Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 17 – L’Amour Medicin
Ayla and the Mad Scientist
CHAPTER 17 – L’Amour Medicin
a Whateley novel
by Diane Castle
As I hurried into the Hawthorne tunnel and made my way toward Jobe’s lab, I realized I needed to make yet another call. I hoped it wasn’t too early. I dialed.
“Cecilia here. Hi, Ayla.”
I carefully asked, “It’s not too early, is it?”
She said, “Well, I’m having breakfast and I’m not going to be in the shop for a bit. But I can always use more business.”
I explained, “I grew. Overnight. I’m now five foot five, a thirty-seven triple D bra, about an inch bigger in the butt, and maybe half a shoe size larger.”
“How? You told me you might need some new clothes, but you were talking about menswear I thought.”
I sighed, “It’s a little problem… with Jobe.” I could hear the wince over the phone connection.
She said, “I have two appointments this weekend, but I can work you in anytime you need. And if you end up with… special needs…”
“Like a tail, or some extra arms?”
She went on, “I’m sure I can accommodate you.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I appreciate that. I’m going to see if there’s anything that can be done to ameliorate or completely rectify this situation, before I begin buying new clothing that might end up being the wrong size. But I wanted to give you a heads-up and let you know what’s going on.”
She said, “Well, you have been my best customer this school year, so you can ask for all sorts of things.”
I wrapped up the call and put my phone away before I sped up.
That turned out to be an immediate problem. I should have realized what would happen before I increased my speed. After all, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen Exemplars like Attributes and Mindbird run across campus.
All right, it was pretty hard to stop watching when Mindbird ran across campus. I’m a teenaged boy. I can’t help it.
But now I was having the same problem. My new breasts were bouncing like mad. They were bobbling so badly that I couldn’t think of an adequately descriptive simile. And they hurt. I hadn’t paid enough attention to Vanessa when she complained about it, and now I realized I had been a jerky boyfriend.
But these breasts were a lot larger than even Vanessa’s. They moved in unfortunate directions. They got in the way of my arms as I ran. They pulled me forward when I tried to stop. They…
I realized something else. This was stupid. I was being stupid. I went heavy, and they stopped bouncing. Suddenly they had the consistency of the rest of my body. And since I was twenty times denser than normal, my body could easily overcome the pulls of gravity and inertia on my chest.
Man, would I have been in trouble if my warp field didn’t cover my breasts too. Not that I thought that was likely. My field covered my skin, as well as a small distance beyond my skin. Normally, that was about three or four centimeters. But I could also concentrate and get my field to cover most objects that I could hold within a few inches of my skin. My Whateley school blazer didn’t get more than a few inches from my butt at the hem, so I could grab it with my field and not lose the bottom inches of the blazer when I went light.
My gymbag was a flatpack bag designed so that it was about as wide as my torso, and only a couple inches thick when I had it packed. Or when Jody had it packed. That meant I could hold it against my chest, go light, and take it with me. But if I had these melons jutting so far out of my chest and getting in my way, would I still be able to pull that trick anymore?
When I reached the hallway to Jobe’s lab, there was a robot guard standing there.
“Halt. Please state the nature of your visit.”
Okay, a lifeless robot had a better presentation than Jobe did. Maybe this was a good idea. I carefully said, “I am Phase. I am here to see Jobe. She is expecting me.”
A few seconds later, the robot stepped aside and waved me past.
Belphoebe opened the door and let me in. It was probably a bad sign that I was getting to the point that I could tell her and Jobe apart just by their mannerisms. It probably meant I was hanging around Jobe way too much.
I stepped into the room, and Jobe pointed a weird-looking devise at me. It looked like a tricorder with elephantiasis, only with twisted antennae jutting out the front toward me.
She frowned at the readings and turned several dials. Finally, she asked, “What is that thing you’re wearing? It’s not a cloak, even if it has the right visual representation.”
“It’s a cloaking devise,” Belphoebe joked.
“Oh, how droll,” Jobe sneered. She looked at me and complained, “You see? You see what I have to put up with every day? What have I done to deserve this?”
“Do you mean other than the last four things you did that got you U.N. sanctions?” I asked, even though I knew she meant it to be a rhetorical question. I really should have let her comment slide, but I was too cranky and upset and just generally pissed at her to let it go.
She fussed, “How is saving an African nation from starvation a bad thing? Honestly, some people have no conception of rational threat assessment.”
I assumed she was complaining about the whole ‘tumor beef’ sanction. Although, with Jobe, there could be several other things she had done which were applicable in assorted horrific ways. I wasn’t even going to bring up that whole ‘giant African termites’ problem she had caused. I mean, even I knew that insects were a potential source of protein, but making the protein source gigantic so there was more protein to go around? Who would think that was a good idea? At least the things were only a foot or two long, instead of fifty feet long.
Jobe brought over another invention. This one looked rather like a daguerreotype camera made out of plastic, with some Star Wars memorabilia glued onto the sides. She pointed it at me and triggered it.
My glamoured cloak shivered and then faded away as I watched. Damn.
Freight Train smirked, “Nice rack, baby!” and gave me a wolf whistle. Wow, and I had assumed Jobe was the biggest jerk in the room.
Great. Now I was standing there in an outfit that looked like an Exemplar’s aerobics outfit. I looked like Attributes, or the Yellow Queen, or one of the many other girls on campus who were dying to show off how hot they looked. Ceecee came to mind, unsurprisingly.
Jobe’s eyes dove right for my boobs. Her whole head tilted forward, like she was still a fourteen year old boy. A fourteen year old boy without any social graces. She stared hungrily at my shape. I had a momentary impulse to slap her hard enough to embed her in the nearest wall.
She blinked several times and finally muttered, “This… This doesn’t make any sense! Come over here, I want a blood sample and a cheek scraping.”
She took a couple quick samples from me and put them into some sort of analyzer. The analyzer sat on a lab table and had a section that looked like a fancy fax machine for a mad scientist. That was where the sample went. The rest of it was something like a super chromatograph with a computer box attached, and three different flat-panel monitors mounted over the hardware. All three monitors lit up. One had a close-up of a DNA helix. Even I knew what it was. One had a long string of four different letters repeated over and over, with pop-up boxes labeling pieces of the string. The third had dozens of long, thin code sequences marked in a color system. Obviously, it was showing different detail levels of my DNA on the three monitors, but the actual DNA code meant nothing to me. It obviously meant something significant to Jobe. She started clicking on parts of the helix until she had dozens of detailed windows overlapping on the third monitor.
“Pheebs! Get over here and look at this!” Thankfully, she was pointing at a section of DNA code on one of the monitors, instead of, say, my butt.
Freight Train strolled past me on her way out. “Yeah, they’re like this ALL the time. Freaky, huh?”
Jobe waited until Freight Train was out of the lab. She didn’t look away from the screens, but she complained to Belphoebe, “Must we let her come in here? She’s just a distraction!”
Belphoebe said, “You know perfectly well what Bova said. She puts up a ‘tough chick’ front to hide her basic insecurity. The more we react to her attitude, the more she’ll keep doing it. And anyway, we need to monitor her every couple hours, just to be sure.”
Jobe fussed, “What’s to be sure about? We’ve been over this! Her transformation is going just fine. Everything is well within accepted parameters. None of her higher cognitive functions have been altered in any way, even if it would be a pleasure to remove that Jersey accent and some of those behaviors. I don’t see why everyone is over-reacting so much.”
She turned my way and complained, “And why can’t you keep your little Sidhe friends under control? They’re acting like I’m some sort of war criminal!”
I refused to sigh. “First, I do not control any of the Sidhe or Sidhe-like mutants on campus. Second, Fey is only a friend and teammate, not someone over whom I can exert any reasonable sort of control. Third, as far as they’re concerned, you are a war criminal, or perhaps something worse. They see this drow process just like baselines who have just been confronted with a formula that turns people into, say, orks. And since you aren’t showing any sort of consideration, they’re afraid of your future plans. The Sidhe are rare. You could easily overwhelm them with an army of drow. Perhaps, if you stopped and thought through the way that you acted around them, you might be able to make this easier for both sides.”
She groaned, “Oh my God, you sound like Bova. Is Macrobiotic giving lessons in being PC again?”
“Why would she try to give lessons, and why would anyone attending a lecture like that actually need to take the lessons?” I countered.
“You have talked to her, right?” she replied.
I said, “For someone who makes an effort to be politically correct, she’s the least annoying about it on campus. Have you noticed that she’s a vegetarian, and yet she doesn’t complain if other people eat meat? Even if they do so right next to her?”
She frowned, “That seems oddly considerate for someone of her ilk. It’s probably a ploy.”
Belphoebe pointed at a string of letters on one screen. “Ooh! Look at this!”
Jobe snorted. “I saw that ten minutes ago. Must you be so slow? It’s like working with Buster.”
“Or the pater!” Belphoebe snickered.
Jobe groaned, “I’m not sure which would be worse.”
I tried to focus on the two of them, but my supertop kept feeling unduly tight. Had I gotten the wrong size? I tried going heavy but not taking the top with me, and that lessened the discomfort.
Jobe turned around to talk to me. “Now there’s clear evidence of… Have you changed your top?”
“What? No. Of course not.”
She pointed at my breasts. “Then there’s been an observable increase in volume since you walked in.”
I looked down. “That’s… Oh crap!”
I inhaled in shock, and that was the last straw for the top. It couldn’t take the pressure from breasts that had the consistency of solid steel. It ripped down both underarm seams, and began unraveling across the bottom hem.
Maybe going heavy had been a fundamentally flawed idea. Maybe the whole enterprise had been a fundamentally flawed idea. Maybe…
“I think you’re going to need another top,” Belphoebe suggested with just a hint of amusement.
The top was no longer held down at the sides, and the bottom edge was pulled upward by the material until the bottom halves of my breasts were sticking out, and the top was about to slide right off my nipples. I grabbed the top with both hands and pulled it back down until I was at least not in danger of flashing Jobe. He would probably enjoy it, too.
All right, the word ‘probably’ was undoubtedly superfluous. He would enjoy it.
And where was I going to get more clothing down here? My choices were limited. Either I called some Kimbas for textile support, or I asked Dr. Moreau and her sidekick.
I tried, “Belphoebe? Is there a labcoat I could borrow?”
She glanced at me appraisingly and said, “Sure. And we have a couple bikini sets that are all adjustable.”
“Why would you have… Oh, never mind.” There was no point in asking, when the answer was obvious. Every one of their drows changed shape, some of them in drastic ways. They had to provide something in the way of clothing. And Jobe probably preferred that her drows have wardrobes that weren’t particularly concealing. String bikinis with adjustable triangles? Just what the love doctor ordered.
I walked over to the small rack where several sparkling white Whateley labcoats hung in plastic bags as if they were just back from the dry cleaner. Above the rack was a box of triangle bikini tops and one of bikini thong bottoms with side ties. The bikinis tops were all alike, white triangles that looked like they would cover your hand, but not much more. Great. Just great. It looked like it was time to call in the team.
I looked down again and just cringed. Without that supertop holding everything down, it was blatantly obvious that my boobs had decided to move from ‘inconvenient’ up to ‘utterly humiliating’. From a few inches away, they looked huge.
I called Jade on my bPhone. “Hi Jade, it’s Ayla. New problem… emerging.”
“You’re not growing a tail or anything, are you?” she wondered.
“No, but what I was growing last night is still growing. I’ve ripped my supertop apart.”
“Wow! I’ve heard of ‘buns of steel’, but I-”
I interrupted hastily, “Please, could you just have Jinn fly down to Jobe’s lab with something? A bigger supertop, or a sweatshirt, or… I don’t know. Maybe a charm from Nikki that would reconstitute the ‘cloak’ glamour she gave me earlier? It turns out Jobe has a devise that can shred glamours.”
“And it’s a good thing I do!” insisted said mad scientist. “DO you have any idea how many ways there are to defeat the pathetic security measures on these hallways?”
Okay, that was a valid point. If some of the security around here could be defeated by a glamour or illusion, then the labs around here wouldn’t be safe from mages, devisers, some gadgeteers, and anyone who simply purchased the skills or inventions of said mutants. So… an illusion that you are a Whateley Security officer, and presto. You have access to the lab door without being recognized.
And getting through the lab doors wasn’t always a problem. I knew a couple people who seemed to leave their doors open or unlocked fairly routinely. Even a lot of the people who locked their doors didn’t have protections from someone like me. Or someone like Dynamaxx, who had a gizmo in his armor’s hand to unlock security doors. Or someone like Nikki, who could unlock doors magically.
Or someone like Jade. She could cast into some nanowire and pick the lock. Or the nanowire could slide through a gap between the door and the frame, so she could open the door from the inside. Or she could cast into the locking mechanism of the door an simply make it open up for her. Or… Well, she had a lot more options than some people I knew.
Jobe apparently had his own security measures, including anti-magic runes, planar forcefields in the walls, and several things I simply didn’t recognize. I had to accept that he knew what he was doing. After all, he was Jobe Wilkins. He was bound to have more people after him or trying to wreck his research, than, say, Triaxial. Who never offended anyone, and whose big research efforts were into gadgets like page turners and ergonomic keyboards. I didn’t think anyone was ever going to be threatened by a trackball that was easier to use.
I turned back to Jobe. “I’m having a friend bring something down so I have a decent top.”
“What’s wrong with the bikinis? Bova didn’t mind. FT didn’t mind.”
I said, “Belphoebe, can you explain this to your… associate?”
She leered, “Oh… mater-”
“Don’t call me that,” Jobe frowned.
She continued, “-the point Phase is trying to make is that not everyone is overjoyed to have a changed body. You do remember how hard you’re working to go back to that wimpy form you had before?”
Jobe snapped, “There is nothing wrong with the Wilkins morphology! We’re a proud lineage. And just because people make fun of our ‘shy’ chin doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with it!”
I interjected, “So surely you can understand that lots of people aren’t happy with the way they look? You’re depending on that factor in order to get more potential drows.”
She said, “Well naturally. But you… You have a great body. And those dinky little things you had before were definitely not superheroine material.”
“I don’t intend to be a superhero,” I pointed out. She merely gave me a raised eyebrow. “I plan on becoming a financier. I don’t have plans to become another Champion.”
“Well good, because the man’s a complete moron,” Jobe growled.
I should have thought that it was obvious that was why I had used that particular superhero. Jobe’s father had a long history with more than one of the Champions.
Jobe pointed at one of the screens. “You see this?”
“Yes.” Well, I saw it, but I had no idea what it meant. It looked like a graph that went up and down repeatedly. A close-up of stock market prices. Something. The only thing that differentiated it from a detail of price fluctuations was the way it very clearly tied down to the x-axis at both ends.
Jobe pointed at it again. “There is no way this should be in the samples I took. I want repeat samples.”
She looked at me with her traditional glare of derision. “Isn’t it obvious? Please, just try to keep up with the adults.”
I refrained from making a snappy comeback, because I wanted to know what she was talking about a lot more than I wanted to engage in a pissing contest.
She ran one fingertip along the peaks on the graph. “Pheebs? Take another blood sample and an epidermal sample and an intramuscular sample. Stat.” Then she looked at me and said, “I think someone sabotaged your serum. The only way this could show up is if there were contaminants introduced before we gave you the injection.”
I pointed out, “You were complaining about one of your collective failing to turn on your private security system, and we do know someone got past the security guard in the hall the night before the injection.”
“I’m fully aware of all the times I’ve had to point out my group members’ lack of competence in one area or another,” she fussed.
“But my point is that we have reasonable ideas of when and how it was done, which should be indicative,” I added.
“Obviously,” she said. “And the serum tube may not have been washed and sterilized yet, since Freight Train is absolutely abysmal as a technical assistant. I’ll investigate that possibility myself.”
A robotic voice broke into the discussion. “Your Highness. There is an individual here to see your guest.”
Oh. Now I had an idea why Freight Train was giving Jobe the ‘Princess’ moniker.
“And who is it?” Jobe asked.
“The individual self-identifies as Shroud but does not have observable heartbeat, breathing, or body temperature beyond the ambient. It may be a devise. As such, it does have multiple weapons held internally.”
“Nice scanning system,” I noted. “It sounds like Shroud. Jade sometimes uses some sort of magical adhesion to stick Jinn into a devise body.”
“Ah-hah,” Jobe said smugly.
I faked a wince, as if I had just given away something I shouldn’t have. I suspected that by mid-afternoon at the latest, the Bad Seeds would have Jade down as a deviser-wizard combination. I had to assume that at least some of the Bads had better connections to the powers testing data than I did, so that might merely confirm what the records supposedly revealed. I was also assuming that the Bads would put their own personal spin on the powers testing records and Jade’s known ‘abilities’. They would most likely conclude that Jade was lying.
They would most likely conclude that Jade was indeed a deviser-wizard combo (with regen on the side), but that Jade was lying about her power levels so people would underestimate her.
As long as people cleverly deduced that was Jade’s big secret, I was happy. I was not going to be a happy boy if people started spreading the word that she was really just a kid with one weird PK trick. And regen on the side.
Jobe said to me, “Do you want to step out and pick up your couture delivery?”
“I’d be happy to,” I lied. I would really have preferred to have Jinn bring me the clothing, but I could guess that Jobe didn’t want even more intruders invading her precious lab, particularly when it had been invaded just two nights earlier. And this new invader couldn’t be adequately classified with her scanners. And this new invaders was heavily armed.
Okay, technically, Jinn was nothing but armaments with some camouflage so she could pass as a person.
I grabbed one of the labcoats, so I had something on over the ripped supertop. Then I stepped out and walked over to where Jinn floated in the air in front of the robot guard. I waved and said, “Hi. Thanks for dropping everything and bringing me something to wear.”
She handed me a sweatshirt that had to be an extra-extra-large. Or perhaps an extra-extra-extra-extra-large. Even folded, it looked huge. She said, “Zenith knows who’s the biggest Exemplar in the dorm.”
“Thank Zoe too,” I said. I was about to shrug into the sweatshirt when I realized it was going to be massively oversized on my form. It was big enough for Stormwolf or Kodiak. I needed one of those bikini tops to use as a bra underneath, so I didn’t bounce all over the place with every movement.
I told her, “This is great. I’m going to talk some more with Jobe, and then go to the clinic.”
She said, “Okey-dokey. I’ll wait here for you.”
The robot said, “That will be acceptable.”
She grinned like she had been waiting for the opening. “Domo harigato, Mister Roboto!”
I shook my head slowly as I walked back into the lab.
Belphoebe was looking at a monitor that displayed a view of the hallway. She said, “That’s number four.”
Jobe sniped, “What, is there a Styx fan club around here?”
Belphoebe complained, “Even Bova did that joke!”
<(Phase) Hey Shroud, where’d you get the line about Mister Roboto?>
<(Shroud) Goldmember. Austin Powers movie. Tennyo said it was a joke from the old rock song.>
I said to Jobe, “It’s more likely they got it from the third Austin Powers movie.”
Jobe looked over at Belphoebe and said, “Go ahead and activate the Lightning Launcher. I want the next person who says that running out of that hallway with their pants on fire.”
“Isn’t that overkill?” I asked rhetorically.
“You didn’t have to listen to Mal singing that song for three solid minutes,” Jobe grumbled. “And it’s not as if the Diaboliks have perfect pitch.”
Okay, I’ve said this before, but I think it bears saying again. There’s a world of difference between the complaining of an annoying, egomaniacal nerd with a whiny voice, and the exact same words issuing forth from a hot chick with a sexy voice. Maybe it’s all a matter of sexuality. Maybe it’s a matter of expectations. We expect from movies and television that the hot girl is likely to be the biggest bitch in the school, or the rich girl who gets her way all the time, or the spoiled girl who has daddy on speed dial. We expect that girl to sound sexy and vicious at the same time. We expect to still find her appealing. We have no such expectation for the whiny, unattractive nerd that everyone wants to punch in the face. Nerdboy Jobe had a voice that just grated on your last nerve. Drow hottie Jobe had a voice as rich and sweet as peaches Melba.
Nerdboy Jobe no doubt designed her that way.
Go watch “Body Heat” again. Kathleen Turner has a lot of lines that sound sexy, although smug. Try getting any nerdy guy to say those lines out loud. You’ll perceive the difference instantly. It was just vastly easier to listen to this version of Jobe without wanting to commit a felony.
On the other hand, when one considered who Jobe was, and who her father was, and what power she would probably wield someday, that might not be a good thing.
I took one of the triangle bras and tried to get the stupid thing on. Belphoebe finally came over and helped me out. The bottom string had to be tied behind my back, which wasn’t a skill I had ever practiced. Then the triangles had to be moved along their own strings so that they actually covered something important, and so that they provided some degree of stability for ‘The Dirty Pair’. Then I needed some more help from her to get the final string tied behind my neck so that the thing held my boobs in place and didn’t cut into the back of my neck too severely.
Who the hell designed these things, anyway? And why did women think tops like this were a good idea?
All right, those were rhetorical questions. I was quite sure that a guy designed the string bikini. And I was relatively certain that women wore them to look sexy, and to attract male attention, and to feel better about themselves. And I was stopping right there, because I didn’t want to end up some evening in the future getting a lecture from Macrobiotic about women’s self esteem and patriarchal societies and societal pressures on individuals. After all, the history of the Goodkinds was the history of America, and it wouldn’t take a Ph.D. in American History to link Goodkind ownership to some of the problems Sophia’s ancestors had endured.
I tried not to sigh as I adjusted the string behind my neck one more time. Why were breasts so much more attractive when they weren’t stuck on my chest? I hated these things, and I had only needed to cope with them for a couple hours. And yet I had to make a concerted effort not to stare when Mindbird came by the Kimba table, or Attributes walked past with her little bimbo posse.
<(Shroud) Hey, does anybody know the whole ‘Mister Roboto’ song? Fey? Could you get it off the net and pipe it over the Spots?>
I sighed out loud. <(Phase) Fey, please don’t. They’re perfectly capable of finding a version of the song pretty much anywhere and updating everyone else in the J-Team. And things will NOT go better here if a handful of inanimate objects serenade Jobe constantly with that song.>
I pulled on the sweatshirt, and promptly became lost. It was bigger than I realized. I had to roll up the arms. A lot. The shoulders of the sweatshirt drooped halfway down my elbows. The hem draped almost to my knees. Whose sweatshirt was this? Matterhorn’s?
What the hell. It was still a lot better than walking around in that bikini top.
Jobe was wearing a Workshop protective glove, while holding a pair of long tongs. And in the grip of the tongs was a small vial. She said, “Some idiot who won’t be named, even if her initials stand for Freight Train, put the serum vial to soak in the cleaning prep solution and neglected to get it out at the required time. But that means there is still a theoretical possibility of recovering information about the contaminants in the serum.”
Belphoebe asked, “Are you going to go back to your room?”
I said, “I think I should go to the clinic and at least have this evaluated and put on my record.”
Jobe snorted in derision. “Those quacks? Why waste your time? It’s not like they can do anything useful. They’ll probably want to put leeches on you. Or assess your bodily humors.”
Belphoebe said, “Maybe they’ll want to blow smoke up your ass.”
Jobe stared at Belphoebe, who stared back. Then they simultaneously burst out in gales of laughter.
“We can make that work in less than thirty hours.”
“Thirty? We can get it working before lunch!”
“You think so?”
“I know so! Look at this project I worked on when I was eleven…”
I was pretty sure I did NOT want to know what they had in mind. I was also pretty sure I didn’t want them doing whatever nightmarish weirdness they had just thought up. And I was also pretty sure I didn’t want to ask them why they thought of a crude expression like that in conjunction with ancient medical confusions.
So I pulled out my bPhone and did a quick internet search. Let me just say eww, with a side of yick. Those wacky Brits were a lot wackier three hundred years ago.
I started walking toward the door, before I remembered to ask something. “Hey Jobe, is there anything you specifically want the clinic to do, or not do?”
She shrugged carelessly. “I can’t think of anything useful they’d be able to do. Maybe you could take some benzodiazepines and stop acting so neurotic.”
“Thanks for the incredibly helpful pharmacological recommendations,” I said, keeping the sarcasm down to a point that she might not even notice.
It was a good thing I still had my bPhone out, because I had to look up benzodiazepines. They’re sedatives, and a number of them are commonly described for anxiety disorders and the like. As if my anxiety were somehow abnormal, given what was happening to my body. I didn’t like getting insulted by Jobe, but I really hated that I had to look it up afterward.
I left the lab and walked past Mister Roboto. Shroud was floating in front of it, trying to get it to dance ‘the robot’. I was just glad she was essentially invulnerable to a shot from a Lightning Launcher that might be fired by a grouchy bio-deviser.
Just in case, I went heavy until I was out of the hallway and around the corner. As soon as I went heavy, the bobbling on my chest eased up once again, so I stayed heavy. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to stay heavy for a really long time. Or perhaps permanently.
I stomped off to the clinic, with Shroud alongside, dancing the robot. Everyone we passed got a quick “Domo harigato, Mister Roboto!” from her. People apparently expected this kind of behavior from the J-Team, so we mainly received rolled eyes and the kind of avoidance behaviors you see when people deliberately try not to make eye contact with a homeless bum on the street.
Wow, sometimes I love being a Poesie. It’s like Christmas in July. At least, in the sense that you’re prepared for something warm and enjoyable, and instead you’re suddenly hurled into a bitter cold full of icy cruelty that stabs like frostbite.
Life was so much easier even ten months ago. Given the complexity of daily life as a Goodkind, that was probably not a good thing. Clearly, I needed to take some simplifying steps. My problem was that I was looking at not being able to complete those steps for several weeks, because they weren’t baby steps.
We reached the clinic and flew up the stairs to the entry area where they assessed cases and performed triage if needed. There were already four other students lounging around in chairs in the waiting area, and I had no idea how many of them were waiting to see a physician, and how many of them were waiting because a friend or loved one was in seeing a physician.
I reconciled myself to sitting down and waiting my turn. That would never have happened back when I was still Trevor Goodkind. The doctors came to us. We kept top-notch internists on retainer, specifically to prevent this type of problem, along with a handful of other classic problems seen within the medical and health management communities.
I stepped up to the nurse’s station, and a nurse I didn’t know gave me a faint smile. She said, “Could you give me a quick rundown of your symptoms and then fill out this form?” She handed me a clipboard.
I said, “I’m Phase. Jobe-”
She slapped a button under her desk, and a clear plastic barrier dropped down between us. A red light began flashing.
Shroud smirked at me and said, “Oops.”
A forcefield sprung up, screening every wall and the floor and ceiling, while blocking off every entrance and egress.
An impersonal voice blared, “Please remain calm. Medical personnel will be here to help you as soon as possible. Please remain calm.”
I muttered, “It would be a hell of a lot easier to remain calm if they weren’t over-reacting so massively.”
Shroud said, “Oh come on, it’s Jobe. And you are calm. Just grouchy. And frustrated.”
In a couple minutes, two people came running up to a screened doorway and activated devises on their suits so they could step through the forcefields. Both were in state-of-the-art biowarfare suits. Both looked like they were sealed in a red wetsuit up to their neck, although they were wearing sneakers and surgical booties over the feet of the suits. Above the neck, they wore helmets that were completely clear plastic, with deviser rebreathers attached near their jaw and connected via sealed tubing to small packs on their backs. The nurse was wheeling a large ‘crashcart’ and the doctor was carrying a scanning system the size of a briefcase.
The doctor said, “Now Phase, was it?” I nodded tersely. “Could you explain what happened with Jobe, and let us know where you have traveled since the incident. And if you can name all the people you came in contact with, it would be extremely helpful.”
<(Shroud) Problem at the clinic.>
<(Phase) Big problem. The entire clinic over-reacted when they heard Jobe was involved.>
<(Chaka) Hey, is it possible to over-react when Jobe’s involved?>
<(Lancer) I’m gonna agree with Iron Fist there. I pretty much hope that every time someone comes into the clinic and says the magic word ‘Jobe’ they slap him into biowarfare containment until they find out it’s overkill.>
<(Phase) Considering the alternative, one would suppose they have to.>
I explained to the doctor, “First off, it’s not a contagious illness, even if I appreciate your need to protect the campus from Princess Jobe.”
“Young lady, I believe you should let the people with the medical degrees make that sort of assessment,” he said patronizingly.
And once again, I was presented with a reason why being a part of the Goodkind family was preferable. Our doctors never treated us like ill-informed dolts. Granted, my sister Heather was an ill-informed dolt who was more likely to listen to her equally-inane friends than a reputable medical professional. But the rest of the immediate family was perfectly capable of making rational health-care decisions and learning what they needed to about any given illness. Even my younger brother Day.
Pardon me, I meant to say David. Some people were sensitive about being called ‘Day’ instead of David Gabriel Goodkind.
I insisted, “And I believe that you are over-reacting, and you should call Jobe first before you start wrapping the entire campus in BioSeal™.”
The nurse said, “We don’t use BioSeal. It’s a Goodkind Biomedical product. We use-”
I cut her off with a raised hand. “Yes, I am full aware that no one on this entire campus will use Goodkind International products. You don’t need to belabor the point. I find it annoying but understandable.”
Shroud helpfully added, “In case you didn’t know, she’s the Goodkind on campus.”
“Oh.” The nurse looked at me as if Shroud had said, “She’s about to mutate into a fifty foot tall spider.”
I calmly said, “My family name aside, I was voluntarily injected with a serum by Jobe Wilkins as part of an agreement between us. It’s not a communicable disease. And it’s not her drow process, which I find deeply disturbing and a clear example of taking advantage of those less fortunate than oneself. However, it has turned out that someone broke into Jobe’s lab the night before last and tampered with this serum – and possibly a large number of other sera and experiments in there.”
Wow, that made both of them turn pale. At least the nurse didn’t faint.
I continued, “However, Jobe has full containment, due to her extensive safety protocols. Also, she is studying my case and attempting to remedy the situation. But I felt it was incumbent upon me to come into the clinic so that the school had proper medical information on my condition.”
The doctor said, “Perhaps you could tell us what you believe your condition is. Then we can run some tests and check on that.” He then clicked a small mike on the side of his helmet and said, “Raul, check with Jobe stat, and get her take on this.”
So I took the opportunity to explain in some detail about the agreement, the contract, the serum, the side effects, and Jobe’s examination a little earlier.
The doctor’s reaction was to enter everything he could on a data tablet, as fast as he could. The nurse’s reaction was very obviously a silent ‘ARE YOU CERTIFIABLE?’
I looked at her and said, “You need to work on that bedside manner.”
Shroud said, “Well, you are crazy. You’re in Poe. You made a deal with Jobe.”
“And I hang around with you,” I added.
She just grinned. I had a feeling that she was plotting something that very second.
I stood there and let the nurse take off my oversized sweatshirt. My breasts had gotten bigger since I tied the bikini strings. It was somewhat obvious because of the way they were bulging upward and together. That, and the added weight that was making the bikini string pull on the nape of my neck.
Once I was standing there in nothing but a string bikini top and supershorts and a belt, the doctor began scanning me and my immediate environs. Then I had to breathe into a tube and let the nurse take samples of saliva, mucus, perspiration, tears, and earwax. I figured it was only a matter of time before they moved me somewhere else so they could get a urine sample and a couple other samples I didn’t want to think about.
I said, “The five inches in height is definitely a plus. The refusal of my body and BIT to masculinize is frustrating and discouraging. The continuing breast growth is definitely a downside.”
The nurse transferred all the samples to another nurse who was safely outside the containment protocols. I noticed that Nurse Two wasn’t in biowarfare garb, but was definitely covered up. Her surgical garb was topped with gloves that sealed around her forearms, boots that sealed around her calves, a surgical mask, and a clear plastic face shield.
I had to wonder just what sorts of fun surprises Jobe had unleashed on campus that they had these kinds of protocols in place when her name was announced. I mean, I knew about some of her efforts. Her room in Twain, which was now a single for Oak because no one else wanted to live in it, was one of the larger results. Then there were her little biowarfare feuds with everyone from Sara to Counterpoint. There were quite a lot of Jobe-related events since a nerdy male Jobe Wilkins had come to campus last fall, and I knew there were a couple that Jadis had refrained from telling me. I still hadn’t been able to find out the details on Jobe’s finale for the little Christmas adventure that the Bad Seeds had, but it was apparently another of her little masterpieces.
They finally concluded that it was safe to turn off the biohazard forcefields and move me to a private room. Only they moved me to a room which was also obviously designed as a biocontainment room too, including the seals on the door and the self-contained air circulation system on the far wall.
The doctor and the nurse were still in their biohazard ‘wetsuits’, but they went all out at that point: they stuck little nametags on their suits. The little paper rectangles didn’t say ‘hello, my name is’ at the top, but otherwise they were very much like nametags I had seen people wear at parties in movies. So ‘Dr. Miller’ and ‘Nurse Walsh’ had me undress and put on one of those little hospital gowns which were apparently designed by a man with a paraphilia related to the human posterior. There was probably a technical term for it, too. Pygiphilia or pygophilia, most likely, depending on how someone had decided he liked his Greek root words.
As I expected, the tests all came back negative, and they decided they would believe Jobe. This time. I still ended up being assessed as slightly dehydrated and malnourished, no doubt due to my body’s recent decision to store ridiculous amounts of fatty tissues on my chest. I was given a bottle of Pedialyte™, which tasted like someone had attempted to make orange-flavored Gatorade while possessing a serious sweet tooth and only a vague notion of what an orange was. It might as well have been ‘gator’ flavored instead.
All right, to be fair, I had eaten alligator one time when the family was in New Orleans on business, and it was quite tasty. I had opted for the alligator sausage appetizer, partially out of curiosity and partly because Heather was making a fuss about the unusual foods on the menu. As a matter of fact, we all ordered at least one unusual dish, possibly for the same reasons I did. Even mother. Even David, who was never the most adventurous diner of the family. Heather knew better than to really throw a fit in public, or as close to ‘in public’ as we usually were in settings like that, but she certainly threw a major temper tantrum when we got back inside the hotel suites. The person who was constantly on a diet spent a long time complaining that we ruined her appetite. In retrospect, I should have said “you’re welcome” just to aggravate her further.
I forced myself to drink all the artificially-flavored, highly-sugared, electrolyte-filled goop. Then I drank paper cups of water until I could get the taste out of my mouth. I know that small children tend to have a sweet tooth and will consume anything sweet, but sometimes I wonder about the American public. That stuff was so bad I was surprised oranges weren’t tearing themselves off the trees to go picket the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, my breasts were still massive. Some time last night they were probably in the ‘sexy’ category, but by the time I woke up they had already moved up into the ‘porn starlet’ classification, and now they were moving into ‘cartoonish’. It was driving me mad.
Jinn helped me get the string bikini top re-tied, this time with less loose string dangling down from the nape of my neck. She said, “Wow, we were pretty jealous in the bathroom this morning, but now I’m rethinking the whole ‘big breasts’ thing.”
“Thaaaaaanks,” I complained.
And then the door swung open without a preceding knock. “I told you this was going to be a disaster.”
“Hello Jadis, nice to see you too.” I hopped off the table to talk to her eye-to-eye, although I went light so my breasts didn’t bounce around like recently-unmolded jello.
She opened her mouth to yell at me some more, and she realized I was barefoot. Then she did that crinkling around her eyes that meant she was evaluating something. She said, “I'm actually look at you eye-to-eye... how much did you GROW? Have you had your spine and leg bones checked for structural integrity? Have you experienced any tingling in your fingers or toes? Any signs of calcium depletion? Any strange cravings? Have you at least had this looked at by a REAL doctor? One who DOESN'T think that he's immune to repercussions?"
“Five inches in one night,” chipped in Jinn. “And about a zillion cup sizes.”
I think Jadis and I turned simultaneously to glare at her. Jinn gave both of us a big smile in return.
I answered Jadis, “That would be why I’m here at the clinic, oddly enough.”
“I warned you about this! I even told you about the poo-tonium incident when Jobe was little!”
Jinn excitedly said, “Wow, that sounds awesome. What happened?”
“Would you leave?” Jadis fumed at her. She turned back to me. “I told you a hundred times-”
“Twenty-seven, including the one just now,” I corrected, just to be a pain. I had decided after the third time that I was going to keep count, just for this eventuality.
“-that this was a bad idea! The only thing worse than a Jobe failure is a Jobe success!” she continued.
“Or a Jobe experiment that’s been sabotaged,” I added.
“And… What?” she suddenly derailed herself.
“Sabotaged,” I emphasized. “The night before last. Jobe’s unbeatable private security system has one major flaw: it’s too complicated for the rest of his drow to remember how to operate it.”
She stared angrily at the wall behind me as she thought through some internal list, and then she said, “I have something I need to check.” She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Jinn said, “Wow, she’s really upset. I mean, she was really worried about you. And really uncomfortable when she looked at you. And really angry when you told her about the sabotage.” She thought it over for a few seconds and finally said, “I think she likes you.”
I muttered, “Of course she likes me. We’ve been friends since I was in first grade.”
Jinn muttered derisively, “Boys…”
Man, the J-Team just got weirder by the second. I avoided that by asking, “So… how did you talk the doctors into letting you come into the biocontainment room with me?”
She grinned and then spun like a top. When she suddenly stopped rotating, the chalk ‘body’ was gone, along with the clothing. What was left looked like part robot and part transparent PK construct. She switched to a robotic voice, “I… am… the… JNN… model… 740. There… is… nothing… biological… in… my… system. I… am… the… only… student… at… Whateley… Academy… who… is… invulnerable… to… Jobe.” She spun again and returned to her normal Jinn appearance.
“Nicely done,” I said. “Did anyone faint?”
She smiled, “No, but a few people didn’t believe me. One used a scanner to check for signs of biological material, and the other checked to see if I had just done some sort of illusion or mind control on them.”
I nodded. “Good for them.”
“Hey! You’re supposed to be on my side!” she fussed.
I said, “Yeah, but the next time someone comes in here and pulls something wacky, I want to know that the staff are following protocols and doing the right things.”
She thought for a second and said, “Yeah, who wants the doctors from ‘Scrubs’ when you could have the doctors from ‘ER’?”
“I want the doctors from old Fifties and Sixties tv series where they always saved every patient. Doctor Kildare, or Marcus Welby.”
She asked, “Have you ever even seen either of those things?”
I admitted, “Well, not really. My uncle once told me about how doctor shows on television have changed from when he was a little kid.”
“And you remembered all that,” she said flatly. “Does anybody else around here have a photographic memory going back to when they were rugrats?”
I shrugged. “Both Diaboliks, probably. We went through the same early education. Probably Jobe Wilkins. Boy genius types who have that breadth of research fields have to be able to read extremely quickly with extraordinary retention. Maybe Loophole. Given who his father is, possibly Triaxial.”
“You do know I was being sarcastic, right?” she asked.
“I assumed it was likely,” I admitted.
She said, “Vamp was right. You’re like those evil supervillains in movies who can’t keep from revealing their whole evil plan. Not counting the ‘evil’ part. You just gotta talk about stuff.”
I shrugged that off, which made the soccer balls on my chest bounce annoyingly. “You saw me in Team Tactics last term. I just can’t let things slide by.”
“Anyway, a ton of that stuff in Team Tactics totally wasn’t your fault,” she apologized.
“And a lot of the shoulder angel routines were really pretty funny, in retrospect,” I replied. “Maybe not the deliberately cruel things, like some other people were doing. But your angels weren’t mean.”
She said, “Except when I forgot and I got carried away while I was somewhere else keeping an eye on some other me’s. I totally overdid it to Sam and Oscar the Grouch.”
I said, “The big campus-wide problems all spawned off of Greasy’s shoulder angels, and how the campus powers handled that.”
She said, “Yeah. We just stalked everybody and killed their angels. The Alphas and them went postal with more shoulder angels.”
I asked, “Aren’t you supposed to say ‘went Westworld’?”
She looked thoughtful. “No, that’s really something you save for robots and AI’s and computers that go wacky on you. When other people go bonkers, you say they went Diclonius, especially if they’ve got non-Workshop powers they’re throwing around. Or Carrie White. Or they went Jack Torrance, especially if they’re using weapons. Or they went Jonathan Teatime.”
I said, “Okay, I recognize Jack Torrance and Carrie White from Stephen King novels, and Jonathan Teatime from Terry Pratchett, but… Diclonius?”
She said, “It’s from an anime. ‘Elfen Lied’. Lots and lots of violence.”
“In an anime?”
“And lots and lots and lots of gory stuff,” she said. “Anime isn’t all ‘Sailor Moon’ ya know.” She stared at my chest. “Speaking of which, maybe you ought to watch ‘Grenadier’. You’ve got a lot more in common with Tendou Rushuna now.”
I just barely refrained from asking what the hell she meant by that, since the direction of her gaze was pretty explanatory.
Once I had my supershorts and utility belt back on, Jinn helped me tie the string bikini back on. Unfortunately, the cantaloupes jutting out of my chest made that a little awkward to do on my own. I went heavy to keep my boobs from bouncing all over the place, and I pulled on the tent-like sweatshirt. I made a mental note to thank Zenith for the sweatshirt, along with the person from whom she had borrowed it. Probably Rubeus Hagrid.
We walked out of the room and found the rest of the team in the waiting room out front. Jade and Toni were watching the big screen television. Nikki was complaining to the nurse at the check-in window about the synthetic fabrics on all the chairs. Hank and Billie were apparently trying to rein in the rest of the team, which was probably more difficult than dressing an octopus in a string bag.
Toni elbowed Jade, and the two of them turned around. Nikki gave up in disgust, and floated over to see me.
Billie asked, “Isn’t that shirt kind of… large?”
Jade helpfully asked, “Who’d you borrow that from? The Jolly Green Giant?”
Toni smirked, “Does Mothra know you’re poachin’ her threads?”
Hank just stared at the sweatshirt and said, “That’s huge! Couldn’t they get you something normal to wear?”
Nikki said, “You look ridiculous. I should re-do that glamour so you don’t attract so much attention.”
I agreed, “I could definitely go for the decreased attention. I feel stupid enough as it is.”
She said, “Well, take off the sweatshirt.”
I pursed my lips and said, “Okay. But try not to laugh too vigorously.” I worked my way out of the kibitka that was posing as clothing.
“Oh fuck,” muttered Hank.
“Jeez, Ayles,” winced Toni. “I can see why you went for the Godzilla-sized top.”
Jade said, “Okay, you weren’t that big a few hours ago. You need to make it stop!”
“I’m trying,” I insisted. “And Jobe has reason to believe this is because someone broke into his lab two nights ago and sabotaged the serum.”
“WHAT?!” Billie growled, her eyes flaring red. “Who did it?”
Hank angrily said, “Somebody’s just earned himself some payback.”
Jade agreed, “Yeah, nobody messes with our friends and gets away with it!”
Nikki calmly said, “Why don’t we find out who did it, and why, before we go ballistic on everyone?”
Toni said, “Yeah, because we all know Princess Jobella’s gonna be working out the ‘how’.”
I said, “And she’s the only realistic shot I have at an antidote.”
“Well duh,” added Jinn.
Toni said, “And you’re prob’ly starving by now, since you ate yourself outta house and home this morning and you’re still growin’.”
“Sideways, anyway,” Jade helpfully pointed out, as she cupped her hands over her chest and moved them forward in a growing-enormous-hooters gesture.
Toni suggested, “And if you don’t get it fixed, you can still do finance and just change your codename to Endowment.”
“Toni!” Nikki squawked, while Jade broke into giggles.
Toni rebutted, “Oh come on, Nik, if Ayles can’t get those panties out of that knot, she’s gonna come apart at the seams.”
“And thank you for that charmingly insightful, textile-related metaphor,” I grumbled.
Nikki said, “You really do need to lighten up. I mean, I know this is so horrible for you, but you’re really stressing out and you’d probably cope better if you could lower the anxiety.”
Jade said, “I can see it every time you think about stuff. I’d do a prank but you’d probably blow up like a bomb.”
Jinn agreed, “Yeah, I’d do a prank on someone else, but now you wouldn’t laugh and you’d just be all grumpy about it.”
Jade said, “She’s always grumpy about something.”
Jinn said, “Except when she’s explaining why she ought to be grumpy about stuff.”
Jade added, “With really big words.”
Jinn continued, “And-”
I interrupted, “Sesquipedalian. That’s what we people with big words call big words. I suppose I’ll have to start lecturing on vocabulary next.”
Jinn and Jade stared at each other as they pointed. “This is all your fault!” they said synchronously.
“It’s like my own Greek chorus,” I muttered.
“Except with the wrong ethnic thing,” Toni said.
“And really only one person doing it,” Nikki helped.
“And they’re not as great at singing as they think they are,” finished Billie.
“HEY!” said chorus complained together. “We sing just fine!”
“Yeah, and I’m Justin Timberlake,” said Hank.
Toni and Nikki looked at each other…
Hank started backing up. “Unh-uh. I don’t know what you’re up to, but forget it. I’m not playing along on this one!”
There was suddenly a rumbling noise like a recording of an earthquake.
Billie looked down at her stomach and looked back at the rest of us. “What? It’s not my fault. I’m hungry! I missed my second breakfast because we were helping Ayla.”
She gave up one of her breakfasts for me? Wow. That was massive. I said, “You know, I don’t think I say ‘thank you’ enough for putting up with me. But… thanks. And Billie? I really appreciate it. You should’ve gone into my room and had something to tide you over.”
Jade said, “She would’ve, but Alex was really grouchy. Mainly at the M.C. Hammer alarm clock dance.”
Jinn said, “And it’s not like you don’t do like a billion things for all of us. I know you fibbed about the day pass in Boston.”
Nikki said, “And you spend crazy amounts on us, when you don’t have to.”
Billie said, “And you share your food with us, even when the portions aren’t that big. And we all know you can’t get any more when it’s all gone. Most of the time.”
Hank said, “And nobody knows how much you’ve spent on Trin & Macintyre and the other intelligence gathering, but I asked somebody who knows about this stuff, and he gave me a number that’s totally crazy.”
“Not surprised,” said Nikki.
“Who’d you ask?” Toni threw out.
“I’m not surprised either,” said Jade. “That combat maser’s like a big chunk of a million dollars, and we all know how much you spent on that tac baton.”
Hank answered Toni, “Lily’s dad.”
“Ooh, already on good terms with the future dad-in-law,” teased Toni.
“Oh come on!” Hank complained. He launched into a spirited defense of his relationship with Lily, while the girls teased him.
Nikki hardly even bothered to look as she re-created the glamour she had cast on me earlier. In a couple seconds I went from looking like a porn starlet in a tiny string bikini top and what were apparently skintight exercise shorts, to yet another campus kid in a costume. I was apparently wearing a cloak, and the glamour also helped mask the size of the melons on my chest.
I whispered a quick thanks, but she was busy giving Hank the business, along with Toni and Jade and Jinn. Billie was floating alongside, trying to decide if she should tease him too or work on stopping the rest of the team.
We made it all the way to the lunch line in the Crystal Hall without any other problems, although a couple times I thought Hank was going to just lose it, rip a girder out of a wall, and go ‘Hulk Smash’ on everyone else. But by the time we stopped in the lunch line, Billie and I had gotten everyone else to lay off. Really, it was ninety percent Billie. Jade and Jinn would never have stopped for me.
Hank was still pink around the ears as he grabbed a tray and headed off toward the make-your-own-burger area. Billie and Toni followed him, while Jade and Nikki went off to look at vegetarian options. I hoped Jade wasn’t going to get obsessive about her diet.
I looked around for a minute, just in case someone in the kitchen might have something special for me. But I knew it was unreasonable and unfair to expect them to have something for me at every meal. It wasn’t as if I were paying them a salary. But I didn’t see anything that looked particularly appetizing, and no one walked out of the kitchen with a plate for me.
So I reluctantly headed over to the hamburgers. I found some reasonably-prepared patties that were listed as medium-rare, and I decided to go wild and trust the sign. Then I found some whole wheat buns. The ‘cheese slices’ looked suspiciously unlike actual cheese, particularly the ‘American’ cheese slices, so I skipped them.
I took the buns over to the Carbohydrates ‘R’ Us area and toasted them in the bagel toaster, so only the inner sides were really toasted. Then I used some coarsely-shredded mozzarella from the salad bar as cheese for my burgers. And I topped them off with some fresh oakleaf lettuce and roma tomato slices from the salad bar, along with an aromatic chutney that was primarily made of tomato and tomatillo.
I was feeling unusually hungry, but rather than go for a hillock of French fries, I opted for some sweet potato fries. Then I picked up a glass of milk, a glass of water, and a glass of lemonade.
As soon as I was seated, I made a phone call that I should have made hours earlier. It took me two transfers to reach Circe.
“Yes, Phase? What is the problem?” she asked before I could even introduce myself.
I said, “I’m having a physical problem, and I’d like to know if we can postpone our first meeting until next Saturday.”
She growled, “Are you on your death bed?”
“No ma’am, but-”
“Then I expect to see you there, even if you have to crawl to my office. Even if you have to have one of your friends carry you. I expect an apprentice to demonstrate a refusal to quit. An iron will. Absolute concentration. You will not be able to accomplish what you desire without those. So I am not going to accept anything less from you. I will see you at one. Do not be late.” She hung up abruptly.
“Wow, I never thought I’d get to see Ayles gettin’ steamrollered,” said Toni.
I muttered, “And you know this is exactly the first impression I want to make on someone who might be a mentor. ‘Hi! Don’t mind the fact that I look like an Attributes blow-up doll! I’m really a serious student!’ Not.”
Nikki soothingly said, “It’ll be okay. Circe won’t judge you on your appearance.”
Jade added, “Especially after you add the magic words ‘Jobe did it’. She might run screaming in terror, but she won’t think you’re a bimbo.”
I tried to concentrate on my burgers, despite the activity around me. I was quite hungry – and thirsty – so that helped. But Billie had made herself a tray of cheeseburgers that were about a foot high, and seeing her eat them was less than appetizing. Hank wasn’t as bad, but he still had five burgers that were each made of four hamburger patties and about eight slices of that so-called American cheese. Apparently, the idea of a burger with four patties wasn’t that unusual. There were actually names for such a construction, like ‘the four by four’, which was supposed to indicate a burger with four patties and four slices of cheese. Ugh.
Billie pointed out, “Hey, you know In-N-Out Burger won’t do a hundred-by-a-hundred burger anymore?”
I managed to swallow the food in my mouth without gagging. One hundred hamburger patties with one hundred slices of cheese? Were ordinary baselines capable of eating something like that unless they were professional trenchermen?
Jade wondered, “How tall is that?”
Billie said, “They just served it lying on its side on a really long row of the paper trays. But it was a huge problem, because it tied up all the grills for a long time and messed things up for everyone else. So you can’t order it. But you can order a regular four-by-four and twenty-four four-by-fours without the buns, and just put ‘em all together yourself.”
Eww. Did people actually do that?
Toni said, “Oh! I think I saw some fat guy doing that on YouTube. It took him like an hour and a half to eat the whole thing.”
Jade said, “Billie could eat it all in ten minutes!”
“Jaaaaade,” Billie complained.
“Maybe five!” Jinn added irrepressibly.
“You guys!” Billie groaned. I had the impression that she wanted to bury her face in her hands, only she had too much burger mess on her hands to do so.
I actually finished everything on my tray, and drank all three glasses of liquid. I would have wondered where I was putting it all, but the massive bulges under my glamour were all the answer I required.
I thought about it for several minutes, and finally decided to go back for seconds. Since Billie was nearly finished with her first course, I waited a few moments and walked down the escalator with her.
She glanced around to make sure no one was paying undue attention to us. <(Tennyo) You okay?>
<(Phase) Yeah, just unnaturally hungry. And thirsty.>
<(Tennyo) Welcome to the club. I hope yours stops pretty soon.>
I opted for a slice of the pound cake with the cherry topping, even if the topping looked like it was more ‘sauce’ than ‘cherry’. And my stomach persuaded me to add a slice of the apple cobbler too, along with another glass of milk and another glass of water. The lemonade hadn't been as good as I had hoped.
Then I walked over and watched Billie assemble a dozen more piles of meat and cheese on a bun, with iceberg lettuce and oversized tomato slices as the crowning jewels. She had evolved a fairly quick system, and she was nearly done by the time I got to the main dish tables.
I kidded her, “You’re pretty fast. Maybe you could get a summer job as a short order cook.”
She pouted, “I don’t think anybody wants to hire a burger flipper who’s gonna eat all of your profits.”
I said, “If you still have the ‘problems’ in Colorado when summer rolls around, I’ll hire you and the whole J-Team. I have a couple jobs where you would excel, and you wouldn’t have to worry about eating me out of house and home.”
She ducked her head and blushed a little. “Really? Me?”
I nodded. “Sure. I have a short list of tasks you’d be best at, plus another list of jobs we would contract out that you could do, when no one else could, or no one else could for anything like our cost.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
I nodded more insistently. “Right now there are fourteen major satellites in geosynchronous orbit that are in line for fairly expensive visits from an X-shuttle or something more expensive, just to replace their battery system, clean their solar panels, or re-align the panels. The cost to do that is enormous. Regnad charges the communications companies only eighty-five percent of the cost for an X-shuttle, so he has tons of business even if he is a mutant. You could fly up and do it in an afternoon.”
“Wow,” she muttered.
I continued, “Or nuclear reactors that need to replace control rods or fuel rods. You could wear a paper jumpsuit and do it without their needing to take down the reactor, which would save them tons of money, and save the surrounding areas in terms of temporary energy shortages and brownouts. Then you could disintegrate the jumpsuit afterward. Your cost: a decontamination shower.”
“I didn’t like that the last time,” she muttered.
I explained, “And we could make sure there weren’t horny jerks staring at you while you’re naked. We’d just get the J-Team to handle the decontamination shower for you.”
“It sounds like you’ve been thinking about this a bunch,” she said.
“Once in a while, I add a new idea to one of my lists,” I admitted.
“Once in a while?” she grinned, her little fangs popping out at the corners of her mouth.
“Once in a while,” I reiterated.
We chatted about job opportunities as we rode up the escalator to the top floor. But as soon as our heads rose above floor level, we both saw that there was a potential problem going on.
Bunker was standing before our table, growling at the team, who were just sort of staring at her with looks of annoyance.
<(Phase) What’s up?>
<(Chaka) Nothin’ much. Bunker’s givin’ us an earful about losing so fast last night. Don’t know why she’s so bent outta shape.>
<(Shroud) She’s really pissed off. I think she’s mad I tried to cut her head off.>
<(Generator) I think she’s mad I killed her boyfriend.>
<(Shroud) Hey, I killed her boyfriend.>
<(Generator) That’s what I said.>
<(Lancer) Can you guys stop arguing with yourself?>
<(Chaka) I’ve been called a loser by way bigger people than her. And way meaner people than her.>
<(Generator) And way crazier people than her?>
<(Fey) Hey, we live in Poe, don’t we?>
Bunker pretty much lost it when the entire team started grinning, like we were laughing at her or something. So she went storming off. It just happened that she went storming off in our direction.
She pretty much headed right between Billie and me, so we each slid to the side to accommodate a grouchy Grunt. She glared at us, as if we were blocking her way, instead of trying to be polite. “Fucking losers!” she hissed. “What the fuck is wrong with you dicks?” She probably cursed us most of the way down the stairs.
I walked back to the table and sat with my tray. “I take it our beloved fellow frosh is not handling last night’s encounter too well?”
Lancer said, “The Grunts as a whole thought we were screwing around and not taking the whole training issue seriously.”
Toni said, “We don’t! I mean, we all want to learn tactics and shit, but it’s just sims. It’s not like we’re fighting a superjail outbreak and if we lose we all get tortured to death.”
Nikki said, “If they’re all gonna be like that, I wouldn’t mind punching them in the nose in a sim, just to get Bunker and her buddies off our backs.”
I smiled evilly, “We can.”
Toni grinned, “Okay Ayles, make with the pontificating.”
Nikki pointed at me, “One of these days, you will pay for giving her that magazine subscription.”
I just smiled at her, because I knew that the fairy princess book she hated so much was going to spawn off a children’s magazine for girls. And if she got carried away, Koehnes was going to get her own magazine subscription.
“That’s not a good smile, roomie,” Toni pointed out. “I think that means there’s somethin’ worse than a cooking magazine for meat eaters.”
Hank cleared his throat. “Back to basics. What do you know that we don’t?”
I said, “Let me… pontificate.” Jade snickered into her milk. “The rules for the training sims are long, boring, and comprehensive enough to make one suspect they have been dealing with annoying training teams for years now. In particular, section 47, rule 8b says that any training team can ask for one rematch if you lost in what your team considers to be an unfair situation.”
“Like getting nuked when we had reason to believe it was going to be another Dark Phoenix sim,” Billie said.
I nodded. “Right. Only the whiny team doesn’t get any say in the new sim. The sim jocks may choose the rematch sim, and the sim jocks also have the option of letting the other team choose the general category of setting.”
Toni looked around and asked, “Do you think Oscar pulled this to find out if we’re gonna be munchkins?”
Nikki said, “Maybe he pulled it to find out if we could be munchkins when we wanted to.”
Hank said, “Maybe he’s trying to figure out just how serious we’re gonna take things.”
I said, “If we didn’t have to worry about Dark Lancer, we would have been properly prepared.”
Billie nodded, “Oh yeah.”
Nikki said, “Okay, let’s ask for a rematch. Lancer can sit it out, and we’ll work Phase in if she’s healthy.”
“And can fit in a sim suit,” Jade added.
“There is that,” Toni said,
We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the Grunts while some of us had seconds. The apple cobbler was really fairly good. The pound cake wasn’t bad, but the cherry topping was lame. I scraped as much of it off the pound cake as I could, and I just ate the cake.
As we were bussing our trays, Nikki tapped me on the shoulder. “Good luck with Circe. And call us if you need any help, okay?”
“Okay. And thanks,” I said.
“Here, don’t leave this behind,” said Jade, as she shoved the now-folded sweatshirt into my hands. “Circe’s a bigtime wizard. She could probably knock out your glamour without even thinking about it.”
Hank said, “At the least, you can sit on it if she makes you do the ‘lowly apprentice squats on the floor’ deal.”
I smiled, “Okay. I’ll take it. After all, you never know when I might need my own tepee.”
Toni said, “This thing is ginormous. I’m surprised it doesn’t say ‘Berlin Tent & Awning’ across the back.”
Hank asked, “Do you want company going over to the… Oh damn it, Breaker’s signaling me. Must be about Bunker. Or you guys.” He stomped off. Only he didn’t really stomp, since he could have slammed five tons of force into every step if he had wanted to.
Nikki opened her mouth, probably to make a similar offer, but Poise was waving her over to the Venus Inc. table, no doubt for something extraordinarily important, like what hue of pink was going to be in or out this summer. Jade skedaddled over to see what was up, since she was a lot more interested in fashion than most of our team.
Billie said, “I’ve got library duty.”
Jinn said, “Jamie and I have stuff with Stan and Morrie.
Toni said, “No sweat. I’ll walk ‘Nina Dowd’ over to see the Circo-rama.” Jinn snorted into her hand, so I knew it was something I was going to have to look up.
As we headed out of the Crystal Hall, I pointed out, “I’m just assuming at this point, but I don’t think you want Circe to ever hear you call her something like that. Unless you think living several months in a Habitrail would be awesome.”
While I was talking to her, I was also touch typing on my bPhone. As we walked outside, I glanced at my screen. Nina Dowd was a DC Comics supervillainess known as the Mighty Endowed because she had breasts so massive she couldn’t stand up under her own power.
Ugh. I was suddenly evil thinking of things I could do to Toni. Things just as evil as that magazine subscription.
We were most of the way to Kirby before Toni tensed up slightly. <(Chaka) Heads up. We got attention on us.>
Just then, Majestic and Imperious stepped into our path from a crossing route. Majestic smiled malevolently at me and said, “Look dear, it’s Prism’s little friend Phase.”
Imperious gave me a smile lacking warmth, but absolutely brimming with lust and assertiveness. Having heard some disturbing rumors about some abilities he might not have revealed to the powers testing guys, I started working really diligently on the best mental blocks I could manage.
<(Phase) We’ve got ‘Lympies. Chaka, shields up.>
It occurred to me that if Imperious launched a psychic attack or Majestic launched a magical attack, I would have been really vulnerable without Chaka for backup.
He leered, “And look, she’s all grown…”
“Out?” asked Majestic.
“Up, but that too,” he smirked.
“Your comedy act needs some work,” I suggested. “But it has a lot of promise. If you decide you need an agent, you know where to find me.”
Arm in arm, they walked past us and continued on their way.
<(Chaka) At least one of ‘em is still focusing on us.>
<(Phase) Great. Just great.>
We reached the crossing path, and I had the sensation of walking through spiderwebs.
“Dang!” Toni whispered.
My glamour abruptly failed. And the sweatshirt under my arm disintegrated as if the entire thing had been soaked in acid until every chemical bond broke.
Toni whirled around and stared at Majestic’s back. “You owe me a new coat, bitch!”
I finally noticed that Toni’s jacket was shredding too. In a matter of seconds, it was nothing but tatters attached to threads and a zipper. She muttered, “Well, coulda been everything we had on.”
“Ahem,” I cleared my throat meaningfully as I pointed at myself. Once again, I was standing around in a string bikini top and skintight exercise shorts. Plus a pair of sandals and a utility belt.
<(Chaka) Someone file a report with Security. Majestic just magicked the crap outta our coats for no reason.>
<(Lancer) On it. Do you need assistance?>
<(Chaka) Nope, but after I get Ayles parked, I’ll get over to Kane Hall to file in person, and then go get her another something to wear.>
<(Generator) I’ll go get a coat or something. You file the report.>
<(Fey) And why would Majestic bother with something so petty?>
<(Chaka) Uh-oh. We got attention again. Six o’clock.>
I turned my head and groaned. <(Phase) It’s Peeper. And Greasy. And I don’t have a set of beads on me.>
to be continued