn, he’s tough,” I gasped, trying to stand up and putting all my weight on my good leg.

I momentarily wondered how Harper could possibly take all that damage, but suddenly ‘knew’ that he’d been augmented by a devisor. I also knew that the process made him strong and tough, but also cut his lifespan by about two decades. Again, my power gave me interesting but useless trivia.

“You’re a real pain in the ass,” Harper told Focus, who looked pretty bruised but still alive and defiant.

“You and that little bitch are going to pay for this,” Corvas said as he stepped out of the suite as well. He looked about as shaky and unstable as White Diamond and was leaning on the door frame.

White Diamond threw herself at Harper, hardening her density as much as she could right before she punched him. The man was knocked back and dropped Focus. The mute villainess continued punching and kicking at Harper, showing almost no sign that she’d been completely out of it just two minutes ago.

I staggered forward, half hopping on my good leg. I winced with each hop, wishing that I still had my anchor in the parking garage, but knowing that I’d given it up for good effect. Now I had to get out of here the hard way.

Corvas was caught up watching White Diamond and Harper, and didn’t notice me until I’d finally reached the spot where I’d dropped his two goons. I was tired of dealing with the stun gun, so dropped that and picked up one of the guns that his goons had dropped. It was then that Corvas finally turned and saw me.

“YOU,” he snarled, obviously pissed from the way I’d stunned him and then kicked him in the balls.

He immediately raised his gun to shoot, but by the time he pulled the trigger, I’d already tugged on my tether and had teleported back down the hallway. I started shooting the instant I reappeared, hitting him in the shoulder and side. Unfortunately, he didn’t fall down dead. He grabbed the wall for support, glared at me with an expression of pure hate, then raised the gun to shoot again. This time, I didn’t have a fallback anchor set up.

Suddenly, the lights flickered, just a moment before a blast of energy hit Corvas and burned through his stomach. Focus was on the floor, holding his hand against an electrical outlet and glaring at the mob boss, who’d just collapsed.

“You should have been satisfied with a percentage,” Focus said, slowly getting to his feet but moving slowly. “But you had to get greedy.”

I looked down the hall where White Diamond was still fighting with Harper. He slammed her up against the wall, putting her partway through it. However, this time she was fully dense and didn’t appear to be hurt too badly. However, she was smiling, and it was NOT a nice smile.

White Diamond grabbed Harpers arm, and suddenly, he began to sparkle instead of her. I immediately realized that she’d given up her density in order to turn him intangible. The mobster dropped right through the floor with a look of surprise on his face.

The intangibility wore off before Harper had completely passed through the floor. His shoulder, arm, and the top part of his head were all still on our floor, but the rest of him was embedded into the floor and dangling into the floor below. For several seconds, his arm spasmed, then he stopped moving.

“There are a couple more goons coming,” I warned Focus and White Diamond. I could feel them on the very edge of my awareness. With a grunt, I held my injured leg and tried to stand up straight, but it was hard to focus on this with both the pain and the knowledge that more armed men were just around the corner.

White Diamond staggered back towards us, once again showing her exhaustion and pain. But in spite of that, she still had a determined look on her face, and she still began to sparkle as she called up her powers. A second later, I was pulled back into the gray fog and spat back out in the parking garage, right next to the car.

We all scrambled into the car as quickly as we could, which wasn’t actually very fast since all of his were injured in one way or another. I got into the back, still holding my leg and wincing with each movement. Fortunately, I no longer seemed to be bleeding, courtesy of the small bit of healing I received each time I teleported.

With an angry expression, White Diamond signed to Focus, “WE LOST EVERYTHING.”

“Only what was in the suite,” Focus assured her. “Most of what we left will be easy to replace…”

I winced at that, thinking about all the clothes that White Diamond had bought me, and which I’d been forced to leave behind. And even worse, I’d lost the bonus that Focus had given me for the job. Without that, I was going to have a harder time going on my own. Fortunately, I’d actually listened to my dad when he said that it was a good idea to keep an ace up your sleeve.

“We didn’t lose everything,” I announced with a faint smirk.

Focus and White Diamond both gave me curious looks, while I smiled faintly and reached out for the one tether that I had remaining. Just a short time ago, when the opportunity had presented itself, I’d set a small anchor. Now, because of that foresight, a briefcase full of cash suddenly appeared in my hands. My companions both gasped in surprise.

“Good thinking,” Focus said, giving me a nod of approval.

With that, we pulled out of the parking garage and began to drive away from the Arch. I had no idea of where we were going to go, and at that moment, I didn’t really care. We’d escaped Corvas and I was still alive, with a briefcase full of cash. With that, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and allowed myself a smile of satisfaction.

linebreak shadow

Reno Nevada, Sunday late afternoon, October 21st.

I was leaning back on a couch with my legs up on the coffee table. This was pretty rude, but at the moment, I didn’t care in the least. Keeping my leg stretched out this way made the injury in my thigh feel a little better.

Focus, White Diamond, and I were currently in a ‘safe house’ that was owned by one of Focus’ friends or business associates. I didn’t really know who owned the place, only that after we’d escaped the Arch, Focus made a call and quickly found the place for us to lay low in.

White Diamond walked into the living room where I was resting, looking a little banged up herself. She hadn’t been shot the way I had, but from the looks of her eye, she was going to have a really nice shiner. I was pretty sure that she was going to have a few other bruises too…over most of her body. Harper had given her a pretty nasty hit when he’d sucker punched her, and he’d gotten in some serious hits during their fight.

Without bothering to sign anything to me, White Diamond handed me a can of coke and a bag of crushed ice. I put the bag over my thigh, which felt better for the ice pack. “THANK YOU,” I signed to her, earning a faint smile and a, “YOU ARE WELCOME.”

I took a drink of my Coke and then rubbed my leg. Almost as soon as we’d arrived at the safe house, we took care of our emergency medical needs. My teleporting had healed me enough to stop the bleeding, but we still cleaned and bandaged the wound. After all, it wouldn’t be very difficult for me to tear it open again, which was why I’d also been instructed to stay off my leg and let it heal.

Focus came into the room a minute later, looking just as rough as White Diamond and me. He had a couple cracked ribs from his fight with Harper, and was in a lot of pain, though he was trying to hide it. Still, the slow way he moved and the way he was favoring one side would have given it away to anyone paying attention.

“How are you feeling, kid?” Focus asked me, before correcting, “Tether.”

“Just super,” I responded wryly. Once I had a bit more energy, I was going to make a couple short teleports, just to speed up the healing a bit more.

Focus smiled faintly and took a seat. “Good thinking with the briefcase. There was no need to leave that behind when we didn’t have to.”

I nodded at that, then cautiously asked, “Do I get a percentage?”

For a moment, Focus just stared at me, then he chuckled. “Yes. You’ve earned a percentage. It’s always good business to reward loyalty and initiative.”

White Diamond nodded her agreement, then signed to Focus, “WE CAN’T STAY HERE.”

“I know,” Focus responded with a scowl. “Corvas’ people will be looking for us.” He looked to me, letting me know that a lot of this explanation was to my benefit. “His replacement will want to kill us in order to solidify his position. He’ll need to prove to his people that he can deal with us.”

“DO WE LEAVE TONIGHT?” White Diamond asked.

Focus shook his head. “No. Our best option is to lay low and heal up for a couple days, then sneak out of town. I’ll have someone put out the rumor that we were spotted in Vegas today.”

After considering this for several seconds, White Diamond nodded agreement. “GOOD IDEA.”

I didn’t say anything since I didn’t want to assume that I was included in their plans. After all, I’d been about to say goodbye to them, right before Corvas interrupted. And even though I might have been useful on that last job, I was pretty sure that a couple professional supervillains wouldn’t want me to continue hanging around and getting in the way.

Focus turned his attention back to me, saying, “Tether… Our earlier conversation was interrupted…”

I gave him a wry smile. “That’s one way to put it.”

“Before we were so rudely interrupted,” Focus told me with a faint smile of his own, “there was something I wanted to discuss with you. I had been considering an investment opportunity, but now, I’m certain that I want to make this investment.”

“An investment opportunity?” I asked suspiciously. That sounded a little too much like a line my dad uses on suckers when he was trying to get them to hand over their savings accounts.

“I want to invest in you,” Focus stated.

“In me?” I responded, both surprised and confused by this.

“I’m a businessman,” Focus explained patiently, straightening up only to wince from the pain. He quickly covered it up and continued. “I perform forceful acquisitions, and I often do this under contract to the Syndicate. But first and foremost, I am a businessman. I am always looking for a good opportunity to invest, and I see that in you. You have a lot of potential, and I want to help you fulfil it…”

“Okay,” I said carefully, still feeling confused about what he meant.

“YOU NEED TO BE MORE CLEAR,” White Diamond signed to Focus, giving me an amused look.

Focus bowed his head in acknowledgement. “You’re correct, as usual.” Then he looked back to me. “You’ve recently lost your home, and I believe you have nowhere to go, nor any plans on what to do…” He paused, clearly waiting on my response.

“No,” I reluctantly admitted, though I quickly added, “Not yet.”

“WE CAN HELP,” White Diamond told me.

“I have a solution,” Focus said at exactly the same time.

I gave Focus a suspicious look. “And that is?”

“Back east, there’s a school for mutants,” Focus answered, looking me straight in the eyes. “It was set up for kids like you, and I think this is your best option right now. They can give you a place to stay, help you to master your powers, give you an education, and even teach you most of what you need for the business.”

“A school?” I asked in surprise, momentarily wondering if Focus was playing me somehow. He wasn’t the type for jokes, but he might have something else in mind. “Isn’t that kind of thing expensive?”

“VERY,” White Diamond signed.

Focus nodded agreement and shifted position, only to wince again. “If you choose to go,” he told me after a few seconds, “I’ll cover your tuition and even pay you a stipend. And in exchange, I may ask you to help me with an occasional job. Your talents could be extremely useful, especially once you’ve been trained and have a little experience under your belt.”

“Are you serious?” I asked Focus, still feeling a bit suspicious. He’d already told me that he expected me to help him on an occasional job, but I wondered if there was some other catch I hadn’t seen yet.

 

“Like I said,” Focus explained. “I see this as an investment. One day, it may be extremely beneficial for me to have a trained operative who owes me a favor or two. And if you do go into the business and are interested in contract work, the Syndicate will pay me a finder fee.”

Now that Focus had his cards on the table, I nodded in understanding. He wanted to pay for my education as a form of investment, but the only way he would really benefit from that investment, was if I went into ‘the business’. And from what Focus had said about having me help him with the occasional job, it was pretty obvious that he fully intended to steer me in that direction. Fortunately, I wasn’t really bothered by that.

Until very recently, I never would have considered being a ‘supervillain’ as a possible career choice, at least not seriously. However, I’d actually fantasized about being a supervillain for several years, every time I wrote about Ms. Perfect. I’d envied Ms. Perfect not only for her beauty, grace, and intelligence, but also for her ability to do whatever she wanted, regardless of rules or other people’s opinions.

Of course, the idea of becoming a professional criminal brought up the whole morality question, but the truth was, it was a trick question. Nearly everybody tried to control other people or take things from them. That was simply how the world worked. Some of them used the law. Some used money. Some used fame, charisma, or good looks. And then there were those who cut through the self-deception and used physical force. In the end, the only real differences were ones of style. It was all about using whatever resources you had to get what you wanted.

I thought of the politicians who’d stolen my old house, only to sell it for a profit. I thought of the cops, who took bribes to look the other way, or who used their positions to extort money from business owners. Everyone had things they wanted, and would do whatever they needed to get them. Everyone.

Could I do that though? Could I actually use my powers to steal from other people? Well, since I’d already done it a couple times, the answer was obviously yes. And in spite of how scary it had been, there had been a certain satisfaction in getting away with it too.

As Dad said, life is like a game, and you had to pay to play. If you didn’t play, then you didn’t have a chance at the pot, and I definitely wanted my chance at the pot. I was tired of watching everyone else walk away with the winnings.

“Deal me in,” I told Focus.

“Excuse me?” Focus asked, looking a little confused.

“It’s a deal,” I announced.

White Diamond smiled at that and signed, “YOU HAVE MADE A GOOD DECISION.”

Focus stood up, wincing from the pain from his cracked ribs, and held his hand out to me. After we shook on our agreement, we sat back down and Focus told me more about this school I would soon be attending.

linebreak shadow

Reno Nevada, Tuesday afternoon, October 23rd.

Home. I was finally home for the first time about a week and a half. Of course, I was still standing outside the door to the apartment, and I’d lost my key during everything that had happened, but that wasn’t a problem since I knew where Dad hid the spare key.

The key hadn’t been hidden above the door jam or beneath the mat. In fact, the key hadn’t even been hidden on this floor. Those places would have been far too easy for someone to find the key, and to let themselves in. Instead, it had been hidden in the broom closet of the second floor, the floor below ours, and had no apartment number on it, just in case someone else found it. The only reason Dad had hidden a spare key at all, was because a couple goons had once jumped him, beat the crap out of him, and then took everything he had on him, which included his keys, wallet, and even his clothes.

After I let myself into the apartment, I looked around, scowling in disgust as I did so. The entire living room was filled with clutter, which included dirty dishes, fast food wrappers, empty beer cans, and even a couple pieces of Brad’s weight set, which he usually kept in his room. Obviously, no one had bothered to clean anything since the last time I had. And when I peeked into the kitchen, I saw even more evidence of this.

“How could this place get so bad, so fast?” I asked with a shake of my head.

I hadn’t come home just to clean up after my slovenly dad and brother, so went back to my bedroom to focus on what I had come here for. Picking up my stuff. None of my old clothes would fit me anymore, and most of my old belongings weren’t worth the effort of hauling with me. However, there were a few things that I wanted to keep.

It was immediately obvious that someone had been looking through my belongings, and that they hadn’t been especially careful when doing so. Several of my drawings and comic book pages, which had been stored either on or in my desk, were now spread out over my bed. I paused to look over them, staring at the pictures of Major Macho and Ms. Perfect that were right on top, positioned as though someone had been looking at them.

“I’m not leaving these behind,” I announced to the empty air as I began to gather up the pages. I’d spent a lot of time and effort working on those pictures and my comic book, and there was no way I was going to leave those behind if I didn’t have to. As I did this, I held up one of my favorite pictures of Ms. Perfect and smirked. “Whoever would have guessed that you’d be my role model.”

Once I’d gathered all my drawings and drawing tools, and loaded them into my duffel bag, I went to the bottom drawer of my dresser and removed it. I reached back through the opening until I found what I was looking for, then pulled out the envelope that I’d hidden there. It contained a couple hundred bucks, which I’d saved up from my allowance, Brad’s bribes, and money I’d skimmed from Dad. This was small change compared to either the bonus that Focus had given me or my percentage for recovering the briefcase, but I wasn’t about to leave it behind.

“I guess that’s everything,” I said, when I’d finished collecting a few more odds and ends. It was depressing to think that everything from my old life that I was going to keep, could all be stuffed into a single duffel bag.

I was just leaving my room when I heard someone unlocking the apartment door. I paused for a moment, about to tug on my tether and escape, when I realized that it was only Brad. After a second of consideration, I stepped into the living room and waited for my brother.

Brad stepped into the apartment and it only took him two seconds to see me. His eyes widened in alarm, then he snarled, “What the fuck? Who the hell are you?”

He came towards me, puffing himself up a bit to look even more intimidating. However, after everything I’d been through, my brother no longer intimidated me in the least. Compared to Corvas or Harper, he was just a kid with attitude.

“Relax,” I told my brother, which immediately made him tense up and grow more irate. “I’m just here to pick up my stuff.” And with that, I swept my hair back, revealing the odd looking eye that had been obscured. Brad’s eyes widened in recognition.

“Mikey?” he blurted out in shock and confusion. “Is that you?”

“In the flesh,” I responded wryly, making a sexy pose just to mess with him. “But I go by Michelle now. Do you like my new look?”

“You… You look like a chick,” he exclaimed, obviously confused. “You look like that chick in your drawings…”

I raised an eyebrow at that, since it indicated that Brad was the one who’d been looking through my things. “A side effect of my mutation,” I explained with a shrug.

“I always knew you were queer,” Brad grumbled a bit defensively. However, he still stared at me, and it was with a look of relief rather than disgust. He even looked like he was starting to tear up. “You’re alive… I can’t believe you’re still alive. Dad said that some guy named Corvas killed you…”

“He tried,” I responded with a wince.

Brad nodded at that and continued, “I mean, Dad came home all busted up, saying that he got the shit kicked out of him while trying to save you...”

“Is that what Dad told you?” I asked in surprise. Then I gave him a wry smile and asked, “Does that really sound like Dad?” Before Brad could answer, I told him, “Dad sold me out… He turned me over to Corvas to save his own skin…knowing that Corvas was going to shoot my ass.” I raised my voice, still angry and hurt when I thought about it. “He set me up to get killed…”

For a moment, Brad just stared at me with a look of disbelief and anger that I’d say something like that about Dad. However, he quickly deflated and reluctantly nodded. “Yeah, that sounds more like Dad.” After a shake of his head, he gave me a worried look. “What about this Corvas guy? Is he still looking for you?”

“Not anymore,” I responded with a smirk. “The last time I saw him, was a few days ago when I put a couple bullets through him…” Of course, Focus was the one to actually finish Corvas off, but Brad didn’t need to know that.

Brads eyes went wide at that and I could see the surprise and skepticism. “What about Harper…?”

“He won’t be a problem either,” I answered, looking down at Brad’s curl bar, which had been left in the middle of the living room. The bar was intended to perform curls with both arms at once, but I bent over and picked the thing up with one hand, doing a single curl and getting a look of shock from my brother. I dropped the bar to the floor, where it hit with a thud. “I’m a little stronger than I look…”

“Holy shit,” Brad exclaimed. “There is no fucking way you just did that…”

I looked Brad in the eyes, and saw that in spite of his words, he did believe me. And to my own surprise, he actually looked just a little afraid, which was a vast difference over the way he normally tried to intimidate me.

“What now?” Brad asked warily.

I held up my duffel bag and nodded towards the door. “I just came to pick up my stuff. I can’t stay here…not after Dad sold me out.”

Brad nodded at that, looking sad, but also just a little relieved. “Then where are you going?”

“I’ve already made arrangements,” I assured my brother with a weak smile, though I avoided mentioning what those arrangements are. I let out a sigh and shook my head, then reluctantly admitted, “I’m going to miss you…and Dad. But…you probably won’t see me again. I’ve got to get out of town, and I doubt I’ll ever come back.”

Brad nodded again, and I could see from his expression that he understood. “You got mixed up in some pretty heavy shit.” He hesitated a moment, then asked, “Are you going to wait around for Dad?”

I just shook my head. “If I saw him, I’d probably just deck him. After what Dad did, it’s better for both of us if I didn’t see him.”

“I can understand that,” Brad admitted. “Do you want me to give him a message?”

I hesitated for a moment, then shook my head. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell him about my new look,” I said a little self-consciously. “But if you have to tell him something…tell him I’m buying myself a seat in the game.”

“Will do,” Brad responded, giving me a strange look which just might have been one of respect.

On a sudden impulse, I grabbed him in a quick hug, then stepped back and said, “Goodbye.”

“Later, loser,” Brad told me with forced smile.

“Later, asshole,” I responded, giving him a nod of acknowledgement before I pulled on my tether and vanished.

I appeared in the parking long next to the apartment building, right beside a car. I didn’t hesitate before opening a door and climbing into the back seat. White Diamond, who was in the driver’s seat, looked back at me with a nod, while Focus, who sat in the passenger seat, gave me a curious look.

“Do you have everything you need?” Focus asked me.

“From there,” I responded, letting out a sigh. “But I would like to make one more stop before we go…”

A couple minutes later, we arrived at Aaron’s house, where White Diamond parked alongside the street. I set an anchor, then got out and walked to the front door, wincing a little at the journey. My leg was still tender from where I’d been shot, and I walked with a bit of a limp. It would probably take a few more teleports before my leg healed completely.

After knocking on the door, a somewhat chubby woman with dark hair answered. “Hello,” I greeted Aaron’s mom. “Is Aaron home?”

Aaron’s mom gave me a look of surprise, probably at the fact that there was a pretty girl asking for Aaron. However, she quickly got over her surprise, at least enough to usher me inside while yelling out, “Aaron, you have a visitor.”

I didn’t have to wait long before Aaron came into the room, freezing when he saw me, except for his mouth which just dropped open. I smirked at his reaction, which was even better than the one Brad had. And Aaron had known I was turning into a girl.

“Mikey?” Aaron squeaked out, though he quickly looked around to see if his mom overheard him. Fortunately, she’d wandered into the kitchen in order to give us a little privacy.

“I go by Michelle now,” I reminded him as I said this for the second time in the last half hour.

“You’re…you’re a girl now,” Aaron said, to which I just smirked. I didn’t bother to tell him that even though I looked all female on the outside, my internal plumbing was still in the works. I was close enough that it didn’t really matter. “And you really do look like Ms. Perfect…or her kid sister.”

“I wasn’t expecting it to go this fast,” I admitted, making a sexy pose and nearly laughing at the look on his face. Then I paused, looking towards the kitchen and realizing that Aaron’s mom was trying to get close enough to listen in on us. “Let’s talk in your room…”

As soon as we were in Aaron’s room, with the door shut, he demanded, “Where were you? When you disappeared without saying anything, I thought those guys caught you… I thought you were dead…” He stared at me with a hurt expression, as though I’d somehow betrayed him by showing up alive.

“I was captured by a couple supervillains,” I explained a little awkwardly, earning a gasp of surprise. “They didn’t hurt me or anything, but I wasn’t exactly free to go…”

“Oh my God,” Aaron exclaimed, still staring at, though this time there was a look of worry.

“We worked things out,” I quickly assured Aaron, not wanting him to worry about me any more than he already had. I gave him a reassuring smile. “And Corvas won’t be after me anymore either, though it won’t be safe for me to hang around.” I hesitated a moment before adding, “I’ve got to leave town…”

Aaron blinked at that and I saw he understood. “You’re here to say goodbye…”

I nodded. “And I wanted you to know I was alright,” I told him a little awkwardly. After everything he’d done for me, I owed him that much at the very least.

Half the time that Aaron and I had been friends, I’d thought of him as being a bit of a nuisance. I felt a little guilty for that. The truth was, he had been the only other person who’d been interested in my comics, and the only one I’d felt free to share them with. I’d used him as a wall to bounce ideas off of, and he’d helped to inspire several of the characters and situations that I’d drawn. And then, there was the fact that when I was in trouble, he hadn’t hesitated to help me. He’d had my back when even my own Dad didn’t. That counted for a lot.

“I owe you a debt,” I told Aaron, putting as much formality as I could into those words. “Someday, I’ll pay you back…”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Aaron protested. “We’re friends. You should always help friends…”

“Then I’m glad you were my friend,” I responded, starting to tear up, much to my embarrassment. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you too,” Aaron told me quietly.

I stood there for several seconds, feeling self-conscious and a bit awkward, then I gave Aaron a hug. When I pulled away from him a few seconds later, I was blushing bright red, wondering if this hugging thing was part of being a girl. After all, I’d hugged Brad and now Aaron, and I never would have done that before.

Then an idea suddenly occurred to me, and I wondered if I should kiss Aaron too. I didn’t feel particularly attracted to him, or to any guy, but it somehow seemed appropriate that my first kiss as a girl would be with him. However, the whole situation was already pretty awkward, and after a few seconds, the moment had passed.

Right then, I was suddenly very aware of the fact that I wasn’t completely female yet, and wouldn’t be for a couple more days. I was just as aware of the fact that I had a LOT to learn about actually being a girl

“I have to get going,” I told Aaron. “I’ve got some people waiting on me. I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again, but…”

“Hey,” Aaron interrupted me with a smirk. “You’ve got my email. Just don’t be a stranger.”

I laughed at that, having forgotten all about something as obvious as email. “Then I’ll try to stay in touch,” I promised him. Then, taking another suggestive pose and giving him a wink, just to mess with him, I tugged on my tether and instantly returned to the car.

“Are you finished now?” Focus asked me from the front seat.

“Yes,” I answered, staring out the window at Aaron’s house, and oddly enough, feeling even sadder about saying goodbye to him than I was to my own home.

“No other friends to say goodbye to?” Focus asked.

“STOP TEASING HER,” White Diamond told him with a scowl. “SAYING GOODBYE IS NOT EASY.”

Focus smiled faintly and gave a faint nod. “Very well then. Let’s be on our way.”

linebreak shadow

Whateley Academy, New Hampshire, Saturday October 27th.

Whateley Academy. I’d never heard of this school until Focus told me about it, and since he’d never actually been here himself, all he had was secondhand information. Still, from what he said about the place, it certainly sounded unique.

I arrived at the school just a short time ago, and was immediately given the nickel tour. From what little I had seen, the school really did look interesting, certainly more than any of the public schools I’d ever attended. And then, once the tour was over, I was taken to Poe Cottage, a real old school brick building, and turned over to Mrs. Horton, the house mother.

Mrs. Horton was a dark haired woman who came off as no-nonsense, though I still got something of a protective motherly vibe from her at the same time. As soon as I’d been introduced to her, I ‘knew’ that she was some sort of magic user, which made me a little wary of her, because I didn’t know anything at all about magic or what she could really do with it.

“Welcome to Poe Cottage,” Mrs. Horton told me with a gentle smile.

“Thank you,” I responded politely.

“The first thing you need to know,” Mrs. Horton told me with a serious look, “is that Poe Cottage has a secret that the rest of the student body is not aware of, and that we expect you to keep with your utmost diligence.”

“A secret?” I asked, immediately becoming interested.

“Poe Cottage is a sanctuary of sorts,” Mrs. Horton explained. “For students with gender issues, such as those who are gay, bisexual, or who are changelings like yourself.”

“Changelings?” I asked, a little confused by the terminology, but considering that she’d used that word in the same sentence as gay and bisexual, I could easily guess what she meant.

Mrs. Horton gave me a gentle smile and explained, “Changeling is a term that we use to describe those who have changed gender, or are in the process of doing so.”

I stared at Mrs. Horton in surprise as I blurted out, “You mean, I’m not the only one?”

“Changelings are uncommon,” she told me, looking faintly amused, “but certainly not unheard of. In fact, there are a few other changeling already living in Poe.”

“And nobody knows about this?” I asked, thinking about the whole secret thing that she’d mentioned.

“Most of the student body is completely unaware of Poe’s real purpose,” she assured me. “Even among mutants, who should know better than most, there are those who are bigoted and intolerant of those who are different. Poe Cottage is a sanctuary, where those with gender identity or alternate sexualities can be themselves without having to worry about that kind of hostility. Because of this, we are all very protective of this secret, and would be extremely displeased with anyone who reveals it.”

I nodded my understanding, knowing that I would be more than happy to keep that secret. One of the things that I’d been worried about when coming to Whateley, was that people would find out that I used to be a boy. I was a girl now, through and through, so there was no reason that anyone needed to know that I used to be anything else.

“Got it,” I said. “I can keep my mouth shut.”

“Good,” Mrs. Horton told me. “Now, come with me, and I’ll show you to your new room.”

Mrs. Horton led me up to the second floor, then down a hallway to one of the doors. She knocked on the door, then when it began to open, she handed me the key. A moment later, a petite Asian girl stood in the doorway, glancing at Mrs. Horton before giving me a curious look.

“Jennifer,” Mrs. Horton greeted the girl. “This is Michelle, your new roommate…”

Jennifer looked at me with increased interest before smiling hesitantly. “Hi…”

“Hi,” I greeted her back with a nervous smile of my own.”

Jennifer backed up, clearing a path for me to enter the room. Mrs. Horton smiled faintly and told her, “Michelle is a changeling, like yourself. I expect you to show her around Poe and introduce her to the other students.”

The mention that Jennifer was a changeling like me, immediately caught my full attention, just as it had hers. Mrs. Horton turned and left the room, while the two of us stared at each other awkwardly for a few seconds.

“That’s your bed and dresser,” Jennifer finally said, gesturing around the room. “I have this side.”

“Thanks,” I responded, looking it over and letting out a sigh. I’d never had a roommate before, so this was going to be a bit strange for me.

“So,” Jennifer abruptly asked me, giving me a curious look. “What do you do?” At my blank look, she clarified, “I mean, your powers…”

“I’m an exemplar,” I answered, perhaps a little more proudly than I should have, but that was the power that gave me this body. “And I can teleport a little…”

“You’re a teleporter?” Jennifer exclaimed, her eyes gleaming with excitement. “Me too…”

I grinned at that, delighted to find something in common with my new roommate. “Really?” Then I remembered what else we had in common, and added, “And let me guess. You’re an exemplar too…”

Jennifer gave me an odd look, then asked, “Do I look like an exemplar to you?”

I shrugged at that, not really sure how to respond. I’d heard that a lot of exemplars looked really hot, like myself for example, and Jennifer was more on the pretty side of plain. “Mrs. Horton said you were a changeling,” I said awkwardly. “So I just thought…”

“I have GSD,” Jennifer quickly told me, scowling as she did so. I definitely got the impression that, unlike me, she wasn’t happy with her gender change. “I mean, I don’t have scales, horns, or anything like that, but still…” She shrugged in clear frustration.

Since it was obvious that Jennifer was uncomfortable with that topic, I said, “Well, teleporting is pretty cool. Mine is REALLY limited, so you can probably do more than I can…”

“I don’t know,” Jennifer admitted, looking a little self-conscious. “My range is pretty short.” Then she brightened up and added, “But I’m an energizer too. I can shoot these blasts of energy, and make them twist around and change directions in mid-air. In fact, that’s my codename. Twist.”

“Twist,” I said, trying her name aloud. “I’m Tether.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jennifer told me with a grin. “You’re lucky you got here when you did. If you were much later, you would have missed the big Halloween party…”

“Halloween party?” I asked, a little confused. With everything that had been happening, I’d almost forgotten that Halloween was in just a few days.

Jennifer just grinned a little more broadly. “Well, last year was the first Halloween in new millennium, so everyone on campus went all out with a massive party. At least, that’s what I heard. Well, this year, a few people are going to try beating that by making it even wilder. Two thousand and one is going to have the best Halloween party this school has ever seen…”

“That should be fun,” I said, more to be polite than for any other reason.

I wasn’t a big fan of parties. In fact, I was usually the guy who sat back in a corner, feeling bored and even irritated as everyone else had a good them. Then again, I wasn’t that guy anymore. In fact, I wasn’t a guy at all. With my new body, I could actually have a lot of fun, getting a sexy costume and showing off… I grinned as I considered it, realizing that this year might be different. This year, going to a Halloween party might actually be a lot of fun.

Before I could give a more sincere response, Jennifer announced, “Come on… I’ll show you around the cottage and introduce you to everyone…”

“Now that should be interesting,” I said, wondering how many other changelings there were around here.

“Welcome to the class of two thousand and five,” Jennifer told me with a grin a she stepped out into the hallway. “You’re gonna love it here.”

THE END

Comments   

+1 # LRochelle 2017-03-19 03:24
Well, just as I thought... Another great story Morpheus. If it has your name on it it is sure to be great. Thank you
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0 # alisa28 2017-03-19 21:17
Wonderful story and a great addition to Poe. Is this Halloween party the infamous one??
Can't wait to see some of the new training teams and, of course their adventures!!
Thanks!!
a
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0 # Bad Idea 2017-03-20 21:15
It's probably a Bad Idea to listen to anything I might have to say. Having given everyone fair warning, I will continue.

From the time stamps, I see that Tether is finished Whateley before the famous "Original Generation" even gets to Whateley. What I would be VERY interested in knowing is where Tether gets to while all the fun of the "OG" is happening? We ~sort of~ know that Imp was being a thief and ~semi-rehabilitating~ herself during that same time.

PLEASE Morpheus could we possibly have more???
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0 # Podracer 2017-03-21 22:13
Morpheus Magic!
And from the other side of the tracks too, to balance things a bit. Wish her luck.
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0 # Pyro Hawk 2017-03-22 08:05
I take it this is the Twist that Sphere runs into when Round & Round continues?

Interesting to see more background to the world, and it'll be even more interesting seeing if Tether turns up again, or what hints of her we see...
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0 # Erisian 2017-03-23 03:52
Another awesome Morpheus tale that demanded to be read in one sitting!
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